Thursday, June 6, 2024

Dear Byron Donalds: The terror of Jim Crow was NOT good for Black families

Apparently it's not enough for MAGA to ban books that teach American history, suggest that Black people benefited from their time as slaves, or claim that the passage of the Civil Rights Act was a "huge mistake." Now Rep. Byron Donalds says that "Black families were better off during Jim Crow." 

In response, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries spoke some truth on the House floor.

Now Donalds claims that he never said that Black people were better off under Jim Crow, but wants to emphasize that he was suggesting that "Black families" were better off. I'll let you try to figure out how that's different. But a few lessons from actual American history are important to correct the record. 

First of all, Donalds wants us to forget what slavery did to Black families.

Roughly half of all enslaved people were separated from their spouses and parents; about one in four of those sold were children. Ads for the Thomas L. Frazer & Co. Slave Mart in Montgomery, Alabama, boasted that it had “constantly on hand a large and well selected stock” of Black boys and girls.

Slaveholders threatened separation to maintain control, forcing enslaved people to live with the constant fear of losing a loved one. Even those who were not traded across regions could be sold away from relatives at an owner’s whim, to divide an estate, settle a debt, or as punishment.

Secondly, a myth has developed in this country that Jim Crow was about separate lunch counters, water fountains, and schools. I'm going to let Hamden Rice bust that one.

It wasn't that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn't sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.

You really must disabuse yourself of this idea. Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth's.

It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.

This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.

According to research by the Equal Justice Initiative, there were "more than 4400 racial terror lynchings in the United States during the period between Reconstruction and World War II." This also happened during Jim Crow: 

The lynchings, beatings, and massacres were all part of the terror campaign that led approximately 6 million Black Americans to flee the South (often leaving family behind) during the Great Migration of the Jim Crow era.

As is often the case, I have no idea if Byron Donalds was being completely ignorant or sadistically inflammatory. But it doesn't matter. He can't whitewash our history. 


  1. Good perspective, Nancy. Thank you

  2. Safe within his Congressional bubble, Byron Donalds can make any claim he wishes because his words will have no personal consequences. Donalds is not a black man when he is in Congress, but someone very much enmeshed in the U.S.' power hierarchy.

    However, what would happen if he was driven out to the hinterlands of any state in the Deep South with total anonymity and no security protection? Would he feel the same then? My guess is no he wouldn't: the white supremacist hierarchy that still exists in many places in the rural South would make sure of it.

    The irony in all of this for me is that it wasn't so long ago (30 years or so), that Donalds' Congressional District (i.e. Lee & Collier counties) would have outright rejected having a black Congressman. I have relatives who lived in Cape Coral at the time. I will never forget the time that I saw a boat with a huge Confederate flag floating down the Caloosahatchee River with the words "The South Shall Rise Again" written in yellow letters on the hull; 4th of July 1992. I doubt Donalds even realizes any of this or if he did would care a whit about it.

    1. Byron Donalds suffers from 'selective amnesia' in the collective sense that in saying what he has said about the 'Jim Crow' "benefits" to Black men, Donalds destroys the gains that have been made for all Black citizens everywhere and simply does so in order to gain some political chits in his Christmas stocking. Mouthy meaninglessness.


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