10 dead in racist shooting at Buffalo grocery store
Some of the torch-bearing “Unite the Right” protesters, including members of the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis, who terrorized Charlottesville in 2017, were also motivated by the theory that warns that a non-white population increase fueled by immigration will destroy White and Western civilization.
The Buffalo shooter, identified by authorities as 18-year-old white Payton Gendron, reportedly posted a 180-page manifesto online claiming white Americans were at risk of being replaced by people of color.
But if the Great Replacement Theory has inspired horrific violence over the past five years, it is much older than that. More than 70 years ago, a US senator published a book warning of the same destruction of white civilization.
Theodore G. Bilbo, a Democrat, had twice served as governor of Mississippi before serving in the U.S. Senate from 1935 to 1947, when “the growing intolerance of many white people toward public racism and anti-Semitism” led to his downfall, according to an account in the Journal of Mississippi History.
An equal opportunity racist, he addressed some of his letters with slurs against Italians and Jews, depending on the recipient. But most of his disgust and fear was reserved for black Americans, as his 1947 book “Separation or Mongrelization: Take Your Choice” indicates.
Showboater and self-promoter, he begins the book with this modest preface: “For nine years I have read, studied and analyzed virtually all the writings and everything that is written in the world on the subject of race relations, covering a period of narrow up to thirty thousand years.
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Bilbo saw an existential threat in the growing ranks of American-born descendants of enslaved Africans. His solution? Send them back.
“The great civilizations of the ages were produced[d] by the Caucasian race,” he wrote. When blacks moved in, he wrote, powerful societies such as ancient Egypt were destroyed and bastard races were created. “The bastard not only has the ability to create a civilization, but he cannot sustain any culture he finds around him,” he writes.
“A white America or a bastard America – you have to take your pick!”
Bilbo proclaimed in his book and in addresses to his followers that he was “convinced beyond reasonable doubt that our race is in danger”. It was a fact, he said in a campaign speech, using racial slurs, that at “the current rate of miscegenation, miscegenation and intermarriage among [Black people] and the whites, that in nine generations, that is only 300 years, there will be no more whites, there will be no more blacks in this country. We will all be yellow. Or brown, he added.
He refuted experts who disputed any scientific basis for racism. Of Franz Boas, often called the father of American anthropology, he wrote: “For some reason which has never been made public, this German Jew, a newly arrived immigrant, wished to destroy the racial strain which had carved out this mighty nation from a wilderness.” Bilbo recommended the expulsion of another scholar, a naturalized Italian immigrant, who suggested that intermarriage might dissolve the color line.
Although he claimed “no hatred or prejudice against any human being” in the preface to his book, he went on to say that he “would rather see his race and civilization obliterated by the atomic bomb than see it slowly but surely destroyed”. in the maelstrom of miscegenation, miscegenation, intermarriage and mestizo.
But times were changing, even in Mississippi. Black veterans returning from World War II combat have not welcomed efforts to ban them from voting in the United States. And the Allies’ fight against Adolf Hitler and anti-Semitism had led many Americans to turn their critical eye to discrimination at home.
As Robert L. Fleegler noted in the Journal of Mississippi History, most criticism of Bilbo in the press came from liberal publications. But as Bilbo began campaigning for re-election in June 1946, the conservative and influential Saturday Evening Post ran a cover story titled “Bilbo: America’s Worst Demagogue Runs Again.” The story called Bilbo “America’s most notorious hatemonger”.
The politician nicknamed “The Man” was fighting to keep his seat in the Senate. He told his followers that “the Negro Council of Chicago sent a telegram to Harry Truman, the president, saying to send the army to Mississippi and see that these 100,000 [Black people] going to vote”, using a racial slur. He also urged “every red-blooded white man to use all means to keep the [Black people] away from the polls. And if you don’t know what that means, you’re just plain stupid. He fought hard against his critics, hurling anti-Jewish and anti-black slurs at critics in the press. He won the July Democratic primary and ran unopposed in the general election.
But growing opposition to his racist demagoguery continued to grow. Bilbo’s admission in August 1946 in “Meet the Press” that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan probably didn’t help.
There have been calls to oust Bilbo, including from veterans’ groups and the Catholic Human Rights Committee, which called Bilbo’s conduct “a chilling deterrent to the worldwide belief that America is the symbol of democracy and human rights”. They were joined by politicians, including Democratic senators from New York and a state senator whose son was killed in World War II, who said “I hate and despise these fanatics” like Bilbo.
A century ago, the Mississippi Senate voted to send all blacks in the state to Africa
In March 1946, conservative Republican leader Senator Robert Taft of Ohio called Bilbo “a disgrace to the Senate”.
On September 19, 1946, an interracial group of Mississippians filed a complaint with the U.S. Senate Committee to Investigate Campaign Expenses, demanding that Bilbo be removed from office.
The committee “heard from more than 100 witnesses — two-thirds of whom were black — who described local election practices that systematically restricted black registration and voting,” according to a Senate history. Witnesses said they were turned away, threatened with guns, beaten and arrested.
However, a narrow majority of the committee came out in favor of Bilbo and blamed part of Bilbo’s anti-black campaign on concerns about “outsider agitators”, including the national media.
But Bilbo’s opponents had another card to play.
A second investigation by the Senate War Investigative Subcommittee heard testimony about accusations that Bilbo helped construction companies win government contracts and accepted gifts in return, including a Cadillac, a swimming pool and “the excavation of a lake to create an island for his house”. “, according to a summary of the Senate.
During the inquest, questions also arose as to whether Bilbo was pocketing money in return for allowing a drug addict access to morphine. Bilbo had obtained consent from the Federal Narcotics Bureau to allow a Mississippi doctor to prescribe the drug. The drug recipient told an Internal Revenue Service special agent that he paid Bilbo $1,000 for the favor, according to The New York Times.
In January 1947, with Republicans in control of the Senate, a fight ensued over whether Bilbo would be allowed to take his seat, with Southern Democrats threatening to block the Senate from organizing if he was banned.
Then fate intervened. Senate Minority Leader Alben Barkley (D-Ky.) announced that Bilbo would return to Mississippi for oral cancer surgery. He died on August 21, 1947, without resuming his seat in the Senate.
Bilbo’s career based on racism and anti-immigrant bigotry was over. But bigotry persists.
A version of this story aired on November 15, 2021, under the headline “Long before Charlottesville, the ‘great replacement theory’ found its champion in a racist senator”.
Martha M. Hamilton is a former journalist, editor and columnist for the Washington Post. In 2018, she was part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists team that won the Pulitzer Prize for the Panama Papers.