The Gospel According to Jerry

For some time now, I've been reflecting on the astonishing visit of our president and first lady, who chose Asheville to enjoy a brief respite from the unbelievably trying duties of the office of president and the leadership of the free world.

It's significant that these two people of color chose to stay at the Grove Park Inn, where for two days they were treated like royalty. As they passed through our streets en route to various activities, residents greeted them with cheers and great excitement. It reminded me of how far we've come, as a city and a nation, in terms of racial and cultural relations.

But then when I see and hear the latest political blather from Tea Party darling Rand Paul, I'm not so sure.

The Grove Park Inn, a progressive local business that's one of Asheville's biggest employers, is a perfect venue for tracking the changes that have taken place in the continuing march of our human-rights parade.

Consider two historic photos that hang in the hotel. The first depicts the men who built this magnificent, world-renowned structure in a single year. A good number of them are black men who, once they'd hung the inn's front doors, could never pass through them again unless they were carrying bags or performing some other menial task.

The second shows the hostelry's inaugural banquet in July of 1913, attended by an all-white, all male audience that was addressed by William Jennings Bryan, a three-time presidential candidate who served as secretary of state under President Woodrow Wilson.

For the next 30 years, the inn operated as a "restricted hotel" that did not accept Jews or people of color.

In 1942, the U.S. government leased the inn to serve as an internment camp for diplomats from Japan, Italy and Germany. True, they were surrounded by barbed-wire fences and Marine guards, but otherwise they were treated as dignitaries.

It's shocking to realize that even though the inn housed our worst enemies (including Nazis) during the war, when it was returned to civilian use in 1945, Jews still weren't accepted as guests. This was true until the mid-1950s, and blacks were not admitted till after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — not even those who'd risked their lives defending our country against these murderous regimes.

Racism was a way of life during those times. Members of the Jewish community, themselves victims of discrimination, rarely stood up to publicly challenge segregation and racism for fear of the consequences.

President Obama's caravan passed right by the beautiful house at the corner of Charlotte Street and Sunset Parkway — the former home of a virulent racist group called the Silver Shirts. Active during the late 1930s and early '40s, they were first cousins of the Brown Shirts and the German American Bund. And the Ku Klux Klan had a modest presence in Buncombe County even into the late '60s.

In fact, Southerners of my generation — raised with separate water fountains and bathrooms and back-of-the-bus seating for "Negroes" — are recovering racists. Believe me, it takes more than a 12-step program to erase decades of cultural programming, and to this day I find myself fighting automatic negative reflexes on an almost daily basis. Yet I realize that for most of those born after 1950, and for many people raised up North, those attitudes are inconceivable.

I find it discouraging that so many sincere, hard-working, patriotic, caring people still cannot get their heads around the idea that a man of color has been elected to the highest office in the land.

Many have joined the Tea Party movement, one of whose emerging stars, Rand Paul, has taken several retro cultural positions that would take us right back to those discriminatory times. While he abhors racism, Paul apparently sees nothing wrong with allowing private businesses and clubs to exclude whoever they choose, on the theory that associating with one's own kind is a "human right." Why should these folks have to endure people whose race, religion, politics or economic status offends them?

But even if we're not moved by the immorality of this position, we must at least understand the economic ramifications.

I remember an incident in the early 1960s, when a highly qualified young man with an Ivy League degree was on the verge of getting an important job with one of the local banks. At the last minute, however, they found out that he was Jewish and very apologetically explained that they conducted a lot of their business and entertained clients at the two prominent local country clubs. Because both clubs refused to accept people of the Jewish faith, he couldn't be hired.

Historically, the white, Anglo-Saxon majority operated most restricted facilities, including restaurants, hotels and country clubs. Lack of access meant then (and would mean again now) that members of excluded minorities would not be able to get jobs or have equal access to businesses, industries, banks and even municipal institutions.

What a great tool for denying not only African-Americans but our burgeoning legal Hispanic population, Asians, Native Americans et al. a level playing field!

I was taught in the military that once the bullet leaves the gun, it has no friends. Today, our country is targeted by dangerous extremists who are no respecters of race, creed, color or politics. We must come together to defend ourselves.

This country simply can't afford a return to the politics of exclusion, even if it represents a learned cultural behavior from our past. For everyone's benefit, we must each find a way to enroll in our own personal 12-step program.

Asheville native Jerry Sternberg is a longtime observer of the local scene. He can be reached at gospeljerry@aol.com.
Southerners of my generation — raised with separate water fountains and bathrooms and back-of-the-bus seating for "Negroes" — are recovering racists.

SHARE

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

26 thoughts on “The Gospel According to Jerry

  1. Erika Franzi

    Asheville Tea Party press release, dated 4/18/2010:

    ASHEVILLE – The Asheville Tea Party extends a hearty welcome to the First Family upon their visit to Asheville. President Obama will be the eleventh US President to visit and enjoy our mountain treasure.

    “A visit from a sitting president will no doubt be a major boost to the local economy. Tourism is still Asheville’s most important industry. The fact that the First Family has chosen our fair city as their vacation destination will most certainly have a positive impact on tourism revenues in the coming year,” said Asheville Tea Party chair Erika Franzi. “While our organization stands opposed to President Obama’s public policies, we are delighted that he has selected Asheville for some rest and relaxation with his family and that hope he enjoys a peaceful and rewarding vacation in our mountain paradise.”

  2. dhalgren

    A “press release” !? Really? I’m surprised you tea baggers even know the meaning of the term. And do you really think posting here constitutes a “press release”? And who are you to presume the right to welcome anyone to anything or anywhere? Maybe I’m mistaken, but from what I’ve seen of you people, you seem to represent the wingnut faction of the republican party. I haven’t seen such an ill informed, undereducated group of people since I photographed a klan rally back in the eighties.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/8/6/123857/0982

  3. Erika Franzi

    dhalgren:

    The press release was issued two months ago, prior to the Obama visit. It was picked up by a number of publications, locally and nationally, for example:

    Is progressive Asheville Obama’s vision for America?
    Christian Science Monitor | http://sn.im/xhynx

    Asheville’s Tea Party Issues A Welcome For Obama’s Visit
    Mountain Xpress Blogwire | http://sn.im/xhymu

    Do you have any intellectual arguments to offer?

  4. JWTJr

    dhalgren obviously doesn’t like the taste of the tea bag the Tea Party dropped on him.

  5. dhalgren

    Do you have any intellectual arguments to offer?

    It’s commentary, not an argument sweety. My description of you people is accurate as evidenced by your collective behavior. Look, the south will not rise again, and you have a black president who, compared to “w” ,is thrice the man ( morally and intellectually ).

  6. dhalgren

    How can one not be angry when confronted with the ignorance of wingnuts?

  7. JWTJr

    You are focusing on a minority that exists in every political movement. Picking one out for having fringe issues is myopic. I’m not involved with the Tea Party movement. You guys screaming they are all racist is just plain dumb. Plenty of racists on the left too.

  8. killarue

    Geez, how about a direct comment on the article, please!!! Although I have criticized this writer in the past, I thought that it had some good points, ones that all of us should try to understand. Change takes time, even if we want it badly. BTW, there are enough “wingnuts” on both side to sustain an army of zombies, let us try to relax a bit; try to be constructive and enjoy the Summer!

  9. Piffy!

    [b]You guys screaming they are all racist is just plain dumb.[/b]

    Indeed. Just like you referring to one guy in this thread as “You guys”.

  10. Rob

    “…..and to this day I find myself fighting automatic negative reflexes on an almost daily basis. Yet I realize that for most of those born after 1950, and for many people raised up North, those attitudes are inconceivable.”

    Well, Jerry, maybe its inconceivable to you that people can oppose Obama and not be racist. Your opinion piece was nothing more than an Olberman-esque play of the race card. Its soooo 2009……..

    Get over it. People will oppose Obama, and they will do it for reasons that have nothing to do with “race”.

  11. JWTJr

    “”Just like you referring to one guy in this thread as “You guys”.”

    Yes those are exactly the same. You must feel I was talking about you. Are you on Janeane Garofalo’s tweet list?

  12. pff

    [b]You must feel I was talking about you.[/b]

    Not at all. I just noticed the only person you were speaking to was dhamlgreen, and yet you were making sweeping generalizations about some sort of larger ‘your guys’ demographic.

    Perhaps you hear voices?

    [b]Are you on Janeane Garofalo’s tweet list[/b]

    And perhaps you are a fan of Curtis Jackson?

  13. dhalgren

    Are you on Janeane Garofalo’s tweet list?

    Are you on namvets tweet list?

    While Mr. Sternberg makes several good points, it seems to me that these days it’s more about money than race as regards exclusionary practices.

  14. JWTJr

    I’m glad I don’t tweet.

    Money and Greed are certainly good at causing division.

  15. pff

    [b]Get over it. People will oppose Obama, and they will do it for reasons that have nothing to do with “race”. [/b]

    But no one is saying that anyone who is critical of Obama is a racist. That’s a straw man. The point is, a lot of people are fearful of losing their class/race privilege and see Obama as a harbinger of this trend.

    You guys just like to play the ‘your playing the race card” card any time anyone points out the obvious.

    Racism isnt just about bigotry. ITs about the institutions of power and privilege that we all take part in.

  16. dhalgren

    You guys screaming they are all racist is just plain dumb.

    I wish they were just racist, but it’s worse than that. They are dullards who are convinced of the superiority of their position. Sara Palin is their intellectual leader. Need I say more?!

  17. JWTJr

    “I wish they were just racist, but it’s worse than that. They are dullards who are convinced of the superiority of their position. Sara Palin is their intellectual leader. Need I say more?!”

    Just because you day so, doesn’t make it so.

  18. dhalgren

    Just because you day so, doesn’t make it so.

    Is that all you got jr.? Well. I sayso all dayso.

    And by the way jr., let’s not forget about our favorite teabagger “glen nutball beck” Another of your esteemed leaders.

  19. Nelda Holder

    As someone born before 1950, and born in North Carolina, I really appreciate this commentary, Jerry — with one glaring exception. Having lived in the “North” from 1982 to 1995, I am well aware that racism did not skip that region.

  20. Paul -V-

    Testing Asheville’s 123

    Hope more people take it up

    Hoop Jam

    for cereal.

    123

    testing

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.