President Trump’s immigration executive order smacks of bigotry wrapped in a mystery inside a fiasco. But the 45th President of the United States isn’t the only chief executive to run roughshod over America’s tradition of civil liberties.
February 19, 2017, marks the 75th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s infamous Executive Order 9066. With the nation at war against the Axis powers — and still reeling from Pearl Harbor — FDR promulgated a directive that branded 600,000 Americans of Italian descent “enemy aliens.” Over 10,000 on the West Coast were forced to relocate.
More than 250 were placed in internment camps in Georgia, Maryland, Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. Joe DiMaggio’s father could not visit his son’s restaurant in San Francisco. In New York, opera star Ezio Pinza was arrested.
Italian-American homes and businesses were confiscated; property was seized; newspapers ceased publishing; and draconian curfews were established. Fishermen were not permitted to sail their boats and earn a livelihood. Four Italian-Americans committed suicide.
But this wasn’t the only chapter of anti-Italian intolerance in American history.
In the 19th century, the Know-Nothings targeted Roman Catholic immigrants from Italy as undesirable foreigners. And Italian-Americans endured persecution at the hands of a benighted nativist horde. On March 14, 1891, the city of New Orleans became a charnel house as eleven innocent Italian-Americans were wantonly slaughtered by a lynch mob numbering nearly 20,000.
It was the largest mass lynching in U.S. history.
The New Orleans massacre was so horrific that President Benjamin Harrison paid reparations of $25,000 to the Italian government.
In his landmark book “Vendetta,” Professor Richard Gambino states that between 1870 and 1940, “Italians were second only to blacks in numbers of lynch victims.” And this murderous contagion spread to other states.
In her documentary “Linciati: Lynchings of Italians in America,” filmmaker Heather Hartley cites 50 other slaughters of Italians in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Colorado, Kentucky, Illinois, Washington, and New York between 1885 and 1915. “The more I looked, the more I uncovered,” said Hartley.
In “Guns, Goats and Italians: The Tallulah Lynching of 1899,” Edward F. Haas quotes The Daily States in recounting the carnage: “the crowd found a device used to hoist dead cattle for skinning. Its upright posts and crossbar made an excellent makeshift gallows, a function that it had previously served. The mob first dispatched Joseph Defatta. Fifteen minutes later, “Charles was served in a similar manner … ”
Even the unjust conviction of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti in 1927 hinged in no small measure on the defendants’ ethnicity.
Despite our republic’s debt to the ancient Italian polity of Rome — and the wisdom of Cesare Beccaria and Niccolo Machiavelli— the scions of Italy have long been depicted as the odious “other” in American society.
Trump’s immigration diktat portrays Muslims as rabid terrorists.
Rather than succumbing to such alt-right hate-mongering, Americans of every political stripe should repudiate today’s Know-Nothings and hold fast to Filippo Mazzei’s dictum, which became our national credo in 1776: “All men are created equal.”