Remember the Good Ol’ Days of Caning? The Racist CCC Does

As if the public record for the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) needed anything more to sully its already disreputable name, the group’s Alabama chapter has highlighted in the “Reminder From The Past” section of its bimonthly newsletter a deceased politician who championed a bill to cane criminals.

The editors of “The Alabamian” reprinted a 15-year-old article from the Daily Mountain Eagle that recounted late Alabama state Sen. Charles Davidson’s meeting with the council to discuss a bill that would call for criminals to be caned. A picture accompanying the article shows Davidson and Kenneth Danner, then-chairman of the North Alabama Council of Conservative Citizens, in front of a Confederate flag. The article went on to note that the CCC presented Davidson with a cane “made to Singapore specifications.” Davidson died of leukemia in 2000; the article was apparently timed as a decade-later nostalgic tribute.

Caning is a form of corporal punishment during which a person’s hands, bare legs or buttocks are struck with a rattan stick. It is a brutal procedure still used in only a handful of Far East countries; it is generally shunned elsewhere as barbaric because the practice can tear skin and rip away chunks of flesh.

When the Daily Mountain Eagle’s article was published, caning was still fresh in public memory. An American high school student, Michael Fay, had been arrested in Singapore a year earlier for vandalizing several cars. He was sentenced to four months in jail, a fine of 3,500 Singapore dollars and six strokes of the cane. The incident created an international uproar that ended when Singapore President Ong Teng Cheong commuted Fay’s caning from six to four lashes as a gesture of respect toward U.S. President Bill Clinton, who had intervened with a request for clemency.

The CCC newsletter is a homespun collection of photocopied news clippings and racist quips that serve to enforce the message of a group that once proclaimed, “God is the author of racism.” The most recent edition also features a cartoon mocking U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder for saying, “America is a nation of cowards because we don’t talk about race,” and a reprinting of a 1975 article attributed to columnist Paul Harvey that argued “White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants” (so-called WASPs) were the subject of racial discrimination. “The Wasp has lost his sting,” the article says. “Wasps, it turns out, are not nearly so much a threat as they are an endangered species.”

The CCC is the modern reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils, which were formed in the 1950s and 1960s to battle school desegregation in the South. Created in 1985, the CCC initially tried to project a “mainstream” image. However, a 1999 Intelligence Report investigation made clear what the CCC really was: a hate group that routinely denigrated blacks as “genetically inferior,” complained about “Jewish power brokers,” called homosexuals “perverted sodomites,” and accused non-white immigrants of turning America into a “slimy brown mass of glop.”

Several prominent southern politicians have been associated with the group, including former Congressman Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who gave the keynote speech at the CCC’s 1998 national convention, and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), who spoke to the group five times.

Davidson, a restaurateur who was elected to a four-year term in the Alabama Senate in 1994, planned to introduce the caning bill along with Rep. Tommy Carter, a Democrat from Elkmont. Davidson told the Birmingham News, “I think once a few [criminals] are caned in front of people, they’ll get the message.” Alabama Senate archives have no record of the bill being introduced, and Davidson’s public comments suggest he never thought the bill would pass. “I don’t know if it’ll stand up in court,” he said, “but it should get some darn good publicity.”

Ever the lightning rod for public controversy, Davidson’s most notable cause célèbre came in the text of a 1996 speech that claimed slavery was good for blacks because it introduced them to the Bible. “The truth is that nowhere on the face of the earth, in all of time, were servants better treated or better loved than they were in the Old South by white, black, Hispanic and Indian slave owners,” he told The Associated Press in 1996. He planned to give the speech on the Senate floor in support of returning the Confederate battle flag to the Capitol dome and hoped the speech, which he never delivered, would educate his fellow lawmakers and clear up what he saw as incorrect conclusions about the Civil War and slavery. (The flag was taken down from the Capitol in 1993, after the Southern Poverty Law Center successfully sued the state. It initially had been raised in 1963 by then-Gov. George Wallace as a gesture of defiance during the struggles to end school segregation.) Unsurprisingly, Davidson lost his re-election bid in 1998.

That the CCC would sing the praises of such a man is no surprise — Davidson’s fairy-tale vision of the antebellum South and the Civil War is very much shared by the group, which as part of its platform pledges to “oppose all efforts to mix the races of mankind.” What’s new is the Alabama CCC’s willingness to celebrate an approach to crime and punishment that comes right out the Dark Ages. Perhaps that sheds light on the kind of world the CCC would really like to create.