Ahem, Rand Paul, aren’t you forgetting something?

Or do only white freedoms matter?

September 25, 2023 5:30 am

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky speaks to reporters in the Senate subway on his way to a vote at the U.S. Capitol Sept. 7, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In a fundraising letter boosting Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron for governor, GOP Sen. Rand Paul praised the state’s top cop for suing Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear over “virtually every authoritarian edict” the incumbent “unleashed on Kentucky.”

Paul meant Beshear’s emergency executive orders that were aimed at keeping Kentuckians out of the hospital and the cemetery during the worst months of the COVID pandemic.

Beshear acted on his own because AG Cameron and the MAGA Republican-majority legislature refused to help him battle the virus which has killed more than 18,100 Kentuckians. Untold numbers more would have died had the governor not acted.

“Never before in the history of our Commonwealth have our freedoms been under such an assault,” Paul claimed in his “Dear Kentucky Conservative” letter.

Really, senator?

“That’s the most ludicrous thing I have ever read,” said Murray State University historian Brian Clardy, suggesting that Paul read some history.

If he did, the prof added, the senator would see that slavery and Jim Crow segregation were by far the most egregious assaults on the freedoms of Kentuckians.

“Slaves were viewed as and treated as subhuman,” Clardy said.

Kentucky law sanctioned the enslavement of Black people from statehood in 1792 to 1865, when the requisite number of states (Kentucky not among them) ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed slavery.

Under state law, enslaved persons were chattel, or moveable property, the same as livestock or farm equipment.

Slaves had no rights; they could be bought and sold at the whim of slaveholders. The few free Black Kentuckians were unwelcome and denied citizenship rights.

“Slavery was a brutal system,” wrote James C. Klotter and Craig Thompson Friend in “A New History of Kentucky, Second Edition.”

“Slave owners had total control over their lives. Laws like the 1798 slave code empowered all white Kentuckians over [free] black Kentuckians as well.

“Slaves often faced cruel punishments like brandings and ear croppings. Some had metal collars or weights attached to their arms or necks. Whippings were most common. Every town had a whipping post as well as stocks and gallows.”

White Kentuckians continued to attack the freedoms of Black Kentuckians for a century after the Civil War ended. Kentucky enacted Jim Crow laws that unequally separated Blacks from whites, making second-class citizens of Black people.

“By the mid-1920s … Kentucky had segregated [horse] racing, transportation, parks, hotels, theaters, library systems. orphans’ homes, restaurants, funeral parlors, and more,” Klotter and Friend wrote. “Louisville’s police force, firefighters and jail employees had become segregated by 1890. In other areas, such as juries, Blacks were excluded all together.”

Clardy said that as in slavery times, Blacks had to be deferential to whites, “lest you be viewed as ‘uppity,’ and therefore a threat. And your life can be taken at any moment.”

Lynch mob violence continued well into the 20th century. Between 1865, the year the Civil War ended, through 1940, “at least 353 people died at the hands of lynch mobs,” historian George C. Wright wrote in “A History of Blacks in Kentucky, Volume 2: In Pursuit of Equality, 1890-1980.” Nearly three-quarters of the victims were Black.

Added the author: “Though these figures on the number of people lynched seem high, they are unquestionably very low.”
By characterizing Beshear’s COVID regs as an unprecedented abridgement of freedom in the state, Paul showed woeful ignorance of Kentucky history. Or maybe by “our freedoms,” he means only white lives matter. Or perhaps he chose to ignore 170-or-so years during which whites robbed thousands upon thousands of Black Kentuckians of their freedom under slavery and the Jim Crow system.

Never before or since has the freedom of so many Kentuckians been so flagrantly and violently trampled upon.

Cameron is complicit in Paul’s perversion of history, according to Clardy: “Why Daniel Cameron isn’t offended by what Paul said is a mystery. Thousands of Blacks in Kentucky are descendants of slaves.”

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Berry Craig
Berry Craig

Berry Craig, a Carlisle countian, is a professor emeritus of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and the author of seven books, all on Kentucky history. His latest is "Kentuckians and Pearl Harbor: Stories from the Day of Infamy" which the University Press of Kentucky published. He is a freelance journalist and a member of the American Federation of Teachers and the Kentucky State AFL-CIO Executive Board.