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Does Every Vote Count In America? Emotions, Elections, and the Quest for Black Political Empowerment

by Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson

The following excerpt was adapted from chapter 11 in the book Emotions in American History: An International Assessment edited by Jessica C. Gienow-Hecht, published in 2010.


 

The history of emotions provides important keys to understanding human behavior and can be of great assistance in explaining wider political, social, and economic trends in American history.1 This applies in particular to the history of African Americans, as racial conflicts in general and the black struggle for freedom and equality in particular repeatedly stirred public emotions in the United States to a degree hardly ever reached by other domestic issues. Thus, interracial relations have always been identified as an extremely emotionally charged aspect of American history, and in view of the new approaches to historical research proposed by the history of emotion, a closer examination of this phenomenon can offer significant additional insights into the close connection between emotions and politics. A broad and multifaceted cluster, such as the Civil Rights Movement or any other social protest movement, encompasses emotions on various levels and should therefore be analyzed from more than one perspective.

 

In dealing with the nature of emotions, a problem arises that has been addressed by psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers alike: is it actually possible to know anything at all about another person’s emotions? The so-called internalist view would deny this, claiming one can only ever infer from one’s own experience, which naturally has been formed and conditioned by one’s particular cultural and social context. Thus, trying to put emotions into a historical perspective is further complicated as the constant change of these circumstances has to be taken into account. Psychologist Paul Ekman postulates more of an externalist approach. He has identified certain “basic emotions” including “happiness, surprise, fear, sadness, anger and disgust,” which, as he argues, are common to all cultures as part of human nature and evolution.2 Other scholars have been debating whether certain other emotions, such as jealousy and love, ought to be included or not. Nevertheless, Ekman’s basic emotions are still central to psychological research in this field. For the historian this presents a promising opportunity, as the existence of a cross-cultural regularity might suggest that there also is a consistency throughout time. However, finding and assessing the authenticity of these emotions remains a problem, especially for historians, as they have to rely entirely on their sources of information of key emotional indicators like intonation, mood, or facial expression. The history of emotion, therefore, as historical research in general, is not so much concerned with actually identifying emotions for certain, but rather with analyzing the role they played in the greater social context.

 

A related but slightly different approach deals with emotions or emotionality as general terms without specifying a particular sentiment. In these cases supposed emotionality observed as the attribute of a person or a social group can be instrumental in constructing a certain line of argument and reaching certain conclusions—for example, the long-standing prejudice that African Americans are prone to displaying more “primitive” emotions than whites, or the belief in a higher inclination to emotional reasoning that is generally assumed to be particular to women.

 

Apart from this approach—treating particular emotions, or emotionality in general, as elements instrumental to a historical argument—the question whether emotions themselves have a history, and if so, how it can be scrutinized has recently been posed as well. Thus Peter Stearns has developed the concept of “emotional style,” which aims to combine the difficult interaction of emotional standards with the historical reality changing throughout time. He argues that adjustments within the legal system provide convincing proof of the normative nature of changes in the “emotional style” of a particular society.3 Similarly, adhering to the mainstream emotional standard could be perceived as a way to inclusion. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, when speaking to larger public audiences was always very careful to distance his style of speaking from the emotionality usually associated with the Black Church in order to appeal to a white majority that generally disapproves of open, public displays of emotions.

 

This illustrates that the existence of minorities may also mean a varying emotional style within one society—a fact previous studies have not always taken into account.4 The black struggle for the right to vote also presented a confrontation of different emotional styles, and these emotions can be regarded as instrumental and normative factors. Arguably, the multilayered efforts to gradually harmonize the emotional style of black communities—particularly black politicians—at least to some degree with those of the white majority of US society certainly have contributed to higher levels of racial reconciliation and integration in general and also to the success of the African American struggle for political empowerment.

 

 

“Primitive Emotions” versus “Rational Self-Restraint”: The Role of Racial Stereotypes in the Struggle for Black Equality

 

The old but still powerful stereotype that black Americans are “more emotional” than whites tends to come to mind when thinking of African Americans and the topic of emotion. From the times of slavery until today, this stereotype has often been used, usually in a derogatory sense, since white society generally valued the rule of the intellect over one’s emotional life as a sign of a person’s maturity and strength. Thus describing black behavior as more primitive and more influenced by instinct (especially sexual instinct) and less by reason than white behavior has been a way to support the creed of white superiority. In fact, one of the arguments used by white racists to justify slavery and, later, racial segregation was that black behavior was so primitive, either childlike or animal-like (“black apes”), that black people needed to be guarded, ruled, and “civilized” by whites.5 Even after the Civil War, Southern whites justified their brutal enforcement of social control with frequent references to the perceived emotional threat of black culture to Anglo-Saxon civilizational self-restraint. For example, the protection of white women’s virtue from the supposedly insatiable sexual appetite of black males remained a powerful and leading motive for racist persecution and lynching until the 1960s.6

 

A similarly negative white disposition towards emotion and the ability of black self-restraint has overshadowed the African American struggle for political equality. While the more intense display of emotions and the expressiveness of black culture has often been admired and imitated by whites with regard to music, art, and literature, it was viewed as a handicap in the quest for social and political equality. It seemed incompatible with the particular “emotional style” that had been adopted in white politics. Consequently, most black civil rights activists worked hard to avoid any appearance of being “too emotional.” One of the best examples for this strategy was developed by the most famous of all black civil rights leaders: Martin Luther King Jr.

 

The black struggle against emotional stereotypes had a long history. The post–Civil War debate over the Fifteenth Amendment of the American Constitution, which was to grant African American males the right to vote, provided a particularly powerful earlier example.9 Curiously enough, grave objections to this amendment not only came from white racist Southerners but also from women’s rights activists.

 

A number of white women who had previously been major pillars of the abolitionist movement and strong advocates of black freedom and equality, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, now denounced the plan to grant black males the right to vote before women would obtain suffrage. Some black abolitionist veterans, such as Sojourner Truth, Charles Raymond, and Robert Purvis, agreed with them. Other black leaders, including Frederick Douglass and Frances Ellen Harper, as well as a number of white feminists like Lucy Stone and Julia Howe, were in favor of the Fifteenth Amendment, even though they all would have preferred it to include female suffrage, too.

 

The issue eventually resulted in the breakdown of the alliances between the feminist and abolitionist camps, and the American Equal Rights Association, cofounded by Anthony and Douglass after the Civil War to agitate for black and female suffrage, split into two different organizations in 1869.10 The debate itself was characterized by highly emotional discussions. Frederick Douglass, for example, known as a very calm and collected speaker, made the following passionate plea to stress the greater urgency of black men to attain the vote: “When women, because they are women, are hunted down through the cities of New York and New Orleans; when they are dragged from their houses and hung upon lamp posts; when their children are torn from their arms, and their brains dashed upon the pavement; … then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot equal to our own.”11

 

 

And Susan B. Anthony sharply disagreed as the debate turned increasingly ugly. How deep the gulf between the former allies had become, and to what degree Anthony’s friendship with and respect for Douglass as well as for the goals of the black freedom struggle had turned into hostility and racist condescension is evident in her bitter comment on the final passage of the amendment: “While the dominant party have with one hand lifted up two million black men and crowned them with the honor and dignity of citizenship, with the other they have dethroned fifteen million white women—their own mothers and sisters, their own wives and daughters—and cast them under the heel of the lowest orders of manhood.”12

 

It was particularly painful to Anthony’s former black friends to hear her characterizations of African Americans as inferior human beings unworthy of any right to vote. And Elizabeth Cady Stanton utilized traditional biases towards the supposedly uncontrollable lust and sexual appetite of black men to protest against their enfranchisement and implied that giving black men the right to vote was virtually a license for rape. This kind of tense, sometimes vitriolic disagreement between white woman’s rights activists and the advocates of black civil rights would continue well into the mid-twentieth century, in some groups even until today.13

 

From Reconstruction to the 1960s: The Long, Uphill Battle for African American Civil and Voting Rights

 

After passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, African Americans quickly used this first chance at participation in the political decision-making process on the local, state, and national levels, and during the 1870s two black senators and a total of sixteen black representatives served in the US Congress. But many white Southerners remained emotionally and intellectually unable and unwilling to accept former slaves as social equals. Their fear of miscegenation, combined with their rage over the lost war, created a powerful cocktail of emotions that fostered their campaign to end this first period of African American political inclusion with the aim to confine blacks to “second-class citizenship” and especially to deprive them of their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.

 

For almost half a century, black representation in Congress and black political participation in the South was virtually nonexistent.18 And yet, African Americans continued their struggle for political rights, in particular the right to vote. Contemporary primary sources provide a thorough insight into the emotional force of determination, frustration, anger, and hope that enhanced this effort. In 1915, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) scored its first significant victory19: the US Supreme Court outlawed the grandfather clauses in the constitutions of Oklahoma and Maryland. Five years later the Supreme Court declared the practice of all-white primaries in the state of Texas unconstitutional. And in 1957 (one year after the state of Alabama outlawed the NAACP), Congress finally passed the Civil Rights Act, which created the US Civil Rights Commission and authorized the Department of Justice to file suit against anyone who prevented people from registering to vote. Congress strengthened the power of the Civil Rights Commission in 1960 by mandating that local registration records be made available for investigation by the Justice Department. However, it soon became obvious that a federal county-by county investigation process—such as allowed for in the acts—would be much too slow as an effective tool against black disenfranchisement in the South. Even the famous Civil Rights Act of 1964 could not solve this problem as it focused essentially on nonpolitical rights: it banned segregation and discrimination in all public places, federally funded programs, as well as in the general workplace; created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and established a legal ground for affirmative action programs. Despite a record of success in the struggle for political participation and civil rights, African Americans in the South often remained excluded from voting by intimidation and a variety of educational tests or other requirements (e.g., “good conduct certificates”). The persistence of these barriers in the South called for additional legislative action. But President Johnson at that time refused to listen to King’s advice, since he had other legislative priorities. Thus it took one more year of persistent advocacy until a new act to protect black voting rights was finally passed.20

 

“Questioning America”: The Mississippi Freedom Summer and the Selma Campaign

 

Two pivotal initiatives in this struggle involved particularly high levels of emotions among the advocates as well as the opponents of black equality in the South. The first project, called “Freedom Summer,” was organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) together with Mississippi grassroots activists and was designed to educate blacks about their voting rights. With 42 percent African American citizens, Mississippi had a higher proportion of black people than any other state, while its black voter registration rate stagnated at only 6 percent, the lowest in the nation.

 

The Democratic Party, which had total control of the political system in Mississippi, barred African Americans from membership and thus from any form of participation in the political decision-making process. Civil rights activists challenged this rule and founded a new, interracial political body in the spring of 1964: the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). Since the all-white election commission of Mississippi refused to recognize the MFDP as a party, thus excluding it from the regular election, the activists conducted a “freedom election” as part of their Freedom Summer campaign. The SNCC ran voter-education projects throughout the state, and all blacks who wanted to vote could participate in this election. Throughout the summer, the young freedom fighters were met with much hostility and violent resistance by white racists, which resulted in the death of nine black and two white civil rights activists. Over a hundred more were injured, their homes were bombed, black churches burned, and more than one thousand civil rights activists were imprisoned. But the “freedom election” continued and gained national fame as a delegation of MFDP members was chosen to represent Mississippi at the next National Democratic Party Convention.21

 

 

One of the most important leaders of the black Mississippi freedom struggle was the former sharecropper Fannie Lou Hamer. At age forty-two, Hamer had experienced an awakening of her political conscience and joined the black freedom struggle when SNCC activists first came to Mississippi in 1962. She had lost her home and her job, and had been shot at and severely beaten as a consequence of her attempt to register to vote in Mississippi. Nevertheless, she continued her work for the movement and became vice chair of the MFDP in 1964. At the National Democratic Party Convention, which was held in August 1964 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the MFDP delegates challenged the lily-white delegation of the so-called Regular Democrats and demanded to be seated.

 

In the end, after refusing the offer of two seats at large, the MFDP was not seated at the convention in 1964. However, the credentials committee of the Democratic Party did rule that in the future no racially segregated state delegation would ever be seated again. Since the Regular Democrats of Mississippi failed to integrate their party by the next Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968, they lost their seats to the MFDP delegation, which was again led by Hamer. The power monopoly of white Democrats in Mississippi was finally broken, and Hamer received a standing ovation on the delegation floor when she took her seat. She was then elected as the first black female member of the Democratic National Committee, and the Democratic Party began to seriously examine its treatment of minorities. As Sherwin J. Markman, a prominent party member, recalled a decade later: “That examination, which flowed as a direct legacy from Fannie Lou Hamer, ultimately opened up the party—not only to Blacks, but to Chicanos, young people and women. All of these, who now take their party and franchise as their right, owe thanks to one determined and courageous black woman.”24

 

The second important initiative in the struggle for black voting rights was the Selma Campaign of 1965, led by Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).25 After months of local demonstrations, which failed to end the exclusion of black voters in Alabama, King and other civil rights activists planned a big protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to draw national attention to the problem.

 

The media, especially television, had communicated much of the emotionality of this struggle for racial justice to a national audience in an unprecedented fashion and with heretofore unknown intensity. The role of television as key factor of shaping public opinion was of particular importance in this context. Without the extensive TV coverage of racial injustice and white brutality on the one hand, and of the courage and suffering of black freedom fighters on the other hand, the civil rights movement would certainly not have been as successful as it was at that time. As a result, a growing majority of the American public felt empathy for the victims, sympathy for the black activists, contempt for white racists, and anger and shame about the state of the nation. With Johnson as well as a majority of the American public pushing for it, the new legislation was finally passed by Congress and signed into law on 6 August 1965.27

 

The Voting Rights Act of 1965: Beginning of a New Era

 

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) immediately and effectively suspended all kind of tests and devices used to keep blacks from voting. The act also authorized inspections by the US Commission on Civil Rights in seven “covered” states of the South (those in which the disenfranchisement of African Americans had been the worst: Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) to monitor voter registration and fair polling procedures. This guaranteed that all citizens who had been excluded before now had a chance to realize their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. Thus, ninety-five years after its original passage, the Fifteenth Amendment was given validity again and was finally enforced with the full authority of the US government.

 

The Voting Rights Act enabled tremendous progress in the field of electoral politics for black Americans. And yet, African Americans are still underrepresented in the political system. Among the many reasons for this underrepresentation, was and to some extent still is the continued racial prejudice that keeps some segments of the white majority from ever voting for a black candidate no matter how qualified he or she may be. In addition, the American electoral system with its majority and its multimember at-large elections constitutes a systemic disadvantage to minorities. Moreover, there have always been efforts by some white politicians to systematically dilute black voting power through the use of gerrymandering techniques, most of which were prohibited through the extension of the VRA of 1982. Thus, during the redistricting after the 1990 national census, eleven new black majority districts were created (ten of those in the South), which led to an impressive increase of the African American representation on the federal level after the 1992 election, when membership of the CBC rose from twenty-six to forty.30

 

 

“Voting for Change”: Minorities, Women, and the 1992 Election

 

In addition to the creation of these new black majority districts, a number of other factors proved to be very helpful to minority and female candidates in that election. For example, the successful work of a number of political support groups for women was one of the main reasons for the great increase in the female membership of Congress in 1992 (from thirty-one to fifty-five).31 Both African American and female candidates greatly benefited from the unusually high number of open seats in the election of 1992. For a long time, the so-called power of incumbency was a serious obstacle to new political candidates. Between 1892 and 1992 the reelection rate of incumbent members of Congress averaged about 92 percent, and since most of them were—and still are—white males, this obstacle has been particularly adverse to female and minority candidates. Therefore, such new candidates enjoy the greatest chances of success when they run for an open seat, i.e., in a district without an incumbent up for reelection.32

 

Redistricting had already created several open seats in 1992. Moreover, many incumbents decided not to run again that year because they were involved in one or both of two big scandals during the congressional sessions of 1991 and 1992: the so-called post-office scandal and the house-banking scandal. In both cases, some members of Congress had abused their congressional privileges to further their own private interests. And although the resulting financial damage to the taxpayers was comparatively limited, many voters were outraged about this abuse and lost trust in their political representation. The powerful emotional response to the scandals sufficed to prevent numerous representatives from seeking reelection. This growing anti-incumbent mood, which had been observed by the media since the beginning of the 1990s, was not only based on voter disgust about political scandals but also on anger about the huge deficit, discontent with federal politics in general, and a growing mistrust against all “Washington insiders.” A large number of voters therefore wanted to give new candidates a chance. “Voting for Change” became the most frequently cited motto for the 1992 election.33

 

In addition, the Anita Hill–Clarence Thomas affair created an emotional context highly conducive to the election of minority and female representatives.36 In June of 1991, the only black member of the US Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall, announced his resignation. Since Marshall had been a very liberal judge and a strong supporter of black civil rights and women’s rights, the process of selecting a successor was followed closely by African Americans and feminists. President George Bush nominated the conservative black justice Clarence Thomas, whose confirmation by the US Senate appeared to be little more than a formality. But in October of 1991 the nomination was suddenly threatened by the testimony of law professor Anita Hill, who had worked for Thomas in the early 1980s and now accused him of sexual harassment during that time. Hill had decided to bring her case forward now, because she felt that a man of such grave character deficits should not become a member of the US Supreme Court. The hearings, which lasted for three days, were broadcast on national television and provoked a heated debate throughout the country.37

 

 

The Hill-Thomas hearings served as a catalyst for change on three levels: First, they further contributed to the willingness of American voters to elect more women and minority candidates into political office in 1992. Second, they motivated a number of female politicians to run for national office now, who had been hesitant about taking this step before. Carol Moseley-Braun, for example, who at the time served as Recorder of Deeds in Cook County, Illinois, stressed that her anger about the course of these hearings, specifically the condescending and chauvinistic manner in which Illinois senator Alan Dixon interrogated Anita Hill, was the decisive factor in her decision to challenge Dixon.40 The third effect of the hearings was that Political Action Committees (PACs) for women saw a sharp increase in their membership and financial contributions. Membership in EMILY’s List, for example, rose from three thousand to over twenty-four thousand between October 1991 and November 1992, and while the organization had less than $1 million to spend in 1990, it was able to contribute over $4 million for political training of female candidates and individual campaign support in 1992. Since all black women who ran for Congress that year were supported by EMILY’s List, this factor certainly contributed to the success of their campaigns.41 In addition to the creation of new black majority districts, the combination of several mainly emotion-based factors had a noticeable impact on the 1992 election and contributed significantly to the great increase of women and African Americans (especially black women) on Capitol Hill.42

 

Inclusion or Illusion? African American Access to Electoral Politics Today

 

From 1993 to 2004 the number of African Americans in Congress remained between thirty-nine and forty-one—with only minimal changes in CBC membership (since the turn of the century, all black representatives, except one who retired and was succeeded by his son, have been reelected). After the 2000 census, civil rights activists closely watched the new round of redistricting. While some hoped that it would further enhance the chances of black candidates to be elected in black majority districts, others feared that the numbers of these districts could actually be reduced, since there had been several legal challenges against them in the South.43 The number of blacks in Congress remained stable, however, although the election of November 2000 still led to a highly emotional charge of political discrimination by the African American community and many civil rights organizations.

 

Through massive voter registration drives, the NAACP and other civil rights organizations had mobilized a record black turnout. Over 90 percent of all African Americans voted for the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, and thus contributed to his winning margin in the popular vote. Therefore, the black community was, of course, deeply disappointed that after the highly disputed election results in Florida, the intervention of a conservative Supreme Court eventually made the Republican candidate George W. Bush receive the majority of the Electoral College and thus gain the presidency.44

 

Many infuriated African Americans interpreted the election result as fraud and a clear indication of the exclusion of black voters in the state of Florida. Apparently, the governor of Florida, Jeb Bush (George W. Bush’s brother), and his secretary of state, Katherine Harris, had ordered local election supervisors to purge sixty-four thousand voters from the registration lists because they had allegedly been convicted of a felony, which disqualifies anyone from voting in Florida. African Americans comprised 54 percent of the people on this “scrub list,” the majority of them without a criminal record at all. But since most of them were completely surprised by the charges and unable to provide legal proof of their innocence at the polling stations, they were still excluded from voting. In addition, African Americans complained about intimidation on their way to polling stations (e.g., by police road blocks), inaccurate voter registration lists, and miscounts of ballots in black districts. Altogether, probably more than twenty thousand African Americans eligible to vote could not exercise this right in Florida—an imposing figure considering that Bush’s margin of victory in that election was only 537 votes.45

 

 

Since African Americans had fought for the right to vote for such a long time, made so many sacrifices for it, and had—after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and its extensions—finally begun to hope that they had a fair chance to participate in the political decision-making process, the election of November 2000 was a huge disappointment. Many outraged blacks regarded it as the worst setback of their voting rights in over thirty years.

 

The congressional debate about election reform was put on hold by the tragic terrorist attack of 11 September 2001, when issues of national security outweighed all other concerns. Many African Americans stated that they never felt as “American” and as included in the nationwide surge of patriotism as they did in the wake of 9/11. Hence this further stresses the unifying nature of a common emotional experience that is often also considered a key ingredient in patriotism. But while some observers enthusiastically regarded this change as the potential beginning of the end of the racial divide in America, critics pointed at the surge of attacks and discrimination against Muslim and Arab Americans, asserting that these “brown Americans” had simply replaced blacks as the focal point for racial aggression.49

 

It is difficult to assess whether race relations between white and black Americans are significantly different today to what they were before September 2001. Looking at recent publications by black scholars, public opinion polls, and the frequency of racial conflicts (e.g., charges of discrimination, race crimes, or white police brutality against African Americans), there seems to have been some progress, but certainly not enough to speak of a “closure of the racial divide.” It is also rather unlikely that a new election reform law will be passed anytime soon, since this issue is still nowhere near the top of the national legislative agenda.50

 

The election of Obama as the junior senator of Illinois already evoked many positive emotions in the black community and the so-called civil rights establishment. Since then Obama has gone on to stir hope and expectations for progressive social change not only among black but also white Americans, and even among people around the world. His two books—Dreams from my Father (1995) and The Audacity of Hope (2006)—were on the New York Times best-seller list for months, and the success of these very personal memoirs shows Obama’s ability to connect with people of different racial heritage on a level that goes beyond mere political reasoning. He raised international attention for the first time through his stirring keynote address at the National Democratic Convention in July 2004. Calling out for national unity and the overcoming of racial division, while also demanding social justice and an end to all forms of discrimination, the son of a Kenyan-born father and a white mother from Kansas not only supports but personally embodies a “closure of the racial divide.” Obama’s serious and emotionally charged speech on race relations in America on 18 March 2008 also demonstrated this fact. His address—which is arguably one of the greatest pieces of public oratory on race since the 1960s—displays a deep level of understanding for both the frustration and bitterness of African Americans over past and present experiences of racism as well as the anger and resentment of those whites, especially white immigrants and their descendants, who have suffered from discrimination and poverty themselves and therefore have no tolerance for affirmative action. Indirectly addressing the continuous claims of some black nationalists that as a person of mixed racial heritage Obama isn’t “black enough” to represent black interests, this speech was one of the factors that moved most African Americans to embrace the charismatic young senator as someone who is rooted in the black community, but not limited by it, and who is deeply committed to fighting racism as well as social injustice. Many African Americans as well as white liberals now see him as a new “beacon of hope” and even compare him to Martin Luther King Jr.

 

 

He has also been compared to John F. Kennedy, and following the example of that other charismatic young Democratic senator, Barack Obama not only decided to run for the US Presidency but, despite many odds, actually succeeded in obtaining the Democratic Party’s nomination in the summer of 2008. When Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008, a black American attained the nation’s highest office for the first time in American history,,51 and a record number of African Americans now hold seats in the US Congress—both of which facts can certainly be regarded as another step forward in the continuing quest for black political empowerment.

 


 

Does Every Vote Count In America? Emotions, Elections, and the Quest for Black Political Empowerment

by Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson

Chapter 11, Emotions in American History: An International Assessment edited by Jessica C. Gienow-Hecht

 


 

NOTES

  1. Cf. Peter Stearns, “Emotions History in the United States: Goals, Methods, and Promises” in this volume. I would like to thank my colleagues Charlotte Lerg and Jessica Gienow- Hecht for valuable hints and insights regarding the theory of Emotions History.
  2. Paul Ekman, “Are There Basic Emotions?” Psychological Review 99, no. 3 (1992): 550–53.
  3. Peter Stearns, “Emotional Change and Political Disengagement in the Twentieth-Century United States. A Case Study in Emotions History,” Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 10, no. 4 (Dec. 1997): 361–80.
  4. Joel Pfi ster, “Book Review of Peter Stearns and Jan Lewis (Eds.): An Emotional History of the United States” (New York 1998), Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 34, no. 4 (Fall 1998): 440–42.
  5. For further analysis of the role of racial stereotypes in the debate about American slavery cf. Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson, “Von Affen, Waldmännern und Wechselbälgern: Koloniale Stereotypen bei Sealsfi eld und ihr kulturwissenschaftlicher Kontext,” Jahrbuch der Charles-Sealsfi eld-Gesellschaft, ed. Günter Schnitzler und Waldemar Fromm (Freiburg im Breisgau: Rombach, 2004), 129–70.
  6. Black female behavior was generally described as highly sexual and promiscuous (“Black Jezebel”) to justify the sexual abuse of black women by white men. At the same time, black males who allegedly raped white women or “misbehaved” in a sexually suggestive way towards white women were punished brutally; cf. e.g., the conviction of the Scottsboro Boys (1931) or the murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till (1955). For studies on the culture of emotional constraint among white Anglo-Saxon Protestants on the one hand, and the roots of African American culture’s emotional expressiveness on the other hand, cf. Ronald T. Takaki, Iron Cages: Race and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988), and Peter Stearns, Anger: The Struggle for Emotional Control in America’s History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986).
  7. King described his efforts to avoid negative black stereotypes during his college years: “If I was a minute late to class, I was almost morbidly conscious of it. … Rather than be thought of as always laughing, I’m afraid I was grimly serious for a time. I had a tendency to overdress, to keep my room spotless, my shoes perfectly shined and my clothes immaculately pressed.” Cited in James H. Cone, Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993). Also cf. ibid, 27–28; Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson, Martin Luther King—Malcom X: Gegenspieler (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 2001), 33–60, as well as William H. Chafe, Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).
  8. For a further analysis of King’s brilliant rhetoric, the signifi cance of “I Have a Dream” and other famous King speeches, cf. e.g., Keith Miller, Voice of Deliverance: The Language of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Its Sources (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1998), Peter Ling, Martin Luther King, Jr. (London: Routledge, 2002), and Frederick Sunnemark, Ring Out Freedom! The Voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004).
  9. The exact wording of the amendment was that the right of US citizens to vote should not be denied or abridged “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It was passed fi ve years after the Civil War had ended slavery and two years after the Fourteenth Amendment had granted citizenship to all people, i.e., including blacks, who were born or naturalized in the US.
  10. Cf. Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America (New York: Bantam Books, 1984), 64–74.
  11. Cited in The History of Woman Suffrage, ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Mathilda Gage, 2 vols. (Rochester, NY, 1881), 2:382; reprinted in Giddings, When and Where I Enter, 67.
  12. Cited in Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, “Afro-Americans in the Struggle for Woman Suffrage” (PhD diss., Howard University, 1977), 82; also cited in Giddings, When and Where I Enter, 66.
  13. Stanton warned: “The Republican cry of ‘Manhood Suffrage’ creates an antagonism between black men and all women that will culminate in fearful outrages on womanhood, especially in the southern states.” Cited in Terborg-Penn, “Afro-Americans in the Struggle for Woman Suffrage,” 90; Giddings, When and Where I Enter, 66. For more information on the tension between gender and racial issues for African American women also cf. Peter Ling and Sharon Monteith, Gender in the Civil Rights Movement (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004), as well as Gloria Joseph and Jill Lewis, Common Differences: Confl icts in Black and White Feminist Perspective (Boston: South End Press, 1986), and Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson, From Protest to Politics: Black Women in the Civil Rights Movement and in the United States Congress (Frankfurt: Campus, 1998).
  14. James O. Horton and Lois E. Horton, Hard Road to Freedom: The Story of African America (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001), 176–225; Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974); and Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfi nished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988).
  15. Cited in Mary F. Berry, “Voting Rights and Political Power in American History,” in Voting Rights in America, ed. Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (Washington, DC: JCPES, 1992), 62.
  16. For more information on white terror against black politicians and the decline of black political power in the South after the end of Reconstruction, cf. the works cited above, as well as Eric Foner, Nothing But Freedom: Emancipation and Its Legacy (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983).
  17. Cited in Martina Hahn, “Zwei Jahrzehnte Congressional Black Caucus: Eine Repräsentanz zwischen Anspruch und Wirklichkeit” (MA thesis, University of Munich, 1991), 1. White was a former slave from North Carolina and the fi rst legislator who introduced a bill to make lynching a federal crime.
  18. There was no African American representative in Congress from 1901 until 1929, and only Illinois and New York elected a total of four blacks to Congress until 1955—Oscar De Priest (R-IL) 1929–33, Arthur W. Mitchell (D-IL) 1935–1943, William L. Dawson (D-IL) 1943–1970, and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-NY) 1945–1967. The fi rst Southern blacks elected to Congress since Reconstruction were Barbara Jordan (D-TX) and Andrew Young (D-GA) in 1973.
  19. Founded in 1909, the NAACP remains until today the largest and most infl uential civil rights organization in the United States. For an excellent analysis of the organization’s work, successes, and challenges with regard to voting rights cf. Manfred Berg, The Ticket to Freedom: The NAACP and the Struggle for Black Political Integration (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2005).
  20. In the fall of 1964 Johnson was focusing on gaining congressional support for his “Great Society” initiative. Also FBI director Herbert Hoover at that time informed the president that King was a communist, a dangerous hypocrite, and that the SCLC was a subversive organization. For the souring of the once close relationship between Johnson and King, especially after King began to publicly criticize the war in Vietnam in 1967 cf. Ling, King, and Mark Stern, Calculating Visions: Kennedy, Johnson, and Civil Rights—Perspectives on the Sixties (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1992).
  1. For more information on the SNCC and the civil rights struggle in Mississippi cf. e.g., Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981); Kay Mills, This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (New York: Dutton, 1993); Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); and Waldschmidt-Nelson, From Protest to Politics, 50–98.
  2. Cited in Juan Williams, Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (New York: Penguin, 1988), 241; also cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson, From Protest to Politics, 81–86.
  3. Cf. Philadelphia Independent, 29 August 1964, 16; also cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson, From Protest to Politics, 82.
  4. Cited in “Democrats: A Legacy From Fannie Lou Hamer,” Washington Post, 20 March 1977, 23.
  5. Founded in 1957, the SCLC was an umbrella organization for Christian civil rights groups in the South and played a leading role in the freedom struggle until the late 1960s. It still exists, but has lost infl uence since the death of King in 1968. Cf. David Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (New York: Vintage, 1986).
  6. Cf. ibid. and Howard Zinn, SNCC: The New Abolitionists (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964). The question of maintaining a strictly nonviolent approach to dealing with Southern racists was one of the issues that led to the split between the SCLC and SNCC. After so many of their staffers had been injured or killed during the Mississippi Freedom Summer, some SNCC workers began to carry guns for their own protection.
  7. Cf. ibid., also cf. Chandler Davidson and Bernard Grofman, eds., Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act, 1965–1990 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994).
  8. With the exception of representatives Gary Franks (1991–1997) and J. C. Watts (1995– 2003), all members of the CBC have been Democrats. For a more detailed analysis of the legislative work and voting behavior of African Americans in Congress, especially black women see Waldschmidt-Nelson, From Protest to Politics, and Katherine Tate, Black Faces in the Mirror: African Americans and their Representatives in Congress (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).
  1. Ibid., also cf. Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (JCPES), Black Elected Offi cials. A National Roster: 1971–2005, 34 vols. (Washington, DC: JCPES Press, 1971–2005).
  2. Cf. ibid, as well as Chandler Davidson, Minority Vote Dilution (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1984); Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy (New York: Free Press, 1994); C. Davison and G. Korbel, “At-Large Elections and Minority Group Representation,” Journal of Politics 43 (1981): 982–1005; and F. Flake, “How to Undo a Century of Racism in Politics” New York Times, 11 July 1993, 18.
  3. To counter the lack of party support and adequate fi nancial resources, female political activists began to organize Political Action Committees (PACs) for women in the mid- 1970s. The purpose of these PACs has been to build up networks, raise funds, and conduct training programs to promote the chances of success of female candidates. For the signifi cance of women’s PACs in the 1992 election cf. e.g., Susan Carroll and Wendy Strimling, Women’s Routes to Elective Offi ce: A Comparison with Men’s (New Brunswick, NJ: Center for the American Woman and Politics, 1993), 61–82; Elizabeth Cook, Sue Thomas, and Clyde Wilcox, The Year of the Woman: Myths and Realities (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994), 161–96.
  4. The term power of incumbency stands for the advantage that an incumbent politician has in being able to use his or her popularity, legislative record, as well as the resources of his or her offi ce for a reelection campaign. Cf. Cook, Thomas, and Wilcox, Year of the Woman, 9, 125.
  5. Cf. B. Wolf, “Voter Anger Is Loud and Clear,” USA Today, 18 March 1992, 8A; Cook, Thomas, and Wilcox, Year of the Woman, 133–35, 164.
  6. The dominance of domestic policy issues was also one of the reasons why President George H. Bush, who had been celebrated as the glorious winner of the Gulf War in 1991, lost the election. In opinion polls in spring of 1992, 63% of all male and 73% of all female voters said that it would be benefi cial for the general good of the United States to have more female members of Congress. Cf. Cook, Thomas, and Wilcox, Year of the Woman, 12–13, 123–37; R. Wolf, “Incumbents Face ‘Triple Whammy’ in November,” USA Today, 19 March 1992, 5A; and D. Howlett, “For Some, a Great Notion: Parity,” USA Today, 1 April 1992, 4A.
  7. Waldschmidt-Nelson, From Protest to Politics, 162–63; also cf. the following statement by political analyst Ann Lewis: “Women are accurately seen as outsiders. They don’t want politics-as-usual, because politics-as-usual leaves them out.” Cited in L. Phillips and P. Edmonds, “Special Report: Women in Congress,” USA Today, 1 April 1992, 1–5A.
  1. Cf. Toni Morrison, ed., Race-ing, Justice, En-gendering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality (New York: Pantheon, 1992), M. Schwartz, “Female Candidates Break Record,” Washington Post, May 25, 1992, A1+A18, and M. Feinsilber, “Anita Hill Apparently a Powerful Symbol,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 28 April 1992, A12. For Hill’s own account as well as sympathetic commentaries by Patricia Williams, Barbara Smith, and Eleanor Holmes Norton cf. “Capitol Hill’s Worst Kept Secret: Sexual Harassment” in Ms., January/February 1992, 32–45. For opposing views cf. G. Will, “Anita Hill’s Tangled Web,” Newsweek, 19 April 1993, 74; and David Brock, The Real Anita Hill (New York: Free Press, 1993).
  2. Thomas had been director of the EEOC under Reagan, who then nominated him to the Circuit Court of Appeal in 1990. One reason for the relatively quick rise of Thomas under Republican presidents may have been the fact that there simply were not many highly qualifi ed African American lawyers to be found in the Republican camp during the 1980s. Moreover, many white liberal senators held back criticism of Thomas since they were pleased that Bush had at least nominated a black candidate.
  3. It is interesting to note that while a majority of African Americans asked in opinion polls supported Thomas, civil rights organizations such as the NAACP or the Rainbow Coalition opposed his nomination. The Hill-Thomas affair also led to a new debate on the issue of gender relations within the black community. Cf. bell hooks, Michele Wallace, Andrew Hacker, and Derrick Bell, “The Crisis of African American Gender Relations,” Transition 5, no. 66 (1995): 91–175.
  4. Cf. Barbara Ehrenreich’s comment: “The visual that lingers [from the Hill-Thomas hearings] shows 14 white men confronting a species of human being that they would normally encounter only in the form of a hotel maid. Little clicks of raised consciousness could be heard throughout the land as women plotted to integrate the Senate Judiciary Committee.” Barbara Ehrenreich, “What Do Women Have to Celebrate?” Time, 16 November 1992, 55.
  5. Cf. Moseley-Braun’s statement: “The angrier I got at the way the Senate was carrying on, the more I became convinced that it absolutely needed a healthy dose of democracy, that it wasn’t enough to have millionaire white males over the age of 50 representing all the people in this country.” Jill Nelson, “Carol Moseley Braun: Power Beneath Her Wings,” Essence (1992): 57. For the effect of the Hill-Thomas hearings on the victories of black female candidates, especially Carol Moseley-Braun’s, cf. A. Moore, “The Thomas- Hill Confrontation Is Showing Up in Primary Voting,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 30 April 1992, A1; M. Schwartz, “Senate Upset Refl ects Powerful Legacy of Thomas Hearings,” Washington Post, 19 March 1992, A15; as well as interviews by the author with Senator Moseley-Braun (19 May 1994) and her chief of staff, Mike Frazier (3 June 1993), cited in Waldschmidt-Nelson, From Protest to Politics, 170–72.
  6. Cf. Candice Nelson’s comment: “The Hill-Thomas hearings became a rallying point around which campaign contributions could be mobilized, enabling women’s PACs to raise money in record numbers.” Cook, Thomas, and Wilcox, Year of the Woman, 181. EMILY is an acronym for “Early Money Is Like Yeast (it makes the dough rise)” and it expresses the PAC’s intention to help female candidates especially by supporting them in the early fi nancing of their campaigns. EMILY’s List was founded in 1985; it is the largest of over forty American women’s PACs and it supports only Democratic candidates. The oldest women’s PAC is the Women’s Campaign Fund (WCF), which has existed since 1974 and is bipartisan, while the newest, the WISH-List (founded in March of 1992) supports only Republican, “pro-choice” candidates.
  1. This led a number of journalists and scholars to call 1992 “The Year of the Woman” or “The Year of the Black Woman,” cf. Waldschmidt-Nelson, From Protest to Politics, 159. While the percentage of all women in Congress rose from 5.8 to 10.2%, black female representation enjoyed the largest percentage increase in the 1992 election. In the 103rd Congress, 25% of all black members were women, while only 15.8% of Hispanic members, 14.3% of Asian, and 0% of Native American members were female.
  2. In North Carolina, for example, white voters had gone to court claiming that the two newly created black majority districts discriminated against their rights. Until 1992, North Carolina had not sent a single black congressional representative since Reconstruction, for ninety-two years. Nevertheless, the conservative Supreme Court majority ruled in favor of these white plaintiffs in 1993 (Shaw v. Reno), arguing that the intentional creation of minority-majority districts was unconstitutional. Cf. David Bositis, “Redistricting 2001,” FOCUS: The Monthly Magazine of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (April 2001): 3–4.
  1. Cf. Eddie N. Williams, “Fixing America’s Voting System,” FOCUS (January 2001): 2; Manning Marable, Race Reform and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black America, 1945–2006 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007), 236–37.
  2. The United States is the only democracy in the world where ex-felons are banned from voting (in thirteen states for life). This excludes about 13% of all black males from electoral participation. Cf. Mary K. Garber, “Prospects for Election Reform,” FOCUS (March 2001): 5–8, and “US-Kongress bestätigt Bushs Wahlsieg,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 8 January 2001, 7.
  1. Mary K. Garber, “NAACP Files Class-Action Suit,” FOCUS (February 2001): Trendletter; Ellis Cose, “Getting Ready for the Fire This Time,” Newsweek, 22 January 2001, 23.
  2. Cf. Mary K. Garber, “Prospects for Election Reform,” and “U.S. Civil Rights Commission Investigates Florida Voting Irregularities,” FOCUS (February 2001): Trendletter; Marc Mauer, “Polls Closed to Many Black Men,” FOCUS (May 2001): 7–8, Quintin J. Simmons, “Report Finds Racial Disparities in Florida Election,” FOCUS (June 2001): Trendletter.
  3. Edward Walsh, “Agreement Reached on Election Reform Bill,” Washington Post, 15 November 2001, A16; Maxine Waters, “Restoring the Faith of Voters,” FOCUS (February 2001): 7.
  4. Cf. e.g., Eddie N. Williams, “Standing Against Racism in the Wake of Terror,” FOCUS (September 2001): 2; David Bositis, “The Political Landscape, Then and Now,” FOCUS (October 2001): 6–8.
  5. Cf. Toya Wang, African Americans, Voting Machines, and Spoiled Ballots: A Challenge to Election Reform (New York: The Century Foundation, 2004); Henry Louis Gates Jr., America Behind the Color Line: Dialogue with African Americans (New York: Warner Books, 2004); Marvin D. Free, Racial Issues in Criminal Justice: The Case of African Americans (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003); Abby L. Ferber, Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism (New York: Routledge, 2004); and Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion, 238–56.
  1. Joe Davidson, “Black Vote Strong: Black Caucus Grows,” FOCUS (November–December 2004), 6–8; Marable, Race, Reform, and Rebellion, 239–56; Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Times Books, 2004); Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope (New York: Crown, 2006); Lisa Rogak, ed., Barack Obama in His Own Words (New York: Carroll and Graf, 2007); and David Mendel, Obama: From Promise to Power (New York: Amistad, 2007).