The mainstream has recently become obsessed with the threat posed by “white supremacy.” We are increasingly told that everyone from Blompf to Tucker Carlson to Occidental Dissent is “white supremacy.” We seem to be entering another one of America’s periodic moral panics.
What is “white supremacy” though? Who were the real white supremacists? What does the real thing look and sound like? In my view, the best introduction to the subject is “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman who was a governor (1890 to 1894) and U.S. Senator from South Carolina (1895 to 1918). As with the Great White Chief James K. Vardaman in Mississippi or Jeff Davis in Arkansas, Tillman rose to power in South Carolina after overthrowing the conservatives of his day in the 1890s.
In order to understand a man like Ben Tillman, you have to understand his times. Tillman was a member of the generation of Southerners who came of age amidst the devastation and misrule of Reconstruction. He fought to redeem South Carolina from carpetbaggers, scalawags and black majority rule. The South Carolina of Ben Tillman’s time had sunk into an abyss of poverty. The rice industry in the Low Country collapsed and never recovered after the War Between the States. It was impoverished White sharecroppers who elected Tillman, Vardaman, Watson, Davis and the rest of their ilk.
Have you ever heard the saying, “Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.” Ben Tillman was a strong man. He was produced by hard times. He was an entirely different breed from John C. Calhoun.
The following excerpt comes from Stephen Budiansky’s book The Bloody Shirt: Terror After The Civil War:
“Ben Tillman came to be known as “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, and with his fierce one-eyed glower and plebian misshapen hats and profane speeches styled himself a populist. He said the Citadel in Charleston where the “aristocrats” sent their sons was nothing but a “military dude factory,” that the South Carolina College where most of the rest went turned out “helpless” good-for-nothings, “too proud to beg, too honest to steal, too lazy to work.” He cursed and ranted against the “Bourbons” and said he was for the little man.
He was elected governor and then United States senator, and for forty years he fought off attacks by the Bourbons and the real populists alike by reviving the horrors of “negro misrule”that he said the state had endured during Reconstruction. That was his ticket to power, and for forty years of political life he offered what he called “a solid front to all comers on the bond of white supremacy.” He stood on the floor of the United States Senate and jabbed his finger and said “we had to shoot negroes” and recounted again and again how the black man had “tasted blood,” had been infected by unscrupulous Northern carpetbaggers with “the virus of equality”back in those dark days, and that the only way to make sure it never happened again was for whites to remain united politically behind men like him who weren’t afraid to tell the truth about how they had to shoot niggers back then.
“The poor African became a fiend, a wild beast, seeking whom he may devour, filling our penitentiaries and our jails, lurking around to see if some helpless white woman can be murdered or brutalized,” Pitchfork Ben said on the floor of the United States Senate, and he always reprinted his best such efforts in pamphlets that he sent to everyone. “We realize what it means to allow ever so little a trickle of racial equality to break through the dam.”
In 1895 South Carolina called a convention to rewrite the state constitution to disenfranchise the last remaining colored voters who hadn’t already been cheated or beaten out of their ballots, and Pitchfork Ben came and again retold the story of the “infamy” of those dark days, and how at any moment that sleeping viper might be “warmed into life again and sting us whenever some more white rascals, native or foreign, come here and mobilize the ignorant blacks.”
The “hell hounds” who had masterminded it the last time, he explained, had hated the South and were seeking revenge. They had concocted the most perfect scheme for “degrading us to the lowest level possible” – giving the ballot to our own ex-slaves. “The most fertile imagination, if it had been given a thousand years to concoct a scheme of revenge, could not have surpassed it.”
And he continued: “How did we recover our liberty? By fraud and violence. We tried to overcome the thirty thousand majority by honest methods, which was a mathematical impossibility. After we had borne these indignities for eight years life became worthless under such conditions. Under the leadership and inspiration of Mart Gray – because he planned and brought about the Straight-out movement of ’76 – we won the fight. In 1878 we had to resort to more fraud and violence, and so again in 1880. Then the Registration Law and eight-box system was evolved from the superior intelligence of the white man to check and control this surging, muddy stream of ignorance.
“And this must be our justification, our vindication, and our excuse to the world that we are met int Convention openly, boldly, without any pretense of secrecy, to announce that it is our purpose, as far as we may, without coming into conflict with the United States Constitution, to put such safeguards around this ballot in future, to so restrict the suffrage and circumscribe it, that this infamy can never come about again.”
As Pitchfork Ben told it the moral inversion was now complete. That decent men were forced to fraud and violence only showed to what extremes they had been pushed. The more brutally they treated their victims the more it proved that they had been the true victims themselves. The more the Northerners had stood up for the rights of the Negroes the more it showed how full of hate and hypocrisy they were. The more the federal government tried to interfere the more the nation and the Negro would suffer. Until the South was left alone by the federal government to handle the Negro as it saw fit, Tillman threatened, white Southerners would have “no conception of the word ‘nation’ except that it is connected with the word ‘nigger.’”
The following excerpt comes from Sen. Ben Tillman in an exchange he had with Sen. John Coit Spooner of Wisconsin in 1906:
Sen. Ben Tillman:
“Have I ever advocated the lynch law at any time or at any place? I answer on my honor, “Never!” I have justified it for one crime, and one only, and I have consistently and persistently maintained that attitude for the last fourteen years. As governor of South Carolina I proclaimed that, although I had taken the oath of office to support the law and enforce it, I would lead a mob to lynch any man, black or white, who had ravished a woman, black or white. This is my attitude calmly and deliberately taken, and justified by my conscience in the sight of God.
Mr. President, the Senator from Wisconsin speaks of “lynching bees.” As far as lynching for rape is concerned, the word is a misnomer. When stern and sad-faced white men put to death a creature in human form who has deflowered a white woman, there is nothing of the “bee” about it. There is more of the feeling of participating as mourner at a funeral. They have avenged the greatest wrong, the blackest crime in all the category of crimes, and they have done it, not so much as an act of retribution in behalf of the victim as a duty and as a warning as to what any man may expect who shall repeat the offense. They are looking to the protection of their own loved ones.
The Senator from Wisconsin prates about the law. He erects the law into a deity which must be worshiped regardless of justice. He has studied law books until his mind has become saturated with the bigotry which ignores the fundamental principle in this Government: “Law is nothing more than the will of the people.” There are written laws and unwritten laws, and the unwritten laws are always the very embodiment of savage justice. The Senator of Wisconsin is incapable of understanding conditions in the south or else he has lost those natural impulses which for centuries have been the characteristics of the race to which we belong. . . .
Look at our environment in the South, surrounded, and in a very large number of counties and in two States outnumbered by negroes — engulfed, as it were, in a black flood of semi-barbarians. Our farmers, living in segregated farmhouses, more or less thinly scattered through the country, have negroes on every hand. For forty years these have been taught the damnable heresy of equality with the white man, made the puppet of scheming politicians, the instrument for the furtherance of political ambitions. Some of them have just enough education to be able to read, but not always to understand what they read. Their minds are those of children, while they have the passions and strength of men. Taught that they are oppressed, and with breasts pulsating with hatred of the whites, the younger generation of negro men are roaming over the land, passing back and forth without hindrance, and with no possibility of adequate police protection to the communities in which they are residing.
Now let me suppose a case. Let us take any Senator on this floor — I will not particularize — take him from some great and well-ordered State in the North, where there are possibly twenty thousand negroes, as there are in Wisconsin, with over two million whites. Let us carry this Senator to the backwoods in South Carolina, put him on a farm miles from a town or railroad, and environed with negroes. We will suppose he has a fair young daughter just budding into womanhood; and recollect this, the white women of the South are in a state of siege; the greatest care is exercised that they shall at all times where it is possible not be left alone or unprotected, but that can not always and in every instance be the case. That Senator’s daughter undertakes to visit a neighbor or is left home alone for a brief while. Some lurking demon who has watched for the opportunity seizes her; she is choked or beaten into insensibility and ravished, her body prostituted, her purity destroyed, her chastity taken from her, and a memory branded on her brain as with a red-hot iron to haunt her night and day as long as she lives. . . .
In other words, a death in life. This young girl thus blighted and brutalized drags herself to her father and tells him what has happened. Is there a man here with red blood in his veins who doubts what impulses the father would feel? Is it any wonder that the whole countryside rises as one man and with set, stern faces seek the brute who has wrought this infamy? Brute, did I say? Why, Mr. President, this crime is a slander on the brutes. . . . And shall such a creature, because he has the semblance of a man, appeal to the law? Shall men cold-bloodedly stand up and demand for him the right to have a fair trial and be punished in the regular course of justice? So far as I am concerned he has put himself outside the pale of the law, human and divine. . . . Civilization peels off us, any and all of us who are men, and we revert to the original savage type whose impulses under any and all such circumstances has always been to “kill! kill! kill!”
I do not know what the Senator from Wisconsin would do under these circumstances; neither do I care. I have three daughters, but, so help me God, I had rather find either one of them killed by a tiger or a bear and gather up her bones and bury them, conscious that she had died in the purity of her maidenhood, than have her crawl to me and tell me the horrid story that she had been robbed of the jewel of her womanhood by a black fiend. . . .
I realize that there are millions of good negroes, if they are let alone and not taught heresies and criminal thoughts and feelings and actions. I should like to see this good, easy, good-for-nothing people given a chance to live. Give them justice; give them equal rights before the law; enable them to get property and keep it, and be protected in its enjoyment; give them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, provided their happiness does not destroy mine.”
Ben Tillman defended lynching in the U.S. Senate.
Do these people realize how dumb they sound throwing around terms like “white supremacy” as an epithet as if there was no significant difference between Blompf and Tucker Carlson and Ben Tillman? Tillman identified as a white supremacist for 40 years in public life.
Blompf wouldn’t have joined the lynch mob. He would have prosecuted it and pinned a medal on the black rapist and demanded he be released from jail like A$AP Rocky in Sweden. Then he would have celebrated the record low black unemployment rate.