Death of an Unrepentant Radical

As he’s looking UP at us, I hope he’s roasting good.

Boy! At least George Wallace had something that resembled a conscience. This is one of the purely evil ones.

Death of an Unrepentant Radical
By Jabari Asim

Tuesday, May 10, 2005; 8:24 AM

WASHINGTON—It isn’t always true that only the good die young. But it often seems that way, especially when looking at news photos of the recent bombings in Iraq. While it hurts to see the faces of the haggard adults carrying corpses of children, it’s the sight of those tiny blanket-wrapped babies that inflicts the deepest pain. A similar sensation hits when reading about the FBI’s desire to exhume the body of Emmett Till, a child lynched in Mississippi 50 years ago. All around us, it seems, are reminders that innocence is short-lived.

Then there’s the curious case of J.B. Stoner. A white supremacist, anti-Semite and convicted church bomber, he was anything but innocent. He died April 23 at the ripe old age of 81. To provide you with some measure of Stoner’s sordid career, I encourage you to consider the frequency with which two terms emerged in obituaries announcing his death. The first word is “unrepentant.”

Stoner’s roster of villainy is long and nefarious—and would probably be much lengthier if he could be persuasively linked to other misdeeds of which he is suspected. A precocious racist, he revived an inactive chapter of the Ku Klux Klan while still in his teens. He grew up and bombed the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth’s empty Birmingham church in 1958, then went on to preside over anti-civil rights rallies across the South during the 1960s. He quickly earned a reputation as a persuasive orator with a knack for name-calling. Historian Taylor Branch has written, “A whiff of legend about Stoner helped him command the enthusiasm of the segregationist crowd.”

At Stoner’s rallies, the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was derided as “Martin Lucifer Coon.” Jews were condemned as “vipers of hell.” During various campaigns for political office, Stoner tried to shake off accusations that he was spreading hate. In a bit of perverse invention, he billed himself as the “candidate of love.” His rationale? “I love white people and I love white children.” His electoral efforts seldom went anywhere, although he did manage to win nearly 10 percent of the vote in 1974 when he ran for lieutenant governor of Georgia. He ran for the office again when he got out of jail in 1990, winning 3 percent of the ballots.

Keep in mind that Stoner was most active in the 1950s and ‘60s, when ambitious white Southern politicians often hitched their wagons to racist hysteria. Even in that setting, Stoner was the clown prince of excess. His absurd rants were so extreme that other candidates took pains to distance themselves from him. Unlike such contemporaries as Lester Maddox and George Wallace, he never backed off, never indicated a hint of remorse.

Bedridden and partially paralyzed by a stroke, Stoner agreed to a nursing-home interview with an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter last year. “If I was active,” he said, “I’d still be the same. I’d like to go out and make a speech. Some thought coming into this institution would change me. But a person isn’t supposed to apologize for being right.”

The second word is a racial slur commonly abbreviated as “the n-word.” For context, let’s recall Wallace’s decision to ride a segregationist wave to fame and high office. After losing a bitter race for governor to John Patterson in 1958, Wallace concluded that his opponent had “outniggered” him. He swore to a colleague, “I’ll tell you here and now, I will never be outniggered again.”

Stoner was never in any danger of being outdone in such fashion. At venue after venue, in decade after decade, he used the epithet as his rallying cry. In 1959, he cautioned the New York City police commissioner that he needed to keep an eye on Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad to stop “him and his (n-word)s from taking over your city.” At a 1964 gathering of Birmingham hecklers, he told the mob, “There’s nothing in the Constitution that gives Congress the authority to tell us we’ve got to eat with (n-word)s.” In 1972, he successfully sued for the right to use the slur in his campaign commercials.

Add the words together and you get unapologetic racism, an enduring evil that Stoner embodied more than most. We are also left wondering why innocence continues to be snuffed out so swiftly, and its opposite festers for so long.


Posted by cricket on 05/12 at 11:16 PM in Racism / Prejudice

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