by Tiffany Mitchell Patterson, West Virginia University
I’ll never forget a student’s response when I asked during a middle school social studies class what they knew about black history: “Martin Luther King freed the slaves.”
Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929, more than six decades after the time of enslavement. To me, this comment underscored how closely Americans associate black history with slavery.
While shocked, I knew this mistaken belief reflected the lack of time, depth and breadth schools devote to black history. Most students get limited information and context about what African Americans have experienced since our ancestors arrived here four centuries ago. Without independent study, most adults aren’t up to speed either.
I’m excited about new resources for teaching children, and everyone else, more about the history of slavery through The New York Times’ “1619 Project.” But based on my experience teaching social studies and my current work preparing social studies educators, I also consider understanding what happened during the Reconstruction essential for exploring black power, resilience and excellence.
As most students do learn, the U.S. gained three constitutional amendments that extended civil and political rights to newly freed African Americans following the Civil War.
The 13th, ratified in 1865, banned slavery and involuntary servitude except for the punishment of a crime.
The 14th, ratified three years later, granted citizenship and equal protection under the law to all people born in the United States, as well as naturalized citizens – including all previously enslaved individuals.
Then, the 15th Amendment asserted that neither the federal government nor state governments could deny voting rights to any male citizen.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment on Feb. 3, 1870. The anniversary is a good opportunity to learn about how the amendment was supposed to guarantee that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
African American politicians
What few history and social studies classes explore is how these changes to the Constitution made it possible for African American men to use their newfound political power to gain representation.
White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan also formed following the Civil War. These terrorist groups engaged in violence and other racist tactics to intimidate African Americans, people of color, black voters and legislators. They thus made the accomplishments of African American politicians even more impressive as they served as public officials under the constant threat of racial violence.
Black activist women
African American women technically gained the right to vote in 1920, when the 19th Amendment passed. However, their constitutional right was limited in many states due to discriminatory laws.
Many black women were activists and women’s suffrage movement leaders. Through public speaking, prolific writing and developing organizations dedicated to racial and and gender equality, they fought for equal rights and dignity for all.
Among the black women who were activists during Reconstruction were the five Rollins sisters of South Carolina, who fought for female voting rights; Maria Stewart, an outspoken abolitionist before the Civil War and suffragist once it ended; and Mary Ann Shadd Cary, the first black woman in North America to edit and publish a newspaper, one of the first black female lawyers in the country and an advocate for granting women the right to vote.
Other women of color who played key roles in the suffrage movement included Ida B. Wells, the journalist and civil rights advocate who raised awareness of lynching, and Mary Church Terrell, founder of the National Association of Colored Women.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in Washington, D.C. in 2017, contains artifacts from the Reconstruction era. It’s also making the records of the Freedmen’s Bureau, including the names of formerly enslaved individuals following the Civil War, available online.
“The slave went free; stood for a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery,” he explained.
This was by no means voluntary. Intimidated and threatened by black enfranchisement and excellence in the era of Reconstruction, white supremacists attempted to enforce subordination through violence, such as lynching; and in systemic ways through Jim Crow laws. African Americans continued to assert their civil and constitutional rights as activists, politicians, business owners, teachers and farmers in the midst of white supremacist backlash.
With the latest voter suppression efforts restricting access to the ballot box for voters of color and the resurgence of racist violence and vitriol today, DuBois’ words sound eerily familiar. At the same time it’s reassuring to recall how quickly formerly enslaved African Americans made their way to schoolhouses and public offices.
America recently marked the 65-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education – a landmark case intended to abolish the “separate-but-equal” doctrine of racial segregation in schools.
But the racial makeup of today’s schools actually owes itself to a series of other court decisions – including one issued 45 years ago on July 25, 1974. The Milliken v. Bradley decision sanctioned a form of segregation that has allowed suburbs to escape being included in court-ordered desegregation and busing plans with nearby cities.
The Milliken decision recognized “de facto” segregation – segregation that occurs as a result of circumstances, not law. This allowed schools in the North to maintain racially separate schools at the same time southern schools were being ordered by the courts to desegregate. By giving suburbs a pass from large mandated desegregation attempts, it built a figurative wall around white flight enclaves, essentially shielding them from the “crisis” of urban education.
Outside a few voluntary and limited programs such as METCO in Boston and Springfield, Massachusetts, or Chapter 220 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, that enabled a small number of children from cities to attend schools in the suburbs or more affluent areas, northern school districts remained largely segregated.
The decision ruled that social segregation was permissible and therefore exempt from court-ordered, “forced” desegregation plans. That is, the court said, if segregation occurred because of certain “unknowable factors” such as economic changes and racial fears – not a law – then it’s legal.
Originating in Detroit, a major destination of the Great Migration, the mass movement of southern African Americans to northern cities, the decision dictated how desegregation would proceed outside the South, if at all.
But the nation largely understood segregation to be an issue confined to the South. Milliken brought the freedom struggle’s call for integration to the North.
A new legal front
Twenty years after the Brown decision, the NAACP, Urban League and civil rights activists documented how segregation led to underfunded and inferior schooling across the North in cities like Chicago, New York and Detroit.
Black activists in Detroit like Rev. Albert Cleage, the NAACP and black parents in segregated housing and schools began to demand education reform as the freedom struggle intensified during the 1940s. They demanded things that ranged from community control to integration in all schools as opposed to token desegregation. By 1970, the NAACP demanded a desegregated school system as promised by Brown and filed a lawsuit against the governor, William Milliken.
As the Milliken case worked its way through the courts from 1970 to 1974, the nature of public education was changing. Millions of whites abandoned the cities for suburban enclaves. Like the rest of the North, Detroit experienced dramatic population shifts that decimated public schools. From the 1950s through 1970s, Detroit lost over 30% of its white population to the suburbs, where the population climbed to over 3 million. By the 1970s students of color comprised nearly 75% of a once majority-white system. More affluent whites and the few families of color who fled left behind a depleted tax base that starved public schools, as described in Jeffrey Mirel’s “The Rise and Fall of an Urban School System.”
Desegregation dreams deferred
To address the issue of persistent segregation, the Supreme Court consented in the 1971 Swann v. Mecklenburg decision to busing students outside their neighborhood schools in North Carolina as a solution to segregation.
Following the spirit of Swann, a United States district judge for the Eastern District of Michigan named Stephen J. Roth, issued one of the most extensive desegregation orders of the era in 1972. Roth’s plan called for the two-way integration of 780,000 students across not only Detroit, but school districts in a tri-county area.
The plan was never put into action because of the 1974 Supreme Court Milliken decision.
Districts could still voluntarily bus – but busing was so unpopular and politically untenable in 1974 that few attempted it in any serious manner. A narrow 5-4 majority of justices determined that “racial imbalance” in Detroit – and by inference in other U.S. cities – was caused by “de facto” segregation.
Justice Potter Stewart wrote in his concurring opinion that segregation in Detroit was “caused by unknown and perhaps unknowable factors such as in-migration, birth rates, economic changes, or cumulative acts of private racial fears.” In other words, the justices in the majority – most of them appointed by President Richard Nixon – found that the suburbs should not be subject to busing.
In a scathing dissent, Justice Thurgood Marshall, the lead counsel for the NAACP when the Brown case was brought to the court and who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1967, wrote: “After 20 years of small, often difficult steps (toward equal justice under law) the Court today takes a giant step backwards.” He said the Court revived “the same separate and inherently unequal education … afforded in the past.”
Milliken put forth the convenient narrative that segregation in the North was natural and therefore permissible. It also freed northern school districts from being forced to participate in large-scale solutions to segregation and unequal education outside their boundaries.
I believe continuing to ignore Milliken covers up the ongoing segregation of America’s schools today and the nation’s collective, ongoing failure to improve public education in the spirit of Brown.
There appears to be a concerted effort to destroy the reputations and images of Black men. Not even the dead are immune. Fifty-one years after his death, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is the latest target; allegations of rape and participation in orgies have surfaced.
FBI records show between 1956 and 1971 a covert and at times illegal program, COINTELPRO, targeted black leaders and civil rights organizations with the stated purpose of surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting their activities. The FBI file on my uncle Dick Gregory contains over 3,700 pages.
Two days after Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington, William Sullivan, the FBI’s director of intelligence, famously responded by writing, “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro and national security.” In late August 1963, FBI leaders met to discuss ways of “neutralizing King".
COINTELPRO tactics are still used to this day, and have been alleged to include discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, including assassination.
The FBI sent a secret memo in August 2017 to alert 18,000 law enforcement agencies that people involved in the black lives matter and similar movements could be "black identity extremism” an inflammatory term for a group that doesn’t even exist to discredit and criminalize black people protesting against police brutality and killings by labeling them as terrorists.
The memos claim that agents knew that King and a group including Baltimore Pastor Logan Kearse were going to be staying at the Willard Hotel in January 1964 days before he ever arrived. The most troubling memos describe King witnessing a rape in a hotel room. Instead of stopping it, handwritten notes in the file say he laughed and encouraged Kearse who died in 1991 to continue. The FBI allegedly listened in on King and at least 11 others who participated in what the FBI memos describe as “an orgy” on Jan. 6, 1964.
Many of these transcripts were based on audiotapes that are still sealed until 2027 under a court order. That’s when the FBI’s full audiotapes, photographs and film footage of King will be unsealed per a 1977 court order.
Some historians have questioned Garrow’s choice to publish the content of the memos and transcripts without listening to the recordings, and have pointed out that the FBI had spent years trying to undermine King. People will rightly debate the trustworthiness of FBI sources, and Garrow’s interpretation of them. No figure, no matter how revered, should be immune from scrutiny over their potential support for violence against women.
But those weighing the evidence and its legitimacy should not forget that the tapes being used to facilitate this discussion were created and preserved with the goal of destroying Martin Luther King’s reputation. The FBI’s intent was to demoralize and fragment the coalition of supporters King brought together in his life, the people who find common purpose by honoring his memory.
A large segment of the black community is too quick to buy into racist narratives created in the news media about black athletes, entertainers, politicians, and leaders.
As we've mentioned before 90 percent of mass media is controlled by a few white corporations. Negative perceptions of black people persist primarily because of racist propaganda. Most white television programming and movies depict even successful black people as former drug dealers, criminals or they have some major character flaw and can't be trusted.
Bill Cosby's reputation was destroyed after a massive media propaganda campaign that accused him of sexually assaulting dozens of women. Cosby was eventually convicted of aggravated indecent assault and sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison. The Cosby Show and A Different World helped spread a more positive image of African-Americans all around the world. The Cosby Show made possible a larger variety of shows with a predominantly African-American cast, such as In Living Color, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and others.
The Cosby Show may not have been possible if Dr. King hadn't inspired millions of people through his actions and words. Although, there were others who were equally dedicated, such as Medgar Evers and Malcolm X who also gave their lives fighting for civil rights; none were more persuasive. Now Dr. King's legacy which inspired a national holiday is under assault.
The white media machine will viciously attack Dr. King's reputation and legacy. Hopefully, large segments of the black community will not be fooled into abandoning one of their most cherished champions. As a reminder of white media's power; in January of this year, the following black reputations were attacked:
Michael Jackson and R. Kelly were vilified in the documentaries "Leaving Neverland" and "Surviving R. Kelly". Both were previously found not guilty in prior sex abuse cases. New charges were bought against Kelly after Surviving R. Kelly aired.
Chris Brown was arrested on rape and drug charges in Paris, however, charges were later dropped but the investigation remains open.
Jussie Smollett after reporting being attacked became a suspect and was indicted on 16 felony counts and faced 64 years in prison. The police held an elaborate press conference which was essentially trial by public opinion. All charges were eventually dropped and the Black prosecutor was smeared. The Chicago police just recently released hundreds of pages of the Smollett case file.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and others are celebrated by white people despite them being slave owners and rapist. Many in the white community still believe black people should stand to honor a song adopted as the national anthem that celebrated the deaths and defeat of slaves who were fighting for their freedom.
Mentioning slaves fighting for freedom reminded me of the 2016 media attack on Nate Parker, director and star of "Birth of a Nation", a wonderful film about the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. Nate Parker and his roommate and wrestling teammate, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a white female student at Penn State. Parker was acquitted on all four counts brought against him. Celestin was convicted but it was later overturned. False rape allegations are an effective tool of white supremacists; countless numbers of black men have been lynched, jailed and ruined. "Birth of a Nation" was expected to be a huge success and Oscar contender until the media campaign smeared Parker's reputation prior to the release of the film.
Dr. King cannot defend himself against these outrageous allegations, so we must. He gave his life fighting for freedoms and privileges we now take for granted. Destruction of Dr. King's reputation is paramount to an assassination of his dream and legacy.
Major Democratic presidential candidates are talking about considering or paying reparations to the descendants of African Americans who were enslaved. Many of the candidates may simply be engaging in political pandering. Most candidates simply express support for a discussion rather than actual support for reparations. I haven't heard any candidate actually talk about what reparations might look like.
The definition of reparation is making amends by paying money to or otherwise helping those who have been wronged. The spilling of blood during the Civil War and nearly 10 years of Radical Reconstruction could have been a good start if the federal government had not abandoned efforts to protect former slaves.
When the Declaration of Independence declared "that all men are created equal" in 1776, slaves were 20 percent of the population. Slavery existed in the former colonies and the United States for nearly 250 years, Jim Crow laws for another 90 years. Institutionalized and government-sanctioned discrimination including laws that led to unequal and substandard education, militaristic policing, unjust courts, mass incarceration, and other forms of oppression still exist.
My great-grandmother was a slave, my father said how ashamed she was whenever slavery was mentioned. There were no amends made to her or any other slave for their suffering. Her situation directly affected my grandfather, which directly affected my father, which directly affected me, which directly affects my children.
During slavery men, women and children were raped by their straight, gay or pedophile owners. Medical schools used slaves for medical experiments and practiced surgical procedures on slaves. Families were torn apart. People were tortured, maimed, and killed. The worst atrocities imaginable today were legal because people were reduced to mere property.
After the abolition of slavery; convict leasing, peonage, and Jim Crow kept blacks in slave-like conditions. Black Americans lived in terror because the government refused to offer any meaningful protection from angry or jealous white men. Lynchings and other racially motivated killings were common and unpunished. Prosperous Black neighborhoods such as Tulsa, OK, and Rosewood, FL were looted, burned, bombed and land theft was common.
The government engineered a number of economic, educational and social disadvantages. Social Security was originally designed to prevent 80% of the black population from participating. Federal housing programs that helped create the white middle class, implemented a redlining system which prevented blacks from benefiting.
Government-sponsored experiments such as Tuskegee and Pruitt Igoe have been revealed. Blacks originally were systematically excluded from U.S. farm bills, unemployment compensation, the minimum wage, protection of the right of workers to join labor unions and the G.I. Bill. Law enforcement sabotaged the Civil Rights Movement, In 1972 and 1996 the CIA was linked to drug traffic in black neighborhoods.
The government through legislation, policy, and court decisions actively participated in black oppression. Government inaction encouraged treachery and terrorism so vast it was easy to "keep negroes in their place" effectively eliminating the creation of black opportunity and wealth.
Slave Owner Reparations
In 1833, the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison said at the National Anti-Slavery Convention in Philadelphia: “If compensation is to be given at all, it should be given to the outraged and guiltless slaves, and not to those who have plundered and abused them.” Garrison may have referenced the 1833 "Slavery Abolition Act" when more than 46,000 British slave owners were compensated for freed slaves.
The District of Columbia Emancipation Act, which prohibited slavery in the District, was signed into law on April 16, 1862, by President Abraham Lincoln, forcing over 900 slaveholders to free their slaves.
The government paid to slave owners that were loyal to the Union up to $300 for every enslaved person freed. Slaveowners received payment, slaves received nothing.
When you purchase or inherit real estate and other property, you also assume or inherit the debt; mortgages, taxes, and liens attached to the property. For those who directly experienced slavery and Jim Crow who since died, a debt is owed to their estates; and their descendants are the beneficiaries. The government sanctioned slavery; individuals, churches, corporations, universities, and other institutions actively participated. Georgetown University exists today because of slavery.
The partial list of current corporations and institutions that benefited from slavery include:
AIG, Aetna, Bank of America, Brooks Brothers, Brown Brothers Harriman, Brown Unversity, Columbia, CSX, Fleet, Gannet, Georgetown, Havard, JP Morgan Chase, New York Life, Norfolk Southern, Princeton, Tiffany, University of Virginia, Wells Fargo, Yale, and the list goes one.
All White people passively benefited from the wealth and opportunity created by slavery and Jim Crow. White immigrants decreased the overall percentage of black people and diluted the effectiveness of the black vote. Immigrants benefited from opportunities in a country made prosperous off the backs of the enslaved and directly from professions and job denied to blacks.
The political scientist Thomas Craemer calculated the hours worked by enslaved black workers between 1776 and the official end of slavery. He estimates this uncompensated labor totaled between $5.9 and $14.2 trillion in current dollars.
What reparations could look like?
During a discussion with one of my closest friends in response to his skepticism about any workable reparation solutions, I mentioned what I thought to be some simple ways to identify who should benefit and how to implement.
Reparations should be a combination of social, institutional, and economic solutions that are specific to African American Descendants of Slaves (ADOS). No other group of people was legally brought to the United States by force. Congress should exempt reparations from discrimination or racial exclusion statutes or regulations since they are in effect debts owed and not benefits. However, some solutions, especially those related to a fairer criminal justice system, will, directly and indirectly, benefit other groups. White companies supplying building supplies and other durable goods will also directly benefit.
Although others, most notably Native Americans, perhaps are owed reparations, this discussion is limited to the debt owed to the Black ADOS. Other so-called solutions were never exclusive to Blacks.
Equal opportunity solutions may have been well-intentioned, but in reality, were distorted myths. Affirmative Action, for example, benefited white women more than any other group. There was never any real equal opportunity for black people. If there are vast differences in education, access to credit, transportation, housing, medical care and just about everything else, how is anything equal?
Some concepts are easier to construct and implement; those should be worked on first and others more complex solutions later. Solutions should also have incentives to maximize positive impact on the community.
United Nations Recommends Reparations
At the invitation of the U.S. Government, a group of experts from the United Nations visited the country in 2016 to study and make a recommendation concerning people of African Descent.
The Group urged in their report that the United States consider seriously applying a Ten-Point Action Plan on Reparations, which includes a formal apology, health initiatives, educational opportunities, an African knowledge program, psychological rehabilitation, technology transfer and financial support, and debt cancellation. The following statements were included within the report:
Despite these legal and constitutional developments (13th, 14th & 15 amendments), the prevalence of “Jim Crow” laws — laws at the state and local levels that enforced racial segregation and persecution, primarily in the southern states — perpetuated political disenfranchisement, social and economic exploitation, violence and the overall subjugation of people of African descent until the 1960s. Lynching was a form of racial terrorism that has contributed to a legacy of racial inequality that the United States must address. Thousands of people of African descent were killed in violent public acts of racial control and domination and the perpetrators were never held accountable.
Despite substantial changes since the end of the enforcement of Jim Crow and the fight for civil rights, a systemic ideology of racism ensuring the domination of one group over another continues to impact negatively on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of African Americans today.
The Working Group is deeply concerned at the alarming levels of police brutality and excessive use of lethal force by law enforcement officials, committed with impunity against people of African descent in the United States.
The Working Group is deeply concerned about the low number of cases where police officers have been held accountable for these crimes, despite the evidence.
Killings of unarmed African Americans by the police is only the tip of the iceberg in what is a pervasive racial bias in the justice system.
The Working Group was informed that the “War on Drugs” had had a devastating impact on African Americans and that mass incarceration was considered a system of racial control that operated in a similar way to how Jim Crow laws once operated.
The complex organizational structure of the legal system, with the independence of federal, state and county jurisdictions, and the lack of direct applicability of international human rights law and policies, create gaps that impact deeply on the human rights of African Americans.
There is a profound need to acknowledge that the transatlantic trade in Africans, enslavement, colonization, and colonialism were crimes against humanity and are among the major sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, Afrophobia, and related intolerance. Past injustices and crimes against African Americans need to be addressed with reparatory justice.
Who should be Eligible for Reparations?
In the United States, any person known to have African ancestry was considered Black. This was often called the "one drop rule" and some courts referred to it as the "traceable amount rule". As historian Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham stated in regard to race, "most people believe that they know it when they see it but arrive at nothing short of confusion when pressed to define it."
In 1860, ninety percent of the four million Black people in the U.S. were slaves. Of the ten percent of free Blacks, its safe to assume that virtually all of them were either former slaves or descendants. Even descendants of the handful of black indentured servants such as Anthony Johnson married slaves or former slaves resulting in every black person at that time having a slave in their ancestry. Most of the nation’s 40 million U.S.-born blacks trace their roots to this population.
Significant voluntary Black immigration to the U.S. did not begin until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Refugee Act of 1980 and the U.S. Immigration Act of 1990 when immigration policy changed restrictions on foreign-born blacks. Black people that can trace their ancestry to 1960 should be assumed to be ADOS. For example, my 20-year-old son can prove thru birth records that I was born in 1965 and since my parents were born in the 1920s and 1930s; he satisfies the 1960 rule.
Having Black skin creates barriers which even White people understand because most white people would not want to be treated the way Black people are. Some Black ADOS people with fair skin passed as white and thereby obtained some degree of white privilege. However, even they had to endure being separated from their family, listening to derogatory comments, denying who they were and living in fear of being caught. White privilege is misunderstood, it simply means that white people enjoy the benefit of being treated as normal.
Any Black person who is ADOS should be able to benefit from reparations. Regardless of personal achievement or those made by their ancestors; harm whether physically, emotionally, socially or financially was endured. However, the initial concentration of corrective solutions should be aimed at those who are among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. Those below the poverty line should be among the first to benefit.
Nothing can ever be sufficient restitution for the spiritual, mental, cultural and physical damages inflicted by slavery, Jim Crow and racism. However, something must be done to repair the damage.
The first step should be an official government apology for slavery and its aftermath that acknowledges that harm was done not only to slaves but to their descendants. However, apologies are meaningless without change.
The video below shows the emotional response when a descendant of a former slave owner apologizes to descendants former slaves.
A reparations commission comprising a super majority of ADOS (2/3) should be created to study slavery, the aftermath, the value of uncompensated labor, lost opportunity and pain and suffering. The people who were victims should have the most say in determining what they suffered.
For nearly 250 years Africans and their descendants were denied recognition as members of the human family and were classified in law as non-human, chattel, property, and real estate. This history has inflicted massive psychological trauma upon African descendant populations. As Dr. Joy de Gruy Leary argues, African-Americans are suffering from post-traumatic slave syndrome. Only a reparatory justice approach to truth and educational exposure can begin the process of healing and repair. Part of the dehumanizing process of making a slave was to make Africans descendants hate themselves. Generations of psychological damaged need to be acknowledged and dealt with.
Broadcasting is the most influential industry in the United States. African-Americans were regularly given stereotypic roles that depicted them as lazy, ignorant, and generally derogatory by mass media. The Federal Radio Commission (FRC) and then the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) excluded Black people from ownership of the airways by denying licensing. When the U.S. government first started giving away free licenses in the 1930s, they were distributed exclusively to white, male owners. As technology developed from radio to television and then cable, the same, white-owned companies continued to lead the pack because they could adapt to the new technology fastest. As a result, horrible negative images of black people were transmitted all around the world. As a group, we had no means to counter these images or broadcast information to a national audience. Reparations should include free broadcast licenses. A corporation comprised of shareholders restricted to black churches, black organizations, black entertainers and individual black people should be formed to accept broadcast licenses from the FCC.
Education or should I say miseducation was used as a weapon against Black people during and after slavery. Because knowledge is power, slaves were denied the right to read or write. The slavemaster was able to easily deceive slaves with lies and half-truths. One of the most glaring examples was the "slave bible". A normal "King James" version has 1189 chapters, but the slave bible only contained 232 chapters.
Ironically, even the bible states that reparations for slavery should be provided:
And if thy brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress: of that wherewith the LORD thy God hath blessed thee thou shalt give unto him. And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in the land of Egypt, and the LORD thy God redeemed thee: therefore I command thee this thing today.
— deuteronomy 15: 12–15
After slavery, white-controlled, often racist school boards, rather than slave masters directed miseducation of black people. The 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown vs The Board of Education, made it clear that black schools were so inferior that the quality of education was unconstitutional. Today, 65 years after Brown, the situation is even worse. The cure was worse than the disease. Busing was the primary solution. White schools received even more funding to accommodate black students. Those funds were used to upgrade facilities and programs, while black schools suffered and closed. Many of the most stable and brightest black students were removed along with their positive influence and impact. Some of the best teachers also left. When bussing programs were eliminated, black students were trapped in schools suffering from decades of decline.
Public schools in the U.S. should teach the truth about the horrors of slavery and its aftermath instead of the sanitized whitewashed version usually taught. For example, "The Great Migration" is the general term used to describe how 6 million black people moved north from the south. The whitewashed narrative states better job opportunity was the motivation. In reality, those "migrants" were refugees fleeing terrorism, persecution, violence and were seeking asylum only to find a different form of oppression in the north.
Public school funding should not be based on property taxes. Schools in predominantly black neighborhoods, because of lower property taxes, would remain substandard. These schools provide limited electives, advanced courses, are often in disrepair, have limited supplies, outdated textbooks or may not have books at all. Enrichment and extracurricular programs that help motivate and keep students interested in attending a school such as art, band, choir, drama, sports, student government, debate, robotics, and others won't exist or will be eliminated due to lack of funding.
Free college tuition including books, room and board should be made available to all low-income ADOS students. A small monthly stipend to cover necessary costs such as toiletries, laundry, and personal care items could also be included.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are in the best position to help black students and should receive reparation grants for operating expenses, to improve, modernize and expand their programs and facilities. The improvements will allow HBCUs to attract additional instructors and students. Program expansion should include fields critically needed within the black communities and others where Blacks are underrepresented, for example:
Agricultural programs: that include some sort of land, equipment and operating grant to help create a new generation of black farmers to decrease urban food desserts. Government discrimination caused many Black farmers to lose their farms.
Business: As Black people were increasingly segregated and cut off from the larger white community, black entrepreneurs established flourishing businesses that catered to black customers. The period between 1900 and 1930 has been called the "golden age of black business". Due to jealousy, envy or greed, white Americans including city officials and members of law enforcement destroyed prosperous black businesses and entire communities. Punitive zoning laws, business license denials, and various other tactics were used to prevent black people from opening and operating a business. Grants for entrepreneurial training and business funding should be part of reparations.
Trade education programs: the major trades which include carpentry, plumbing, electrical, heating & cooling and others systematically excluded black people from training and jobs. Quoting a New York Times article, "The building of houses, offices and factories, of bridges and dams and highways, is still largely white man's work in America." Reparation grants should include trade education. Improvement grants to black homeowners in neighborhoods suffering from decades of neglect should be issued. Grants should be restricted to employ the students and graduates of those program and qualified black-owned businesses.
Teacher programs: We need more Black teachers in public schools. Cultural differences and lack of understanding cause white teachers to discipline excessively contributing to the school to prison pipeline. America’s public school population has been majority children of color since 2014. 50.4 million kids were in public schools; in the fall of 2016; 24.6 million (49%) were white and 25.9 million (51%) were kids of color. Research shows that teachers of color help close achievement gaps for students of color and are highly rated by students of all races. About 80 percent of all public school teachers are White, 9 percent Hispanic, 7 percent Black, and 2 percent were Asian” during the 2015-16 school year. Certification rules and tests and racial bias in hiring are keeping would-be teachers of color out of America’s classrooms. Reparation incentives for black teachers and modifications to certification and hiring processes are needed.
Doctors. nurses and other medical professions: As a child, I vividly remember a large number of black nurses and doctors in St. Louis area hospitals. I'm certain this was due to Homer G. Phillips Hospital, which trained the largest number of black doctors and nurses in the world. Now, Forty years after the hospital's closing, black doctors and nurses are rare finds in hospitals; and when they are found they are often foreign-born.
Lawyers: Howard University's Law School under the leadership of Charles Hamilton Houston, contributed greatly to the most important civil right legal victories. While nearly 40 percent of incarcerated prisoners are African-American, only 4.8 percent of lawyers are African-American, 88 percent of lawyers are white. The American Bar Association (ABA) was formed in 1878, one year after the reconstruction ended. Prior to the ABA, most practicing lawyers never attended law school. The ABA caused blacks to be excluded from the legal profession by colluding with state governments and courts making it more difficult to become a lawyer. Studies show that white attorneys might have biases that result in less favorable outcomes for their black clients; the same holds true for prosecutors and judges.
Ending mandatory prison sentences and mass incarceration practices which disproportionally affect people of color. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, incarceration costs an average of more than $31,000 per inmate, per year. There are nearly 2.2 million incarcerated adults, and more than 4.5 million under probation or parole supervision, which cost nearly $4,400 after the sentence is completed. The country would save $3.1 billion per year for every 100,000 people we prevent from being incarcerated and an additional $440 million in probation supervision cost.
Allow felons to vote after finishing their sentences. Once a person has completed their prison sentence, their debt to society at least, in theory, is supposed to be paid. An estimated 6.1 million people in the United States (2.5% of the nation's voting age population, excluding DC) could not vote due to a felony conviction; 7.44% of African Americans in the United States could not vote due to a felony conviction in 2016.
Some of the funds saved by incarcerating fewer people could go towards reparations programs. It's ultimately more beneficial for society to pay for trade school or college than prison.
The federal government encouraged racial housing discrimination by redlining areas containing African-Americans and refusing to guarantee loans in those redlined zones. This lack of access to capital affected the ability of black people to buy, rent or maintain their homes. Redlining triggered white flight, caused neighborhoods to declined, discouraged business and investment in entire communities. Zero or low-interest loans should be made available as part of reparations to purchase homes.
Story of Contract Buyers
Following World War II, Chicago’s South Side had become increasingly overcrowded as African Americans moved from the South in the second wave of the Great Migration. Unable to attain decent and sanitary housing in white neighborhoods because of racially restrictive real estate covenants and mortgage redlining by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), African Americans were confined to the South Side ghetto.
In the 1950s-60s, real estate speculators exploited white homeowners’ fears on the West Side of plummeting real estate values because of neighborhoods that had ethnic change. Realtors went door-to-door to persuade white homeowners to sell because blacks were moving into the neighborhood. In neighborhoods they wished to exploit, “panic-peddling” speculators hired black men to drive beat-up cars with the music blaring and paid black women to push their babies in strollers. Speculators made enormous profits by convincing whites to sell their homes at well-below market value and then reselling to blacks at much higher than market value. Black homebuyers were subject to a “race tax,” as a property would typically be bought from a white homeowner for $10,000 and resold a week later to a black family for $25,000. This contributed to the neighborhood’s population changing from 87% white in 1950 to 91% black in 1960. Similar scenarios occurred in other cities across the county. The video below explains how victims in Chicago organized and fought back.
Black people have been targets of predatory lending and their wealth stripped away because many were forced to pay higher interest rates even with good credit. Even the bankruptcy process became predatory for African-Americas. Direct payments could be made to eliminate or reduce debt.
Many African-Americans have prospered despite systemic racism and racialized barriers placed in their way. Maybe they had to be twice as good to get half as much as their white contemporaries. Regardless, they and their ancestor were wronged. The difference is that some successful black people and their children may have already obtained degrees, houses and the other trappings of success. Direct payments to pay off student loans, mortgage or other debt may be a more practical solution. However, this sort of direct payment might disqualify them from participating in other reparation programs.
Slavery Was A Long Time Ago
Many white people, live on or possess land passed down from generations ago, celebrate the 4th of July, re-enact Civil War battles, scream about monuments and confederate flags being taken down, but tell us to forget slavery because no one alive today was a slave or slave-owner.
African-Americans have been free in this country for less time than they were enslaved. Do the math: Blacks were enslaved nearly 250 years but have been free for 152 years, which means that most Americans are only two to three generations away from slavery. This is not that long ago.
"It's foolish to let your oppressor tell you that you should forget about the oppression that they inflicted upon you".
When my uncle, Dick Gregory, walked away from millions of dollars in bookings, to actively participate in the civil rights movement, there were family members who had good jobs that didn't understand what the fuss was all about.
Blacks among W.E.B. Dubose's so-called "talented tenth" who are among the best educated and best paid in the African-American community may not believe reparations are necessary, because they themselves are doing well. However, the irony is that even the "talented tenth" would be in better shape if the barriers of racism hadn't prevented even greater success than achieved.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson realized that the more educated black people became, the more they became indoctrinated into the thinking and ways of the white oppressor. "The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worth while, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples. The Negro thus educated is a hopeless liability of the race." The "Black Card" video below, featuring Candace Owens, demonstrates Dr. Woodson's premise.
In the above video, Ms. Owens acknowledges her grandfather, Robert Owens, endured Jim Crow, the KKK, was forced to work at the age of five on a tobacco plantation, cleaned homes and office buildings for a living eventually owning his own cleaning company. Like many African-American, Robert Owens overcame extreme oppressive conditions, imagine how his life might have been better had he not experienced serious racism including the KKK shooting up his family's home as a child.
Black median household income of $40,232 is about two thirds that of other households. The median wealth of white household is $134,230 vs $11,030 for black households. These figures are direct results of racial oppression and the capacity to create and pass along generational wealth.
Racism created a number of divisions within the Black community, most notably light vs dark skinned, straight hair vs kinky hair, and house vs field slave. The Willie Lynch Letter best illustrates this phenomenon.
Meritorious manumission was a method of freeing or rewarding slaves for "good deeds" such as saving the life of a white person, creating an invention a slave master could profit from, or “snitching” on a slave planning to run away or organize a revolt. Some black people are still willing to sell out their community for financial gain.
Pick any major indicator, education, housing, employment, credit, business ownership, skilled trade, technology, science, law, medicine or any other and blacks woefully lag behind whites. These situations did not randomly occur, they were designed and enforced through government legislation and policy.
FDR once said, "In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way." After World War 2, the Marshall Plan rebuilt parts of Europe including Germany, the Supreme Command of Allied Powers (SCAP) revived Japan's economy, and the U.S. helped create Isreal, which became the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. As a country, we know how to stabilize and build economies. So one can assume that the present state of Black America was planned; simply by virtue that no serious efforts were made to stabilize let alone rebuilt economies within the black community. While the U.S. was providing former enemies with economic aid, black veterans who fought those enemies were denied G.I. and other benefits.
Although a vast debt is owed, I don't really expect any meaningful reparations to be paid. The descendants of slave owners and others who benefited economically have no incentive to pay.
Power is not given, it must be taken. How can you expect powerful people to give you the education, training, and resources to take their power away from them?
African descendants of slaves have no means to force the payment of the debt. Usually, a creditor can take a debtor to court, obtain a judgment which is backed by the force of law. Even if reparations were provided, the voluntary payments would be a tiny fraction of the debt owed and couldn't cause any meaningful change.
Slavery existed and racism exists because it is profitable! Being a slum lord is profitable, marketing sub-prime and payday loans is profitable, hiring desperate workers at low wages is profitable and having a population of 45 million black consumers who do not manufacture anything is profitable.
Even if reparations were paid, how long would it take for that money to end right back into the hands of white businesses? We don't manufacture building supplies, houses, furniture, appliances, electronics or even clothes. Everything we need to survive including food, water, electricity, gas, and other basics are supplied by others.
Black churches, Kingdom Halls, Mosques, organizations, and businesses should create a commission and find workable solutions to at least some of the damage caused by centuries of racial oppression. Malcolm X in his "Ballot or the Bullet" speech recommended forgetting religious differences to concentrate on fighting a common enemy and working towards Black Nationalism to control the politics and economy in our own community.
The commission would need to partner to build distribution networks for black businesses and merchandise. There are probably congregation members who provide services or own businesses that their fellow members know nothing about. Imagine if black churches used some of their space to sell products such as soft drinks, baked goods, and other black manufactured goods.
Black Convention Venue
My son, who is a youth minister at his church, for years has attended church conventions in various cities where tens of millions of dollars are spent by attendees. For example, in 2010, the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education's 55,000 attendees spent an estimated $76 million in Detroit. Right here in St. Louis where I live, between 2010 and 2016, the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) through it's Holy Convocation injected more than $125 million into the St. Louis economy. Imagine if that money was spent within the black community instead of white-owned hotels, restaurants, and venues.
Black churches, professional organizations, and non-profit organizations could contribute funds for a non-profit corporation to create venues to accommodate member churches and organizations' large meetings and conventions. Black churches alone take in an estimated $12-13 billion per year. This organization could reach out to the African Union and others in the African Diaspora to build alliances, investors and partners.
If the organizational structure ends up being a standard corporation, shares can be made available to congregation and organization members, with members encouraged to support and recommend the venues for vacations and other travel. Discounts should be offered to members of participating organizations.
To start, the most popular convention destinations should be researched and a single start city selected, preferably one with a large black population to help sustain the venues during the initial and growth stages. Land in predominantly black neighborhoods should be selected for development. Member organizations would need to commit to holding conventions and meetings in the start city for a number of years. A black transportation system, similar to Uber, could be organized with a network of black restaurants, entertainment, retailers and other places of interests as target destinations. After the initial start city becomes successful, a secondary city could be selected and the process repeated until about five or six of the most popular destination cities have been developed. African American travelers contributed about $63 billion to the U.S. travel and tourism economy in 2018. Imagine capturing just ten percent of that market.
This suggestion needs to be fine-tuned, would require sacrifice and might require member organizations to forgo conventions for a period of time. However, the long term benefits to the organizations and the black community would be monumental.
Even if a national coalition of organizations is not currently feasible, certainly local coalitions could be built to find workable local solutions for community issues. The primary issues in our communities are economic. Until workable solutions are presented to help people, especially our youth get out of poverty, desperate people will continue to find violent solutions to their problems and no catchphrase or slogan will stop them.
I realized some time ago that black people have the greatest need for timely access to quality information, however, those with the information, usually will not share it with others. I've actually seen situations where one non-profit organization would not share with needy clients helpful information about other non-profit organizations. It is my sincere hope that my ideas will spark someone into action to help others.
Although I'm not an attorney, I created this site to distribute free legal information to help those with little or no money to hire an attorney. Multiple systems are rigged against all of us. "United we stand, divided we fall"; let us stand so we can help those who have fallen.
Unless you're among the handful of people who were taught the truth, much of what you know about Thanksgiving is mythology. America's history is full of half truths and outright lies. Just about everything I was taught about America when I was a child was fake, including the myth of Thanksgiving.
What do you know about indigenous communities of people that we incorrectly refer to as Indians or Native Americans? The information you've accepted as fact, such as the story about Pocahontas is fake news.
My brainwashing about how great America was began in kindergarten when I was taught the Pledge of Allegiance, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Fast forward 40 plus years to Colin Kaepernick's protest of the National Anthem, which highlighted not everyone enjoyed justice or liberty. Ironically, the "Star-Spangled Banner" as originally written, glorified the deaths of slaves who were actually fighting for their freedom which includes justice and liberty. However, that was never mentioned in school.
The Fourth of July (Independence Day) celebrates the creation of a country where my ancestors were still enslaved! Even the story about George Washington being the first president of the United States is not entirely true! Keep in mind that George Washington wasn't elected president until 1788 and inaugurated in 1789. The Continential Congress began in 1774 and the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Who ran things between 1774 – 1788 before Washington was elected?
There were 15 presidents prior to Washington. Peyton Randolph was the first of eight presidents of the Continental Congress, John Hancock was president when the "Declaration of Independence" was signed in 1776; which probably explains the large signature. Samuel Huntington was the last president of the Continental Congress and the first of ten presidents under the Articles of Confederation. John Hanson, the third president under the Articles of Confederation is responsible for establishing Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November in 1782.
The American public is becoming more aware of historical misinformation. Attempts to remove monuments to despicable people and ideology have begun and real change has happened. Many cities celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day and Columbus, OH for the first time this year chose not to celebrate its namesake.
“Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
Some people are so indoctrinated in American propaganda, they can't or refuse to see the truth. American was built on stolen land and made rich by stolen labor and lives.
The 1790 Naturalization Act permitted only "free white persons" to become naturalized citizens, thus opening the doors to European immigrants but not others. Only citizens could vote, serve on juries, hold office, and in some cases, even hold property.
The 1830 Indian Removal Act forcibly relocated Cherokee, Creeks and other eastern Indians to west of the Mississippi River to make room for white settlers. The 1862 Homestead Act gave away millions of acres of what had been Indian Territory west of the Mississippi.
Indigenous people and people of color had their land stolen, their rights stripped away, were artifically held back by law, placed under restrictions and oppressed.
Don't let others tell you to forget about the past. Forgeting or lying about the past is the same as erasing your future.
Those conflicts, which ultimately placed justices on the court, yielded some of the most damaging civil rights decisions in our nation’s history.
Unlike any other branch of government, Supreme Court justices do not have to face voters at the polls. They have no term limits. Yet the high court is the final arbiter of constitutional rights and protections.
Controversial appointees who were rammed through hearings, or political careerists nominated for strategic reasons and confirmed despite scant vetting, handed down decisions that expanded slavery and rolled back civil rights.
Bad processes do not by themselves yield bad decisions. There have also been thinly vetted justices who have protected and extended civil rights, but such cases are in a minority.
So Jackson named Taney to the Supreme Court. The Senate refused to confirm him. The next year, after Jackson got a Democratic Senate, he renominated him, this time as chief justice. Taney was pushed hurriedly through confirmation.
The Taney Court was staunchly pro-slavery, rejecting states’ rights when Northerners asserted them to oppose slavery.
Taney’s most sweeping pro-slavery decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857 held that African-Americans “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” The decision ruled that Congress had no power to prohibit slavery in any U.S. territory. Dred Scott is widely considered to be one of the worst decisions ever made by the court.
A critical time
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was able to replace the Taney Court with corporation-friendly Republicans like Samuel F. Miller of Iowa, whom he nominated in 1862. Lincoln’s court strategy was to appoint Republicans who would endorse presidential powers in a war to save the Union.
Miller’s appointment came just as Lincoln was contemplating the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln could have asked Miller his views on the scope of black freedom, but he never did. He never even met Miller. And with no opposition in Congress, the Senate confirmed Miller in just hours.
Miller’s appointment may have been shrewd politics but it hollowed out the Civil War’s crowning achievement, the abolition of slavery and constitutional protections for African-American citizenship, including equal protection of the laws and the right to vote.
It was Miller’s majority ruling in the 5-4 Slaughterhouse Cases in 1873 that had the effect of limiting civil rights protections for African-Americans under the 14th Amendment, which extended citizenship to African-Americans and forbade states to deny them equal protection of the laws. The ruling in effect gave states sole power over areas of citizenship not explicitly covered in the federal Constitution. That, in turn, ultimately led to the growth of racist Jim Crow laws in states.
President Ulysses Grant’s two nominees were also pushed through hastily and had an oversized impact on civil rights.
Those appointments – conservative pro-business Republican Joseph P. Bradley and political hack Morrison Waite – unwittingly undermined Grant’s own Justice Department’s civil rights enforcement.
In 1870 Grant appointed Bradley specifically to help business interests concerned about recent decisions that they believed harmed them. Bradley faced scant opposition from a majority-Republican Senate in bed with railroad and other corporate interests.
Four years later, Grant picked Waite, a crony of Grant’s Ohio friends, who had zero judicial experience. Called a “national nonentity” by a court historian, Waite’s appointment surprised everyone, including Waite. The Senate confirmed him without debate.
The unintended consequences of these two overtly political nominations became clear in U.S. v. Cruikshank, an 1876 court decision.
In April 1873, up to 150 African-Americans were murdered by whites in a conflict over two competing Louisiana governments. Among those whites was William Cruikshank.
Cruikshank and others who participated in the massacre were charged and convicted in federal court of civil rights violations under the Enforcement Act of 1870. That act made it a federal crime to violate civil rights and was passed with the intention of putting teeth in the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection of the laws and due process. The case considered by the court was an appeal of those initial convictions.
Justice Waite ruled that the 14th Amendment’s civil rights provisions, including the equal protections of the laws and right to due process, did not apply to the victims of the Colfax Massacre.
Bradley and Waite’s responses constituted willful blindness to a naked act of racial terrorism. And these decisions gutted the 14th Amendment’s civil rights provisions, leading to the swift and violent rise of Jim Crow.
Bradley went on to rule in 1883 that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which outlawed racial discrimination in public facilities, was unconstitutional. He did this at a time when blacks were being denied the right to vote, barred from businesses and murdered with impunity. Bradley tutted that with his ruling a black citizen “ceases to be the special favorite of the laws.” And the law ended protection for African-Americans from segregation in schools, theaters and even cemeteries.
It would be 74 years before Congress passed another civil rights act.
Not all justices involved in partisan nominations, or who were poorly vetted, handed down dreadful rulings.
Harold H. Burton was a surprise nomination when Democrat Harry Truman nominated the Republican senator from Ohio in 1945. The Senate dispensed with hearings and confirmed Burton without debate. But Burton defied expectations, shaping the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) ruling that desegregated schools and overturned the Jim Crow doctrine of “separate but equal.”
Back to the 19th century
More recently, contested nominations have revived the 19th-century practice of ramming through partisans whose decisions undermine civil rights.
The 1991 Clarence Thomas nomination evokes that legacy. With a thin resume, partisan credentials, and his nomination hastily pushed through by George H. W. Bush’s administration, Thomas won a lifetime appointment by a two-vote margin after an acrimonious hearing involving his alleged sexual harrassment.
Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, like that of Morrison Waite, Joseph P. Bradley and Roger B. Taney, has been rushed. A partisan warrior, he has been hastily advanced, with the majority of his papers withheld and sexual assault allegations overtaking his hearings.
As American history has shown, this process comes with profound risks.
On July 3, 2018, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the renovated St. Louis Gateway Arch grounds was held. The history of the Arch is rooted in exclusion and racist policy. Black businesses were evicted to make room for the Arch and blacks were denied employment opportunities during the Arch construction. 53 years later, blacks were not represented in the ribbon cutting ceremony although the City of St. Louis has a majority black population.
The photo above is symbolic of how black people are constantly being removed for the benefit of others. The City of St. Louis removed blacks from the riverfront, sections of downtown including the Mill Creek Valley to build Pruitt Igoe.
The Mill Creek area was supposedly blighted, however, my father, who will be 90 later this year, told me many of the residents of Mill Creek were homeowners who took pride in their homes and kept them up. When I saw pictures of Mill Creek Valley, it looked very similar to the Soulard and Lafayette square neighborhoods.
In 1959, demolition of the neighborhood began, displacing over 20,000 residents, 95% of whom were black. Keep in mind, during this time the federal government was still actively redlining and withholding funds to improve black neighborhoods. Of the $120 billion worth of new housing subsidized by the government between 1934 and 1962, less than 2 percent went to nonwhite families.
The Interstate highways wiped out many predominantly black neighborhoods and turned them into surface parking and highways or isolated them contributing to their failure. Even the Cookie Thornton shooting was related to black removal. Most recently, the false promises of Paul McKee and the NGA project resulted in the further displacement of black families and neighborhoods all under the guise of urban renewal. James Baldwin pointed out in a 1963 interview that, "urban renewal..means negro removal".
People of African descent have played a large role in St. Louis since the city’s founding in 1764. Downtown St. Louis was a center of black cultural, economic, political, and legal achievements that have shaped not only the city but the nation as well. Early census figures show blacks, both free and slave, lived in St. Louis from its earliest days under French and Spanish colonial rule. By the 1820 census, 10,000 slaves lived in Missouri, about one-fifth of the state’s population, however only 347 "free colored persons" lived in Missouri. That same year, the Missouri Compromise admitted Missouri to the Union as a slave state. Evidence of black life in downtown St. Louis has been erased from the City's landscape and memory. See: "African Americans in Downtown St. Louis".
In 1935 St. Louis approved a bond issue for a project commemorating Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase and to clear an area of empty, “blighted” warehouses. A study by the Post-Dispatch at the time of the 1935 vote found the riverfront wasn’t a derelict district that needed to be cleared. The paper found 290 active businesses and a 2% vacancy rate on 37 blocks that would become the Arch.
Let's not forget the original motivation for the St. Louis Arch. It was built to honor St. Louis' role in westward expansion, a time when Manifest Destiny was used to push Native Americans and Mexicans out of their lands. It is estimated 10 million+ Native Americans were living on land that is now the United States when European explorers first arrived in the 15th century. It is estimated that over nine million Native Americans were killed after European settlers arrived.
"Illegal aliens have always been a problem in the United States. Ask any Indian."
As the United States expanded westward, violent conflicts over territory multiplied. In 1784, one British traveler noted:
“White Americans have the most rancorous antipathy to the whole race of Indians; and nothing is more common than to hear them talk of extirpating them totally from the face of the earth, men, women, and children.”
After the American Revolution, many Native American lives were already lost to disease and displacement. In 1830, the federal Indian Removal Act called for the removal of the ‘Five Civilized Tribes’ – the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.
Between 1830 and 1838, federal officials working on behalf of white cotton growers forced nearly 100,000 Indians out of their homeland. The dangerous journey from the southern states to “Indian Territory” in current Oklahoma is referred to as the Trail of Tears. By 1837, 46,000 Native Americans had been removed from their homelands, thereby opening 25 million acres for predominantly European settlement.
Ferguson should have acted as a wake-up call to the entire St. Louis region. This year will mark the fourth anniversary of Michael Brown's death, but the City of St. Louis and the greater St. Louis region are either in denial or indifferent about its exclusionary institutionalized racist and oppressive nature. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. aptly stated, “a riot is the language of the unheard".
Considering the history of what the St. Louis Arch commemorates and the history of its construction, the lack of diversity in the ribbon cutting symbolized St. Louis' culture of racism. It's time to start listening to the unheard!
There are two ways to enter the United States, legally or illegally. Entering the country illegally is a crime. If I commit an illegal act, no matter how well intentioned my actions are, I will be subject to arrest. If I am arrested with small children, I would have no reasonable expectation of not being separated from my my children.
Yes, many laws are unfair. Black people in the U.S. have been subject to walking and driving while black, and other while black actions have been criminalized including most recently, barbecuing and StarBucking while black. It is almost universally recognized that when you are arrested, even if you're arrested unfairly, your children will be separated from you while under arrest.
The worst example of forced child separation occurs within our criminal justice system. Just as the forced removal of Indian children became illegal in the late '70s, the United States began an accelerated process of mass incarceration that quintupled the number of U.S. prisoners.
Many people spend weeks, months and even years locked up while they await trial, half a million of the 2.3 million people behind bars are simply there because they are too poor to pay bail (even though we know that money bail only marginally impacts court attendance). Many of these mostly nonviolent people end up losing their jobs, homes or custody of their children before they’ve even had a chance to plead their case in court.
By Jessica Pryce, Florida State University
During the last few weeks, hundreds of families have been separated, following the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy towards illegal immigrants. Even though the separations have reportedly stopped, it is not clear when the families will be unified. There are also reports of children being possibly put in foster homes and at least one teenager missing, after walking out of a shelter.
As a scholar who is actively engaged in child protection research and who examines the unnecessary removals of children from their parents, I am all too aware that the repercussions of such policies often take a lifetime to undo.
Another period of state-sanctioned separations was in the 1800s, after President Andrew Jackson authorized the Indian Removal Act. Native Americans, mostly youth, were forcibly taken out of their homes and communities and asked to walk for miles to a specially designated “Indian territory.” Thousands died on that journey. It has since been named the “Trail of Tears.”
The government, nonetheless went ahead with its policies and mandated that Native American children be educated apart from their families in boarding schools. This was a method of creating a distance between children and their Native American parents so that they would slowly let go of their native values – what scholars today describe as forced assimilation.
This practice went on until the passing of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 when Native American parents were given the legal right to refuse boarding school education.
The internment of Japanese-Americans was also a time of enactment of exclusionary policies by the American government. President Roosevelt ordered that Japanese, many of them United States citizens, be forcibly removed and held in camps. Children, even infants, were placed in these camps with their parents, and sometimes without.
It is “common sense,” adds DeGruy, who has spent many years researching the multigenerational trauma, that hundreds of people who endured slavery would continue to pass on behaviors, such as anger, violence and shame, down to contemporary generations.
Scholars have also researched the impact of American Indian boarding schools. Their findings included reports of abuse in boarding school and how that manifested in their later years. As children, they were found to have high levels of depression. Research has also linked the adverse childhood experience of boarding school with difficulty in managing stress as adults.
Within the foster care system, scholars have long researched the harm in multiple placements, meaning moving children from one foster care placement to another. Children who experience such unstable placement experience, after being separated from their families, suffer from profound distress and a loss of belonging.
The trauma of separation leaves deep physical and psychological impact that carries into adulthood. This essentially means the healthy development of a child is disrupted in many ways.
These past comparisons bring us to what is occurring today. President Trump’s executive order has stopped any additional separations, but it does not undo the damage that has already been set in motion.
In July 1943, one month after a race riot shook Detroit, Vice President Henry Wallace spoke to a crowd of union workers and civic groups:
“We cannot fight to crush Nazi brutality abroad and condone race riots at home. Those who fan the fires of racial clashes for the purpose of making political capital here at home are taking the first step toward Nazism.”
The Pittsburgh Courier, a leading African-American newspaper at the time, praised Wallace for endorsing what they called the “Double V” campaign.
The Double Victory campaign, launched by the Courier in 1942, became a rallying cry for black journalists, activists and citizens to secure both victory over fascism abroad during World War II and victory over racism at home.
There is a historical relationship between Nazism and white supremacy in the United States. Yet the recent resurgence of explicit racism, including the attack in Charlottesville, has been greeted by many with surprise. Just look at the #thisisnotwhoweare hashtag.
As a scholar of African-American history, I am troubled by the collective amnesia in U.S. politics and media around racism. It permeates daily interactions in communities across the country. This ignorance has consequences. When Americans celebrate the country’s victory in WWII, but forget that the U.S. armed forces were segregated, that the Red Cross segregated blood donors or that many black WWII veterans returned to the country only to be denied jobs or housing, it becomes all the more difficult to talk honestly about racism today.
Nazis and Jim Crow
As Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime rose to power in the 1930s, black-run newspapers quickly recognized that the Third Reich saw the American system of race law as a model. Describing a plan to segregate Jews on German railways, the New York Amsterdam News wrote that Nazis were “taking a leaf from United States Jim Crow practices.”
The Chicago Defender noted that “the practice of jim-crowism has already been adopted by the Nazis.” A quote from the official newspaper of the SS, the Nazi paramilitary organization, on the origins of the railway ban stated:
“In the freest country in the world, where even the president rages against racial discrimination, no citizen of dark color is permitted to travel next to a white person, even if the white is employed as a sewer digger and the Negro is a world boxing champion or otherwise a national hero…[this] example shows us all how we have to solve the problem of traveling foreign Jews.”
In making connections between Germany and the United States, black journalists and activists cautioned that Nazi racial ideology was not solely a foreign problem. A New York Amsterdam News editorial argued in 1935:
“If the Swastika is an emblem of racial oppression, the Stars and Stripes are equally so. This country has consistently refused to recognize one-tenth of its population as an essential part of humanity…It has systematically encouraged the mass murder of these people through bestial mobs, through denial of economic opportunity, through terrorization.”
Victory at home
When the United States entered WWII, African-Americans joined the fight to defeat fascism abroad. Meanwhile, the decades-long fight on the home front for equal access to employment, housing, education and voting rights continued.
These concerns prompted James G. Thompson, a 26-year-old from Wichita, Kansas, to write to the editors of the Pittsburgh Courier. His letter sparked the Double Victory campaign. Considering his service in the U.S. Army, which was racially segregated during WWII, Thompson wrote:
“Being an American of dark complexion and some 26 years, these questions flash through my mind: ‘Should I sacrifice my life to live half American?’ ‘Will things be better for the next generation in the peace to follow?’…‘Is the kind of America I know worth defending?’”
For Thompson and other African-Americans, defeating Nazi Germany and the Axis powers was only half the battle. Winning the war would be only a partial victory if the United States did not also overturn racial discrimination at home.
These ideals seemed particularly far away in the summer of 1943, when racial violence raged across the country. In addition to the riot in Detroit, there were more than 240 reports of interracial battles in cities and at military bases, including in Harlem, Los Angeles, Mobile, Philadelphia and Beaumont, Texas.
“Looky here, America / What you done done / Let things drift / Until the riots come […] You tell me that hitler / Is a mighty bad man / I guess he took lessons from the ku klux klan […] I ask you this question / Cause I want to know / How long I got to fight / BOTH HITLER — AND JIM CROW.”
The end of Hughes’ poem calls to mind the swastikas and Confederate flags that were prominently displayed in Charlottesville and at other white supremacist rallies. These symbols and ideologies have long and intertwined histories in the U.S.
Advocates of the Double Victory campaign understood that Nazism would not be completely vanquished until white supremacy was defeated everywhere. In linking fascism abroad and racism at home, the Double Victory campaign issued a challenge to America that remains unanswered.
Three days of violence forced African-American families to run for their lives and the aftereffects are still felt in the Illinois city today.
No one really knows about this. . . . I know about it because my father, uncles and aunts lived through it,” Dhati Kennedy says.
He’s referring to an incident that survivors call the East St. Louis Race War. From July 1 through July 3, 1917, a small Illinois city located across the river from its Missouri counterpart was overrun with violence. Kennedy’s father Samuel, who was born in 1910 lived in East St. Louis when the conflict occurred. A smoldering labor dispute turned deadly as rampaging whites began brutally beating and killing African-Americans. By the end of the three-day crisis, the official death toll was 39 black individuals and nine whites, but many believe that more than 100 African-Americans were killed.
“We spent a lifetime as children hearing these stories. It was clear to me my father was suffering from some form of what they call PTSD,” Kennedy recalls. “He witnessed horrible things: people’s houses being set ablaze, . . . people being shot when they tried to flee, some trying to swim to the other side of the Mississippi while being shot at by white mobs with rifles, others being dragged out of street cars and beaten and hanged from street lamps.”
Kennedy is the founder of the Committee for Historical Truth, a group that has spent 20 years commemorating the event and the subsequent black exodus from the city. This year, the Kennedys, survivors, historians and human rights activists are hosting three days of activities in East St. Louis and St. Louis, as well as on the Eads Bridge that connects the two cities. Many residents of East St. Louis used this bridge to flee into Missouri.
“Thousands of blacks were streaming across that bridge when what they called the ‘race war’ got into full swing,” Kennedy says. “When that happened, the police shut down the bridge, and no one could escape. Some, in desperation, tried to swim and drowned.”
Racial tensions began simmering in East St. Louis—a city where thousands of blacks had moved from the South to work in war factories—as early as February 1917. The African-American population was 6,000 in 1910 and nearly double that by 1917. In the spring, the largely white workforce at the Aluminum Ore Company went on strike. Hundreds of blacks were hired. After a City Council meeting on May 28, angry white workers lodged formal complaints against black migrants. When word of an attempted robbery of a white man by an armed black man spread through the city, mobs started beating any African-Americans they found, even pulling individuals off of streetcars and trolleys. The National Guard was called in but dispersed in June.
On July 1, a white man in a Ford shot into black homes. Armed African-Americans gathered in the area and shot into another oncoming Ford, killing two men who turned out to be police officers investigating the shooting. The next morning, whites pouring out of a meeting in the Labor Temple downtown began beating blacks with guns, rocks and pipes. They set fire to homes and shot residents as they fled their burning properties. Blacks were also lynched in other areas of the city.
Carlos F. Hurd, a reporter known for his harrowing interviews with survivors of the R.M.S. Titanic wreck, published a July 3 eyewitness report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The article was also quoted in The Crisis.
“The East St. Louis affair, as I saw it, was a man hunt, conducted on a sporting basis, though with anything but the fair play which is the principle of sport,” Hurd wrote. “There was a horribly cool deliberateness and a spirit of fun about it. ‘Get a nigger’ was the slogan, and it was varied by the recurrent cry, ‘Get another!’”
Hugh L. Wood, writing for the St. Louis Republic, was also quoted in The Crisis: “A Negro weighing 300 pounds came out of the burning line of dwellings just north and east of the Southern fright home. . . . ‘Get him!’ they cried. So a man in the crowd clubbed his revolver and struck the Negro in the face with it. Another dashed an iron bolt between the Negro’s eyes. Still another stood near and battered him with a rock. Then the giant Negro tumbled to the ground. . . . A girl stepped up and struck the bleeding man with her foot. The blood spurted onto her stockings and men laughed and grunted.”
The Crisis articles include more scenes of raw horror: a person was beheaded with a butcher knife, and a 12-year-old African-American girl fainted after being pulled from a trolley bus. Her mother stopped to help and a white crowd attacked, leaving the mother prostrate with a gaping hole in her head.
As Kennedy’s family prepared for a Sunday morning church service, they learned that whites were heading into the “African quarter.” His grandmother called everyone into the house, and his teenaged father and uncles prepared for battle. Some in the city—both white and black—had just returned from World War I.
“Uncle Eddie and some of the other young men were armed—he had a squirrel rifle. They staked out in front of our home and warded off the marauding white mob as they came down our street. They had to take cover because the white men were shooting at them,” Kennedy says. “There was a standoff if you will, and I understand from my uncle that it seemed to last for hours. They witnessed the burning of homes and people. . . . People were hanged as well.”
By early Monday morning, the whole neighborhood was on fire. Kennedy’s family decided to run for the river under the cover of darkness.
“According to my uncles, it took four hours to get across that river. . . .They fashioned a raft out of old doors and charred wood to cross the Mississippi River and get to the St. Louis side,” Kennedy explains. “The raft [sprung] leaks, but they were able to get across.”
Even now, Kennedy says, the family deals with the aftermath of those harrowing days. His grandmother, Katherine Horne Kennedy, died several weeks after the riots from pneumonia and the stress of the crossing. To this day, the family tells children answering the door to look out of the window and stand aside—somebody might be waiting outside with a gun.
“My uncles said they had to stay on the Missouri side of the river, and in the east the horizon was just glowing for weeks from burning buildings. For days afterward, you could still hear screams and gunshots,” Kennedy says.
He is looking forward to the centennial commemoration because as he explains, freedom did not come easily to African-Americans, and people need to know what happened. East St. Louis was not the only example of violence against blacks: Other cities suffered similar destruction, including Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, and Rosewood, Florida, in 1923.
The centennial begins with a film festival in East St Louis on July 1. The next day, a procession accompanied by drummers will leave from East St. Louis and proceed to the middle of the Eads Bridge. A memorial wreath will be placed in the river, and sky lanterns will be released in honor of those who died. There will be discussions at a local church on July 3, a day of resurrection.
But Kennedy notes that in East St. Louis, a stone’s throw from Ferguson, Missouri, the healing is far from over. Ferguson is ground zero for the Black Lives Matter movement, which erupted in the wake of the 2014 police killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown.
“With all of the talk of healing, especially after Ferguson—here we call it the uprising—my feeling is how can you heal over a festering sore?” Kennedy asks. “You’ve got to clean it out and disinfect it first, and to do that we have to know the truth.”