Nell Irvin Painter – Kansas Fever Myth

The provisions of the Kansas Fever idea stemmed from the predilection that freedpeople shared with most other Americans – soliciting Congress for aid.5

  • 5 I use the word “idea” in the phrase “Kansas Fever idea” as a synonym for myth, in the anthropological sense. It means a coherent and identifiable set of beliefs that interpreted the world and explained away unacceptable facts. The Kansas Fever myth allowed it’s adherents to avoid an unsatisfactory chain of reasoning: (1) that their being Black gave their white neighbors certain advantages over them and that they had, in the old Dred Scott phrase, no rights a white man need respect; (2) that because of their race, political affiliation, economic weakness, and non-Euro-American culture, their local and state governments felt no obligation to defend their legal rights – hence, the unpunished bulldozing; (3) that the federal government no longer intended to enforce their constitutional rights at the expense of whites; (4) that they were left to work out what arrangements they could with local whites. This entailed a sacrifice of life and liberty that large numbers of Blacks found excessive; (5) that while migration out of the South promised the only significant amelioration of their condition, the great majority of those who wished to leave were financially incapable of doing so; (6) that therefore they must remain in the South, dispossessed of their civil rights. This conclusion contradicted their interpretation of fair play and American citizenship, and to avoid it, millenarians believed it to be untrue.
  • P.177, Exodusters – Nell Irvin Painter, ISBN 0-393-00951-3
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