Category: History

Faithful Slaves Monument: Thanks, But No Thanks

This is a monument in York County, South Carolina, to memorialize the “Faithful Slaves” of the the Civil War.


Faithful Slaves Memorial, York County, South Carolina; from The Historical Marker Database

The monument reads in part:

Dedicated to the faithful slaves who loyal to a sacred trust toiled for the support of the army with matchless devotion and sterling fidelity guarded our defenceless homes, women and children during the struggle for the principles of our Confederate States of America.

Full details of the monument are here. The comments at the link say that the thirteen-foot marble monument “is a tribute to the faithfulness of the Southern negro to the women and children of the South during the war… (and) probably the only one of its kind in the South.”

The folks who built this monument may well have been heartfelt in their motivations. But looking at it from my own vantage point, I find the thing disturbing and perverse.

I am going to describe the memorial with a metaphor that some might find objectionable… don’t say I didn’t warn you. To me, this memorial is akin to a rapist thanking a rape victim for being quiet during the act, thereby not alerting others to what was happening.

In both cases, thanks are being given for an action that benefits the victimizer, but does nothing to help the victim.

I can see why these folks would feel gratitude toward the slaves that are honored by this monument. In 1860, there were over three and a half million slaves in the South. But by the end of the Civil War, some estimates say that over 500,000 slaves fled their masters to go to contraband camps, head North, or otherwise seek freedom. Many males slaves joined the Union army or served the army in support roles. Meanwhile, many of the slaves who didn’t flee aided and abetted the Union effort by serving as spies, guides, or providing other support.

So, any slave who stayed with and supported their masters and masters’ families was undoubtedly seen as a blessing.

The thing is, this memorial is all about what the slaves did for their masters. I think it’s fair to ask, what did the slaves receive in return? Did they receive their freedom? Did they receive land or property, or reimbursement at a fair wage for their labors? Did they receive any political rights? The answer to these questions appears to be no.

Ultimately, I find this memorial to be self-serving and hollow.

I’m sure that the monument’s builders believed they were doing a good thing. But thanking a slave for being a good slave… that doesn’t resonate with me at all. If I was a slave, my reaction would be “thanks massa… thanks for nothing.”

Now, here’s a memorial I’d like to see. It features a huge statue, with a group of white men on one side, and a group of slaves on the other. The white men include Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederacy), Alexander Stephens, (Vice-President of the Confederacy) or John C. Calhoun (a leading proponent of slavery and secession prior to the Civil War). Their mouths are open, their faces etched with a mournful apology. On the other side, the slaves have a blank but measuring stare, as if they are trying to make sense of words that they never expected to hear.

On the base of the monument, there are two words: “We’re Sorry.”

Are there any such monuments in the South, or anywhere in this country? There should be.

(Hat tip to cwmemory.com )

Photo Exhibit: The Black South of Dorothea Lange

Dorothea Lange is a famous American photographer. She worked for the Farm Security Administration (FSA) during the 1930s, going across the country and taking pictures that documented the effects of the Great Depression on the American people.

She is most known for her Migrant Mother picture, which has been called “an iconic image of the Great Depression.” Lange’s work took her all over the South, where she took pictures of both struggling blacks and whites. Many of her FSA photographs are available from the Library of Congress’ online archives.

I used several of the photos to create this slideshow of black life in the South during the Great Depression.

There photographs are a vivid reminder of how tough those days were. But it’s notable that the black folks in these pictures look hardened, but not broken. They are lean, strong, and unbowed. Life is hard, and they accept it as such. Indeed, for many of them, a hard life is the only life they’ve known.

These pictures were taken in Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas during the mid to late 1930s.

The music is from a traditional spiritual performed by Texas gospel singer Blind Willie Johnson (vocal and guitar) and Willie B. Harris (vocal) in 1927. The song is titled “Keep Your Light Trimmed and Burning.”

Check It Out: Links of Interest, 4/13/09

Here are links to some recommended reads.

Abagond has a blog entry about actress Ellen Holly:

Ellen Holly (1931- ) is an American actress, the first black actress ever to appear regularly on a soap opera. She played Carla Hall on “One Life to Live” from 1968 to 1985. She also played the president’s wife in “School Daze” (1988).

Holly grew up in New York, the daughter of a chemical engineer and a librarian. She studied acting at Hunter College and went on from there to act on stage. By 1956 she was on Broadway. She got in to the Actors Studio, the first black woman ever to do so. She later got parts in film and television too.

In 1968 Holly wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times about what it was like to be a light-skinned black woman. Agnes Dixon, who was then starting a new soap called “One Life to Live”, read that letter. It led her to create the character of Carla Gray (later Hall). She offered the part to Holly herself. Holly took it and became the first regular black female character on a soap. Other soaps soon followed their lead and had black characters of their own too.

I remember watching Holly on One Life to Live as a teenager. At the time, I didn’t appreciate that she was breaking new ground for black actors in the soaps.

I can see why so many people thought she was white: it wasn’t until the late 1960s that color TVs started selling in large numbers. On black and white TV, her light skin did make her look white.

She started out on the show doing a story line where she is a black person passing for white. A white male character on the show actually proposed to her, but she had to reject the proposal because she was not white. I later found out that the theme of the “tragic mulatto who passes for white” was a not an uncommon one for Hollywood (see Imitation of Life). But at the time, I was shocked that this kind of race-sensitive stuff was being shown on daytime television.
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Monroe, Louisiana is a city of about 50,000 in north central Louisiana. It’s about a half hour drive from Grambling University. The following is from a recent story in the Monroe Free Press, which is one of the city’s African American newspapers:

Monroe: The city where it’s safe to say Nigga
City won’t fire or reprimand foul mouthed department heads

It started a few years back when we started reporting about the tendency of our police chief to curse and use extremely foul and graphic language publicly. In one instance he even told the police chief of Sterlington to get under the table and suck his…

There were no reprimands, lost days of pay, or other slaps on the wrist. The subliminal message is that such language is acceptable for department heads…

The most recent problems occurred this year when Sean Benton the Superintendent of Monroe’s Water Distribution plant was accused of referring to black employees of his department as Niggas and routinely using foul language and expletives in his references to others. Police had to be called once when Benton took off his shirt to fight a subordinate…

What raises eyebrows is that Benton is black. Most of his “Nigga” comments were made to blacks. The issue that this raises is whether or not “Nigga” is an generally offensive by whites but acceptable when used by blacks.

Because Benton has not been fired or reprimanded by the city’s black mayor it appears to be an endorsement of “Nigga” as acceptable language for a black professional in a department head status to use toward subordinates.

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There’s been a slew of articles written in the past year or so about Tyler Perry. A recent piece about him in Entertainment Weekly, titled Tyler Perry: The Controversy Over His Hit Movies, claims to go “inside black America’s secret culture war”:

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Paul Robeson, a Giant of American Culture

Today, Aptil 9th, is the 111th birthday of Paul Robeson. He is a giant of our culture whose contributions should be celebrated by all, black, white, or other.

This is from Robeson’s entry in wikipedia:

Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson (April 9, 1898–January 23, 1976) was an Afro-American actor of film and stage, All-American and professional athlete, writer, multi-lingual orator, lawyer, and basso profondo concert singer who was also noted for his wide-ranging social justice activism.

A forerunner of the civil rights movement, Robeson was a trades union activist, peace activist, Phi Beta Kappa Society laureate, and a recipient of the Spingarn Medal and Stalin Peace Prize. Robeson achieved worldwide fame and recognition during his life for his artistic accomplishments, and his outspoken, radical beliefs which largely clashed with the colonial powers of Western Europe and the Jim Crow climate of pre-civil rights America.

Paul Robeson was the first major concert star to popularize the performance of Negro spirituals and was the first black actor of the 20th century to portray William Shakespeare’s Othello. His 1943-44 Broadway run of Othello still holds the record for the longest running Shakespeare play. Despite Robeson’s vocal dissatisfaction with movie stereotypes, his roles in both the American and British film industry were some of the first parts ever created that displayed dignity and respect for the African American film actor, paving the way for Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte.

At the height of his fame, Paul Robeson decided to become a primarily political artist, speaking out against fascism and racism in the US and abroad as white America failed post-World War II to stand up for the rights of people of color. Robeson thus became a prime target of the Red Scare during the late 1940s through to the late 1950s.

His passport was revoked from 1950 to 1958 under the McCarran Act and he was under surveillance by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency and by British MI5 for well over three decades until his death in 1976. The reasoning behind his persecution centered not only on his beliefs in socialism and friendship with the peoples of the Soviet Union but also his tireless work towards the liberation of the colonial peoples of Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, his support of the International Brigades, his ardent efforts to push for anti-lynching legislation and the integration of major league baseball among many other causes that challenged worldwide white supremacy.

Condemnation of Robeson and his beliefs came swiftly, from both the white establishment of the US, including the United States Congress, and many mainstream black organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This mass vilification by the American establishment blacklisted and isolated Robeson for the latter part of his career.

Despite the fact that Paul Robeson was one of the most internationally famous cultural figures of his era, the persecution virtually erased him from mainstream culture and subsequent interpretations of 20th century history, including civil rights and black history.


Paul Robeson sings Ol’ Man River in the 2nd version (1936) of Showboat: “Colored folks work on de Mississippi / Colored folks work while de white folks play / Pullin’ dose boats from de dawn to sunset / Gittin’ no rest till de judgement day.”

The most notable aspect of Paul Robeson is that he always fought for the dignity and progress of the race, no matter what the personal cost. And as said above, that cost was very, very high.

To those who don’t know about Paul Robeson: please, find out and learn. This is a man who lost fortune, fame… everything… in the furtherance of the cause of African American progress.

His name deserves to be invoked among the pantheon of American and African American giants. Don’t let those who sought to destroy him and his legacy be successful.

Celebrate his life.

Political Miscellany @ 11/17/2008

Black Leaders in the Colorado Legislature Make History

The Colorado legislature has only two black members. But now they are the two most powerful members of the 100-person body.

colorado-legislators
Colorado Rep. Terrance Carroll; Colorado Sen. Peter Groff

Colorado Democrats made legislative history by electing Rep. Terrance Carroll as speaker of the House and re-electing Peter Groff as Senate president.

It will be the first time in American history that the presiding officers of both chambers of a legislature will be African-Americans.

Two Omaha-area Black Women Elected to the Nebraska Legislature

For most of the past 30 years, Nebraska has had only one African-American serving in its single-house legislature. After the November election, it will have two, both female.

cook-and-council
Incoming Nebraska State Senators Tanya Cook and Brenda Council
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Ballots and Bullets (Repost)

Rev Carter of LA, awaiting the KKK after registering to vote

This picture goes back to the 1960s, in Lousiana. The picture’s caption: “Reverend Joe Carter, expecting a visit from the Klan after he dared to register to vote, stands guard on his front porch, West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana.”

Reverend Joe Carter was the first African American in the twentieth century to register to vote in West Feliciana, even though two-thirds of the parish’s residents were black.

After his registration, there were concerns about what reprisals, if any, would come from white segregationists. Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan burned at least one cross in response to Carter’s ground-breaking act.

The night after Carter registered to vote, vigilant neighbors scattered in the woods near his farmhouse, which was at the end of a long dirt road, to help him if trouble arrived. “If they want a fight, we’ll fight,” Joe Carter told photographer Bob Adelman. Hence, the picture of Carter on his porch, rifle in hand.

“If I have to die, I’d rather die for right, ” said Carter. “I value my life more since I became a registered voter. A man is not a first-class citizen, a number one citizen unless he is a voter.”

After Election Day passed, Carter said he “thanked the Lord that he let me live long enough to vote.”

This picture is from an excellent book titled Mine Eyes Have Seen: Bearing Witness to the Struggle for Civil Rights. The book features pictures from Life magazine photographer Bob Adelman, and chronicle the civil rights struggle in the South and urban black life in the North.

The book is moving and poignant, and reminds us of how far we’ve come. Was it really only 30-40 years that black people faced death threats merely for exercising the right to vote?

I highly recommend that you get this book, and even more, that you share it with the young. Many of them think that struggle is futile. They need to get an earful and eyeful from Rev Joe Carter.

Why Do Blacks Vote for Democrats? MLK, JFK, and LBJ

{This is the third in the series, “Why do Blacks for Democrats?” The previous two posts are:
• Why Do Blacks Vote for Democrats? Inclusion and Diversity.
• Why Do Blacks Vote for Democrats? See Jesse Helms.}

All people live through history. Great people change it.

The course of history was changed in the 1960s. And in this case, I am talking about African Americans’ preference for the Democratic and Republican parties. Consider these statistics from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies:

Presidential Vote and Party Identificaiton of African Americans, 1956-1964

Source: Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Blacks & the 2008 Democratic National Convention, page 8

As you can see, over the course of just eight years, African American support for the Republican Party practically evaporated.

How did this happen? It can be tied directly to the acts and leadership of three men: Martin Luther King, Jr., who was the leader of the Civil Rights movement; John F. Kennedy, the nation’s president from 1961 through November, 1963, when he was assassinated; and Lyndon Baines Johnson, Kennedy’s successor as president.

Most know who Martin Luther King, Jr, was, and probably President Kennedy as well; President Johnson, although pivotal in the passage of civil rights laws, is undoubtedly the lesser known and least revered among these three historical figures.

But they were all key players in eliminating segregation and legalized discrimination in the South. This excerpt from the book Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America, which was written by Lee A. Daniels, talks of how these three men were linked in changing the face of African American politics:

In October of 1960, less then three weeks before the presidential election, Martin Luther King Jr., already recognized as Black America’s most prominent civil rights leader, had been arrested in Georgia on a traffic technicality: he was still using his Alabama license, although by then he had lived in Georgia for three months.

A swift series of moves by the state’s segregationist power structure resulted in King being sentenced to four months of hard labor on a Georgia chain gang. He was quickly spirited away to the state’s maximum security prison, and many of his supporters, fearing for his life, urgently called both the Nixon and Kennedy camps for help.

Nixon, about to campaign in South Carolina in hopes of capturing the sate’s normally solid Democratic vote, took no action. Kennedy took swift action. He made a brief telephone call to a frantic Coretta Scott King, speaking in soothing generalities and telling her, “If there’s anything I can do to help, please feel free to call on me.”

It’s likely that Kennedy did not at that moment realize the political implications of that call. Ever the pragmatist, he had resisted the pleas of several aides throughout the campaign that he take bolder public stands on civil rights issues. The telephone call came because one aide caught him late at night after a hard day of campaigning and staff meetings as he was about to turn in. The aide, Harris Wofford, pitched it as just a call to calm King’s fearful spouse. Kennedy replied, “What the hell. That’s a decent thing to do. Why not? Get her on the phone.”

King was soon released, unharmed, due to a groundswell of pressure directed by blacks and whites in numerous quarters toward Georgia officials (Robert F. Kennedy himself, who was managing his brother’s campaign called the judge who sentenced King to prison). At the time, the white media paid little attention to the call, which suited the Kennedys fine. But it likely transformed the black vote. King’s father, Martin Luther King Sr., a dominating, fire-and-brimstone preacher with wide influence throughout Black America, had, like many black Southerners, always been a Republican and until that moment had said he couldn’t vote for Kennedy because he was a Catholic.

(But) the day his son was released from prison, the elder King thundered from the pulpit of his famed Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta: “I had expected to vote against Senator Kennedy because of his religion. But now he can be my president, Catholic or whatever he is… He has the moral courage to stand up for what he knows is right. I’ve got all my votes and I’ve got a suitcase, and I’m going to take them up there and dump them in his lap.”

From that moment on, JFK’s bond with blacks, despite his initial tepid support for the movement, was sealed. His assassination, less than six months after proposing what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964, cemented his place of honor among blacks: for years afterward, inexpensive commemorative plates with his likeness were ubiquitous in the homes of blacks across the country. And when his successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, took up the civil rights cause and pushed both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act through Congress, black voters moved in massive numbers to the Democratic party.

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Two Disturbing Videos About Black Stereotypes

These are two disturbing videos. Don’t say I didn’t warn you in advance.

The first is about Black Stereotypes from prior to the 1960s.

The second video, The Children Are Our Future; The Children Are Freak Dancing, looks at pop culture’s effect on the behavior of black children.

Which is more disturbing, and why?

What is Blackness? A Primer from Algernon Austin

If Barack Obama fails to become president of the United States, his race-his blackness-will be seen as a reason for that.

But ironically, in the 1990s Obama lost an election for a seat in Congress to ex-Black Panther Bobby Rush because Obama-a biracial person from Hawaii-was not seen as being “black enough.”

All of this raises the question: what is blackness? That topic has been the subject of heated debate among scholars, poets, and street people alike.

An interesting view of this subject comes from the book Achieving Blackness: Race, Black Nationalism, and Afrocentrism in the Twentieth Century, by Algernon Austin. Mr. Austin, who has Ph.D. in Sociology, is director of the Race, Ethnicity and the Economy Program at the Economic Policy Institute. He is also the founder and director of the Thora Institute.

Austin starts with the view that race and blackness are not about biology, but about society’s view of what blackness is and how blacks should behave. He then looks at the different-and sometimes competing-views of blackness held by groups like the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers, and black America at large during the Black Power and Afrocentrism eras that stretched from the 1950s/60s through the 1990s.

He has a section in his book which is like a “Race and Blackness 101″ primer. I liked the concise and provocative way he presented “the basics” of the subject of racial identity. I hope you will find the following passages from his book as engaging as I did.
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Daisy Bates: The Art of the Dignified Response

So many heroes, so little time.

Thousands of people, perhaps tens or hundreds of thousands of people, were part of the Civil Rights Movement. Some, like Martin Luther King, Jr., have a national holiday to honor their memory. Some are folks whose heroism has been lost to time. But they should all be cited and celebrated as often as possible.

That’s why it’s been a joy for me to read DAISY BATES: Civil Rights Crusader from Arkansas, by Grif Stockley. Who was Daisy Bates? Consider this description of her from the book:

As a college-educated white Arkansan remembered in 2002, “Daisy Bates was our Osama Bin Ladin.” As outrageous and grimly ludicrous as this comparison is, it captures the emotions of the white community at the time.

And what did Bates do that made her comparable to a mass-murdering terrorist? She wanted to make it possible for black children and white children to go to school together in the 1950s. Such was the insanity of her times.


Daisy Bates, Arkansas Civil Rights Activist

Bates’s main notoriety is from her role as the “advisor” to the Little Rock Nine. A history of Bates is here and here; there are many others on the Internet. But I want to share a passage from the book by Stockley that tells a great story.

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Outmanned and Outgunned: The Supreme Court’s Cruel Joke on Black America – Part 1

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. – Second Amendment to the US Constitution

“The great object is, that every man be armed. [...] Every one who is able may have a gun.” – Patrick Henry

“Gun control has not worked in D.C. The only people who have guns are criminals. We have the strictest gun laws in the nation and one of the highest murder rates. It’s quicker to pull your Smith & Wesson than to dial 911 if you’re being robbed.” – Lowell Duckett

“Our neighbors in Virginia are just as responsible for these killings as the criminals are because they won’t pass strong gun [control] legislation.” – former Washington, DC mayor Marion Barry.

“To make inexpensive guns impossible to get is to say that you’re putting a money test on getting a gun. It’s racism in its worst form.” – Roy Innis

“So Huey (Newton) says, “We’re going to the (California state) Capitol… they’re trying to pass a law against our guns, and we’re going to the Capitol steps. We’re going to take the best Panthers we got and we’re going to the Capitol steps with our guns and forces, loaded down to the gills. And we’re going to read a message to the world, because the press is always up there. They’ll listen to the message, and they’ll probably blast it all across this country. I know, I know they’ll blast it all the way across California. We’ve got to get a message over to the people.” ” – Bobby Seale on the Black Panthers armed protest in Sacramento in May, 1967.

“The end move in politics is always to pick up a gun.” – Richard Buckminster Fuller

History and time have a way of telling cruel jokes. So it is with the recent Supreme Court decision overturning the restictive gun ban in Washington, DC.

When black folks were outmanned and outgunned during the slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, various Supreme Court decisions left blacks defenseless against a tide of white terrorism. But now that black communities are awash in a wave of black on black crime, the Supreme Court accepts and rules on a case concerning the right to bear arms.

It is the cruelest of ironies. Before I go further, consider this admittedly self-serving timeline of the history of blacks and guns:

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The Blackness of Walter White

If Barack Obama fails to become president of the United States, his race-his blackness-will be seen as a reason for that.

But ironically, Obama lost an election for Congress to ex-Black Panther Bobby Rush in part because some felt that Obama-a biracial Ivy Leaguer from Hawaii-wasn’t “black enough.”

If all of that seems complicated, consider the case of Walter White.

Walter White was one of the most important figures in civil rights and black culture (Harlem Renaissance and New Negro movements) in the first half of the twentieth century. He headed the NAACP from 1936 until his death in 1955, during which time the organization achieved numerous political and judicial victories for African Americans.

One of White’s distinguishing features was that he looked, well, white. Indeed, you could say he looked “very” white, if there is such a term.
Walter White, NAACP
Walter White is blacker than you.

As he said in his autobiography A Man Called White: “I am a Negro. My skin is white, my eyes are blue, my hair is blond. The traits of my race are nowhere visible upon me.” White’s entry in Wikipedia notes that “all of his family was light-skinned, and his mother was also blue-eyed and blonde. Her maternal grandparents were Dilsia, a slave, and William Henry Harrison, the future President. “

White could easily have “passed” for white, and avoided the constraints of racism that faced black Americans. But he was “racialized” by several incidents that happened in his life. For example,

One of the major events in his life that helped him make this decision (to choose to go through life as a black man) was the race riot in Atlanta, Georgia in 1906; he escaped the mob only because his fair complexion allowed him to pass through it safely.

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Civil Rights Movement Photos on Exhibit in Atlanta

A Freedom Ride bus is fire-bombed outside Anniston, AL, in 1961.

Above: a Greyhound bus with 14 members of an interracial group that was part of the Freedom Ride was firebombed on May 14, 1961, outside Anniston, Ala.

The High Museum of Art in Atlanta has opened an exhibit that brings to light many new images of the civil rights movement, along with the struggles of the photographers who made them. The show is titled “Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement 1956-1968.”

The exhibit is discussed here in an article in the New York Times.

There is also a link to a slideshow of pictures from the exhibit, called the Unseen Movement, which includes the photograph shown above.