Of News and Racial Cleansings

By Malena Amusa Apr 04, 2007

Marco Williams in film "Banished" about America’s campaign of racial expulsions I’ve been meaning to post something about journalist Elliot Jaspin whose investigation uncovered a long, dreary season in American history between 1860 and 1920 when the country’s spree of racial expulsions left countless Blacks displaced from their homes and communities. Even after seeing the film "Banished," featuring Jaspin and three contemporary Black families on a quest to reclaim their ancestors’ land, I failed to write something and come to terms with the deeply disturbing past. After watching the film, I learned that newspapers worked to forget this history, unable to deal with this scary truth. The power of the film is in its ability to make you angry – furious about a dramatic injustice and its reverberations into the present. But Jaspin’s reports, aggregated in his book Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hiden History of Racial Cleansing in America, must be presented courageously despite all of our hang-ups and reluctance to remember. This excerpt from a recent interview with Jaspin is a good start.

What I found was that from as early as 1864 until at least 1923 white Americans engaged in campaigns of racial cleansing. The white community would issue an ultimatum to blacks that they would have to leave within a certain amount of time – usually measured in hours – or they would be killed. These racial cleansings occurred both in the North and South and in at least 12 cases emptied whole counties. Because this has been a very painful chapter in America’s history, the story of these expulsions has largely been hidden. Yet the legacy of these events has been enduring. The twelve countywide racial cleansings I describe in my book have all been successful. That is to say the counties remain virtually all-white today.