By Charles Kiker
I have seen and heard negative reaction to the concept of White Privilege, such as, “Any privilege I have is not based on race or color but on hard work and careful management.” So I ask myself, “Am I privileged?”
Born on a farm in the Texas Panhandle during the depression and dust bowl, I am an unlikely candidate to be considered privileged. We did not have indoor plumbing until I was 13 years old. I did my homework by the dim light of a kerosene lamp until FDR and the REA brought us electricity. I did barnyard chores morning and evening, cleaned out the chicken house on Saturdays, and went to school at a two teacher country school. The quality of our education depended on whether we had an excellent, good, mediocre, or downright sorry teacher any particular school year. I had some of each category.
Studies show a wide disparity between the net worth of white families and families of people of color. One study shows a median wealth of white families as about $184,000, Black families about $23,000, and non-white Hispanics $38,000. That means black families have about 12 cents, and non-white Hispanics about 21 cents, where whites have a dollar. A major contributor to wealth is real estate, including the family home. After World War II many returning veterans purchased small homes on the GI bill. Red lining by real estate agents and lending companies relegated Blacks and other People of Color to homes in less desirable neighborhoods, and many could not buy anywhere. Real Estate consistently appreciated so that those who bought homes in good neighborhoods sold and bought new homes after a few years, and by the time those returning veterans retired they had accumulated considerable net worth, which was passed on to their descendants. No real estate meant no accumulated wealth from appreciation. And by the way, the freed slaves never got their forty acres and a mule!
“White Privilege? Who, Me?” I’m going to get personal. How am I, in 2023, privileged above my brothers and sisters of color? For the next several paragraphs I’m going on a little genealogical and chronological journey taking us back from the eighteenth century to the present time.
My great-great grandfather George Adam Keicher was born of German immigrant parents in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1754, before there was a United States of America. By 1776 he was 22 years old, old enough to fight in the Revolutionary army. Which he did. After the war he moved, along with other people of German descent, from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. In 1791 his son Charles Kiker, my great grandfather, was born. He was old enough to fight in the War of 1812. Which he did. Family lore has it that Charles received a tract of land in Mecklenburg County as mustering out pay for his services.
In the early 1800s the Cherokee Nation occupied much of North Georgia. White settlers wanted that land. The Supreme Court ruled that the State of Georgia had no jurisdiction over lands occupied by the Cherokee. Reportedly, President Andrew Jackson said, in effect, “Let the Supreme Court enforce their ruling.” They did not, and President Jackson signed The Indian Removal Act, and native peoples went on a forced march westward on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma Territory. North Georgia was now open for white settlers at the expense of the Cherokees
Great-great grandfather George Adam and great grandfather Charles left North Carolina and settled on formerly Cherokee land in what is now Gordon County Georgia. The Kikers were not wealthy, but they had land, and land is wealth. White Kikers had land. Red Cherokees did not. White privilege.
My branch of the Kikers lived in North Georgia, not cotton country, so they were not major slaveowners. But they did own slaves. The 1860 Federal Census Slave Schedule for Gordon County, Georgia shows three slaves in the household of Charles Postell Kiker, my grand uncle and son of my great grandfather Charles Kiker, who died in 1869. My great grandmother Amelia Minyard Kiker was a resident of the 1860 Charles Kiker household, so that household may have effectively been the actual household of great grandmother Amelia, but in 1860 women were not often listed as heads of household. The three slaves in that household, listed by age, color, and gender, were a 25 year old black female, a five year old mulatto male, and a 5 month old black male. Why was that little boy a mulatto in the Kiker household?
My paternal grandmother was a Wesson from Laurens County, South Carolina, and her ancestors had more slaves. Deed records from Laurens County show that triple great grandfather Henry Wesson deeded in 1821 an approximately thirteen year old slave girl called (not named) Fanny to his favored son Edward “to have and to hold.”
George Adam died in 1844, and Charles in 1859. My grandfather, George Kiker, and his family still lived in Gordon County. When the Civil War came along grandfather George’s son, Robert Postell Kiker (my Uncle Bob) born in 1844, was old enough to fight. And he did. But he didn’t wear a gray coat. He dressed in Blue. He was a Union patriot, but a Confederate traitor.
Unfortunately, wars come; fortunately they go. When this one went, it left a bitter taste. Not everyone in Gordon County was happy that Uncle Bob had been a Union soldier.
My father, James Watt Kiker, was born in Gordon County in 1866. When he was a little boy, Grandfather George divested himself of his land in Gordon County, and moved to DeKalb County in Northeast Alabama. Deed records show that they were able to purchase land there. They didn’t stay long in DeKalb County, and moved to Kennedale in Tarrant County, Texas in the 1870s. They were not wealthy, but they had a small farm, and land is wealth.
Grandfather George died in 1883, when my father was just 17 years old. Census records for 1890 were destroyed by fire, so I am not sure where James Watt was in 1890, but by 1900 he showed up in the census in Throckmorton County, Texas as James Riker, but the given names of his wife and children indicate that the name Riker was a misreading of the handwritten script. In Throckmorton County he was a farmer and cattleman. By 1902 James Watt decided to go west to Swisher County, where he was able to purchase a section of land Northeast of a small town, Tulia, Texas.
Just 28 years earlier General Ranald McKenzie surprised an encampment of Comanche Indians in Palo Duro Canyon. The Indians escaped, but McKenzie captured their horses and drove them 20 miles south to Tule Canyon, where he had his soldiers shoot the horses and left the Comanches to walk back to Fort Sill, a miniature Trail of Tears. McKenzie had accomplished his mission of clearing the Comanches out of Texas, and opening the Panhandle for settlers. Once again, land hungry whites benefited at the expense of the Red Man.
In 1902, First National Bank of Tulia was chartered. James Watt Kiker was a charter depositor. He walked in, made a small deposit, and got First National Bank’s help to purchase that section of land. I wonder what would have happened if a Black man had walked through those doors in 1902 seeking the same mortgage loan for property.
My father got his section of land. I grew up there. We were not wealthy, but land is wealth. We took care of the land, and the land took care of us. That section of land contributed to my well being.
White Privilege? Who, me? Yes, me! That’s my story. And many of my generation and our descendants could tell a similar story. We are not responsible FOR the wrongs done by our white ancestors to people of color: Native Americans, Black slaves, and defrauded Hispanics. But we are responsible TO their descendants who have played on an unlevel playing field. Reparations are in order. A bill simply to study reparations has long languished in the US House of Representatives. In California there is a commission to study reparations, and the City Council in Boston has approved a similar commission. Public support of those efforts is in order.
It is not enough to acknowledge white privilege. Centuries of slavery, Manifest Destiny, and Jim Crow have rendered the playing field unfairly tipped so that people of color are always playing uphill. We must level the playing field, or even tip it a bit in the other direction to help make amends for centuries of an unlevel field! Let’s consider reparations–repair to the aforementioned disparity in wealth.
Two major factors contribute to accumulation of wealth: education and owning real estate, including a family home.
In 2002 my wife, Patricia, and I were privileged to spend a few months in interim ministry on the Crow Reservation in Montana. We were privileged to teach and learn and to love and be loved by the Crow people. Our experience there has influenced us to make regular contributions to a school in Southeast Montana for Crow and Northern Cheyenne children. But individual reparations will not suffice. Affirmative Action has fallen out of favor with SCOTUS and many state legislatures. Concerted public efforts can usher it back in.
Let’s now consider reparations in the area of real estate ownership to address wealth inequality.
Following emancipation there were sporadic efforts for “Forty Acres and a Mule” to be given to freed slaves as a means for their participation as citizens of the United States. It never happened. Sadly, the only Civil War reparations were given to the former slave owners for the loss of their human property.
Following World War II the GI Bill made it possible for Veterans to purchase homes with little or no down payment and favorable interest rates. FHA loans were said to be available to all veterans and non-veterans alike. But redlining on the part of real estate companies and lending institutions meant that these loans were effectively given to whites only, resulting in the continued impoverishment and lost opportunities of children and grandchildren of former slaves.
Section 8 rental subsidies were available to some citizens, but subsidized rent only provides housing; it does nothing toward relieving poverty. The private non-profit Habitat for Humanity organization makes home ownership available to some low income people on a relatively small scale. I envision a Section 9 home purchase program, with provisions to forbid racial discrimination, to make home ownership possible to all lower income people.
The current political climate is not favorable for public reparations. Faith based, justice focused organizations preaching and singing and marching can change the climate.
The hour is late, but the time is right to be awake to the admonition to do justice and love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.
— Charles Kiker is a retired American Baptist Church USA minister, a former member of the Board of Directors of ACLU Texas, and a founding member of Friends ofJustice. He and his wife Patricia currently reside in Arlington, Texas,.They are members of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth. He and Patricia are 90 years old.