FROM SLAVERY TO FERGUSON AND BEYOND

To better understand the tumultuous riots taking place in many American cities due to the recent killings of young black men by white cops, one needs to go back in time, to almost 400 years ago, and the beginnings of slavery in the Americas. Because what happened in Ferguson, and Staten Island, and Cleveland, (where the black victim was only 12) can be directly linked to decisions and actions initiated by by our earliest settlers in North America. Historians place the origins of slavery in the North American territories as beginning in 1619, or not long after the first pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. It was the discovery of tobacco in Virginia and Kentucky, and what a valuable commodity it turned out to be, especially for export back to England and the rest of Europe, that set the whole process in motion. That’s when people of European descent, whose skin color was pinkish-beige, decided that great profit could be gained by enslaving people of African descent, whose skin color was ebony-toned, to grow and harvest this commodity. Free labor enabled those early settlers to charge rock bottom prices for tobacco and still make a handsome profit. Huge profit was also made by ship owners willing to sail to Africa and round up defenseless natives and return them to the Americas for sale at auctions. If some potential slaves died during the voyage back, due to being confined in the most squalid and filthiest quarters, and thereby contracting various diseases, well, that was just part of the cost of doing business. Charge it off to overhead.

With the discovery of the cotton gin, early in the 18th century, growing and marketing cotton turned out to be an even more profitable venture than tobacco, and the demand for slave labor increased significantly. Cotton was largely grown on Southern plantations where the weather was almost always hot an humid, similar to conditions in Africa. The slave trade mushroomed, and would not be discontinued until the early 19th century. By then there were so many millions of slaves in the U.S., that there was little need to import any more from Africa. Slaves on the cotton plantations usually worked from sun-up to sundown, at least 6 days a week. They were housed in tiny shacks with dirt floors, and fed barely edible slop that no plantation owner would allow his wife to put on his own dinner table. Their work in the hot, humid cotton fields was usually overseen by a white foreman, who would not spare the whip if he felt they weren’t working hard enough. They could be shot and slaughtered like cattle, if they somehow displeased the foreman or plantation owner, with no legal consequences. So if you ever wonder why there is still so much residual anger among so many black citizens, you might give a thought back to those wondrous days of yesteryear, when slavery was in full bloom.

And it didn’t just exist in the United States. England had a thriving slave market for working the sugar plantations on British colonies in the Americas, such as in Jamaica and British Honduras, (known today as Belize.) Finally, toward the middle of the 19th century, movements began forming in this country, that denounced the practice of slavery as being so morally reprehensible, that it must be totally abolished. The Abolitionist movement began growing in strength, and it resulted in the nullification of slavery in all Northern states. But the South refused to budge on this issue; and it was backed up by our Supreme Court in the infamous Dredd Scott decision in the 1850s, which ruled that the practice of slavery was permitted by the state’s rights clause of our constitution. We all know what ensued after that. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 resulted in a massive Civil War between the North and South with hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides. The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Lincoln in 1862, and later codified by passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 finally freed blacks from the horrors and degradation of slavery forever in this country, after almost 250 years. But did it really? Well, not so much, as we shall see.

Lincoln made one fatal mistake, regarding this issue when he decided to run for re-election in 1864. He picked as his Vice-Presidential running mate, a Senator from Tennessee named Andrew Johnson. This man was a racial bigot in every conceivable way; but Lincoln chose him because he was one of the few prominent Southerners who opposed the South from seceding from the Union. Remember that Lincoln’s primary objective was to hold the Union together, and the abolition of slavery was secondary. When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Johnson, of course, ascended to the Presidency. Under Johnson’s regime, white Southern politicians were allowed to establish a series of race-based segregation laws known as Jim Crowism. Schools, factories, restaurants, lunch-counters, housing, public bathrooms and water fountains, etc. were all strictly segregated. Poll taxes and other discriminatory laws made it virtually impossible for blacks to vote in national or local elections. If any “uppity” black person sought to challenge these laws and customs, the was always the Ku Klux Klan to act as enforcers, usually through public lynchings. Because he had allowed all this to transpire, the House approved articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson; but the Senate, by one vote, refused to convict and remove him from office. Hence, blacks in the U.S., if not technically enchained by formal slavery, were forced to live in a state of semi-slavery, or Jim Crowism,  for the next 100 years.

It wasn’t until the tumultuous 1960s that massive protests against Jim Cow laws and customs began to take place. In the 1950s that the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, finally outlawed segregated schools. But schools did, in in fact remain mostly segregated, until the 1960s; when led by a young Reverend out of Alabama named Martin Luther King, passive resistance and peaceful protest marches against Jim Crow laws and customs began occurring. King had actually adopted the passive resistance methods used by Ghandi to free India from British shackles in the 1940s. After huge peaceful and sometimes violent demonstrations during the 1960s the walls of segregation and Jim Crowism finally began to come tumbling down. Civil rights legislation was passed affecting voting rights, employment and housing practices, and many other areas where blacks had been denied equal opportunities by Jim Crow. The President pushing for these civil rights for blacks was, ironically, another Southerner named Johnson. This time it was Lyndon Johnson from Texas. So it seemed that blacks were on their way to achieving the same equal rights and opportunities as whites and other minorities. Somewhere along the way, however, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Because of 350 years of slavery and semi-slavery, most blacks were ill-prepared to mesh seamlessly into a mostly-white dominated society. Today, inner-city slums that are rife with drugs, prostitution, and crime are almost totally populated by the black and Latino communities. Black household income is, on the average, 40% lower than comparable white households. Blacks, although comprising about 12% of the U.S.population, make up about 38% of the U.S. prison population.Unemployment for young black men is more than double what is for young white men. Black on black crime, especially in the inner cities, is at horrific levels. I believe that all the anger and rage emanating from the white police killings of black men has a lot to do with the feelings that many blacks have of being second class citizens. They’re fed up and refuse to take it any longer.

The election of a black President in 2008 was supposed to have healed most racial wounds and scars that have occurred over the past 400 years. Instead race relations in this country have been frozen into prior and current recriminations. Since Barack Obama was elected, there has been a steady stream of invective and vitriol hurled on a daily basis at the first black President and the first black Attorney-General of the U.S. by the right-wing of the Republican Party. Rush Limbaugh, on talk radio that I wrote about previously, bellowed on his program that “I WANT HIM TO FAIL” before Obama was actually sworn into office. Now, who could possibly infer that there has been anything racist going on.

I won’t pass judgement on the Grand Jury findings in the cases of the 3 killings of black men by white police. Except to say that I’m still naive enough to believe that all the evidence was carefully weighed, without racial bias, in reaching their conclusions not to prosecute the individual cops. I could be wrong. But in any case, if you’re ever stopped by the police for anything, whether you’re white or black, no matter how wrong you think it is, never, ever resist arrest. If, in fact, the police did make a wrongful arrest, you can always hire a lawyer after, and sue their asses off.

 

 

 

 

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