What is all the fuss about John Lewis comparing McCain's hateful campaign rhetoric to George Wallace's record of demagoguery? He just described what we can all see if we look at the historical record. Here's a good site to start doing our homework on civil rights struggle, and here is another on the history of lynching in the United States. Let us examine the history of lynching in the U.S. from 1880 to the 1930. Duluth MN was the site of lynch mob murders in 1920. Let us remember, too, that mob violence did not only claim black victims, but also other people who were scapegoated, targeted for disenfranchisement, the enforcement of segregation or racial codes, or were targets of economic theft in various regions, including Indians, Mexicans, Italian immigrants, Asian immigrants, Jews.. and Muslims after 9/11.
To put Rep. John Lewis's remarks in perspective, here's a good place to start: this article quotes him at length, first of all, instead of just a few lines, and links to Lewis's own statement.
The key word for understanding why Lewis compares McCain's campaign to the politics of George Wallace is "demagogue":
dema·gogue (dem′ə gäg′, -gôg′)
1. Obsolete: a leader of the common people
2. a person who tries to stir up the people by appeals to emotion, prejudice, etc. in order to win them over quickly and so gain power
I'm going to quote John Lewis's entire statement, because I think it is extraordinarily important:
"As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. What I am seeing today reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.
"During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who only desired to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed one Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.
"As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better."
So the next time someone complains about the Obama campaign "playing the race card" remembe some of these facts:
From Stewart E. Tolnay and E.M. Beck, A Festival of Violence: An Analysis of Southern Lynchings, 1882-1930.
Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992.
There are "2805 [documented] victims of lynch mobs killed between 1882 and 1930 in ten southern states. Although mobs murdered almost 300 white men and women, the vast majority-almost 2,500-of lynch victims were African-American. Of these black victims, 94 percent died in the hands of white lynch mobs. The scale of this carnage means that, on the average, a black man, woman, or child was murdered nearly once a week, every week, between 1882 and 1930 by a hate-driven white mob" (ix).
George Wallace quotes from 1958 (from the first gubernatorial campaign)
"During the next four years, many problems will arise in the matter of segregation and civil rights, as a result of judicial decisions. Having served as judge of the third judicial circuit of Alabama, I feel, my friends, that this judicial experience, will be invaluable to me as your governor.… And I want to tell the good people of this state, as a judge of the third judicial circuit, if I didn’t have what it took to treat a man fair, regardless of his color, then I don’t have what it takes to be the governor of your great state."
"I advocate hatred of no man, because hate will only compound the problems facing the South."
1958 (said in private to Seymore Trammell, Wallace's finance director, following his unsuccessful first run for governor against John Patterson)
"I was out-niggered, and I will never be out-niggered again."