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Posts Tagged ‘Ku Klux Klan’

La revista Huellas de Estados Unidos acaba de publicar su décimo tercer número con una selección de interesantes artículos enfocados, principalmente, a analizar el origen y significados del fenómeno Trump. Destaca el tema racial con trabajos de Valeria L. Carbonne (“Charlottesville: Historia de racismo y supremacía blanca“), Pablo Pozzi (“El Ku Klux Klan y el capitalismo” y  Ana Bochicchio (“¿Qué piensan los supremacistas blancos norteamericanos?”). Se incluye, además, la traducción de un capítulo del clásico libro de Michael Hunt Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). Agradecemos, nuevamente, a los editores de Huellas de Estados Unidos por su gran labor promoviendo el estudio de Estados Unidos en América Latina.

 

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Confederate Flags in the Jim Crow North

by 

The African American  Intellectual History Society   July 1, 2015
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Photo: Opponents of local civil rights activists raise a Confederate flag in the Bronx, July 1963

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Over the years, what many people recognize as the Confederate flag, the “Stars and Bars,” which decorated several official flags that insurrectionists who fought against the United States flew during the Civil War (1861-1865), has symbolized different types of American identity.

During the 1950s, white Southerners who opposed racial integration and civil rights for black Americans used the Confederate flag as a symbol of their resistance against what they saw as a tyrannical federal government that sought to eradicate their cultures and customs. Some Southerners called these mores their “way of life.”

They were not totally wrong since their official “way of life” involved oppressing American blacks in practically every possible way.

White people could treat black citizens like dogs, or worse, outright terrorize them, at voting polls, in courts, at workplaces, in stores, at theaters, in public schools. Racial segregation even ruled cemeteries.

Racial segregation dominated the South.

So, when Supreme Court decisions and federal laws sided with citizens who fought against racist segregation, white Southerners knew their way of life’s days were numbered. They resisted the civil rights movement. They opposed equal citizenship for black Americans and equal protection of the law for black people.

They showed their defiance the same way Southern insurrectionists did during the Civil War: they flew their Stars and Bars.

Nowadays, some white Southerners (and black ones too) say that the flag serves as a symbol of their heritage. It honors their ancestors. They argue that the Confederate flag does not stand for slavery; even though that flag flew over armies that marched to create a new nation built to preserve white supremacy and racial slavery.

The Confederate political leader, Alexander Stephens, made plain why the insurrectionists fought that war and flew their flag when he explained that his new government’s, “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the (N)egro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”

Perhaps the cultural and political meanings that the Confederate flag represented in the 1860s and in the 1950s have changed.

Perhaps now, in the 2010s, the Confederate flag means different things – heritage and sectional pride – than it meant in the past: massive resistance against the civil rights movement and a new nation to protect white people’s ability to enslave black people.

Perhaps.

But that flag’s connection to the white nationalist terrorist’s shooting of 9 Black people in Charleston, South Carolina, proves that the Stars and Bars still have a great amount of white nationalist, racist, segregationist meaning woven within its fabric.

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During today’s raging culture wars over the Confederate flag, Americans should remember that white Southerners do not have a monopoly on the Confederate flag’s meaning, or its use.

Historians have shown how supposedly “Southern” forms of racism and terrorism, as well as activist movements against those cultural and political practices, existed throughout the nation.

For example, contrary to notions of its strictly rural Southern existence, during its resurgence in the 1920s the Ku Klux Klan wielded power and influence in cities across the country.

Even during the 1960s, when some whites outside the South wanted adamantly to oppose any type of civil rights for black Americans, they used two of the strongest, clearest symbols to communicate their political views and cultural identity: KKK hoods and Confederate flags.

In the summer of 1963, black and white civil rights activists in the Allerton Avenue section of the northeast Bronx, New York, staged nonviolent protests for black people to have more jobs at local White Castle restaurants.

Some of their opponents paraded in KKK hoods, waved Confederate flags, and donned Confederate garb (see below pictures). One counter demonstrator tried to have a nine-month old pose for a picture wearing a replica of a Confederate officer’s hat.

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Ironically, many of the white residents of the northeast Bronx neighborhood where those protests occurred descended from Italian immigrants. They stood next to Confederate flags and a person dressed like a Klansman, but at one time the white American nationalists who used those symbols throughout the decades also violently opposed southern Europeans and Catholics immigrating into the United States.

When Bronx whites who opposed the civil rights movement in their own community wanted to express their nationalism and identity, and their political opposition against black employment at White Castle, they knew exactly what symbols to use, what flags to fly, and what chants to shout. They sang, “Dixie.” They yelled, “Go home nigger.” A taxi driver from the community told a New York Post reporter, “We aren’t going to let the colored people take over our neighborhood like they have everywhere else in the city.”

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Over the years, the Confederate flag emerged as a very American symbol of white nationalism, white identity, and opposition against any type of civil rights and civil equality for black people in the United States.

Some Southerners claim the Confederate flag as a symbol of their cultural identity and historical heritage, and the Stars and Bars may very well have such sentimental value.

But personal heritage cannot erase or replace national history.

Since the Civil War, Americans around the country have used that flag to symbolize their opposition of black civic equality, even black people’s very humanity.

As twenty first century Americans call for the flag’s removal from public buildings, especially state capitals, historians should also do more research into the ways the Confederate flag served as a powerful national symbol, not merely a regional or sectional one, for white nationalism and domestic racist terrorism.

Brian Purnell

Brian%20Purnell%200454Brian Purnell is Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at Bowdoin College. He is the author of Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn (Kentucky, 2013), which won the New York State Historical Association Manuscript Prize in 2012. He has worked on several public history projects with the Brooklyn Historical Society, the Bronx County Historical Society, the Brooklyn Public Library and the University of South Carolina. Before joining the faculty at Bowdoin, he worked for six years at Fordham University as Research Director of the Bronx African American History Project and as an Assistant Professor of African American Studies (2006-2010). He is currently working on two books. The first is an oral history autobiography of Jitu Weusi (Leslie Campbell), a prominent educator and Black Nationalist activist in Brooklyn, New York, during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. The second is a history of urban community development corporations since the mid-1960s tentatively entitled, “Unmaking Ghettos: The Golden Age of Community Development in America’s Black Metropolises.” Brian lives in Brunswick, Maine, with his wife, Leana Amaez, and their four children: Isabella, Gabriel, Lillian and Emilia.

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Video of the Week: The Ku Klux Klan parades down Pennsylvania Ave 1928

HNN June 23, 2015

 

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By 

New Republic June 8, 2015

American cinema has never been particularly kind to black folks. As blacks moved north into cities with burgeoning movie palaces and industrial jobs and laws designed to keep them impoverished and on the margins, filmic representation of black life—limited for most of the time between World War I and Vietnam to “Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks,” as historian Donald Bogle put it in 1973—was the lens through which American society viewed blacks.1

Anyone who took silver screen representations of blacks at face value would come away with the notion that black folks were, by and large, stupid, cowardly, lazy and worthy of subjugation, censure and plunder. That this is just how America has largely treated its African American population both before and since is no accident. When the blustery but occasionally insightful critic Armond White said “you have a culture of criticism that simply doesn’t want Black people to have any kind of power, any kind of spiritual understanding or artistic understanding of themselves,” he wasn’t wrong.

“ARoad Three Hundred Years Long: Cinema and the Great Migration,” a series at New York’s Museum of Modern Art that began last Monday and runs through June 12th, provides a much-needed corrective, a narrative of black resistance to the dominant mode of slanderous Hollywood storytelling—both now and, somewhat miraculously, in the days of Jim Crow. Curated by MoMA’s Joshua Siegel and independent curator Thomas Beard of Light Industry, the country’s leading micro-cinema for experimental film, the exhibition is pegged to the Museum’s show of Jacob Lawrence’s Great Migration paintings. “A Road Three Hundred Years Long” includes many films that catered to black audiences in the era of their flight from terror, showcasing a significant amount of pre-war black filmmaking as well as movies by contemporary black filmmakers that explore the mysterious legacy of the Great Migration.

Blacks were unable to go to segregated movie theaters in the south except under special circumstances—“midnight rambles,” for example, which were late night screenings of popular films and black-themed movies for black patrons that were barred during the day. But some black owned movie theaters persisted and some of the work shown there, both home movies and narrative features, found appreciative pre-war audiences. MoMA’s program includes many of these films, as well as WPA-style proletarian news reels and avant-garde non-fiction films, to showcase images of black life that—despite the specter of prejudice—highlight unadorned, provincially black, middle class normality in a way that is painfully rare. These spaces have largely escaped Hollywood visions of black American life, obsessed as they are with broad stereotype (see this summer’s Dope) or elegantly rendered historical struggle (Selma12 Years a Slave).

But for black experimentalists (like Kevin Jerome Everson, who directed Company Line) or great, sadly underemployed black narrative directors—like Charles Burnett, who made To Sleep with Anger, and Julie Dash, who did Daughters of the Dust—the forgotten spaces of black American life provide wonderful fodder for exploring the mysterious resilience of black middle class life.

The program’s most interesting discoveries are rooted further in the past. Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams were the only African Americans to make narrative feature films in the years before the Civil Rights Movement and they are very much at the center of “A Road Three Hundred Years Long.”Several works by Micheaux, the most prolific of the black pre-war filmmakers, are on display, including his 1920 film The Symbol of the Unconquered. A rejoinder of sorts to The Birth of a Nation, it remains one of the watershed moments in black film history.

Meanwhile, Williams’s work is the subject of the documentary Juke: Passages from the films of Spencer Williams, a series-opening compilation film by noted found footage documentarian Thom Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself). Williams is known more as the star of the popular early ’50s sitcom the Amos ‘n’ Andy than as a groundbreaking independent filmmaker. Financed by a Jewish Texan named Alfred Sack, Williams’ moralizing work is often compared to Tyler Perry’s, but given the era he worked in he couldn’t hope to control the means of production on his own (as Perry famously has).

Williams’ race movies made great use of magic realist flourishes in his early films; in The Blood of Jesus, undeniably his masterwork, the devil drives a flatbed truck with sinners perched on the back and Angels—given etherealness through that most basic cinematic trickery, the double exposure—hover over the bed of a woman who lies mortally wounded.Andersen’s interest, however, lies mainly in recontextualizing clips from Williams’ films to highlight the documentary-like aspects they contain. Because so few motion picture images of black middle class life were taken in Dallas suburbs or Harlem night clubs, in cab stands and in juke joints, in sitting rooms and in neighborhood streets, Williams’ scenes have a representative quality that transcends their narratives of jazz age sin and Christian redemption, one that Andersen’s deft cutting compiles in a lucid, if decidedly non-narrative way. (Next winter, arthouse film distributor Kino Lorber will release a box set of Micheaux and Williams movies.)

This has been a watershed year for black repertory programming in the city. Between the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Telling It Like It Is: Black Independents in New York 1968-1986,” the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Space is the Place: Afrofuturism in Film,” and “A Road Three Hundred Years Long,” movies about black life have been given significant platforms in some of New York’s august cultural institutions. The takeaway from these wonderfully curated programs, though, is grimmer: Looking through the filmographies of the artists involved, very little of their work has come with the support of our national film culture’s most enduring brands, the Hollywood studios. One quickly gets the sense that thoughtful, nuanced stories about the African American experience aren’t welcome out there.

Today African Americans are underrepresented in the movie industry’s workforce, both in front of and behind the camera. In the boardroom and in the postproduction house, blackness is scarce. This holds true for every strata of the industry, from the dying vestiges of New York’s indiewood to the hallways of power at Los Angeles’ major studios. I imagine there may be a black person within the studio apparatus who holds the power to green light movies about the parochial anxieties, dreams and predilections of American negroes without fear of quizzical glances from his peers and superiors, but I’ve yet to meet or hear of this person. I’m not holding my breath.

This year and last year are the only consecutive years in cinematic history in which films directed by people of African descent were nominated for the Oscar for best picture. But look for African Americans when you walk through the offices of a major film production or distribution outfit—you’ll still only find them at the guard’s desk or near the janitor’s closet. That narrative has to change.

Brandon Harris

A visiting assistant Professor of Film at SUNY Purchase and Contributing Editor of Filmmaker Magazine, Brandon Harris’ criticism and journalism has appeared in The New YorkerVice, The Daily Beast and n+1. His film Redlegs is a New York Times Critic’s Pick.

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Invisible Empire: An ‘Imperial’ History of the KKK

Dr. Kristofer Allerfeldt
History Department, University of Exeter

Imperial & Global Fórum  July 7, 2014

invisible-empireInvisible EmpireHistorians are used to the concept of formal and informal empires. They are used to empires expanding and empires declining. Most are perhaps less familiar with a concept bandied about in the United States from the late 1860s to the mid-1930s – that of an “invisible” empire.

In reality this empire was anything but invisible. Born in the turmoil of the post-Civil War South, by the mid-1920s it had spread to all mainland states of the Union, claiming some ten million members.

It was also known as the Ku Klux Klan.

As with much of the history of the KKK, the origins of the term “Invisible Empire” are disputed. Some claim that it emerged from Confederate General Robert E Lee’s polite request to keep his support for the nascent Klan “invisible”. Others see it as a part of the secrecy surrounding the original hooded fraternity. Whichever origin is chosen, there’s no doubting it was a useful phrase.

Arguing that Lee’s Klan connection was kept “invisible” at his own request was a trump card for those dedicated to the order’s mission of “Redeeming” the South’s pre-bellum traditions. However invisible, connection to the most illustrious figure of the Confederate war effort gave the Klan prestige and legitimacy, not only during the struggles of post war reconstruction, but also when the Klan re-emerged in 1915. Claiming he had wanted his ties kept secret also made it more difficult for either the general sceptics or the KKK’s enemies to disprove his connection with the vigilante organization of Reconstruction – which they all attempted to do.

 Membership card of A.F. Handcock in the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (1928)


Membership card of A.F. Handcock in the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (1928)

The controversy surrounding Lee’s allegedly “invisible” connection also, of course, makes it more difficult for historians now to accurately assess his connection. Early accounts of the Klan repeat the rumour, largely because the order was seen in a generally positive light. In some measure this was the result of a negative view of the Reconstruction efforts carried out in the post-war South. These Radical Republican-led attempts at racial integration and universal education were almost universally seen as the misguided efforts of unrealistic idealists, or viewed as the actions of corrupt politicians. Further, many of the historians writing histories of the Klan from Reconstruction through until at least the 1920s were, or claimed they were related to, members of the order.

The result was that accounts like that of Susan Lawrence Davis (1924) reiterated the myth offering no hint of its origins and making no attempt to show its authenticity.[1] Merely stating the case seems frequently to be considered enough proof by the standards of the time, but Davis’ background tells us much about her real sympathies. She was the daughter of a Confederate colonel and Klansman, Lawrence Ripley Davis. What is more she draws on equally unreliable sources, like the memoirs of one of the founders, John C Lester.

However, unlike previous accounts, Davis even quotes Lee’s words. She has the general tell the deputation asking him to head the order in May 1867 that, “I would like to assist you in any plan that offers relief. I cannot be with you in person but I will follow you, but it must be invisible.” She goes on to explain, “When this message was delivered to the [Klan] convention it led to the christening of the United Ku Klux Klan, the “Invisible Empire””.

By the end of the 1920s the Klan’s position in American society was less secure. A series of sexual and financial scandals combined with revelations of its violent methods reduced both the numbers and reputation of the order. The result was that even apologists tended to veer away from associating the symbol of Southern chivalry and gentility – Lee – with a tainted order of what even its leader had referred to as violent, ill-educated “second hand Ford owners”. Consequently, most historians since the 1930s have tended to see the Invisible Empire as being an example of the order’s fascination with mysticism.

This securely ties the order back to the craze for secret brotherhoods which swept across the United States in the wake of the Civil War. The period from 1865 to 1930 saw a huge explosion in fraternities of all types, so much so it is referred to as the “Golden Age of Fraternity”. College Greek letter fraternities; fraternities associated with particular trades, ethnicities and interests; fraternities formed to achieve certain aims, as well as the more traditional varieties like the Freemasons, Oddfellows and Shriners all prospered and expanded. One estimate claimed that around 1900, one in five American adult males was a member of at least one fraternity, many belonged to several.

The Klan itself had started as a simple fraternity. Around Christmas 1865, six bored ex-Confederate veterans, recently de-mobbed, formed their own fraternity – simply for entertainment. Like many other contemporary orders secrecy was central to the new fraternity. It had elaborate oaths of secrecy threatening dire punishment for those who spread details of the order. It had weird names to disguise the identity of members, and elaborate costumes to hide their faces. When, by 1868, the order had spread across the Southern states and was terrorizing those attempting to empower and integrate the region’s four million ex-slaves, that invisibility proved vital to avoiding prosecution and counter-attack.

birth-of-nation-movie-poster-900Similarly when the Klan was reformed in 1915, secrecy remained essential, not so much for the protection of its members, but more for the frisson of excitement and exclusivity it gave its members as part of a society made even more famous with the blockbuster release of Birth of a Nation (1915) on the silver screen.

As the Klan organisation expanded in the 1920s its “invisible” nature continued to help it. It enabled recruiters to gull fee-paying members into joining an order that never had anywhere near the ten million members it claimed at its peak in 1924. It allowed the organisation to exaggerate its power, by claiming it had members – sworn to secrecy, of course – at all levels of government from the White House down. It allowed the leadership to disavow actions of members they felt were acting to damage the image of the fraternity and disguise the order’s rapid decline from the mid-1920s onwards. Its leadership apparently found the concept of an “Invisible Empire” had much more to commend it than a visible one..

Klan newspaper of the 1970s.

Klan newspaper of the 1970s.

Having said that the concept of the Invisible Empire has proved a constant headache for historians. Secrecy and exaggeration, added to the lack of records and a reluctance of many to admit their own, or relatives, association with the Klan mean that our histories of the fraternity are necessarily to some extent speculative – especially when it comes to numbers. Nevertheless, this very secrecy makes new theories, new explanations and, of course, new histories of the Klan possible.

Kristofer Allerfeldt will be working on a new history of the Klan in conjunction with his PhD student, Miguel Hernandez, in 2015.

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[1] Susan Lawrence Davis, The Authentic History of the Ku Klux Klan (New York, 1924).

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La América de John F. Kennedy

Por: Julián Casanova

El país  | 21 de noviembre de 2013

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John F. Kennedy y su esposa, Jackie, en Dallas momentos antes del magnicidio. / ken features

Lo escribió Martin Luther King en su autobiografía: “Aunque la pregunta “¿Quién mató al presidente Kennedy?” es importante, la pregunta “¿Qué lo mató”? es más importante”.

En realidad, 1963 fue un año de numerosos asesinatos políticos en Estados Unidos, la mayoría de dirigentes negros. Y en esa década fue asesinado Malcolm X, en Harlem, Nueva York, el 21 de febrero de 1965, por uno de sus antiguos seguidores, en un momento en el que estaba rompiendo con los líderes más radicales de su movimiento. El 4 de abril de 1968, en el balcón de su habitación del hotel Loraine, en Memphis, Tennessee, un solo disparo acabó con la vida de Martin Luther King. Dos meses más tarde, el 6 de junio, tras un discurso triunfante en California en su campaña para ganar la candidatura por el Partido Demócrata, otro asesino se llevó la del senador Robert F. Kennedy. “No votaré”, declaró un negro neoyorquino en una encuesta: “Matan a todos los hombres buenos que tenemos”.

Todo ocurrió de forma muy rápida, en una década de protestas masivas y de desobediencia civil que precedió al asesinato de JFK. Estados Unidos era entonces la primera potencia militar y económica del mundo, en la que, sin embargo, prevalecía todavía el racismo, una herencia de la esclavitud que esa sociedad tan rica y democrática no había sabido eliminar. Millones de norteamericanos de otras razas diferentes a la blanca se topaban en la vida cotidiana con una aguda discriminación en el trabajo, en la educación, en la política y en la concesión de los derechos legales.

Montgomery, Alabama, la antigua capital de la Confederación durante la guerra civil de los años sesenta del siglo XIX, a donde se trasladó Luther King en octubre de 1954 para ocupar su primer trabajo como pastor y predicador de la iglesia baptista, constituía un excelente ejemplo de cómo la vida de los negros estaba gobernada por los arbitrarios caprichos y voluntades del poder blanco. La mayoría de sus 50.000 habitantes negros trabajaban como criados al servicio de la comunidad blanca, compuesta por 70.000 habitantes, y apenas 2.000 de ellos podían ejercer el derecho al voto en las elecciones. Allí, en Montgomery, en esa pequeña ciudad del sur profundo, donde nada parecía moverse, comenzaron a cambiar las cosas el 1 de diciembre de 1955.

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Rosa Parks, en un autubús de Montgomery. / AP

Ese día por la tarde, Rosa Parks, una costurera de 42 años, cogió el autobús desde el trabajo a casa, se sentó en los asientos reservados por la ley a los blancos y cuando el conductor le ordenó levantarse para cedérselo a un hombre blanco que estaba de pie, se negó. Dijo no porque, tal y como lo recordaba después Martin Luther King, no aguantaba más humillaciones y eso es lo que le pedía “su sentido de dignidad y autoestima”. Rosa Parks fue detenida y comenzó un boicot espontáneo a ese sistema segregacionista que regía en los autobuses de la ciudad. Uno de sus promotores, E.D. Nixon, pidió al joven pastor baptista, casi nuevo en la ciudad, que se uniera a la protesta. Y ese fue el bautismo de Martin Luther King como líder del movimiento de los derechos civiles. Unos días después, en una iglesia abarrotada de gente, King avanzó hacia el púlpito y comenzó “el discurso más decisivo” de su vida. Y les dijo que estaban allí porque eran ciudadanos norteamericanos y amaban la democracia, que la raza negra estaba ya harta “de ser pisoteada por el pie de hierro de la opresión”, que estaban dispuestos a luchar y combatir “hasta que la justicia corra como el agua”.

Los trece meses que duró el boicot alumbraron un nuevo movimiento social. Aunque sus dirigentes fueron predicadores negros y después estudiantes universitarios, su auténtica fuerza surgió de la capacidad de movilizar a decenas de miles de trabajadores negros. Una minoría racial, dominada y casi invisible, lideró un amplio repertorio de protestas –boicots, marchas a las cárceles, ocupaciones pacíficas de edificios…- que puso al descubierto la hipocresía del segregacionismo y abrió el camino a una cultura cívica más democrática. La conquista del voto por los negros sería, según percibió desde el principio Martin Luther King, “la llave para la solución completa del problema del sur”.

Pero la libertad y la dignidad para millones de negros no podía ganarse sin un desafío fundamental a la distribución existente del poder. La estrategia de desobediencia civil no violenta, predicada y puesta en práctica por Martin Luther King hasta su muerte, encontró muchos obstáculos.

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Luther King se dirige a los asistentes a la Marcha de Washington el 28 de agosto de 1963. / france press

A John Fitzgerald Kennedy, ganador de las elecciones presidenciales de noviembre de 1960, el reconocimiento de los derechos civiles le creó numerosos problemas con los congresistas blancos del sur y trató por todos los medios de evitar que se convirtiera en el tema dominante de la política nacional. No lo consiguió, porque antes de que fuera asesinado en Dallas, Texas, el 22 de noviembre de 1963, el movimiento se había extendido a las ciudades más importantes del norte del país y había protagonizado una multitudinaria marcha a Washington en agosto de ese año, la manifestación política más importante de la historia de Estados Unidos.

No fue todo un camino de rosas. La batalla contra el racismo se llenó de rencores y odios, dejando cientos de muertos y miles de heridos. La violencia racial no era una fenómeno nuevo en la sociedad norteamericana. Pero hasta el final de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, esa violencia había sido protagonizada por grupos de blancos armados que atacaban a los negros y por el Ku Klux Klan, la organización terrorista establecida en el sur precisamente para impedir la concesión de derechos legales a los ciudadanos negros. En los disturbios de los años sesenta, por el contrario, muchos negros respondieron a la discriminación y a la represión policial con asaltos a las propiedades de los blancos, incendios y saqueos. Las versiones oficiales y muchos periódicos culparon de la violencia y de los derramamientos de sangre a pequeños grupos de agitadores radicales, aunque posteriores investigaciones revelaron que la mayoría de las víctimas fueron negros que murieron por los disparos de las fuerzas gubernamentales.

Con tanta violencia, la estrategia pacífica de Martin Luther King parecía tambalearse. Y frente a ella surgieron nuevos dirigentes negros con visiones alternativas. El más carismático fue un hombre llamado Malcolm X, que había visto de niño cómo el Ku Klux Klan incendiaba su casa y mataba a su padre, un predicador baptista, y que se había convertido al islamismo después de una larga estancia en prisión. Criticó el movimiento a favor de los derechos civiles, despreció la estrategia de la no violencia y sostuvo una agria disputa con Martin Luther King, al que llamó “traidor al pueblo negro”. King deploró su “oratoria demagógica” y dijo estar convencido de que era ese racismo tan enfermo y profundo el que alimentaba figuras como Malcolm X. Cuando éste fue asesinado, King recordó de nuevo que “la violencia y el odio sólo engendran violencia y odio”.

Los negros sabían muy bien qué eran los asesinatos políticos. Cuando subió al poder, John F. Kennedy no conocía a muchos negros. Pero tuvo que abordar el problema, el más acuciante de la sociedad estadounidense. Hubo dos Kennedys, como también recordó Luther King. El presionado y acuciado, durante sus dos primeros años de mandato, por la incertidumbre causada por la dura campaña electoral y su escaso margen de victoria sobre Richard Nixon en 1960; y el que tuvo el coraje, desde 1963, de convertirse en un defensor de los derechos civiles.

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Marines cruzando un río en Vietnam el 30 de octubre de 1968. / agencia keystone

Pero si todos esos conflictos sobre los derechos civiles revelaban algunas de las enfermedades de aquella sociedad, la política exterior, desde la crisis de los misiles en Cuba hasta la guerra de Vietnam, sacó a la superficie las tensiones inherentes a los esfuerzos de Kennedy por manejar el imperio. Kennedy decidió demostrar al mundo el poder estadounidense y comenzó a convertir a Vietnam en el territorio idóneo para destruir al enemigo. Kennedy no lo vio, pero la guerra que siguió a su muerte fue el desastre más grande de la historia de Estados Unidos en el siglo XX.

“Hemos creado una atmósfera en la que la violencia y el odio se han convertido en pasatiempos populares”, escribió Luther King en el epitafio que le dedicó al presidente. El asesinato de Kennedy no sólo mató a un hombre, sino a un montón de “ilusiones”. Cuando se conoció su muerte, en muchos sitios, en medio del duelo general, se escuchó la Dance of the Blessed Spirits. Cuando asesinaron a Luther King, casi cinco años después, la rabia y la violencia se propagaron en forma de disturbios por más de un centenar de ciudades, el final amargo de una era de sueños y esperanzas. Lo dijo su padre, el predicador baptista que le había inculcado los valores de la dignidad y de la justicia: “Fue el odio en esta tierra el que me quitó a mi hijo”.

, catedrático de Historia Contemporánea de la Universidad de Zaragoza, defiende, como Eric J. Hobsbawm, que los historiadores son “los ‘recordadores’ profesionales de lo que los ciudadanos desean olvidar”. Es autor de una veintena de libros sobre anarquismo, Guerra Civil y siglo XX.

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