More apropos would have been the rope around its neck
Workers in New Orleans dismantled the city’s Jefferson Davis monument early Thursday, removing a prominent statue of the Confederate leader that had stood for more than 100 years.
“This historic moment is an opportunity to join together as one city and redefine our future,” Mayor Mitch Landrieu said as he announced that crews had begun removing the statue, the second of four planned removals of four Confederacy-related monuments.
As workers slung a strap around the statue’s waist and lifted it off its pedestal, “at least 100 people cheered from across the street, outnumbering the few dozen protesters, some waving Confederate flags,” member station WWNO’s Laine Kaplan-Levenson reports.
“We would have preferred it to be in the daytime,” monument opponent Malcolm Suber told Kaplan-Levenson, “so everybody could see it in the light of day. But we’ll take this.”
It’s probably not what the leadership of Bethune-Cookman University was expecting when they announced their speaker for today’s commencement ceremony. But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seems to bring a unique level of controversy almost everywhere she goes. And that’s especially true when it comes to historically black colleges like Bethune-Cookman.
In announcing the invitation last week, Bethune-Cookman’s president, Edison O. Jackson, said DeVos’ “mission to empower parents and students resonates with the history and legacy” of Mary McLeod Bethune, the college’s founder.
Trinice McNally holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from BCU. She said that herself and many other alumni “were outraged” both by the invitation and by the allusion to Bethune’s legacy. “It’s a complete insult. There is no comparison.”
On the same day that they announced DeVos, May 1, the university released a second announcement in response to the widespread blowback. This time, President Jackson invoked academic freedom. “I am of the belief that it does not benefit our students to suppress voices that we disagree with, or to limit students to only those perspectives that are broadly sanctioned by a specific community.“
Actor Orlando Jones—aka Mr. Nancy—opens up about the rousing speech his character delivers aboard a slave ship in the second episode of Starz’s thrilling new series.
It begins on a slave ship, in the cramped, fire-lit hull where stolen men sit chained by the hundreds. One man, face beaded with sweat and desperation, cries out to African spider god Anansi, the trickster: “These strange men have tied my hands,” he quivers. “…Help me from this place and I will sing to you all my life.”
The god appears, anachronistically dapper in a fresh-pressed purple suit and fedora. He laughs. Anansi, or Mr. Nancy as he’s called in America—one of the old-world mythological gods competing for worship in the fantastical universe of Starz’s American Gods—agrees to help. But first, he tells a story.
“Once upon a time, a man got fucked,” he begins. “Now how is that for a story? ‘Cause that the story of black people in America.”
He grins impishly at the men’s blank expressions, then remembers: “Shit!” he says. “You all don’t know you black yet. You think you just people. Let me be the first to tell you that you are all black. The moment these Dutch motherfuckers set foot here and decided that they white and you all get to be black—and that’s the nice name they call you? Let me paint a picture of what’s waiting for you on the shore…”
He stalks the room cavalierly, describing the life that awaits his believers in America. “You all get to be slaves,” he says. “Split up, sold off and worked to death. The lucky ones get Sunday off to sleep, fuck and make more slaves, and all for what? For cotton. Indigo. For a fucking purple shirt.”
There is a silver lining, he says: “The tobacco your grandkids are gonna farm for free is gonna give a shitload of these white motherfuckers cancer.”
Abject terror starts to fill the room. Mr. Nancy sneers. “And I ain’t even started yet,” he says. “A hundred years later, you’re fucked. A hundred years after that? Fucked. A hundred years after you get free, you still getting fucked on the job and shot at by police.” He points his finger like a gun and pulls an invisible trigger. “You are staring down the barrel of 300 years of subjugation, racist bullshit, and heart disease.”
The man who prayed to Anansi begins heaving, furious. “Angry is good,” Mr. Nancy says, pleased. “Angry gets shit done.” He unveils a daring proposal for the men: exact revenge on their captors by burning the ship down, taking their own lives along with it.
Frantically, the men break free of their chains and set fire to the ship, trading their lives to watch their captors burn. A small, purple-hued spider, meanwhile, floats safely out to shore on a piece of driftwood.
And this, we learn, is the story of how the trickster Mr. Nancy came to America.
American Gods, Starz’s brutal, brilliant adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 fantasy novel, opens each episode with a vignette like Mr. Nancy’s, telling stories of the bloodshed and sacrifices made by immigrants from around the world when coming to America.
Of course, Mr. Nancy (played mesmerizingly by Sleepy Hollow star Orlando Jones) and the hundreds of thousands of Africans sold and transported to America over the course of 300 years were not immigrants. They were stolen; they did not come by choice. That’s an important distinction—one that swaths of America including public figures (ahem, Ben Carson) would still rather forget.
Mr. Nancy’s thundering speech, then, is an essential reminder: it paints a current-day portrait of slavery’s legacy for black America, explicitly linking it to everyday forms of oppression like poverty, racial profiling, and police brutality. It’s a call to remember the shameful parts of America’s past, and to understand their living impact today.
White supremacists and confederacy apologists continually try and introduce false narratives about slavery. Not much different than Holocaust deniers. Here is an interesting video debunking some of those myths.
I had a uncle, born in 1894 who was a professional Jockey. He rode successfully from Maryland to New York – but never in the Kentucky Derby during the 20’s and 30’s. Unfortunately he passed before I could sit down and ask him about his experiences. I do recall a listening to conversation in the early 60’s where he admitted passing for white to race in the South.
The family owned a race track for many years, but it was set up for Harness Racing. Three of my Uncles were involved in that style of horse racing, and one was very successful. When Virginia outlawed para-mutual betting, all of the tracks, about a quarter of which were owned by black folks, shut down.
When the horses enter the gate for the 143rd Kentucky Derby, their jockeys will hail from Louisiana, Mexico, Nebraska and France. None will be African-American. That’s been the norm for quite a while. When Marlon St. Julien rode the Derby in 2000, he became the first black man to get a mount since 1921.
It wasn’t always this way. The Kentucky Derby, in fact, is closely intertwined with black Americans’ struggles for equality, a history I explore in my book on race and thoroughbred racing. In the 19th century – when horse racing was America’s most popular sport – former slaves populated the ranks of jockeys and trainers, and black men won more than half of the first 25 runnings of the Kentucky Derby. But in the 1890s – as Jim Crow laws destroyed gains black people had made since emancipation – they ended up losing their jobs.
From slavery to the Kentucky Derby
On May 17, 1875, a new track at Churchill Downs ran, for the first time, what it hoped would become its signature event: the Kentucky Derby.
Prominent thoroughbred owner H. Price McGrath entered two horses: Aristides and Chesapeake. Aristides’ rider that afternoon was Oliver Lewis, who, like most of his Kentucky Derby foes, was African-American. The horse’s trainer was an elderly former slave named Ansel Williamson.
Lewis was supposed to take Aristides to the lead, tire the field, and then let Chesapeake go on to win. But Aristides simply refused to let his stablemate pass him. He ended up scoring a thrilling victory, starting the Kentucky Derby on its path to international fame.
Meanwhile, men like Lewis and Williamson had shown that free blacks could be accomplished, celebrated members of society.
‘I ride to win’
To many black Americans, Isaac Murphy symbolized this ideal. Between 1884 and 1891, Murphy won three Kentucky Derbys, a mark unequaled until 1945.
Born a slave in Kentucky, Murphy, along with black peers like Pike Barnes, Soup Perkins and Willie Simms, rode regularly in integrated competition and earned big paychecks. Black jockeys were even the subjects of celebrity gossip; when Murphy bought a new house, it made the front page of The New York Times. One white memoirist, looking back on his childhood, remembered that “every little boy who took any interest in racing…had an admiration for Isaac Murphy.” After the Civil War, the Constitution guaranteed black male suffrage and equal protection under the law, but Isaac Murphy embodied citizenship in a different way. He was both a black man and a popular hero.
When Murphy rode one of his most famous races, piloting Salvator to victory over Tenny at Sheepshead Bay in 1890, the crusading black journalist T. Thomas Fortune interviewed him after the race. Murphy was friendly, but blunt: “I ride to win.”
Fortune, who was waging a legal battle to desegregate New York hotels, loved that response. It was that kind of determination that would change the world, he told his readers: men like Isaac Murphy, leading by example in the fight to end racism after slavery.
Destined to disappear?
Only a few weeks after the interview with Fortune, Murphy’s career suffered a tremendous blow when he was accused of drinking on the job. He would go on to win another Kentucky Derby the next spring, riding Kingman, a thoroughbred owned by former slave Dudley Allen, the first and only black man to own a Kentucky Derby winner. But Murphy died of heart failure in 1896 at the age of 35 – two months before the Supreme Court made segregation the law of the land in Plessy v. Ferguson.
Black men continued to ride successfully through the 1890s, but their role in the sport was tenuous at best. A Chicago sportswriter grumbled that when he went to the track and saw black fans cheering black riders, he was uncomfortably reminded that black men could vote. The 15th Amendment and Isaac Murphy had opened the door for black Americans, but many whites were eager to slam it shut.
After years of success, black men began getting fewer jobs on the racetrack, losing promotions and opportunities to ride top horses. White jockeys started to openly demand segregated competition. One told the New York Sun in 1908 that one of his black opponents was probably the best jockey he had ever seen, but that he and his colleagues “did not like to have the negro riding in the same races with them.” In a 1905 Washington Post article titled “Negro Rider on Wane,” the writer insisted that black men were inferior and thus destined to disappear from the track, as Native Americans had inevitably disappeared from their homelands.
Black jockey Jimmy Winkfield shot to stardom with consecutive Kentucky Derby victories in 1901 and 1902, but he quickly found it difficult to get more mounts, a pattern that became all too common. He left the United States for a career in Europe, but his contemporaries often weren’t so fortunate.
Their obituaries give us glimpses of the depression and desperation that came with taking pride in a vocation, only to have it wrenched away. Soup Perkins, who won the Kentucky Derby at 15, drank himself to death at 31. The jockey Tom Britton couldn’t find a job and committed suicide by swallowing acid. Albert Isom bought a pistol at a pawnshop and shot himself in the head in front of the clerk.
The history of the Kentucky Derby, then, is also the history of men who were at the forefront of black life in the decades after emancipation – only to pay a terrible price for it.
Students angrily confronted a white New Orleans teacher who insisted he could use the most notorious racial slur because it had been drained of its meaning through overuse.
Video recorded Thursday by students at Ben Franklin High School, recently ranked as Louisiana’s top public high school, showed the permanent substitute teacher explaining his position as students angrily and profanely challenged him, reported The Times-Picayune.
“That’s racist as sh*t,” one black student says to the teacher, identified only as “Coach Ryan.” “Why can you not understand that it’s racist for a white man to say ‘n****r’ to a black man? It’s f*cking racist.”
The student then turns to a white classmate and asks if he’d ever use the racial slur, and the other boy agrees he would not, and the black teen then rhetorically asks the rest of his classmates if they would.
“F*ck no, they wouldn’t say ‘n****r,’” he tells the teacher.
The teacher asks the teen if he knows what a “commoditized word” means, and the student asks him to explain the term.
“It’s a word that’s used so many times that it doesn’t mean its original meaning,” the teacher says. “The word has been commoditized so that anyone can use it, and it’s not a negative connotation.”
The student argues that it would have a negative connotation for the teacher to use it to describe him, but the teacher asks why rappers use the racial slur in songs.
“If you say the word, it means friend, but if I say the word, it means something different,” the teacher says.
The teen says the meaning changes, based on the speaker’s race, and the teacher insists that’s not true.
“Not if you want the world to move on,” the teacher says. “If you want this world to be the way it was 50 years ago, then you’re true — you’re right.”
The teenager tries to explain the difference between the full word, n****r, and the truncated colloquialism, n***a.
“Nobody says n****r,” the teacher says, as the teen explodes and his classmates giggle nervously.
“Don’t f*cking say that,” the boy says. “You can’t say ‘n****r’ or ‘f*cking n****r’ … you’re my f*cking teacher, don’t say that sh*t.”
The teacher tries to argue that he could use the word as part of an academic lesson on its history, but the student angrily slams a book down on a desk and tells the teacher to stop using the racial slur.
“Please, it’s a word,” the teacher says. “You cannot go through life acting like a word can affect you.”
Students went after class to the principal’s office to stage a sit-in, but that turned into an impromptu, hour-long assembly on race and racism, the newspaper reported.
The school, which is overseen by the Orleans Parish School Board, is one of the most diverse in New Orleans — with 40 percent white students, 31 percent black, 16 percent Asian, 7 percent Hispanic and 6 percent multi-racial.
Another Franklin teacher also used a racial slur during this school year, students said on social media.
Franklin alumni started an online petition after the latest incident pledging to withhold donations until meaningful action was taken by the school.
The teacher was not on campus Thursday afternoon, and school officials said an investigation of the incident could take several days before any potential disciplinary action was taken.