Everybody knows that the Southern states had slavery. The institution, in fact, made them Southern rather than something else. But the nation’s most notorious white supremacists have their less famous cousins north of the Mason-Dixon line. There states passed laws banning black Americans from living within their bounds. That degree of racism prompted proslavery men to answer back that they thought more highly of their slaves than northerners did of free blacks. Until the Great Migration early in the twentieth century, most black Americans lived in the South. Probably most would have anyway, as they and their ancestors had lived there for generations, but when they fled white terrorism and came to northern cities they found more of the same. The Klan effectively ran the state of Indiana for some time. Midwestern cities, like many others, still bear the stamp of that particular history: whites fled the city core and inner suburbs to achieve segregation impossible therein. Their children than wrung their hands and wondered just what had happened to the cities.
I would like to say we do better now, but cities remain highly segregated. You don’t need de jure Jim Crow when you’ve simply created de facto whites only jurisdictions. You can find many of these whites only suburbs around the country, but this story brings me to one on the outskirts of Detroit. There a man put up a Confederate flag, a habit my neighbors like to think only exists in far warmer climes than our own state. They don’t seem to notice the people who drive around with one on their license plate or covering the rear window of the pickup truck. Nor do they often recognize that the integration of the high school, during my own tenure there, required the attention of the county sheriff. Only people with other accents do such things. Not content with the flag itself, Robert Tomanovich of Livonia, MI, added nooses hanging from trees to the display outside his house and another property he owns down the road.
Tomanovich’s wife offered excuses to the reporter that came asking questions. You can believe them if you like, but I don’t find the combination of the Confederate battle flag and a noose in a tree a likely coincidence. Quite what he hopes to accomplish in lily-white Livonia I don’t know. When the reporter pressed his wife on how others might see the display, she shrugged the question off. That hardly seems like the behavior of a person trying to draw attention to how the town got the demographics it has with a deliberately provocative act.
Tomanovich owns the property. He can display what he likes there and broke no law in doing so. But that does not make his display innocuous. I really don’t know how to read it as anything short of a proud declaration that a person who approves of lynching lives there. Thus people of the wrong color should not feel safe in the area. I can’t read Tomanovich’s mind to know it, but I strongly suspect that I have taken the correct meaning from his tableau. One need not live in the land of cotton to remember the bad old times.