The battle against racism returns to Dunoon’s foreshore…

There is a rock about a hundred yards from where I live that has been decorated for about 100 years like this-

I have previously described some of the controversy that surrounds this rock (here and here.)

I recently came across another website run by someone I know in Dunoon, which was set up as a result of his concern about what the history and symbolism of the rock might mean…

He quotes someone called Dr Waters from the Institute of Race Relations as saying this-

“… there can be no doubt that the painting of the ‘face’, with its exaggerated red mouth, is a typically caricatured image of a black person, as popularised by the American entertainer T.D. Rice in the nineteenth century. […] I feel certain that black visitorsfrom outside would see this as somewhat insulting […] as a derogatory reference to their skin colour and origins.”

Last year someone took matters in their own hands and painted out the rock with some brown paint. They did a rather good job, and it was hard to tell that it had ever been decorated.

And as the local furore raged, someone else simply redecorated it as above.

Well, last night someone revisited the rock- this is what it looks like today-

Is Dunoon a racist town?

No more than any other I would say- although the largest ethnic minority here are the English, and we have a measure of anti-English sentiment like most places in Scotland. But narrow mindedness and prejudice are a feature of all our human communities and perhaps in small isolated towns like mine they can be long lasting.

There are not many black faces here. However, there used to be an American Naval base here until around 15 years ago, and there were lots of black American servicemen here then. Stories of race riots and segregated drinking are part of the local folklore. As are fond memories of the life and vitality brought to our community by people from African American origin.

Quite what these servicemen thought about the rock, I would love to know. Where they so used to such images that it was unremarkable? Were they told not to protest by their command structure? Or did it carry no racist meaning for them?

I hope that this latest act of direct action might yet highlight the meaning of ‘Jim Crow’ for Black Americans to people in Dunoon.

Because I think that we have should challenge prejudice wherever we find it- whether or not it is unintentional, or inherited from a previous generation with a different world view.

7 thoughts on “The battle against racism returns to Dunoon’s foreshore…

  1. Pingback: Jim Crow rock re-painted. Again. « this fragile tent

  2. Stop making an issue over a ROCK. My uncle and many others connected to our family are african american, met my aunt in Dunoon via the naval base. the rock makes no difference to them. never has never will. making a issue over a ‘racist’ rock is rather sad, most people do not even know what it means i didnt until i was older, to be the rock was just a painted rock with no meaning. which is what it is to many kids and people in dunoon, if jim crow was such a big deal to people, it would of been removed MANY years ago.

    • HI Ade

      Thanks for your views.

      The issue is not the rock- but rather the use it has been put to, and the meaning of the imagery. Check out this information at the Museum of Jim Crow Memorabilia- http://jimcrowmuseum.blogspot.com/2010/12/question-of-month-jim-crow-rock.html

      How does this make you feel as a resident of Dunoon? (which I assume you are.)

      As for the issue of not knowing what the images mean, and what their history is- if you did not know that it was wrong to use other abusive negative ways of thinking about people of colour- such as ‘nigger’ or ‘coon’ then you might legitimately not be blamed for using such terms- but as soon as you DO know that these things have a dark and oppressive history, then it becomes your responsibility to decide whether the on-going use of such terms is OK.

      In this instance- as you say- most people seem to not be aware of the fact that the Jim Crow ‘blackface’ caricatures are the most likely origin of the decoration of this rock- this has been lost in folk memory. But as soon as you know this, you have to step back an evaluate whether this is a good thing for our community to be decorating our foreshore with.

      You say you are aware of this, and do not appear to be bothered by this. I (and many others) disagree.

      My more recent argument has not been to remove it- but to explain it. Let’s put up a board on the shore explaining the troubled rascist history of the rock. Then none of us can claim ignorance.

      Cheers

      C

  3. Ah Jim Crow! Many a time I have been to Dunoon and got into the debate of the ‘racist rock’. Locally people believe there was a tradesman in kirn called Jim Crow and it advertised his business. But nobody has any records to confirm this. Wether you think it’s a racist symbol or not I can’t help but feel a bit awkward about the whole thing. You can’t deny when you see it could be misinterpreted as such.
    Head into Dunoon and the tea room on the high street/thorntons has a whole area of the shop selling golliwogs, I hadn’t seen these for years and thought they had become unpopular due to political correctness over the golliwog as an icon of racism of a bygone era.
    The decline of Dunoon from its golden area of famous highland game venue and holiday destination is a constant moot topic. But so is the feeling that ‘outsiders’ are not welcomed. Many you meet here revel in memories of the day the American troops left the area. Oh how they celebrated! However it seems like the area has been in constant decline since and the local economy is suffering. In response to declining tourist numbers in the past few years many of the shops and restaurants have closed. The high street abandoned and the waterfront a scruffy shadow of what it once was. Even the passenger ferry service to dunoon has been reduced significantly on reflection. The Cowal summer games and pipe tournament once the highlight of the local calendar is feared to be coming to a close in the next year or so.
    As an outsider who enjoyed the beauty of the area and have spent many times coming to Dunoon, I can only suggest the council and the community decide how they want to welcome investment or outsiders to the area. A little painted rock may be harmless to some but do they really need it? Id rather hope Dunoon has something else to offer.

  4. Pingback: Jim Crow rock hits the news again… | this fragile tent

  5. When the Americans were in Dunoon was it a racist town? The answer to that is yes, there was a lot of racist behaviour from the local population to the black Americans, and more entrenched, between the white and black Americans themselves. I must say that Dunoon with the American influence was a great place to grow up. On drug related activities and racial tensions the US Navy kept files on their sailors and also files on quite a few of the locals myself included.

    Guns and drugs provided the backdrop for my first incident where an inquiry would have been held when I was at the tender age of 13. On the Sunday evening after Cowal Highland Games Argyll Street was empty, the night before it would have been full of the exhilarated whoop of the public cheering a hundred marching pipe bands. Four white sailors came down to the junction of Argyll Street and John Street where they addressed me with a distant incoherence as they were under the influence of LSD. On entering conversation I noticed that three of the men had pistol holsters, the forth sailor explained he did not have a gun as he was Canadian and that they were newly arrived at the base, out on their first shore leave. As he spoke two of the Americans pulled their guns, the most vocal pointed his gun straight at me telling me to run as he was going to shoot. The Canadian started to have a bad trip. I knew that I could not out run a bullet, assuming his hallucinatory aim was true the sailor could not miss. I was not scared of dying. I held my arms up making the sign of the cross prepared to die like Jesus in the shape of the crucifix. My calmness had an effect for they stopped threatening to shoot. Perhaps it was the lack of a moving target, perhaps it was the quietness of a Sunday evening, whatever it was I did not dwell for I became precocious, “what are they going to do for women? If you are going to fuck like sailors, the only bar where you’re going to get women is the John Paul Jones.” Luckily the John Paul Jones, known as the hookers bar, was the nearby. Running a commentary around swirling lights and the bright colours I guide the tripping sailors into what is forbidden to a table where they took seats then I attempt to buy four beers. Challenged over my age,”I’m thirteen” I reply, leaving the barmaids less than impressed. Returning empty handed to the men who are entering a deeper phase of the acid trip I explain, “there’s no beers because you have to hand over your guns before being served.” Willingly the sailors disarm. Not creating a commotion among the other patrons, all American sailors, once more I approach the barmaids only this time I am carrying three pistols. The barmaids are shocked becoming completely motionless. “Under the circumstances I think it would be permissible to serve me beer.” I declare to the stunned statuettes. After some time one barmaid recovers her composure and contacts the ship at the Holy Loch on a white phone that has a direct line to the navy base. Its arranged for Shore Patrol, the military police force for the US Navy, to attend in plain clothes to deal with the situation. Knowingly breaking the law I am served with four beers, I cannot remember if I was asked to pay, and I hand the beers over to the sailors while all the time keeping up a comical commentary to make the encounter as mellow as possible. Only the Canadian sensed what I was doing, he was relieved I was still alive, while realising that his naval career, and that of his fellow trippers, was going to come to a swift end via a court martial. When I saw Shore Patrol talking with the barmaids and that they were in possession of the guns I left the scene, walked home, and thought of going to school in the morning.

    Another entry in my file occurred one one autumn Friday evening, a school friend and I went to the fish and chip shop in Church Street, we placed our order, then my friend stepped out into the street and shouted “Nigger!” I was not expecting that. The black Americans on the corner of Argyll Street were up for a fight, my friend was up for a fight, I was aware that if I stood beside him our joint body language would say that the two of us were up for a fight, so I thought it prudent to go back inside the chippy giving the order, “keep frying”. The panic-stricken owner wanted me to leave. When the town had its famous race riot it was at his chip shop a stabbing occurred. His female cashier remain calm, fried the fish, and like the John Paul Jones the chip shop also had a white phone with a direct line to the naval base. The cashier called the ship telling them the plan of action to avoid confrontation. I kept a cool head got my friend back into the chippy to pay for his meal which helped to defuse the showdown. We left in the opposite direction to the black Americans. After eating our food, taking a route that avoided the Americans we spent the night drinking in Captain Eds, a bar that only whites went to, until closing time.

    The incident that came to the attention of not only the Americans but also the Scots who ran the town was in Kirn. Late, around ten pm Saturday evening, I came down the driveway of Dunclutha Children’s Home only to find on the Shore Road that on the Royal Marine side there were four black Americans and on the Dunoon side around thirty young Scots and I was slap-bang in the middle of two jousting sides. Leading the gang was my doppelganger, so close in appearance were we, that some thought we were twins. He was full of courage, that’s, if all Scots took on the Americans, given the odds which could only lead to one heck of a beating. I thought saying meekly to the sailors “I’m not actually with this lot, could I just get by?” would be ridiculous, instead I made my way to the back of the throng shouting out to my double, “Jimmy, you might not get it tonight, but you’ll get it when you get home I’m going to tell your mother what you get up to!” This created laughter from the throng and uncertainty in Jimmy. At the rear of the crowd I fell into conversation with another non-violent Scot laughing tremendously. I laughed so much that I became the focal point. One spectator had a white handkerchief and he freely gave it to me. I made my way to the front, stopping to speak to Jimmy who was still trying to whip up the crowd once more into attacking the four black sailors. Waving a white flag, unsure if the anyone would recognise the meaning I approached the sailors. I handed the handkerchief to one of the four quipping, “that’s a white hankie, not a white honkie.” Needing to get to the Royal Marine Hotel disco before it closed I proposed that we get the fighting started as quickly as possible, Jimmy reacted by going forward. I grabbed Jimmy, and being stronger than him pulled him backwards, putting my arms around him in a bear hug, lifted him off the ground carrying him through the youths shouting “Jimmy coming through. Jimmy coming through.” I was carrying quite a bit of dope and decided to give Jimmy some Red and Black so he could still make a night of it. The lumps of hash convinced Jimmy that he could stoned voraciously on the walk back into town. Jimmy and cronies started off in the direction of Dunoon. The crowd whittled down and eventually everyone headed in the direction to town away from the black sailors, expect me, for I had an appointment to keep at the Royal Marine Hotel. The Americans were in front of me and I kept my distance from them, checking when I arrived at the hotel entrance that they were not waiting to pounce. Seeing the course was clear I went inside, the Saturday night disco was coming to an end, but I still had time to see who I came to see selling them some good quality hash. A week later the manager of Dunclutha Children’s Home quizzed me over the events, I didn’t say much, but I knew he knew because the US Navy had informed local dignitaries. There would have been an analysis of the hostilities by naval psychologists. I also knew that I averted car loads of black Americans driving around town looking to get their revenge on someone who looked just like me.

    Before I left living in town a serially violent wastrel had attacked a black sailor with a broken bottle glassing him gratuitously outside Church Street chippy while displaying a Confederate flag to hid his Scottish identity. Like many psychopaths he kept souvenirs of his crimes and he showed me the bloodied jagged glass bottle top that he had placed in a shoe box as a trophy. Later that day I saw two Shore Patrol officers enter the John Paul Jones bar, I followed, and in front of a group of angry black sailors I informed Shore Patrol of the identity of the thug. I knew that the American authorities would have to work with the local police to bring him to justice. I did not go to the Scottish police for you could not trust them to act in a racially motivated crime.

    Then in terms of standing racism there was the Tor Na Dee, a hotel which hosted live bands. Outside the entrance was a sign that read “Members Only”. On my first visit I asked about membership and was told by a Scot, “That’s to stop the niggers. If any niggers come you just tell them you have to be a member to get in.”

    I was different to the other locals and I had an unique talent, I was the only person in the whole town that the Bombay Indian Restaurant would serve a carry-out (take away) to after pub closing time, everyone else if they wanted a meal after hours had to eat inside.

    There were interracial relationships, I recall one elderly English tourist who had experience of Americans dating back to the Second World War asked in a bar about the mixture black and white Yanks in town, only for the barmaid to frostily disclose that her boyfriend was a black sailor.

    Jimmy’s identity has been protected and I have used a false name. Captain Eds today trades as Sinbads and the John Paul Jones was on the site of where 51st State is today.

  6. When the Americans were in Dunoon was it a racist town? The answer to that is yes, there was a lot of racist behaviour from the local population to the black Americans, and more virulently entrenched between the white and black Americans themselves. I must say that Dunoon with the American influence was a great place to grow up. Around racial tensions and drug related activities the US Navy kept files on their sailors and also files on quite a few of the locals myself included.

    Guns and drugs provided the backdrop for my first incident where an inquiry would have been held when I was at the tender age of 13. On the Sunday evening after Cowal Highland Games Argyll Street was morosely empty, the night before it would have been full of the exhilarated whoop of a giddy public cheering a hundred marching pipe bands. Four white sailors came down to the junction of Argyll Street and John Street where they addressed me with a distant incoherence as they were under the influence of LSD. On entering conversation I noticed that three of the men had pistol holsters, the forth sailor explained he did not have a gun as he was Canadian and that they were newly arrived at the base, out on their first shore leave. As he spoke two of the Americans pulled out their guns, the most vocal pointed his weapon straight at me telling me to run as he was going to shoot. The Canadian started to have a bad trip. I knew that I could not out run a bullet, assuming his hallucinatory aim was true the sailor could not miss. I was not scared of dying. I held my arms up making the sign of the cross prepared to die like Jesus in the shape of the crucifix. My calmness had an effect for they stopped threatening to shoot. Perhaps it was the lack of a moving target, perhaps it was the quietness of a Sunday evening, whatever it was I did not dwell for I became precocious. “What are they going to do for women? If you are going to fuck like sailors, the only bar where you’re going to get women is the John Paul Jones.” Luckily the John Paul Jones, known as the hookers bar, was the nearby. Running a commentary around swirling lights and the bright colours I guide the tripping sailors into what is forbidden to a table where they took seats then I attempt to buy four beers. Challenged over my age,”I’m thirteen” I reply, leaving the barmaids less than impressed. Returning empty handed to the men who are entering a deeper phase of the acid trip I explain, “there’s no beers because you have to hand over your guns before you can get served.” Willingly the sailors disarm. Not creating a commotion among the other patrons, all American, once more I approach the barmaids only this time I am carrying three pistols. The barmaids are shocked becoming completely motionless. “Under the circumstances I think it would be permissible to serve me beer,” I declare to the stunned statuettes. After some time one barmaid recovers her composure and contacts the ship at the Holy Loch via a white phone that has a direct line to the navy base. Its arranged for Shore Patrol, the military police force of the US Navy, to attend in plain clothes to deal with the situation. Knowingly breaking the law I am served with four beers, I cannot remember if I was asked to pay, and I hand the beers over to the sailors while all the time keeping up a comical commentary to make the encounter as mellow as possible. Only the Canadian sensed what I was doing, he was relieved I was still alive, while realising that his naval career, and that of his fellow trippers, was going to come to a swift end via a court martial. When I saw Shore Patrol talking with the barmaids and that they were in possession of the guns I left the scene, walked home, and thought of going to school in the morning.

    Another entry in my file occurred one one autumn Friday evening, a school friend and I went to the fish and chip shop in Church Street, we placed our order, then my friend stepped out into the street and shouted “Nigger!” I was not expecting that. The black Americans on the corner of Argyll Street were up for a fight, my friend was up for a fight, I was aware that if I stood beside him our joint body language would say that the two of us were up for a fight, so I thought it prudent to go back inside the chippy giving the order, “keep frying”. The panic-stricken owner wanted me to leave. When the town had its famous race riot it was at his chip shop a stabbing occurred. His female cashier remain calm, fried the fish, and like the John Paul Jones the chip shop also had a white phone with a direct line to the navy base. The cashier called the ship telling them the plan of action to avoid confrontation. I kept a cool head got my friend back into the chippy to pay for his meal which helped to defuse the showdown. We left in the opposite direction to the black Americans. After eating our food, taking a route that avoided the Americans we spent the night drinking in Captain Eds, a bar that only whites went to.

    The incident that came to the attention of not only the US Navy but also the Scots who ran the town was in Kirn. Late, around ten pm Saturday evening, I came down the driveway of Dunclutha Children’s Home only to find I was slap-bang in the middle of two jousting sides. On the Royal Marine side of the shore road were four black Americans and on the Dunoon side around thirty young Scots. Leading the pack was Jimmy my doppelganger, so close in appearance were we, that some thought we were twins. He was full of courage, that’s, if all Scots took on the Americans, given the odds it could only lead to one inevitable heck of a beating. I thought of saying meekly to the four Negroes “I’m not actually with this lot, could I just get by?” would be ridiculous, instead I made my way to the back of the throng shouting out to my double, “Jimmy, you might not get it tonight, but you’ll get it when you get home I’m going to tell your mum what you get up to!” This created laughter from the throng and uncertainty in Jimmy. At the rear of the crowd I fell into conversation with another non-violent Scot laughing tremendously. I laughed so much that I became the focal point. One spectator had a white handkerchief and he freely gave it to me. I made my way to the front, stopping to speak to Jimmy who was still trying to whip up the crowd once more into attacking the four black sailors. Waving a white flag, unsure if the anyone would recognise the meaning I approached the sailors. I handed the handkerchief to one of the four quipping, “that’s a white hankie, not a white honkie.” Needing to get to the Royal Marine Hotel disco before it closed I proposed that we get the fighting started as quickly as possible, Jimmy reacted by going forward. I grabbed Jimmy, and being stronger than him pulled him backwards, putting my arms around him in a bear hug, lifted him off the ground carrying him through the youths shouting “Jimmy coming through. Jimmy coming through.” I had on me quite a bit of dope and decided to give Jimmy some Red and Black so he could still make a night of it. The lumps of hash convinced Jimmy that he could get stoned voraciously on the walk back into town. Jimmy and cronies started off in the direction of Dunoon. The crowd whittled down and eventually everyone headed in the direction to town away from the black sailors, expect me, for I had an appointment to keep at the Royal Marine Hotel. The Americans were in front of me and I kept my distance from them, checking when I arrived at the hotel entrance that they were not waiting to pounce. Seeing the course was clear I went inside. The Saturday night disco was coming to an end, but I still had time to see who I came to see selling them some good quality hash. A week later the manager of Dunclutha Children’s Home quizzed me over the events, I didn’t say much, but I knew he knew because the US Navy had informed local dignitaries. There would have been an analysis of the hostilities by naval psychologists. I also knew that I averted car loads of black Americans driving around town looking to get their revenge on someone who looked just like me.

    Before I left living in town a serially violent wastrel had attacked a black sailor outside Church Street chippy with a broken bottle glassing him gratuitously in the face almost blinding his victim while displaying a Confederate flag to hid his Scottish identity. Like many psychopaths he kept souvenirs of his crimes and he showed me the bloodied jagged glass bottle top that he had placed in a shoe box as a trophy. Later that day I saw two Shore Patrol officers enter the John Paul Jones bar, I followed, and in front of a group of angry black sailors I informed Shore Patrol of the identity of the thug. I knew that the American authorities would have to work with the local police to bring him to justice. I did not go to the Scottish police for you could not trust them to act in a racially motivated crime.

    Then in terms of standing racism there was the Tor Na Dee, a hotel which hosted live bands. Outside the entrance was a sign that read “Members Only”. On my first visit I asked about membership and was told by a Scot, “That’s to stop the niggers, there is no membership. If any niggers come you just tell them you have to be a member to get in.” I was different to the other locals and I had an unique talent; I was the only person in the whole town that the Bombay Indian Restaurant would serve a carry-out (take away) to after pub closing time, everyone else if they wanted a meal after hours had to eat inside.

    There were interracial relationships, I recall one elderly English tourist who had experience of Americans dating back to the Second World War asked in a bar about the mixture black and white Yanks in town only for the barmaid to frostily disclose that her boyfriend was a black sailor.

    Jimmy’s identity has been protected and I have used a false name. Captain Eds today trades as Sinbads and the John Paul Jones was on the site of where 51st State is today.

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