Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Call it what it is

Up front: September 2013

Call it what it is

The means have meandered from murder to mundane legislative measures, but the aim remains the same, proving again how profound a passage William Faulkner penned: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The Mississippi novelist and Nobel laureate could have been writing about North Carolina.

On the night of Feb. 26, 1870, robed and masked horsemen rode into Graham, dragged Wyatt Outlaw from his house and, with cord they cut from a rope bed, hanged him from a tree only 30 yards from the Alamance County Courthouse. Before departing, they left a note warning Mayor William R. Albright a similar fate awaited.

Albright and Outlaw were both Republicans. The mayor, who was white, would survive Reconstruction. The dead man left dangling had been the county’s most prominent black, a town councilman and constable. Word spread his lynching was revenge for shooting at Ku Kluxers the previous year, but the real reason was political. Outlaw led the local Union League, which encouraged freedmen to register and vote Republican. In a tightly contested county such as Alamance, that was dangerous to Democrats, so Klansmen killed him to suppress the vote. It’s why, three decades later, Winchester-wielding Red Shirts patrolled polling places, intimidating voters to break the fusion of Republicans and Populists that briefly reigned in Raleigh. Back on top, Democrats, preaching white supremacy, disenfranchised blacks.

Republicans now rule state government, and they’re using voter suppression to retain rather than regain power. Take the election-law overhaul the General Assembly passed and Gov. Pat McCrory signed last month. He called it “common-sense, commonplace protections,” though the sole one he cited was making voters show government-issued photo ID. Fine with me, as surveys say it is with most, despite scant evidence voter fraud warrants much worry. What McCrory didn’t mention was the rest of the package, mostly ploys plucked from a political playbook to turn off turnout in key Democratic demographics. You don’t have to read about it here — it’s earned enough national ink and airtime.

“Elections have consequences,” another Nobel winner told foes not so long ago, and not since Wyatt Outlaw last voted has one dealt his party so strong a hand as it holds now. Will this be good for business? We’ll let you know next month when an array of writers assay this year’s legislative session.


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