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The Silent March

With the rise of the Second KKK, and the election of extremely racist President Wilson (Probably the most racist President until Trump in history), America was at War both in Europe and at home.

The KKK serially attacked 20 black communities in what were euphemistically called “Race riots” by the media of the time, as well as conducted lynchings. While the efforts and protests had an impact, what finally stopped the carnage was black folks shooting back – most notably in the attack on the black community of Washington, DC in July of 1919.

This peaceful March in 1917 set the stage for black resistance, and in many ways is the grandfather of today’s BLM Movement.

100 years ago African-Americans marched down 5th Avenue to declare that black lives matter

Silent Protest parade on Fifth Avenue, New York City, July 28, 1917, in response to the East St. Louis race riot. In front row are James Weldon Johnson (far right), W. E. B. DuBois (2nd from right), Rev. Hutchens Chew Bishop, rector of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church (Harlem) and realtor John E. Nail.(Credit: New York Public Library (public domain))

100 years ago African-Americans marched down 5th Avenue to declare that black lives matter

Nearly 10,000 African-Americans participated in the “Silent Protest Parade”

The only sounds were those of muffled drums, the shuffling of feet and the gentle sobs of some of the estimated 20,000 onlookers. The women and children wore all white. The men dressed in black.

On the afternoon of Saturday, July 28, 1917, nearly 10,000 African-Americans marched down Fifth Avenue, in silence, to protest racial violence and white supremacy in the United States.

New York City, and the nation, had never before witnessed such a remarkable scene.

The “Silent Protest Parade,” as it came to be known, was the first mass African-American demonstration of its kind and marked a watershed moment in the history of the civil rights movement. As I have written in my book “Torchbearers of Democracy,” African-Americans during the World War I era challenged racism both abroad and at home. In taking to the streets to dramatize the brutal treatment of black people, the participants of the “Silent Protest Parade” indicted the United States as an unjust nation.

This charge remains true today.

One hundred years later, as black people continue to insist that “Black Lives Matter,” the “Silent Protest Parade” offers a vivid reminder about the power of courageous leadership, grassroots mobilization, direct action and their collective necessity in the fight to end racial oppression in our current troubled times.

Racial violence and the East St. Louis Riot

One of the great accomplishments of the Black Lives Matter movement has been to demonstrate the continuum of racist violence against black people throughout American history and also the history of resistance against it. But as we continue to grapple with the hyper-visibility of black death, it is perhaps easy to forget just how truly horrific racial violence against black people was a century ago.

Prior to the “Silent Protest Parade,” mob violence and the lynching of African-Americans had grown even more gruesome. In Waco, a mob of 10,000 white Texans attended the May 15, 1916, lynching of a black farmer, Jesse Washington. One year later, on May 22, 1917, a black woodcutter, Ell Persons, died at the hands of over 5,000 vengeance-seeking whites in Memphis. Both men were burned and mutilated, their charred body parts distributed and displayed as souvenirs.

Even by these grisly standards, East St. Louis later that same summer was shocking. Simmering labor tensions between white and black workers exploded on the evening of July 2, 1917.

For 24 hours, white mobs indiscriminately stabbed, shot and lynched anyone with black skin. Men, women, children, the elderly, the disabled — no one was spared. Homes were torched and occupants shot down as they attempted to flee. White militia men stood idly by as the carnage unfolded. Some actively participated. The death toll likely ran as high as 200 people.

The city’s surviving 6,000 black residents became refugees.

East St. Louis was an American pogrom. The fearless African-American anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells traveled to the still smoldering city on July 4 and collected firsthand accounts of the aftermath. She described what she saw as an “awful orgy of human butchery.”

The devastation of East St. Louis was compounded by the fact that America was at war. On April 2, President Woodrow Wilson had thrown the United States into the maelstrom of World War I. He did so by asserting America’s singularly unique place on the global stage and his goal to make the world “safe for democracy.” In the eyes of black people, East St. Louis exposed the hypocrisy of Wilson’s vision and America itself.

The NAACP takes action

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoplequickly responded to the massacre. Founded in 1909, the NAACP had yet to establish itself as a truly representative organization for African-Americans across the country. With the exception of W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the NAACP’s co-founders and editor of The Crisis magazine, the national leadership was all white. Branches were overwhelmingly located in the North, despite the majority of African-Americans residing below the Mason-Dixon line. As a result, the NAACP had largely failed to respond with a sense of urgency to the everyday horrors endured by the masses of black folk.

James Weldon Johnson changed things. Lawyer, diplomat, novelist, poet and songwriter, Johnson was a true African-American renaissance man. In 1916, Johnson joined the NAACP as a field secretary and made an immediate impact. In addition to growing the organization’s southern membership, Johnson recognized the importance of expanding the influence of the NAACP’s existing branches beyond the black elite.

Johnson raised the idea of a silent protest march at an executive committee meeting of the NAACP Harlem branch shortly after the East St. Louis riot. Johnson also insisted that the protest include the city’s entire black community. Planning quickly got underway, spearheaded by Johnson and local black clergymen.

A historic day

By noon on July 28, several thousand African-Americans had begun to assemble at 59th Street. Crowds gathered along Fifth Avenue. Anxious New York City police officers lined the streets, aware of what was about to take place but, with clubs at the ready, prepared for trouble.

At approximately 1 p.m., the protest parade commenced. Four men carrying drums began to slowly, solemnly play. A group of black clergymen and NAACP officials made up the front line. W.E.B. Du Bois, who had recently returned from conducting an NAACP investigation in East St. Louis, and James Weldon Johnson marched side by side.

The parade was a stunning spectacle. At the front, women and children wearing all-white gowns symbolized the innocence of African-Americans in the face of the nation’s guilt. The men, bringing up the rear and dressed in dark suits, conveyed both a mournful dignity and stern determination to stand up for their rights as citizens.

They carried signs and banners shaming America for its treatment of black people. Some read, “Your hands are full of blood,” “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” “Mothers, do lynchers go to heaven?” Others highlighted the wartime context and the hollowness of America’s ideals: “We have fought for the liberty of white Americans in six wars; our reward was East St. Louis,” “Patriotism and loyalty presuppose protection and liberty,” “Make America safe for Democracy.”

Throughout the parade, the marchers remained silent. The New York Times described the protest as “one of the most quiet and orderly demonstrations ever witnessed.” The silence was finally broken with cheers when the parade concluded at Madison Square.

Legacy of the Silent Protest Parade

The “Silent Protest Parade” marked the beginning of a new epoch in the long black freedom struggle. While adhering to a certain politics of respectability, a strategy employed by African-Americans that focused on countering racist stereotypes through dignified appearance and behavior, the protest, within its context, constituted a radical claiming of the public sphere and a powerful affirmation of black humanity. It declared that a “New Negro” had arrived and launched a black public protest tradition that would be seen in the parades of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter marches of today.

The “Silent Protest Parade” reminds us that the fight against racist violence and the killing of black people remains just as relevant now as it did 100 years ago. Black death, whether at the hands of a Baton Rouge police officer or white supremacist in Charleston, is a specter that continues to haunt this nation. The expendability of black bodies is American tradition, and history speaks to the long endurance of this violent legacy.

But history also offers inspiration, purpose and vision.

Ida B. Wells, James Weldon Johnson and other freedom fighters of their generation should serve as models for activists today. That the “Silent Protest Parade” attracted black people from all walks of life and backgrounds attests to the need for organizations like the NAACP, following its recent national convention, to remember and embrace its origins. And, in building and sustaining the current movement, we can take lessons from past struggles and work strategically and creatively to apply them to the present.

Because, at their core, the demands of black people in 2017 remain the same as one of the signs raised to the sky on that July afternoon in 1917:

“Give me a chance to live.”

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2017 in The Post-Racial Life

 

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Assimilate or Die…History and the Chumph

Been watching, with interest, a PBS show, “The American Experience: The Great War” describing the events leading to, and America’s entry into WWI. Of particular interest is Woodrow Wilson. who was President at that time, and how he migrated from professing strong anti-war sentiments to becoming near dictator in his pursuit of American involvement in the war.

America in the 1900-1920 era had just expeienced a period of mass immigration. Over 30% of the population was foreign born. Immigrants were so prevalent that language became an issue in the first brigades formed to go fight in WWI, where the soldiers spoke 42 different  languages, not including English.

Intensely racist with reputed relations with the KKK, Wilson is reviled for his support of Jim Crow, and re-segregation of the Federal Government. His racism only extended to African-Americans, and when setting up the Military, Asians and Hispanics were considered “white” and were enlisted in white regiments, while black soldiers were enlisted in all-black segregated units of which the Harlem Hellcats are the most famous.

“The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservationuntil at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.” – Woodrow Wilson

Wilson, faced with a large immigrant population did two things. First, the largest immigrant population in America at the time were German-Americans. Wilson ordered a propaganda campaign to erase the German culture in America through mass intimidation and overt anti-ethnicism. German immigrants were harassed, violently attacked, and in several cases lynched. He then launched a campaign to erase the use of the “hyphenated” American (sound familiar?) insisting that ethnic and class divisions would disappear if only “we were all just Americans”.Lastly, he asked Congress to pass two acts, the “Espionage Act”, and the “Sedition Act”, which allowed the government to jail anyone for even minimal objection to the actions of the government. Thousands were jailed for reasons as trite as criticizing the “Draft Act” in a bar. During the 1910-1920 period America became no different than the authoritarian government which would be later formed by the fascists and communists.

“[Reconstruction government was detested] not because the Republican Party was dreaded but because the dominance of an ignorant and inferior race was justly dreaded.” – Woodrow Wilson

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The Chumph Borg

“Any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.” – Woodrow Wilson

So when you hear the Chumph talk about “Immigrants”…It’s just the same shit, different century. And the place he wants to take the country is right back to the fascism of the early 20th Century. Look at the laws being passed by Republicans to punish peaceful protesters. This crap is right out of the neo-Nazi “Sedition Act” passed by Wilson.

“Now came multitudes of men of the lowest class from the south of Italy, and men of the meaner sort out of Hungary and Poland, men out of the ranks, where there was neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence, and they came in numbers which increased from year to year, as if the countries of the south of Europe were disburdening themselves of the more sordid and hapless elements of their population.” – Woodrow Wilson

Trump wants immigrants to ‘share our values.’ They say assimilation is much more complex

Growing up in La Puente in the 1980s, Alex Espinoza was a typical child of the Reagan era. He collected “Star Wars” action figures and played with Rubik’s Cube.

But Espinoza was Mexican, born in Tijuana and brought to the United States by his mother when he was about 2 years old. He downplayed his Mexican roots to fit in. At the time, it seemed the worst thing in the world for a boy to be labeled as “a TJ” — literally someone from Tijuana, but also shorthand for an unassimilated Mexican.

“I grew up preferring the taste of a Big Mac over a burrito. I grew up preferring the taste of tuna noodle casserole over menudo,” he said. “Until I went to Mexico as a grad student, Mexico was this kind of static in the background.”

Three decades later, President Trump has sparked a new debate over immigration and assimilation that has Espinoza and many others reflecting on what it means to blend into American culture.

While much has been made about Trump’s harsh talk of deporting those here illegally, the president’s comments about the need for immigrants to fully embrace American culture has renewed a long-running debate that dates back generations.

“Not everyone who seeks to join our country will be able to successfully assimilate,” President Trump said in a campaign-trail speech in which he called for new immigrants to pass an “ideological certification to make sure that those we are admitting to our country share our values and love our people.”

In one Republican debate, Trump declared that “we have a country where, to assimilate, you have to speak English … This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.”

Though Espinoza and others might disagree with Trump’s policies on immigration, they say discussions about assimilation get to the heart of a balancing act all immigrants face: being American while preserving a strong sense of where they came from.

“Have I been assimilated? I don’t know,” said the 45-year-old director of the graduate creative writing and literary arts program at Cal State Los Angeles. “Some people will probably say yes — look at how I dress and speak and where I’m educated. And some people will say no — he speaks Spanish and has a Mexican passport.”

When he went to Mexico for the first time as an adult, the way he spoke, tripping over some Spanish words, instantly pegged him as American. Espinoza is a permanent legal resident but believes that even if he became a U.S. citizen he would never be considered “fully American” by some people.

“Even if I started right now speaking in a Southern drawl and listening to country music, I’m still going to be Mexican,” he said. “My skin is still going to be a certain shade. Assimilation is not this thing where it’s like, OK, I’m one of you.”

Though people often define assimilation in starkly different ways, a Pew Research Center survey released in February showed that 92% of Americans say it’s at least somewhat important for a person to speak English to be considered “truly American,” with 70% saying it’s “very” important.

More than 80% of the survey’s respondents believed that sharing American culture and traditions is at least somewhat important to national identity.

“We at least have absorbed and believe this national narrative that we are a nation of immigrants,” said Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at Pew. “But … it’s not so easy once you get into some of the details of diversity. People are saying, ‘This is good for the country, but it’s not good for me,’ and that ‘Diversity is good, but I actually I don’t like the fact that someone speaks Spanish in the store I go to.’”

These questions have dominated immigrant communities dating back to the 19th century, when the Italians, Irish, Germans, Chinese and other groups faced questions about whether they were true Americans.

The foreign-born share of the U.S. population has quadrupled in the five decades since the establishment of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which ended a quota system based on national origin that favored white European immigrants. In 1960, 9.7 million foreign-born residents were living in the U.S. In 2014, there were 42.2 million, according to census data and the Pew Research Center.

Kevin Solis, who works for the immigration advocacy group Dream Team LA, said politicians’ statements about assimilation just add fuel to an already sensitive subject.

“When you say, ‘They need to assimilate,’ you’re already beginning with the false notion that they don’t want to, that they’re coming here as an invading force,” he said. “It’s coded in the sense that these are ‘other’ people, foreigners who want to do harm to our nation, and that’s not the case.”

Jim Chang, an information systems specialist from Irvine, recalled meeting with one of his son’s teacher; she kept repeating what he was saying.

“I know he was repeating, you know, saying it more than once because she was worried I didn’t understand,” Chang, 53, said.

Though he spoke English fairly well and understood it even better, Chang said his Korean accent meant he would always stick out.

“It doesn’t matter if you have 12 years or 20 years in the U.S. If they hear us sound a little different, they judge,” he said.

That’s something he said he believes his son, a fifth-grader, shouldn’t have to face. Chang speaks Korean to him, but his son, Jimmy, responds in English.

“I realize that we don’t plan to return to live in Korea. We belong in California now,” Chang said.

But Carmen Fought, a linguistics professor at Pitzer College, said that everyone has an accent regardless of how well they speak English. Whether it’s the Cajun or so-called “Minnesota nice” or “Bronx” or other accent not quite on the radar of American pop culture, everyone in the U.S. speaks with an accent, she said.

Not all accents, however, are perceived as equally American.

“A way of speaking that’s associated with a group that’s stigmatized is also going to be stigmatized,” Fought said. “There’s also going to be racism and prejudice against that way of speaking.”

Karen, a 24-year-old honor student at Cal State Fullerton, is an aspiring certified public accountant. She volunteers for the IRS — where her ability to speak Spanish is a major asset — helping low-income people fill out their taxes.

The night Trump was elected, Karen — a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, recipient who asked that her last name not be used because she fears deportation — suddenly felt as if she stood out even though she was an infant sleeping in the back seat of a car when she was brought to the U.S. illegally from Mexico.

Karen hasn’t been back to Mexico since then but grew up in the overwhelmingly Latino community of Huntington Park, watching Spanish-language television with her grandmother and working in a Mexican restaurant.

Moving to Orange County for college was like moving to a different world, Karen said. At least until Trump’s election, she felt that she was safer as a college student than her parents, who have labor-oriented jobs.

Her younger brother is a DACA recipient also, and she had him move in with her so they could remove their parents’ address from their federal forms.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t belong anywhere,” she said. “In Mexico, I would be seen very differently because of my accent. It’s like, god, what do I do? If I were to go back, I wouldn’t have anything back there.”

“On the one side, the Hispanics tell you, ‘You’re way too American.’ On the other, you’ll have the Americans telling you you’re too Hispanic. It’s hard to be in the middle.”

“What makes me American? It’s not only the 24 years of my life,” she said. “It’s that this is all I know.”

 

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