Violence has a long history as a tool of Racism and Ethnic Cleansing

root - Posted on 01 July 2008

Race and poverty scholar, Sam Drew reviews Marco Williams' Banished, a documentary exploring the ethnic cleansing that took place in three small Southern towns.

by Sam Drew/ReVieWsFoRtheREvoLuTion

Racism and violence are as American as apple pie. This was painfully evident as I viewed the moving and often disturbing film "Banished" at the San Francisco Public Library.

"Banished" documents how three different small Southern towns Foryseth County, Georgia, Pierce City, Missouri and Harrison, Arkansas ethnically cleansed their towns of African-American citizens in the early 1900s. By using violence in combination with the political and legal systems, these all American little towns lynched, killed and physically removed scores of African- American families from their land.

Filmmaker Marco Williams, who himself recalled being chased out of a Boston neighborhood by a mob of angry whites, deftly weaves archival photos in combination with interviews of the decedents of the banished citizens to keep the films narrative compelling and intriguing.

I was often jarred by the juxtaposition between current day Foryseth County, Georgia filled with small town peacefulness and American prosperity compared to the early photos of townspeople filled with violence, hatred and denial of human rights. But this is part of the hidden history that our textbooks have conveniently left out. History that has been banished from our collective minds.

All three of these towns were called sundown towns as in, "N*****, don't let the sun set on you in____" These towns are exclusively white to this date. Some of the films unintentionally funny moments appear when some of the townsfolk are confronted with the truth of their towns' racist past. "Yes, we heard about when the dark Negroes were run out of town!" reminisced one elderly lady with a sincere smile painted on her face like yesterday's makeup.

Another charming moment happens when a corrupt lawyer is confronted about his shameful part in the cheating of African Americans out of their deeds. His face exhibits concern as he disagrees about the harshness of the term ethnic cleansing. The crooked barrister thinks a more politically correct term should be used for the violent purge.

Some of the towns politicians and chamber of commerce types are trying to play slick public relations games and point to new attitudes among their citizens to limit the harm to business interest in the town. But in 1987 hundreds of Forsyth County residents hurled bottles and racial slurs at 75 NAACP marchers challenging the county's sundown status.
Sundown towns are by no means restricted to African-Americans. According to James W. Loewen in his book Lies Across America, "Sometimes Chinese Americans, Mexican Americans, Jews or American Indians have been the victims of sundown policies. Humboldt County, California expelled all its Chinese residents in 1885… Another type of sundown town is more recent. After World War II, new all-white suburbs sprang up around big cities, such as Dearborn, Michigan and Darien, Connecticut two towns notorious for their racial policies."

After the film's screening there was a panel discussion that brought ethnic cleansing up, to date by identifying today's methods to make cities color free. The methods of gentrification ,rents that are unaffordable for poor and working people, criminalization of poverty and youth, redlining, subprime loan thefts and toxic business practices by corporations like Lennar accomplish the same things that lynching and the burning of homes did. One difference is that the modern method you don't have to get your hands dirty.

Banished Will Air on PBS at 10 P.M. on February 19,2008


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