Do you realize the Civil Rights Bill can reach down into every street and crossroad to dictate the terms on which every American citizen can do business? This is the most monstrous bill, containing the most sweeping proposals ever put to the Congress on Civil Rights. —"Letter to the Editor" from The News and Courier, June 25, 1964
Angry and hysterical letters to the editors of America's newspapers are hardly new, and in the case of The Post and Courier (corporate child of the old News and Courier) they are often the rule, rather than the exception.
The above letter was published days before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which historians and sociologists have generally applauded as transformative in confronting the legacy of Jim Crow and segregation.
At that time, The News and Courier was edited by the infamous Thomas R. Waring, an outspoken segregationist who used his paper to denounce civil rights leaders and legislation. In the week that this letter was printed, one of Waring's editorials compared students who had gone to Mississippi to register black voters to Nazi brown shirts. With this kind of encouragement, it's easy to understand why some white southerners considered themselves under attack by insidious forces.
The newspapers of the Manigault family — the patriarchs of Charleston journalism — have a long and ugly history of promoting right-wing candidates and causes. In so doing, they have stoked generations of white anger and intransigence.
We got a glimpse of that anger recently in another letter to the editor of the P&C. Under the headline "Sick Liberalism," a North Charleston man let off a cloud of steam on August 31:
"Shame on all those whiners and spoiled brats in the liberal media and other leftist organizations who have continuously attacked our men and women serving and defending this country.
"They have absolutely no respect for our freedoms, our liberty, or our country. Now that Russia is becoming a greater threat to the West, liberals will be crying for our military to protect them again.
"It's just one example of a sickness this country has been subject to for many years — the mental disorder called liberalism."
I don't know what set off this poor fool. More mysterious and troubling is the fact that the P&C chose to publish it in the first place. It brings no new information to the public forum. It contains not one confirmable fact, except reference to a resurgent Russia, hardly a new insight.
Perhaps this little tantrum was the correspondent's idea of therapy. By venting his rage against a huge amorphous group of people he knows nothing about, he is able to go through the day without beating his wife or kicking his dog.
But to publish such a letter a month after Jim Adkisson went hunting liberals with a shotgun, killing two and wounding six at the Unitarian Universalist church in Knoxville, is irresponsible. Indeed, it's this kind of rhetoric, vented into the political atmosphere by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and The Post and Courier, that makes angry white men like Adkisson think that killing liberals will solve their problems. And it is men like Adkisson who make the rest of us wonder who is really sick and insane.
I think it is also irresponsible to allow such libel against a great tradition of American politics — a tradition that includes Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. Perhaps the writer of this letter was ignorant of these men and their achievements. I hope Charles R. Rowe is not.
Rowe is the editor of the P&C, and he recently took over the editorial page, replacing Barbara Williams in the position she had held since 1990. For nearly 20 years Williams followed in the tradition of Thomas Waring, serving up a daily dose of Republican dogma on the editorial page. What I found most troubling, though, was her selection of syndicated columnists for the op-ed page. This page was nearly a solid wall of right-wing pundits. (The notable exception was Leonard Pitts. While Williams gladly ran his columns criticizing the black community for its crime, drugs, and family breakdown, she never ran one of his many columns criticizing the Bush administration.)
With the arrival of Rowe, I noticed an almost immediate improvement on the op-ed page. Such noted liberal columnists as Maureen Dowd and Nicholas Kristof now have a voice in the Holy City. While I do see periodic signs of backsliding, the general trend is toward a more healthy balance of opinion.
Now I wish Mr. Rowe would pay a little more attention to the letters to the editor. This page can provide a useful exchange of information and opinion. It should not be a dumping ground for unfocused and untempered anger.