≡ Menu

“Uppity,” That’s Racist for “Kill”

US Representative Lynn Westmoreland, a Republican from Georgia, made a very bald appeal to racists to unite against Obama. This wasn't a private statement caught on a mic he didn't realize was on. This was a statement for the record, to reporters, in the halls of the United States Congress.

Westmoreland was discussing vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin's speech with reporters outside the House chamber and was asked to compare her with Michelle Obama.

"Just from what little I’ve seen of her and Mr. Obama, Sen. Obama, they're a member of an elitist-class individual that thinks that they're uppity," Westmoreland said.

When asked to clarify, Westmoreland said it again, pretty much to say, you heard me, they're uppity n—s.

Asked to clarify that he used the word “uppity,” Westmoreland said, “Uppity, yeah.”

I bring up tne N-word because that is the debased level of rhetoric that the word "uppity" belongs to, especially when a white Southerner is directing it at Blacks.

This is overt racist thuggery. As Ta-Neshi Coates put it:

The worse part is it isn't vague. Uppity is exactly the term white thugs and terrorists used to use for high-achieving blacks--right before they burned down their neighborhoods and ran them out of town.

I suppose this might seem hyperbolic to some. It is a factual, historically accurate statement.

When I interviewed the children of Samuel O'Quinn, an African American man who was shot dead by a sniper at the gate to his property in Centreville, MS in 1959, they said that the main problem their father had with whites was that he was well educated and successful.

Samuel O'Quinn was a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute---"the highest form of education you could get" at that time, if you were Black, Rance O'Quinn emphasized.

"My mother and father gave away a fortune," Rance O'Quinn continued. "They gave money to every cause, the  building of every church. They bought the bus for the kids to go to school and paid the bus driver to take children to school."

"That's why he was hated," added Phalba O'Quinn Plummer. "They said he was biggity. They would say 'uppity' and 'biggity.' 'Biggity' means too big for his britches."

Five years after Samuel O'Quinn was murdered, in April 1964, his eldest son, Clarence, was attacked on the Centreville Post Office steps by Chief of Police Bill Ivey. "You damn uppity nigger, you think you own the town," Ivey said, as he beat O'Quinn with other whites looking on. Clarence O'Quinn's 94 year old grandmother, mourning the murder of her son Samuel, urged Clarence to leave town. "You have a life worth living; you should not throw it away," she said. "You have no rights and privileges here."

"I left Mississippi that same day," Clarence O'Quinn recalled. "I was humiliated. I was alone. There wasn't a Black person other than myself that I remember being at that post office, and I felt the evilness that lurked throughout Mississippi and Wilkinson County at that time. The separation from family, from friends was horrible and still is. Many have stood in my shoes and had no place to go."

“We used to see kids get beat up,” Rance O’Quinn said. “There were lynchings that were never reported. Kids never showed up again. You'd see them in school today; tomorrow you never heard from them and you never would know what happened to them.”

“So and so run away,” his sister Laura O'Quinn Smith added. “That’s all people said. ‘They run away.’”

Lynn Westmoreland's slur was a conscious evocation of the the racist sentiment that Blacks who refuse to be subservient to whites should be put in their place through violence---beatings, bombings, murder. Westmoreland's slur is also a call to arms to extremists who would still carry out Klan-style violence. Westmoreland is not fit to govern. I hope his colleagues in Congress are fervently asking for his resignation.

{ 11 comments… add one }

  • Kansas Evans September 5, 2008, 2:40 pm

    Saw this on the SNCC listserve, and I’m posting this to my listserve.

  • Benjamin T. Greenberg September 5, 2008, 2:57 pm

    Thanks for spreading it around. I’m glad to have discovered your blog via your comment.

  • suzel September 7, 2008, 10:28 pm

    I posted the following part on other blogs. I think is important that people understand!
    *********************

    that is from the hungryblues.net site:

    I suppose this might seem hyperbolic to some. It is a factual, historically accurate statement.

    When I interviewed the children of Samuel O’Quinn, an African American man who was shot dead by a sniper at the gate to his property in Centreville, MS in 1959, they said that the main problem their father had with whites was that he was well educated and successful.

    Samuel O’Quinn was a graduate of the Tuskegee Institute—”the highest form of education you could get” at that time, if you were Black, Rance O’Quinn emphasized.

    “My mother and father gave away a fortune,” Rance O’Quinn continued. “They gave money to every cause, the building of every church. They bought the bus for the kids to go to school and paid the bus driver to take children to school.”

    “That’s why he was hated,” added Phalba O’Quinn Plummer. “They said he was biggity. They would say ‘uppity’ and ‘biggity.’ ‘Biggity’ means too big for his britches.”

    Five years after Samuel O’Quinn was murdered, in April 1964, his eldest son, Clarence, was attacked on the Centreville Post Office steps by Chief of Police Bill Ivey. “You damn uppity nigger, you think you own the town,” Ivey said, as he beat O’Quinn with other whites looking on.

  • Benjamin T. Greenberg September 7, 2008, 10:58 pm

    Thanks, suzel. I hope it has some effect…

  • David Tvaroha September 9, 2008, 3:21 pm

    I’m glad you shared this story. It’s more information for us white Northerners who are trying to understand all of this with an objective view.

  • Go Saints! September 10, 2008, 4:49 pm

    come on is this true? it just sounds like this is a made up story here, the Obamas do seem snobby

  • Benjamin T. Greenberg September 10, 2008, 5:05 pm
  • Shaula September 16, 2008, 4:17 pm

    Just when I think I can’t be surprised, or appalled, any further.

    Excellent article and excellent documentation/fortification, Benjamin.

  • Benjamin T. Greenberg September 16, 2008, 5:06 pm

    Thanks, Shaula. And I’m delighted to discover via your comment that you are blogging again.

  • Jeff (no, the other one) October 23, 2008, 3:45 pm

    Ben, I suppose you may have seen this by now: http://www.oanow.com/oan/news/local/article/two

    It's just one more thing to watch. I know you recall Winston DeRoyal Carter. Smiths Station is just up the road from Tuskegee, so we're talking about the same neck of the woods.

  • Ben October 23, 2008, 3:53 pm

    No, Jeff, I had not heard about this incident with crosses and a noose in Alabama! Thanks for bringing it to my attention. It is very disturbing.

Leave a Comment

Next post:

Previous post: