Tagged: Black History

US Navy’s Guide to Commanding Negroes (1945)

In recognition of the challenges in dealing with Negroes, the US Navy developed a pamphlet titled Guide To Command of Negro Naval Personnel (NAVPERS – 15092) in 1945.

The Guide notes the following:

The mission of the Naval Establishment is the protection of our country, its possessions and its interests. It includes neither social reform nor support of the personal social preferences of its personnel. In the accomplishment of this mission it is mandatory that the training and ability of all Naval personnel be utilized to the fullest.

It must be recognized that problems of race relations do exist and that they must be taken into account in plans for the prosecution of the war. In the Naval Establishment they should be viewed however solely as matters of efficient personnel utilization.

In general, the same methods of discipline, training and leadership that have long proven successful in the Naval Establishment will be found to apply to the Negro enlisted man. However, the effective administration and use of Negro personnel does call for special knowledge and techniques in some instances.

This is the result of the fact that Negroes as a group have had a history different from that of the majority of Naval personnel. Their educational opportunities have been restricted; the percentage of skilled workers is smaller; and participation in the life of the nation has been limited.

It is the purpose of this pamphlet to point out group differences in background and experience of significance to the officer with Negroes in his command, and to suggest approaches which may be of aid to him in the performance of his duties. The success or failure of each Commanding Officer in the administration of Negroes under him will be determined largely by the spirit in which he approaches the problem and the degree of attention given to it.

The Guide addresses potential problem areas such as “Symbols That Irritate,” “Even Compliments may be Misunderstood,” “Racial Separation,” “Transportation,” “Public Relations,” “The Negro Press,” “Rumors” and “Control of Venereal Disease.”

The title is outdated, and so is much of the Guide’s content. However, I found this to be a fascinating read for its frank and comprehensive treatment of the subject of dealing with African Americans in the military, and the window it provides into the mindset that whites in the military had toward blacks in the 1940s. It’s well worth your time to take a look.

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 )

Wow!: Memorial to the Denmark Vesey ‘Slave Revolt’ Conspiracy To Be Built in SC

I was very surprised to read this story about a monument that is planned for Charleston, SC:

In an event sure to rekindle the racially polarized debate over Denmark Vesey’s place in history, a site in Hampton Park was dedicated Monday for a monument to the man hanged for plotting a slave rebellion in Charleston.

A model of the new Denmark Vesey Memorial that will be erected in Hampton Park, designed by Ed Dwight.
To the local politicians, religious leaders and historians at the event, Vesey was a civil rights leader acting on a universal desire for justice that unites all people. Monument designer Ed Dwight favorably compared Vesey to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But this is Charleston, where the hanging of a portrait of Vesey in the municipal auditorium in 1976 — more than 150 years after Vesey was himself publicly hanged — prompted much criticism, and the theft of the painting. “It was very controversial,” College of Charleston history professor Bernard Powers Jr. said. “People were writing to The (Charleston, SC) News and Courier expressing outrage that the portrait of a criminal could be hung in a public place.”

An article about the memorial, including a model of the memorial statue, is here.

There is no doubt that the story of Denmark Vesey is compelling. Wikipedia provides a summary:

In 1781, Vesey was purchased by Captain Joseph Vesey from the then-Danish Caribbean island of St. Thomas. He labored briefly in French Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti), and then was settled in Charleston, South Carolina as a youth, where Joseph Vesey kept him as a domestic slave. On November 9, 1799, Denmark Vesey won $1500 in a city lottery. He bought his own freedom and began working as a carpenter. Although briefly a Presbyterian, Vesey co-founded a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816. The church was temporarily shut down by white authorities in 1818 and again in 1820.

Inspired by the revolutionary spirit and actions of slaves during the 1791 Haitian Revolution, and furious at the closing of the African Church, Vesey began to plan a slave rebellion. His insurrection, which was to take place on Bastille Day, July 14, 1822, became known to thousands of blacks throughout Charleston and along the Carolina coast. The plot called for Vesey and his group of slaves and free blacks to slay their owners and temporarily seize the city of Charleston. Vesey and his followers planned to sail to Haiti to escape retaliation.

Two slaves opposed to Vesey’s scheme leaked the plot. Charleston authorities charged 131 men with conspiracy. In total, 67 men were convicted and 35 hanged, including Denmark Vesey.

It’s important to note that no actual slave revolt took place. Vesey and his people were basically tried on the basis of conspiracy charges.

I admit to being surprised that something as controversial as this – a monument to a person who was accused of planning a slave revolt – is being built in South Carolina, of all places. The state has been embroiled in controversies over the presentation of history, such as the display of the Confederate flag on the state capital grounds.

But perhaps I’m overreacting. It could just be that things have progressed to the point that it’s possible to place these issues in public sites and public memory, even in South Carolina. It’s heartening to see, in any event.

Birthing a Slave: Reproduction and Inhumanity during America’s Slavery Era

Most people know of slavery, but we don’t know about slavery. Specifically, we don’t know how dehumanizing it was to be a slave.

We might understand what it’s like to be denied freedom or dignity at an intellectual level. But for many of us, we don’t have a grasp on how horrible the institution was, in the day to day life of an enslaved person. Most of us don’t “get” what it was about inhuman bondage that made it so inhuman.

For example: what was it like to be slave mother?

Some insights on this are given in the book Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South, by Marie Jenkins Schwartz. The book tells the history of a somewhat esoteric subject: the need of slaveholders, and the doctors they hired, to control and manage the bodies and reproductive lives of slave women.

But while the subject is esoteric, the details of how this played out in plantation life are chilling and disturbing.

Birthing-a-Slave
Cover of Birthing a Slave: Motherhood and Medicine in the Antebellum South by Marie Jenkins Schwartz.

The first chapter of the book, titled “Procreation,” has a gripping account of the stakes involved in the reproductive ability of slave women. I’ve provided some excerpts from that chapter below. Upon reading this, you will understand how lacking in humanity and dignity this peculiar institution was:

…an important aspect of slavery… has been all too often ignored: slaveholders expected to appropriate and exploit the reproductive lives of enslaved women. Control of one’s body was not a fundamental right of slaves. Emboldened by law and custom to do with human chattels as they wished, (slave) owners felt entitled to intervene in even the most intimate of matters. Women’s childbearing capacity became a commodity that could be traded on the open market.

During the antebellum era the expectation increased among members of the owning class that enslaved women would contribute to the economic success of the plantation not only through productive labor but also through procreation. The idea was at once both powerful and seductive and shaped the way women experienced enslavement, the way owners thought about the future of slavery, and the way doctors practiced medicine.

As of 1808, when Congress ended the nation’s participation in the international slave trade… the only practical way of increasing the number of slave laborers was through new births. If enslaved mothers did not bear sufficient numbers of children to take the place of aged and dying workers, the South could not continue as a slave society.
***

Women entering their childbearing years-especially those who had proven their fertility through the birth of a baby-sold easily and for a high price. Former slave Boston Blackwell, who witnessed the sale of two women in Memphis, Tennessee, reported that a girl of fifteen who had no children sold for $800, but a breeding woman sold for $1,500.

Human reproduction was so important to the continuation of slavery that members of the South’s ruling class willed their heirs the unborn children of slaves as well as living people. Anna Matilda King of Georgia assured her daughter that she would inherit not only the slave Christiann but also “her child and future children.” This wish to benefit future generations of slaveholding families pressed owners to look for ways of ensuring that enslaved mothers bore plenty of children. “If it was not for my children I would not care what became of the negroes,” Elizabeth Scott Neblett wrote her absent husband during the Civil War… Neblett maintained that she would gladly do without slaves to save the bother of managing them, but for her children’s sake she could not let them go.
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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.”

Juneteenth is Tomorrow! Hold the Date, Seize the Day

Juneteenth (June 19) 2009 is tomorrow. Don’t forget to use this time to reflect on our history and its meaning for the future.
juneteenthflags
American Flag and Juneteenth Flag

Effective January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared that all black slaves who lived in the Confederate states during the Civil War were “forever free.” This did not free the slaves immediately; the Confederacy simply ignored the order, and went about with their conduct of the Civil War.

Emancipation became “official” in 1865 when Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. The news of the war’s end and emancipation spread through the South, but it was slow in getting to Texas.

Texas, which was far and isolated from much of the fighting, had become a place of refuge for slaveholders who wanted to keep their slaves from becoming free. But on June 19, 1865, Federal troops came to Galveston, Texas, and announced that all the slaves were emancipated. These blacks in Texas are considered to be the last group of slaves to know that they were freed.

June 19th – Juneteenth – has gone from being a local day of celebration and reflection in Texas, to a national one. Here in Washington, DC, several events have been planned, including a service at the African American Civil War memorial.

juneteenth.JPG
This picture is from a Juneteenth celebration in 1900 at the University of Texas in Austin.

I hope you can all take some time to commemorate this vital part of history.

Top Ten Best Black Museums, from Soul of America.com

This is quite cool.

Soul of America.com, a black travel website, has compiled a list of the Top Ten Black Museums, plus five honorable mentions. The list includes a photo of each of the top sites, plus a brief descriptive essay.

Underground-Railroad-Museum
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati

The author of the list says he’s visited over 50(!) black museums, and ranked them on various factors, such as art collection, architecture, historical artifacts collection, and uniqueness of artifacts or concept. Based on those and other criteria, these are the places that made the Top Ten list:

TOP 10 BLACK MUSEUMS

American Jazz Museum & Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Kansas City, MO
Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Birmingham, AL
Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit, MI
Du Sable Museum of African American History, Chicago, IL
Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville, KY
National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN
National Great Blacks In Wax Museum, Baltimore, MD
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati, OH
Reginald Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, Baltimore, MD
Studio Museum in Harlem, New York City, NY

Detroit_Charles-Wright_AA_Museum
Charles Wright Museum of African American History, Detroit

FIVE HONORABLE MENTIONS

Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis, TN
African American Museum of Philadelphia, PA
Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, Houston, TX
African American Museum Dallas, TX
Museum Of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, CA

Memphis-STAX-museum
Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Memphis

I found the stories of these places to be both informative and enjoyable. Highly recommended, even if you’re not looking for travel ideas.

Obama Sends Wreath to African American Civil War Memorial Site (Plus Details of My Visit to the Memorial)

In response to a controversy over the honoring of Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War, Barack Obama became the first president to send a wreath of flowers to the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, DC.

As reported by the New York Times,

Last week, a group of university professors petitioned the White House to end a longstanding practice of sending a wreath to a monument to Confederate soldiers on the cemetery grounds. The petitioners, including William Ayers, the University of Illinois at Chicago education professor whose acquaintance with Mr. Obama has been controversial, said the monument was “intended as a symbol of white nationalism” and gave “encouragement to the modern neo-Confederate movement.”

Instead of ending the practice of sending a wreath to the Confederate monument, historian Kirk Savage, writing in the Washington Post, offered this:

Many of my colleagues in academia are urging President Obama to pull the plug on this tradition. I doubt that he will, for the simple reason that the men buried around the Confederate memorial sacrificed, suffered and died just as the black and white soldiers of the Union did. Most of the descendants of those Confederates, whatever their political stripe today, would be loath to deny their ancestors a simple gesture of recognition.

President Obama, why not send two wreaths? One to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington Cemetery and another to the African American Civil War Memorial in the District, which commemorates the 200,000 black soldiers who fought for liberation from slavery in the Union armed forces. Here is an opportunity to remind us what real reconciliation, in this day and age, would mean. Send two wreaths with one common message: that the descendants of slaves and the descendants of slaveholders should recognize each other’s humanity, and do the hard work of reckoning with the racial divide that is slavery’s cruelest and most enduring legacy.

Obama seems to have followed Savage’s advice. As mentioned in the Times article, Obama did send a wreath to both the Confederate monument and the African American Civil War Memorial.

It remains to be seen if this will quell the controversy. As the comments to this posting on the liberal/Democratic blog Daily Kos indicate, there are many people who are upset with honoring the Confederate soldiers under any circumstances… and many people on the Democratic side who favor honoring the Confederate soldiers.

I do hope that this will result, at the least, in increased awareness of the role of blacks in the Civil War. I happen to live in Washington, DC, where the African American Civil War Memorial is located. I visited the site today (Memorial Day), and I was disappointed at how few people were visiting it. I was there for about an hour around noon, and no more than a handful of people beside me were there to visit. Note that, the Memorial is located right at a subway stop, so the site is certainly not hard to get to.

I took some video of the site, which immediately follows. The Memorial includes a life size sculpture; a wall that includes the names of all the soldiers who fought in the Civil War Colored Troops, as their regiments were called; and a small Museum.

As an aside, there were two wreaths at the site, neither of which was spectacular. It wasn’t obvious to me that either was from the White House, but I wasn’t looking for that when I made my visit. The wreaths are not quite visible in the video; I moved them aside while shooting the footage.

See also: 20 Years of Glory; In Memorial to the Colored Troopers of the Civil War

20 Years of Glory; In Memorial to the Colored Troopers of the Civil War

This is the 20th anniversary of the Academy Award-winning film Glory, that magnificent ode to the African American soldiers who served during the Civil War. Glory is considered one of the best Civil War movies ever made, due to its outstanding cinematography, excellent use of civil war reenactments, and inclusion of the perspective of African Americans on the Civil War (which was shockingly absent in many previous Civil War films).

The film, which was released in December 1989, did a modest box-office of $26,593,580. I understand that it’s had good video rental and sale numbers, fueled in part by its use in schools.

The fact-based movie, which was directed by Edward Zwick, stars Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, and Cary Elwes. Washington won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The film also won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing.

Glory-Morgan-Freeman
Morgan Freeman in Glory

Glory is a war film about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The 54th was one of the first formal units of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of African-American men (not including the officers). As described in Wikipedia,

The regiment was authorized in March 1861. The 54th Massachusetts primarily was composed of free men. A number of the recruits were from states other than Massachusetts, with several coming from Pennsylvania and New York. Two of the recruits were sons of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The 54th trained at Camp Meigs in Readville near Boston. While there they received considerable moral support from abolitionists in Massachusetts including Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The film is told mainly from the viewpoint of the 54th’s Commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). The movie shows how Shaw and his black soldiers grow from an initial period of unease bred of ignorance and lack of trust, to feelings of respect and pride in each other.

In July of 1863, Shaw volunteered the 54th for the honor of leading the charge against South Carolina’s Fort Wagner, a mission that means almost certain death. The end of the film, which stunningly showcases the horror and destructiveness of war, is a classic piece of moviemaking.

One of the most chilling and memorable scenes in the movie is the flogging of Private Trip, a runaway slave played by Denzel Washington, for insubordination. When Trip defiantly removes his shirt so that he can be whipped, it reveals a back filled with scars from prior beatings. These scars symbolize both the horrors of slavery, and the desire to face all afflictions, no matter the source, in order to achieve freedom.

Historians have pointed out that flogging was banned in the Union Army in 1861, and that it was unlikely that a private like Trip would have been whipped, at least by someone such as Colonel Shaw, who was known to be a stickler for rules.

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GREAT Photo Slideshow: A Day in the Life of Black America

I’ve become something of a junkie for vintage photos of African Americans. I’ve purchased over a dozen photo books that feature images of black folks from slavery times through the 1970s, and I can’t get enough. Well, I would… maybe if I had more money.

As a child of the 60s and 70s, I never ever saw images of black people in the history books. It’s like we didn’t exist. And when images of black folks were displayed, it was always in a negative or demeaning or depressing context.

I never got the full picture.

Perhaps that’s why, when I am able to find vintage pictures of black folks, I am touched and filled and uplifted. These photos show that black life wasn’t always about being downtrodden. You can see moments of joy, of pride, of strength.

And seeing how they lived makes me even more appreciative for what I have, and for what they’ve given me.

In that light, you MUST take a look at this GREAT slideshow of vintage photos of African Americans, which I’ll get to in a second.

But first, turn on some background music to add to your viewing experience. This vintage gospel song (circa World War II) by Bertha Houston, We are Americans, Praise the Lord, will do. Just click on this sound bar below, and then immediately click on the photo of the two women to start the slide show.

Black-Bathers
Click on this photo or here to start the slideshow.

This is something of a takeoff on the many A Day in the Life of… photo books, such as A Day in the Life of America by Rick Smolan and David Elliot Cohen. But make no mistake, these are great photos that paint a vivid and compelling picture of African American life from days gone by.

The photos are from the Discover Black Heritage section of the Flickr website. (Flickr is a media storage site, similar to Youtube.) The Discover Black Heritage section has a bunch of other slideshows featuring black vintage photos, which are very much worth your time.

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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.

Video: Joint Center Forum on the Election

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is one of the premier research and public policy institutions – also known as “think tanks” – concern political, economic, and health issues of interest to African Americans and other people of color.

The Joint Center conducted a forum right after the election which provides a number of great insights on what this means for American politics and society. The speakers include Ronald Walters, a professor in government and politics at the University of Maryland and an advisor to Jesse Jackson during his campaigns for President; and David Bositis, a senior research associate at the Joint Center and an expert on African Americans in American politics.

The video is long, but if you can listen for 10-30 minutes at least, you’ll find it interesting, informative, and provocative:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/841113

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.

That was then: John McCain says John Lewis “can teach us all a lot.”

This past August, John McCain and Barack Obama attended a forum hosted by pastor Rick Warren. Warren asked McCain to name three wise who would be relied upon in his administration. This is part of McCain’s response:

WARREN: This first set of questions deals with leadership and the personal life of leadership. The first question, who are the three wisest people that you know that you would rely on heavily in an administration?

MCCAIN: First one, I think, would be General David Petraeus, one of the great military leaders in American history, who took us from defeat to victory in Iraq, one of the great leaders…

I think John Lewis. John Lewis was at the Edmund Pettis Bridge, had his skull fractured, continued to serve, continues to have the most optimistic outlook about America. He can teach us all a lot about the meaning of courage and commitment to causes greater than our self- interest.

It seems that the McCain campaign hasn’t taken too well to Lewis’ latest advice.

UPDATE: As noted in the above link, the McCain campaign was angered by John Lewis’s statement that “the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign” is “sowing the seeds of hatred and division,” and was reminiscent of the harsh rhetoric of former Alabama governor, and arch-segregationist, George Wallace.

Suffice it to say, McCain and Palin are nothing like George Wallace. I think it’s a mistake to use Wallace’s name in the same breath as the two Republican candidates for President and Vice-President. That kind of talk makes McCain look like the victim.

But at the same time, I have no doubt that Lewis’ comments were heartfelt. I’ve noticed that many, many, many black folks over the age of 60 (such as my mother) have a very real fear that Barack Obama will be assassinated. These are the folks who remember the killings of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, and the four little girls in a Birmingham church.

The virulent anti-Obama frenzy that’s being whipped-up lately is making a lot of people scared. I don’t know if the McCain camp gets that.

Getting Out the Black Vote: Struggle in Mississippi, Enthusiasm in Atlanta

As noted in an earlier post, the voting rate for blacks is way behind the white voting rate. In 2004, 67.2% of voting-age whites voted in that year’s presidential elections, versus just 60% of voting-age blacks.

The challenges in mobilizing black voter turnout are discussed in this excerpt from The State of Black America 2007, which was published by the National Urban League:

In the past, the conventional wisdom among many political operatives has been to motivate African american voters through one of two strategies:

1. A Sacrifice-Privilege strategy highlighting how the right to vote has been won through blood, death, and tears.

2. A Losing Ground strategy designed to motivate black votes into the voting booth to protect gains recently accomplished through programs and policies.

Regardless of the strategies used to motivate voters, we have heard an increasing level of discontent among black voters about the political establishment. African American voters over the age of 40 are more responsive to the Sacrifice-Privilege strategy, but express frustration with the lack of communication from some elected officials and government itself.

Conversely, for voters born twenty years after the passage of the Voting Rights act (in the 1980s), the Losing Ground strategy is not an effective motivating tool because their social equilibrium is balanced less through historical reflection and relevance and more through a self-analysis of how they see their lives and experiences in the language of political policies and messages crafted to motivate them. Consequently, their voting rate is less predictable and more inconsistent than voters who reached adulthood in the 1960s and 1970s.

The big news of the Obama campaign has been its success in attracting both old and young black voters.

That success can be seen in these two mini-documentary/campaign ads which were produced by the Obama campaign. The first mini-doc looks back at the struggle to register Mississippi voters in the mid-1960s; and looks forward to the elections of this year. It’s a moving piece; have a look:

The enthusiasm of the folks in the video just warms the heart.

And it’s more than matched by these students at the Atlanta University Center (with a guest appearance by actress Jasmine Guy):

It still remains to be seen if any of this will be enough to help Obama win the general election. But if Obama does lose, at least these folks can say, it wasn’t because we didn’t try hard enough.

Note: The quote from The State of Black America 2007 is from Essay 10: Who’s Going to Take the Weight? African Americans and Civic Engagement in the 21st Century, by Dr Silas Lee.

PS: See also:
• Video: Obama Supporter Brittany Washington
• Democrats Hope for a Huge Black Turnout