My cousin Bilbo

Posted: Oct 14, 2005 12:05 AM

Dear Annette:

Recently, I wrote an article (Welcome to UNC-We love black people), which made a strong statement against racial segregation on college campuses. I want to thank you for your insightful response, which, among other things, informed me that your daughter is black. I also want to thank you for saying that I have tongues growing out of the side of my face and also for informing me that my article opposing racial segregation “upset” your daughter.

Shortly after accusing me of having tongues growing out of the side of my face, you accused me of “demeaning” your daughter “and all the others like her” – by that I assume you meant black people. I also trust that you were not exaggerating when you said my article contained nothing “redeeming, informative, or educational,” that I try to “stir up division and strife,” that I am “pathetic” and that you will actually “pray to God” that there are no others like me in higher education.
And, finally, after closing your letter saying “With no regards,” you noted that I was “born in Mississippi” and suggested “that does explain a lot.”

Annette, nothing in your missive made sense except for your final observation that my Mississippi heritage explains why I wrote the article. That was right on target.

My opposition to racial segregation stems largely from the fact that Theodore Gilmore Bilbo, perhaps the most racist politician in American history, was my fifth cousin.

Bilbo was twice elected governor of Mississippi and three times elected to the United States Senate. While governor of Mississippi, he established the first state hospital for the mentally ill. Subsequently, the State had my Aunt (pronounced ain’t) Lorena committed to that hospital for walking down the streets and talking to telephone poles in Fox Worth, Mississippi. Bilbo also got into a number of fistfights - with other politicians, like Huey Long - that he always lost. He stood only 5’ 2”.

His antics were so well-known that even William Faulkner made fun of my cousin Bilbo in two of his novels.

Of course, the funny stories about Bilbo are all overshadowed by what I consider to be his three major faults, none of which are funny. First, he took numerous bribes for about a third of a century in various government offices. That ultimately led to his literal expulsion from the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1947. He was also a notorious womanizer who carried on adulterous relations with, for example, the nurses at various state institutions he helped establish.

But Bilbo is known mostly for his filthy racism. For example, he filibustered a civil rights bill from the floor of the United States Senate, instead suggesting a “back to Africa” bill that would establish a nation in Africa solely for American blacks (to be financed by the federal government). When accused of suppressing the black vote in Mississippi in order to get re-elected, he suggested that - just 150 years previously - blacks were cannibals feeding off of “ni**er soup.” He also wrote a speech called “Take your choice: Separation or mongralization.”

My cousin Bilbo would be proud of your third email to me this morning, which defended separate campus facilities for blacks including, but not limited to, African American centers. In that email, you explained that you really aren’t a segregationist. That was before you said that black people just feel more comfortable when surrounded exclusively by blacks.

My cousin Bilbo felt more comfortable when surrounded by his kind, too. At least he was honest enough to call it segregation.

You and my cousin Bilbo have a lot in common. You both support segregation and you both have what you personally “feel” are good reasons for it. But I am against both you and Bilbo. I will fight segregation, despite the fact that your daughter is “black” and “upset” and that you think I have tongues growing out of the side of my face. I will fight segregation because I believe that it is wrong. And I will not capitulate to identity politics.

It is a strange day in America when segregationists are called “anti-racists” and anti-segregationists are called “racists.” It makes me very sad. But my cousin Bilbo would be proud.