Friday, March 19, 2021

DAR Stood for Reaction not Revolution in 1921

Exactly 100 years ago, the State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution met in Salem at the Capitol. They were all about white supremacy.

Oregonian, March 27th, 1921

This is not wholly news. The story of Marian Anderson, denied a performance by the Daughters in 1939, is well known, especially with her nephew having been an important musician and cultural leader in Portland.

But it's still a little surprising to see the unalloyed and unvarnished interest in white supremacy here at the DAR conference. They didn't dog whistle, didn't whisper, didn't pretend. It was all out in the open.

March 19th, 1921

One keynote speaker deplored the "failure of Legislature to pass anti-Oriental laws." Another keynote speaker argued for "a white America...lest the dark clouds of Asiatic usurpation...become a whirlwind." They also supported eugenics laws. The morning paper seemed to approve, and their coverage was very uncritical. The headline was about standing "for [a] white nation."

With the mass shooting in Atlanta and what appears to be a rise in anti-Asian bigotry and assault nationwide, fueled in part by disinformation and lies about the origin of the Pandemic, it is helpful but also dispiriting to remember that the bias has not been marginal, but was often popular and at the center of self-understandings about patriotism. DAR's vision was white nationalism and it was hardly the theory of cranks.

In what we might regard now as an unfortunate irony, the Oregonian had sent the granddaughter of Abigail Scott Duniway to cover the conference. She did not center whiteness so explicitly, though.

March 19th and March 20th
Oregonian, 1921

Earlier in the year, here in Salem a Letter to the Editor from Dr. Owens-Adair discussed "the settlement of the Japanese question by sterilization" and "the white, red, and black plagues."

February 2nd, 1921

Just a few days before the DAR conference, at Willamette University students had no problem debating the topic,

Resolved: That Japanese immigration, except students and diplomatic classes, should be prohibited by Federal enactment.

At one debate site they argued pro, at another site they argued against. It was a totally reasonable thing to consider.

At the same time, advertised in the same edition of the paper, a preacher was going to discuss Henry Ford's antisemitic newspaper.

March 12th, 1921, p.1 and p.3

Even with some criticism, these presented racist thought as reasonable and worth discussing, creating the space and permission structure for bigotry.

(The early 1920s were an awful period and it is time to modify or even replace the tropes of "the roaring 20s" and Gatsby as our dominant metaphors for the decade.)

So when we consider historical markers placed by DAR at the gravesites of people like Lewis Hubbel Judson and Rev. J.L. Parrish, they were not a neutral, dispassionate instance of marking history, but were very much ideologically motivated gestures to shape our understanding of history.

Now, with some different ideas about justice and equality we have a new effort to reshape that understanding.

Oregon Historical Quarterly has made the winter 2019 issue on "White Supremacy and Resistance" available in full for free. You can download and read it.

OHQ Winter 2019 cover

Next month at the Mill, on April 13th, WOU Historian Kimberly Jensen will talk about 'Gender and “Enemy Alien” Registration in Oregon during the First World War." This will probably draw on her piece in the Winter 2013 Oregon Historical Quarterly, "From Citizens to Enemy Aliens: Oregon Women, Marriage, and the Surveillance State during the First World War."

From Winter 2013, OHQ

And in May, Kimberli Fitzgerald will talk about the shrine in the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery, with a talk titled "Uncovering Salem’s Chinese Shrine."

October 2017

Previously here:

No comments: