While I’m waiting around for my FOIA requests to be looked at and trying to figure out my next steps, I’ve been trying to understand what a bombing in Nashville would have felt like, psychologically.
In other words, Hattie Cotton gets bombed. Do people think “Oh, no! The racist violence is here to disrupt our tranquil town?” This, it seems to me, is kind of how the bombings are remembered now: everything was peaceful then long-simmering but not fully recognized problems bubbled to the surface and these three anomalies hit.
But what I quickly discovered is that this wasn’t the first racist violence in town in this era (I’m kind of thinking of this as a post-WWII phenomenon for a few reasons that I think are right, but are kind of boring, one being that men returned to town to fight with each other and that black men came home feeling an urgency to achieving if not full equality an end to racial violence). There were two bombings in the early fifties directly linked to trying to keep black people out of white neighborhoods. Those bombings succeeded. There was a constant stream of cross burnings. And there were all of the rumors of the return of the Klan, which, of course, turned out to be true.
I don’t want to get side-tracked, but I also think it’s an important point: in Nashville in this era, racialized violence predates organized groups to do it. In other words, the first bombings and the first cross burnings happened before the Klan was revitalized here. It was basically the fact that people were doing these things that seems to have spurred the revitalization and not as we’re kind of commonly taught that it was the revitalization of the Klan that lead to the uptick in violence.
No, the violence was there and the Klan arose to help organize it and let larger groups of whites participate in it.
But there were also two other types of bombing violence that I didn’t know anything about. One is so bizarre that I don’t know what to make of it and the other I am sure there’s something to be understood about it, I’m just so clueless about it that I’m not yet sure where to start.
Okay, the bizarre thing: throughout the 50s, there were a number of incidents where teenage boys would steal blasting caps (and sometimes dynamite, but most often just the blasting caps) and leave them in elementary schoolyards or near elementary schools, where young boys would find them and, sometimes, blow their fingers off or their eyes out.
This was seen as “pranks.”
And every time dynamite or blasting caps go missing, there’s a hubbub in the paper until it’s determined that the thieves are teens and not adults, even though–with the exception of the thing I’m about to get to–if adults stole dynamite, it seemed to be so they could fish with it and, if teens stole dynamite, it seemed to be so that they could facilitate young children disfiguring themselves.
Like, I genuinely don’t understand how it being in the hands of teens is a relief when this is what the teens are up to! Also, I’m not understanding why there seems to be this distinction between teen thieves and adult thieves as if they live in two separate, never overlapping worlds. Surely teens stealing dynamite doesn’t mean that dynamite doesn’t end up in the hands of adults, but Nashville sure likes to treat it like it does.
So, that’s weird. Maybe you shouldn’t shrug off your teens trying to maim your children, but what do I know?
Okay, then the second thing, which I need to learn more about but am not yet sure where to start, is that there was a lot of violence surrounding trucking and union activity and, weirdly enough, barbershops and union activity, with the head of one trucking company waging a couple of years’ long bomb-a-thon of things around Middle Tennessee.
I need to read a book on this, because I feel like I’m missing out on a lot just stumbling across old newspaper stories, but I had NO idea. None. And the trucking dude bombed the publisher of the Tennessean and a mayor!
WTF?! How does this story just fade from public memory?? And what were the dynamics at play? In the South would unions have been segregated? Could I find that the people who dynamited the stuff I’m looking at became familiar with the use of dynamite during these activities? If so, should I look for them on the pro-union or anti-union side?
I mean, not to belabor this point, but I grew up in the Midwest where people were in unions and they went on strike and there was just a kind of general agreement that unions were good and I have always been baffled by the anti-union sentiment of the South and chalked it up to a residual belief that people owed you labor for nothing or next to nothing.
But I also had no idea of the extent of labor violence in the South and, while I still retain my pro-union stance, I would like to understand more about the era and specifically what the dynamic was here in Tennessee.