NauenThen

Southern paradox

May 12, 2014

Tags: Tom Watson, Rebecca L. Fenton, Georgia

"You are kept apart that you may separately be fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetrates a monetary system that beggars both." This was Georgia politician Tom Watson in the 1890s, calling on poor whites—and blacks—to unite.

I'd never heard of Watson, but this quote piqued my interest. He ran for VP with William Jennings Bryan on the Populist ticket, pushed for Negro [sic] suffrage, and, as a Congressman, started Rural Free Delivery, which was a godsend even in my day in getting packages to farms. So far so good.

However, after 1900 he shifted to attacks on blacks, Catholics and Jews; his newspaper The Jeffersonian, promoted the lynching of Leo Frank & the Ku Klux Klan. He was elected to the U.S. Senate, and when he died in office was replaced by the first woman to ever serve in the Senate, Rebecca L. Felton, another interesting & paradoxical character.

Felton served in the Senate exactly 24 hours, and was the last former slaveowner to serve in the U.S. Senate. A white supremacist, she spoke out for lynching—but also advocated prison reform, women's suffrage, and equal pay for equal work. At nearly 88, she was the oldest-ever freshman senator and still the only woman to have served as a senator from Georgia. "A Senator of the U.S., a woman, is still a sort of political joke with our masculine leaders in party politics.... But the trail has been blazed! The road is apparently rough—maybe rocky—but the trail has been located. It is an established fact. While it is also a romantic adventure, it will ever remain an historical precedent—never to be erased.”