By Wornie Reed, Ph.D.
I spent last weekend in my small hometown, McIntosh, Alabama, participating in high school homecoming activities. To my surprise, the town has a black mayor. This news caused me to reflect even more on the election of an African American mayor in Montgomery, Alabama.
Montgomery, the city that calls itself the cradle of the Confederacy and the birthplace of the modern Civil Rights Movement, elected its first black mayor, Steven Reed (no kin). Memorials to each of these legacies adorn the city’s landscape. One of these marks the spot where Rosa Parks ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott that a 27-year old Martin Luther King, Jr., helped lead.
Undoubtedly memories still exist of the terrorism that tried to hold back the thrust of black citizens trying to claim some of their fundamental rights. Terrorists bombed King’s house, and also the home of E.D. Nixon, the community leader. Bombs obliterated the church pastored by Reverend Uriah Fields, who was a graduate of my high school in McIntosh. And now Montgomery has a black mayor.
Progress continues as Talladega, Alabama, elected its first black mayor the same day as Montgomery. In Talladega, Timothy Ragland defeated the incumbent white mayor.
These electoral landmarks represent the reason for the reign of terror by white nationalists across the period of American racial apartheid (1865 – 1965). Blacks who voted and held many political offices during Reconstruction (1865-1877) were later disenfranchised and mostly excluded from political life in the South.
The reign of terror that effected this Jim Crow world included many lynchings. The Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery has documented over 4,000 of these brutal murders.
White nationalism has the same objectives today as it always had—to not share their control of American society. The only significant difference now is they oppose other minorities as well as African Americans.
The last straw seemed to be the election of Barack Obama. While many people—whites as well as blacks—exulted over this milestone, others saw it as the end of what they hold dear—their white privilege and the resulting control of the country.
The number of white nationalist groups increased substantially during Obama’s presidency. In February of 2017, the Southern Poverty Law Center identified 100 active white nationalist and 99 active neo-Nazi groups in the United States. Some of these groups march around—like in Charlottesville in 2017—chanting, “You will not replace us,” implying that growing minority populations threaten to overtake whites of European heritage in the country.
These white nationalist groups express in a more militant way the concerns that elected Donald Trump. They feel a threat to their presumed status in American society.
Yes, this status threat is the most critical issue that drives Trump’s voters. The media and most of the pundits keep repeating the mantra that Trump’s voters are people with economic insecurities. They say these voters were “left behind” economically. They say these are people who lost jobs or experienced stagnant wages due to the loss of manufacturing jobs, and therefore they punished the incumbent party. Taint so! While economic issues are a concern, they are not the most dominant concern of these people. Several studies have shown that.
The data say the most important issue for Trump voters was “status threat.” Many Trump voters were significantly concerned about the rise of minorities in numbers and power and white America’s loosening grip on the country. In other words, for these voters, white supremacy was at stake in the election.
Trump’s campaign was an open non-disguised appeal to this racist, white nationalist sentiment. And he is still pushing it. The media’s failure to state these facts makes them complicit in this racism.