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Charles Blow on the greatest threat to our democracy: White supremacy

Charles Blow on the greatest threat to our democracy
Charles Blow on the greatest threat to our democracy 03:16

Charles M. Blow is a New York Times columnist. 

There are many historical precedents for the way White supremacy responds when that perceived supremacy is threatened.

One example unfolded during Reconstruction. At the end of the Civil War, several Southern states were majority-Black, and several others were within striking distance of being majority-Black. Then, the ratification of the 15th Amendment gave Black men the right to vote, which in turn made some of the electorates majority-Black.

This was a serious threat to absolute White power, so White supremacists banded together in Mississippi (a Black power center during Reconstruction) and formed the Red Shirts, a group of vigilantes who used pressure, intimidation and violence to prevent Black people from voting.

What they couldn't achieve numerically at the ballot, they would achieve through terror in the community.

Their efforts worked so well that Red Shirt groups soon sprang up in other Southern states.

After their success, Mississippi called a Constitutional Convention in 1890 to severely restrict Black suffrage, and write White supremacy into the DNA of the state. State after state across the South followed the Mississippi example, establishing "Jim Crow" as the code of the region for more than 60 years.

I came to know these facts academically, as an act of scholarship, but I couldn't fathom living through such a period.

That was until this election, which provided a modicum of similarity to that period over a century ago.

Donald Trump tried to intimidate voters before and during the election, then sought to erase legal ballots after they were cast. He attacked large cities in swing states (those with a large percentage of Black people) as corrupt. And, with his legal challenges expired, his efforts culminated in a deadly insurrection in Washington, his loyalists exploding in violence in support of his attempted coup.

Make no mistake: the red hats marauding through the halls of the United States Capitol were a throwback to the Red Shirts terrorizing the Southern countryside.

As my friend Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, wrote, not only is White supremacy the greatest threat to democracy, democracy is the greatest threat to White supremacy.

Because when Democracy works, White supremacists will always, reflexively, be rattled – whether in the 19th century, or the 21st.

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Story produced by Robbyn McFadden. Editor: Chad Cardin. 

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