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Nine years ago, I began to slowly awaken to my racial prejudices and white privilege. It was a rude awakening. During the past three years, I’ve blogged about that journey from racial ignorance. Recently, someone asked me what have been the biggest surprises along the way. What do I know now that I didn’t know before? What follows is a short list of some of my bigger epiphanies and the posts where I shared these revelations.

I didn’t know that for a short period after the Civil War black people made significant progress in political and economic terms. I didn’t know we had black US Senators and Representatives, that many southern states had black legislatures, that black literacy rates skyrocketed and blacks make significant economic gains. I didn’t know about the reign of terror necessary for whites to end this moment of possibility, murdering thousands of black men, women and children. A Splendid Failure.I didn’t know lynching is a term that covers a whole range of violent acts, usually beginning with cutting off the victim’s ears, nose and sexual parts, burning of body parts or the entire person, hanging the body, dragging the body through the streets, and usually depositing the mutilated corpse in the middle of a black neighborhood. I didn’t know this often happened in a picnic atmosphere, with white children encouraged to watch. I didn’t know that in the hundred years after 1865 a lynching took place once a week somewhere in America. Avoiding the L Word.

I didn’t know very few enslaved persons lived on plantations like those glorified in white literature and media. Most enslaved persons lived and worked in conditions more like those practiced by the Nazis in their work camps, where the goal was to squeeze the most labor possible out of a person before their death. Enslaved adults seldom lived past the age of thirty. I didn’t know slavery in the..............


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I had a unique situation that most children miss. I was four-years-old when WW II started and my father and family moved around with him living in a 12-foot trailer to construction camps as he builds railroad bridges across the U.S.In the camp, but segregated by race, we children played, danced, sang, and played sports with black children, Native American, and Asian children. We had wonderful times together, ate food at each others' campsite, sang songs of each culture, listened to stories told by the mothers and father at the end of long days of hard work. 

The men came to camp, sweaty, dirty, smelling like laborers. They gathered in the huge shower room and steam floated out the windows from their hot showers even as their singing filled the air with melodies and rhythms foreign to me.  We could hear the men yelp as the hot towels their bottoms and roars of laughter that followed. We children ate at each others' pot simmering in fires outside their trailers or tents. I ate hot chili with the Mexican families, ham bone and beans at the fire of the blacks, Corn, beans, and squash with the Native Americans. 

I had a privileged childhood. I loved the men, women, and children with whom I moved across the Southern tier of the U.S. as our dad's built railroad bridges for the U.S. to move men and material from coast to coast. I was 5 years old when bombs fell on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered WW II. 

I didn't know the suffering of the blacks, Native Americans, and Mexicans at the hands of the U.S. military and big business, and of the discrimination. Hate for Japanese, for Germans, for Italians, for Irish, and our Native population. A job needed to be done and everyone who could do the work was employed by Morrison Knudson Construction Co. to build those bridges strong enough to hold trainloads of troops, Jeeps, tanks, fuel, and ammunition across the country. 

Great childhood learning experience.

My father was a huge bigot, & I was uncomfortable with it before I even knew what it was.

Another little disgrace in USA is the large scale de facto slavery after emancipation.  In many cases it was worse for blacks post-emancipation. Not only were individuals purchasing blacks after 1863 and well into 20th century but major corporations like standard oil were doing the same.

The treatment by these corporations of their slaves was despicable...horrible quarters, horrible care, harsh punishment or torture and in essence fungible goods. 

But the main thing is these transgressions were committed by white christians.  


A big helping of facts I knew and facts I didn't know, but nothing surprises me, sadly enough.

Who did not hear Tennessee Ernie sing of the man who owed his soul to the company store, and every day being deeper in debt?

I visited a plantation in Louisiana where "free" black laborers were paid in company scrip until 1964.

I'd never heard this wider use of the term "lynching". I didn't know slaves seldom lived past 30. 

Any links to Most enslaved persons lived and worked in conditions more like those practiced by the Nazis in their work camps ..."? I'm interested, as I'd thought it was mostly agricultural labor.

The book is very good...have not watched this.

One big reason for African-American progress in the ten years following the Civil War was the continuing presence of Federal troops throughout the defunct Confederacy. The Republican party, which was the anti-slavery party of Lincoln, impeached President Andrew Johnson, but failed after two attempts to secure a conviction in the Senate, so Johnson tried to implement Lincoln's plans for rebuilding the Union, but he lost his bid for re-election in 1868, which led to eight years of the scandal plagued administration Of U.S. Grant. In 1876, Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote by an actual majority, but came up one short of the necessary electoral votes because in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina both parties insisted their candidate had won, and in Oregon, an illegally chosen elector was replaced. This impasse was resolved by awarding the electoral votes in those four states to the Republican, Rutherford B. Hayes, in exchange for his promise to end Reconstruction. The Federal troops were withdrawn, whites returned to power, and another century of black oppression began..

Lots of history I didn't know. Thanks.

What annoys me the most is the suppresion of this history. It needs to be taught to our childern so they do not make the same mistakes.

History as taught in schools is of necessity simplified and sanitized. Many people never study history after high school, and most college degree programs only require three or six hours of history, and it takes years before contemporary historians' work filters down to public universities and schools. Netflix has a documentary series by Oliver Stone called The Untold History of the United States, well worth a look--though I think he's incorrect about the JFK assassination.




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