Dead Confederates and Street Names

In the city of Richmond, Va is a street named Monument Avenue. On it, every few blocks are statues of the various personages of the Confederacy from Virginia who participated in the Civil War. The street was later modified to contain statues of famous people from Richmond, Va to include tennis great Arthur Ashe and famous oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury.  8 US Presidents hailed from Virginia, yet in our State capital there is a major street dedicated to dead confederate generals. Welcome to the South.

Now to say that Civil Rights upset some folks in Virginia is an understatement. One County, Prince Edward, shut their entire Public School System down for 5 years to prevent desegregation. So racism is no stranger to the state.

The City of Alexandria, Virginia was also the home and residence of confederate General Robert E. Lee. The Lee-Custis Plantation sat on the very grounds of what became the Arlington Cemetery. Several of Lee’s descendants still live in the City. The reason Arlington Cemetery sits where it is is that through the front door of his mansion, Arlington House,  Lee would have to confront some of the hundreds of thousands of those he was responsible for killing as part of the war…Each and every day. In case you are wondering where the Custis name came from, Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Custis Lee, was indeed the great granddaughter of Martha Custis, George Washington’s wife.

Arlington House, Formerly confederate General robert E. Lee’s home

Law requiring Confederate street names questioned

Alexandria, a Northern Virginia city steeped in Civil War history, is considering repeal of an old law requiring certain new streets to be named for Confederate generals.

City Councilman Justin Wilson introduced legislation for Tuesday night’s council meeting to do away with a 1963 law requiring that any new “streets running in a generally north-south direction shall, insofar as possible, bear the names of confederate military leaders.”

Wilson’s bill also would eliminate a requirement that new east-west streets be named for persons or places prominent in American history.

Wilson said he wants to remove a series of anachronistic laws, and his proposal also would repeal a ban on “lewd cohabitation” and laws regulating a bygone fad of “rebound tumbling,” a form of trampolining.

As a practical matter, there is little likelihood that the city will be naming new streets any time soon. The city, inside Washington’s Capital Beltway and separated from the nation’s capital by the Potomac River, is essentially built out. In fact, the street grid of the city’s Old Town section dates to Colonial times.

Wilson said that symbolically, he believes it’s a good thing to strip from the code a provision that in some ways glorifies the Confederacy. But he made clear he is not proposing that the city change existing street names, some of which honor Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, whose Dred Scott decision denied citizenship and constitutional protections to blacks before the Civil War.

“I think we struggle in the city with our history,” Wilson said.

Alexandria was occupied by Union troops for most of the Civil War and, like the rest of Virginia, has a history of slavery and segregation. It is now a liberal bastion in Virginia – Barack Obama won 71 percent of the vote in 2012.

On historic Duke Street in Old Town, the building that was once home to the nation’s largest domestic slave trading company is now home to the Northern Virginia Urban League, which operates the Freedom House Museum there to tell the story of the slave trade.

Cynthia Dinkins, president and CEO of the Northern Virginia Urban League, said she personally supports any legislation that keeps the city from unduly honoring the Confederacy. Still, while she is wary of glorifying the Confederacy, she said care must be taken remember unpleasant parts of American history.

“Some of my challenge in dealing with Freedom House is that people don’t want to remember” that part of our history, she said.

Wilson said he has not heard of any opposition to his bill so far.

Officers with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which has occasionally protested when it sees efforts to scrub recognition of Confederate leaders from the public square, did not return emails and phone calls seeking comment Tuesday.

A public hearing on Wilson’s legislation is scheduled for Jan. 25.

Nations Oldest Park Ranger Words of Wisdom

This is awesome!

If you are over 55 and grew up in the Southern US – you more than likely remember segregation and Jim Crow having lived through the last parts of it. Ranger Soskin at 92 years of age has seen much of the change in this country starting before WWII. Her insights are fascinating…

Nation’s oldest full-time park ranger, from California, furloughed

The nation’s oldest full-time national park ranger, who works at the  Rosie the Riveter museum in Richmond, Calif., recently joined the ranks of the furloughed because of the ongoing U.S. government shutdown.

Betty Reid Soskin, 92, is a ranger at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park in Northern California.

“At 92, I am very sensitive to the passage of time. We learned about the furlough gradually,” Soskin said told the Associated Press last week. “When it came at midnight (on) October 1, it seemed like a major interruption in my life because I don’t have time and these young folks were wasting my time, precious time.”

To make matters worse for Soskin, California officials refused Friday to use state money to open national parks, which means no reprieve for Soskin.

Soskin works three days a week as a tour guide and two days in the administrative office at the park that honors not only the famous Rosie but also tells the story of the home front during WWII.

Soskin became a park ranger seven years ago and leads tours at the park and museum that honors the women who worked in factories during wartime.But that all changed last week when the government shut down.

“It was like hitting a wall to come out from under my hat and back into civvies,” Soskin said.

She said she feels uncertain when she watches the developments between lawmakers in Washington, D.C., unfold on television.

“There are times when I feel like the only grown-up in the room. It’s a little disconcerting to feel like no one’s in charge. That’s the feeling I have when I watch the news,” Soskin said. “There are not enough wiser heads in Washington to determine where we should go. That uncertainty is unnerving.”

The National Park Service confirms that Soskin is the oldest full-time park ranger. At 93, Lyle Ruterbories, who works at Glacier National Park in Kintla Lake, Mont., near the U.S. and Canadian border, is the oldest seasonal ranger the park service is aware of, park service spokesman Jeff Olson told the AP this week.

The Redskins, Leroy Jackson…And Jack Johnson

For those unfamiliar with sports history, Jack Johnson was the World Heavyweight Boxing Champion around the turn of the last century. His life and experiences were chronicled in a movie – “The Great White Hope”.

Unable to find anyone who could defeat Johnson, he was jailed for his relationship with a white woman.

Now, allegations have surfaced that the Washington Redskins, an NFL Football team which was the last in the NFL to bring on black players, because of then owner George Preston Marshall’s racism – fired one of their first black payers for the same “crime”.

Now, to be honest – growing up in the Washington area, during the time before the Redskins recruited Bobby Mitchell – most black folks rooted for and followed the Baltimore Colts with Johnny Unitas, and running back Lenny Moore. while the team had several black players before Bobby Mitchell, it was the thrilling combination of Sonny Jurgensen’s long “bombs” to Mitchell which turned things around.

Leroy Jackson, Former NFL Player, Cut For Getting Caught With White Woman: Nephew

A relative of a former NFL player who was a pioneer for civil rights in sports made a bombshell allegation.

David Irons, the nephew of former Redskins running back Leroy Jackson told Yahoo Sports that his uncle was cut from the team “because they caught him in a hotel room with a white woman.”

“Can you believe that?” Irons said, “They cut him for something that’s so common today. It’s unreal.”

In the Yahoo Sports interview, Jackson seemed to confirm Irons’ claim.

When asked why he was cut, Jackson said, “I think it probably was about a woman… interracial things and not being able to hold onto the ball.”

Jackson made history for being one of the first black players to be drafted for the Washington Redskins. While other teams in the NFL integrated much earlier, the Redskins held out until 1962. Yahoo Sports points out that owner George Preston Marshall was dead-set against hiring any black players until the Kennedy’s administration pressured them to do so.

Jackson wasn’t the first black player drafted, but he was the first to actually play a game.

The NFL has a long history of racism that extends far beyond the Redskins. James Harris, the first black quarterback in the NFL, described the alienation and humiliation he suffered. In once instance, he told 60 Minutes, all of his fellow teammates were put up in a hotel– except for him. He stayed at a YMCA and was asked to clean the equipment.

Today, out of 32 teams, only nine havestarting quarterbacks who are black.

Former Redskins Running Back, Leroy Jackson

Oscar Alert! – 12 Years a Slave

This one has the Film Critics atwitter after the Toronto Film Festival. It is a film depiction of the true story of Solomon Northup, born a free man, who was abducted and enslaved in the pre-Civil War US.  Unlike the fictitious Django – the film is based on a book on the real-life experiences of the author, Solomon Northup, by the same name. The book is the 1853 autobiography of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington D.C in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for 12 years before his release.

The other big plus to this one, is that it sticks to historical truth – unlike The Butler, where the Director chose to “spice up” the story, having the central character born in Georgia – instead of Virginia. Met Mr Allen at a Christmas Party at the White House in 1976. I remember him distinctly because of being introduced by a family friend ho was a chef there – and a conversation about the “honesty” and racial feelings of the various Presidents he had served under to that time with the Master chef. Now – gay people may have “gaydar” – but black folks have “racedar” – that is reading the body language and reactions of a white person they interact with. One of the things Allen said was to keep an eye on whether when then new President Carter came downstairs to greet the staff, whether he looked them in the eye while shaking hands (or even shook their hands, which Nixon would not do). He then went on to say that despite the common belief that Eisenhower hated black folks – when he shook your hand he looked you straight in the eye regardless of race. which said a lot more about the man than any Monday morning quarterbacks in the press. I broke into the conversation and asked him which did… And which didn’t. He told me a story totally confounding my then 70′s belief set.

I think back on that brief conversation and recall a quote from Martin Luther King…

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

I wish the movie was about that.

And unlike the movie – NO –  Ronald Reagan was no racist. Although unfortunately several of his senior staff, like Ed Meese, were sheet wearers.

TIFF 13: Did Steve McQueen’s ’12 Years a Slave’ just change the game?

TORONTO – Brad Pitt didn’t say much during the question-and-answer session that followed the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of “12 Years a Slave” on Friday night, just a short comment on why he produced and co-starred in the Steve McQueen period drama.

But, like his turn as an abolitionist-minded maverick amid a group of brutal slaveowners, Pitt spoke volumes as he stood on the stage with cast and filmmakers. “If I never get to participate in a film again,” he said, his voice trailing off as if to imply this would be enough, “this is it for me,” he finally finished.

It’s a sentiment you could imagine the lead cast members –Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o and of course Chiwetel Eijiofor, standing out amid the standouts — sharing with Pitt. And it’s a sentiment you could imagine the audience feeling. Festivals come and go; movies rise and fade. But once in a great while there’s a film that feels almost instantly, in the room, like it’s going to endure, and change plenty of things along the way. And “12 Years” offers that feeling.

Director Steve McQueen (r) and co-Lead Actor Michael Fassbender (l).

Most narrowly, that’s true on Oscar level. By 9 p.m. Friday night, just six days into September, the film had already become a top contender for various acting, writing and directing prizes, as well as the big prize. You could say that’s premature. But you probably wouldn’t if you sat in the room. (Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan certainly didn’t hold back.)

It’s equally true on a social level. “12 Years” tells the fact-based story of Solomon Northup (Eijiofor), a free man who in 1841 was kidnapped and sold into slavery, and his travails — at once horrifying and surprising, no matter how much you think you’re ready for them — when he is trafficked to a series of Southern plantations for more than a decade.

The movie has many of the hallmarks McQueen has become known for — the meticulous composition, the bold and haunting sequences — but, far more than previous films “Hunger” and“Shame,” it has a galvanizing topicality. (For more on “12 Years” and how it was made see my colleague John Horn’s excellent piece in the Sunday Times.)

It also has the kind of bracing honesty that has always been rare in Hollywood and is even rarer these days, a Hollywood where, if tough issues are taken on at all, it’s under the garb of respectful period drama or easy sentiment.

Slavery is pretty much at the top of that list of tough issues. With films like “Django Unchained” and “Lincoln,“ the subject has have become slightly less taboo in the past few years — but only slightly.“Roots” broke new ground on TV more than three decades ago, yet few have followed in its path. McQueen is finally willing to pick up the trail.

But maybe that feeling of change was most apparent because the movie went beyond its ostensible subject of race and the fight for emancipation. After the screening, several people I was sitting near began comparing the movie, favorably, to other films about race. A worthwhile comparison. But the film also evoked parallels to a more unexpected movie, “Schindler’s List.” Exactly 20 years ago that film paired impressive filmmaking with a wrenching subject, and in so doing achieved something remarkable — used cinema to change the way we view a cataclysmic period we thought we knew. “12 Years” has the  power to do the same thing.

As this movie rolls out this fall, people will talk about the questions it raises, about the evolution of race relations, about what it’s saying on the matter of slavery, whether nearly 150 years after the end of the Civil War there is resolution or closure, whether there can ever be resolution or closure.

And there will be, inevitably, a backlash, people who will question the choices McQueen made, will scrutinize whether this detail softpedals the history or that detail overplays it, whether he went too far or not far enough, whether he fetishizes too much or too little.

Mostly, people will talk about slavery in a way they haven’t before because by seeing the film they’ll experience it in a way they never have before. McQueen on Friday summed up his reason for making a movie about slavery thusly: “For me it was a no-brainer. I just wanted to see it on film. I wanted to see that history on film. It was important. It was that obvious. And that’s it,” he said, putting a period on the sentence. But the conversation is only just beginning.

BTx3 is going to see this one. This one strikes a personal chord as part of my own family fought re-enslavement after the Revolutionary War for near 50 years. While no letters or material from those family members still exist (although there are a few pictures), there is ample evidence in court documents from 1790 through 1840 which document the trail… Including 4 court cases where slavers tried to claim various members of he family were escaped slaves. A decades long struggle which by a bit more than just local legend included several killings.

Why Travon Martin’s Murder Is a Watershed

Val Nickolas hits the nail on the head.Why most black men think the Zimmerman trial was a travesty.

Went through a couple of these experiences myself growing up, and later as an adult. Getting stopped in a$70,000 car, in a suit, with my then 80 year old mother 2 blocks from my house in a very nice neighborhood on the way home from taking her out to dinner… For having a loose license plate screw.

Had my Zimmerman moment as a teen, when I and two friends stopped by the local McDonalds for a meal. The driver was a couple of years older, and was known around the community as a bit of a bad ass. He later became a County Policeman and served with distinction for 30 some years. A car with four young white men first attempted to ram us in the parking lot as we drove out – missing us by a few inches. My older friend said “Forget it – they are probably a bunch of drunks”, and kept going without saying a word to the other driver. Half way home, we noticed the car full of guys was following us. We took a couple of turns through streets which basically took us around the block and back to the main, two  lane road (the area was pretty country at that time) – the car followed our every move. As the numbers were 4 to 3,we figured those guys weren’t interested in a stand up fight. They probably were armed. My friend carried a sawed-off under the seat (I said he was a bad ass) – but we didn’t want to force a confrontation on the road. I suggested we go to my house, which had a long circular driveway, shielded by a row of bushes and a wall. My Dad, who was out of town with my Mom, kept loaded guns by the doors after having the house shot at because of their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement (He never was real big on that “peaceful” stuff). When we pulled into the drive, the two non-drivers would jump out through the hedge unseen, and circle around to the house, letting ourselves in and collecting Dad’s venerable Pump and Double Barrel. IF the clowns followed us into the driveway, they would be faced with a three sided ambush, with no way out as the driveway would be blocked by our car, and the wall on one side, and the side of the garage on the other…

Which is exactly what happened.  We made them get out, and besides a case of beer, found two revolvers when we searched them and the car. We took the bullets, removed the cylinders, and tossed the revolver frames into the car – and collected 6 beers from the stash for our efforts. And with a graphic description of what was going to happen if we ever saw them in our town again…

Sent them on their way with instructions as to where to find their revolver cylinders in a few days.

Those guys were so shook up we never saw them again, and they never did pick up their revolver cylinders which we set atop a fence post at the end of a dead end farm road.

Story could have been a lot different…But those beers were damn good.

Had another friend who managed to get stopped 3 times the same day by the same cop, supposedly looking for a robber on his way to visit his girl friend in the next county. Cop as hell on aged blue Mustangs.

I could have been Trayvon Martin

The Don Imus controversy a while back brought racial discrimination into the national conversation. But for many African-Americans like me it dug up a lot of deep, suppressed memories of hateful things that have been said and done to us over the years. Things we thought we had moved past but came screaming back like a freight train into our lives again.

For me, it was the George Zimmerman trial that sparked my memory. As a vice president in a national news division, I watched the trial through an objective lens my eyes have long been trained to look through. However at the end of the trial, those long suppressed memories made an unwelcomed hello.

I grew up in a military family and we always lived in middle class neighborhoods. I was an honor studentin high school as well as a student athlete running track. I even had an after-school job to earn spending money. That said, twice as a teen, I ended up looking down the barrel of police guns for no other reason that I happened to be a black teenager. I had completely forgotten about these incidents but the Zimmerman verdict opened that door again.

The first time, I was merely waiting for a bus to go to my job. Suddenly two California Highway Patrol vehicles jumped over the concrete middle island and they came screaming to a halt on either side of me kicking up a huge cloud of dust.

My first instinct was to run away but before I could figure out how to handle this, an officer from each car jumped out with handguns pointed at me, screaming for me to put my hands up and get down on the ground.

I started to ask what was going on, but they were having none of it and forcibly pushed me down into the dirt making my work clothes a filthy mess. They then asked me if I was the name of someone they were looking for. I told them no and they demanded ID. I did not have a driver’s license yet but fortunately I did have a picture ID from work. If I had not had that ID, I would have surely ended up in jail. After they realized they had the wrong guy, they got back in their cars and drove off. No apology, no checking if I was OK, no nothing.

It was the first time I came to realize that being black was not just a magnet for racist speech and actions directed at me but also could also cost me my life had I responded to a normal human being’s natural fight or flight instinct.

The second time was while I was in a convenience store, and a voice from behind me told me not to move a muscle. I glanced back and saw a shotgun pointed at the back of my head. I thought I was being robbed and I had an envelope in my coat pocket with money I had just cashed from my paycheck. I was thinking about trying to get it out and hide it in the snack display in front of me.

Had I done that, I would have died on the spot…

Another great piece on “Waking Up”  was written by Leonard Pitts for the Miami Herald -

Leonard Pitts Jr.: Zimmerman acquittal another reason to wake up

Four words of advice for African Americans in the wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal:

Wake the hell up.

The Sunday after Zimmerman went free was a day of protest for many of us. From Biscayne Boulevard in Miami to Leimert Park in Los Angeles, to the Daley Center in Chicago to Times Square in New York City, African Americans — and others who believe in racial justice — carried out angry, but mostly peaceful demonstrations.

Good. This is as it should have been.

But if that’s the end, if you just get it out of your system, then move ahead with business as usual, then all you did Sunday was waste your time. You might as well have stayed home.

We are living in a perilous era for African-American freedom. The parallels to other eras have become too stark to ignore.

Every period of African-American advance has always been met by a crushing period of push back, the crafting of laws and the use of violence with the intent of eroding the new freedoms. Look it up:

The 13th Amendment ended slavery. So the white South created a convict leasing system that was actually harsher.

The 14th Amendment guaranteed citizenship. So the white South rendered that citizenship meaningless with the imposition of Jim Crow laws.

The 15th Amendment gave us the right to vote; it was taken away by the so-called “grandfather clause.” The Supreme Court struck that down, so the white South relied on literacy tests and poll taxes to snatch our ballots all over again.

Our history is a litany: two steps forward, one step back…

 

Read more here:

 

The American Revolution…A Flop?

The American Revolution was a flop

The easiest way of assessing whether the United States would have been better off without its revolution is to look at those English-speaking countries that rejected the American Revolution and retained the monarchy, particularly Canada, which experienced an influx of American refugees after the British defeat. The U.S. performance should also be assessed against the ideals the new country set for itself — namely, advancing life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The new republic started advancing life and liberty by keeping a substantial part of its population enslaved. (This, at least, proves the frequent British put-down that Americans don’t have a sense of irony.) By contrast, in British-controlled Canada, the abolition of slavery began almost 20 years before the War of 1812, sometimes called America’s “Second Revolution.” A good number of free blacks fought with the British against the United States in that conflict, even participating in the burning of Washington. And if, as some scholars argue, the Civil War was the unfinished business of the American Revolution, then Americans — like the Russians — paid a very high human cost for their revolutions.

On to liberty. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics show that more than 2 million people were incarcerated in 2011; that includes federal, state and local prisoners, as well as those awaiting trial. To put that total into perspective, theInternational Centre for Prison Studiesranks the United States ranks first in the world in the number of prisoners per 100,000 residents. That’s well ahead of Canada (which ranks 136th) and even Russia. The U.S. incarceration rate for African American men, which is about six times higher than that of white men, according to 2010 data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, points to yet more unfinished business.

As for the pursuit of happiness, Americans are free to do just that — provided that they aren’t rotting in jail. But are they likely to find it? Most Americans work longer hours and have fewer paid vacations and benefits — including health care — than their counterparts inmost advanced countries. Consider also that in the CIA World Factbook, the United States ranks 51st in life expectancy at birth. Working oneself into an early grave does not do much for one’s happiness quotient. This year the United States tied for 14th in “life satisfaction” on an annual quality-of-life study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That puts the United States behind Canada (eighth) and Australia (12th). Areport co-authored last year by the economist Jeffrey Sachs ranked the United States 10th in the world for happiness — again behind Canada and Australia. The Sachs study found that the United States has made “striking economic and technological progress over the past half century without gains in the self-reported happiness of the citizenry. Instead, uncertainties and anxieties are high, social and economic inequalities have widened considerably, social trust is in decline, and confidence in government is at an all-time low.”

Ouch.

Which brings us to the related matter of the revolution’s long-term impact on politics. While the Canadian, Australian and British governments have shown they can get things done, including passing tough austerity budgets in recent years, the norm in Washington has become paralyzing partisanship and gridlock.

In these senses, the American Revolution was a flop. Perhaps it’s time for Americans to accept that their revolution was a failure and renounce it. (For their part, many Russians have.)…

The reason we are failing now is the same reason the Constitution failed over half of our country…race. The progeny of the same folks who struck “All men are created equal” from the Constitution, fought a bloody war to preserve slavery, and now seek to bring our government to it’s knees because the majority have had the temerity to elect a black President have not given up the cause – even though they have changed names.

And until America forcefully rejects their vision yet again (hopefully through the ballot box), America will remain – America the Dysfunctional.

4th of July

The Computer Goes Round…

Some of my supercomputer buddies out there from back in the day would correctly identify the massive machine below as a Cray 2. The mega azz-kicking rocket propelled computer of it’s generation. The difference between it and the Cray 1 is they got rid of the “window seats” and upped the computational horsepower on the order of megaflops… Got to “play” with one of these once…actually about 12 CPU seconds…which is all it took to process a computation that took a small campus of building size IBM General Processing Machines (AKA Mainframes) a year to do.

The other pic? The new Apple Mac-Pro.

What goes round comes round.

Now don’t get me wrong here, the Apple is no Cray…And the Cray certainly “ain’t” no Apple, as it’s sole function in life was to move massive numbers from Bucket “A” to Bucket “B” after performing whatever mathematical gyrations questing scientists and mathematicians far above this poor boy’s head could come up with…

Back in the day I belonged to a group of rather nondescript guys “of limited notoriety” who usually got the call shortly after the customer plugged one of those things in, taking down the power or a small city…

“Oh, you actually wanted that to work?”

Little round machines…Indeed.

About the only thing that hasn’t changed is the price.

Cray 2 Towers

Apple Mac Pro

“Illegal Immigration”? How the Bengazi Added to Our Cultural Mix Before the Civil Rights Act

One of the biggest lies told you in school is about “America being the land of opportunity for immigrants”. It’s a lie because before 1965 immigration from non-white parts of the world was illegal. Many of the Chinese who came here to work on the Transcontinental Railroad in the 19th Century, were boxed up and shipped back to China as soon as the railroad was finished.

In terms of “non-whiteness” the Irish were only brought here in the 1840′s through 1870′s because they were cheaper than slaves, and made excellent cannon fodder during the Civil War. Black folks and Irish competed, and often worked for and on the same low paying dirty jobs, from digging coal mines, to ditch digging. That competition was sometimes not friendly – as demonstrated in the New York City Draft Riots during the Civil War, and later during the early Labor Union period of the 1900′s. But there is a pretty rich history between the two groups, certainly not all antagonistic.

South Asia was particularly singled out by American Immigration authorities, which is why few South Asians can trace their history in the US back more than 50 years. But some Indians and what would later become Pakistanis did come here nearly 150 years ago. They stayed here, they married, and raised families. A fascinating book (next on my loyal Kindle) uncovers this previously unknown and ignored bit of history…

The Bengazi in Harlem. A group of largely Muslim South Asian immigrants and their African-American and Puerto Rican Wives at a  1952 banquet at New York’s Pakistan League of America.

Bengali Harlem: Author documents a lost history of immigration in America

In the next few weeks, Fatima Shaik, an African-American, Christian woman, will travel “home” from New York to Kolkata, India.

It will be a journey steeped in a history that has remained unknown until the publication last month of a revelatory book by Vivek Bald. And it will be a journey of contemplation as Shaik, 60, meets for the first time ancestors with whom she has little in common.

“I want to go back because I want to find some sort of closure for my family, said Shaik, an author and scholar of the Afro-Creole experience.

That Americans like Shaik, who identify as black, are linked by blood to a people on the Indian subcontinent seems, at first, improbable.

South Asian immigration boomed in this country after the passage of landmark immigration legislation in 1965. But long before that, there were smaller waves of new Americans who hailed from India under the British Empire.

The first group, to which Shaik’s grandfather, Shaik Mohamed Musa, belonged, consisted of peddlers who came to these shores in the 1890s, according to Bald. They sold embroidered silks and cottons and other “exotic” wares from the East on the boardwalks of Asbury Park and Atlantic City, New Jersey. They eventually made their way south to cities like New Orleans and Atlanta and even farther to Central America.

The second wave came in the 1920s and ‘30s. They were seamen, some merchant marines.

Most were Muslim men from what was then the Indian province of Bengal and in many ways, they were the opposite of the stereotype of today’s well-heeled, highly educated South Asians.

South Asian immigration was illegal then – the 1917 Immigration Act barred all idiots, imbeciles, criminals and people from the “Asiatic Barred Zone.”

The Bengalis got off ships with little to their name. Continue reading

Clarence Thomas Fesses Up on ole in Conservative View of Constitution

No Tommy… The founding fathers didn’t include your black ass in the Constitution…

Thomas concedes that ‘we the people’ didn’t include blacks

It is true, Justice Clarence Thomas acknowledged the other night, that the “we the people” extolled in the Constitution 225 years ago did not include people who looked like him.

But the Declaration of Independence did, he contended, and that was something that a black kid growing up in Savannah, Ga., was told early on.

“There was always this underlying belief that we were entitled to be a full participant in ‘we the people,’ ” Thomas told a crowd at the National Archives last week.

“That’s the way we grew up. It was the way the nuns, who were all immigrants, would explain it to us — that we were entitled, as citizens of this country, to be full participants. There was never any doubt that we were inherently equal. It said so in the Declaration of Independence.”

Thomas submitted to about an hour of extremely gentle questioning from Yale Law School professor Akhil Reed Amar at an event called “The Constitution Turns 225,” co-sponsored by the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center and the conservative Federalist Society.

It was a packed house, drawn perhaps by the chance to see the “silent justice” speak. That’s far more myth than reality, of course.

It is true that Thomas hasn’t asked a question during the court’s oral arguments since 2006. But he speaks regularly to groups and law schools, and he put on a full publicity blitz when his memoir “My Grandfather’s Son” was published in 2007, including a sit-down with “60 Minutes” and a multi-part series on “Nightline.”

Thomas can on occasion be melancholy in his speeches, such as saying he sometimes envies the seemingly carefree lives he sees from his chamber windows. Several years ago, he told a group of high school students that he sometimes gets “morose,” and bucks himself up by reading inspirational speeches or retreating to the basement to watch the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”

He remains distrustful of Washington, although he mentioned during the discussion that he has lived here more than half of his 64 years. He often refers to it as “this city,” and says it is inhabited by ”cynical people who know it all.”

The “unlettered” people he grew up with, especially his grandparents, he said, withstood “the most difficult circumstances with a dignity that’s unmatched in this city.”

Amar repeatedly brought the conversation back to the point that under the original Constitution, people “like us” were not included. And Thomas spoke extensively about race — after noting with sarcasm that “people say horrible things about it — they say I’m not black, so I’m just a little doubtful I should say I’m black.”

“I always think it’s so fascinating to think of these black kids in the segregated school in Savannah reciting the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States or standing out in the schoolyard saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day before school,” Thomas said.

“I mean, everything so obviously in front of you is wrong. You can’t go to the public library. You can’t live in certain neighborhoods. You can’t go to certain schools. But despite all of that, you lived in an environment of people who said it was still our birthright to be included, and continued to push, not only to change the laws, but to maintain that belief in our hearts.”

Thomas also noted a period in his college years in which the belief was not so strong.

The REAL Black Panthers

A lot of young folks nowdays don’t really understand what the Black Panthers were – and what they really stood for.

There is even an imitation “Panther Party” of about 10 whack jobs who have captured conservative media imagination – and not much else. According to conservatives the appearance of two of these guys on the street outside of a polling place in 2008 constituted “voter fraud” and was directly responsible for a black man being elected President. In a conservative world where 1 black person on a street corner is “trouble”, 2 is a “conspiracy”, and 3 is a “riot” – the emergence of half a dozen black “militants” is cause for 24×7 wall-to-wall fearmongering. “The Nigras is out to get ya!”

Like a lot of the folks involved in the 60′s struggles, the author of this piece evolved. Jamal Joseph is now a Professor – but he maintains his activism.

Black Panthers, Guns and Star Trek

I was 15 years old when I walked into a Black Panther office and asked for a gun so I could kill a white man.

It was 1968, Dr. King had been murdered. Ghettoes across America were going up in riots and flames and I was a fatherless, angry man child who had been called “nigger” and smacked around by white cops a few too many times.

I was an honor student, a choir boy and a member of the N.A.A.C.P. youth council. My adoptive grandmother, “Noonie”, did her best as a single parent to instill her Baptist Church rooted values of “love they neighbor.” I dreamed of college, becoming a lawyer or in moments of liberated imagination a star ship commander like Captain Kirk from my favorite TV show Star Trek.

I worked part time as a stock and delivery boy at the supermarket so that Noonie wouldn’t have to give me allowance from her tight income that was a combination of social security and part time housekeeping work. I would sweep, mop and vacuum so that Noonie would not have to do anymore bending or scrubbing when she pulled her tired, body up the stairs to our second floor apartment.

jamal josephNoonie and I were close. I loved and respected her. But she was 70 and I was 15 — and the hip, cool path to manhood was on the streets. The Bronx and Harlem street corners I passed and sometimes hung out on had gangs, drugs, craps games, fights, hustlers, foxy ladies and patrolling cops that had to be eluded even when you were doing no wrong. The teens and men who held court there were living examples of how to walk, talk, swagger and fight your way into the manhood ranking system of being a “cool”, “bad” or “crazy dude” — which was highest honor.

The corners also had “warrior prophets” who talked about Black pride, progress and revolution. Some would be respected “bad” and “crazy” dudes who had gone to prison or to the Vietnam War and came back with something they called “Black Consciousness.” They critiqued drugs, hustling and violence as tools of oppression. They not only gave the corner contrast — they gave it context, and I was fascinated!

The evening news was filled with images of civil rights marchers and anti war protestors being beaten and tear gassed by Cops and National Guard Troops. Black Militant leaders like H.Rap Brown would appear on the news urging armed self defense and revolution. The Afros, dashikis and denim jackets the militants wore became the style of the day from schools to the street corners. We wore our Afros and dashikis to church, marches and N.A.A.C.P. meetings. The elders frowned but tolerated us with memories of the “wild styles” they wore when they were young. Continue reading

Of Melungeons and Other Historical Mysteries

Arch Goins and family, Melungeons from Graysville, Tennessee, c. 1920s

Arch Goins and family, Melungeons from Graysville, Tennessee, c. 1920s

When Dr. Thomas Walker and Daniel Boone first explored what they would name the Cumberland Gap, the pass which allowed western expansion by the colonists in the Mid-Atlantic region in 1750 – they found a group of folks living in the area who were not Native Americans. They spoke English, and by appearances were neither white, black, or Native American. They became known as Melungeons, partially based on an early statement by one of the group that they were “Portugee”.

Theories have abounded as to how thee folks got there, and from where they came from. The most romantic of which claimed that they were descendants of survivors of the “Lost Colony” and Virginia Dare on Roanoke Island near the border of Virginia and North Carolina who mysteriously disappeared in 1586/7. Others have it they were the descendants of Portugese sailors and Turkish slaves who had been shipwrecked along the Barrier Islands protecting the Carolina and Virginia coasts during the 15th or 16th Century. Still another had them as descendents of slaves originating from the first Spanish Colony located on the Virginia/North Carolina Coast founded by Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón in 1526, which was destroyed by a slave revolt.

None of these historical theories was true.

Another long standing mystery is what happened to the initial African slaves brought to Virginia in 1619. Because there were no slave laws in Virgina at that time – they were purchased as Indentured Servants. Serving of a period of years to pay back the cost of their voyage – or “purchase” cost…

After which they became free, along with the hundreds of thousands of white Europeans who had been brought to the Colonies as Indentured Servants typically to pay off their debts. Permanent black slavery wasnt legally institutionalized in Virginia until about 1670, when a number of “Slave Codes” were ratified in response to several slave revolts, and complaints of slave owners about the economic cost of having to free their slaves.  So what happened in the intervening period to these black folks who were brought to America – served as Indentured labor and paid off their debt to be free? The commonly accepted story is that they intermarried with Native Americas – which is only partially true.

Laws against miscegenation between black and white were codified about 1660 in Virginia. The issue was in large part that by treaty (with Native Americans) and law – the status of a couple’s children, slave or free – was based on the status of the Mother. Thus if an African male slave married and had children with a white female Indentured Servant – any resulting children were freedmen. This posed an economic conundrum for Virginia slave holders, and a loss of valuable property in the form of new slaves. Thus we start to see laws being put into place to prevent this.

Unions between black and white was far more common than many historians would have you believe – and not just the result of the slave Master raping their slave women. By some calculations, supported by DNA tests – about 30% of what is now considered the white population of the US, whose families lived in slave states before the Civil War have black Sub-Saharan ancestry. The result of these marriages was the establishment of large bi- and tri- racial communities in Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Louisiana. The groundbreaking work of Professor Paul Heinegg, of the University of Virginia “Free  African American Families of Virginia and North Carolina” and which has been expanded to now include Maryland, Delaware, and other states  - found that the genesis of most Free African American families before the Civil War in Virginia and North Carolina was the result of these unions between black males and white women. If you will recall, Thomas Jefferson kept his offspring from Sally Hemmings in slavery.

Unions between black slaves and white indentured servants were not rare – a situation creating the need (at least from the slave owners viewpoint) for laws prohibiting such unions. Which leaves the question – where did these families, established before the permanent slave laws,  go after finishing their indenture?

Part of my own family were what is called”Atlantic Creoles” (descendants of a white Sea Captain and an “Indian” woman who moved to Montgomery County  from what is now the Norfolk/Newport News area in 1719) whose children migrated from Montgomery County, Virginia on the lower Rappahannock River to an area near the Cumberland Gap on what is now the Virginia – West Virginia border to escape re-enslavement. They would fight a nearly 50 year legal battle in the Courts to retain their freedom. There was already a thriving black (or tri-racial) community there. What they did was to follow the path after the American Revolution of many European-American settlers and move west to the “frontier”, forming stable communities along the Virginia -West Virginia border.

Indeed there is evidence through letters that Confederate troops stayed out of certain counties in Virginia and North Carolina because the majority of the residents were freedmen who took a dim view of Confederates and would shoot any Confederate who wandered into the wrong territory. I have more then anecdotal evidence that being a slave catcher wandering onto some of those counties was a terminal profession. You can track some of that looking at General Sheridan’s campaign in the Shenandoah - looking at where they DIDN’T fight the Rebs.

My Dad, who was a Historian always claimed that the Melungeons of the region were actually the descendants of the first Africans brought to America who had intermarried with white Indentured Servants and had served out their indenture and moved to the remote area to escape persecution.

Turns out he was right. He referred to these folks as “cousins” – although I never figured out why, or have proven any direct family relationship with any of the 40 or so Melungeon families. He was also good friends with one of the Goins family descendants.

Melungeon history researchers at various times have claimed that several famous people were descendants of Melungeons, including Elvis Presley, Ava Gardner, and Abraham Lincoln. That is in all likleyhood wishful thinking – as I have never heard on any evidence to back such claims. The truth of which would be explosive.

Melungeon DNA Study Reveals Ancestry, Upsets ‘A Whole Lot Of People’

For years, varied and sometimes wild claims have been made about the origins of a group of dark-skinned Appalachian residents once known derisively as the Melungeons. Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies.

Now a new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking. The study found the truth to be somewhat less exotic: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin. Continue reading

Our First Gay President

And no – it wasn’t George Bush…

James Buchanan, fifteenth President of the United States who served from 1857 to 1861.

Our real first gay president

The new issue of Newsweek features a cover photo of President Obama topped by a rainbow-colored halo and captioned “The First Gay President.” The halo and caption strike me as cheap sensationalism. I realize airport travelers look at a magazine for 2.2 seconds before moving on to the next one. I grant that this cover will probably get Newsweek a 4.4 second glance. I also understand that Newsweek is desperate for sales. Nevertheless, I doubt that the Newsweek of old, before it was sold for a dollar, would have pandered as shallowly.

The caption is a superficial way to characterize an important development of thought that the president — along with the country — has been making over recent years. It is also entirely wrong. Like the mini-furor a couple of months back about the claim that Richard Nixon was our first gay president, the story simply ignores that the U.S. already had a gay president more than a century ago.

There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was gay, before, during and after his four years in the White House. Moreover, the nation knew it, too — he was not far into the closet.

Today, I know no historian who has studied the matter and thinks Buchanan was heterosexual. Fifteen years ago, historian John Howard, author of “Men Like That,” a pioneering study of queer culture in Mississippi, shared with me the key documents, including Buchanan’s May 13, 1844, letter to a Mrs. Roosevelt. Describing his deteriorating social life after his great love, William Rufus King, senator from Alabama, had moved to Paris to become our ambassador to France, Buchanan wrote:

I am now “solitary and alone,” having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.

Despite such evidence, one reason why Americans find it hard to believe Buchanan could have been gay is that we have a touching belief in progress. Our high school history textbooks’ overall story line is, “We started out great and have been getting better ever since,” more or less automatically. Thus we must be more tolerant now than we were way back in the middle of the 19th century! Buchanan could not have been gay then, else we would not seem more tolerant now.

This ideology of progress amounts to a chronological form of ethnocentrism. Thus chronological ethnocentrism is the belief that we now live in a better society, compared to past societies. Of course, ethnocentrism is the anthropological term for the attitude that our society is better than any other society now existing, and theirs are OK to the degree that they are like ours.

Chronological ethnocentrism plays a helpful role for history textbook authors: it lets them sequester bad things, from racism to the robber barons, in the distant past. Unfortunately for students, it also makes history impossibly dull, because we all “know” everything turned out for the best. It also makes history irrelevant, because it separates what we might learn about, say, racism or the robber barons in the past from issues of the here and now. Unfortunately for us all, just as ethnocentrism makes us less able to learn from other societies, chronological ethnocentrism makes us less able to learn from our past. It makes us stupider. ( - more -)

Antique Radio Collection – Man Saves America’s Audio Treasures

Check out his picture. As an admirer of industrial design from yesteryear, I have to say Mr. Goldin’s antique radio pushes the “kewl” factor right through the roof!

Not to mention his sucessful effort at saving some of the Nation’s audio treasures from thieves.

I hope the Police and Archives can recover those items which were sold.

J. David Goldin and his Antique Radio Collection

Amateur sleuth helps stop National Archives thefts

When J. David Goldin saw the recorded interview of baseball great Babe Ruth for sale on eBay he knew something was wrong. There was only one original record of that 1937 interview of Ruth on a hunting trip, and Goldin had donated it to a government archive more than 30 years ago. Now someone was auctioning it off, the winning bid just $34.75.

“I took one look at the record label and I said, `holy smokes, that’s my record,”‘ said the retired radio engineer.

From his home in Connecticut, filled with antique radios and tape reels, Goldin launched an amateur sleuthing effort that helped uncover a thief ripping off the country’s most important repository of historical records. The heist turned out to be an inside job. The culprit was the recently retired head of the video and sound branch of the National Archives and Records Administration — the government agency entrusted with preserving such documents as the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Leslie Charles Waffen, a 40-year employee, has acknowledged stealing thousands of sound recordings from the archive, and prosecutors say more than 1,000 were sold on eBay. The thefts started as early as 2001, and the stolen recordings include items ranging from a recording of the 1948 World Series to an eyewitness report of the Hindenburg crash. Waffen was set to be sentenced Thursday by a judge in Maryland and will likely spend a year and a half in prison.

It was Goldin’s meticulous record-keeping and some sleuthing worthy of a modern-day detective drama, however, that brought Waffen to authorities’ attention and helped catch him.

The 69-year-old Goldin’s interest in radio began when he was a teenager. He taped his first broadcast at age 14 and studied radio production at New York University before working for CBS, NBC and other stations.

At the same time, he became passionate about preserving radio’s history. He started creating his own archive of sound recordings, in the early days storing records under the bed in his small apartment in the Bronx.

These days, Goldin has a computer catalog for sorting through his holdings, more than 100,000 programs in all. He paid to have the system custom designed for him in the 1980s and estimates he’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars obtaining and archiving broadcasts. Rows of neatly organized boxes of tape reels fill the basement of his Sandy Hook, Conn., home, which he shares with his wife Joyce, three dogs and 917 antique radios.

Now retired, he spends his days preserving recordings by transferring them from their original metal, glass and plastic records to tape. He cleans up the sound with a bank of equipment that takes up part of his living room and makes his catalog available on his website. He says he has enough uncataloged recordings to last the rest of his life.

Once Goldin has listened to and copied the recordings, however, he doesn’t need the original discs. That’s one of the reasons why he asked the National Archive in the 1970s if it wanted the originals, most of them radio broadcasts from the 1930s and 1940s. The archive said yes, and Goldin donated thousands of recordings ranging from political speeches and interviews to Congressional hearings. Then, he says, he mostly forgot about them.

In September 2010, however, he typed one of his routine searches for records into eBay and saw the Babe Ruth recording for sale.

Goldin wasn’t sure what was happening. He wrote to the National Archives. Were they getting rid of old material? If so, he wanted his records back. He got a call a few days later. No, the archive hadn’t sold anything. The record was missing, and it seemed likely it had been stolen.

Goldin, a meticulous record keeper, turned over the information he had, including documentation of his donation. He knew the eBay seller with the Ruth record was going by the name “hi-fi-gal” and lived in Rockville, Md.

Then Goldin did some detective work of his own. He ordered a different recording from “hi-fi-gal,” and when it arrived he traced the package’s return address. It came back as the home of Leslie Waffen, the man who had accepted Goldin’s donation to the Archives more than 30 years earlier.

“I was kind of puzzled at the beginning and then disappointed when I discovered it was Les Waffen,” said Goldin, who added the men hadn’t stayed in touch.

With that information and more, federal officials obtained a search warrant and raided Waffen’s home, carting away two truckloads of materials. Late last year, Waffen pleaded guilty to stealing government property. He and his lawyer have declined to talk to reporters.

The Death of America – Conservatism

This one from Author E.L. Doctorow. An apt description of what conservatives and conservative have done to America…

It wasn't a foreign enemy that destroyed America..

Unexceptionalism: A Primer

TO achieve unexceptionalism, the political ideal that would render the United States indistinguishable from the impoverished, traditionally undemocratic, brutal or catatonic countries of the world, do the following:

PHASE ONE

If you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, ignore the first sacrament of a democracy and suspend the counting of ballots in a presidential election. Appoint the candidate of your choice as president.

If you’re the newly anointed president, react to a terrorist attack by invading a nonterrorist country. Despite the loss or disablement of untold numbers of lives, manage your war so that its results will be indeterminate.

Using the state of war as justification, order secret surveillance of American citizens, data mine their phone calls and e-mail, make business, medical and public library records available to government agencies, perform illegal warrantless searches of homes and offices.

Take to torturing terrorism suspects, here or abroad, in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, which prohibits the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment. Unilaterally abrogate the Convention Against Torture as well as the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war. Commit to indeterminate detention without trial those you decide are enemies. For good measure, trust that legislative supporters will eventually apply this policy as well to American citizens.

Suspend progressive taxation so that the wealthiest pay less proportionately than the middle class. See to it that the wealth of the country accumulates to a small fraction of the population so that the gap between rich and poor widens exponentially.

By cutting taxes and raising wartime expenditures, deplete the national treasury so that Congress and state and municipal legislatures cut back on domestic services, ensuring that there will be less money for the education of the young, for government health programs, for the care of veterans, for the maintenance of roads and bridges, for free public libraries, and so forth.

Deregulate the banking industry so as to create a severe recession in which enormous numbers of people lose their homes and jobs.

Before you leave office add to the Supreme Court justices like the ones who awarded you the presidency.

PHASE TWO

If you’re one of the conservative majority of a refurbished Supreme Court, rule that corporations, no less than human beings, have the right under the First Amendment to express their political point of view. To come to this judgment, do not acknowledge that corporations lack the range of feelings or values that define what it is to be human. That humans can act against their own interest, whereas corporations cannot act otherwise than in their own interest. That the corporation’s only purpose is to produce wealth, regardless of social consequences.

This decision of the court will ensure tremendous infusions of corporate money into the political process and lead to the election in national and state legislatures of majorities of de facto corporate lobbyists.

PHASE THREE

Given corporate control of legislative bodies, enact laws to the benefit of corporate interests. For example, those laws sponsored by weapons manufacturers wherein people may carry concealed weapons and shoot and kill anyone by whom they feel threatened.

Give the running of state prisons over to private corporations whose profits increase with the increase in inmate populations. See to it that a majority of prisoners are African-American.

When possible, treat immigrants as criminals.

Deplete and underfinance a viable system of free public schools and give the education of children over to private for-profit corporations.

Make college education unaffordable.

Inject religious precepts into public policy so as to control women’s bodies.

Enact laws prohibiting collective bargaining. Portray trade unions as un-American.

Enact laws restricting the voting rights of possibly unruly constituencies.

Propagandize against scientific facts that would affect corporate profits. Portray global warming as a conspiracy of scientists.

Having subverted the Constitution and enervated the nation with these measures,  portray the federal government as unwieldy, bumbling and shot through with elitist liberals.  Create mental states of maladaptive populism among the citizenry to support this view.

PHASE FOUR

If you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, decide that the police of any and all cities and towns and villages have the absolute authority to strip-search any person whom they, for whatever reason, put under arrest.

With this ruling, the reduction of America to unexceptionalism is complete.

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