On January 6, he singled out African Americans from away — “guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” — as agents of drug crime, adding that often “they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.” LePage’s office claims that “race is irrelevant” in these comments. This does nothing to explain why the Governor nonetheless found it fit to employ stereotypical “gangsta” names and mention the race of the women involved.
Then, on January 27, LePage noted that because Maine permits the concealed carry of firearms, citizens should “load up and get rid of the drug dealers.” Clearly, D-Money, Smoothie, and Shifty are in the Governor’s sights. Maine’s highest elected official has called on citizens to commit extra-legal violence on overtly racial grounds. No due process or equal protection of the laws for those who fit the profile.
As usual, some have applauded the Governor’s candor. Lest anyone fail to appreciate the history that LePage’s remark recall, though, consider the nation’s long and sordid history with racial violence of this sort. Between Reconstruction and the start of World War II, over 3,400 African Americans were lynched in the United States. The innate criminality supposed of them — and particularly their alleged penchant for raping white women — justified their execution.
Angry mobs subjected the victims of these acts of vigilante “justice” to unspeakable brutalities. Many were publicly tortured. They were branded with hot pokers, suffered genital mutilation, and were set ablaze while still alive — all in the name of protecting the virtue of “white women.” In the aftermaths, their bodies were riddled with bullets. Observers eagerly sought souvenirs of these horrific public spectacles, collecting trophies in the form of ears, finger bones, and other body parts.
Lynchings were no secret, nor were they the work of the “low down” sort. They were organized by leading members of the community, who often engaged local railroads to offer special rates to bring passengers to lynching sites in the countryside. Photographic postcards proudly documented the way an outraged public dealt with those accused of violating the racial order (for more on this, visit withoutsanctuary.org, if you can stand to).
Leading voices defended the practice as an acceptable response to the sexual threat black men allegedly posed. According to the Atlanta Constitution, white women “live in practically a state of siege, . . . afraid to venture to a neighbor’s or a school house lest some black beast shall leap from the bushes and give them over to a fate worse than death.” Frederick Hoffman, a nationally-renowned statistician, concluded that “the colored race shows of all races the most decided tendency towards crime.”
In a 1918 pamphlet, Winfield Collins, a professor in North Carolina, justified lynching on sexual grounds. He claimed that “the Negro” had a “stronger sexual passion than is to be found in any other race,” but was “infinitely lacking in the high mental, moral, and emotional qualities that are especially characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon.” Because of this, he wrote, “the white man in lynching a Negro does it as an indirect act of self-defense against the Negro criminal as a race.”
Thankfully, not everyone saw things his way. African American leaders such as Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Du Bois worked tirelessly to combat the lynching epidemic. National civil rights organizations such as the NAACP were founded in part to campaign for (fruitlessly, it turned out) federal anti-lynching legislation.
President Woodrow Wilson has a well-deserved reputation for racial prejudice, yet even he denounced lynching. “How shall we commend democracy to the acceptance of other peoples,” he asked, “if we disgrace our own by proving that it is, after all, no protection to the weak?” This was e man who segregated the Civil Service, and who declared that “the dominance of an ignorant and inferior race was justly dreaded.”
Even he could not bring himself to support what Paul LePage has advocated.
Paul LePage’s views were reprehensible a century ago. Today they remain nothing short of disgraceful.