Green Room

Perry and the “N-word Stone”

posted at 11:02 am on October 2, 2011 by

The Washington Post is leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to investigate every presidential candidate, and in Rick Perry’s case, it’s literally true. They have apparently dug up – again, almost literally – a large flat rock which used to stand outside the gates of a remote stretch of ranch-land which his family leased as a hunting camp. In times past it seems to have been emblazoned with a name containing a racially charged epithet which need not be repeated here.

Paint Creek, Tex. — In the early years of his political career, Rick Perry began hosting fellow lawmakers, friends and supporters at his family’s secluded West Texas hunting camp, a place known by the name painted in block letters across a large, flat rock standing upright at its gated entrance.

“**********,” it read. [expletive deleted]

Ranchers who once grazed cattle on the 1,070-acre parcel on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River called it by that name well before Perry and his father, Ray, began hunting there in the early 1980s. There is no definitive account of when the rock first appeared on the property. In an earlier time, the name on the rock was often given to mountains and creeks and rock outcroppings across the country. Over the years, civil rights groups and government agencies have had some success changing those and other racially offensive names that dotted the nation’s maps.

But the name of this particular parcel did not change for years after it became associated with Rick Perry, first as a private citizen, then as a state official and finally as Texas governor. Some locals still call it that. As recently as this summer, the slablike rock — lying flat, the name still faintly visible beneath a coat of white paint — remained by the gated entrance to the camp.

When asked last week, Perry said the word on the rock is an “offensive name that has no place in the modern world.”

This story has it all, as national political race tales go. A popular, if recently struggling frontrunner for the GOP nomination, hints of racism, good ole’ boy politics… you name it. And it seems beyond question – at least thus far – that at least part of the story is true. The rock exists, though thrown down and painted over, and it did stand outside the ranch at one time. And if this turned out to be something that Perry knowingly embraced and maintained it would be the death of his political career at the national level.

But is it indicative of some deep-bred problem of racism in the Perry family? Not according to the initial pushback from his camp.

The presidential campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) complained Sunday that a front-page Washington Post story contains “incorrect, inconsistent” claims.

[...]

“A number of claims made in the story are incorrect, inconsistent, and anonymous, including the implication that Rick Perry brought groups to the lease when the word on the rock was still visible. The one consistent fact in the story is that the word on a rock was painted over and obscured many years ago.

First of all, not in an attempt to excuse the stone itself in any way, that name was sadly quite common across America for a long time… well into the 20th century. There is a ridge near my family’s original summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains in New York containing a spectacular, huge granite outcropping which went by the same name among the locals at least as late as the mid 70′s. It’s just part of a less educated era of our nation’s history.

But as to the case under discussion, this goes one of two ways for Perry. The land in question was leased, originally by his father, with the governor adding his name to the lease in later years. They no longer rent the property and never owned it. According to his response to the Washington Post, the first time he saw the rock – decades ago – he found it offensive and pointed it out to his father. It was then painted over and put out of sight.

Assuming that’s the truth, Perry has absolutely nothing to worry about and the Washington Post will have egg on its face again for looking like they’re cooking up a witch hunt against a GOP frontrunner. And given the “details” in their coverage, don’t be surprised if that’s exactly how this one plays out. While the fact of the stone’s existence seems beyond doubt, their “questions remaining” about the dates when it was painted over and thrown down involve anonymous sources with fuzzy memories and no specific dates given to contradict Perry’s claims.

If, however, some damning pictures, local news items or home movie footage show up which prove Rick Perry was there giving guests tours of the camp with the stone in place, well.. stick a fork in him. He’s done. It would demonstrate that he’s lying about it and – in politics – the coverup is always worse than the crime.

I wouldn’t count on it, though. Perry strikes me as too smart to think something like that could be covered up through the rigorous vetting of a presidential campaign, and the wapo’s reputation isn’t exactly the gold standard on things like this. Combine that with the lack of specificity in the “questions” being raised in their article and this smells more like something you’d find in one of the outhouses on Perry’s former hunting camp site.

Update (Ed): Here is the statement from Perry’s camp in its entirety:

“A number of claims made in the story are incorrect, inconsistent, and anonymous, including the implication that Rick Perry brought groups to the lease when the word on the rock was still visible. The one consistent fact in the story is that the word on a rock was painted over and obscured many years ago.

“Gov. Perry and his family never owned, controlled or managed the property referenced in the Washington Post story. The 42,000-acre ranch is owned by the Hendricks Home for Children, a West Texas charity. http://www.hendrickhome.com/

“Perry’s father painted over offensive language on a rock soon after leasing the 1,000-acre parcel in the early 1980s.  When Gov. Perry was party to the hunting lease from 1997 to 2007, the property was described as northern pasture.  He has not been to the property since 2006.

“In 1991, the Texas Legislature passed a bill to rename old, offensive place names.”

If so, this is journalistic malpractice, and the Washington Post owes Governor Perry a big apology.

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Ed Morrissey on October 2, 2011 at 3:22 PM