Comer Needs to Be a Goner on Campuses

(UPDATED June 17, 2020, to include information on Comer’s role in Eufaula racist violence and giving the specific quote about the 1908 miners strike.)

Auburn and Tuscaloosa might not agree on much beyond the state’s pitiful support of higher education, but here is something behind which both campuses can unite:

The name “Braxton Bragg Comer” needs to be removed from buildings on both campuses.

At Auburn, Comer Hall houses the College of Agriculture, which is so central to our land-grant mission.  It is situated atop a hill across from the library deck. A parking lot marks the hillside where cows used to graze.

At Alabama, B.B. Comer Hall houses several programs related to global studies — both international students and study abroad programs (not to be confused with H.M. Comer Hall, named for Braxton’s son, Hugh, which houses the College of Engineering).

Braxton Bragg Comer was governor of Alabama from 1907 to 1911 and was appointed to the U.S. Senate briefly in 1920.

Some state leaders tried to resist the racial hate of the period and build a better state.  Comer was a racist who exploited free black labor in the post-slavery era and improved the educational choices for white residents only.

He made a bad situation worse to the degradation of a race, a state and his reputation.

He started early, soon after he married and moved to Barbour County to oversee Spring Hill, the family plantation. In 1874, according to this excellent article by Safiya Charles, a white mob attacked a group of African Americans who were trying to vote. Ultimately, six of the voters were killed, some were arrested, and the rest fled.

Hilliard Miles, an African American man, named Comer as one of the attackers. Miles, however, was the one arrested and charged with perjury.

Comer’s family also benefited from the horrific “leased convict” system, where counties would lease mainly African-American convicts to mines and mills as slave labor, with the county benefiting financially from the arrangement.

Comer’s brother, J.W., operated the Eureka mines in Shelby County, where the convicts were not only overworked but also tortured, often by J.W. Comer himself, as Douglas Blackmon noted in his book, Slavery by Another Name.

States across the South were doing away with the system, but it perpetuated in Alabama, clearly under the protection of Comer’s governorship, until David Bibb Graves did away with it, almost immediately after being elected governor in 1927.

Some call Comer a “progressive” for increasing funding to education during his term as governor, but that does not give the whole story.

Comer did increase funding for both urban and rural schools — for white students.  Schools educating African-American students remained under-funded; some estimated the ratio as high as 7-to-1. Separate but hardly equal.

This is not surprising, because Comer was not merely a man trying to make the best within a racist system.  He promoted and enhanced that system with his policies and philosophies, as noted above.

Comer was perhaps at his race-baiting worst during a 1908 strike by the racially integrated United Mine Workers against Alabama coal operators.  The mine operators worked with state officials and (sadly) newspapers to convince white citizens that a successful strike would cause an uprising by African-American miners.

Comer told the union president, “You know what it means to have eight or nine thousand <n-words> idle in the State of Alabama, and I’m not going to stand for it.” (The quote is from Steven Diner’s book, A Very Different Age: Americans of the Progressive Era, p. 136.)

At this point, let me say: I do not advocate the wholesale cancellation of all white males of the era.  A few years ago, I wrote a column about William Broun, Auburn president from 1882-1902.

Broun married into a slaveholding family, but the record shows a more respectful relationship; the slaves remained with the family as paid workers after they were freed.

Comer, on the other hand, showed an embracing and promotion of a racist pathology that continues to shame the state. He embraced the racial hatred that marked the Jim Crow era and used it to his financial and political benefit.

To continue to honor his legacy at two of the state’s most well-known institutions of higher learning brings particular shame to them as well.

If the performing arts center had not been named for Dr. Jay Gogue, I would have suggested that he be honored by the renaming of Comer Hall.

What Alabama does on their campus is their concern. But certainly, Auburn University can find a more appropriate person to honor than Braxton Bragg Comer.


More Cliches Rear Their Ugly Head(s?)

Some folks like shopping for antiques or shoes. I like shopping for cliches.

Down below is my latest updated collection.

As I explain to my students, they might not have written the phrases below yet, but I have read them too much, so they lose out.

Where do these come from? Others’ online lists, articles I’ve read (both from pros and unintentional students). And I present the updated list from time to time.

I tell my students that they, like the rest of us, have to rewrite these phrases when they pop up. Maybe we can update them into something new and fresh. Our readers deserve that better than anything stale and dry as these:

110 percent

a lot to learn
and [name] is no exception
at first glance
at the end of the day

backs against the wall
become the best they can be
become the man he is today
blazing (when used with “speed”)
blink of an eye
bodes well

brings to the table
brought their A-game

came to play
capped off a comeback
carried the load
cautiously optimistic
choice words
Christmas came early
closely watched
control their own destiny
cooler heads prevailed

the determination in their eyes
did not shy away from
double down

electrified the crowd
emerged victorious
(athlete’s name) era

familiar face
fat lady singing references (tacky and offensive anyway)
find their groove/rhythm
(like a) finely tuned machine
follow in [someone’s] footsteps
a force to be reckoned with
found their stride
from start to finish

generate offense
going forward
grizzled/seasoned veteran (how does one grizzle?)
growing pains
gut wrenching (seems like the gut is always getting wrenched)

had their eyes opened
hardware (for championships)
has a knack for
he has my back
high ceiling, high motor
high hopes
hit the nail on the head
hope filled the air
hotly contested

icing on the cake
in (someone’s) book
in large part
in their rear-view mirror

keep up the pace
keep your eye on

left a bitter taste in their mouth
light up the stat sheet
like to have that one back
locked and loaded

made a statement (unless someone is speaking)
marquee matchup
mass of contradictions
much to smile about

the new normal — thanks, COVID
(this was) no exception
no laughing matter
(someone is) not the only one who …
not your father’s [whatever]

offensive barrage
on a high note
on thin ice
one game at a time
out of arm’s reach

play ball
plenty of blame to go around
plenty to be happy about
points on the board

ran out of time
reality check
reared its ugly head
rests on his shoulders
rise to the challenge
run through a brick wall

scraped together
sealed the deal
shaken to the core
shined on the court/field
sheepish grin
shore up
showdown (especially following “Top 10”)
shy away from
silence the doubters
sky’s the limit
slammed the door (used in game reports)
stand tall
started out of the gate
step up
stout (defense, usually)

taken its toll
taking [whatever] by storm
tipping point
trials and tribulations
turned a blind eye

under their belts
unlikely hero
upside (usually modified by “tremendous”)

welcome with open arms
when asked about
with a grain of salt
the world we live in