The nation's "No. 1 Economic Problem" in 1938 was stated to be the South. To address this issue, President Roosevelt's administration created the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW) as part of its New Deal efforts. It's first session, as reported by the Charlottesville Progress and republished in the Northern Virginia Daily, happened in Birmingham with "a wrangle over endorsement of Federal anti-lynching legislation and condemnation of laws segregating whites and Negroes in Southern cities" and passing "resolutions asking freight rate parity for the South, urging elimination of poll taxes, seeking public defenders for indignation of poll taxes (and) indignets in court, ... and seeking uniform registration requirements for voters" (Vol 56, No. 279, 30 November 1938, p.4).
Lynching, a practice of killing an individual outside of legal proceedings and often due to misplaced anger or biased beliefs of wrongdoing even when there is no definitive evidence of such, is an extremely important topic. In a majority of cases, persons conducting such crimes were never sentenced. Racial terror was one of the goals of the KKK, as they promoted white supremacy in the South; thus, lynching is often associated with this hate group; however, they did not always occur by the Ku Klux Klan. From the 1880s to 1970, approximately 4,750 lynchings occured in the United States - for more information, read History of Lynching in America. At present no known cases of lynching occurred in Shenandoah County, although they did happen in surrounding counties. As such, and for the purposes of focusing on county-relevant topics, I'm not addressing lynching in this series of letters. That said, as we have already seen in many previous posts, violence, intimidation, and animosity were often employed in Shenandoah County, Virginia, against African Americans, even if not always reported (see especially, Week 31: Rachel, Lashed to Death, Week 33: Bitter Prejudice, Week 34: Need for Radical Change, Week 35: Community, Week 36: Are We Compassionate?, Week 37: Prejudicial to our Race, Week 41: Self-Preservation). Today's post focuses on poll taxes and segregation, particularly as they impacted a cycle of reaffirming racial inequality and privileging Confederate history in our public spaces.
In Shenandoah County, Virginia, the Edinburg Sentinel and Valley Advertiser from 1903 explained the voting registration process at that time: "Any one can register who is a veteran, or a son of a veteran, or who last year paid a State property tax of $1, or is 'able to read any section of the Constitution submitted to him by the officers of registration and to give a reasonable explanation of the same; or, if unable to read such section, able to understand and give a reasonable explanation thereof when read to him by the officers... the questions put under the understanding clause were extremely reasonable, and were readily answered by men of ordinary intelligence... Beginning with 1904, it will be requisite that he who offers for registration shall have paid the poll tax assessed against him for the three years preceding the election, and this payment must be made six months prior to the election" (Vol 10, No 46, 3 September 1903, p. 2). The April 28, 1911 issue of Shenandoah Herald notes: "In order to vote at the... November election the poll tax must be paid on or before Saturday, May 6" (Vol 94, No 17, 28 April 1911, p.2). In 1903, the poll tax was $1.50, which would be the same worth as approximately $52 in 2023 - with one dollar going to the public schools and fifty cents to the locality on every capitation tax paid. "Delinquency in making poll tax payments constitutes a misdemeanor," according to a 1939 issue of the Northern Virginia Daily; and, "section 128 of the state tax code... requires payment of the poll tax as a prerequisite to obtaining any state or local license, permit or authorization except a marriage license" (Vol. 57, No. 55, 6 March 1939, p. 1). Poll taxes and literacy tests were two methods used to disenfranchise and weed out voters who were poorer citizens, a large majority of whom were African American at the time. The poll tax was not abolished for use as a precondition to voting in federal elections until the passage of the 24th Amendment in 1964, and until 1966, after the Supreme Court case Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections found poll taxes to be unconstitutional in state elections, as well.
One aspect of the poll tax often overlooked is that Confederate soldiers in Virginia were not required to pay it. By section 22 of the Constitution all soldiers who served in the war between the States are exempted from the payment of any poll tax as a pre-requisite to the right to vote" (Strasburg News, No 52, 15 May 1903, p. 1). A constitutional amendment adopted by the general assembly of Virginia also permitted "Confederate widows to vote without paying a poll tax" (Strasburg News, Vol. 44, No 22, 18 March 1926, p.1).
This isn't the only time Confederate soldiers were favored in state or county decisions. "At a special meeting of the Board of Supervisors held in the court house on Wednesday, May 11, 1921... by unanimous consent it is hereby ordered that the Shenandoah Camp of Confederate Veterans be permitted to hold their meetings in the jury room in the Court House. The Shenandoah Camp realizing that this Association will soon be dissolved by the death of the members, passed a resolution requesting the Board of Supervisors to care for and to pass on to future generations the valuable records in their possession, when the Camp shall cease to exist. RESOLVED: That we, the representatives of the County, accept this trust" (Supervisor Minutes 1920-39, p.25-26). In 1926, Confederate pension checks represented "a total of $248,841.25, the greatest quarterly payment of Confederate pensions ever made in the history of the state" of Virginia (Strasburg News, Vol. 44, No 46, 10 June 1926, p.1). In addition, "out of the total $1,000,000 per year appropriated for Confederate pensions... $11,000 shall be expended for relief of needy Confederate women, who are not on the state pension roster, and who are not inmates of any Confederate, independent or church home or charitable institution." Then, on August 12, 1935, the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors "ordered to appropriate the sum of $50.00 for each Confederate Veteran that intends to attend the Confederate Veteran Reunion to be held in Texas, Sept. 3 to Sept. 6, 1935" (Supervisor Minutes 1920-39, p.438).
On top of the excessive funds given to aid Confederate veterans and their widows - which far outweighed anything Reconstruction efforts did to help formerly enslaved African American families that were comparatively neglected - memorial associations popped up across the South to honor aging Confederate veterans and burial grounds for soldiers. "The Ladies' Memorial Association of Mount Jackson, Shenandoah county, Va., has issued the following address: Our Soldiers' Cemetery near Mount Jackson... is the final resting place of nearly 500 soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia. Their prowess is known, because they followed the plumes of Beauregard, Johnston, Longstreet, Rhodes, Ashby, Gordon, Hill, Stewart, Ewell, Hampton, Jackson, Lee. The government to which they gave their allegiance, which they loved so loyally and so grandly defended, is no more, and the Confederate flag is furled forever... The Southern Confederacy and the causes which produced it went down with the remnant of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox, and henceforth lives only as a memory. Veterans, brave men of both armies, are reunited in one great American brotherhood, one citizenship, vieing with each other in the pursuits of peace and the promotion of the welfare of our reunited country - a union sealed with the blood of the best of both armies. To these survivors, Grand Army Posts, Confederate veterans, the Order of United Confederate Veterans, and a magnanimous and generous people, we appeal for liberal assistance in behalf of the Ladies' Memorial Association... Aided by, and dependent upon, the contributions of friends, North and South, they undertake the erection of a suitable granite memorial to perpetuate the memory of brave men who vouched for their country with their lives" (Our Church Paper, Vol. 23, No. 20, 15 May 1895, published in New Market, Va, p.4). Another name for this group was the Ladies' Memorial Society of the Lost Cause (Our Church Paper, Vol. 26, No 34, 24 August 1898).
After a decade, the fruition of their fundraising was revealed: "Thursday, June 4, 1903, a handsome monument, surmounted by a figure of a Confederate soldier, was unveiled at Mt. Jackson, Shenandoah county, Va., under the auspices of the Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, No. 133, of that place. The following is a list of the 350 Confederate soldiers - except the 112 unknown - buried in 'Our Soldiers Cemetery' at Mt Jackson, who, with possibly a very few exceptions, died at the hospital in that place from 1861 to 1865" (Our Church Paper, Volume 31, No. 23, 10 June 1903, p.4). The article continues, sharing the names of 43 men from Virginia, 82 men from North Carolina, 33 men from Alabama, 48 men from Georgia, and 19 men from South Carolina, as well as several from Texas, Louisiana, Maryland, Tennessee, and other unidentified states. The News Leader provides the following account: "The unveiling of the Confederate monument at Mount Jackson this morning at 11 o'clock attracted a large crowd, which came from all parts of the Valley of Virginia and adjoining counties. The monument was erected to 'All Confederate Soldiers' by the ladies of the Mt Jackson Chapter, Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Ladies' Memorial Society. The money was raised after ten years' work on the part of these noble women. In 1893 the first subscription was taken for this purpose. The sum was gradually increased until $1,500 was raised, and the contract for the memorial made. The monument is located in 'Our Soldiers' cemetery' one mile north of Mt. Jackson, and on the west side of the Valley turnpike. It faces the highway. Our Soldiers' cemetery contains the graves of about 350 Confederate dead" (Vol 4, No 218, 4 June 1903, p.10). The Department of Historic Resources erected a highway marker (A-65) in 1997. According to the marker, the cemetery was originally dedicated on May 10, 1866, on the third anniversary of Stonewall Jackson's death and constituted one of the first Confederate memorial services in the South. The burial grounds had served a Confederate hospital, which consisted of three two-story buildings, established on September 15, 1861. In 1865, the hospital was torn down; federal forces erected a village on Rude's Hill that was used during Reconstruction. Those buildings were subsequently removed in 1875. It's important to note that throughout this time period, an African American burial ground was located across the railroad tracks, directly west of the Confederate cemetery. One hundred and thirty-eight years after the dedication of the Confederate cemetery, the Mt Jackson Colored Cemeteryreceived a memorial marker due to the efforts of African American citizens, a Boy Scout troop from another county, and the Shenandoah Valley Black Heritage Project, a local non-profit committed to promoting the history of African Americans in the Shenandoah Valley.
The point is that Virginia laws and county practices were consistently privileging Confederate soldiers, while ignoring burial grounds and memorials for formerly enslaved African Americans and not providing the same benefits for what they experienced as a result of the hardships our community inflicted upon them. On top of this, segregation was consistently pushed in our community. While the contention was that separate was equal, it really wasn't. For example, in 1938, white teachers were paid an annual salary of $617, "and $394 for Negro teachers" (Northern Virginia Daily, Volume 56, Number 220, 21 September 1938 p 4). Such inconsistencies pervaded our social and economic standards.
In an article from the 1939 Northern Virginia Daily, a representative of the U.S. Department of Labor shared at an annual conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that "the 'determining characteristics of the race problem' have always been 'economic in origin'... (and that) racial animosity... has been caused by the feeling that the Negro may become 'a dangerous competitor' for the white man's job" (Volume 57, Number 154, 29 June 1939, p1). The article concludes: "the Negro can be just as efficient as the white worker and that there can be no justification in the long run for the argument that the Negro should be paid less because he is less efficient." Shenandoah Stories also shares an example of this at Liberty Furnace, where a mob attacked owners of the furnace and African American workers in January 1880. The only way the riot would end was with the owners' promise to only hire white workers. Thus, the economic problem was one of segregating equality. Of setting standards that didn't provide equitable outcomes for all citizens, usually according to race distinctions.
After World War II, a collaboration committee consisting of 33 white and 33 African American leaders from southern states met to analyze the principal issues related to race relations. Their report stated, "The war has sharpened the issue of negro-white relations in the United States, and particularly in the south... A result has been increased racial tensions, fears and aggressions, and an opening up of the basic questions of racial segregation and discrimination, negro minority rights, and democratic freedom, as they apply practically in negro-white relations in the south" (Northern Virginia Daily, Vol 61, No 183, 29 June 1943, p.1) This report had been shared six months earlier, too, with the warning that "these issues... have become acute and threaten to become more so as they increasingly block a 'common sense consideration' for improvement in the Negro's status" (Northern Virginia Daily, Vol 60, No 296, 15 December 1942, p.4).
"The Negro's situation admittedly is difficult and unpleasant," the article shared, "and in many cases he is the victim of gross injustice. There is always a race problem where two widely different races, such as the Negro and Caucasian races, live together and mingle daily in the same country. This problem has never been satisfactorily solved. Racial prejudices and antagonisms are hard to control, and will manifest themselves in many ways, despite the efforts of well-intentioned leaders in both races to keep them down. The root of the problem does not lie with the cultured Negroes... nor with the cultured white people. These could get along together somehow. It is the rough, uncultured, arrogant element in both races that make the problem.
"But the problem is there, and it is a difficult problem to deal with. It cannot be solved by passing laws. It cannot be solved by any sort of coercion. It lies deeper than the surface of things. The nearest approach to a solution is the one that has been followed almost instinctively - that of segregation. This is not an expedient to humiliate the Negro or to exalt the white race. It is a simple recognition of the fact that where the coalescence of two races seems impossible, segregation offers the best means of preserving harmonious relations. Yet segregation lies at the root of most of the 'issues' outlined in the statement referred to above. If segregation were abolished, the race problem would be more than acute. It would be critical" (Northern Virginia Daily, Vol 60, No 296, 15 December 1942, p.4).
Such gatherings were not new to the United States. A Commission on Interracial Cooperation (CIC) had been founded in Atlanta, Georgia, and in collaboration with other Southern states, in 1919. It grew out of efforts to lessen racial tensions from various organizations, including the Atlanta Christian Council and the YMCA War Work Council. In 1944, the CIC merged with the Southern Regional Council "to oppose lynching, mob violence, and peonage and to educate white southerners concerning the worst aspects of racial abuse" (Pullen, A.E, "Commission on Interracial Cooperation" in New Georgia Encyclopiedia, 2021). Unfortunately, the CIC did not address segregation, but worked to appease African Americans by providing race-specific schools and other ways of co-existing, separately, in order to prevent adverse outcomes, like race riots. One of the key leaders of this organization was Harry Byrd Sr, who was a Winchester native and Virginia's governor from 1926-1930 and a state senator from 1933-1965. Due to his preferential position on racial segregation, Byrd supported poll taxes and literacy tests throughout our state, which limited votes from minority groups, especially African Americans, and poor whites. And as we will see in the coming weeks, the Byrd administration led a Massive Resistance campaign to oppose the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education.
Perusing state records, newspapers, and county minute books, "the race problem" was a consistent presence either by promoting decisions that privileged the perspective of wealthier Caucasian citizens and landowners, largely because our leaders were predominantly wealthier Caucasian landowners, or in upholding the purported solution to the race problem in Virginia's eyes: segregation. To my knowledge, neither the Board of Supervisors nor the School Board for Shenandoah County, Va, has ever had an African American appointed to its leadership positions - an important thing to consider when we discuss how to promote equality in our communities. Without representative leadership, "common sense consideration" isn't going to happen, unless leaders commit to inclusivity. In an article from 2020, "The Key to Inclusive Leadership," Harvard Business Review shares six signature traits for this:
- "Visible commitment: They articulate authentic commitment to diversity, challenge the status quo, hold others accountable, and make diversity and inclusion a personal priority...
- "Humility: They are modest about capabilities, admit mistakes, and create the space for others to contribute...
- "Awareness of bias: They show awareness of personal blind spots, as well as flaws in the system, and work hard to ensure a meritocracy...
- "Curiosity about others: They demonstrate an open mindset and deep curiosity about others, listen without judgment, and seek with empathy to understand those around them...
- "Cultural intelligence: They are attentive to others' cultures and adapt as required..." and,
- "Effective collaboration: They empower others, pay attention to diversity of thinking and psychological safety, and focus on team cohesion" (Bourke & Titus, 2020).
These traits were very much missing among many of the leaders in our community in the 19th and early 20th centuries; hence: segregation.
To understand the issue of segregation, we have to consider one of the most widely known court decisions up to that time period in making decisions on segregated public educational principles - and it wasn't even in relation to education. Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537, 18 May 1896) was a Supreme Court decision with the renowned outcome of "separate but equal" facilities for the two races. On June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy, who was a man of mixed race defined in American 19th century society as an octoroon or being 7/8 white, had intentionally boarded a New Orleans, Louisiana, train car designated as whites-only and destined for Covington. According to the state legislature, this violated their 1890 Separate Car Act; thus Plessy was arrested. Plessy believed the separate train cars were unconstitutional and violated his 14th Amendment rights as a U.S. citizen. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling against Plessy and in favor of the judge that presided over the case, John Ferguson. Even in Virginia, the law surrounding racial segregation on motor buses made it "a misdemeanor when any person 'fails to occupy the seat assigned to him by the driver, pursuant to any lawful rule, regulation or custom in force by such lines as to the assignment of separate seats to white and colored persons' "(Northern Virginia Daily, Vol 64, No 132, 4 June 1946, p.1). Into the 20th century, Plessy v. Ferguson laid the framework for segregation in all sectors of public spaces, including schools, bathrooms, water fountains, and even setting a precedence for separating times of the day for appointments or vaccinations, separate newspaper sections highlighting "Colored News," parts of a neighborhood in which African Americans could live, entrances and seating areas in theaters or churches or places of business, who didn't always allow African Americans to enter their businesses or even stand in front of them, as was the case in Mt Jackson from time to time.
Social sensitivities in Virginia favored segregation in the public schools, too. A 1930 article, "The South's Problem," in the Strasburg News reviews the impact of a school law that once incorporated the definition of Negro as "any person who has one-sixteenth Negro blood" (Vol. 48, No 5, 31 January 1930, p.2). "The announcement that Negroes and white children are attending the same school, playing the same games together, sitting in the same room and frequently sharing the same desk in Essex county has been variously characterized as 'tragic,' 'deplorable,' and 'shocking' ... begins the article, which continues: "far more deplorable than the fact that black and white pupils attend the same school together is the fact that in one of the schools visited... 'only one person would have impressed the casual observer as unquestionably Negroid' .... the problem of the South is one of keeping the black race black.... In justice to each race, a law should be enacted which will effect segregation complete and absolute" (Vol. 48, No 5, 31 January 1930, p.2).
As we have already seen in a previous post (Week 42: Education Without Heart), there were separate primary schools for the two races in Shenandoah County, Va at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Shenandoah County School Board minutes, housed in the Shenandoah County Public Schools' Central Office, begin in the 1930s with a more county-focused school board presence. With calls from the community for larger facilities, smaller one-roomed schoolhouses were no longer an adequate way to provide educational services to the children in our communities. The Shenandoah County Historical Society and Shenandoah Stories through our public library system share several perspectives that can elucidate more on the history of public educational facilities and provisions; my focus is on the impact of our communities' decisions on African American and minority groups, especially as they relate to public education. Over the next few weeks, we will examine the Shenandoah County School Board minutes and the state of Virginia's Pupil Placement Board records that capitulate some of this multifaceted impact.
Bernard DeVoto, an early 20th century American professor and writer, held the following view: "Democracy is not a word. It is your home town, the people who live there, their habits and associations, their decencies and beliefs and kindliness and courage and resolution." If we pause and really consider how to make the best decisions not for blacks, not for whites, but for Americans, what would we name our towns, our roads, our schools - all the public spaces that we share, today? We are not making decisions for someone that lived 150 years ago, but for the human beings that make up the living heartbeat of our communities today. We are making decisions for people that live and work, here and now - those who celebrate birthdays and mourn the deaths of close family and friends - all of whom are Americans. How do we find commonality if it is not in the public spaces we share? The names of public schools should not hold subliminal or overt messages of hatred, superiority, fear, ignorant pride, or arrogant defiance. The names of public schools should hold DeVito's image of democracy; and in America, that cannot be done with the names of Confederate leaders, who renounced their claim to democracy and led our communities into a fight for a segregated reality that no longer exists and for the exploitation of people of another race for economic gain.
SENK is an artist and writer in the Shenandoah Valley. The blog, 52 Weeks, is an ethical contemplation on the importance of choosing public school names that are not divisive within a community. Each post is based on over eight years of research by the author. 52 Weeks is a compassionate appeal to community and school board members to not revert to the names of Confederate leaders for Shenandoah County, Va, public schools.
47 / Maintaining Public Peace
46 / Brown v. Board
45 / Rebuilding a Pro-Confederate South
44 / An Out-of-area Education
43 / Where's the 'Common Sense Consideration'?
42 / Education Without Heart
41 / Self-Preservation
40 / Free Public Schools
39 / The Mask of Defiance
38 / The Golden Door of Freedom
37 / Prejudicial to our Race
36 / Are We Compassionate?
35 / Community
34 / Need for Radical Change
33 / Bitter Prejudice
32 / Fear of 'Negro Equality'
31 / Rachel, Lashed to Death
30 / The Whim of the Court: A Look at Jacob, Stacy, Lett; March & Peter; Jeffrey & Peter
29 / Ben, Tom, Ned, Clary, & two men from the furnace
28 / The Loss of Fortune
27 / James Scott, A Free Man
26 / The Unremembered, The Unheard
25 / The American Cause
24 / Tithables for the County & Parish
23 / Satisfactory Proof of Being Free
22 / Building Community Takes Trust
21 / Jacob's Case
20 / Whose Control?
19 / Racial Classifications
18 / The Cost of Freedom in 1840
17 / Sale of Children
16 / Bequeathal of Future Increase
15 / The First Annual
14 / From a Descendant of a CSA Soldier
13 / True Americanism
12 / Slavery. A Hot Topic.
11 / Real Character
10 / Real Apologies
9 / Freedom from Fear
8 / 250 Years
7 / The Courage of Christ
6 / Whose Narratives?
5 / The 13th Amendment
4 / Symbolic Act of Justice
3 / Giving Thanks
2 / Confederate Congress
1 / Veteran's Day