In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Threats Against Immigrants in Vermont: The Ku Klux Klan

As we head toward Vermont's Town Meeting Day on the first Tuesday of March, we can expect to hear mention of who is "from here" and who is "from away." There are real differences involved: People who live in Vermont for a long time develop ways to connect and cope with seasons, distances, geography. Families who have generations of experience to rely on develop some of the best skills -- as well as treasured traditions. As I listen to my house creak and ache during subzero nights, I remember especially Mrs. Lucille Poutre of Irasburg, who taught me the importance of "banking" the house foundation for winter.

At the same time, those who arrive in Vermont "from away" bring perspectives and experiences that are often helpful in finding a way to survive other challenges: economic, technological, and the growing pains that associate with more obvious diversity in the state. If you grow up in a more diverse area, you can bring those skills with you as you arrive in the Green Mountains. They matter especially at Town Meeting, when our commitment to working democracy means finding ways to hear each other.

But it's an oversimplification to say that Vermont is "becoming diverse." The state has always had people from varied backgrounds, and the human tendency to divide them into "us" and "them" has dogged us all along. The Darkness Under the Water, my young adult novel of 1930 that walks with 16-year-old Molly Ballou through some of the challenges of that time, portrays the casual bigotry that was present, and some frightening -- and sometimes heroic -- results.

In the upcoming issue of Vermont's Northland Journal, editor/writer Scott Wheeler presents an interview of a 97-year-old resident of Newport, Vermont, who mentions the Ku Klux Klan burning "fiery crosses of hate" on a hill above the town. To many, the "KKK" is associated with terrorizing African Americans in the Deep South, especially in the early 1900s before Civil Right legislation took hold. It can be a shock to realize that the KKK was also present in New England, including in Vermont.

The Vermont Historical Society describes some KKK activity within its Freedom and Unity exhibit, for which much of the material is still available online; the poster shown above is from that exhibit.

State-sponsored bigotry disguised with the "scientific process" became the Vermont Eugenics Survey, documented by the University of Vermont, again with material available online (read the letters exchanged on the Eugenics Commission).

For a look at a KKK threat to Catholics during the 1920s, check this page from St. Augustine Church in Montpelier.

And I hope the webpage on the Vermont Eugenics Survey at "Abenaki Nation" will interest many readers in listening to the voices of Vermont's Native Americans, whose persecution during the 1920s and 1930s led directly to their invisibility in the state in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s ... the enabling legislation for sterilization of the "unfit" was not repealed in Vermont until 1971.

It may indeed be human to say "them" and "us" -- but it's dangerous, can be cruel, and, like the burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan, leaves us a legacy of pain and discrimination that takes generations of activity to heal, restoring justice.

1 comment:

Helen Pike said...

The "us" vs. "them" in New England history, certainly, is the evil twin to the Golden Rule. The Puritans excommunicated from the Plymouth Plantation anyone who did not hew to their rigid interpretation of God. Ironic, because they had been persecuted in England. The silver lining to banishment was the creation of other colonies such as New Haven, CT, and Newark, NJ. This phenom isn't limited to northern New England. When the end of the road in any geography is reached, the attempt to create a cohesive community built on shared values experiences breeds intolerance. As always, tho, it's economics that opens the door to newcomers and new ideas. The elemental challenge lies in the Golden Rule and its implied spirit of mutual respect.