"Black Art Matters." If there were a way to sum up the thrust of this essay in one very brief sentence then that would be it. W.E.B. DuBois is one of those thinkers who needs very little introduction: lifelong socialist and Black liberationist, founder of the N.A.A.C.P., author of what is still to this day one of the definitive books on Black Reconstruction in the south. What is often overlooked is how central art was to DuBois' ideas about Black freedom in the United States.
That DuBois had ideas about art is not very surprising; a writer whose theories were as far-reaching and as all-encompassing as his is bound to encounter the milieu of human creativity at some point. When he claims that "all art is propaganda" he is not claiming that all art should be didactic or stump for a cause, merely that all art, whether honest about it or not, carries with it ideas and social consciousness, notions sometimes hidden and sometimes not about how the world is and how it should be. In a nation like the United States, built systematically on the bondage and labor of Africans and their descendants, there is perhaps no artistic expression for which this is more true than Black art. In this essay (published in October of 1926 in the N.A.A.C.P.'s magazine Crisis and based on a speech given a few months prior) DuBois mines these histories, experiences and this relationships. Appearing at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, its theses still hold true. – The Editors
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I do not doubt but there are some in this audience who are a little disturbed at the subject of this meeting, and particularly at the subject I have chosen. Such people are thinking something like this: "How is it that an organization like this, a group of radicals trying to bring new things into the world, a fighting organization which has come up out of the blood and dust of battle, struggling for the right of black men to be ordinary human beings – how is it that an organization of this kind can turn aside to talk about Art? After all, what have we who are slaves and black to do with Art?"
Or perhaps there are others who feel a certain relief and are saying, "After all it is rather satisfactory after all this talk about rights and fighting to sit and dream of something which leaves a nice taste in the mouth".
Let me tell you that neither of these groups is right. The thing we are talking about tonight is part of the great fight we are carrying on and it represents a forward and an upward look – a pushing onward. You and I have been breasting hills; we have been climbing upward; there has been progress and we can see it day by day looking back along blood-filled paths. But as you go through the valleys and over the foothills, so long as you are climbing, the direction -- north, south, east or west -- is of less importance. But when gradually the vista widens and you begin to see the world at your feet and the far horizon, then it is time to know more precisely whether you are going and what you really want.
What do we want? What is the thing we are after? As it was phrased last night it had a certain truth: We want to be Americans, full-fledged Americans, with all the rights of other American citizens. But is that all? Do we want simply to be Americans? Once in a while through all of us there flashes some clairvoyance, some clear idea, of what America really is. We who are dark can see America in a way that white Americans cannot. And seeing our country thus, are we satisfied with its present goals and ideals?
In the high school where I studied we learned most of Scott's "Lady of the Lake" by heart.  In after life once it was my privilege to see the lake. It was a Sunday. It was quiet. You could glimpse the deer wandering in unbroken forests; you could hear the soft ripple of romance on the waters. Around me fell the cadence of that poetry of my youth. I fell asleep full of the enchantment of the Scottish border. A new day broke and with it came a sudden rush of excursionists. They were mostly Americans and they were loud and strident. They poured upon the little pleasure boat -- men with their hats a little on one side and drooping cigars in the wet corners of their mouths; women who shared their conversation with the world. They all tried to get everywhere first. They pushed other people out of the way. They made all sorts of incoherent noises and gestures so that the quiet home folk and the visitors from other lands silently and half-wonderingly gave way before them. They struck a note not evil but wrong. They carried, perhaps, a sense of strength and accomplishment, but their hearts had no conception of the beauty which pervaded this holy place.
If you tonight suddenly should become full-fledged Americans; if your color faded, or the color line here in Chicago was miraculously forgotten; suppose, too, you became at the same time rich and powerful – what is it that you would want? What would you immediately seek? Would you buy the most powerful of motor cars and outrace Cook County? Would you buy the most elaborate estate on the North Shore? Would you be a Rotarian or a Lion or a What-not of the very last degree? Would you wear the most striking clothes, give the richest dinners, and buy the longest press notices?
Even as you visualize such ideals you know in your hearts that these are not the things you really want. You realize this sooner than the average white American because, pushed aside as we have been in America, there has come to us not only a certain distaste for the tawdry and flamboyant but a vision of what the world could be if it were really a beautiful world; if we had the true spirit; if we had the Seeing Eye, the Cunning Hand, the Feeling Heart; if we had, to be sure, not perfect happiness, but plenty of good hard work, the inevitable suffering that always comes with life; sacrifice and waiting, all that -- but, nevertheless, lived in a world where men know, where men create, where they realize themselves and where they enjoy life. It is that sort of a world we want to create for ourselves and for all America.
After all, who shall describe Beauty? What is it? I remember tonight four beautiful things: the Cathedral at Cologne, a forest in stone, set in light and changing shadow, echoing with sunlight and solemn song; a village of the Veys in West Africa, a little thing of mauve and purple, quiet, lying content and shining in the sun; a black and velvet room where on a throne rests, in old and yellowing marble, the broken curves of the Venus de Milo; a single phrase of music in the Southern South – utter melody, haunting and appealing, suddenly arising out of night and eternity, beneath the moon.
Such is Beauty. Its variety is infinite, its possibility is endless. In normal life all may have it and have it yet again. The world is full of it; and yet today the mass of human beings are choked away from it, and their lives distorted and made ugly. This is not only wrong, it is silly. Who shall right this well-nigh universal failing? Who shall let this world be beautiful? Who shall restore to men the glory of sunsets and the peace of quiet sleep?
Aaron Douglas's From Slavery to Reconstruction
We black folk may help for we have within us as a race new stirrings; stirrings of the beginning of a new appreciation of joy, of a new desire to create, of a new will to be; as though in this morning of group life we had awakened from some sleep that at once dimly mourns the past and dreams a splendid future; and there has come the conviction that the Youth that is here today, the Negro Youth, is a different kind of Youth, because in some new way it bears this mighty prophecy on its breast, with a new realization of itself, with new determination for all mankind.
What has this Beauty to do with the world? What has Beauty to do with Truth and Goodness – with the facts of the world and the right actions of men? "Nothing", the artists rush to answer. They may be right. I am but an humble disciple of art and cannot presume to say. I am one who tells the truth and exposes evil and seeks with Beauty and for Beauty to set the world right. That somehow, somewhere eternal and perfect Beauty sits above Truth and Right I can conceive, but here and now and in the world in which I work they are for me unseparated and inseparable.
This is brought to us peculiarly when as artists we face our own past as a people. There has come to us – and it has come especially through the man we are going to honor tonight – a realization of that past, of which for long years we have been ashamed, for which we have apologized. We thought nothing could come out of that past which we wanted to remember; which we wanted to hand down to our children. Suddenly, this same past is taking on form, color, and reality, and in a half shamefaced way we are beginning to be proud of it. We are remembering that the romance of the world did not die and lie forgotten in the Middle Age [sic]; that if you want romance to deal with you must have it here and now and in your own hands.
I once knew a man and woman. They had two children, a daughter who was white and a daughter who was brown; the daughter who was white married a white man; and when her wedding was preparing the daughter who was brown prepared to go and celebrate. But the mother said, "No!" and the brown daughter went into her room and turned on the gas and died. Do you want Greek tragedy swifter than that?
Or again, here is a little Southern town and you are in the public square. On one side of the square is the office of a colored lawyer and on all the other sides are men who do not like colored lawyers. A white woman goes into the black man's office and points to the white-filled square and says, "I want five hundred dollars now and if I do not get it I am going to scream."
Have you heard the story of the conquest of German East Africa? Listen to the untold tale: There were 40,000 black men and 4,000 white men who talked German. There were 20,000 black men and 12,000 white men who talked English. There were 10,000 black men and 400 white men who talked French. In Africa then where the Mountains of the Moon raised their white and snow-capped heads into the mouth of the tropic sun, where Nile and Congo rise and the Great Lakes swim, these men fought; they struggled on mountain, hill and valley, in river, lake and swamp, until in masses they sickened, crawled and died; until the 4,000 white Germans had become mostly bleached bones; until nearly all the 12,000 white Englishmen had returned to South Africa, and the 400 Frenchmen to Belgium and Heaven; all except a mere handful of the white men died; but thousands of black men from East, West and South Africa, from Nigeria and the Valley of the Nile, and from the West Indies still struggled, fought and died. For four years they fought and won and lost German East Africa; and all you hear about it is that England and Belgium conquered German Africa for the allies!
Such is the true and stirring stuff of which Romance is born and from this stuff come the stirrings of men who are beginning to remember that this kind of material is theirs; and this vital life of their own kind is beckoning them on.
The question comes next as to the interpretation of these new stirrings, of this new spirit: Of what is the colored artist capable? We have had on the part of both colored and white people singular unanimity of judgment in the past. Colored people have said: "This work must be inferior because it comes from colored people." White people have said: "It is inferior because it is done by colored people." But today there is coming to both the realization that the work of the black man is not always inferior. Interesting stories come to us. A professor in the University of Chicago read to a class that had studied literature a passage of poetry and asked them to guess the author. They guessed a goodly company from Shelley and Robert Browning to Tennyson and Masefield. The author was Countée Cullen.  Or again the English critic John Drinkwater went down to a Southern seminary, one of the sort which "finishes" young white women of the South. The students sat with their wooden faces while he tried to get some response out of them. Finally he said, "Name me some of your Southern poets". They hesitated. He said finally. "I'll start out with your best: Paul Laurence Dunbar!" 
With the growing recognition of Negro artists in spite of the severe handicaps, one comforting thing is occurring to both white and black. They are whispering, "Here is a way out. Here is the real solution of the color problem. The recognition accorded Cullen, Hughes, Fauset, White and others shows there is no real color line. Keep quiet! Don't complain! Work! All will be well!"
I will not say that already this chorus amounts to a conspiracy. Perhaps I am naturally too suspicious. But I will say that there are today a surprising number of white people who are getting great satisfaction out of these younger Negro writers because they think it is going to stop agitation of the Negro question. They say, "What is the use of your fighting and complaining; do the great thing and the reward is there." And many colored people are all too eager to follow this advice; especially those who weary of the eternal struggle along the color line, who are afraid to fight and to whom the money of philanthropists and the alluring publicity are subtle and deadly bribes. They say, "What is the use of fighting? Why not show simply what we deserve and let the reward come to us?"
And it is right here that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People comes upon the field, comes with its great call to a new battle, a new fight and new things to fight before the old things are wholly won; and to say that the Beauty of Truth and Freedom which shall some day be our heritage and the heritage of all civilized men is not in our hands yet and that we ourselves must not fail to realize.
There is in New York tonight a black woman molding clay by herself in a little bare room, because there is not a single school of sculpture in New York where she is welcome. Surely there are doors she might burst through, but when God makes a sculptor He does not always make the pushing sort of person who beats his way through doors thrust in his face. This girl is working her hands off to get out of this country so that she can get some sort of training.
There was Richard Brown. If he had been white he would have been alive today instead of dead of neglect. Many helped him when he asked but he was not the kind of boy that always asks. He was simply one who made colors sing. 
There is a colored woman in Chicago who is a great musician. She thought she would like to study at Fontainebleau this summer where Walter Damrosch and a score of leaders of Art have an American school of music. But the application blank of this school says: "I am a white American and I apply for admission to the school."
We can go on the stage; we can be just as funny as white Americans wish us to be; we can play all the sordid parts that America likes to assign to Negroes; but for any thing else there is still small place for us.
Richard L. Brown's Mt. Monadnock
And so I might go on. But let me sum up with this: Suppose the only Negro who survived some centuries hence was the Negro painted by white Americans in the novels and essays they have written. What would people in a hundred years say of black Americans? Now turn it around. Suppose you were to write a story and put in it the kind of people you know and like and imagine. You might get it published and you might not. And the "might not" is still far bigger than the "might". The white publishers catering to white folk would say, "It is not interesting" – to white folk, naturally not. They want Uncle Toms, Topsies, good "darkies" and clowns. I have in my office a story with all the earmarks of truth. A young man says that he started out to write and had his stories accepted. Then he began to write about the things he knew best about, that is, about his own people. He submitted a story to a magazine which said, "We are sorry, but we cannot take it". "I sat down and revised my story, changing the color of the characters and the locale and sent it under an assumed name with a change of address and it was accepted by the same magazine that had refused it, the editor promising to take anything else I might send in providing it was good enough."
We have, to be sure, a few recognized and successful Negro artists; but they are not all those fit to survive or even a good minority. They are but the remnants of that ability and genius among us whom the accidents of education and opportunity have raised on the tidal waves of chance. We black folk are not altogether peculiar in this. After all, in the world at large, it is only the accident, the remnant, that gets the chance to make the most of itself; but if this is true of the white world it is infinitely more true of the colored world. It is not simply the great clear tenor of Roland Hayes that opened the ears of America. We have had many voices of all kinds as fine as his and America was and is as deaf as she was for years to him. Then a foreign land heard Hayes and put its imprint on him and immediately America with all its imitative snobbery woke up. We approved Hayes because London, Paris and Berlin approved him and not simply because he was a great singer.
Thus it is the bounden duty of black America to begin this great work of the creation of Beauty, of the preservation of Beauty, of the realization of Beauty, and we must use in this work all the methods that men have used before. And what have been the tools of the artist in times gone by? First of all, he has used the Truth – not for the sake of truth, not as a scientist seeking truth, but as one upon whom Truth eternally thrusts itself as the highest handmaid of imagination, as the one great vehicle of universal understanding. Again artists have used Goodness – goodness in all its aspects of justice, honor and right – not for sake of an ethical sanction but as the one true method of gaining sympathy and human interest.
The apostle of Beauty thus becomes the apostle of Truth and Right not by choice but by inner and outer compulsion. Free he is but his freedom is ever bounded by Truth and Justice; and slavery only dogs him when he is denied the right to tell the Truth or recognize an ideal of Justice.
Thus all Art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists. I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda for gaining the right of black folk to love and enjoy. I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda. But I do care when propaganda is confined to one side while the other is stripped and silent.
In New York we have two plays: White Congo and Congo. In White Congo there is a fallen woman. She is black. In Congo the fallen woman is white. In White Congo the black woman goes down further and further and in Congo the white woman begins with degradation but in the end is one of the angels of the Lord.
You know the current magazine story: A young white man goes down to Central America and the most beautiful colored woman there falls in love with him. She crawls across the whole isthmus to get to him. The white man says nobly, "No". He goes back to his white sweetheart in New York.
In such cases, it is not the positive propaganda of people who believe white blood divine, infallible and holy to which I object. It is the denial of a similar right of propaganda to those who believe black blood human, lovable and inspired with new ideals for the world. White artists themselves suffer from this narrowing of their field. They cry for freedom in dealing with Negroes because they have so little freedom in dealing with whites. DuBose Heywood [sic: Heyward] writes "Porgy" and writes beautifully of the black Charleston underworld.  But why does he do this? Because he cannot do a similar thing for the white people of Charleston, or they would drum him out of town. The only chance he had to tell the truth of pitiful human degradation was to tell it of colored people. I should not be surprised if Octavius Roy Cohen [sic: Octavus] had approached The Saturday Evening Post and asked permission to write about a different kind of colored folk than the monstrosities he has created; but if he has, the Post has replied, "No. You are getting paid to write about the kind of colored people you are writing about." 
The N.A.A.C.P. picketing D.W. Griffith's racist film The Birth of a Nation in 1915
In other words, the white public today demands from its artists, literary and pictorial, racial pre-judgment which deliberately distorts Truth and Justice, as far as colored races are concerned, and it will pay for no other.
On the other hand, the young and slowly growing black public still wants its prophets almost equally unfree. We are bound by all sorts of customs that have come down as second-hand soul clothes of white patrons. We are ashamed of sex and we lower our eyes when people will talk of it. Our religion holds us in superstition. Our worst side has been so shamelessly emphasized that we are denying we have or ever had a worst side. In all sorts of ways we are hemmed in and our new young artists have got to fight their way to freedom.
The ultimate judge has got to be you and you have got to build yourselves up into that wide judgment, that catholicity of temper which is going to enable the artist to have his widest chance for freedom. We can afford the Truth. White folk today cannot. As it is now we are handing everything over to a white jury. If a colored man wants to publish a book, he has got to get a white publisher and a white newspaper to say it is great; and then you and I say so. We must come to the place where the work of art when it appears is reviewed and acclaimed by our own free and unfettered judgment. And we are going to have a real and valuable and eternal judgment only as we make ourselves free of mind, proud of body and just of soul to all men.
And then do you know what will be said? It is already saying. Just as soon as true Art emerges; just as soon as the black artist appears, someone touches the race on the shoulder and says, "He did that because he was an American, not because he was a Negro; he was born here; he was trained here; he is not a Negro – what is a Negro anyhow? He is just human; it is the kind of thing you ought to expect."
I do not doubt that the ultimate art coming from black folk is going to be just as beautiful, and beautiful largely in the same ways, as the art that comes from white folk, or yellow, or red; but the point today is that until the art of the black folk compells [sic] recognition they will not be rated as human. And when through art they compell [sic] recognition then let the world discover if it will that their art is as new as it is old and as old as new.
I had a classmate once who did three beautiful things and died. One of them was a story of a folk who found fire and then went wandering in the gloom of night seeking again the stars they had once known and lost; suddenly out of blackness they looked up and there loomed the heavens; and what was it that they said? They raised a mighty cry: "It is the stars, it is the ancient stars, it is the young and everlasting stars!"
"The Lady of the Lake" is a narrative poem of Arthurian legend written by Scottish writer and poet Sir Walter Scott in 1810.
Countée Cullen was a seminal African-American poet of the Harlem Renaissance.
Paul Laurence Dunbar was an African-American poet. Though he wrote in several dialects, his best-known poems are those written the Black American vernacular. He wrote In Dahomey, which was the first all-African-American musical produced on Broadway.
Richard L. Brown was one of the first African-American painters to achieve wide critical acclaim in the twentieth century. He died in his late twenties or early thirties; only three of his works are known to have survived, the best-known of which is Mt. Monadnock.
DuBose Heyward was the white American author who wrote the 1925 novel Porgy, later adapted for the stage and then by George Gershwin into the well-known musical Porgy and Bess. Many have understandably criticized Heyward's characterizations of African-Americans as sympathetic but stereotyped and often crude. WEB DuBois was not alone in defending Heyward. Langston Hughes celebrated and lauded Porgy.
Octavus Roy Cohen was a white American author, journalist, lawyer and screenwriter. His work at The Saturday Evening Post, which concerned mostly the plight of African-Americans in his native Charleston, brought him great fame.
The text of this speech was printed originally in the October, 1926 issue of The Crisis, and is available at WEBDuBois.org.
W.E.B. DuBois(1868 - 1963), civil rights activist, prolific author, socialist and Pan-Africanist, wrote several books during his lifetime, most notably The Souls of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction in America. He was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
November 15, 2013
A History of Slavery and Genocide Is Hidden in Modern DNA
Genetic testing of people with Caribbean ancestry reveals evidence of indigenous population collapse and specific waves of slave trade. Image via Wikimedia Commons/NASA
There are plenty of ways to study history. You can conduct archaeological digs, examining the artifacts and structures buried under the ground to learn about past lifestyles. You can read historical texts, perusing the written record to better understand events that occurred long ago.
Hidden in the microscopic genetic material of people from the Caribbean, they’ve found, is an indelible record of human history, stretching back centuries to the arrival of Europeans, the decimation of Native American populations and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. By analyzing these genetic samples and comparing them to the genes of people around the world, they’re able to pinpoint not only the geographic origin of various populations but even the timing of when great migrations occurred.
As part of a new project, documented in a study published yesterday in PLOS Genetics, the researchers sampled and studied the DNA of 251 people living in Florida who had ancestry from one of six countries and islands that border the Caribbean—Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Honduras and Colombia—along with 79 residents of Venezuela who belong to one of three Native American groups (the Yukpa, Warao and Bari tribes). Each study participant was part of a triad that included two parents and one of their children who were also surveyed, so the researchers could track which particular genetic markers were passed on from which parents.
The researchers sequenced the DNA of these participants, analyzing their entire genomes in search of particular genetic sequences—called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)—that often differ between unrelated individuals and are passed down from parent to child. To provide context for the SNPs they found in people from these groups and areas, they compared them to existing databases of sequenced DNA from thousands of people globally, such as data from the HapMap Project.
Tracing a person’s DNA to a geographical area is relatively straightforward—it’s well-established that particular SNPs tend to occur in different frequencies in people with different ancestries. As a result, sequencing the DNA of someone living in Florida whose family came from Haiti can reveal what proportion of his or her ancestors originally came from Africa and even where in Africa those people lived.
But one of the most amazing things about the state of modern genetics is that it also allows scientists to draw chronological conclusions about human migration, because blocks of these SNPs shorten over time at a generally consistent rate. ”You can essentially break the genome up into European chunks, Native American chunks and African chunks,” Martin says. “If each of these regions are longer, it suggests they arrived in the gene pool more recently, because time tends to break up the genome. If these chunks are shorter, it suggests there’s been a lot of recombination and mixing up of the genome, which suggests the events were longer ago.”
Modeling their DNA data with these assumptions built in, the researchers created a portrait of Caribbean migration and population change that stretches back to before the arrival of Columbus. One of their most interesting findings was just how few Native Americans survived the arrival of Europeans, based on the DNA data. “There was an initial Native American genetic component on the islands,” Martin says, “but after colonization by the Europeans, they were almost decimated.”
This decimation was the result of European attacks and enslavement, as well as the disease and starvation that came in their wake. The DNA analysis showed that the native population collapse of Caribbean islands happened almost immediately after the arrival of Columbus, within one generation of his first visits and the appearance of other Europeans. The gene pool on the mainland, by contrast, shows a more significant Native American influence, indicating that they didn’t die off at the same rates.
The regions of Africa most heavily raided for those to be enslaved.
What replaced the missing Native American genes in island populations? The answer reflects the conquering Europeans’ solution to diminishing populations available for labor: slaves kidnapped and imported from Africa. The DNA analysis showed a heavy influence from characteristically African SNPs, but notably, it revealed two separate phases in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. “There were two distinct pulses of African immigration,” Martin says. “The first pulse came from one part of West Africa—the Senegal region—and the second, larger pulse came from another part of it, near the Congo.”
This corresponds to written records and other historical sources, which show an initial phase of slave trade starting around 1550, in which slaves were mostly kidnapped from the Senegambia area of the Mali Empire, covering modern-day Senegal, Gambia and Mali (the orange area in the map at right). This first push accounted for somewhere between 3 and 16 percent of the total Atlantic slave trade. It was followed by a second, much heavier period that made up more than half of the trade and peaked during the late 1700s, in which slaves were largely taken from what is now Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon and the Congo (the red and green areas).
The genetic analysis can also look at genes that are passed down on the X chromosome in particular, revealing the historical influence of different ancestries on both the female and male sides of the genome. They found that, in the populations studied, Native American SNPs were more prevalent on the X chromosome than the others, reflecting the history of both marriage and rape of Native American women by Spanish men who settled in the area.
As medical researchers, the scientists are primarily interested in using the findings to advance research into the role of genetics in diseases that disproportionately affect Hispanic populations. Similar research on genetics and ethnicity has revealed that, for instance, Europeans are much more likely to suffer from cystic fibrosis, or sickle-cell anemia tends to strike people of African ancestry.
“Hispanics are extremely diverse genetically—they originate from countries all over the world,” Martin says. “So that poses great challenges in genetic studies. We can’t just lump all Hispanics into a group and think of them as homogenous, so we’re trying to look more deeply into their genetic heritage and where it came from.”
Research Article: http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pgen.1003925
Reconstructing the Population Genetic History of the Caribbean
Jacob L. McCauley,
Jake K. Byrnes,
Christopher R. Gignoux,
Patricia A. Ortiz-Tello,
Ricardo J. Martínez,
Dale J. Hedges,
Richard W. Morris,
Paul J. Norman,
Juan Carlos Martínez-Cruzado,
Esteban González Burchard,
Michael L. Cuccaro,
Eden R. Martin
Carlos D. Bustamante
NEGRO: An AfroPeruvian Perspective on ‘Django Unchained and Peruvian Media
AfroPeruvian activist, Rocio Munoz describes racist imagery in Peruvian media and her reaction to ‘Django Unchained.’ Music by ‘El Menor.’
Danny Glover Says Second Amendment Prevented Slave Revolts, Conservative Students Petition
Actor Danny Glover discussed the roots of the Second Amendment during a recent college appearance, saying the legislation was ratified to protect against slave revolts. Now, a conservative student group is launching a petition against the school's "leftist bias."
Glover appeared at Texas A&M on Thursday, Jan. 17 for an event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when the conversation turned to the right to bear arms, according to RawStory. Glover proceeded to discuss the Second Amendment, and how it was written to protect the institution of slavery and to help secure Native American land.
“I don’t know if you know the genesis of the right to bear arms,” Glover said. “The Second Amendment comes from the right to protect themselves from slave revolts, and from uprisings by Native Americans. So, a revolt from people who were stolen from their land, or revolt from people whose land was stolen from, that’s what the genesis of the Second Amendment is.”
Texas A&M officials didn't know Glover was going to talk about the Second Amendment, according to Campus Reform, a conservative activist group. “I had no idea, we really didn’t know that topic was coming up,” the director of Texas A&M’s Memorial Student Center, Luke Altendorf, told Campus Reform. “Someone was asking a question about activism, I think that’s where some of that came from.”
The video of Glover was first posted by the conservative student organization, Texas Aggie Conservatives. The group has since started a petition against Texas A&M hosting "radical leftist speakers" who promote "leftist bias," and using school funding to do so.
Despite the fact that the petition groups Glover's comments under the umbrella of "far-left agenda," some constitutional scholars have shared his same theories.
Author and radio personality Thom Hartmann describes how the Second Amendment was written to "preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia's vote" in a blog post for Truth-Out.org.
Mother Jones also posited the theory in a 2008 article. "[Some] scholars believe the founders enshrined the right to bear arms in the Constitution in part to enforce tyranny, not fight it," Mother Jones reporter Stephanie Mencimer wrote. Explaining, "the 'well-regulated militias' cited in the Constitution almost certainly referred to state militias that were used to suppress slave insurrections."
One of the Documents that Brother Glover studied before he spoke at Texas A&M
A Peculiar Revolt: On Marcus Rediker’s 'The Amistad Rebellion'
Nicholas Guyatt | November 7, 2012 Brother Hale Woodruff's 1939 depiction of the 1839 Amistad Rebellion
It’s been fifteen years since Steven Spielberg’s Amistad arrived in theaters, and the initial controversies surrounding the film’s sources and sentimentality have largely been forgotten. Instead, the Cuban schooner is now a fixture in textbooks and history classes. College students pore over the trial documents that upheld the freedom of the Amistad Africans, and New England children clamber over a replica vessel at Mystic Seaport. As Marcus Rediker’s new book reminds us, the place of the rebellion in popular memory hasn’t always been secure.
While public interest in the Amistad Africans was instant and overwhelming, their story was almost entirely forgotten after the Civil War. In 1953, the Texas writer William Owens produced a historical novel, Black Mutiny, which would serve as the starting point for Spielberg’s movie. But it was left to the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s to rediscover the political power of the narrative. For the teachers and activists of those movements, the Amistad rebellion was a case study in a new kind of scholarship: “history from below.”
Rediker hails from this tradition, and it informs his definition of the basic problem with the post-Spielberg understanding of the story: “The drama of the courtroom has eclipsed the original drama that transpired on the deck of the slave schooner,” he writes in The Amistad Rebellion. We’ve been fed a version of events in which “the American legal system has emerged as the story’s hero”—a bitter irony because, at the time of the uprising, “that very system held two and a half million African Americans in bondage.” Rediker’s solution to the problem is startlingly obvious: retell the saga from the perspective of the rebels themselves.
This was, after all, an unusual slave revolt. Insurrections in the Atlantic Hemisphere were rare, and they typically left ambiguous evidence concerning the motivations and even the actions of their protagonists. (In the case of Denmark Vesey’s supposed uprising in Charleston in 1822, historians are still arguing over whether there was a conspiracy in the first place.) The Amistad rebels had two key advantages: first, their original enslavement violated Spanish law and international treaties; second, they were taken into custody in New England, where slavery was waning and a noisy abolitionist movement was finding its voice. Thanks to an extraordinary series of intermediaries and translators, the rebels’ stories—about their African origins, passage into slavery and bold uprising—found their way into print. Mining this material, Rediker argues that the Amistad Africans had accumulated a measure of extraordinary experience even before they drew two American presidents—Martin Van Buren and John Quincy Adams—into their desperate legal struggle before the Supreme Court. For Rediker, this experience was not just a prelude to an American drama, but the heart of the captives’ story. The African values of the Amistad rebels—forged in their towns and villages, and tested on the high seas—were crucial to securing their freedom.
* * *
After reading the first half of The Amistad Rebellion, even John Grisham junkies may wonder how this tale could have reached the big screen as a courtroom drama.
Rediker begins in the Mende country of the Sierra Leone interior, tracing the diverse trajectories that brought the Amistad rebels into captivity. Some were soldiers who’d been captured in the region’s incessant wars; most, including the leader of the Amistad revolt, Cinqué, were kidnapped on the trading routes that linked their towns.
The Mende country was fertile, with a well-developed economy of cotton, yams, rice and iron ore, but the politics of the region were contaminated by the influence of slavery. Rediker argues that slavery in the Mende country was typically “paternal and familial”—a world away from the sweeping cruelties of the American plantation system. But traditional patterns of African bondage and warfare were disrupted by the demand for labor across the ocean. New alliances between local rulers and unscrupulous Europeans encouraged wars for people rather than territory, and African captives were funneled with grim efficiency toward the slave factories of the Gallinas coast. Cinqué, Burna, Grabeau and the other Africans who would eventually board the Amistad were ground between the gears of the African and American slave systems.
As they were paddled through choppy surf and shark-infested waters to the slave ship Teçora, bound for Cuba, these Africans already had the skills and sensibilities that would enable them to engineer their escape from slavery, Rediker argues. Most could speak more than one language; several were warriors, versed in the guerrilla tactics that structured small conflicts in the Mende country. Many were members of the Poro, a secret society that helped to enforce the laws of the region. All were resourceful and could forge lasting bonds beyond their immediate families. These were practiced, skilled and worldly-wise men with a strong inclination toward collective action.
Their captors had their own problems. Since 1807, Britain had been trying to extend its ban on the slave trade to other countries. Spain, in the process of losing much of its Latin American empire, was an obvious target for British pressure. In 1817 and 1835, Spain signed treaties that made the voyage of the Teçora illegal. But the sugar planters of Cuba, who had no say in Madrid’s diplomatic maneuvers, were desperate for slaves. The Haitian Revolution had stripped France of the world’s most valuable sugar colony and virtually stopped all production. The first day on Board the Amistad.
The Cubans hoped to corner the sugar market with their own plantation empire, but had to smuggle slaves across the Atlantic past a network of British patrols. By the end of the 1830s, with Spanish and Cuban officials working tirelessly to disguise their activity, slave captains were illegally landing some 10,000 Africans in Cuba every year. The slaves of the Teçora may have sensed this skulduggery when they reached Havana.
The British had a man-of-war in the harbor, on the lookout for illicit trading. (To further annoy the Cubans, Britain had crewed the ship with black sailors from its West Indian regiments.) Slave traders were forced to unload their cargo by night, to obtain false papers masking the Africans’ origins, and to solicit customers quietly. Fifty-three of the Teçora’s slaves were bought by Pedro Montes and José Ruiz, who had hired the Amistad to transport their new purchases to sugar fields 300 miles east of the capital. On the night of Friday, June 28, 1839, Cinqué and his colleagues were disguised in sailors’ clothes, led quietly through dark streets, and shepherded past the British warship and onto the Amistad. When the schooner reached open water in the early hours of Saturday, the Cubans must have thought that the dangerous part of their journey lay behind them.
Rediker’s account of the uprising that took place the following night is so gripping that I’m wary of providing spoilers. What emerges with wonderful clarity, though, is the influence of the captives’ African experiences on what Rediker calls their “direct action.” The flashpoint below decks was the deteriorating relationship between Cinqué and Celestino, Captain Ferrer’s mulatto cook (and slave). The captives responded badly to Celestino’s menacing gestures and cryptic threats of cannibalism: the rules of the Poro society obliged them to punish or kill malevolent sorcerers. In the event, Celestino was the first to die, but not before the Africans had convened a palaver to consider their options. Rediker persuasively argues that, in the hours before they struck, the Africans drew on their traditions of collective decision-making. Although they killed Celestino and Captain Ferrer in the first minutes of their revolt, the Amistad Africans resolved to spare the lives of Antonio—Ferrer’s cabin boy—and both Montes and Ruiz. In the heat of the uprising, the rebels coolly reasoned that all three would be useful in securing their new objective: to sail the Amistad to Sierra Leone. That objective was brave and desperate in equal measure. The schooner had little fresh water, and its new masters had neither maps nor nautical expertise. Montes was ordered to steer toward the sun, but he rigged the sails loosely; by night, he turned the ship to the west, hoping that a Spanish or even a British ship might rescue him. Over the next seven weeks, the Amistad carved a dramatic course through the Caribbean and the Atlantic. The Africans couldn’t have known that, had they sailed brazenly into any British port, they would certainly have won permanent freedom. Instead, they avoided other ships, sneaked onto islands and cays to replenish their water supply, and fled at the first sight of a white person.
Low on supplies and hope, the Amistad Africans finally made landfall near Montauk in the last week of August 1839. They may have been ready to beach their vessel and form a settlement, along the lines of the maroon communities of runaway slaves in Sierra Leone and the Caribbean. But they encountered a group of local whites on the shore, who had perhaps been drawn by newspaper reports of a mysterious schooner with a cargo of gold. In a lovely twist, the Amistad Africans got the measure of their welcoming committee: they flashed a doubloon at the whites and asked for their help in sailing back to Africa.
Quickly sensing what motivated their new friends, the Africans rowed to the Amistad, ransacked the sugar-refining machinery in the hold, and returned to shore with two heavy, locked chests that clanked suggestively. Before a deal could be reached, however, a US Navy vessel came into view. The ship’s commander, Thomas Gedney, had motives no higher than those of his onshore compatriots. Accepting the testimony of Montes and Ruiz, he towed the Amistad to Connecticut and made his own claim to salvage rights—on the vessel and its human cargo. The Africans who had dramatically seized their freedom were again behind bars.
* * *
After its superb opening chapters, The Amistad Rebellion describes in its second half how the Africans imprisoned in New Haven shaped and experienced the public battle over their future. We see them adapting to their new situation, forging an alliance with local anti-slavery activists and insisting on their African identity. This insistence was integral to their legal strategy: no US court would validate a slave uprising. The rebels’ only hope lay in persuading the judges that they were African (and therefore illegally enslaved) rather than Cuban. The rebels also made it clear that, at the end of their ordeal, they wanted to return to Africa rather than remain in the United States.
Even for a group that had seized a slave ship and sailed from Cuba to Long Island, the prospect of victory seemed slim. During the 1830s and early 1840s, the anti-slavery movement struggled with internal divisions and a storm of public hostility. Abolitionists and free blacks were attacked in every major city, and a number of states passed laws that riveted racial discrimination in place. But the Amistad Africans seemed to captivate the general public, at least in the North. Not only were they spared physical assaults and threats—save from their avaricious jailer, who charged the public for admission to their cell—but they inspired paintings, newspaper accounts, theatrical dramas, even a waxworks exhibit. When the Supreme Court ordered their release in March 1841, they embarked on a tour of dozens of venues from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire, drawing huge crowds and generous contributions for their homeward passage.
Did the Amistad Africans alter the course of the slavery debate in America, or did they tack around it? Rediker came to this story after writing The Slave Ship (2007), a book about the “profoundly human drama” of those countless Africans who endured the Middle Passage before 1808. When set against this earlier project, The Amistad Rebellion offers a “hopeful counterpoint to a gruesome history.” Without denying the courage of the rebels or the quality of Rediker’s new book, I’m not sure that the case had a transformative effect on the American struggle with slavery. The courtroom battles turned not on the rights and wrongs of the institution, but on whether the Africans had been legally enslaved. In a perverse sense, the willingness of conservative politicians to observe the distinction between legal and illegal forms of slavery could only strengthen Southern boasts that their institution was properly regulated. It’s telling that the Supreme Court decision in favor of the Africans was joined by every Southern justice, including those who owned slaves. (The single holdout was from Pennsylvania, and he didn’t explain his reasoning.) Even the man who would write the Dred Scott decision, Justice Roger Taney—whose baleful visage peers from every American history textbook—agreed that the Africans should go free.
And the public’s fascination? It could certainly carry an anti-slavery charge, even if some depictions of the rebellion slid into prurience. (The first drama based on the events, which reached the New York stage less than a week after the Amistad landed on Long Island, gave Pedro Montes a fictional daughter who could be menaced by an African.) The parallels drawn by newspaper columnists between Cinqué and George Washington pointed boldly toward a freedom that could not be bounded by race or nation. Yet the excitement surrounding these unfamiliar prisoners surely owed something to a popular taste for the exotic.
In reading Rediker’s account of the Amistad waxworks and paintings, I found myself thinking of the artist George Catlin and his traveling Indian gallery, and the displays of Native American dancing and rituals that drew enormous public interest in the 1830s—even as the government drove tens of thousands of native people across the Mississippi. The New York theater that played host to the Amistad waxworks had previously hosted a display by “live Indians”—which, for the audience’s amusement, included a mock scalping. Not for the last time in American history, public sympathies and political outcomes could easily drift in opposite directions.
* * *
As for the anti-slavery alliance that developed around the Amistad Africans, Rediker lingers more on the energetic advocacy of white abolitionists than their occasional high-handedness. He’s also keen to assure us that the Africans’ white allies were firm opponents of black colonization, which remained popular in Connecticut. The view that black Americans should be relocated to Africa had been galvanized in 1816 by the formation of the American Colonization Society, an organization that drew many of Washington’s most prominent figures to its masthead. In 1819, at the society’s urging, Congress passed a law that authorized the creation of an ACS colony to the south of the Mende country. Liberia, as it became known, had three objectives: it would provide a destination for black Americans who could never win meaningful equality in the United States; it would serve as a refuge for illegally enslaved Africans intercepted on the high seas; and it would become a beachhead for the projection of Christianity and “civilization” in the African interior.
Lewis Tappan, the chief organizer of the Amistad defense effort, had been an ACS supporter until the early 1830s, when he became disillusioned by its focus on Northern free blacks rather than Southern slaves. He also recognized that free blacks themselves wanted equal rights in America rather than removal to Africa. But the Amistad Africans weren’t looking for American citizenship or even equality: they simply wanted to go home.
Their cause resonated with Connecticut’s anti-slavery “moderates,” who comfortably outnumbered the state’s radical abolitionists and clung to colonization. New Haven itself was a stronghold of ACS support, and Tappan’s Amistad alliance included men committed to black removal. Leonard Bacon, generously described by Rediker as an “abolitionist,” took charge of the effort to educate the Amistad Africans in 1839. That same year, he was honored in two ways by the New Haven community: with election to the Yale Corporation, and with a life directorship of the colonization society.
To secure the latter, the townspeople collected $1,000 for the ACS in the same summer that the Amistad rebels arrived in the town jail. (Leonard Bacon was still a colonization enthusiast in the 1870s—though, in fairness, so was the president of Yale.) Meanwhile, the ACS magazine, normally wary of alienating any Southern planters who might be persuaded to colonize their slaves, ran several articles in sympathy with the Amistad Africans. By the mid-1840s, ACS members openly compared their activities with those of Tappan and his allies. If Africa was a fitting destination for Cinqué and his brave band, why not ask America’s struggling free blacks to join them in the noble work of redeeming a continent?
If the demands of the Amistad Africans for repatriation rather than American citizenship allowed for a quiet amnesty between white “moderates” and radicals, colonization perhaps played a small but crucial role in steering the legal process toward its happy destination. As Rediker and other historians have noted, Martin Van Buren was convinced that the Amistad Africans would lose their battle at the admiralty court in New Haven in January 1940. He even placed a ship on standby to carry out the expected judgment that the rebels should be returned to Cuba, in a flagrant attempt to prevent an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Lewis Tappan, an original benefactor of Oberlin college, was closely involved with the freeing of the Amistad captives. One of them, a girl named Margru, later returned to the United States (the only one of the captives to do so). She studied at Oberlin for three years before returning to Africa in 1849 to become headmistress of missionary school in present day Sierra Leone.
The Africans’ fate rested entirely with Judge Andrew Judson—who, seven years earlier, had worked tirelessly to shutter a school for black women in his hometown of Canterbury. But Judson was a committed member of the ACS and found a way to channel its spirit in his Amistad decision. The rebels, he ruled, should be treated under the provisions of the 1819 Slave Trade Act that had led to the creation of Liberia.
“I do not want to consider whether every letter and syllable of that act has been followed by the officers of the law,” he admitted. “When the spirit of goodness is hovering over us, just descending to bless, it is immaterial in what garments we are clad to receive the blessing.”
Judson accepted that the Africans had been enslaved illegally, but he didn’t actually free them. Instead, he placed them under the authority of the president pending their deportation. (The Amistad rebels were delighted to be deported at the government’s expense, though their chief defender, Lewis Tappan, conceded that this was an unfortunate detail.) The following year, the Supreme Court rejected any connection with the Slave Trade Act. But if Judson hadn’t suddenly succumbed to its “spirit of goodness” in 1840, Van Buren would surely have sent the Amistad Africans to the gallows in Havana.
* * *
Rediker acknowledges that the (mostly white) anti-slavery activists and the Amistad rebels had different objectives: the Africans wanted to go home and resume their lives, and the activists wanted to promote anti-slavery and evangelism. They forged what Rediker calls a “working misunderstanding” in which the Africans adopted the trappings of Christian belief—and even agreed to help found a Christian mission in the Mende country—in return for the activists’ support. But after January 1842, when the Amistad Africans made their improbable return to the continent, the alliance was stretched beyond its breaking point.
The five missionaries who followed them home expected the rebels to dedicate themselves to Christian evangelism, but the Africans no longer saw any reason to take directions from their benefactors. Around a third of the Amistad rebels, including all of the children, stayed with the mission; the rest decided to search for their families and to embrace the region’s familiar problems and opportunities. Alarmed by this betrayal, the missionaries sent waves of bad news back across the Atlantic: the Amistad Africans had refused to accept authority; they had cast off their European clothes; they had succumbed to “licentiousness.” (Bigamy and whoring, mostly.)
In America, newspapers that had previously been captivated by the rebels now tut-tutted at their reversion to heathen ways. Even the abolitionist press struggled to account for their behavior. Perhaps if the Amistad Africans hadn’t spent so much of their American sojourn in jail, one paper reasoned, they wouldn’t have left the United States with so many “superficial, confused, and absurd notions.”
The widening gulf between American activists and African rebels makes for a curious coda to the Amistad story. It also reflects a paradox about the international anti-slavery movement in the nineteenth century, one noted recently in these pages by Samuel Moyn [“Of Deserts and Promised Lands,” March 19]. If the origins of what we now call human rights law can be traced to the struggle against the slave trade, the concept of human rights has an avowedly imperial history. Britain and the United States established colonies on the West African coast that combined a sincere opposition to slavery with an arsenal of “civilizing,” Christianizing and commercial ambitions. The British and American navies projected power in the name of curbing the slave trade; commentators in both countries argued in the 1840s that Cuba should be seized from Spain so that it could be liberated from slavery. While The Amistad Rebellion maintains an impressive focus on the agency and identity of its African protagonists, it hasn’t much to say about the process by which benevolence, law and imperialism came to seem mutually dependent in the struggle against slavery.
Cinque's return to Africa as depicted by Hale Woodruff-1939.
As for the Amistad’s contribution to the American anti-slavery cause, Rediker suggests that it inspired those who had already been radicalized against slavery to imagine bolder forms of “direct action.” An early example came in November 1841, when another rebellion broke out on a ship transferring slaves from Virginia to New Orleans. The leader was a free-black cook—a happy obverse of the Amistad’s Celestino—who had been inspired by a picture of Cinqué and his colleagues that he’d seen in Philadelphia. But while these uprisings quickened the pulse of Frederick Douglass and John Brown, ordinary people didn’t automatically connect the plight of the Amistad Africans with the fate of American slaves.
The National Anti-Slavery Standard, an abolitionist newspaper, recognized the danger that the public’s sympathies for “innocent” Africans demanding repatriation might not extend to enslaved African-Americans demanding citizenship: “Let not the Amistad affair be held up before their eyes so as to eclipse the grand antislavery enterprise,” it wrote after the Supreme Court decision in 1841, “as the human hand sometimes shuts out the sun and the whole heavens.” The public ought to recognize that “anti-slavery saves not only the brave Cinque and his gentle brothers, but it annihilates the slave system that sends the ships to Africa.”
In November 1843, on a visit to Cincinnati, John Quincy Adams received warm thanks from the city’s free blacks for his long opposition to slavery. In a brief reference to the Amistad Africans he’d defended before the Supreme Court, the free blacks noted that they’d been “raised from a level with the brute creation, and placed in the scale of human existence.” Adams took issue with this, offering ten long paragraphs in response. “With regard to the services you are pleased to say I performed in the case of the Amistad captives, it is right that I should say, they are not entitled to that importance which you give them.” Adams claimed that he’d taken the case “altogether independently of the question whether they were slaves or freemen.” He’d quickly realized that they had a perfect right to freedom under Spanish law—but he didn’t disguise his disappointment that the returning Africans had fallen so far from the expectations of their American defenders.
Adams asked the free blacks of Cincinnati to consider the condition of the Amistad Africans when they made their desperate landfall in America, and to compare this with “their condition when taken back to Africa.” Could anyone say confidently that “any service had been done them more than to save their lives”?
For Adams, at least, the Africans’ courage and cultural persistence had little to do with the American fight against slavery. “That case was peculiar,” he concluded.
Last year, Eric Foner reviewed Robin Blackburn’s The American Crucible Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights.
Extraordinary Sister Freedom Fighter By William Loren Katz.
On March 7, 1942, fire engulfed the simple home of 89-year-old Lucy Gonzales Parsons on Chicago’s North Troy Street, and ended a life dedicated to liberating working women and men of the world from capitalism and racial oppression. A dynamic, militant, self-educated public speaker and writer, she became the first American woman of color to carry her crusade for socialism across the country and overseas. Lucy Gonzales started life in Texas. She was of Mexican American, African American, and Native American descent and born into slavery.
The path she chose after emancipation led to conflict with the Ku Klux Klan, hard work, painful personal losses, and many nights in jail. In Albert Parsons, a white man who’s Waco Spectator fought the Klan and demanded social and political equality for African Americans, she found a handsome, committed soul mate. The white supremacy forces in Texas considered the couple dangerous and their marriage illegal, and soon drove them from the state.
Lucy E. Parsons, arrested for rioting during an unemployment protest in 1915 at Hull House in Chicago, Ill. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.
Lucy and Albert reached Chicago, where they began a family and threw themselves into two new militant movements, one to build strong industrial unions and the other to agitate for socialism. Lucy concentrated on organizing working women and Albert became a famous radical organizer and speaker, one of the few important union leaders in Chicago who was not an immigrant.
In 1886, the couple and their two children stepped onto Michigan Avenue to lead 80,000 working people in the world’s first May Day parade and a demand for the eight-hour day. A new international holiday was born as more than 100,000 also marched in other U.S. cities. By then, Chicago’s wealthy industrial and banking elite had targeted Albert and other radical figures for elimination—to decapitate the growing union movement. A protest rally called by Albert a few days after May Day became known as the Haymarket Riot when seven Chicago policemen died in a bomb blast. No evidence has ever been found pointing to those who made or detonated the bomb, but Parsons and seven immigrant union leaders were arrested. As the corporate media whipped up patriotic and law-and-order fervor, a rigged legal system rushed the eight to convictions and death sentences.
When Lucy led the campaign to win a new trial, one Chicago official called her “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.” When Albert and three other comrades were executed, and four others were sentenced to prison, the movement for industrial unions and the eight-hour day was beheaded. Lucy, far from discouraged, accelerated her actions. Though she had lost Albert—and two years later lost her young daughter to illness—Lucy continued her crusade against capitalism and war, and to exonerate “the Haymarket Martyrs.” She led poor women into rich neighborhoods “to confront the rich on their doorsteps,” challenged politicians at public meetings, marched on picket lines, and continued to address and write political tracts for workers’ groups far beyond Chicago.
Though Lucy had justified direct action against those who used violence against workers, in 1905 she suggested a very different strategy. She was one of only two women delegates (the other was Mother Jones) among the 200 men at the founding convention of the militant Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the only woman to speak. First she advocated a measure close to her heart when she called women “the slaves of slaves” and urged IWW delegates to fight for equality and assess underpaid women lower union fees.
In a longer speech, she called for the use of nonviolence that would have broad meaning for the world’s protest movements. She told delegates workers shouldn’t “strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production.” A year later Mahatma Gandhi, speaking to fellow Indians at the Johannesburg Empire Theater, advocated nonviolence to fight colonialism, but he was still 25 years away from leading fellow Indians in nonviolent marches against India’s British rulers. Eventually Lucy Parsons’ principle traveled to the U.S. sit-down strikers of the 1930s, Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the antiwar movements that followed, and finally to today’s Arab Spring and the Occupy movements.
Lucy was an unrelenting agitator, leading picket lines and speaking to workers’ audiences in the United States, and then before trade union meetings in England. In February 1941, poor and living on a pension for the blind, the Farm Equipment Workers Union asked Lucy Parsons to give an inspirational speech to its workers, and a few months later she rode as the guest of honor on its May Day parade float. Federal and local lawmen arrived at the gutted Parsons home to make sure her legacy died with her. They poked through the wreckage, confiscated her vast library and personal writings, and never returned them. Lucy Parsons’ determined effort to elevate and inspire the oppressed to take command remained alive among those who knew, heard, and loved her. But few today are aware of her insights, courage, and tenacity.
Despite her fertile mind, writing and oratorical skills, and striking beauty, Lucy Parsons has not found a place in school texts, social studies curricula, or Hollywood movies. Yet she has earned a prominent place in the long fight for a better life for working people, for women, for people of color, for her country, and for her world.
William Loren Katz adapted this essay from his updated and expanded edition of Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage [Atheneum, 2012]. Website: williamlkatz.com.
This essay also appears at the Zinn Education Project: http://zinnedproject.org/posts/16855
William Loren Katz williamlkatz.com 212 533 6875
Lost 1961 Recording of Malcolm X at Brown University
February 4, 2012- npr.org
Last semester, Brown senior Malcolm Burnley took a narrative writing course. One of the assignments was to write a fictional story based on something true — and that true event had to be found inside the university archives.
"So I went to the archives and started flipping through dusty compilations of student newspapers, and there was this old black-and-white photo of when Malcolm X came to speak," Burnley says. "There was one short article that corresponded to it, and very little else."
Malcolm X came to speak at Brown University in Providence, R.I., on May 11, 1961. Burnley noticed that at the end of the article, there was a brief mention of another article — also from the Brown student newspaper — written by a senior named Katharine Pierce. Her article was the reason Malcolm X wanted to visit Brown.
He tracked down Pierce's phone number and gave her a call. "I immediately started asking her what she remembered about provoking Malcolm X to come."
It had been 50 years since Malcolm X's speech at Brown, but Pierce slowly started to remember how it all happened.
"I just felt that integration was a greater path," Pierce says, "more reasonable and a greater path for success."
THE NPR AUDIO:
Today, Pierce lives about an hour north of New York City. In 1961, she believed the Nation of Islam's message of separation of the races was destructive, so she wrote a detailed critique. Somehow, it caught the attention of the Nation of Islam. Two weeks after the piece was published in the Brown Daily Herald, representatives called.
"They said that Malcolm X wanted to come to Brown and defend his views, because Katharine's essay was so critical of the organization," Burnley says.
"Well, I think we were quite astonished," Pierce laughs.
Richard Holbrooke and Katharine Pierce as students in 1961 at Brown University.
Help From A Diplomatic Legend-To-Be
The editor of the student paper was a 19-year-old named Richard Holbrooke. Yes, the Richard Holbrooke — the late legendary diplomat.
Holbrooke and his staff agreed that they should have Malcolm X come to the school, Burnley says. The problem was convincing the school.
The university was worried about possible violence and about upsetting the NAACP, which had pressured other universities — including the University of California, Berkeley and Howard, one of the oldest historically black universities in America — to keep Malcolm X from speaking that year.
Holbrooke met with the university's president, Barnaby Keeney, at least six times. Holbrooke's widow, Kati Marton, recalls that her husband was convincing.
"Richard, as usual, said, 'What have we got to be afraid of? It's better that we let him speak, and it's better that the students make up their own minds than if we shut him out.' "
According to Burnley, Holbrooke took a hard line with the administration. If they didn't agree to allow Malcolm X to speak at Brown, Holbrooke would move the student newspaper off-campus — and break its ties to Brown.
"But in typical Holbrooke fashion, he prevailed," Marton says. "He used to recall walking with Malcolm X and his gigantic bodyguards from Richard's office in the Brown Daily Herald to the auditorium, where the students waited."
"That walk left a deep impression on Richard who, even as a 19-year-old, was already a budding historian," she says.
Brown University Archives
The front page of the Brown Daily Herald on May 12, 1961, the day after Malcolm X spoke at the university. This was the clipping that Malcolm Burnley found last year in the library archives at the university.
A Riveting Speech
Pierce unearthed a recording of that night — a recording she kept in a box in her attic. It's an extraordinary historical record — an early window into Malcolm X's evolving views and the future diplomat who would bring him to campus.
"Tonight, we present two different viewpoints on the American Negro and his future," said the young Holbrooke as the event began.
The audience wasn't all students and faculty. Malcolm X and his entourage purchased 200 tickets for Nation of Islam members to ride down from Boston and attend the speech. "At several points, you hear raucous applause, clearly from the Nation of Islam members," Burnley says.
Pierce was allowed to make a brief statement before Malcolm X spoke.
"For those of us who feel that the Negro is an integral part of our culture, and who advocate for integration because we believe in the equality of all men, the Black Muslims are an indication of the fact that we have not done enough acting to make our position acceptable to the Negro dissatisfied with his present situation."
A few minutes later, Pierce introduced the main speaker.
Malcolm X was originally supposed to debate a representative from the NAACP. But at the last minute, that representative, Herbert Wright, had backed out, so Malcolm X had hurriedly prepared a speech for the evening.
"He reveals a lot of his ideology and positions that are dated to years later in his life," Burnley says.
"So the question today is: Is the Honorable Elijah Muhammad a bona fide religious leader and are his followers a bona fide religious group? And this is a question that America has got to come face-to-face with."
At other points, Burnley says, Malcolm X plays to the white audience. He even gets them laughing with a joke about where black people are found.
"They don't have a history of their own, so they let them tell you what their history is; and that is in essence that you found him in the jungle somewhere with a spear, chasing white people in a cannibalistic way to try to give the impression that white meat is the only good meat to eat."
The audience gasped when Malcolm X admitted some previous vices.
"No follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad partakes of any alcoholic beverage, reefer or tobacco, which is prevalent in the Negro communities across the country, even right here in the city of Providence. I myself was one of the foremost practicers or doers of everything that I've mentioned here so far; now I'm telling you the truth, and the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad stopped me from doing these things overnight."
"At several points, he references the 725,000,000 Muslims across the world versus the 20,000,000 so-called negroes, was his quote, in America," Burnley says. "The Nation of Islam refused the term 'negro.' They said it was kind of the white man's classification of black Americans, so that's why he said 'so-called negroes.' "
"There are 20 million so-called 'negroes' here in America. Twenty million ex-slaves. Twenty million second-class citizens. No matter what other classification you try to put on them, you can't deny that we are ex-slaves. You can not deny that we are second-class citizens. And the fact that we are second-class citizens means someone has done us an injustice and deprived us of that which is ours by right."
Burnley interviewed dozens of people who witnessed the speech. They all recalled being riveted — even if they didn't agree — by what Malcolm X had to say.
"He read his audience very, very well as a fine public speaker does," Pierce says.
"We who follow the Honorable Elijah Muhammad feel when you try to pass integration laws here in America, forcing white people to pretend they are accepting black people, you are making white people act in a hypocritical way. However, we feel that when you can change both of them and they come together voluntarily, without force or without pressure, then automatically you are furthering brotherhood and bringing about better relationships between the two races."
A Dialogue Begins Again
The entire speech lasted just under an hour. Afterward, Burnley says, Malcolm X invited students to come talk to him in the student lounge.
"At that point, he conducted an interview with these young white students," Burnley continues. "He was willing to greet them more intimately and in private, and obviously he was seeking publicity.
"He wanted to be as well-known as possible, but I don't know — it definitely is a gesture to make towards young white students, who, by all accounts, he wouldn't really want to have anything to do with, but he was willing to greet them and talk to them in private."
Burnley did eventually write a narrative account of the incident for his class assignment. He's also writing a much longer version.
Marton, Holbrooke's widow, says her husband spoke often about the story, though it's unclear whether he ever wrote it down. Holbrooke was planning to write his memoirs at the time of his death in December 2010.
As for Brown University?
"In my research, there is no mention in the university calendar for that year or in President Keeney's notes of Malcolm X coming. It's essentially just been whitewashed from the university records," Burnley says.
But, he adds, that is about to change.
New England's Hidden History of Slavery
More than most of us like to think, the North was built
on slavery By Francie Latour - boston.com September 26, 2010
The enslaved African, Mark Codman, was hanged, tarred, and then suspended in a metal gibbet (above) on the main road to town, where his body remained for more than 20 years.
<<In New England, one need look no further than a symbol that graces welcome mats, door knockers, bedposts, and all manner of household decor: the pineapple. That exotic fruit, said Manegold, is as intertwined with slavery as the Confederate flag: When New England ships came to port, captains would impale pineapples on a fence post, a sign to everyone that they were home and open for business, bearing the bounty of slave labor and sometimes slaves themselves.>>
In the year 1755, a black slave named Mark Codman plotted to kill his abusive master. A God-fearing man, Codman had resolved to use poison, reasoning that if he could kill without shedding blood, it would be no sin. Arsenic in hand, he and two female slaves poisoned the tea and porridge of John Codman repeatedly. The plan worked — but like so many stories of slave rebellion, this one ended in brutal death for the slaves as well. After a trial by jury, Mark Codman was hanged, tarred, and then suspended in a metal gibbet on the main road to town, where his body remained for more than 20 years.
It sounds like a classic account of Southern slavery. But Codman's body didn't hang in Savannah, Ga.; it hung in present-day Somerville, Mass. And the reason we know just how long Mark the slave was left on view is that Paul Revere passed it on his midnight ride. In a fleeting mention from Revere's account, the horseman described galloping past "Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains."
When it comes to slavery, the story that New England has long told itself goes like this: Slavery happened in the South, and it ended thanks to the North. Maybe
we had a little slavery, early on. But it wasn't real slavery. We never had many slaves, and the ones we did have were practically family. We let them marry, we taught them to read, and soon enough, we freed them. New England is the home of abolitionists and underground railroads. In the story of slavery — and by extension, the story of race and racism in modern-day America — we're the heroes. Aren't we?
As the nation prepares to mark the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War in 2011, with commemorations that reinforce the North/South divide, researchers are offering uncomfortable answers to that question, unearthing more and more of the hidden stories of New England slavery — its brutality, its staying power, and its silent presence in the very places that have become synonymous with freedom. With the markers of slavery forgotten even as they lurk beneath our feet — from graveyards to historic homes, from Lexington and Concord to the halls of Harvard University — historians say it is time to radically rewrite America's slavery story to include its buried history in New England.
"The story of slavery in New England is like a landscape that you learn to see," said Anne Farrow, who co-wrote "Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited From Slavery" and who is researching a new book about slavery and memory. "Once you begin to see these great seaports and these great historic houses, everywhere you look, you can follow it back to the agricultural trade of the West Indies, to the trade of bodies in Africa, to the unpaid labor of black people."
It was the 1991 discovery of an African burial ground in New York City that first revived the study of Northern slavery. Since then, fueled by educators, preservationists, and others, momentum has been building to recognize histories hidden in plain sight. Last year, Connecticut became the first New England state to formally apologize for slavery. In classrooms across the country, popularity has soared for educational programs on New England slavery designed at Brown University. In February, Emory University will hold a major conference on the role slavery's profits played in establishing American colleges and universities, including in New England. And in Brookline, Mass., a program called Hidden Brookline is designing a virtual walking tour to illuminate its little-known slavery history: At one time, nearly half the town's land was held by slave owners.
"What people need to understand is that, here in the North, while there were not the large plantations of the South or the Caribbean islands, there were families who owned slaves," said Stephen Bressler, director of Brookline's Human Relations-Youth Resources Commission. "There were businesses actively involved in the slave trade, either directly in the importation or selling of slaves on our shores, or in the shipbuilding, insurance, manufacturing of shackles, processing of sugar into rum, and so on. Slavery was a major stimulus to the Northern economy."
Turning over the stones to find those histories isn't just a matter of correcting the record, he and others say. It's crucial to our understanding of the New England we live in now.
"The absolute amnesia about slavery here on the one hand, and the gradualness of slavery ending on the other, work together to make race a very distinctive thing in New England," said Joanne Pope Melish, who teaches history at the University of Kentucky and wrote the book "Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and 'Race' in New England, 1780-1860." "If you have obliterated the historical memory of actual slavery — because we're the free states, right? — that makes it possible to turn around and look at a population that is disproportionately poor and say, it must be their own inferiority. That is where New England's particular brand of racism comes from."
Dismantling the myths of slavery doesn't mean ignoring New England's role in ending it. In the 1830s and '40s, an entire network of white Connecticut abolitionists emerged to house, feed, clothe, and aid in the legal defense of Africans from the slave ship Amistad, a legendary case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court and helped mobilize the fight against slavery. Perhaps nowhere were abolition leaders more diehard than in Massachusetts: Pacifist William Lloyd Garrison and writer Henry David Thoreau were engines of the antislavery movement. Thoreau famously refused to pay his taxes in protest of slavery, part of a philosophy of civil disobedience that would later influence Martin Luther King Jr. But Thoreau was tame compared to Garrison, a flame-thrower known for shocking audiences. Founder of the New England Anti-Slavery Society and the newspaper The Liberator, Garrison once burned a copy of the US Constitution at a July Fourth rally, calling it "a covenant with death." His cry for total, immediate emancipation made him a target of death threats and kept the slavery question at a perpetual boil, fueling the moral argument that, in time, would come to frame the Civil War.
But to focus on crusaders like Garrison is to ignore ugly truths about how unwillingly New England as a whole turned the page on slavery. Across the region, scholars have found, slavery here died a painfully gradual death, with emancipation laws and judicial rulings that either were unclear, poorly enforced, or written with provisions that kept slaves and the children born to them in bondage for years.
Meanwhile, whites who had trained slaves to do skilled work refused to hire the same blacks who were now free, driving an emerging class of skilled workers back to the lowest rungs of unskilled labor. Many whites, driven by reward money and racial hatred, continued to capture and return runaway Southern slaves; some even sent free New England blacks south, knowing no questions about identity would be asked at the other end. And as surely as there was abolition, there was "bobalition" — the mocking name given to graphic, racist broadsides printed through the 1830s, ridiculing free blacks with characters like Cezar Blubberlip and Mungo Mufflechops. Plastered around Boston, the posters had a subtext that seemed to boil down to this: Who do these people think they are? Citizens?
"Is Garrison important? Yes. Is it dangerous to be an abolitionist at that time? Absolutely," said Melish. "What is conveniently forgotten is the number of people making a living snagging free black people in a dark alley and shipping them south."
Growing up in Lincoln, Mass., historian Elise Lemire vividly remembers learning of the horrors of a slaveocracy far, far away. "You knew, for example, that families were split up, that people were broken psychologically and kept compliant by the fear of your husband or wife being sold away, or your children being sold away," said Lemire, author of the 2009 book "Black Walden," who became fascinated with former slaves banished to squatter communities in Walden Woods.
As she peeled back the layers, Lemire discovered a history rarely seen by the generations of tourists and schoolchildren who have learned to see Concord as a hotbed of antislavery activism. "Slaves [here] were split up in the same way," she said. "You didn't have any rights over your children. Slave children were given away all the time, sometimes when they were very young."
In Lemire's Concord, slave owners once filled half of town government seats, and in one episode town residents rose up to chase down a runaway slave. Some women remained enslaved into the 1820s, more than 30 years after census figures recorded no existing slaves in Massachusetts. According to one account, a former slave named Brister Freeman, for whom Brister's Hill in Walden Woods is named, was locked inside a slaughterhouse shed with an enraged bull as his white tormentors laughed outside the door. And in Concord, Lemire argues, black families were not so much liberated as they were abandoned to their freedom, released by masters increasingly fearful their slaves would side with the British enemy. With freedom, she said, came immediate poverty: Blacks were forced to squat on small plots of the town's least arable land, and eventually pushed out of Concord altogether — a precursor to the geographic segregation that continues to divide black and white in New England.
"This may be the birthplace of a certain kind of liberty," Lemire said, "but Concord was a slave town. That's what it was."
If Concord was a slave town, historians say, Connecticut was a slave state. It didn't abolish slavery until 1848, a little more than a decade before the Civil War. (A judge's ruling ended legal slavery in Massachusetts in 1783, though the date is still hotly debated by historians.) It's a history Connecticut author and former Hartford Courant journalist Anne Farrow knew nothing about — until she got drawn into an assignment to find the untold story of one local slave.
Once she started pulling the thread, Farrow said, countless histories unfurled: accounts of thousand-acre slave plantations and a livestock industry that bred the horses that turned the giant turnstiles of West Indian sugar mills. Each discovery punctured another slavery myth. "A mentor of mine has said New England really democratized slavery," said Farrow. "Where in the South a few people owned so many slaves, here in the North, many people owned a few. There was a widespread ownership of black people."
A deed to sell a four year old African boy in 1765 in Massachusetts
Perhaps no New England colony or state profited more from the unpaid labor of blacks than Rhode Island: Following the Revolution, scholars estimate, slave traders in the tiny Ocean State controlled between two-thirds and 90 percent of America's trade in enslaved Africans. On the rolling farms of Narragansett, nearly one-third of the population was black — a proportion not much different from Southern plantations. In 2003, the push to reckon with that legacy hit a turning point when Brown University, led by its first African-American president, launched a highly controversial effort to account for its ties to Rhode Island's slave trade. Today, that ongoing effort includes the CHOICES program, an education initiative whose curriculum on New England slavery is now taught in over 2,000 classrooms.
As Brown's decision made national headlines, Katrina Browne, a Boston filmmaker, was on a more private journey through New England slavery, tracing her bloodlines back to her Rhode Island forebears, the DeWolf family. As it turned out, the DeWolfs were the biggest slave-trading family in the nation's biggest slave-trading state. Browne's journey, which she chronicled in the acclaimed documentary "Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North," led her to a trove of records of the family's business at every point in slavery's triangle trade. Interspersed among the canceled checks and ship logs, Browne said, she caught glimpses into everyday life under slavery, like the diary entry by an overseer in Cuba that began, "I hit my first Negro today for laughing at prayers." Today, Browne runs the Tracing Center, a nonprofit to foster education about the North's complicity in slavery.
"I recently picked up a middle school textbook at an independent school in Philadelphia, and it had sub-chapter headings for the Colonial period that said 'New England,' and then 'The South and Slavery,' " said Browne, who has trained park rangers to talk about Northern complicity in tours of sites like Philadelphia's Liberty Bell. "Since learning about my family and the whole North's role in slavery, I now consider these things to be my problem in a way that I didn't before."
If New England's amnesia has been pervasive, it has also been willful, argues C.S. Manegold, author of the new book "Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North." That's because many of slavery's markers aren't hidden or buried. In New England, one need look no further than a symbol that graces welcome mats, door knockers, bedposts, and all manner of household decor: the pineapple. That exotic fruit, said Manegold, is as intertwined with slavery as the Confederate flag: When New England ships came to port, captains would impale pineapples on a fence post, a sign to everyone that they were home and open for business, bearing the bounty of slave labor and sometimes slaves themselves.
"It's a symbol everyone knows the benign version of — the happy story that pineapples signify hospitality and welcome," said Manegold, whose book centers on five generations of slaveholders tied to one Colonial era estate, the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, Mass., now a museum. The house features two carved pineapples at its gateposts.
By Manegold's account, pineapples were just the beginning at this particular Massachusetts farm: Generation after generation, history at the Royall House collides with myths of freedom in New England — starting with one of the most mythical figures of all, John Winthrop. Author of the celebrated "City Upon a Hill" sermon and first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Winthrop not only owned slaves at Ten Hills Farm, but in 1641, he helped pass one of the first laws making chattel slavery legal in North America.
When the house passed to the Royalls, Manegold said, it entered a family line whose massive fortune came from slave plantations in Antigua. Members of the Royall family would eventually give land and money that helped establish Harvard Law School. To this day, the law school bears a seal borrowed from the Royall family crest, and for years the Royall Professorship of Law remained the school's most prestigious faculty post, almost always occupied by the law school dean. It wasn't until 2003 that an incoming dean — now Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan — quietly turned the title down.
Kagan didn't publicly explain her decision. But her actions speak to something Manegold and others say could happen more broadly: not just inserting footnotes to New England heritage tours and history books, but truly recasting that heritage in all its painful complexity.
"In Concord," Lemire said, "the Minutemen clashed with the British at the Old North Bridge within sight of a man enslaved in the local minister's house. The fact that there was slavery in the town that helped birth American liberty doesn't mean we shouldn't celebrate the sacrifices made by the Minutemen. But it does mean New England has to catch up with the rest of the country, in much of which residents have already wrestled with their dual legacies of freedom and slavery."
Francie Latour is an associate editor at Wellesley magazine and a former Globe reporter.
The Huffington Post | By Cavan Sieczkowski Posted: 01/19/2013