Kids

In researching this story, I found a third racist killed by his kid. I don’t know anything about patricide, really, so I don’t know how common it is, but this feels like a group with a lot more of it than most.

I have two main thoughts about it. One that when we don’t deal with social problems like racism, the suffering is society-wide. The people I’m looking at really harmed black people and Jewish people AND they also really harmed their children. Being white didn’t protect their children from them.

Second, I feel like these kids are often harmed a second time because we tend to dismiss the families of racists as also worthless pieces of shit. As if they can’t be anything other than what their fathers were, which lets us ignore the years of suffering and abuse that the kids endured and then treat what they have to do to escape it as kind of a joke.

Me, too. I mean, I laughed when I saw that this dude had died after a fist-fight with his kid.

But it’s not just funny. It’s also really terrible. And you know the 14 words these yahoos love? What future are they securing? I mean, really. When your kids are abused and terrorized because the only way you know how to go through life is as an abuser and a terrorizer, your kids can’t flourish. And removing everyone who’s not like you from the country or the planet isn’t going to make your kids happy and well-adjusted, because it’s not those outsiders ruining them.

The bogeyman is in the house. Has been there all along.

Hard Work

I just want to reiterate how working on this baby blanket compared to the spiral afghan is…god damn. Like, I’m almost done making squares. On a blanket I started on Thursday. Granted, what I have in mind for the border will take a while, but the spiral afghan was SO HARD!

I’m glad I did it, but I don’t want to forget that it was tough and I probably don’t want to make a thousand of them.

Also, on another subject, can I just say that going grocery shopping on the first day of your period is stupid unless you want to come home with seventeen pounds of pasta and two expensive chocolate and caramel candy bars and some cookies you both want to eat and kind of want to throw up to look at?

I mean, I also got some protein and some vegetables, but I got home and emptied my grocery bags and laughed. And then damn straight ate one of those candy bars.

I’m slowly working on my draft. I’m trying not to freak out by how large it is. I’m already at 1,000 words and nothing’s gotten blown up. But I feel like I just need to vomit out everything I know and then I can work on shaping and trimming it. In other words, I know this draft is supposed to suck, but I’m still worried about it sucking.

I also had this dream that the Butcher told me a secret about one of his friends and I then went on a trip with her and blabbed her secret–which she did not know I knew–to everyone and she found out and was pissed. And all day I was like “Oh man, I really fucked up with so-and-so.” And I felt so bad and then remembered, no, it was just a dream. Everything is fine.

Ah, brain, you sure are fun.

Drafting

So, today, as I was walking the dog and thinking to myself, if I could be doing anything today, what would I like to be doing? I thought, I’d like to be working on a draft of my project. And then I thought, no, that’s nuts. I don’t have anywhere near enough research done.

And then I thought, fuck that. How do I know what research I still need to do if I don’t start seeing what I know?

Anyway, my feeling at the moment is that this story will be “Why don’t we know?” And maybe that will shake some things loose.

Bombings, What are They Good For?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Sam’s comment about the “proper” ways violence flows in our society and what purpose our current myth serves.

The current myth, as I think most Nashvillians who even know it know it, is that everything was fine and calm here in Nashville–people knew their places and worked the system as best they could–and then Brown v. Board was announced and Nashville had to desegregate and, oh my goodness! A school was bombed! A black lawyer’s house was bombed! But it was so outrageous, such a shocking anomaly, that, in the wake of it, we desegregated in order to return to our peaceful existence. And it was so awesome that Dr. King came and told us that he got inspiration from the city of Nashville.

The bare bones of this story is that some outside event happened to rile up black people and as long as black people were riled up, there were these bombings, but once black people got their way, the violence stopped. Therefore, white people are awesome, because we moved gracefully out of the way of what black people wanted. So awesome that even Dr. King recognized it.

It’s hard to see with the flesh on that the story as it is told now is racist–at least for me–but stripped down, the racist narrative is easy to see–this violence happened because black people were not behaving. It ended because white people were super awesome and accommodating.

This is, I think, why the JCC bombing gets downplayed or left out all together–it was clearly an anti-integration bombing, both because the caller who took responsibility for it said so and because that strain of extremists believed that Jews were controlling black people, so get rid of the Jews, black people will settle down–but there wasn’t anything black people in Nashville had do that “caused” it. They weren’t trying to go to school or have a big civil rights rally. There was nothing to point to and say, “If you hadn’t done x, this bombing wouldn’t have happened.”

I’m also kind of suspicious this is why the bombers weren’t ever caught. Maybe not the primary reason, but a subconscious reason. You have faces and names and it makes it a lot harder to pretend like white people were on the side of good here and that black people were bringing this upon themselves.

And also, reducing Looby’s status to “lawyer for the sit-ins”–which, yes, is hugely important–elides his decades’ long work for black people as a lawyer AND his role as a city councilman.

I keep thinking about how important it is for me to keep checking my intellectual filters. Like, okay, if our era is just the third wave of the Klan–so roughly ’49 through like ’83–we have four bombings aimed directly at black people–the two early housing bombs, Hattie Cotton, and Looby. We have, though, six bombings directly linked to integration–the two early housing bombs, Hattie Cotton, the JCC, Looby, and the failed attempt on the Temple.

But what if we change our frame to “white men pissed about something the government is doing?” Then we have for sure the early housing bomb that was about a black public housing unit, two truck scales, an ex-mayor’s house, potentially other things I just don’t know about because I haven’t looked into the Wilson situation as much as I should have, Hattie Cotton, and Councilman Looby’s house.

The number of “Fuck you, government” bombings is the same as the “fuck you, integrationists” bombings.

And I feel like I’m almost on the verge of realizing what that means. I suspect it’s something like my realization about the third wave of the Klan–that there was this anti-black violence in Middle Tennessee already happening and the Klan came out of that, gave the white people who wanted to do violence a shape and a structure and a network of likeminded people.

And I also think that something similar is going on here–that racist bombings provide a socially-approved outlet for anti-government sentiment. You bomb a truck scale because you don’t like following the law, they’re going to catch you. You bomb a school because you don’t like following the law, well, now your just a person with a tradition and a way of life.

I hope it’s clear that I’m not trying to downplay how central and important the hatred and oppression of black people is. I’m just trying to peek underneath that layer to see the secondary things going on.

Racism and anti-government sentiment fed each other.

But, in the years since, Nashville as an American city has become an important way for us of viewing ourselves. We have big 4th of July celebrations. We want all the tourist dollars we can. We like it when the whole country likes our music. We love it when important people move here or come to visit.

So, the anti-government sentiment of the times had to be downplayed and forgotten. Which means that, though people living through the ’50s experienced bombings in Nashville as very common-place, we remember the three bombings I’m looking at as if they were jarring anomalies. Something that almost turned us into another Bombingham, but, whew, we escaped that fate because we’re so super awesome and not that racist.

But they weren’t anomalies. We were that racist. And we had another ugly strain of something here that fed into it.

Forgotten

So, the guy I was talking about yesterday is Jesse Wilson. He ran a trucking company and he was running his trucks heavier than legally allowed. The state put in some truck scales along his routes and he blew them up. He also appears to have, maybe, if I’m understanding the story correctly, accidentally almost killed one of his drivers when he was trying, on purpose, to kill another one of his drivers who had been making some pro-union comments.

He also, maybe, though I’m not certain on this, may have been involved with blowing up a ton of construction equipment–maybe owned by the state?–in Old Hickory. And he seems to have bombed the yard of an old mayor and tried to bomb the house of the publisher of the Tennessean, but failed.

For all this, he went to prison for like 28 months. But then in ’61, he had to go back to prison because a gang he organized robbed some people in Carthage.

In spite of all this, the police officer who caught him all the times he got caught seemed to have become genuinely fond of him and reported that, after one of his prison stints, when he learned to read and write, he did seem to be a changed man.

He was out of prison during my bombings and he was desperate for money, because he had lost everything. But his name hasn’t come up in any of the stuff I’m reading about my bombings. He didn’t appear on Kasper’s witness list. The papers made no note of him being at rallies. So, he’s not at the top of my list of suspects.

But I am confused and baffled by how off the radar he has fallen. There’s nothing about this story online, except at Newspapers.com, that I could find. This dude waged a years’ long war against the state and local authorities and the media and no one remembers him. I’m kind of surprised he didn’t become a folk hero.

But I’m also surprised that he’s been so completely forgotten. It must have been traumatic and scary for Nashville to have this series of bombings. But we just developed cultural amnesia about it and taught ourselves that we were a peaceful city.

Dynamite

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.

Donald Davidson

The more I work on this story, the more I end up reading Ben Houston’s scholarship and feeling like, damn, maybe he needs to write this, not me. And then I think, too late!

Anyway, I read a piece he did on Donald Davidson and it was just so brilliant I’m still thinking about it. His basic argument is simple–that Davidson’s racism was central to his writing and that scholars who try to treat it like a side matter are missing a lot of what’s going on in his work.

But what’s been sticking with me is the way Houston walks through Davidson’s beliefs about race and regionalism. Basically, Davidson was concerned with a specific, meaningful mythology of the white Southerner as an agrarian deeply connected to the land and traditions borne out of that relationship.

And Houston also shows how Davidson believed that black Southerners–and black Americans in general–did not have a kind of racial mythology because they’d been taken from Africa and stripped of their land, language, customs, religions, and kinship ties. And without this racial mythology to draw from, American blacks were always going to be less accomplished than white Americans who had this kind of racial (and regional) mythology.

So imagine the threat that accomplished black people posed for Davidson philosophically. It didn’t just offend him as a man racist against black people. It threatened his whole belief in what made white people great. After all, if you could be great without the components of this racial/regional mythology, then maybe the racial/regional mythology theory was wrong.

Or worse, what if it’s not wrong? What if there was a southern agrarian mythology that came from a person’s relationship to the land and the traditions borne out of that relationship, but it also worked for Southern blacks? In other words, this is not “my land,” it’s “our land.” Which is practically communism!!!!!!

So, the two components of his life fit together hand in hand. His artistic output is about codifying and strengthening this white Southern agrarian mythology. His racist endeavors were specifically about thwarting black Southern efforts to develop and have recognized as worthwhile their own Southern culture that Southern whites would then also find value in.

In other words, I think, at some level Davidson knew his mythology was false and could be remade and the existential threat posed by black civil rights was that his mythology would be remade. The past could be reexamined to mean something other than what he wanted it to mean.

Anyway, I don’t know how much of this stuff will make it into the final project, but I think it’s very worthwhile to know.

Mink

I forgot to say, I saw a mink again! Yesterday. A small one. It crossed the road in front of us and then seemed to realize that this meant we would be coming very near it and so it crossed back again.

The fact that it is small means that I must have three minks, at least, in my neighborhood–two to make a small one.

I know I said this before, but I still find it baffling and delightful that minks are a real wild thing and live in my neighborhood. I guess I assumed they lived in Canada in the wilderness or on fur farms.

But no, they’re in the creeks out back, eating crawdads and frogs, I assume, and crossing the road every once in a while.

Obsessive Thoughts

–I have been trying to figure out what the significance of the April 19th date for the Looby bombing is. The Hattie Cotton bombing took place the evening of the first day of school. The JCC bombing was coordinated with a bunch of other bombings of Jewish buildings across the south. But why blow up Looby’s house then? The sit-ins had been going on since February. The school desegregation lawsuits were on-going.

If something had provoked the bombing, it’s hard for me to figure out what.

So, does the date mean something? If a black man’s house were bombed on April 19th, 2017, we sure as fuck would think it did, but I don’t know about then.

–I have a weird rash on my arm, so I spent a great portion of my weekend washing everything in the house I could find to wash–bedding, couch slip covers, clothes, towels. I’m also trying very hard not to scratch it. When it itches I rub it, but I try not to use nails. It kind of works. It also kind of is not fooling me.

–One of the most personally embarrassing things about going to therapy is having to admit to myself how I have these weird, obsessive thoughts, which are sometimes paranoid. A few weeks ago, I woke up and a cat was in my bed and I became overwhelmingly convinced that it was not one of my cats. I get overwhelmed sometimes by the thought that I am fat and ugly and no one will ever love me and the people who like me only like me out of pity. And this shit is hard to talk about  because it’s not low self-esteem. Because low self-esteem would mean I felt bad about myself all the time.

But I’m really proud of the stuff I’ve accomplished and, sure, while not in love with the way I look, I like how I look in pictures and I’m kind of in awe of how, when I smile, I can see that it radiates. Like, okay, it must feel nice to be smiled at by me.

And I have a lot of friends who love me and they have big and interesting lives and they have other stuff to do beside be someone’s friend out of pity.

I say all this to try to make clear that these are obsessive thoughts. They don’t go away because they’re disprovable. They’re not satiated by being true–in the case of me being fat. They come out of nowhere, hit hard, and leave me reeling. There are some things that make them more common–me being tired or stressed or upset about something else but not dealing with it. But it is like being swept up in a storm my brain is having.

So, on the one hand, the medicine helps a lot because it seems to slow down the storm and, if I can recognize what’s happening before it blows up into the emotional hurricane, I can usually dissipate it. Oh, that’s just the anxiety.

But another thing we’ve been working on is that I like to have order and schedules. If I could keep my whole life by calendar, I would. And that’s great when it helps. Setting a recurring task of cleaning the litter boxes on Monday evenings means I get into the habit and the poop goes in the garbage can the day before garbage day. The schedule works for me and makes my life easier. Why wouldn’t I then schedule everything?!

Because I also sometimes, okay, often, then get caught up in the ritual of the schedule. In other words, I do scheduled things because those are the “rules” and I don’t want to break the rules or my life will be infinitely harder, whether or not I need to do the things.

And here I think you can see how close kin anxiety is with OCD. “I have to check the door five times to feel confident that it’s locked” is not the same thing as “I have to go to the grocery store on Sunday morning because… um… that’s when I’m scheduled to go to the grocery store.” But you can see they’re cousins.

So, I’ve been working really hard on separating what I feel compelled to do from what I need to do from what I want to do. So, Sunday, I was reading a book. I didn’t want to go to the grocery store. Did I need to go to the grocery store? Actually, no. I have enough stuff in the house that I can skip a week. But it still felt really weird and like I was going to regret not going to the grocery store.

The thing is that I think I like schedules because it lets me kind of put my life on autopilot. I can zone out through stuff I find boring or unpleasant, trusting on my schedule, my to-do list to keep me productive even while my brain is checked out.

But I think that coping mechanism has soured for me and I have to find ways to be present more in my life.

And a thing I find baffling and funny is that, without the checklist, I often don’t know what I want to do. I’m 43 years old but when faced with a truly empty day, I often don’t know how I’d like to fill it. And I pride myself on being so insightful and shit. And I don’t even know what kinds of small ordinary things bring me pleasure.

But I am having fun figuring it out.

Gladys

I have been trying to understand the life of Gladys Girgenti. Eventually, I’m going to have to talk to her family and I want to know exactly what questions I need to ask them. I know it’s going to be uncomfortable for them and I want to make it as non-floundering as possible.

I don’t think I suspect Gladys in the earlier bombings, but as of right now, she strikes me as someone who is absolutely well-positioned to know who did do them. I go back and forth on this.

My main question at the moment is whether and how she might be tied in to the guys who were arrested for the Hattie Cotton bombing. I have a sense that I am constantly brushing up against a structure I can’t see–a web of relationships that would make clear how this could happen and how no one has narced, for fifty years. I don’t know what that web is–family, childhood church membership, parents all in the same Klan unit, or ties to the illegal gambling halls on that side of the river, or something that happened in Bells Bend.

But it’s a lot of people who’ve kept their mouths shut for a long time, especially for bombings where no one was killed. There has to be some mechanism by which that silence is enforced, some shared pressure.

Anyway, this requires looking at Gladys’s life, which, frankly, seems pretty fucking brutal. Her two older half-brothers were tried twice for killing a guy in a robbery gone wrong (I think they must have eventually gotten their convictions overturned since they were sentenced to 99 years, but were out and living their lives by 1960). Then, when she was 15, she married her 37 year old neighbor, which you know I’m feeling rather gross about.

By 1960, she’s in Detroit, married to Nick Girgenti, who had a million brothers, not all of whom were scary robbers, but Nick was among them that were. He did quite a bit of time. Nick had a daughter born in 1954, but I don’t know anything about her other than that, in the late 60s, she shot him. (Which parallels what Carroll Crimmons’s son did to him). I suspect she wasn’t Gladys’s child, because her kids with Nick came in the 60s, before he got shot.

Gladys said they left Detroit because her house was firebombed during a race riot in ’71 and then the stress of it killed her husband. As we’ve talked about, there were no race riots in Detroit in ’71, no firebombings, except for the white people rioting about busing and the firebombing of the Pontiac school buses.

She came back here and spent the 70s being a single mom and raising her kids and belonging to the Klan. She then seems to have run into the “Sunday School teacher” equivalent in the Klan, where the smart, capable women are shuttled off into taking care of the children while the men get to have all the fun. Gladys, allegedly, had enough and tried to kill one of the Klan leaders, thus getting herself kicked out of the Klan.

She then formed her own ultraviolent terrorist cell and tried to bomb the Temple.

I don’t know how to describe what I feel about Gladys. I don’t feel sorry for her, exactly. Northwest Davidson County was a rough place when she was growing up. Lots of girls got messed with and saw family members in and out of jail and they didn’t join the Klan and live lives curiously adjacent to many Klan bombings.

But I do see someone whose life was hard and mean and she became hard and mean to survive it. And I wish that her life had not been hard and mean. And that’s how I feel. I wish she had some luckier breaks.

Can I Do This?

I’m having a small moment of existential doubt about my goal of solving the integration-era bombings. Will I be able to do this? I do not fucking know.

One thing I’d like to know is how many bombers you could have expected there to be in Nashville at that time? My understanding from reading about Birmingham–a city so thoroughly bombed that it was known as “Bombingham”–is that most of those bombings were done by the same Klavern (which I believe was #13, but I’m not looking at my notes, so don’t quote me on it), which means that you probably had forty guys willing to plan violence and, even then, maybe only half those who would do it. Birmingham had a sustained campaign of bombing.

We had a sustained campaign of cross-burnings, but we only had the three bombings.

We know that a couple of folks left here and “became” violent bombers.

Should I be focusing on them and whether these were their actual first crimes? Should I be focusing on the men arrested? Is it too late? I don’t know.

Poking Old Bruises

It’s clear to me now that my dad is freaked the fuck out by my research. He’s trying to be supportive, but he’s obviously worried that coming to the attention of the FBI in any way–even if it’s to ask questions and try to get answers–is going to go badly for me.

I have a theory of the Looby bombing, which I won’t go into here, but which I have floated by my dad. I’ve outlined my evidence–or more clearly, my lack of evidence–to him and his response is that my theory does not take into account the true enormity of Hoover’s evil.

And I get what he’s saying. I truly do. But I feel like all I can do is–like I said–look for antecedents in the public record and I do not know of another instance of what my dad is suggesting.

I also don’t know, this long later, how I would find out. I’m not stuck yet, but it is something I’m wrestling with.

And that my dad believes he knows the truth of what happened, and that it is the truth, well, I get why he’s scared. I just think it’s more likely that I’ll be stonewalled until the end of time than it is that the FBI is going to…I don’t know…take me to some blacksite or whatever.

Still, ha ha, yeah, I’m using all my anti-anxiety skills to not let this worm its way into my brain.

Good Work

I spent Friday morning at the downtown library because I believe it is imperative to avoid graduations if you’re not going to them, for the sake of your sanity. I was sitting in the cafe at lunch when I heard someone hollering my name. It was my co-worker, who had been downtown for some meetings.

“Wow,” she said. “I looked over and I almost didn’t recognize you. You look so happy.”

I don’t know what that says about how I normally look at work, but it seems like it’s not good. Ha ha ha.

I had to go back over yesterday and then I ran to the TSLA to get an obituary and then I spent part of the afternoon doing FOIA requests with the FBI.

I can’t remember if I said this already, but I need to keep it in the forefront of my mind, so I’m saying it again. The trick is to understand that, yes, there is a conspiracy, but to not let myself get sucked into ridiculous conspiratorial thinking. The way I’m trying to balance that is to only accept as reasonable a theory when I can find a factual example of something similar having happened.

This could work broadly–could J.B. Stoner have been sleeping with Dr. Fields? Would homosexual relations have been accepted in the white supremacist community? Well, one of the 16th Street Baptist Church bomber was known to be gay, so okay. That rumor could be true. Probably not useful, but plausible.

Or particularly–Gladys Girgenti was convicted of trying to bomb the Temple here in town. She left the Detroit area right after the Pontiac bus bombings. She said she was a 30-year Klan member and I discovered that her family was from here and still lives here. She wasn’t from Detroit. She was of the demographic that went north for work. So, on the one hand, I don’t have any reason to believe that she was involved with the bombings I’m working on, but I don’t think it’s a crazy conspiracy to think she was running in the right circles to know something.

And looking at particular bombing suspects, I haven’t ruled anyone out, but I feel like it’s more plausible that people who were life-long horribly terrible people are more likely to have been the bombers than the people who were just medium terrible. So, if I have three people, all segregationists, and one went on to have an okay life full of people who loved him and one who seemed not to make an impression on the world after his activities in the ’50s, and one who continued to be a nightmare to all who knew him, I’m not discounting that a person could have done one horrifically evil thing and then never done anything wrong again in his whole life, but I am putting the third guy at the top of my list. He gets first scrutiny.

And yet, of course, there were outlandish things that seem impossible–like Gary Rowe. Once you know that it’s a proven and accepted fact that the FBI had a dude who was doing the things on their payroll and they covered for him and kept him safe, then what do we make of the fact that the police knew immediately where to go to find who might be involved in the Hattie Cotton bombing and went immediately to a place after the JCC bombing to see if a certain person, whoever he might be, was the bomber (and there was some indication he might have at least made the bomb), but had no idea, no plausible candidates for the Looby bombing? We ran out of violent jerks between 58 and 60? That seems unlikely. At the least, shouldn’t they have checked in with their earlier suspects?

The fact that they had no ideas seems utterly unlikely to me. But that they might have known but left him alone? That I can see.

 

History Nerd Thoughts

My favorite era of Nashville history is those very early years, with all those folks with oversized personalities making monumental decisions while sexy Frenchmen sex it up. I’ve learned some about the Civil War, though I credit mostly the excellent resources we have in town for pointing out the interesting things about it. Plus, I’ve had to learn some about the war to understand my second favorite era in Nashville history–the postwar pre-turn-of-the-century–which I consider to be Nashville’s second weirdest time. Let’s all talk to dead people and join the Masons and open parks!

And I thought I knew a lot about Nashville post-World War II to like 1970, because it’s the rise of Nashville as Music City and all kinds of interesting people are popping by and Jefferson Street was at its heyday.

But, Christ, I know so little.

One thing that I have failed to appreciate–and getting my mind around it and my attitude changed has been really crucial to understanding these bombings–is how very closely entwined anti-black racism and antisemitism were.

Due to both the personal hang-ups of John Kasper and J.B. Stoner, who were virulent antisemites, and the cross-pollination of KKK-ish groups and Nazi groups, white supremacists had a wide-spread and thoroughly-believed conspiracy theory that black people, by and large, were too stupid and docile to be up to the stuff they were up to with the protests and the lawsuits and the demanding of integration, and so, since they were up to this stuff, there must be someone brilliant and sneaky and hard to pick out under normal circumstances pulling on the puppet strings of black people.

And I get that it’s a tricky story to tell when you’re talking about real life. There aren’t a lot of Jewish people in the South, by and large, and many Jewish communities had survived by being as unnoticeable as possible. Southern blacks were not likely to have any more experience with actual Jewish people as Southern whites. So, from the ground level, when black people started advocating for change, from their perspective, it had nothing to do with Jewish people, except to the extent that they came to find they had some Jewish allies.

And the mother walking her little child to school as white people are hurling rocks and spitting and yelling racial epithets at her and her child is not thinking about Jewish people or that her plight has anything to do with Jewish people.

So, if you’re going to tell the story of the Civil Rights movement centering the perspectives of the people who were working for civil rights, the bombings of Jewish buildings and homes just served to prove that the KKK hated everyone who wasn’t a white Christian and were a violent menace.

And a lot of Southern Jews thought that either opposing integration or remaining neutral on it would protect them from any hatred spilling onto them (and I just want to reiterate that I’m speaking very, very broadly. If you drill down to particulars, you find many Jewish people, even very early on in the 1950s, taking a stand for integration.).

In the minds of Southern blacks and Southern Jews, their stories are not the same stories and their histories are not the same histories.

But in the minds of the white supremacists, they were. And I think this is a really important thing to realize. I mean, look at how it affects my work. If we look at Nashville history through the lens of non-conspiracy-theory, how many bombings did we have over integration after Brown v. Board of Education? Two–Hattie Cotton and Looby’s house.

But now let’s look at history through the lens of this “The Jews control the blacks. Get rid of the Jews and the blacks will settle down” conspiracy. Now how many bombings did we have over integration after Brown v. Board of Education? Hattie Cotton, the JCC, Looby’s house, and the thwarted Temple bombing in ’81. Fully half of the anti-black bombings were directed at Jewish targets.

I haven’t counted all the bombings across the South, but my observation is that you might find that a third of bombings and attempted bombings were on Jewish targets. So, if you discount them as being something other than anti-black bombings–say, merely antisemitic–, you severely diminish the scope of the violence and, important to me, limit your suspect pool. If you don’t see all the bombings, you don’t have a full picture of the atmosphere of violence.

I went to the Nashville room this weekend, which is going to be a tremendous resource for this story, I think, and I spent some time in the Civil Rights room. The JCC bombing is not on their timeline.

The Looby Bombing

Okay, so the story as we know it about the Looby bombing is that someone with 5 or 10 or 20 sticks of dynamite wrapped into a bomb drove in front of the Looby house and pitched the bomb from the car toward the house, trying to get it through the dining room window but missed and thus the bomb landed outside the house at the corner of the house, pretty much destroying the whole front half of the house and a good portion of the neighbor’s house, blowing out windows in nearby buildings, but leaving Councilman Looby and his wife alive in the back of the house.

I went out to look at this yesterday, though the house is long gone, and it is, at the very most, thirty feet from the street to that window. In the picture on the left, the guy in the foreground is standing in the street.

Also important for this–the internet tells me that a stick of dynamite weighs half a pound.

Now, I, as a weak person with no throwing skills, believe that, if I hung out of a large old car window, I could overhand toss 3.5 to 5 lbs of anything and hit that window. I also believe, depending on how far out I was leaning, I might have enough room to underhand lob it. I don’t know if I would be strong enough to throw it hard enough to break the window, but it’s a rather large window. I might not be able to get ten pounds from the car to the window, though. But a man could, right?

Now, if I’m in the car, it seems like the only way to get the bomb to the house is that kind of back-handed newspaper-delivery flick, because otherwise, the car is in the way. But even still, it seems like, if that went awry, the dynamite would end up on the porch.

Also, as an added factor, now the street is lined with parked cars. It’s not in the pictures, but obviously, those pictures were taken in daylight and people could have moved their cars out of the way before then. On the other hand, there weren’t reports of any destroyed cars.

So, my questions are these: there’s a huge difference between five sticks of dynamite and twenty. How much dynamite do you think that explosion was actually caused by? Does the “They threw it from the car” theory make sense? But if they didn’t throw it from the car, why didn’t they place it better? And, just for the sake of argument, let’s say that they did throw the bomb at the front window and it did bounce off and kind of roll to the corner. Does that tell us something about where the car was in relation to the house? In other words, can we guess that the car was headed toward 18th maybe more in front of the porch than the window?

Basically, dear readers, what do we see when we look at those pictures?

Conspiracies

The thing about this research is that there really were conspiracies. But conspiracies mostly put together by angry idiots. I keep having to check myself because it’s very easy to imagine a vast, vast conspiracy of secretive brilliant people and I keep having to remind myself that the simplest answer is probably the right one.

But man, you know, too. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the simplest answer is.

When Everyone is Conspiring with Someone

Here’s a thing I’ve been thinking about when looking at the Hattie Cotton bombing specifically. There are a lot of weird details–so, after the bombing, the guys who were driving around the two KKK cars the day before are arrested. Wire generally matching the wire used on the bomb is found in both cars. One car also has a huge stash of weapons.

Meanwhile, two KKK members have run to the FBI to tell them that they saw segregationist John Kasper with a few sticks of dynamite and some jars of nitroglycerine which one of them helped him hide in an abandoned house, but when they took the FBI to the house, there was no dynamite.

Also, a box of dynamite had recently been stolen, which the police were later able to determine wasn’t the same dynamite used in the Hattie Cotton bombing.

And the Hattie Cotton bomb was probably a box of dynamite.

So, the amount of dynamite that Kasper had was not enough to have been the Hattie Cotton bomb.

Also, Kasper had a lot of KKK friends, but he himself does not appear to have been a KKK member and, in fact, some leadership in the local KKK vehemently disliked him.

So, some folks believe that the two KKK guys ran to the FBI as kind of a sacrifice of themselves to focus attention on Kasper and off the KKK.

But I want to just step back and focus on what the facts as we have them, assuming all these stories are true, are. We have: the dynamite used to blow up the school; another similar amount of dynamite that’s gone missing; a smaller amount of dynamite Kasper had; two different cars with blasting wire, and a bunch of arrested by the police or detained by the FBI KKK members.

And let me be clear that this is all speculation and I’m very, very early on in my reporting, and I could change my mind.

But doesn’t it suggest that they may have been planning to blow up more than one target? That there was more than one bomb?

Another thing I find curious is that, in the early 80s, a woman with a 30-year-long association with the Klan was arrested and convicted for a plot to blow up The Temple here in town. Back in the 50s, after the JCC blew up, the “Confederate Underground” called a local rabbi and told him The Temple was next.

But no one seems to have made that connection. Which suggests to me that either they must have had a pretty good idea of who did the bombing and thus she didn’t need to be asked about it, because they knew she was/wasn’t involved, or they had decided the JCC bombing was unsolvable for some reason and thus didn’t bother asking her about it.

But it’s weird to me. If you know The Temple was on the wish-list of white supremacists in 58 and you have before you a woman you’ve just arrested for purchasing a bomb to use on the Temple in 80 (or possibly 81–I don’t have my notes in front of me) and all her friends are like “Yep, she’s been in the Klan for 30 years,” how do you not ask her if she was part of the group that wanted to blow up The Temple 20 years ago?

In An Alternate Timeline, I am Still Working On this

IMG_1913

I like that the pattern is “You’ll get your goddamn ruffle but man, it took forever to do. Now all I need is to wash it and get the ribbon. I’m going for a dark gray, because I want it to have a tiny gothy edge, but I think you could do a really lovely turquoise ribbon and give it a kind of Miami in the 50s vibe. I’m also glad it’s as pink as it is. When I was working on it, it felt like a lot of white, but here you can see there’s not that much.

A thing I realize as I’m working on the project (sorry, I’ve switched topics here) is that the fandom analogy is going to be a lot more useful for me in organizing my thoughts than I realized. Because I don’t ever want to say that the bombings aren’t connected. At heart, they are all about integration.

But the Hattie Cotton bombing and the Looby bombing–at least as far as I can tell at this point–are much more similar to each other than they are to the JCC bombing. The Hattie Cotton bomb and the Looby bomb seem put together by someone who knows about dynamite with the intention of destroying the building (and in Looby’s case, killing people). The difference in the Hattie Cotton bombing and the Looby bombing is that the Hattie Cotton bomb got inside the building. The Looby bombing failed because the bombers who tossed the bomb missed the picture window, so the bomb blew up in the wrong place.

This–at this point, very early on–suggests to me a knowledge of explosives in the making of the bomb (maybe the same person?) but a less careful approach to the placing of the bomb (and this may be because a white person in a neighborhood where white people live nosing around a mostly white school is going to stand out a lot less than if a white person got out of a car in a black neighborhood to break a window and properly place a bomb. The placement of the Looby bomb may indicate a different bomb-placer than the Hattie Cotton bombing or it may indicate that the plan for escaping undetected was very different. But I suspect both of these bombings can be linked to local opposition to school integration. (Though national racists would also have been happy to see Looby dead.) And probably linked back to the same group.

The JCC bombing is different. The bomb was not as powerful and didn’t seem to be well-designed. There were also a lot of phone calls bragging about the bomb, giving credit to the Confederate Underground. And it took place at the very same time a Miami…and now I can’t remember if it was a synagogue or another JCC…but a Jewish building was bombed and in a two-week span where Jewish buildings throughout the South were bombed or had bomb threats made against them, many of which the Confederate Underground laid claim to.

This was probably JB Stoner’s group. And how much overlap would there have been with the group(s) behind the other bombings? Probably some. But I think there’s a slight philosophical difference in the approach. I think–and again, this is all very early speculation, just me trying to make sense of the facts as I know them–the first and third bombing were local people responding to the local integration situation, even if they were egged on and praised by national figures.

But the JCC bombing, that may have been part of Stoner’s regional campaign against Jewish people. Which, yes, also had strong roots in his racism toward black people. They’re not unentwined threads.

But the amount of people here in Nashville who would have had direct ties to Stoner–who wasn’t from here and wasn’t making regular appearances here (like Kasper was)–has to be pretty small. If the KKK had 200 people and Donald Davidson had 50 people (obviously, these are not real numbers, just an illustration), and the other “acceptable” anti-immigration groups had another 50, and John Kasper’s white citizens council had 15, Stoner’s group may have been 10, maybe 5. He allegedly had five people do the Atlanta synagogue bombing. He allegedly helped 4 people with the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

That’s how he worked–he had a handful of people he trained and directed and then, when they got caught, he was their lawyer.

So I’m not sure at this point how to do it, but linking Stoner to people in Nashville should be possible.

On a side note, after the JCC bombing here, the rabbi who was called afterwards and threatened and had the group tell him they were the Confederate Underground specifically said here’s the escalation. They’ve been burning crosses and bombing empty schools and now they’ve moved up to religious institutions. They will bomb a protestant church.

And they did. Stoner’s group specifically.

This is also why I look askance at claims that James Earl Ray was not part of some racist plot. Who eventually came on as his lawyer?

And who had a habit of coming on as a lawyer for people whose actions he’d encouraged or led?

But if we can know that this dude killed King, can’t we know who bombed us?

Fandom

I was determined to finish the little pink afghan last night, but as is its nature, it both moves very quickly and very slowly. The border has five rounds. Round one is just a single crochet. Fine. Burn through that in twenty minutes. Next round is the round that makes the loops for the ribbon to go through, also burned through that. Third round, straight double crochets.

Two rounds left. How long can that take? Fourth round–put an infinite number of stitches in each stitch. Oh, okay, then, forever.

Anyway, it made me laugh. I don’t know when I’ll be done, but I’m still hoping I can go buy ribbon this weekend because it will be done.

Okay, so on to the main point of my post. I got a lot of stuff for the project done. I had email exchanges with the SPLC, the ADL, and the women who runs the Jewish community archive here in town. I emailed the regional NAACP to find out if I need to talk to my local chapter. I emailed a guy at work to find out if digging into this story in my off-time was going to cause me problems at work. I’m developing a reading list.

I am, I’m sure, eventually going to have to interview people. But I want to have all my ducks in a row. I want to know as much as I can know before I start “Did you do this?” “Did your dad do this?”

But I now have a secondary goal. My primary goal is to say for certain who did this. But my secondary goal, which I think is almost as valuable, is to say for certain why these bombings weren’t solved.

And, as I was walking the dog this morning, a thing struck me. The law enforcement approach and, in fact, the way we still talk about racism is to view white supremacy like a gang. You at some point make a conscious decision to join. There’s some recognizable way you dress and there’s a membership to be verified. Most importantly, there’s a hierarchy that is knowable and orderly leadership which is obeyed. Therefore, if you can cut off the head–i.e. take down the leader–you can end your troubles with white supremacists, at least until a new leader rises up. From this viewpoint, running John Kasper out of town or keeping him in jail and limiting his ability to “lead his troops” makes sense.

But it didn’t stop the bombings.

And I posit that’s because white supremacy isn’t organized crime, it’s a fandom. Specifically, it’s the Confederacy fandom. So, sure, there are groups you can join to organize with fellow fans. But you can also cosplay by yourself. And some folks might want the full-on fan experience where they go to the place and do all the things with their heroes. But for others, they might just go to one thing a year and maybe watch the rest on TV. And there’s no organized hierarchy. I mean, do you know who the president of the official Star Wars fan club is? If you met him and he was like “Yeah, we’re all going to go lay wreaths at Carrie Fisher’s door, you want to come? Her daughter will be there.” you might say yes, even if you’re just a minor fan. But if he came to you and demanded you go to Fisher’s house, you might bristle. Who is he to order you around just because he belongs to an official group and you don’t?

So, if the people in Nashville who did these things are Confederacy fans, as much fun as they might have getting riled up by John Kasper and as much as he might instigate them to decide “tonight is the night!”, how does getting rid of him solve the problem of violence in the Confederacy fandom?

Obviously, it does not.

Where is the Start?

This bombing story is making me so sad, I can’t even begin to tell you. It’s just shit show after shit show.

But where does it start? That’s the problem I’m having trying to understand how this happened and why it remained unsolved. Does it start with Ezra Pound? Does it start with the Southern Agrarians? Does it start with the people of Whites Creek looking out over the fields next to the creek seeing the man they knew was Frank James behind a plow and waving a friendly hello? Does it start with the sound of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s boots thudding down the hall at the Maxwell House hotel as he goes to his first Klan meeting?

When is the first instance of deciding to keep poison right next to your heart for use on your enemies only to realize later that you’ve not escaped injury?

There is a reason, I think, that snake handling and strychnine drinking remain a part of some religious services. A lot of people–a lot of people–have been hanging their hopes for a long time on the belief that God has promised them they can drink the deadly thing and it will not hurt them. That they can make themselves a poison to their enemies and yet not harm their loved ones.

And if the Hattie Cotton portion of this story has taught me anything, it’s that people pay dearly for the self-poisoners’ false hopes.

Big Project

So, I’m going to try to solve the Looby bombing or, barring that, at least better understand why it wasn’t solved. I’ve done my first FBI FOIA request. I’m reading through a redacted file right now.

I may change my mind as my research progresses, but right now, I’m thinking of the three bombings during Nashville’s integration as related–Hattie Cotton elementary school, the JCC, and Looby’s house. So far, for whatever reason, the JCC bombing isn’t always looped in with the other two, but I’m going to look at them as related until proven otherwise, since the guy considered to be the mastermind of the Hattie Cotton bombing was a raging, raging anti-Semite and the FBI seems never to have been unconvinced that he was somehow involved in the bombing of an Atlanta synagogue.

I figure if you have a raging anti-Semite connected to two school bombings and suspected of being connected to a synagogue bombing, when the JCC gets bombed, he should get a hard look at that bombing, too.

But it’s going to be a lot of work and I’m a little intimidated, but I feel like we’re at the last minute for witnesses. I’m not interested in bringing anyone to justice, whatever that might mean, but I do think we need to know the truth. We need to be able to say who did what.

Am I Cool Enough?

There’s kind of a hierarchy of cool in Nashville. At a basic level, it starts with are you cool enough to be on the list to get into places free instead of having to pay? But then, once you’re in, do people recognize you? Are they happy to see that you’re there? And maybe some folks see you and acknowledge you, but are you cool enough to get the good seats? The special treatment? Etc.

I’m not very good at figuring out where in the cool hierarchy I am and there’s nothing more embarrassing than thinking you’re at a higher level than you are and having to find out in public that you’re not. So, I usually go for the cool that is “The list? Pshaw. I paid my way in.” Like I’m too cool for cool. Though I once ended up on a list twice and, I admit, that delighted the shit out of me.

But sometimes shit’s expensive and you just have to try to use your cool cred. So, I was kind of laughing this week because an internet friend is coming to town and she has what would be considered a cool job in nerdy circles.

So, I asked a friend who works at an expensive place people like to visit if he could comp us tickets. I told him who she was and he knew her. So, he tried to push me off on the people in his organization who would be more appropriate for dealing with her, since they would probably want to make contact with her, maybe show us around themselves.

So, the more appropriate contact got a hold of me and told me that the tickets would be there for me. Have fun. No personalized tour. They didn’t need to meet her. In other words, exactly what my friend could have done for me.

Among these young whippersnappers, we did not have the cool cred my friend assumed we had! That made me laugh. But I was also relieved, because I like being the tour guide and this way I can point and sing and tell stories myself without the facts getting in the way. Ha.

Still, I admit, sometimes it’s nice to be cool.

We Have to Legalize Pot and Require Old People to Smoke It

Yesterday I went to the retinologist for my yearly check-up (I am stable and my retinas look slightly better even, though nothing to write home about.) which meant sitting in two waiting rooms with elderly people.

It was alarming. First, they were sitting around talking about how wonderful Trump is and how he’s not a career politician and disparaging politicians who were. Then an old guy told another old guy how he’d missed out on Vietnam due to a terrible car accident caused by his own recklessness. A woman kept interrupting the conversation because she was convinced the accident having old guy was talking to her and she would get pissed and embarrassed when he said he wasn’t. Then more talk about how glorious Trump is.

Then the old ‘I missed Vietnam due to an accident’ guy got called back and as soon as he was out of earshot, they switched to complaining about how anyone could possibly have the time to go to the Trump rally tomorrow and, if they weren’t so busy, they’d be down there handing out job applications to people. And at first I thought they meant the protesters, but no! No, the removal of the biggest Trump supporter allowed them to change their conversation from “fuck the people who don’t like Trump” to “fuck the people who like Trump enough to go see him.” But the exact same snide tone.

And then they launched into complaining about kids today which lead to a conversation about how kids are ruined by third grade. THIRD GRADE! I mean, I’m sure there are some dick third graders out there. I’m not discounting that. But they meant the whole lot. And I can’t help but guess that third grade must be about the time that kids start to get wary of this meanness in these old people.

My dad and I had a conversation recently about Fox News because my dad is really disturbed by how much his friends are affected by it. He said it’s not even that they watch it that bugs him. Like, if they were devoted fans of some show on there the way that he’s a fan of Jeopardy and tries to make time to watch it every day, that wouldn’t concern him. It’s that they leave it on all day, so even when they’re not actively watching it, it’s the noise in the background.

I thought of that yesterday because that’s what struck me listening to these old folks–not the content of what they were saying, though that was weird and alarming (I mean what kind of weird cognitive space do you have to be in to flow right from Hurray Trump! to Fuck those Trump Supporters?), but how, even if you didn’t listen specifically to what they were saying, there was that sharp, snide tone. The same one you would pick up on if you had Fox News on in the background all day.

We spend a lot of time alarmed at how much TV time kids have, but I think my dad is right. Old folks could benefit from turning off the TV and going outside or reading a book or listening to music or, hell, even turning the TV back on but watching something they enjoy instead of something that feeds their worst impulses.

The Presentation

I think the presentation went well. I had too many census records that were too hard to see, but people gasped where I was hoping they’d gasp and they asked such good questions. I think it worked out that I didn’t come up with an answer for where Bud Rogan was buried, because I at least was able to share why and how I failed to come up with an answer and how I’d go about finding an answer, if I were going to.

And then I said that I wasn’t going to because, without the permission of the Rogan family to dig further (hee) into Bud’s burial place, I’d just be what they feared from the time he died–a white person more concerned about finding the body than letting him rest in peace.

There were a handful of TSU faculty there and I said what I normally say, that I consider myself a history buff as opposed to a historian, because historians do stuff that regular people can’t do, but my goal is to do history, publicly, in a way that shows other non-historians that they, too, can do this. That’s why it’s important for me to be wrong sometimes and follow-up sometimes and change my mind about things.

But then afterwards one of the TSU people came up to me and said that I was a historian, not a history buff, because I corroborate my theories and try to be clear when something is just a guess and when I know it. And I have to admit, that felt really nice.

I also had a nice lunch with a historian I admire and she told me that she’s notice that the tour at Belmont has changed since my Isaac Franklin piece and she thought that was directly attributable to my piece.

And I have to tell you, this is a nice but weird turn of events. I’m used to the reactions I learn about to my pieces being negative. It’s weird and nice to think I might be doing something that matters.

 

So, This is What Nice is Like

My first post for the Post is up!

The reaction to it has been really wonderful. I mean, I’m sure someone someplace is saying something shitty about it, but I didn’t, myself, hear from a single asshole. I heard from a ton of people who loved it.

And it feels pretty wonderful to have written something that found a large audience of happy people. It kind of reminds me of my New Shackle Island piece, but on a much larger scale.

I also got to have this weird experience where I wrote this and then someone at the Tennessean wrote this. And on the one hand, certainly we need to get the park fixed, so I’m all for a higher profile discussion, and also, if the information has been in the Tennessean all along, then hell yes, who is better to comb through their archives and get a definitive answer than the Tennessean?

But come the fuck on! If you’re going to use the piece I wrote as the outline for your piece and just use the quotes I already found instead of finding your own, then use my name.

Ha ha ha. It is super flattering, though. I don’t think I’ve ever written something before that caused the Tennessean to feel compelled to also address it.

And thirdly, last night when I got home, the dog went for a gallivant in the neighbor’s yard and I called for him and he ignored me and then I said, “Come on, buddy. It’s too muddy for me to come get you.”

And he came home!