If you're asking, "What deer head incident?", let's take a moment to review:
A noted political scientist joined one of Sen. George Allen's former college football teammates in claiming the senator used a racial slur to refer to blacks in the early 1970s, a claim Allen dismisses as "ludicrously false."
Larry J. Sabato, one of Virginia's most-quoted political science professors and a classmate of Allen's in the early 1970s, said in a televised interview Monday that Allen used the epithet.
Sabato's assertion came on the heels of accusations by Dr. Ken Shelton, a radiologist who was a tight end and wide receiver for the University of Virginia in the early 1970s when Allen was quarterback. He said Allen not only used the n-word frequently but also once stuffed a severed deer head into a black family's mailbox.
Separately, the Washington Post reported that Christopher Taylor, 59, an anthropologist at the University of Alabama, said that during a visit to Allen's Virginia home in 1982, Allen referred to turtles in a pond on his property and said that only "the [racial slur] eat them."
The newspaper quoted Allen adviser Chris LaCivita as saying Taylor was lying. LaCivita described Taylor as a liberal activist.
The Post also interviewed two former Virginia athletes who asserted Allen frequently used racial slurs during his college years. The athletes were not identified.
Allen's campaign released statements from four other ex-teammates defending the senator and rejecting Shelton's claims.
LaCivita said Allen and Sabato were not friends nor did they associate with each other in college.
"Larry is obviously relying on words he heard from someone else," he said. "We believe it's completely inaccurate."
Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, would not tell the Associated Press how he knew Allen used the n-word. He told Chris Matthews on MSNBC that he did not know whether it was true that Allen used the word frequently while in college.
"I'm simply going to stay with what I know is the case and the fact is he did use the n-word, whether he's denying it or not," Sabato said.
Allen, a Republican, has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2008. Questions about racial insensitivity have dogged him during his re-election bid against Democrat Jim Webb.
Allen's use of the word "macaca" in referring to a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent in August prompted an outcry. The word denotes a genus of monkeys and, in some cultures, is considered an ethnic slur. But the senator insisted he did not know that and had simply made up the word.
Allen vehemently denied that he used the n-word.
"The story and his comments and assertions in there are completely false," Allen said during an interview with AP reporters and editors. "I don't remember ever using that word and it is absolutely false that that was ever part of my vocabulary."
Shelton said Allen used the n-word only around white teammates.
Shelton said the incident with the deer head occurred during their college days when he, Allen and another teammate who has since died were hunting on a farm the third man's family owned near Bumpass, Va., 40 miles east of the university.
Shelton said Allen asked the other teammate where black families lived in the area, then stuffed a deer's head into the mailbox of one of the homes.
"George insisted on taking the severed head, and I was a little shocked by that," he told the AP. "This was just after the movie `The Godfather' came out with the severed horse's head in the bed."
Shelton said he came forward because of Allen's presidential prospects and the "macaca" incident.
"When I saw the look in his eye in that camera and using the word `macaca,' it just brought back the bullying way I knew from George back then," he said.
Shelton described himself as an independent who has supported Democratic and Republican candidates. He said he regretted that he had not spoken against Allen in the early 1980s, when he first entered politics. Shelton said he began writing down his recollections as Allen's career "ascended to heights I never could have imagined."
Other former teammates rushed to the senator's defense.
Charlie Hale, a college roommate of Shelton's and an Allen campaign volunteer, said that he had hunted often with Allen, and "there was not even a rumor on the team" about the alleged deer incident.
Doug Jones, another Allen campaign volunteer who said he had roomed with Shelton, also dismissed the allegations. "I never heard George Allen use any racially disparaging word, nor did I ever witness or hear about him acting in a racially insensitive manner," he said.
Another former teammate, Gerard R. Mullins, said he recalled nothing racist about Allen.
"George had a strong personality, and I guess that's why he was a quarterback," Mullins, who is not close to Allen, said in a telephone interview.
Allen was sometimes confrontational with teammates, he said.
"He would kind of pick on everyone a little just to get a reaction," said Mullins. "From a football standpoint, if you were black or white it didn't matter. If you dropped a pass, he'd have something to say to you."
Shelton's claims came a week after a debate in which Allen bristled at questions about his Jewish ancestry. Allen later acknowledged publicly for the first time that his grandfather, a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, was Jewish, and on Monday he said both his maternal grandparents were Jews.
Explaining his initial reaction, Allen has said his mother swore him to secrecy when she told him about his ancestry last month.
Allen's father, the late George H. Allen, was a legendary football coach with the Los Angeles Rams and the Washington Redskins. Allen transferred from the University of California, Los Angeles, to Virginia when his father took the Redskins job.
Allen's defense is, "It didn't happen (the deer head in the mailbox), it's my word against Ken Shelton's, because the third person that Shelton claims was there (but I maintain there never was a hunting party) is dead."
Another witness comes forward to corroborate a portion of the deer head story:
A second former college football teammate of U.S. Sen. George Allen is disputing Allen's truthfulness about an early 1970s hunting trip that has become an issue in this year's election.
George Beam, now an executive at a nuclear engineering firm based in Lynchburg, was not part of the hunting party. But he told the Associated Press that one of the hunters, his now-deceased roommate, Bill Lanahan, described the incident to him later over a beer.
"Billy Lanahan told me they cut the head off a deer and stuffed it in a mailbox. He didn't say whose idea it was, and he didn't say, at least not in my presence, anything about a black family or a black neighborhood," Beam told the AP.
Allen insisted Monday that "The deer head story is... pure fabrication, absolutely false." The senator and several of his former classmates also have denied allegations that he routinely used the "n" word to refer to blacks.
Beam did not return several calls Wednesday from The Virginian-Pilot.
Beam's account partially supports claims by the third member of the hunting party, Hendersonville, N.C., physician Ken Shelton.
He has told reporters that it was Allen's idea to decapitate the deer and leave the head at a black household.
Dick Wadhams, Allen's campaign manager, insisted Wednesday that there is no evidence to support Shelton's claim and called Shelton and Beam "sad and pathetic" for bringing Lanahan, who died earlier this year, into the dispute.
"The incident did not occur. This gentleman is just piling on to a false story," he said of Beam, adding later that "I have no idea why he would do it."
The disputed hunt apparently took place on land owned by Lanahan's family in Louisa County, east of Charlottesville.
Maj. Donald Lowe of the Louisa Sheriff's Department said Wednesday that a search this week of department records failed to produce any evidence of a complaint concerning a deer's head.
The county's record-keeping in that era was spotty, Lowe added.
Lowe said the sheriff's department also has interviewed several deputies from the early 1970s as well as with black community leaders at the time. None recalled any complaint concerning a deer's head.
Questions about Allen's racial attitudes have dominated his re-election drive, boosting Democratic challenger Jim Webb and hobbling Allen's aspirations for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
My favorite part of this story is the Sheriff's Department comment. As if a black person in early 1970s Virginia, after discovering a deer head in his mailbox, is going to report it to the police.
Racism is so deeply engrained in our culture, that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that even today a black person might not notify the police after finding a deer head in his mailbox. Particularly in a southern state. Even Virginia. Because while it's true that out of all the southern states, Virginia had the fewest lynchings, the practice of lynching began there. It's roots are deep. The purpose of lynching was to threaten and intimidate through terror. On slaves, on whites who objected to the lynching of slaves, and on anyone who dared to raise the question. Lynching generally meant hanging, but it invariably included torture.
“To know what was in the minds of individual lynchers is extremely hard to get at,” [historian W. Fitzhugh Brundage] said.
Frankie Y. Bailey, a Danville native who is now an associate professor of criminal justice at the University at Albany in New York, agreed.
“Lynching is a really complex phenomenon,” she said.
For some, the memory of this extra-legal method of exacting justice and meting out punishment evokes images of a more or less “sober-minded affair,” Brundage said.
“There would be a sort of mock trial, followed by the issuing of a sentence,” he said of what were less typical lynching scenarios. “The alleged criminal might be allowed to offer a confession and … might be hanged as though it were a formal execution.”
There is a resistance to acknowledge what were more likely “bacchanalias of torture and violence,” Brundage said.
“Much more often, the lynching victim was dragged out of jail, tied to a telegraph post or tree and then the gathered mob riddled the lynching victim with gunshots,” he said.
“Less often, but perhaps more important for the memory of lynching, were burning victims alive and lynchings involving extended torture of the victim.”
Brundage said about half of all lynchings were related to purported crimes between a black man and a white man and about a quarter had to do with miscellaneous issues such as moonshining territoriality or property disputes.
About a fourth of lynchings involved alleged sexual offenses, he said.
“That’s an extremely broad definition of alleged sexual offenses,” Brundage said, adding they ranged from being a pickpocket to snatching a woman’s purse if you were a black man. Accusations of sexual offenses were sometimes used to cover up consensual relationships, he said.
Bailey recalled a time when the “reckless eyeballing” of a white woman by a black man was considered a punishable crime.
“There was the myth of the black rapist,” she said.
Bailey said that as black men were freed from slavery, a fear seemed to develop in white society that blacks would “regress” toward what some believed to be the state of “savagery” they had been in when they were brought over from Africa.
She said another wave of lynchings in the 1920s may have resulted in part from black veterans returning home from World War I with what was believed to be a newly acquired knowledge of how to use guns.
In many lynching cases, “Whether or not a crime was committed was another matter,” Brundage said.
What is striking, he said, is that the majority of victims were taken from the hands of law officers. People were often lynched after they had been sentenced for a crime, he said.
Bailey said lynching had a profound psychological effect on the black community in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“Lynchings created a sense of terror for blacks,” she said.
It was not uncommon for photos of lynchings to be made into postcards or for grisly souvenirs gathered at the scene of a lynching to be sold, she said, spreading an awareness of lynchings from community to community and causing blacks to modify their behavior.
They might lower their eyes when encountering a white person on the street or even step off the sidewalk to let the person pass, Bailey said.
Virginia had fewer lynching incidents than other southern states, but both Brundage and Bailey said this was not reflective of an absence of racism in the state.
“It’s not as though white Virginians were less committed to white supremacy,” Brundage said.
Rather, social and economic structures didn’t create the need to resort to violence as much in Virginia, he said.
Virginia’s post-Civil War economy was more diverse than some in the deeper south, and tobacco production, unlike that of cotton, allowed blacks a degree of distance from whites, he said.
“In Virginia, white southerners didn’t have to - or chose not to - maintain the intrusive supervision of their black workers,” Brundage said.
Southside Virginia in particular “stands out as one of those regions … where violence was not a consistent theme or element in labor relations,” he said.
Bailey said she believes the relative infrequency of lynchings in the state had to do with an elitist mentality on the part of Virginians and a tendency toward a conservative position on law and order.
“There was a perception that violence was kind of a lower-class thing,” she said.
Yet numerous lynchings did occur in Virginia, and Bailey said it had to do with a need on the part of the region’s collective psyche “to figure out the status of blacks” in society.
Whatever explanations may be offered for what southern society was trying to accomplish in the late 19th and early 20th century through the lynchings of a subset of its population, the brutality of the phenomenon seems incomprehensible.
“A society can’t lynch people who are viewed as equals,” Brundage explained.
“Whites used language frequently to refer to young, black males as threats to civilization,” he said.
Somehow, “it was possible to imagine that black men were savage, brutal and immoral,” he said.
Lynchings did not occur because people thought the law was ineffective or because they couldn’t trust the courts, he said.
Some people, he said, simply felt that blacks “weren’t worthy of the consideration of the law.”
In the wake of the U.S. Senate’s apology in June to lynching victims, survivors and their descendents, historians have sought to explain why that body never passed federal anti-lynching legislation.
Bailey and Brundage both said they believe the legacy of lynching has potent implications today.
“The image of whites being out of control in terms of extralegal violence - there’s a sense that the legacy is still there,” Bailey said.
For example, blacks may perceive this when they see a pickup truck with a Confederate flag decal and a gun rack, she said.
Brundage echoed Bailey’s thoughts.
“Lynchings have implications for contemporary race relations in as much as most white southerners younger than 50 have only the vaguest idea about the history of lynching in the South. But within the black community, there’s a much deeper memory,” he said.
“For African Americans, the history of lynching, capital punishment and the fairness of the criminal justice system are all woven together.”
“For Americans as a whole - especially white southerners - it’s worth pondering what could have driven them to take the law into their own hands and with such ferocity,” Brundage said. “One would hope that’s a question people would ponder.”
Especially in these days following the U.S. Congress' passage of the Torture Act and the Bush administration's practice of 'rendition,' and the maintenance of secret prisons around the world by our government.
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