Talking Drum: At Peace... “…The 2012 presidential election is the most consequential since the 1860 race that elected Abraham Lincoln to the White House and was soon followed by the Civil War” …President Obama is “the most successful food stamp president in modern American history.” (Republican Presidential Candidate, Newt Gingrich)


At least, that’s what I asked myself after hearing of the above convoluted dribble from the lips of Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich. I asked myself, what in the heck was he really thinking?  1860?  In America?  A “food stamp” what?  Give me a break! It’s the 2012 Presidential Election Primary in South Carolina that’s center stage, today, not some romanticized antebellum-election brain fart.  Wow! Imagine: 1860 South Carolina…

In 1860, South Carolina contained the largest slave-holding county in the United States, according to 1860 Census data.  Not counting slaves, of the estimated total 27.2 million U.S. population back then, about 1 of every 70 Americans were slave holders. Records show the largest slave holder in 1860 as the Estate of Joshua J. Ward, in Georgetown County, of the SC Lowcountry, the 2nd largest seaport in South Carolina, with 1,130 slaves.

In 1860, nearly one third of the South’s population was enslaved, mostly on cotton plantations. In South Carolina, rice would soon replace indigo as the king crop of the swampy lowlands. Further down the manure-pocked Great Wagon Road, most of South Carolina’s 703, 620 population were black. Some 402,000 African-Americans were classified as slaves. “Free blacks” totaled less than 10,000, according to historical archives. Imagine: 1860 South Carolina.

A few years earlier, gynecological experiments had been conducted in the state- without anesthesia- on black slave women, before attempting to conduct vaginal surgery and rectal examinations on white women (with anesthesia) by Dr. James Marion Sims, arguably the so-called “father of American gynecology,” according to various historians. Historical archives later documented the “Sims Position,” named after Dr. Sims, as the position normally used for rectal examinations, treatments and enemas, where patients lie on their left side, left hip with lower extremity straight and right hip and knee bent.

But, in 1860, slaves were considered chattel– personal property- like domestic animals, not people!

As such, slave owners could treat their slaves anyway they wished. And, they did so, often through physical violence and other harsh means. Surely, there were more slave owners who knew the true economic value of slaves and treated them more humanely. And, relationships between slave and master skimmed across a wide ocean of emotions and behavior- sexual, sinful, symbiotic and/or disgusting, but never equal!

While South Carolina did not enact their “Black Codes,” to control the behavior of slaves, until 1865, plantation owners had sole control over the behavior and treatment of slaves before then. This included rules against slaves learning to read or write, gathering in groups, leaving the plantation without written passes, owning weapons and curfews, etc.

In 1860, on the heels of his famous speech denouncing slavery at the Cooper Union Institute in New York (in 1859), Abraham Lincoln waded into the nasty waters of the South’s rumors of war and secession. This was in the wake of a rough presidential election journey and train-trip to the White House, chock-full of threats and assassination plots. Without carrying any Southern states, he was elected through the Electoral College as President of the United States, on November 6, 1860.

Ah, yes, 1860. Perhaps, this is what Gingrich and others meant by saying the 2012 election was the most important since the 1860 election. That’s when the Confederacy alliance conspired to unlawfully rebel against the states to preserve slavery, state’s rights and the romanticized glory of an Antebellum, genteel South.

And, the rest is history:  

In December 1860, South Carolina seceded from the Union.  Two months later, it joined the new Confederate States of America (CSA). Lincoln was later inaugurated on March 4, 1961. On April 12, 1861, the war was on between the North and South with the Confederate’s cannon fire on Fort Sumpter, SC, the federal fort in Charleston Harbor. At that time, the overall population of the Confederate States was about 9 million. Of those, 3.5 million were African American slaves.

The hard, cold facts of history show that the rebels eventually lost the war.  On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia surrendered at the Appomattox Courthouse, ending America’s bloody Civil War. The Emancipation Proclamation, issued January 1, 1863, was enforced for the remaining areas of the South which had yet to set their slaves free. On June 19, 1865- also known as “Juneteenth”– federal troops marched into Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation.

“Juneteenth”— that’s the day African-Americans also know as “Freedom Day” in the United States. It’s a holiday or day of observance in at least 39 states to honor African-American heritage, commemorating the announcement of the abolition of slavery.  However, it wasn’t until Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, abolishing slavery, on December 6, 1865, when all remaining slaves became officially free in the United States. This included slaves still being held in Kentucky, Tennessee, Kansas, New Jersey, Delaware, West Virginia, Maryland, Missouri, Washington D.C. and 12 parishes of Louisiana.- all finally freed.

The war was over.  Officially, the slaves were free. But the events that followed- Reconstruction, “Black Codes,” “Jim Crow,” public lynching, race riots, systemic hate, pea-brained white supremacist, segregation, and other anti-American activities- formed an ugly chapter in our nation’s history which forever impacts the tall walls of ignorance and barriers to open communications between the races in the United States. The long, steady drumbeat of dysfunctional and racially divisive thinking began, further minimizing the likelihood of the long-awaited national conversation on race, in my opinion. And, the election of an African-American president seems to only gnaw at the festering wound of racism even further.

Surely, this slinky comparison of events, surrounding the 1860 and 2012 election hoopla, can’t be what the desperate Dixie-Republicans- cousins to the States’ Rights Dixiecrats– mean by taking their country back. Or, is it?

From the so-called Birther Movement to the relentless name calling and resurrection of hateful, race baiting and racial code words since a black family moved into the White House, the Republican Party’s singular focus to remove President Obama and his family, rather than work for the good of the nation, has only further splintered our country, in my opinion. Rather than utilizing the strengths derived from our racial and cultural differences, we seem to have found new ways to be uncivil to each other, at a time of impending national economic and social crises.  Even worse, it seems to be a scenario that’s just getting started. The hushed whispers and racist dribble of yesteryear, predicting the coming race war, can be heard in certain corners of America, once again.

Immediately following President Obama’s election, in 2008, records show that gun sales in the United States spiraled with a whopping 40% increase over the previous period, a year earlier, with 450,000 people purchasing guns.  Michelle Obama, as well as the Obama children, became the target of many innuendos and racial slurs. Illogical mid-term election campaigns later began with promises to reverse every decision by President Obama.  The number one priority of the Republican party was the mantra to “…make President Obama a one-term president.” The cultural ignorance, hyped insensitivity and the constant drip of racial code words by various politicians rose to frenzied levels, punctuating the cacophony of lies, distortions and half-truths. Clearly, noisy right wing extremist and certain political pundits were highly agitated with the idea of a black family occupying the White House.

It’s merely feigned ignorance, pure and simple, when politicians pretend they’re surprised when folk are offended by Gingrich’s reference to President Obama as “the most successful food stamp president in modern American history.” Like the “Willie Horton” (from Chesterfield, SC) commercial advertising flop of the 1988 presidential campaign, the food stamp comment was merely one of many skillful racial slights against an African-American president. And, back-room politicians know exactly the kind of race baiting and race hating messages they’re spinning. However, when the dust finally settles in the aftermath of the 2012 national conventions, in my opinion, “real” Americans will stand up and speak with their vote, on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. 

It will come from the party-in-the-electorate whose make up mostly mirrors the demographic profile of the caring, rainbowed America I’ve grown to know, up close and personal, from a lifetime of exposures, positive and negative, within various athletics, business and military pursuits.  It will come as a slap in the face to politicians bent on gaming the system for personal and political gain, rather than representing the interest of their constituency. This will happen because people who like to stir the pot of hate and mistrust, in America, still don’t get it:  the 2008 election of an African-American president has forever changed the face of our nation’s politics, whether they like it or not. Now is the time to let go of the nutty, partisan behavior and start dealing with it. And, they can start with leadership through political compromise and consensus decision-making in the overall best interest of our nation, not themselves.

In his controversial book, “The Coming Race War in America:  A Wake-Up Call” (Little, Brown Publishing, 1996), nationally syndicated journalist Carl T. Rowan (deceased) commented, How do you tell when a great civilization is in decline? When a great nation is on the rocks spiritually, morally, racially, and economically?  I look closely at my country, and everywhere I see signs of decadence, decay, and self-destruction. Respect for law and order has declined drastically, except in the phony speeches of politicians.”

That was then- 16 years ago…

Now, as former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently pointed out, while in Richmond, (Richmond Times-Dispatch, January 15, 2012, “Gates: Lack of civility a risk to U.S.” By Karin Kapsidelis, Metro Section) “’We have lost the ability to execute even the most basic functions of government,’ much less solve the difficult problems necessary for the nation to regain its confidence and credibility on the world stage, Gates said.”  

Today, many decent-thinking, hard-working Americans, of all colors, faith and beliefs- the vast majority of the U.S. population- still wonders:  When does America’s ongoing war with itself come to an end?  

Surely, 152 years in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency is long enough to begin the end of the steady drum beat of dysfunctional thinking that America is only white and Christian, as suggested by the sanctimonious drip of dimwitted logic from right wing reactionaries.  

The way I see it, the real strength in America lies in our differences and diversity. Our children seem to know this, instinctively. But, they’re often taught, by example, something completely different. Perhaps, the simple answer to the question above has now become: When America starts asking itself, “What are you really teaching the kids?”

“Backstreet Djeli”  w.d.s.


About William "Duke" Smither (a.k.a., "Backstreet D'jeli")

William "Duke" Smither, author of “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior, in the Shadows of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade,” is a Frankfort Kentucky native; Richmond Virginia resident. Retired Public Utility Sr. Investigator and nuclear site worker, Married w/ 3 children and 6 grandchildren; U.S. Navy Viet Nam Era & Cuban Missile Crisis Veteran; Member of "Cuban Blockade Survivors" & The American Legion; B.S. Degree (Business Mgmt) w/ independent studies in Ancient African History and African-American History. Post-graduate studies in Criminal Justice Administration. Former Sports & Feature writer for the weekly Richmond Afro-American Newspaper, during Freshman year of college. Retirement activities include: Freelance writer, playwright, actor and director of faith-based community theater productions; founder of "Backstreet's Blog" ("Talking Drum Dialogues") at and former contributing writer for "BlackPast.Org," the international, on-line reference center for African American History. His debut novel, “BACKROADS TO 'BETHLEHEM': Odysseys of the Maroon Warrior…,” is the first installment of a possible historical-fiction trilogy. A second installment ["Passage(s) to Saint-Domingue...."] is pending completion.