Maine’s shame: A governor endorses lynching

FILE - In this file photo made Sunday, May 6, 2012, Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the Maine GOP convention. In his effort to cut state spending, Gov. LePage proposed revamping the state’s Medicaid program. Supporters of the cuts say spending is unsustainable and that Maine provides Medicaid coverage to 35 percent more of the population that the national average. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
Gov. Paul LePage (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Maine’s Drunk Uncle is at it again. Horrible boss Paul LePage has once against uttered something beyond outrageous. It’s time to put Governor Paul LePage’s racism in historical context.

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.”

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Ida B. Wells

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.

Copyright © AAIHS. May not be reprinted without permission.

Comments on “Maine’s shame: A governor endorses lynching

  • Amazing, that in the 21st century we as a society are still dealing with government sponsored violence against “the other.” Gov. LePage’s comments and incitement are obviously reprehensible however I wonder how many others hold the same position and choose to occlude their views from the public sphere? Thank you AAIHS for continuing the conversation on these troubling events.

  • Ida B. Wells’ voice was loud and clear on the issue of lynching. It is almost incomprehensible that in the year 2016 we still have people, including elected officials, espousing violence against their perceived enemy, namely people of color. The fact that an African-American man was elected president in what is supposed to be these United States of America does not change the fact that we are still a racist society. We must never relinquish the few strides that we as a people have made, and we must continue to remain vigilant against those who attempt to perpetrate their violence and hatred toward us as a people. Then we must do our part by obtaining the best education that we can get in this country; stimulating our brains with further knowledge by taking the initiative to reading outside of those four walls in preparation to make bold moves when the doors of opportunity open. In other words, be prepared. When all has been said and done, I still believe that the world will have to step aside to let any man pass if he knows where he’s going.

  • Well, African Americans what y’all gone do? Are African Americans going to allow Whites to just lynch, shoot, or beat them, especially if the government is sanctioning Whites to do bodily harm to them. This is a governor sanctioning killing black people. So, what are African Americans going to do?

  • “I had to go scream at the top of my lungs about black dealers coming in and doing the things that they’re doing to our state. I had to scream about guillotines and those types of things before they were embarrassed into giving us a handful of DEA agents. That is what it takes with this 127th [Legislature]. It takes outrageous comments and outrageous actions to get them off the dime. They just simply don’t move.”
    https://stateandcapitol.bangordailynews.com/2016/02/09/lepage-i-had-to-go-scream-at-the-top-of-my-lungs-about-black-dealers/

  • Please don’t judge the white people of Maine based on ANYTHING our disgusting, shameful, loud-mouthed Governor says. I think MOST of us were & are repulsed by what can only be described as our “Governor’s” diahrea-of-the-mouth! MOST of us are ashamed of LePage & would impeach him if we could. He lied when he said he remembered what it was like to be homeless, to be poor. How could he remember while campaigning, then cut Medicare & other benefits across the board without batting an eye. I’m disabled & draw disability & have Medicare & MaineCare ( medicaid) FOR WHICH I PAID INTO THE SYSTEM FOR MANY YEARS! THEN LePage took assistance away from refugees Obamah had helped them get. He has been a disgrace to the office of Governor from the moment he took office. It was really not all that surprising to Mainers that he has proven himself to be a two-faced bigot. MOST of us DO NOT stand behind or support Governor LePage, & MOST of us pray for the day be leaves office, & MOST of us wish duct taping his mouth wasa viable option!

    Peace,

    Janine S.

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