With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Marjorie Taylor Greene is Just the Latest Radical White Woman Poisoning Politics

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s vitriolic, conspiracy-laden, violent (anti-Semitic, white supremacist) rhetoric and politics have drawn widespread condemnation. News outlets and Republican colleagues have called her comments “nutty,” “kooky” and “loony,” while Democrats have been even harsher. On Thursday, in an unprecedented move, the House voted to strip Greene (R-Ga.) of her committee assignments as punishment for her rhetoric. Yet Greene remains unrepentant, claiming that the vote “freed” her to spread her message, and to hold the “Republican Party accountable” and push it “to the right.”

While fellow Republicans have tried to paint Greene as an aberration — outside of the mainstream of their party, someone for whom they bear no responsibility — the truth is far blurrier than they are willing to admit. The congresswoman is actually part of a long line of radical far-right White women who have animated American politics dating back to the 19th century. By consequence of their conspiracy theories and extreme rhetoric, they have managed to stretch the margins of what is considered politically respectable. Their politics have also stoked the radical wings of their respective parties (Democrats in the early 20th century; Republicans in the late 20th and early 21st centuries). With her advocacy of violence and condemnation of party leaders and American officials, Greene fits squarely in this inglorious tradition in American politics.

One of Greene’s most prominent foremothers hailed from the outskirts of her 14th congressional district in Cartersville, Ga. Rebecca Latimer Felton was the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, albeit only for a day. Felton was a suffragist, proponent of public education, opponent of convict leasing and advocate for working-class White women. But she was also a virulent white supremacist who used rumor and fantasy to support her racist politics.

In 1897, ignoring the structural economic issues plaguing Southern farmers, Felton told a Georgia farm convention that the most significant problem facing farm women was “Black rapists.” She faulted White men for not supporting their wives and leaving them at the mercy of Black men. Her solution: lynching Black men, “a thousand times a week.”

This rhetoric from a prominent political leader helped fuel the one coup in American history. The following year, as White North Carolina Democrats tried to defeat interracial fusionists, Felton’s speech appeared in a White Wilmington newspaper. The editor of a Black newspaper responded by suggesting that interracial relationships actually resulted from White women seeking Black men as romantic partners.

White supremacists used this claim as cause for destroying the newspaper and unleashing the terror that became the Wilmington Massacre. They threatened violence to keep Black Republicans from the polls, elected White Democrats and conducted a successful coup against the democratically elected interracial city government. Killing Black Wilmington residents and running off others, white supremacists took over the city.

The fear Felton had whipped up helped justify this sort of extreme action. And this violent overthrow received the tacit approval of the federal government. Anti-lynching legislation, introduced more than 200 times, failed to pass the Senate for the entire 20th century. The willingness of a political leader like Felton to traffic in such bigoted and false stereotypes also helped produce a culture in which false accusations of rape led to the murder or imprisonment of Black men and boys — a problem that persists to this day. She helped to pull politics in an extreme, racist direction with long-lasting impact.

Read entire article at Made By History at the Washington Post