Dixon Evening Telegraph/September 10, 1945
New York—Strictly in the interest of enlightenment and understanding, I submit some observations concerning the state of Mississippi and the City of New York.
As hitherto remarked in these essays, a number of demagogic New York politicians engaged in the current mayoralty campaign, and each coveting the votes of immigrants and their children as segregated blocs, pounced on an opportunity to denounce Senator Theodore Bilbo, of Mississippi. Bilbo has not the remotest connection with this local election, but many New York politicians and potboilers of the more or less frankly communistic papers have made political capital by denouncing him as a benighted bigot and Mississippi as a backward state.
This propaganda against Mississippi began, according to my recollection, in the early days of prohibition when most of the literate New Yorkers were given to feel an undeserved sense of superiority by the mischievous flippancies of Henry Mencken, who spoke derisively of Mississippi and other states of the southern tier as the Bible belt. Mississippi was dry, of course, as was her right, but she exceeded her right and angered us wets in New York by presuming to dictate that we had no right to remain wet.
About the same time, the modern Ku Klux Klan, which was a racket like many of our unions, swept the south and then moved strongly into Indiana, Ohio and New Jersey.
It exploited 100 per cent Americanism in such a bigoted and oppressive and mercenary way as to embarrass honest men and women who were 100 per cent American in their devotion to the United States but did not subscribe to the persecution of Jews, Catholics, Negroes and persons born abroad. So here was more propaganda against Mississippi.
However, as Americans, the people of Mississippi owe no apologies to the residents of the City of New York. She has, to be sure, her illiterates, but so have we, and our vaunted public school system is such that in some schools we have had not mere childish mischief but serious crime, including killings, even by little girls and many neighborhoods are terrorized by young gangs. If Mississippi has slum areas, New York’s are worse and with less excuse because Mississippi is a cotton, yam and watermelon state, whereas New York has great foreign commerce and a great manufacturing business and we draw millions of dollars from all the other states by our hotel and amusement business. The voluntary enlistment rate for our last two wars has been notably high in the southern or benighted states, including Mississippi. I cannot discuss her general crime rate but if it were spectacular we would have heard about it whereas all New Yorkers know that there are some sections of the city into which a stranger strays at night only at the risk of his life, notwithstanding a force of 19,000 policemen.
In patronizing Mississippi and in expressing contempt for her people because of the quality of her statesmen in congress, New Yorkers have deceived themselves. It should be wiser to consider the quality of New York’s political leaders or bosses and ask whether a city which elects a LaGuardia mayor three times, elects Senator Wagner repeatedly, and Congressman Vito Marcantonio, has any excuse to sneer at a state which sends to Washington a Theodore Bilbo and a John Rankin.
Among our other bosses, we have Sidney Hillman. whose own old colleagues of the political union movement repudiated him last year charging that he had gone over to the communists who certainly cannot be compared to the Mississippi patriots in the quality of their citizenship. And then we have David Dubinsky, of the garment workers who, like Hillman, found here asylum from oppression in Europe but in common with many other professional unioneers of alien birth was too preoccupied to join the Mississippi volunteers in either war.
Dubinsky is more a boss and a power than a leader, and the members of his union are subjects, a condition which the people of Mississippi resisted and abolished by desperate force in the period of the first Ku Klux Kan.
Among by treasures is a bound volume of testimony taken in the congressional investigation of the Ku Klux Klan in the south begun in 1872, which explains the old feeling of Mississippi and other southern states.
The northern rascals known as radicals and carpet baggers swarmed into Mississippi, whose population was, of course, broke. The cost of a legislative session jumped from $70,000 to $260,000. The cost of assessing taxes went from $20,000 in prosperous days to $175,000 in a period of bitter poverty. Public printing formerly had cost $9,000 and was now $180,000 a year under the carpet-baggers.
The white southern men had lost the vote and the new governors, elected by the former slaves, appointed sheriffs, constables, county treasurers and assessors, many of whom were absolute strangers who halted the southern white man and robbed and persecuted him and his family without mercy.
The legislature thus elected then required that there should be public school for every 25 children and a schoolmaster at an average of $60 a month and “these learned gentlemen required handsome edifices, bells and walnut furniture brought from Cincinnati and elsewhere.” In one county, 200 such schools were built. The tax rate went to four per cent on the entire property in the state and some of the people had to sell off their horses and furniture to pav the taxes.
I submit a suggestion that the memory of this ordeal was communicated to the children of that generation and in diminishing vividness to their children and that when a few demagogues in New York, although not the people of New York, sneer at the people of Mississippi for their Bilbos and Rankins, the Mississippi citizens bethink themselves of LaGuardia, Wagner, Marcantonio, Hillman, Dubinskv and others.
My acquaintance with Mississippi is sufficient to remind me that New York is rash to invite honest comparisons. And my knowledge of these New York politicians reminds me that their skill in exploiting bigotry for votes not inferior to that of Bilbo and Rankin.