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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Discovery Channel Claims "Little Has Changed In Waverly, Ohio, A Racist 'Sundown Town'"

I was watching Discovery Channel's Investigation Discovery last night. A series titled "The Injustice Files" featured a segment on sundown towns. The Injustice Files is produced by Al Roker Entertainment with executive producers Al Roker, Keith Beauchamp, and Dan Bowen.

A sundown town was a town, city, or neighborhood in the US that was purposely all-white. The term came from signs that were allegedly posted stating that people of color had to leave the town by sundown. They are also sometimes known as “sunset towns” or “gray towns” The exclusion was official town policy or through restrictive covenants agreed to by the real estate agents of the community. In other sundown towns, the policy was enforced through intimidation. This intimidation could occur in a number of ways, including harassment by law enforcement officers

Being somewhat familiar with the term "sundown town," I was interested that this particular episode investigating the existence of such towns as largely a northern phenomenon born from how African-Americans in the region typically made their living. The work of the Afro-Americans largely consisted of daytime domestic responsibilities, and thus racist, nightly curfews were created to encourage African-American workers to leave town promptly at the end of their shift.

No doubt, hundreds of cities across America have been sundown towns at some point in their history. Segregation in the North is widely documented. In addition to the expulsion of African Americans from some American small towns, Native Americans, Chinese Americans, and Jews have also been victims of "sundown town" discrimination.

Discovery Press Web hyped the show as part of their all-new Black History Month Special Premieres at this website: Here is some of the commentary there:

"We are thrilled to work with Keith Beauchamp, one of America's leading investigative filmmakers, and the revered team at Al Roker Entertainment on this fourth installment in the INJUSTICE FILES anthology, which has built a reputation for exposing unresolved Civil Rights cases and modern-day discrimination," said Kevin Bennett, general manager of Investigation Discovery. "We hope this special draws attention to racial discrimination cases that deserve closure and inspires viewers to push for progress on civil rights issues that are affecting their hometown communities."

"It is unbelievable to find that Sundown Towns may still be a reality in the United States," said Al Roker, CEO of Al Roker Entertainment. "We appreciate the opportunity to work with Investigation Discovery to shed light on a situation that many people don't even realize could be in their own backyards."

"When we set out to film THE INJUSTICE FILES: SUNDOWN TOWNS, my objective was to challenge the opinion that sundown towns still exist in America today. Can African-Americans really travel wherever they please in this modern America?" Beauchamp said. "Now having visited communities that were historically known as sundown towns, I am left with the sense that rules may have changed by the book, but towns still exist where the social standard hasn't been reset."
The Injustice Files "Sundown Towns" focused on "three historically-sundown towns in Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio: Martinsville, Indiana; Vienna, Illinois; and, most shocking to me, Waverly, Ohio.

Research seems to confirm that Waverly was one of the few sundown towns that existed before the Civil War, with its reputation traceable back to the mid-17th century. In 1830, the Downing family donated the town square under the condition that no African-Americans live within the city limits. Stories of sundown incidents can be readily found online.

In an 1884 history of the area, an anonymous author wrote that "Waverly’s not having a single colored resident is a rare mark of distinction for a town of its size." The author also wrote that Waverly had never had "a Negro or mulatto resident."

(James W. Loewen. Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. 2005)

One Ohio professor notes:

"... I have read that the land for the court house was donated and was to revert to the owner if an African American was ever allowed to settle within the town... the WPA guide to the county archives, and that is where it was in a footnote no less. The Downings had written into the agreement that the land on the public square would revert to them if a Negro was ever allowed to live in the town.. Incidentally, the footnote does cite the History of the Lower S.V. section on the Ku Klux Klan. It also states that 'to this day' which I think was 1943, no Negroes live in Waverly." 

Here is testimony of a former resident:

"All my family still lives in Piketon and Waverly, and my older aunt and uncle hold a wealth of information about the stories of Waverly and Pike County. In fact, I don't think there's anything these two have forgotten.

"My uncle has told me many times about the sign at the city corporation limits and in fact, showed me the exact place the sign stood on old State Route 23.

"He has also told me a story about the daughter of James Emmett (one of Waverly's founding fathers) who became pregnant by a black man in the late 1800's. This was a terrible scandal and of course, the girl was disowned by her family. The story goes that the black man was hung beside the courthouse in Waverly, but no blacks were allowed to be buried in the Waverly cemetery. The story continues that they finally buried the black man over the hill from the cemetery and I think his grave is still there. 

"There is a great story about the Emmett girl and her family. Her father was so determined to have her forever erased fron creation that he had her birth records at the courthouse destroyed. In fact, on her grave marker in the Waverly cemetery, there is a statute of a girl pointing a gun directly at her father's (James Emmett) grave. I only know bits and pieces of the Emmett family story, but it's very fascinating."

Yet, I was shocked to watch the Investigation Discovery episode and discover that producers still question such shocking racial injustice in Waverly. In fact, Discovery Press Web gladly gave this example to back its claim: 

"Flash forward 150 years and the attitude of Waverly residents toward American-Americans had changed little. DR. DAVID HOXIE speaks on television for the first time about his experience setting up a medical practice in Waverly in 1997 and his claim that the community ran him out of town in 2004 after years of enduring what he calls 'a toxic potion' of 'racism, professional jealousy, material envy.'"


Beware of Reality Television Documentaries

I question the inclusion of the Dr. David Hoxie medical practice information as part of an accusation that "the attitude of Waverly residents toward African-Americans" (referred to as "American-Americans" in their text) has "changed little." I think this is example of cheap sensationalism and an attempt to discredit a Southern Ohio community. History is one thing, fixed and unchangeable in all its terrible chronicle; however, direct accusation of present injustice, if false, is unfair and unfit for Discovery production.

Let me offer this information to prove the inaccuracy of their claim that Hoxie was denied practice because of his race:

"Dr. Hoxie is a physician practicing at the Waverly Health Clinic near Columbus, Ohio. He holds medical licenses in Virginia and Ohio, and received a DEA certificate of registration in 1995. A physician must possess a DEA certificate of registration to dispense prescription drugs that appear on the DEA's controlled substances schedules.  21 U.S.C. § 823(f) (2000).   

"Dr. Hoxie renewed his certificate of registration in 1998 and in 2001. On the initial registration application and on two renewal applications, Dr. Hoxie answered 'no' to the question, 'Has the applicant ever been convicted of a crime in connection with controlled substances under state or federal law?' In 2001, the DEA and the Ohio medical board began to investigate whether this was a false statement.

"DEA diversion investigators Dwight Cokeley and Dawn Mitchell looked into Dr. Hoxie's background.   Their investigation revealed arrest records indicating that Dr. Hoxie had been arrested seven times between 1973 and 1985 in and around Los Angeles, California. The arrest records show that Dr. Hoxie was arrested on a number of misdemeanor charges, including:  

(1) possession of marijuana on December 15, 1973; 
(2) possession of a controlled substance on September 19, 1978;  
(3) driving under the influence of drugs on July 6, 1980;  
(4) driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs on July 11, 1981;  
(5) possession of PCP, being under the influence of PCP, and a vehicle code infraction on August 7, 1983;  
(6) being under the influence of PCP on January 26, 1984;  and 
(7) driving with a suspended license on September 25, 1984.   

"There is no indication of the disposition of these charges, with the exception of the 1983 arrest. An arrest disposition report indicates that Dr. Hoxie entered a plea of 'nolo' to two charges, '11550 (b) H & S,' an apparent reference to §11550(b) of the California Health and Safety Code, which prohibits being under the influence of a controlled substance, and “23152(a) VC Traffic Off,” what appears to be a traffic offense. This disposition was confirmed by a document from the California probation department requesting notification should Dr. Hoxie be arrested at any time prior to November of 1985...

Dr. Hoxie's refusal to testify at the hearing, refusal to offer any explanation of his past trouble with the law, and his denials of past legal trouble, which are contradicted by the arrest records, provide substantial evidence of other conduct threatening the public health and safety.   Candor during DEA investigations, regardless of the severity of the violations alleged, is considered by the DEA to be an important factor when assessing whether a physician's registration is consistent with the public interest. - See more at:
 "Dr. Hoxie's refusal to testify at the hearing, refusal to offer any explanation of his past trouble with the law, and his denials of past legal trouble, which are contradicted by the arrest records, provide substantial evidence of other conduct threatening the public health and safety. Candor during DEA investigations, regardless of the severity of the violations alleged, is considered by the DEA to be an important factor when assessing whether a physician's registration is consistent with the public interest...

"The DEA's decision to revoke Dr. Hoxie's certificate of registration, based on his material falsification of his application and on his other actions, was not arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion. The DEA properly considers the candor of the physician and his forthrightness in assisting in the investigation and admitting fault important factors in determining whether the physician's registration should be revoked. Barry H. Brooks, M.D., Continuation of Registration, 66 Fed.Reg. 18,305, 18,309 (Apr. 6, 2001) (despite grounds to revoke registration as inconsistent with the public interest, registration continued because physician 'readily admitted fault, [took] responsibility for his past misconduct, and ․ fully cooperated with and assisted in the investigations concerning his illicit activities').   

"Dr. Hoxie's sanction was neither 'unwarranted in law' nor 'without justification in fact.' See Butz v. Glover Livestock Comm'n Co., 411 U.S. 182, 185, 93 S.Ct. 1455, 36 L.Ed.2d 142 (1973);  Pearce v. United States Dep't of Justice, 867 F.2d 253, 256 (6th Cir.1988). The DEA's decision to revoke Dr. Hoxie's registration was consistent with the DEA's view of the importance of physician candor and cooperation."

(United States Court of Appeals,Sixth Circuit. David A. HOXIE, M.D., Petitioner, v. DRUG ENFORCEMENT ADMINISTRATION, Department of Justice, 
Respondent. No. 04-4122. August 16, 2005)

Shame on Investigation Discovery and executive producers Al Roker, Keith Beauchamp, and Dan Bowen. Their so-called "investigation" is a vivid example of the twisted, suggestive content that prevents a small town in Appalachia from rising to prominence. Instead, they prefer to single out Waverly, Ohio, smear its reputation, and portray it as a place still buried in sins of the past common to many, many northern communities of the same era.  

I do not deny the existence of inequality and racism in Southern Ohio. But, the use of this "evidence" neither conveys the truth nor gives any credence to paint an entire community as vicious bigots. 

The Deputy Administrator's determination that Dr. Hoxie committed acts that rendered his continued registration inconsistent with the public interest was supported by substantial evidence. Dr. Hoxie failed to comply with California controlled substance law, as evidenced by several arrests for controlled substance violations, misled DEA investigators by denying his prior criminal history, failed to testify at the hearing on his registration, and offered no evidence to explain or rebut the DEA's contentions regarding his registration. 

The State Medical Board of Ohio's Formal Action Report of April, 2006, replied:

"HOXIE, David A. (MD #35-071037) Waverly, OH

"By Opinion and Entry filed on February 14, 2006, Tenth District Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, which had affirmed Board’s 7/14/04 permanent revocation Order." 

The episode about sundown towns never mentioned anything about the real reasons for Hoxie's problems. Lying clearly cost David Hoxie his medical practice. What is any definition of justice if it does not apply to all? Investigation Discovery used some interviews from a couple of local residents to base their unfounded opinion that the "cruel fate" of Hoxie's practice in Waverly was caused by racism and was somehow linked to the workings of a sundown town.

Let's even consider the unthinkable. Suppose Investigation Discovery was right and Hoxie was "run out of town" by a rank injustice. Still, what a terrible judgment of an entire town to display on a national television broadcast -- even the suggestion that Waverly is now a sundown town is without support. Stirring up the ashes of history to ignite new doubts and fears must be done only when adequate proof warrants the charges.

To quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." This time the Injustice Files has lived up to its name: It has rendered an injustice by airing a program that relies on no credible support for its stinging accusations. It is a television series, in this case, that cared much more about rumor and opinion than about solid facts. It is sensational, fictional television meant to titillate the emotions of viewers.

 Sign used by the Injustice Files to inflame sundown theories. 
It actually sits in Ross County, not Pike, home to Waverly.

Race still is and always has been an issue in America. I sincerely believe this. However, to misconstrue the facts to spread nasty untruths that deliberately harm a community is wrong. I understand the sad parts of the history of Waverly, but this show's purpose was evidently to create a hotbed of new accusations. The town does not deserve this.

"Mankind must evolve for all human conflict a method 
which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. 
The foundation of such a method is love."

 — Martin Luther King Jr.

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