Category Archives: History

‘Landmark’ verdicts like Chauvin murder conviction make history – but court cases alone don’t transform society

by Jennifer Reynolds, University of Oregon

American courts in 2021 have already handed down several potentially historic rulings, from the Supreme Court’s recent decision restricting voting rights in Arizona and potentially nationwide to a Minnesota jury’s conviction of police officer Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd last year.

Cases like these are often called “landmark” cases, because they set forth ideas and ideals that may bring about significant changes in the political and legal landscape.

Many analysts considered the Chauvin trial, in particular, to be a landmark. In it, police officers actually testified against one of their own, which is rare, and the jury held a white police officer criminally accountable for killing a Black man. On June 25, 2021, the judge sentenced Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison for murdering Floyd after he attempted to use a counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes.

People all over the world have followed the Chauvin trial closely, as the culminating event after a year of global protests against police brutality and racism.

Landmark trials may go down in history, but as a law professor specializing in alternative dispute resolution, I know that they do not instantly transform the social order.

Courts are limited in the kinds of disputes they can hear and the sorts of relief they can provide. Moreover, major court cases and other moments of reform in American history often result in legislative backlash and a “recalibration,” as my colleague Stuart Chinn has argued. Those reactions may slow or even undermine the momentum for social change.

And even famously “just” verdicts haven’t necessarily pushed U.S. society in a linear direction toward its constitutional ideals.

Black woman in a face masks cries on a city street, with a hand over her mouth
A woman in New York weeps after the guilty verdict was announced in the Derek Chauvin murder trial on April 20, 2021. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Big verdicts, slow change

A well-known example is Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court held unanimously that the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public schools violated the 14th Amendment.

The 1954 Brown decision, which ended legal segregation in the nation’s schools, inspired civil rights activists, drew broader attention to the struggle for racial equality and was instrumental in enforcing and encouraging racial desegregation.

But the main objectives of Brown – integrating public schools and leveling the educational playing field – have not been realized.

Many schools are still effectively segregated, in part because of ongoing legal and practical challenges associated with integration. In the 1974 case Milliken v. Bradley, for example, the Supreme Court limited the ability of federal courts to compel integration across school districts. That decision, handed down 20 years after Brown v. Board of Education, has made it difficult if not impossible to fulfill Brown’s promise of integration.

Black journalists read papers touting decision in Brown v. Board
Brown v. Board of Education made front-page headlines seven decades ago, but school segregation remains a problem nationwide. Bettmann / Contributor via Getty

Another instructive example from the same era is Gideon v. Wainwright. In the Gideon case, the Supreme Court held that under the Sixth Amendment, the state must provide attorneys to criminal defendants who could not otherwise afford them.

Following through on this constitutional mandate has proven difficult. Many parts of the country allocate grossly inadequate resources to the defense of indigent defendants. New Orleans’ 60 public defenders, for example, handle approximately 20,000 cases each year, according to a 2017 report.

Without timely access to legal counsel, many low-income defendants languish in jail for prolonged periods before their case gets to trial, while waiting to be assigned a public defender. Others are pressured into unwanted or unjust plea bargains by lawyers buried under crushing caseloads.

Necessary but not sufficient

Law students learn by the end of their grueling first year that trials alone are not effective mechanisms for addressing complex social and political problems.

Yet landmark trials are important. Legal proceedings are opportunities to articulate and reinforce American ideals around equality and justice and to expose bias and unfairness. They calibrate and restrain state power, test the merit of legal claims and create a public record.

Trials are an official public rendering of guilt or liability. Without them, the United States would lose much of the law’s ability to inspire and call attention to social change.

But as the Brown and Gideon cases show, legal decisions grounded in constitutional ideals of equality and justice do not automatically lead to an individual or collective moral reckoning.

Implementing the aspirational ideals set forth in landmark verdicts requires legislation, systems design, negotiation, collaboration, dialogue, activism and education.

Legal alternatives, too, such as restorative justice – which provides both perpetrators and victims with alternative routes to accountability and healing – increasingly are recognized as crucial tools for managing individual disputes and moving society toward greater justice.

Assessing the Chauvin trial

The legal proceedings around George Floyd’s murder aren’t actually over yet.

Still to come are the prosecution of the other Minneapolis officers present at Floyd’s killing and a federal civil rights case against Chauvin and his fellow officers. There will likely be an appeal process, too; legal verdicts can be overturned.

Ultimately, however, the meaning of the Chauvin murder trial within the larger context of the struggle for racial justice will depend, in part, on how people outside the courtroom respond to calls for reform.

A large crowd celebrates the Chauvin verdict outside Cup Foods in Minneapolis, where George Floyd was murdered
Minneapolis residents celebrate the Chauvin guilty verdict at the site of George Floyd’s murder. Nathan Howard/Getty Images

This explains why so many people reacted to the Chauvin verdict with relief and also something akin to dissatisfaction. They realized that one guilty verdict, standing on its own, is not enough to address persistent and systemic inequities in the United States.

Police departments and officers, city officials, activists, community members, business owners, state and federal actors – all of these people share collective responsibility for defining George Floyd’s legacy in modern American history.

Landmark cases are moments in time; legacies unfold over generations. If Americans want safer communities and more ethical policing, the work starts now.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Critical race theory: What it is and what it isn’t

Court.rchp.com Editorial note: by Randall Hill

Every institution in the United States has declared war on black people and as Sun tzu stated over 2,500 hundred years ago; "All warfare is based on deception".

The educational system does not educate people about black history, except for a white washed version of slavery and the peaceful non-threatning aspects of the civil rights movement. King's "I have a dream" speech is front and center, ommitted is his "I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house speech".  

Many people today don't realize that even the church participated in deception during slavery by providing a "slave version" of the bible which only contained parts of 14 of the 66 to 73 books of the Protestant or Catholic  versions of the bible. Most people until recently had never heard of the Tulsa Massacre. Several entities including law enforcement participated in the destruction of Black Wallstreet and other sucessful black areas. After stealing our boots those same entities asked, why can't black people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. 

If not but for the Internet, most people would still be oblivious to most issues of race. The most glaring recent example is, Darnella Frazier, the teenage girl who filmed and uploaded a video of the police torture and murder of George Floyd. Racial misinformation is another form of oppression. When you don't understand that racism has negatively impacted every aspect of society, it's impossible to understand how to take corrective measures.

Critial race theory's purpose is to reveal how oppressive laws and history are still causing harmful effects. Those who wish to promote false narratives and half truths demonize the implementation of critical race theory. 


by David Miguel Gray, University of Memphis

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana sent a letter to fellow Republicans on June 24, 2021, stating: “As Republicans, we reject the racial essentialism that critical race theory teaches … that our institutions are racist and need to be destroyed from the ground up.”

President Lyndon Johnson signing the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which aimed to do away with racial discrimination in the law. But discrimination persisted. AP file photo


Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and central figure in the development of critical race theory, said in a recent interview that critical race theory “just says, let’s pay attention to what has happened in this country, and how what has happened in this country is continuing to create differential outcomes. … Critical Race Theory … is more patriotic than those who are opposed to it because … we believe in the promises of equality. And we know we can’t get there if we can’t confront and talk honestly about inequality.”

Rep. Banks’ account is demonstrably false and typical of many people publicly declaring their opposition to critical race theory. Crenshaw’s characterization, while true, does not detail its main features. So what is critical race theory and what brought it into existence?

The development of critical race theory by legal scholars such as Derrick Bell and Crenshaw was largely a response to the slow legal progress and setbacks faced by African Americans from the end of the Civil War, in 1865, through the end of the civil rights era, in 1968. To understand critical race theory, you need to first understand the history of African American rights in the U.S.

The history

After 304 years of enslavement, then-former slaves gained equal protection under the law with passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868. The 15th Amendment, in 1870, guaranteed voting rights for men regardless of race or “previous condition of servitude.”

Between 1866 and 1877 – the period historians call “Radical Reconstruction” – African Americans began businesses, became involved in local governance and law enforcement and were elected to Congress.

This early progress was subsequently diminished by state laws throughout the American South called “Black Codes,” which limited voting rights, property rights and compensation for work; made it illegal to be unemployed or not have documented proof of employment; and could subject prisoners to work without pay on behalf of the state. These legal rollbacks were worsened by the spread of “Jim Crow” laws throughout the country requiring segregation in almost all aspects of life.

Grassroots struggles for civil rights were constant in post-Civil War America. Some historians even refer to the period from the New Deal Era, which began in 1933, to the present as “The Long Civil Rights Movement.”

The period stretching from Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, which found school segregation to be unconstitutional, to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination in housing, was especially productive.

The civil rights movement used practices such as civil disobedience, nonviolent protest, grassroots organizing and legal challenges to advance civil rights. The U.S.’s need to improve its image abroad during the Cold War importantly aided these advancements. The movement succeeded in banning explicit legal discrimination and segregation, promoted equal access to work and housing and extended federal protection of voting rights.

However, the movement that produced legal advances had no effect on the increasing racial wealth gap between Blacks and whites, while school and housing segregation persisted.

A young Black man on a skateboard pushes his son in a stroller on a sidewalk past blighted buildings in Baltimore.
The racial wealth gap between Blacks and whites has persisted. Here, Carde Cornish takes his son past blighted buildings in Baltimore. ‘Our race issues aren’t necessarily toward individuals who are white, but it is towards the system that keeps us all down, one, but keeps Black people disproportionally down a lot more than anybody else,’ he said. AP Photo/Matt Rourke

What critical race theory is

Critical race theory is a field of intellectual inquiry that demonstrates the legal codification of racism in America.

Through the study of law and U.S. history, it attempts to reveal how racial oppression shaped the legal fabric of the U.S. Critical race theory is traditionally less concerned with how racism manifests itself in interactions with individuals and more concerned with how racism has been, and is, codified into the law.

There are a few beliefs commonly held by most critical race theorists.

First, race is not fundamentally or essentially a matter of biology, but rather a social construct. While physical features and geographic origin play a part in making up what we think of as race, societies will often make up the rest of what we think of as race. For instance, 19th- and early-20th-century scientists and politicians frequently described people of color as intellectually or morally inferior, and used those false descriptions to justify oppression and discrimination.

Legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who devised the term ‘critical race theory,’ explains what it is – and isn’t.

Second, these racial views have been codified into the nation’s foundational documents and legal system. For evidence of that, look no further than the “Three-Fifths Compromisein the Constitution, whereby slaves, denied the right to vote, were nonetheless treated as part of the population for increasing congressional representation of slave-holding states.

Third, given the pervasiveness of racism in our legal system and institutions, racism is not aberrant, but a normal part of life.

Fourth, multiple elements, such as race and gender, can lead to kinds of compounded discrimination that lack the civil rights protections given to individual, protected categories. For example, Crenshaw has forcibly argued that there is a lack of legal protection for Black women as a category. The courts have treated Black women as Black, or women, but not both in discrimination cases – despite the fact that they may have experienced discrimination because they were both.

These beliefs are shared by scholars in a variety of fields who explore the role of racism in areas such as education, health care and history.

Finally, critical race theorists are interested not just in studying the law and systems of racism, but in changing them for the better.

What critical race theory is not

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, giving his version of what critical race theory is.

“Critical race theory” has become a catch-all phrase among legislators attempting to ban a wide array of teaching practices concerning race. State legislators in Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia have introduced legislation banning what they believe to be critical race theory from schools.

But what is being banned in education, and what many media outlets and legislators are calling “critical race theory,” is far from it. Here are sections from identical legislation in Oklahoma and Tennessee that propose to ban the teaching of these concepts. As a philosopher of race and racism, I can safely say that critical race theory does not assert the following:

(1) One race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;

(2) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;

(3) An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race or sex;

(4) An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex;

(5) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;

(6) An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex.

What most of these bills go on to do is limit the presentation of educational materials that suggest that Americans do not live in a meritocracy, that foundational elements of U.S. laws are racist, and that racism is a perpetual struggle from which America has not escaped.

Americans are used to viewing their history through a triumphalist lens, where we overcome hardships, defeat our British oppressors and create a country where all are free with equal access to opportunities.

Obviously, not all of that is true.

Critical race theory provides techniques to analyze U.S. history and legal institutions by acknowledging that racial problems do not go away when we leave them unaddressed.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

100 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre, lessons from my grandfather

by Gregory B. Fairchild, University of Virginia

When Viola Fletcher, 107, appeared before Congress in May 2021, she called for the nation to officially acknowledge the Tulsa race riot of 1921.

I know that place and year well. As is the case with Fletcher – who is one of the last living survivors of the massacre, which took place when she was 7 – the terror of the Tulsa race riot is something that has been with me for almost as long as I can remember. My grandfather, Robert Fairchild, told the story nearly a quarter-century ago to several newspapers.

Here’s how The Washington Post recounted his story in 1996:

“At 92 years old, Robert Fairchild is losing his hearing, but he can still make out the distant shouts of angry white men firing guns late into the night 75 years ago. His eyes are not what they used to be, but he has no trouble seeing the dense, gray smoke swallowing his neighbors’ houses as he walked home from a graduation rehearsal, a frightened boy of 17.

His has since been a life of middle-class comfort, a good job working for the city, a warm family life. But he has never forgotten his mother’s anguish in 1921 as she fled toward the railroad tracks to escape the mobs and fires tearing through the vibrant Black neighborhood of Greenwood in north Tulsa.”

“There was just nothing left,” Fairchild told the newspaper.

Smoke rises from damaged properties after the Tulsa race massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma in June 1921.
Oklahoma Historical Society via Getty Images


The Washington Post article said the Tulsa race riots of 1921 were among the “worst race riots in the nation’s history.” It reported: “The death toll during the 12-hour rampage is still in dispute, but estimates have put it as high as 250. More than 1,000 businesses and homes were burned to the ground, scores of Black families were herded into cattle pens at the fairgrounds, and one of the largest and most prosperous Black communities in the United States was turned to ashes.”

During the Tulsa race riots in 1921, Black businesses and homes in the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were destroyed at the hands of white residents. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Riots began after a white mob attempted to lynch a teenager falsely accused of assaulting a white woman. Black residents came to his defense, some armed. The groups traded shots, and mob violence followed. My family eventually returned to a decimated street. Miraculously their home on Latimer Avenue was spared.

Disturbing history

Hearing about these experiences at the family table was troubling enough. Reading a newspaper account of your ancestors’ fleeing for their lives is a surreal pain. There’s recognition of your family’s terror, and relief in knowing your family survived what “60 Minutes” once called “one of the worst race massacres in American history.”

In spite of my grandfather’s witness, this same event didn’t merit inclusion in any of my assigned history texts, either in high school or college. On the occasions I’ve mentioned this history to my colleagues, they’ve been astonished.

In 1996, at the 75th anniversary of the massacre, the city of Tulsa finally acknowledged what had happened. Community leaders from different backgrounds publicly recognized the devastation wrought by the riots. They gathered in a church that had been torched in the riot and since rebuilt. My grandfather told The New York Times then that he was “extremely pleased that Tulsa has taken this occasion seriously.”

“A mistake has been made,” he told the paper, “and this is a way to really look at it, then look toward the future and try to make sure it never happens again.”

An African American couple walking across a street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 1921.
Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images

That it took so long for the city to acknowledge what took place shows how selective society can be when it comes to which historical events it chooses to remember – and which ones to overlook. The history that society colludes to avoid publicly is necessarily remembered privately.

Economically vibrant

Even with massive destruction, the area of North Tulsa, known as Greenwood, became known for its economic vitality. On the blocks surrounding the corner of Archer Street and Greenwood Avenue in the 1930s, a thriving business district flourished with retail shops, entertainment venues and high-end services. One of these businesses was the Oklahoma Eagle, a Black-owned newspaper. As a teenager in the early 1940s, my father had his first job delivering the paper.

Without knowing the history, it would be a surprise to the casual observer that years earlier everything in this neighborhood had been razed to the ground. The Black Wall Street Memorial, a black marble monolith, sits outside the Greenwood Cultural Center. The memorial is dedicated to the entrepreneurs and pioneers who made Greenwood Avenue what it was both before and after it was destroyed in the 1921 riot.

Although I grew up on military bases across the world, I would visit Greenwood many times over the years. As I grew into my teenage years in the 1970s, I recognized that the former vibrant community was beginning to decline. Some of this was due to the destructive effects of urban renewal and displacement. As with many other Black communities across the country, parts of Greenwood were razed to make way for highways.

Some of the decline was due to the exit of financial institutions, including banks. This contributed to a decrease in opportunities to build wealth, including savings and investment products, loans for homes and businesses, and funding to help build health clinics and affordable housing.

And at least some was due to the diminished loyalty of residents to Black-owned businesses and institutions. During the civil rights movement, downtown Tulsa businesses began to allow Black people into their doors as customers. As a result, Black residents spent less money in their community.

Historical lessons

At the end of my father’s military career in the 1970s, he became a community development banker in Virginia. His work involved bringing together institutions – investors, financial institutions, philanthropists, local governments – to develop innovative development solutions for areas like Greenwood. For me, there are lessons in the experiences of three generations – my grandfather’s, father’s and mine – that influence my scholarly work today.

On the one hand, I study how years after the end of legal segregation Americans remain racially separate in our neighborhoods, schools and workplaces and at alarmingly high levels. My research has shown how segregation depresses economic and social outcomes. In short, segregation creates closed markets that stunt economic activity, especially in the Black community.

On the other hand, I focus on solutions. One avenue of work involves examining the business models of Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, and Minority Depository Institutions, or MDIs. These are financial institutions that are committed to economic development – banks, credit unions, loan funds, equity funds – that operate in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. They offer what was sorely needed in North Tulsa, and many other neighborhoods across the nation – locally attuned financial institutions that understand the unique challenges families and businesses face in minority communities.

Righting historical wrongs

There are interventions we can take, locally and nationally, that recognize centuries of financial and social constraint. Initiatives like the 2020 decision by the Small Business Administration and U.S. Treasury to allocate US$10 billion to lenders that focus funds on disadvantaged areas are a start. These types of programs are needed even when there aren’t full-scale economic and social crises are taking place, like the COVID-19 epidemic or protesters in the street. Years of institutional barriers and racial wealth gaps cannot be redressed unless there’s a recognition that capital matters.

The 1921 Tulsa race riot began on May 31, only weeks before the annual celebration of Juneteenth, which is observed on June 19. As communities across the country begin recognizing Juneteenth and leading corporations move to celebrate it, it’s important to remember the story behind Juneteenth – slaves weren’t informed that they were emancipated.

After the celebrations, there’s hard work ahead. From my grandfather’s memory of the riot’s devastation to my own work addressing low-income communities’ economic challenges, I have come to see that change requires harnessing economic, governmental and nonprofit solutions that recognize and speak openly about the significant residential, educational and workplace racial segregation that still exists in the United States today.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

A white supremacist coup succeeded in 1898 North Carolina

led by lying politicians and racist newspapers that amplified their lies

 

by Kathy Roberts Forde, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Kristin Gustafson, University of Washington, Bothell

While experts debate whether the U.S. Capitol siege was an attempted coup, there is no debate that what happened in 1898 in Wilmington, North Carolina, was a coup – and its consequences were tragic.

These two events, separated by 122 years, share critical features. Each was organized and planned. Each was an effort to steal an election and disfranchise voters. Each was animated by white racist fears.

And each required the help of the media to be successful.

Armed white insurrectionists murdered Black men and burned Black businesses, including this newspaper office, during the Wilmington coup of 1898. Daily Record, North Carolina Archives and History

Those who study Reconstruction and its aftermath know the U.S. has deep experience with political and electoral violence. Reconstruction was the 12-year period following the Civil War when the South returned to the Union and newly freed Black Americans were incorporated into U.S. democracy.

But few understand that the Wilmington coup, when white supremacists overthrew the city’s legitimately elected bi-racial government, could not have happened without the involvement of white news media. The same is true of the Capitol siege on Jan. 6, 2021.

The news media, it turns out, have often been key actors in U.S. electoral violence. This history is explored in a chapter one of us – Gustafson – wrote for a book the other – Forde – co-edited with Sid Bedingfield, “Journalism & Jim Crow: The Making of White Supremacy in the New South,” which comes out later this year.

In 1898, Charles B. Aycock wanted to become governor in North Carolina. A member of the elite class, Aycock was a leading Democrat, which was the party of white supremacy in the South before the mid-20th-century political realignment that produced today’s parties.

A major obstacle lay in his path to the governor’s office. Several years earlier, Black Republicans and white Populists in North Carolina, tired of Democrats enriching themselves off public policies favoring banks, railroads and industry, joined forces.

Known as Fusionists, they rose to power in the executive branch, the legislature and the governments of several eastern towns, but most importantly, the thriving port city of Wilmington, then the largest city in North Carolina.

A racist political cartoon by Norman Jennett showing a boot worn by a Black man smashing a white man underneath.
A political cartoon from the Raleigh News & Observer, Aug. 13, 1898. North Carolina Collection, UNC Chapel Hill

Anti-Black disinformation

Wilmington, with its majority Black population and successful Black middle class, was a city that offered hope for Black Southerners. Black men had higher rates of literacy than white men, ran some of the city’s most successful businesses, such as restaurants, tailors, shoemakers, furniture makers and jewelers, and, to the dismay of Democrats, held public office.

Dr. Umar Johnson delivers seething commentary about negative propaganda and it's power against a target population.

Democrats, seething over their loss of power, were determined to get it back in the state election of 1898.

Aycock joined forces with Furnifold Simmons, a former U.S. representative who served as the party’s campaign manager, and Josephus Daniels, the editor Raleigh’s News & Observer newspaper. Together they hatched a plan.

Using anti-Black disinformation spread through newspapers and public speeches across the state, they would whip up white racial fears of “Negro domination” and “black beasts” that preyed on the “virtue” of white women. The goal: drive a wedge in the Fusionist coalition and lure white Populists back to the Democratic fold.

The press and political power

The News & Observer, the most influential newspaper in the state, was the Democratic Party’s most potent weapon. Its editor called it “the militant voice of white supremacy.”

For months in advance of the November election, the paper ran articles, editorials, speeches and reader letters telling lies about Black malfeasance, misrule, criminality and sexual predations against white women. White newspapers across the state, from big cities to tiny hamlets, republished the News & Observer’s content.

The Vampire that Hovers Over North Carolina, September 27, 1898

“The prevalence of rape by brutal negroes upon helpless white women has brought about a reign of terror in rural districts,” the paper said. Daniels admitted years later this claim was a lie.

Knowing the power of images, Daniels hired a cartoonist to create viciously racist images for the front page.

Roughly a year after Rebecca Latimer Felton, a prominent white Georgian, gave a speech advocating the lynching of Black men for their supposed assaults on white women, white newspapers across North Carolina reprinted and discussed it for days to gin up racist hostility.

At the same time, the Democrats organized the Red Shirts, a paramilitary arm of the party, to intimidate Black citizens and stop them from participating in politics and, eventually, voting.

Alexander Manly, the editor of the Black newspaper The Daily Record in Wilmington, then the only Black daily in the country, decided to fight back.

To counteract the lies the Democrats and Felton told about Black men as “beasts” and “brutes,” Manly told the truth in a bold editorial: Some white women fell in love with Black men and, if these affairs were discovered, the inevitable outcome was the label “rape” and a brutal lynching. The grandson of a white governor of North Carolina and a Black woman he enslaved, Manly knew white hypocrisy well.

Democrats went wild, reprinting Manly’s editorial in newspapers across the state and attacking him for insulting the “virtue” of white women.

A white fist holding a bat, about to strike a Black man in an 1898 political cartoon.
An anti-Black political cartoon by Norman Jennett in the Raleigh News & Observer, Aug. 30, 1898. North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The coup

As the election approached and Red Shirts patrolled the state, Democrats laid their final plan.

Because there were few local elections in Wilmington in 1898, and Democrats viewed the city as the center of “Negro domination” in the state, they began organizing in early fall to overthrow Wilmington’s bi-racial government and install all white officials.

After stealing the state election through fraud and violence, the Democrats sent a massive group of Red Shirts into Wilmington.

They murdered an untold number of Black men in the street; burned Black businesses, including Manly’s newspaper office; terrorized the Black community, forcing at least 1,400 people to flee, many never to return; and removed and exiled all Fusionists from office, installing white Democrats in their stead.

Early in the new century, Aycock sat in the governor’s office. Black citizens were disfranchised by constitutional amendment, ushering in white supremacist, one-party, kleptocratic rule that lasted at least through the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Then and now

Across the past four years, the overwhelmingly white right-wing news media spread lies that President Donald Trump and his allies churned out daily. Social media companies helped turn these lies into a contagion of mass delusion that radicalized a significant swath of the GOP base.

Since President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in November, Trump and his political and media allies have relentlessly pushed the massive lie that liberals stole the presidential election.

Like press involvement in the murderous events in Wilmington long ago, today’s media played an essential role in deluding and inciting supporters to violence in the attempt to steal an election.

“The past is never dead,” William Faulkner wrote. “It’s not even past.”The Conversation


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

The Extraordinary Negro – Ignatius Sancho

Known during his lifetime as "the extraordinary Negro", Ignatius Sancho (c.1729–1780) was a British abolitionist, writer and composer. Sancho is the first known Black Briton to vote in a British election, and the first person of African descent known to be given an obituary in the British press.

As the memoir which begins this third edition of his Letters tells us, Sancho was "born A. D. 1729, onboard a ship in the Slave trade, a few days after it had quitted the coast of Guinea for the Spanish West-Indies".

Portrait of an African, attributed to Allan Ramsay, a painting some suggest depicts a young Ignatius Sancho. It was previously believed to have depicted the writer Olaudah Equiano.

After "a disease of the new climate put an early period to his mother's existence; and his father defeated by the miseries of slavery by an act of suicide", Ignatius, just two years old, was brought by his master to England, and given to the man's three unmarried sisters who lived together in Greenwich, where he remained their slave for eighteen years from 1731 to 1749. The sisters were far from kind, and "the petulance of their disposition" bestowed upon little Ignatius his surname, "from a fancied resemblance to the Squire of Don Quixote".

Unable to bear being a servant to them, Sancho would escape the grip of the sisters, when, by chance, he met the Duke of Montagu who took a liking to his "native frankness of manner". Sancho took to visiting the Duke and Duchess regularly, where he was encouraged to read, and was also lent books from the Duke's personal library. At the age of 20, shortly after the Duke's death, Sancho fled the household of the sisters to become the butler at the Duchess Montagu household, where he worked for the next two years until her death. Sancho left and started his own business as a shopkeeper, while also starting to write and publish various essays, plays and books.

Immersing himself in the world of literature and music (while also working as a valet for the Duke and Duchess' daughter and husband, and then later as a greengrocer), Sancho became well known in the literary and artistic circles of the day, becoming acquainted with the likes of Thomas Gainsborough (who painted his portrait), the actor David Garrick, and the novelist Laurence Sterne. It was his correspondence with the latter which helped secure him a reputation as a man of letters, and a symbol of the abolitionist movement. At the height of the debate about slavery, in 1766, Sancho wrote to Sterne encouraging the writer to lend his fame to help lobby for the abolition of the slave trade. "That subject, handled in your striking manner," wrote Sancho, "would ease the yoke (perhaps) of many – but if only one – Gracious God! – what a feast to a benevolent heart!". Sterne's reply became an integral part of 18th-century abolitionist literature.

There is a strange coincidence, Sancho, in the little events (as well as in the great ones) of this world: for I had been writing a tender tale of the sorrows of a friendless poor negro-girl, and my eyes had scarce done smarting with it, when your letter of recommendation in behalf of so many of her brethren and sisters, came to me—but why her brethren?—or your’s, Sancho! any more than mine? It is by the finest tints, and most insensible gradations, that nature descends from the fairest face about St. James’s,1 to the sootiest complexion in Africa: at which tint of these, is it, that the ties of blood are to cease? and how many shades must we descend lower still in the scale, ’ere mercy is to vanish with them?—but ’tis no uncommon thing, my good Sancho, for one half of the world to use the other half of it like brutes, & then endeavor to make ’em so."

In another letter, writing his friend's son who had expressed racist attitudes after a visit to India, Sancho wrote:

I am sorry to observe that the practice of your country (which as a resident I love – and for its freedom – and for the many blessings I enjoy in it – shall ever have my warmest wishes, prayers and blessings); I say it is with reluctance, that I must observe your country's conduct has been uniformly wicked in the East – West-Indies – and even on the coast of Guinea. The grand object of English navigators – indeed of all Christian navigators – is money – money – money – for which I do not pretend to blame them – Commerce was meant by the goodness of the Deity to diffuse the various goods of the earth into every part—to unite mankind in the blessed chains of brotherly love – society – and mutual dependence: the enlightened Christian should diffuse the riches of the Gospel of peace – with the commodities of his respective land – Commerce attended with strict honesty – and with Religion for its companion – would be a blessing to every shore it touched at. In Africa, the poor wretched natives blessed with the most fertile and luxuriant soil- are rendered so much the more miserable for what Providence meant as a blessing: the Christians' abominable traffic for slaves and the horrid cruelty and treachery of the petty Kings encouraged by their Christian customers who carry them strong liquors to enflame their national madness – and powder – and bad fire-arms – to furnish them with the hellish means of killing and kidnapping.

In 1758 Sancho married Anne Osborne, a West Indian woman with whom he had seven children. After Sancho left the Montagu household, the couple opened a grocery store in Westminster, where Sancho, by then a well-known cultural figure, maintained an active social and literary life until his death in 1780. As a financially independent male householder, Sancho became eligible to vote and did so in 1774 and again just before his death in 1780, becoming the first known Black Briton to have voted in Britain.

Gaining fame in Britain as "the extraordinary Negro", to British abolitionists, Sancho became a symbol of the humanity of Africans and the immorality of the slave trade and slavery. Sancho died in 1780, with his The Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, edited and published two years after his death, being one of the earliest accounts of African slavery written in English from a first-hand experience.

Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African (1784)

Sancho, Ignatius. 1784. Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho, an African. To which are prefixed, memoirs of his life. London: Printed by J. Nichols; and sold by C. Dilly.
In addition to his many letters — the publication of which was an immediate bestseller — Sancho also published a book for the Princess Royal about his great passion, music, and two plays.

The forgotten voices of race records

Ma Rainey, Pullman Porters, the Rev TT Rose, and the 'Man with a Clarinet'

Court.rchp.com Editiorial note by Randall Hill:

I was for the most part unfamiliar with Ma Rainey, until I watched Ma Rainey's Black Bottom on Netflix.  Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is a film based on the play of the same name by August Wilson. The focus is on Ma Rainey, an influential blues singer, and dramatizes a turbulent recording session in 1927 Chicago.

Gertrude "MaRainey (born Gertrude Pridgett, 1882 or 1886 – December 22, 1939) was one of the first generation of blues singers to record. Gertrude Pridgett began performing as a teenager and became known as "Ma" Rainey after her marriage to Will "Pa" Rainey in 1904.

The "Mother of the Blues", she bridged earlier vaudeville and the authentic expression of southern blues, influencing a generation of blues singers. Throughout the 1920s, Ma Rainey had a reputation for being one of the most dynamic performers in the United States due in large part to her songwriting, showmanship and voice. Between 1923 and 1928, Ma Rainey made more then 100 recordings. Bessie Smith toured with Ma Rainey early in Smith's career and was mentored by Rainey. Rainey never achieve the monumental acclaim of Bessie Smith, whom became the highest-paid black entertainer of her day, however, Rainey and Smith became friendly rivals.

Rainey was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1994, the U.S. Post Office issued a 29-cent commemorative postage stamp honoring her. In 2004, Rainey was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and was added into the Library of Congress National Recording Register. Three years later, Rainey's former home in Columbus was turned into a museum. The Columbus native’s legacy continues to be celebrated in her hometown, which hosted the first-annual Ma Rainey International Blues Festival in 2016. 

Thankfully, the stories of Ma Rainey and other musicians piviotal to our history are being told and embraced by multiple generations of new fans.


by Jerry Zolten, Penn State

In the 1920s and 1930s, record sales of black artists were very lucrative for the music industry. As a June 1926 article from Talking Machine World explained:

The Negro trade is…itself…an enormously profitable occupation for the retailer who knows his way about…. The segregation of the Negro population has enabled dealers to build up a trade catering to this race exclusively.

Yet record companies routinely took advantage of the more unschooled, vernacular performers – especially black ones, who were already denied access to broader markets. It was standard operating procedure back in the days of “race music” – the name given to recordings by black artists that were marketed to the black buying public.

Ma Rainey was one of Paramount Records’ most popular artists. JP Jazz Archive/Redferns

 

“Some will rob you with a six-gun…and some with a fountain pen.” So said Woody Guthrie in his song “Pretty Boy Floyd.”

Bottom line: if record companies could get away with it, there was no bottom line. No negotiated contract to sign. No publishing. No royalties. Wham bam thank you man. Take a low-ball flat fee and hit the road. Anonymity was also implicit in the deal, so many black artists were forgotten, their only legacy the era’s brittle shellac disks that were able to withstand the wear of time.

‘Some will rob you with a six-gun…and some with a fountain pen’ – record companies like Paramount routinely exploited black musicians in the 1920s. Wikimedia Commons

One of the most prominent early race labels was Paramount Records, which, between 1917 and 1932, recorded a breathtaking cross-section of seminal African-American artists.

In 2013 I learned that Jack White of Third Man Records (in partnership with Dean Blackwood’s Revenant Records) would be putting together a compilation of Paramount’s historic recordings. The project would be a grand collaboration of two deluxe volumes that would contain a stunning 1,600 tracks.

I was part of a team of researchers and writers tasked with unearthing new information about the featured artists and their songs. For me, it was an opportunity to put a face on some of Paramount’s more enigmatic artists. Listening to track after track, a zeitgeist began to coalesce. As voices from the grooves accrued to tell a story of a collective black experience, I came to see these performances as cumulative cultural memory – each track a brushstroke in a painting of a long-forgotten landscape.

Here’s a taste of what I found.

Pullman Porters Quartette

The Pullman Company, manufacturers of railroad passenger cars, was magnanimous towards its African-American workforce. Among other benefits, they provided in-house musical instruction, which included a cappella quartet singing lessons.

The Pullman Company employed a large number of African Americans as porters. Flickr/antefixus U.E., CC BY-NC-ND

The Pullman quartets, I learned, were a franchise: multiple configurations of singers performing concurrently under the company banner. They put on concerts, either performing live on the radio, or on long haul train routes as a form of passenger entertainment. The men who made the records were billed as the “President’s Own” – the working Pullman porters considered the company’s premier lineup.

In the late 1920s, The Pullman Porters Quartette of Chicago recorded a number of sides for Paramount. One tune was “Jog-a-Long Boys,” where they sang of sad roosters and being turned down by widow Brown, the “fattest gal in town.” The chorus went:

Jog-a-long, boys, jog-a-long, boys,

Be careful when you smile,

Do the latest style,

But jog-a-long, jog-a-long boys.

Jog-a-long, boys, jog-a-long, boys,

Don’t fool with google eyes,

That would not be wise,

But jog-a-long, jog-a-long boys.

At first, it seemed as if it were no more than a silly ditty performed in upbeat counterpoint harmony. Then it hit me: they were making light of a horrific reality – specifically, that a black man who dared to smile or even look askance at a white woman was putting himself in grave danger.

Look your best, but don’t forget your place…and just jog along, boys.

‘Jog-a-long Boys,’ by The Pullman Porters Quartet of Chicago.

Horace George

Horace George of Horace George’s Jubilee Harmonizers was a showman and an opportunist, a versatile musician who performed in whatever style sold, whether it was novelty gospel, blues, comedy or jazz.

His gospel group cut one record for Paramount in 1924, but he first surfaced as early as 1906, advertised in the Indianapolis Freeman as “the great clarinetist, comedian, and vocalist.” A few years later, George found himself in Seattle as the “Famous Colored Comedian…who gives correct images,” and later as the “Man with the Clarinet” in a touring black vaudeville troupe, the Great Dixieland Spectacle Company.

In the late 1910s, a black newspaper – the Indianapolis Freeman – called Horace George “a novelty on any bill.” The novelty? He could play three clarinets at once!

Rev TT Rose

Beyond the rollicking piano-driven gospel sides he cut for Paramount in the late 1920s, nothing was known of Rev T T Rose. Rose’s “Goodbye Babylon” was the title track of Dust-to-Digital’s 2004 Grammy-nominated collection, Goodbye, Babylon. It was also inspiration for a rock ‘n’ roll tune by the Black Keys. And Rose’s recording of “If I Had My Way, I’d Tear This Building Down” – later performed by artists ranging from Rev. Gary Davis to the Grateful Dead – is one of the earliest known recorded versions of that song.

Rev Rose’s personal story was the most heartening of all. He lived in Springfield, Illinois, and I located his 90-plus-year-old daughter Dorothy, who described her father as a man on a mission to end racism and institutionalized segregation.

As a child, Rose had witnessed the aftermath of the infamous 1908 Springfield Race Riots, an event that precipitated the formation of the NAACP. In the late 1920s Rose moved from Chicago to Springfield, in order to minister the city’s black community.

In an oral history recording, Rev Rose described Springfield as “just really a type of Southern town” with an “overpowering resentment of the Negro…distrust and the fear that the Negro might someday become stronger.” When he returned to Springfield, he observed that the time that had elapsed since the race riots was “a very short span of time to erase all the scars and the prejudices and the hate that was engendered…in that very unfortunate affair.”

It was a hate, he continued, that “Kind of hung like a cloud from an atomic bomb over the whole neighborhood” causing the black citizens of Springfield to go “into themselves quite a bit.”

After his short recording career with Paramount in the late 1920s, Rev Rose went on to become a regional bishop in the Church of God in Christ. He recorded because he thought songs could both uplift and spread messages of hope and perseverance in the struggle for Civil Rights. When he sang “If I Had My Way,” it’s clear that the building he wanted to tear down was no less than the edifice of racism.

Lord, if I had my way,

Oh Lord, if I, if I had my way,

In this wicked world, if I had my way,

God, knows I’d tear this building down.The Conversation

‘If I Had My Way,’ by Rev TT Rose.

Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a much more radical message than a dream of racial brotherhood

by Paul Harvey, University of Colorado Colorado Springs

Martin Luther King Jr. has come to be revered as a hero who led a nonviolent struggle to reform and redeem the United States. His birthday is celebrated as a national holiday. Tributes are paid to him on his death anniversary each April, and his legacy is honored in multiple ways.

But from my perspective as a historian of religion and civil rights, the true radicalism of his thought remains underappreciated. The “civil saint” portrayed nowadays was, by the end of his life, a social and economic radical, who argued forcefully for the necessity of economic justice in the pursuit of racial equality.

Three particular works from 1957 to 1967 illustrate how King’s political thought evolved from a hopeful reformer to a radical critic.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addresses marchers during his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington. AP Photo

 

King’s support for white moderates

For much of the 1950s, King believed that white southern ministers could provide moral leadership. He thought the white racists of the South could be countered by the ministers who took a stand for equality. At the time, his concern with economic justice was a secondary theme in his addresses and political advocacy.

Speaking at Vanderbilt University in 1957, he professed his belief that “there is in the white South more open-minded moderates than appears on the surface.” He urged them to lead the region through its necessary transition to equal treatment for black citizens. He reassured all that the aim of the movement was not to “defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.”

King had hope for this vision. He had worked with white liberals such as Myles Horton, the leader of a center in Tennessee for training labor and civil rights organizers. King had developed friendships and crucial alliances with white supporters in other parts of the country as well. His vision was for the fulfillment of basic American ideals of liberty and equality.

Letter from Birmingham Jail

A handwritten copy of ‘Letter From a Birmingham Jail.’ AP Photo/Richard Drew, file

By the early 1960s, at the peak of the civil rights movement, King’s views had evolved significantly. In early 1963, King came to Birmingham to lead a campaign for civil rights in a city known for its history of racial violence.

During the Birmingham campaign, in April 1963, he issued a masterful public letter explaining the motivations behind his crusade. It stands in striking contrast with his hopeful 1957 sermon.

His “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” responded to a newspaper advertisement from eight local clergymen urging King to allow the city government to enact gradual changes.

In a stark change from his earlier views, King devastatingly targeted white moderates willing to settle for “order” over justice. In an oppressive environment, the avoidance of conflict might appear to be “order,” but in fact supported the denial of basic citizenship rights, he noted.

“We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive,” King wrote. He argued how oppressors never voluntarily gave up freedom to the oppressed – it always had to be demanded by “extremists for justice.”

He wrote how he was “gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom.” They were, he said, a greater enemy to racial justice than were members of the white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and other white racist radicals.

Call for economic justice

By 1967, King’s philosophy emphasized economic justice as essential to equality. And he made clear connections between American violence abroad in Vietnam and American social inequality at home.

Exactly one year before his assassination in Memphis, King stood at one of the best-known pulpits in the nation, at Riverside Church in New York. There, he explained how he had come to connect the struggle for civil rights with the fight for economic justice and the early protests against the Vietnam War.

He proclaimed:

“Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read ‘Vietnam.’ It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over.”

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, right, talks with civil rights leaders at the White House in Washington, Jan. 18, 1964. AP Photo

He angered crucial allies. King and President Lyndon Johnson, for example, had been allies in achieving significant legislative victories in 1964 and 1965. Johnson’s “Great Society” launched a series of initiatives to address issues of poverty at home. But beginning in 1965, after the Johnson administration increased the number of U.S. troops deployed in Vietnam, King’s vision grew radical.

King continued with a searching analysis of what linked poverty and violence both at home and abroad. While he had spoken out before about the effects of colonialism, he now made the connection unmistakably clear. He said:

“I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor in America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam.”

King concluded with the famous words on “the fierce urgency of now,” by which he emphasized the immediacy of the connection between economic injustice and racial inequality.

The radical King

King’s “I Have a Dream,” speech at the March on Washington in August 1963 serves as the touchstone for the annual King holiday. But King’s dream ultimately evolved into a call for a fundamental redistribution of economic power and resources. It’s why he was in Memphis, supporting a strike by garbage workers, when he was assassinated in April 1968.

He remained, to the end, the prophet of nonviolent resistance. But these three key moments in King’s life show his evolution over a decade.

This remembering matters more than ever today. Many states are either passing or considering measures that would make it harder for many Americans to exercise their fundamental right to vote. It would roll back the huge gains in rates of political participation by racial minorities made possible by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At the same time, there is a persistent wealth gap between blacks and whites.

Only sustained government attention can address these issues – the point King was stressing later in his life.

King’s philosophy stood not just for “opportunity,” but for positive measures toward economic equality and political power. Ignoring this understanding betrays the “dream” that is ritually invoked each year.The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Segregation policies in federal government in early 20th century harmed Blacks for decades

by Guo Xu, University of California, Berkeley and Abhay Aneja, University of California, Berkeley

Economic disparities in earnings, health and wealth between Black and white Americans are staggeringly large. Historical government practices and institutions – such as segregated schools, redlined neighborhoods and discrimination in medical care – have contributed to these wide disparities. While these causes may not always be overt, they can have lasting negative effects on the prosperity of minority communities.

Abhay Aneja and I are researchers at University of California, Berkeley, who specialize in examining the causes of social inequality. Our new research examines the U.S. federal government’s role in creating conditions of racial inequality more than a century ago. Specifically, we researched the harmful impact of government discrimination against Black civil service employees. We also examined how such discrimination continues to affect their families decades later, rippling across future generations.

A 1938 stamp honoring former President Woodrow Wilson, considered one of America’s most progressive presidents. iStock / Getty Images Plus

 

Decades of discrimination

Soon after his inauguration in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson ushered in one of the most far-reaching discrimination policies of that century. Wilson discreetly authorized his Cabinet secretaries to implement a policy of racial segregation across the federal bureaucracy.

A Southerner by heritage, Wilson appointed several Southern Democrats to Cabinet offices, several of whom were sympathetic to the segregationist cause. Wilson’s new postmaster general, for example, was “anxious to segregate white and negro employees in all Departments of Government.” Historical accounts suggest that Wilson’s order was carried out most aggressively by the U.S. Postal Service and the U.S. Treasury Department, the latter responsible for revenue generation including taxes and customs duties. Based on the data we collected, the majority of Black civilians worked in these two federal departments before Wilson’s arrival.

Income inequality as a result of federal segregation policy.
Segregation as federal policy widens income disparity for Black Americans. Figure by Aneja and Xu (2020)

Given his support among Southern Democrats, one goal of the Wilson administration was to limit the access of Black civil servants to the highest positions within government. This outcome was achieved through both demotions and reductions, efforts to discourage the hiring of qualified Black candidates.

For example, photos became required to apply for government jobs in order to screen out Black candidates. Black Americans already employed in the federal civil service were transferred from relatively high-status posts to low-paying ones. This overall policy of Jim Crow-style segregation served to shut out Black Americans from working in one of the few places where they could find opportunities for economic mobility and success.

Deep roots of economic disparities

Despite the potential for enormous harm, the cost of segregation to the economic status of Black civil servants has long remained unknown. Our research started by examining how President Wilson contributed to earnings disparities between Black and white civil service workers. In so doing, our research added to the collective knowledge within the social sciences about the roots of racial inequality.

To build a database on earnings inequality, our team undertook a large-scale data digitization of previously undigitized and, to our knowledge, unexamined historical government records containing a detailed list of all people who worked for the federal government and what they earned each year. These records were contained in eight volumes of the Official Register of the U.S., a series spanning 1907 to 1921. For 1907, we obtained information for 125,000 workers. By 1921, the size of the government workforce had more than doubled.

Segregation reaches deep into the lives of Black Americans.
Segregation as commonplace as a drink of water. kickstand/E+ via Getty Images

This data collection and cleaning process created a comprehensive dataset to understand the operation of the American federal government at the beginning of the 20th century. It not only described a worker’s position and salary, but also contained rich personal information including a federal employee’s place of birth, the state from which they were appointed and the Cabinet department where they worked.

Because the register was issued every two years, our research made it possible to track a civil servant’s career progression over time. Looking at this data source, it was clear that President Wilson’s policy of segregating the federal workforce exacted an enormous cost from Black civil servants.

Sidelining Black federal workers

To isolate the impact of racial discrimination and establish comparable jobs and salaries, the analysis paired Black and white federal employees with similar characteristics. Each worked in the same city, the same government office and even had the same salary before President Wilson’s inauguration. Within this set of comparable workers, Black civil servants earned about 7% less than their white counterparts during Wilson’s two terms as president.

When we account for differences in civil servants, such as educational background, the reduction in earnings suffered by Black civil servants remains. Moreover, under the order to segregate, Black civil servants were less likely to be promoted over time and more likely to be demoted. This disparate treatment by the federal government enabled white civil servants to earn more over time than Black civil servants with the same levels of skill and experience. Our research provides strong evidence for the discriminatory nature of workplace segregation faced by Black Americans within the federal government.

Home ownership falls in relation to federal segregation policies targeting Black workers.
Black workers targeted by federal policies earned less money and had less capacity to own a home. Figure by Aneja and Xu (2020)

Our research shows that the damage caused by working under discriminatory conditions persisted well beyond Wilson’s presidency. The same Black civil servants victimized by discrimination in federal employment were also less likely to own a home in 1920, 1930 and 1940, almost three decades after Wilson was elected. Moreover, the school-age children of Black civil servants who served in the Wilson administration went on to have poorer-quality lives than their young white counterparts in terms of their overall earnings and quality of employment in adulthood.

This research can help to contribute to the understanding of the roots of economic disparities. A policy of racial discrimination – even if implemented temporarily – has lasting negative effects. A clearer understanding of historical discrimination can help to inform the design of policies aimed at remedying the painfully persistent racial inequities we observe today.The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

African-American GIs of WWII: Fighting for democracy abroad and at home

by Maria Höhn, Vassar College

Until the 21st century, the contributions of African-American soldiers in World War II barely registered in America’s collective memory of that war.

The “tan soldiers,” as the black press affectionately called them, were also for the most part left out of the triumphant narrative of America’s “Greatest Generation.” In order to tell their story of helping defeat Nazi Germany in my 2010 book, “Breath of Freedom,” I had to conduct research in more than 40 different archives in the U.S. and Germany.

Two U.S. soldiers on Easter morning, 1945. NARA

 

When a German TV production company, together with Smithsonian TV, turned that book into a documentary, the filmmakers searched U.S. media and military archives for two years for footage of black GIs in the final push into Germany and during the occupation of post-war Germany.

They watched hundreds of hours of film and discovered less than 10 minutes of footage. This despite the fact that among the 16 million U.S. soldiers who fought in World War II, there were about one million African-American soldiers.

They fought in the Pacific, and they were part of the victorious army that liberated Europe from Nazi rule. Black soldiers were also part of the U.S. Army of occupation in Germany after the war. Still serving in strictly segregated units, they were sent to democratize the Germans and expunge all forms of racism.

A soldier paints over a swastika. NARA

It was that experience that convinced many of these veterans to continue their struggle for equality when they returned home to the U.S. They were to become the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement – a movement that changed the face of our nation and inspired millions of repressed people across the globe.

As a scholar of German history and of the more than 70-year U.S. military presence in Germany, I have marveled at the men and women of that generation. They were willing to fight for democracy abroad, while being denied democratic rights at home in the U.S. Because of their belief in America’s “democratic promise” and their sacrifices on behalf of those ideals, I was born into a free and democratic West Germany, just 10 years after that horrific war.

Fighting racism at home and abroad

By deploying troops abroad as warriors for and emissaries of American democracy, the military literally exported the African-American freedom struggle.

Beginning in 1933, when Adolf Hitler came to power, African-American activists and the black press used white America’s condemnation of Nazi racism to expose and indict the abuses of Jim Crow at home. America’s entry into the war and the struggle against Nazi Germany allowed civil rights activists to significantly step up their rhetoric.

Langston Hughes’ 1943 poem, “From Beaumont to Detroit,” addressed to America, eloquently expressed that sentiment:

“You jim crowed me / Before hitler rose to power- / And you are still jim crowing me- / Right now this very hour.”

Believing that fighting for American democracy abroad would finally grant African-Americans full citizenship at home, civil rights activists put pressure on the U.S. government to allow African-American soldiers to “fight like men,” side by side with white troops.

The military brass, disproportionately dominated by white Southern officers, refused. They argued that such a step would undermine military efficiency and negatively impact the morale of white soldiers. In an integrated military, black officers or NCOs might also end up commanding white troops. Such a challenge to the Jim Crow racial order based on white supremacy was seen as unacceptable.

The manpower of black soldiers was needed in order to win the war, but the military brass got its way; America’s Jim Crow order was to be upheld. African-Americans were allowed to train as pilots in the segregated Tuskeegee Airmen. The 92nd Buffalo Soldiers and 93rd Blue Helmets all-black divisions were activated and sent abroad under the command of white officers.

Despite these concessions, 90 percent of black troops were forced to serve in labor and supply units, rather than the more prestigious combat units. Except for a few short weeks during the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944 when commanders were desperate for manpower, all U.S. soldiers served in strictly segregated units. Even the blood banks were segregated.

‘A Breath of Freedom’

After the defeat of the Nazi regime, an Army manual instructed U.S. occupation soldiers that America was the “living denial of Hitler’s absurd theories of a superior race,” and that it was up to them to teach the Germans “that the whole concept of superiority and intolerance of others is evil.” There was an obvious, deep gulf between this soaring rhetoric of democracy and racial harmony, and the stark reality of the Jim Crow army of occupation. It was also not lost on the black soldiers.

Women’s Army Corps in Nuremberg, Germany, 1949. Library of Congress

Post-Nazi Germany was hardly a country free of racism. But for the black soldiers, it was their first experience of a society without a formal Jim Crow color line. Their uniform identified them as victorious warriors and as Americans, rather than “Negroes.”

Serving in labor and supply units, they had access to all the goods and provisions starving Germans living in the ruins of their country yearned for. African-American cultural expressions such as jazz, defamed and banned by the Nazis, were another reason so many Germans were drawn to their black liberators. White America was stunned to see how much black GIs enjoyed their time abroad, and how much they dreaded their return home to the U.S.

By 1947, when the Cold War was heating up, the reality of the segregated Jim Crow Army in Germany was becoming a major embarrassment for the U.S. government. The Soviet Union and East German communist propaganda relentlessly attacked the U.S. and challenged its claim to be the leader of the “free world.” Again and again, they would point to the segregated military in West Germany, and to Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. to make their case.

Coming ‘home’

Newly returned veterans, civil rights advocates and the black press took advantage of that Cold War constellation. They evoked America’s mission of democracy in Germany to push for change at home. Responding to that pressure, the first institution of the U.S. to integrate was the U.S. military, made possible by Truman’s 1948 Executive Order 9981. That monumental step, in turn, paved the way for the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Hosea Williams, World War II Army veteran and civil rights activist, rallies demonstrators in Selma, Ala. 1965. AP Photo

The veterans who had been abroad electrified and energized the larger struggle to make America live up to its promise of democracy and justice. They joined the NAACP in record numbers and founded new chapters of that organization in the South, despite a wave of violence against returning veterans. The veterans of World War II and the Korean War became the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Medgar Evers, Amzie Moore, Hosea Williams and Aaron Henry are some of the better-known names, but countless others helped advance the struggle.

About one-third of the leaders in the civil rights movement were veterans of World War II.

They fought for a better America in the streets of the South, at their workplaces in the North, as leaders in the NAACP, as plaintiffs before the Supreme Court and also within the U.S. military to make it a more inclusive institution. They were also the men of the hour at the 1963 March on Washington, when their military training and expertise was crucial to ensure that the day would not be marred by agitators opposed to civil rights.

“We structured the March on Washington like an army formation,” recalled veteran Joe Hairston.

For these veterans, the 2009 and 2013 inaugurations of President Barack Obama were triumphant moments in their long struggle for a better America and a more just world. Many never thought they would live to see the day that an African-American would lead their country.

To learn more about the contributions of African-American GIs, visit “The Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs, and Germany” digital archive.The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.

Only the richest ancient Athenians paid taxes – and they bragged about it

by Thomas Martin, College of the Holy Cross

In ancient Athens, only the very wealthiest people paid direct taxes, and these went to fund the city-state’s most important national expenses – the navy and honors for the gods. While today it might sound astonishing, most of these top taxpayers not only paid happily, but boasted about how much they paid.

Money was just as important to the ancient Athenians as it is to most people today, so what accounts for this enthusiastic reaction to a large tax bill? The Athenian financial elite felt this way because they earned an invaluable payback: public respect from the other citizens of their democracy.

A painting of the Acropolis in ancient Athens.
Ancient Athens was a thoroughly modern city in its large public funding needs. Leo von Klenze via Wikimedia Commons

Modern needs, modern finances

Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. had a population of free and enslaved people topping 300,000 individuals. The economy mostly focused on international trade, and Athens needed to spend large sums of money to keep things humming – from supporting national defense to the countless public fountains constantly pouring out drinking water all over the city.

Much of this income came from publicly owned farmland and silver mines that were leased to the highest bidders, but Athens also taxed imports and exports and collected fees from immigrants and prostitutes as well as fines imposed on losers in many court cases. In general, there were no direct taxes on income or wealth.

As Athens grew into an international power, it developed a large and expensive navy of several hundred state-of-the-art wooden warships called triremes – literally meaning three-rowers. Triremes cost huge amounts of money to build, equip and crew, and the Athenian financial elites were the ones that paid to make it happen.

An ancient carving showing a Trireme showing three levels of rowers.
Triremes were the most advanced and expensive military technology of the ancient Mediterranean, and rich Athenians funded them out of their own pockets. Marsyas via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

The top 1% of male property owners supported the saving or salvation of Athens –called “soteria” – by performing a special kind of public service called “leitourgia,” or liturgy. They served as a trireme commander, or “trierarch,” who personally funded the operating costs of a trireme for an entire year and even led the crew on missions. This public service was not cheap. To fund their liturgy as a trierarch, a rich taxpayer spent what a skilled worker earned in 10 to 20 years of steady pay, but instead of dodging this responsibility, most embraced it.

Running warships was not the only responsibility the rich had to national defense. When Athens was at war – which was most of the time – the wealthy had to pay contributions in cash called “eisphorai” to finance the citizen militia. These contributions were based on the value of their property, not their income, which made them in a sense a direct tax on wealth.

A photos of the ruins of the Theater of Dionysus showing rows upon rows of seats made of marble.
The Theater of Dionysus in Athens could hold thousands of spectators for shows subsidized by liturgists. dronepicr via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

To please the gods

To the ancient Athenians, physical military might was only part of the equation. They also believed that the salvation of the state from outside threats depended on a less tangible but equally crucial and costly source of defense: the favor of the gods.

To keep these powerful but fickle divine protectors on their side, the Athenians built elaborate temples, performed large sacrifices and organized lively public religious festivals. These massive spectacles featured musical extravaganzas and theater performances that were attended by tens of thousands of people and were hugely expensive to throw.

Just as with trieremes, the richest Athenians paid for these festivals by fulfilling festival liturgies. Serving as a chorus leader, for example, meant paying for the training, costumes and living expenses for large groups of performers for months at a time.

Proud to be paying

In the U.S. today, an estimated one out of every six tax dollars is unpaid. Large corporations and rich citizens do everything they can to minimize their tax bill. The Athenians would have ridiculed such behavior.

None of the financial elite of ancient Athens prided themselves on scamming the Athenian equivalent of the IRS. Just the opposite was true: They paid, and even boasted in public – truthfully – that they often had paid more than required when serving as a trierarch or chorus leader.

Of course, not every member of the superrich at Athens behaved like a patriotic champion. Some Athenian shirkers tried to escape their liturgies by claiming other people with more property ought to shoulder the cost instead of themselves, but this attempted weaseling out of public service never became the norm.

So what was the reasoning behind this civic, taxpaying pride? Ancient Athenians weren’t only opening their wallets to promote the common good. They were counting on earning a high return in public esteem from the investments in their community that their taxes represented.

This social capital was so valuable because Athenian culture held civic duty in high regard. If a rich Athenian hoarded his wealth, he was mocked and labeled a “greedy man” who “borrows from guests staying his house” and “when he sells wine to a friend, he sells it watered!”

A photo showing a tall, cylindrical monument with elaborate carvings.
The Choragic Monument of Lysicrates was erected in 335 B.C. by the liturgist Lysicrates after his play won first prize, and it still stands today. C messier via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

Social wealth, not monetary riches

The social rewards that tax payments earned the rich had long lives. A liturgist who financed the chorus of a prize-winning drama could build himself a spectacular monument in a conspicuous downtown location to announce his excellence to all comers for all time.

Above all, the Athenian rich paid their taxes because they craved the social success that came from their compatriots publicly identifying them as citizens who are good because they are useful. Earning the honorable title of a useful citizen might sound tame today – it didn’t boost Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign even though he describes his political role as “trying to make myself useful” – but in a letter to a Hebrew congregation in Rhode Island written in 1790, George Washington proclaimed that being “useful” was an invaluable part of the divine plan for the United States.

So, too, the Athenians infused that designation with immense power. To be a rich taxpayer who was good and useful to his fellow citizens counted even more than money in the bank. And this invaluable public service profited all Athenians by keeping their democracy alive century after century.The Conversation


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation.