There are a number of famous quotations – or the same quotation with different supposed authors – all to the same effect about needing to know, and learn from, history: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
And so it seems that history is coming full circle with the announcement by Rev. Greg Drumwright that he and his so-called “racial justice” followers are about to undertake a boycott of Graham businesses as part of the “next phase” in his ongoing demonstrations and marches. And one of Drumwright’s specified targets is this newspaper. More on that in separate commentary nearby.
It is ironic, indeed, that Drumwright’s newest tactic is one straight out of a previous playbook on race relations.
But the lesson has clearly been lost on him.
Aside from the murders and violence for which they are perhaps more well known, it was the Ku Klux Klan itself that first widely used the “business boycott” as a method of attempted intimidation and coercion in various communities, mostly in the South, where some white business leaders were viewed as too sympathetic (or at least not hostile enough) – depending on the era – to black rights generally, voting rights, civil rights, desegregation.
And newspapers were not exempt from being targets of the Klan and their white supremacist supporters.
Names now largely forgotten stood up against the bullying and boycotts. Among the most notable: Horace Carter here in North Carolina (at the Tabor City Tribune) won press accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1953, for his reporting and editorializing about the Klan in his area in southeastern North Carolina; Hazel Brannon Smith, whose Lexington (Mississippi) Advertiser won similar acclaim in 1964, also for standing up against the Klan and its attempts to intimidate her and her advertisers.
Did we mention that both publishers ran weekly newspapers?
It is precisely because these newspaper publishers were trying to cover the news in their local communities that they became the targets of those who did not like these newspapers’ investigative reporting (“digging” in the layman’s parlance) about Klan activities or editorials that spoke out forcefully against the Klan’s tactics.
We suspect that these publishers did not set out to become “crusaders.”
They were merely trying to provide their readers with information (in their news columns) and informed opinion (on their editorial pages).
For their courage, they became targets when they would not yield to the pressure exerted by those who disagreed with them.
How particularly incongruous that someone such as Drumwright – who at least claims to want “racial equity,” “equality,” etc. – intends to copy the very tactics of a previous generation of racists who devised such methods as a bullying tactic against those standing up for equal treatment.
Hoping to diminish support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Klan also ran a campaign, whereby businesses that supported their “cause” displayed a sticker in their storefront windows, which read, “TWAK,” short for Trade with a Klansman. Though no such campaign appears to have been undertaken in Alamance County, the TWAK campaign was waged in other, nearby counties, including Orange County, and elsewhere around the country – and was widely-reported on at the time.
The kind of boycott that Drumwright apparently envisions is what is typically known as a “secondary boycott,” because the target is not a specific or particular business or company (other than that he has specified this newspaper), but rather some “collective” objective he hopes to accomplish by applying economic pressure to Graham merchants as a whole — and possibly others, as well.
We also note with some bemusement that we’re not quite sure how effective it would be to have a boycott of local businesses by people who don’t live or buy things here anyway.
A good number, if not most, of Drumwright’s followers are coming from Greensboro (his home), Durham, Hillsborough, and Carrboro, for instance. This proclivity for out-of-towners, including Drumwright, to target Graham and Alamance County is a continuing point of puzzlement to us, as well. Are there not enough relevant issues that these people could focus on in their own areas?
Arrests of non-Alamance residents made in connection to his and other protests over the past six months outnumber those of Graham or Alamance County residents (about 32 out of 62 arrests during that time are from out of county); in fact, some demonstrators, in and out of county, now have two and three arrests each over that time period.
Also how peculiar is the timing of Drumwright’s latest decision to engage in a boycott. In the midst of the Thanksgiving season, and serving as a pastor, he should know and be focused on being thankful and expressing thanks, and engendering thankfulness in his flock.
The idea of starting a boycott in the midst of the pandemic when small businesses everywhere, including in Graham, are already suffering, is cruel, indeed. And to do so on the day (Small Business Saturday, November 28) which is dedicated to helping small businesses survive in the era of Big Box stores and the internet adds to the irony.
It’s also not at all clear anymore what the objective is of the protests. Aside from the publicity he and his marches engender, the purpose or purposes are no longer clear, or at least no longer specific.
At times, the marches have looked more like Democratic Party campaign events. The march on October 31 contained about a half dozen Democratic candidates and campaign-oriented signs (and at least one opposing sheriff Terry Johnson, a Republican) – with no corresponding Republican ones, as far as we could observe.
Demonstrations seemingly intended to protest against police brutality, calling for “racial justice,” or combinations of the two (including those to honor various black victims of police violence, such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor), and calls for “racial equity” have become vague and amorphous. In fact, rarely mentioned anymore is the Confederate monument at the courthouse, although close proximity to it is the usual site for most of the protests.
And in the case of the monument, Drumwright had said prior to the election that the November 3 election would be a referendum on the monument.
Well, the voters spoke – in an unprecedentedly large turnout. They rejected the three Democratic candidates for county commissioner, all of whom advocated relocating the monument, and instead elected three Republican candidates, all of whom said they favored leaving it where it is and has been for 106 years, joining two others on the board who share that position.
We don’t expect that advocates of any cause will cease advocating just because “their side” lost an election, but it certainly might be appropriate for him to pause for reflection on whether his actions and tactics are helping or hurting the issues which he claims to be championing.