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Reading Reflection: Ben Tillman & the Reconstruction of White Supremacy January 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkuenzi @ 3:43 am

Reading Kantrowitz’ account of Ben Tillman, for me, gave new meaning, perspective and definition to the idea of “racist demagogue.” Among the many appalling Tillman-ite practices and policies, one of the most unique and disturbing things to me was the way that Tillman was able to disguise his racist demagoguery in eloquent speeches that made himself and his politics appeal to the masses, thus keeping him in power for so long. This idea seems to be captured best on page 168, where Katrowitz says: “The paper questioned his ability to stop the mob and suggested that he had been present, ‘with true Edgefield instinct, [Tillman] would probably have been hanging on the edge of the mob,’ neither a law-abiding man nor a bold lyncher.” By appearing to the public to be neither, he could appeal to people with a wide array of opinions about political and social construction. While many of his acts as South Carolina’s governor and as a Red-shirt are seen as deplorable, I think that Kantrowitz’ argument about Ben Tillman succeeds most and is most effective in his painting of Tillman as a spineless man, who would not commit firmly to any position, but skated around the circumference of public opinion to champion himself as the “every man’s man.”

I think that the idea of Tillman as someone with no strong convictions play into the primary theme that we talked about in class: Tillman’s campaign to simultaneously appeal to and alienate even his fellow white men. In this way, the question was raised in my mind whether Tillman had loyalties to anyone but the rich white men and proponents of the type of agriculture he so tried to protect from destruction. Seeing Tillman as a racist and a demagogue are not necessarily unique to him; people of this kind have cropped up through all areas of history. What ultimately made Tillman a uniquely deplorable man was the fact that he wasn’t truly invested in or dedicated to any cause.

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One Response to “Reading Reflection: Ben Tillman & the Reconstruction of White Supremacy”

  1. Tammy Ingram Says:

    Since Kantrowitz tells us a lot more about Tillman than that he was a racist demagogue (even though, I agree, that has a way of clouding everything else he was or did . . .), consider offering at least a sentence or two in the way of summary? These entries are for your benefit, so this is just a suggestion, but think about whether or not your entry will resonate months from now when the book is no longer fresh. (And it’s always great practice to write succinct but thorough synopses of books.) I appreciate your analysis here, though, as well as your reflections about what we discussed in class. Well done.


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