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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Climate Change

Posted by on 01.26.10 at 09:30 AM

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Chicago Defender, February 10, 1917. The periodical the crackers least wanted sold on the streets of Bogalusa was the Defender itself, which was circulated down south by an ad hoc distribution network of Chicago-based Pullman porters. The Defender, the nation's leading black paper, changed the demographic map of America with its editorial campaign to encourage black migration out of the South and into the industrializing northern cities, where better wages and relative freedom awaited. Southern business interests fought to retain their politically disempowered labor force with counter-propaganda that emphasized the harsh competitiveness of city life and the even harsher northern winters, which, it was claimed, killed black emigrants before their time.
("Yaller" = yellow= very light-skinned.)

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The use of Darwinian language—"survival of the fittest"—is interesting, since the southern argument that blacks were unsuited by nature to the northern climate was also couched in Darwinian terms.
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There's a not-too-subtle agenda of selective recruitment at work here in the evocation of jail terms for the un-sober and non-industrious.
"Henson" was Matthew Henson, the black guy who did most of the work of hauling Commander Robert E. Peary's frostbitten white ass across the Arctic wastes in 1909 to plant a flagpole in the alleged vicinity of the North Pole. The helpful identification of Peary as "(white)" is a good joke, as he was only one of the most famous men in the world at the time. Peary got all the glory in the white press, natch, but still threw a serious hissy fit when Henson published a memoir and hit the lecture circuit in 1912.

P.S. Here's a relevant cartoon from the Baltimore Afro-American, October 19, 1923.

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