Your column, “History, Racism and Constructive Context” (Press & Dakotan, June 25), is a very timely reflection on the “current uproar over the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in schools”. It set me to thinking of my own experience growing up in Yankton.
Ted Blakey, a successful African-American businessman and Civil Rights advocate in Yankton told South Dakota Magazine: “We hear about the Holocaust, and survivors of Pearl Harbor. I want them to know what black people did in South Dakota and in Yankton. A black person couldn’t get a haircut in Yankton until after 5 o’clock. The barber pulled down the shade and cut your hair. There was not a barbershop in Yankton that would cut a black man’s hair in 1963. … Ninety percent of bars and barbershops and 30% of restaurants and motels in Rapid City refused service to blacks.” (February 2019).
Charles Rambow, expert on the Ku Klux Klan in South Dakota writes: “ Most people are caught flat-footed the first time they find out that South Dakota has a history with the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was statewide.” The KKK hated not only Chinese but African Americans and Jews and especially Roman Catholics — a substantial number of them of Irish descent.
My great uncle, Richard F. Lyons, mayor of Vermillion, 1916-1918, witnessed the annual KKK march. Although men wore hooded masks, he recognized many from their boots and called out their names: “Good morning, Mr. Hansen,” etc.
Abraham Lincoln was a prototypical believer of “Critical Race Theory” in mid-19th century America: “I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’” (Aug. 24, 1855).
When President Biden recently signed the “COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act,” he said: “Every time we are silent, every time we let hate flourish, we make a lie of who we are as a nation.”
I commend the Press and Dakotan for this “blunt self-reflection.”