Rick Perry's "Niggerhead" Camp Is Only Part of the Problem
On Sunday, October 2, a front page story in the Washington Post told of Gov. Rick Perry's hunting camp, a place known as "Niggerhead." For many years a large flat rock stood upright at its gates, announcing the name in painted letters. That rock is still at the entrance, now lying on its back, parts of the name still visible, painted over ineffectually.
The camp has been important to Perry's political career. Perry often hosted friends and supporters and fellow legislators there for turkey shoots and other outings. Now Perry implies that he first saw the rock with its offensive name only in 1983 and immediately got his parents to paint over the letters. As Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen delicately phrases it, Perry's version
differs in many respects from the recollections of seven people ... who spoke in detail of ... seeing the rock with the name at various points during the years that Perry was associated with the property.
The seven saw the sign in place and unpainted much later, even as late as 2008.
The name predates the Perrys' ownership. Apparently it refers to the larger pasture area. The sign at his hunting camp isn't the only racist sign in Throckmorton County, where the camp is located, however. Throckmorton, the county seat, reportedly posted a sign at least as late as the 1950s that said, "Nigger, don't let the sun set on you in this town," according to a person who went to high school in Throckmorton at that time. In 2006, another Throckmorton native emailed me, "It was common knowledge throughout that part of Texas that African Americans were not welcome in Throckmorton County." In 1953, a nearby white high school football team played Throckmorton High School, but because it employed a black trainer, the team and its trainer had to have a police escort to and from the stadium. The county did not have a single black household in it from 1930 into the new millennium.
In short, Throckmorton County was a "sundown county." The term is common in Texas and the Midwest and some other parts of the country. Except in Texas, the Ozarks, Appalachia, and along the "outside" of Florida, sundown towns are rare in the South. Sundown towns and counties are much more common in the Midwest, Oregon, and other parts of the North. In some parts of the country, such as Oregon and Pennsylvania, towns that were all-white on purpose were many but the term "sundown town" was not used.
The key questions to put to Governor Rick Perry are two: When did you learn that your camp was in a sundown county? What did you do about it?
Every sundown town or county needs to take a three-step program to get over it:
— Admit it. We did this. We kept out African Americans (and/or Jews, Chinese Americans, Native Americans, etc.).
— Apologize. We did it, and it was wrong, and we're sorry.
— And state: "but we don't do it any more." That last step needs to have teeth: We now have a racial ombudsperson, or a civil rights commission. We are hiring affirmatively for our K-12 teaching staff, our police force, our trash collectors.
Absent these steps, African Americans have no reason to believe they can prudently move to Throckmorton County. In the distant past, perhaps in the late 1920s, whites are said to have lynched an African American who had allegedly killed a white person and were never brought to justice. As recently as 1995, several African Americans came to a funeral, causing a stir among the "keepers of the flame," as a Throckmorton native termed them — without even staying the night. The 2010 census shows eleven African Americans, so the county may have "broken," but household data do not seem readily available yet. Absent the three steps, the small thug minority that exists almost every place in the world can think it their business to make life unpleasant for the few African Americans who may have ventured in.
Did Rick Perry, before or after becoming governor, try to get Throckmorton County to take any of the three steps? As governor, he oversees the distribution of state funds and programs to Throckmorton County. Tax dollars from African Americans as well as non blacks make these programs possible — yet they go to locales that have had a policy of forbidding African Americans from living in them. What does Governor Perry think of this? Is it like using federal monies to fund abortions, even though some of the people paying taxes oppose abortion? Or is it okay?
Copyright James Loewen
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