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Racism and Rock and Roll

There is no question that Rock and Roll owes it’s roots to black music. And in the 50’s and even early 60’s songs written by black musicians were stolen and made hugely popular with white audiences by segregated radio. It took decades for those black artists to receive compensation for their work. The first Rock Superstar was Elvis Presley, although there were a number of others, including Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis who aspired to the throne. Several of Elvis’ big hits were covers of black musicians music. Bu he also “borrowed” from white musicians. In particular Blue Suede Shoes was a cover of Carl Perkins.

Elvis learned his chops playing with, and befriending black musicians. Because of his “Rockabilly” style, upbringing, and birthplace, a lot of black folks assumed Elvis was a bigot. There is no evidence to support that, although in a racist South, he, like all of the 50’s rock musicians performed with all white bands. The people who actually performed in the Studio recordings however – were a different story.

The Truth About Elvis and the History of Racism in Rock

Racism In Rock

Elvis has long been vilified as the face of racism and cultural appropriation in rock music—but it’s the legacy of the genre (and the truth about Elvis) that merits closer scrutiny.

Rock music’s legacy is conflicted.

It’s a genre that transformed American culture in a way that re-shaped racial dynamics, but it also came to embody them. Music that at one point in the 1950s seemed to herald the deterioration of racial boundaries, gender norms and cultural segregation had, by the 1970s, become re-defined as a white-dominated, male-dominated multi-million dollarindustry. In the years between, rock ‘n’ roll matured into “rock” and the counterculture embraced anti-establishment ideas like integration and women’s rights—without ever really investing in tearing down white supremacy in any real, measurable way. In that, rock’s history with race is sometimes naïve, sometimes willfully ignorant, and sometimes undeniably hypocritical.

“Elvis was a hero to most but he never meant shit to me. See straight up racist that sucker was, simple and plain…”

It’s one of the most well-known and significant lines in hip-hop history. Public Enemy’s high-profile smackdown of white America’s “King of Rock ‘N’ Roll” resonated and reverberated throughout hip-hop nation in a way that even overshadowed the Flavor Flavlyrical gut-punch of John Wayne that completed the infamous couplet. On a certain level, the line was symbolic of hip-hop’s intentional dismantling of America’s white iconography; this was a new generation that wasn’t going to be beholden to your heroes or your standards. We’ve got our own voice, it announced. You will be forced to reckon with that voice.

That line also hit so hard because Elvis Presley’s racism has long been a part of his image and reputation in the black community. His notorious quote (“The only thing Negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes”), solidified his villainy amongst black people. His is the legacy of cultural appropriation and white privilege—made doubly offensive by the fact that he was so dismissive and contemptuous of the black people from whom he’d stolen rock ‘n’ roll.

But—what if none of that was actually true?

The “shine my shoes” quote came from a 1957 article called “How Negroes Feel About Elvis,” published in a periodical called Sepia. The Ft. Worth-based magazine had been founded by Horace Blackwell, a clothing merchant; but by the mid-’50s had been bought by Jewish-American merchant George Levitan. It was by now white-owned but had a black staff and was still marketed to black readers, a publication superficially in the vein of EBONY but often with a more sensationalist slant.

“Some Negroes are unable to forget that Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, hometown of the foremost Dixie race baiter, former Congressman Jon Rankin,” read the article. “Others believe a rumored crack by Elvis during a Boston appearance in which he is alleged to have said: ‘The only thing Negroes can do for me is shine my shoes and buy my records.’”

At the time of the article’s publication, Elvis Presley had never been to Boston. It was also alleged that he’d said it on Edward R. Murrow‘s Person to Person TV show—but he hadn’t appeared there either. Louie Robinson, Jet magazine’s associate editor, tried tracing the actual origins of the quote and came up empty. So he tracked down Elvis himself, interviewing the singer in his Jailhouse Rock dressing room in the summer of 1967.

“I never said anything like that,” Elvis said at the time. “And people who know me know I wouldn’t have said it.”

“A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Elvis continued, regarding his “King of Rock ‘N’ Roll” status and reputation. “But rock ‘n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it; I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that. But I always liked that kind of music.”

“I always wanted to sing like Billy Kenny of the Ink Spots,” Elvis was further quoted as saying in the Jet interview. “I like that high, smooth style.” But Presley acknowledged that his own voice was more in line with the originator of the song that he would cover for his first single. “I never sang like this in my life until I made that first record—‘That’s Alright, Mama.’ I remembered that song because I heard Arthur (Big Boy) Crudup sing it and I thought I would like to try it.”

Presley had grown up on the “black side” of Tupelo, he’d run with the likes of Ike Turner in his early days as a musician and became close friends with B.B. King and eventually James Brown, Cissy Houston and Muhammad Ali. The racism that he’s been branded with because of a phantom quote seems to be a fabrication. But rock’s legacy as a genre pioneered by black people before white artists discovered it, white media re-branded it and white audiences embraced it means that despite Elvis not spouting racist ideas, his legacy is still rooted in racism—even if that racism isn’t directly born of the man himself. He attained his stature because he was not black and in doing so, he opened the doors for a generation of his disciples to reap those same benefits. And when examining the histories of so many of those notables, there is a legacy that is as conflicted as it is confounding.

Not unlike the history of rock itself.

To a generation of long-haired hippies, Elvis came to symbolize the antiquated era of malt shops and sock hops or a rock ‘n’ roller who’d grown up to be a stale old fart, churning out shlock. He may have aided in the white embrace of black music, but he hadn’t sang at the March on Washington like Bob Dylan, nor had he championed Bobby Seale like John Lennon. In the era of pop stars as quasi-revolutionaries, Elvis had become the establishment. The ’60s generation was about change. …Read the Rest Here

 

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When Mexico Wanted a Wall To Keep Americans Out

Seems that after the Civil War, Mexico was fine with Immigration…Just not black folks immigrating.

1.38 Million Afro-Mexicans live in Mexico today. For decades successive Mexican Governments tried to erase the fact of their existence. Only in 2015 did the Mexican Government finally recognize their existence.

When Mexicans Feared American Immigration

When the path to upward mobility for thousands of free black Americans was south of the border, Mexico stopped just short of calling for their own wall.

If there is one issue that has steered 2016 in a startling direction, it has been immigration. The GOP’s strategy to increase its appeal to Latinos after Mitt Romney’s upset in 2012 quickly unraveled once the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, charged that Mexico was sending “criminals, drug dealers, rapists” to the United States. Before long, chants of “Build that wall!”—a reference to Trump’s promise to construct a “beautiful” concrete wall along the Mexican border—could be heard at political rallies, high school sporting events and beyond. The GOP’s concerns about inclusion, it seems, pale in comparison to Americans’ anxieties about jobs, crime, national security and the sense that there is a teeming mass of people desperate to burst across the border.

It hasn’t always been this way; for much of American history, the U.S.-Mexico border has been largely unprotected. Only in 1891 did the United States start deporting illegal immigrants (a category at the time limited principally to Chinese workers as well as felons, paupers and the insane), and it wasn’t until 1924 that Congress formed the Border Patrol. And at one point, remarkably, our contemporary debate was even flipped: Hordes of Americans wanted to escape their bleak prospects for a better life—and the place they wanted to flee to was Mexico.

Carmen Robles, afromexican colonel in Mexican revolution.

But Mexico didn’t want them. The story unfolded in the late 19th century, in the form of a little-known black migration scheme to the low-lying, underdeveloped parts of south and central Mexico—Veracruz, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán and San Luis Potosi—and was spearheaded by a man sparingly remembered by history. He intended [to avoid repeating scheme] to relocate thousands of black families to start a new colony in Mexico, which would have radically changed the demographics and the economy of that region, if not all of Mexico. The plan provoked sensationalist, often racist, reports in the Mexican press—one warned of a “race war”—and fiery fights in the country’s Senate. In the end, it failed—no such colony was ever settled. But the history lesson, of a time when our current debate was flipped on its head, is a timely reminder of those fluid identities, and just how easily these centuries-old, deeply ingrained fears can be stoked—on either side of the border.

Born as a slave in 1894 on a cotton plantation in the small South Texas town of Victoria, William Henry Ellis managed in his early 20s to transform himself into a successful merchant in San Antonio. To do so, however, he had to craft an alternative persona for himself as a Mexican named Guillermo Enrique Eliseo (his name translated into Spanish) to gain entry to the all-white business settings that would have otherwise been closed to him. To further his ethnic charades, Ellis cultivated a showy Mexican-style mustache, dressed in the Mexican fashion, and used the fluent Spanish that he had learned in Victoria as a child.

In the 19th century, during the administration of President Porifirio Díaz, Mexico was hoping to modernize its economy by attracting more immigrants. Ellis did much of his business across the border in Mexico, and he saw the United States’ southern neighbor, with its lack of legal segregation, as a place of great promise not only for himself but for other African-Americans as well. He thus set in motion in 1889 an ambitious plan to facilitate the large-scale migration of African-Americans to Mexico.

Vicente Guerrero, a mulatto and Mexico`s 2nd president, was a hero in Mexico`s War of Independence from Spain, and an active abolitionist. The state of Guerrero in Mexico was named in his honor. His grandson, Vicente Riva Palacio y Guerrero, was one of Mexico`s most influential politicians and novelists.

Taking advantage of new railroad connections between the U.S. and Mexico, Ellis journeyed to Mexico City. Tucked in his luggage, he carried letters of introduction from the Mexican consul in San Antonio to Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Ignacio Mariscal, and Secretary of Fomento (Public Works), Carlos Pacheco Villalobos. Once in the Mexican capital, Ellis persuaded Pacheco, a grizzled former general who had lost both an arm and a leg in Mexico’s recent war against the French-backed emperor Maximilian, to grant him a 10-year contract to colonize up to twenty thousand settlers in Mexico. Although the race and nationality of the colonists was not specified in the contract—only that each colonist would have a certificate attesting to their “morality, honesty and diligence”—Ellis’s comments to the press left little doubt that he intended to fill the colonists’ ranks with African-Americans.

The colonization movement represented one of the most divisive fault lines running through African-American politics in the late 19th century. Even as they defended the right of blacks to live wherever they pleased, most black leaders, from Frederick Douglass to Norris Wright Cuney, the influential chairman of the Texas’ Republican Party, decried efforts to relocate African-Americans (a movement known in the language of the day as colonization). These figures charged that colonization not only diminished the pool of African-American voters in the United States; it also encouraged long-standing white fantasies of solving the United States’ “race problem” by ethnically cleansing all blacks from the nation. Even the great liberator Abraham Lincoln had briefly entertained thoughts of colonizing freed slaves on Mexico’s Tehuantepec isthmus or Yucatán peninsula. Above all, by presenting blacks’ real home as elsew

The most famous black Mexican was Gaspar Yanga, whom was a Mandingo slave brought to Mexico from Cuba to work the sugarcane Plantations. He successfully led a series of revolts resulting in the slaves overthrowing the Plantation owners, and founding the first free slave town in the Americas, which bears his name.

here, emigration diverted attention from what many African-Americans perceived as the more pressing task: achieving their full civil rights in the United States. “I cannot see wherein [African-Americans] would gain anything [by colonization],” contended Cuney. “They are so thoroughly identified with the perpetuity of our American institutions, that it seems to me to be rather late for them now to seek homes in a new country with the customs, government and people of which they are thoroughly unacquainted. There is much more glory, honor and gain for the colored man here in the land of his birth, and here he should stay and fight his way to the front.” 

Relocating to Mexico, however, did not necessarily represent a retreat from politics in Ellis’s eyes. Rather, it highlighted the shortcomings of Reconstruction—in particular, the federal government’s failure to support blacks’ economic aspirations. Whites blamed the poverty in which blacks found themselves trapped after Emancipation on a lack of work ethic. Ellis, in contrast, knew that the problem lay not with African-American character but rather with their lack of access to land, the foundation of wealth in a predominantly agricultural society. If the place of their birth would not facilitate black access to property, perhaps Mexico, in its desire to attract immigrants, would. “The idea of Mr. Ellis,” explained one observer, “is that the colonists will become self-sustaining farmers.”

Colonization tended to draw its support from the most marginalized members of the black community—those, unsurprisingly, who suffered the worst oppressions and therefore had the least to lose in relocating to an unfamiliar land. Even before Ellis finalized his contract with the Mexican government, he had compiled a list of several hundred families from four adjoining Texas counties— Fort Bend, Matagorda, Brazoria and Wharton, all “places where the colored people have been having trouble” in Ellis’s apt phrase—who had expressed interest in moving to Mexico. These counties were home to the largest African-American majorities in all of Texas. Not only had these conditions led unsympathetic whites to dub the region “Senegambia”; it also spawned fierce racial strife as local whites endeavored, despite the demographic imbalance, to “free . . . themselves from Negro rule” by threatening the area’s black elected officials….Read The Rest of This Engrossing Story Here

The Los Angeles Pobladores, or “townspeople,” were a group of 44 settlers and four soldiers from Mexico who established the famed city on this day in 1781 in what is now California. The settlers came from various Spanish castes, with over half of the group being of African descent.

 

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2016 in Black History

 

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Smithsonian African-American Museum Opens

The National Museum of African American Culture and History has opened. Love the idea, but really am no fan of the building architecture, which is both decidedly visually unexciting, and unlike the Native American Museum seems to have no visual cultural clues as to it’s function.

National Museum of African American History and Culture; (NMAAHC) construction site - Conststution Avenue and 14 th Street image taken on Conststution site October 23, 2015.

 

Smithsonian’s National African-American Museum opens at last

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture was over a century in the making. In 1915, black Civil War veterans collected funds they later put toward creating a museum on the National Mall that would celebrate African-American achievement. In 1929, President Calvin Coolidge signed Public Resolution 107, establishing a commission to plan its construction, but the project went nowhere. It took a renewed effort by lawmakers and African-American leaders beginning in the 1960s, and then decades of planning and proposals, before President George W. Bush signed legislation in 2003 authorizing the museum, which is set to open September 24, steps from the Washington Monument.

“It’s one of those sites and projects that comes about only once in a generation,” says the lead designer of the building, David Adjaye. “It’s always magical to complete a project, but to complete this one on the National Mall, it’s very profound. It’s very humbling.”

Construction on the exterior of the building, a glass structure wrapped in a three-tiered bronze-colored scrim that’s meant to recall a motif in African sculpture (it looks like boxes stacked on a figure’s head), was completed in 2015. Curators are now filling the galleries with artifacts from a collection of some 34,000 items spanning centuries or longer. Museum Director Lonnie Bunch says the exhaustive preparation and organizing is “really almost like planning a military exercise.”

Larger artifacts already in place include a 1944 training plane used by the black military pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen; a once-segregated railway car and a guard tower from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, both of which the museum lowered in place with cranes before constructing the roof; a 19th-century slave cabin from South Carolina; and Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac.

“When I walk through, I feel the weight of my ancestors,” Bunch says. “I feel an amazing sense of joy that we are close to giving to America, giving to the world, a gift. A gift of understanding who we are as a people in ways that we haven’t before.”

The museum’s nine floors contain three history galleries covering slavery through present day, including the #BlackLivesMatter movement; a theater named for donor Oprah Winfrey; culture galleries featuring African-American icons of music, theater, film and television; and a Contemplative Court, where visitors can reflect on what they’ve seen.

Adjaye has said “there’s triumph and there’s also incredible tragedy” in the history of the African-American experience. Bunch agrees: “You cannot tell stories of celebration and resistance without understanding the trials and travails.”

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2016 in Black History

 

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19th Century Black Woman Author Discovered

Don’t believe everything someone says about “the only” or “the first” when it has to do with 19th Century black achievement.

In my personal book collection, I have books going back to the 1840’s. I know of, have seen (but do not own) and read a book of poetry published by a black woman (a distant cousin) named Anne Drummond, back in the 1850’s. She was a free black woman, and I don’t recall the story about how she learned to read and write. Being free, of mixed race, and living in Virginia – I don’t believe she was ever identified as “black”, at least by the people who published her work. I will have to get a scan of that and publish it from one of her descendants.

So I am not convinced, as this article claims, there  were only 4 black authors in the 19th Century.

Part of my personal collection includes a 19th Century Set of these McGuffey’s, and a copy  of the EPAMINONDAS AND HIS AUNTIE –

“True Love”: The Victorian (re)discovery that transformed our understanding of black women’s literature

Overlooked by historians, Sarah E. Farro was the lone black novelist of her era to write for a white readership

Two years ago, I was in the United Kingdom working on a follow-up project for my books “Black London” and “Black Victorians/Black Victoriana.” While looking through old British newspapers, I was astonished to read an 1893 announcement in The Daily Telegraph proclaiming Sarah E. Farro to be “the first negro novelist” with the publication of her novel “True Love.”

 I wondered: who was this woman? And why didn’t we know about this reportedly groundbreaking novel?

The Daily Telegraph didn’t get it exactly right: we know now that Farro wasn’t the first African-American novelist. Nonetheless, she appears nowhere in the canon of African-American literature.

After doing more research, I soon realized that Farro had made her mark writing about white people – and that this may also be the reason her work was forgotten. Learning of a black woman whose race was documented, whose novel was published – but who disappeared in the historical record – can change how we think about African-American literature.

Farro joins a small club

Searches of American census records show that Sarah E. Farro was born in 1859 in Illinois to parents who moved to Chicago from the South. She had two younger sisters, and her race is given as “black” on the 1880 census.

Her novel, “True Love: A Story of English Domestic Life,” was published in 1891 by the Chicago publishing house Donohue & Henneberry. It was one of 58 books by Illinois women writers exhibited at the World’s Columbian Exhibition (World’s Fair) in 1893. Newspapers in the U.K. and the U.S. heralded the book. Toward the end of her life, in 1937, Farro was feted at a celebration of Chicago’s “outstanding race pioneers.” Apparently, she never wrote another novel.

“True Love” disappeared from the historical record, and for decades historians recognized only three other 19th-century novels written and published by African-Americans.

One other, “The Bondswoman’s Narrative,” was recently found in manuscript and published, even though the author, Hannah Crafts, is only circumstantially (although convincingly) identified. With my discovery, Farro becomes only the second known African-American woman novelist published in the 19th century. And she now joins William Wells Brown, Harriet E. Wilson, and Frank J. Webb as the only African-American published novelists in the entire century.

When I returned to the U.S. from the U.K., I was able to track down only two copies of “True Love” in libraries – one at the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago and the other at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – and headed to Chicago to read it. To briefly summarize: the novel tells the story of a man whose quest to marry his love, Janey, is thwarted by Janey’s selfish sister and mother. Generous and beloved Janey nurses her sister through a fever, only to catch it herself and die.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign later digitized it for me, and now it’s available online for anyone to read. Just two weeks ago I found an original copy on eBay and immediately bought it for US$124.

The eBay listing makes no mention of her race; nowhere except in early newspaper pieces is she identified as a black woman, so this important piece of history has remained invisible until now.

An unexpected subject matter?

The reason for “True Love’s” disappearance might be simple: it takes place in England, a place Farro probably never visited, and all of its characters are white….Read the Rest Here

 

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2016 in Black History

 

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On This Memorial Day – Remembering Those Who Fought to End Slavery

There are a lot of Southern Myths about the Civil War and Antebellum South, and what life was like in the period leading up to the War. The root of the war was economic. By 1860, over 60% of the GDP, and near 80% of the trade was generated by the South. And just about every penny of that money was built and fully enabled by slavery. It is no mystery why the Articles of Secession by every Southern State lists the cause of their actions as to maintain slavery.

The South was by no means monolithic as the Southern Myth would have you believe. And it was a dangerous place, with rebellion seething just under the surface. One of the few things which kept the slave master’s cruelty in check was the distinct possibility that ol’ Massa might “fall off his horse and break his neck”. There were hundreds, if not thousands of slave rebellions, and the risk was so great that during the Revolutionary War the Southern States supplied few troops to fight the British…Because they were needed at home to keep the slave rebellions in check. The sight of Haitian Troops marching to Savannah to attack British forces holding the city must have sent chills down the spines of Southern slave owners.

Further the South wasn’t monolithic. Large regions, especially the Appalachians, had no real economic ties to slavery, making the western Southern States a battleground between pro and anti-slavery forces. If you examine the maps of the Shenandoah campaign between Union General Phil Sheridan and confederate General Stonewall Jackson, you will find that there are areas conspicuously avoided by the rebs, You will find the same in certain areas of North Carolina. Those areas weren’t “confederate friendly”.

This Memorial Day we should celebrate those who fought to put down the rebellion, and ultimately end slavery. Over 100,000 of whom were white Southerners, and 260,000 of whom were black, often escaped slaves.

100,000 From Dixie Fought for the North in the Civil War

In all the recent debate about erasing Confederate history, no one talks about the history the South itself has erased, such as the many Southerners who fought for the Union.

Earlier this past week a judge ruled that the city of Louisville, Kentucky can proceed with the removal of a Confederate monument near the campus of the University of Louisville. Arguments against removing Confederate monuments over the past year have often claimed that in doing so communities run the risk of erasing history. What has been universally overlooked, however, is that the push to establish monuments to the Confederacy during the postwar years helped to erase the history of those white and black southerners who remained loyal and were willing to give their lives to save the Union.

Southern Unionism took many forms during the Civil War. Some disagreed with the right of a state to secede from the Union at the war’s outset while others grew weary of the Confederacy in response to a number of factors, including a Conscription Act in 1862 that exempted large slaveowners, the impressment of horses or mules for the army, and a “tax-in-kind” law that allowed the government to confiscate a certain percentage of farm produce for military purposes. Others in places like Appalachia and other highland regions that included few slaves saw little value in supporting a government whose purpose was the creation of an independent slaveholding republic.

Resistance to the Confederacy also took many forms throughout the war. The release of the movie, The Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey next month, will introduce audiences to Newton Knight, who led an armed rebellion against the Confederacy in Jones County, Mississippi. Some joined clandestine political organizations such as the Heroes of America, which may have contained upwards of 10,000 members. Networks of communication kept resistors in touch with one another and their activities throughout the region. Unionists risked arrest by Confederate officials, ostracism from within the family, and violent reprisals from the community.

It is impossible to know just how many white southerners remained loyal to the Union during the war given disagreements over its very definition, but we do know that somewhere around 100,000 southern white men from Confederate states, except for South Carolina, served in the U.S. military. East Tennessee supplied somewhere around 42,000 men, but other Confederate states yielded significant numbers, including 22,000 from Virginia (and West Virginia) and 25,000 from North Carolina. The First Alabama Cavalry, which was considered one of the toughest units in General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army, took part in his “march” through Georgia and the Carolinas in 1864-65.

The decision to express one’s loyalty to the Union by joining the army was often a painful one to make from the lowliest private to some of the highest-ranking officers. While the story of Robert E. Lee’s decision to resign his commission in the U.S. army, rather than betray his home of Virginia, is often told and re-told in tragic prose, others grappled with the same decisions and yet chose to remain loyal. The man who offered Lee command of the U.S. army in 1861 was another Virginian by the name of Winfield Scott. Scott, whose military career stretched back to the War of 1812—including a failed presidential bid in 1852—was the highest-ranking general at the beginning of the war. Scott’s decision was no less difficult than Lee’s and yet he remained loyal and although too old to take command in the field, he helped formulate military policy that ultimately proved successful in subduing the rebellion.

General George Henry Thomas, also from Virginia, became one of the most successful generals in the war and saved the Union army from being completely routed on September 19, 1863, earning him the nickname the “Rock of Chickamauga.” His loyalty to the nation cost him his family, who refused to speak with him ever again and even turned his picture against the wall. Very few monuments to the service of these men and others like them, who defied family, friends, and community for the sake of the nation, can be found in the former Confederate states. And yet the removal of some Confederate monuments has caused some to worry about erasing history.

The other significant Southern bloc that voiced their loyalty to the Union and commitment to crushing the rebellion was the region’s slave population. From the beginning of the war, and in the shadow of a Supreme Court that as recently as 1857 ruled that free and enslaved blacks could not be citizens of the United States, African Americans offered their services to the military. Beginning in 1862 along the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, former slaves rushed into the first all black regiments. By the end of the war roughly 150,000 former slaves fought and died to save this nation. They did so under the most harrowing conditions. Black soldiers were massacred on battlefields and even sent back into slavery at places like Fort Pillow in Tennessee and at the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia by Confederates, who refused to treat them as legitimate soldiers. As if that wasn’t enough, their own government refused to pay them what white soldiers earned. Only sustained protests that lasted more than a year and continued demonstrations of bravery on the battlefield led Congress to correct this injustice in the summer of 1864.

Southern Unionists, both black and white, may have celebrated Confederate defeat, but they continued to be persecuted owing to their wartime beliefs and actions by terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. Life was especially difficult for former slaves, who fought for the Union and now hoped to exercise the right to vote, own land, or run for public office. Their sacrifice for the Union ended in the rise of Jim Crow state governments by the turn of the 20th century.

After the war, as white Southerners erected monuments to their Confederate dead they also erected monuments to their former slaves, only they recalled not brave men who fought to preserve the Union, but their loving former “servants” who remained loyal to master and their Lost Cause. The very act of monument erection helped to erase this history for much of the 20th century.

The removal of Confederate monuments need not result in the erasure of history. In fact, it may for the first time create the intellectual and physical space to commemorate and remember a new narrative of the past, one that corresponds more closely to the long and rich history of service and sacrifice to this nation that is recalled each year on Memorial Day.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2016 in Black History, The Post-Racial Life

 

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The Waco Horror, and Its Aftermath

Lynching in the South was a method not only t maintain white supremacy, but to intimidate and blackmail the local minority populations into staying in line. The result of lynchings in the early 1900’s for a lot of the South was the Great Black Migration, and the loss of a large part of their workforce. One of the most violent lynchings was that of Jesse Washington in Waco Texas.

Around sundown of May 8, 1916, Lucy Fryer, the wife of a well regarded cotton farmer, was found bludgeoned to death in the doorway of her seed house. Jesse Washington, who was illiterate and branded “feeble-minded”, confessed to the murder.

Soon after a jury found him guilty, a crowd of 2,000 men seized Washington, chained him, beat him and dragged him to the town square, where he was burned.

His fingers were amputated for souvenirs and his fingernails taken for keepsakes. Finally all that was left was a charred torso, but Washington’s body parts were put in a bag so they could be dragged through downtown.

About 15,000 people, half of Waco’s population, had gathered to watch the lynching.

 

A mob gathers around to watch the lynching of Jesse Washington.

The “Waco Horror” still reverberates, 100 years later

Mary Pearson doesn’t need to be reminded of Jesse Washington’s lynching.

The Robinson resident grew up hearing the stories from her grandmother, a relative of the 17-year-old farmhand who was tortured to death on Waco’s town square a century ago last Sunday. The moral was never precisely stated, but the horror has stuck with Pearson all her 67 years.

Just after the boy received a death sentence for murdering his white employer, a mob seized him and dragged him to City Hall, where they doused him with coal oil and hanged him over a pile of burning wooden crates. They carved his charred body into souvenirs and dragged it around town.

But even more troubling for Pearson was what didn’t happen: Law enforcement didn’t intervene in the lynching, nor did anyone in a crowd of 15,000 spectators.

“All the folks were standing around, most of them were white, and nobody said anything, nobody stood up to try to do anything,” Pearson said in an interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald after a recent proclamation by Waco’s mayor condemning the lynching. “It’s a hurt and frustration even to think about it. … It can cause me a heavy depression.

“Every time I think about it, I get really angry and I have to ask the Lord to help me.”

White Waco spent most of the 20th century trying to forget the atrocity, dubbed the “Waco Horror” by the national press. The incident stood as a turning point in national anti-lynching efforts and helped bring to prominence the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. But the atrocity received no mention in local history books until the late 1960s and was largely ignored or downplayed locally until 1998, when Councilman Lawrence Johnson publicly called for a memorial to “atone” for the lynching.

Meanwhile, the story survived on the frequency of a whisper in corners of the black community, in the form of legends and admonitions to sons and daughters.

Forgetting became impossible in the mid-2000s, when a series of books, exhibits and news articles brought the incident again to national attention. In 2006, the Waco City Council and McLennan County commissioners passed a general condemnation of the area’s lynching past.

The Community Race Relations Coalition and the NAACP have headed an effort to commemorate the centennial this spring with a lecture series, a march and a push to get a state historical marker for the lynching. The observances culminated with a “town hall” meeting at the Bledsoe-Miller Community Center.

The centennial is not meant to reopen old racial wounds or cast blame on anyone now living, said Peaches Henry, a McLennan Community College assistant English professor and president of the Waco NAACP. Rather, it’s an opportunity to bring whites and blacks together to reflect on a difficult shared history.

“Here’s the importance of history: It allows us to remind ourselves of both the good and the bad, and then to correct our course,” she said.

Henry said the city and county resolution against lynching a decade ago was a good start. The question of Washington’s innocence or guilt aside, Henry said city and county leaders failed to uphold the rule of law and were complicit in a heinous crime of torture.

The recent proclamation by Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. went further and specifically referred to the “heinous lynching of Jesse Washington.”

“It’s important to call the names of those who were wronged,” Henry said. “The same was true of the woman (Lucy Fryer) who was murdered. She was someone’s mother, sister and cousin. She was also important. For the council to offer a proclamation naming Jesse Washington is very significant. It means that in the public record he is no longer invisible.”

Those involved in the commemorations say burying the past doesn’t keep it from haunting the present.

Scheherazade Perkins, 64, a member of the race relations board, grew up in Waco and graduated from the black A.J. Moore High School in 1969. She never heard of the lynching until she was an adult, but it helped explain anxieties she heard when she was growing up.

“Obviously there is much that has been done, much progress that has been made,” Perkins said. “But there are processes that still go on, an unspoken terror that still exists, that makes people want to stay under the radar. It makes them hesitant to come forward with concerns for fear that they will be not only labeled but mistreated.

“Some of that lingers, not only with the older people who were right on the fringes of the atrocity, but with those who pass the same sentiment down: ‘Boy, you need to watch your mouth, because you never know.’ ”

The centennial comes at a time of national debate and unrest over police killings of unarmed black males, such as Freddie Gray in Baltimore; Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. A Washington Post investigation found that 40 percent of unarmed men shot and killed by police in 2015 were black, even though black men make up only 6 percent of the population.

Henry, the local NAACP president, said she has high regard for Waco police leadership, but she still has anxieties for her own son, an Eagle Scout and college junior, wherever he goes.

“There’s the talk that every young African-American man receives: When you get pulled over, keep your hands on the steering wheel,” she said. “You never make a move without letting the officer know.

“There’s nothing about my son when he is walking or driving down the street that can protect him.”

It’s a more subtle version of the same fear that African-Americans had a century ago, Henry said…Read the Rest Here

 

 
 

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Oldest American Veteran

This one reminds me of the old Mom’s Mabley Joke about the “Oldest Man in the World”….

Cigar-Smoking, Whiskey-Swigging Oldest Veteran Turns 110

Happy birthday, Richard!

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2016 in Black History

 

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