Back then, over a half-century ago, the wholesale racial integration required by the 1964 Civil Rights Act was just beginning to chip away at discrimination in education, jobs, and public facilities. Black voters had only obtained legal protections two years earlier, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act was about to become law.
African-Americans were only beginning to move into neighborhoods, colleges, and careers once reserved for whites only.
I’m too young to remember those days. But hearing my parents talk about the late 1960s, it sounds in some ways like another world. Numerous African-Americans now hold positions of power, from mayor to governor to corporate chief executive – and, yes, once upon a time, president. The U.S. is a very different place than it was in 1968.
Or is it? As a scholar of minority politics, I know that while some things have improved markedly for Black Americans in the past 50-odd years, today we are still fighting many of the same battles as Dr. King did in his day.
A year before his death, Dr. King and others began organizing a Poor People’s Campaign to “dramatize the plight of America’s poor of all races and make very clear that they are sick and tired of waiting for a better life.”
Ralph Abernathy, an African-American minister, led the way in his fallen friend’s place.
“We come with an appeal to open the doors of America to the almost 50 million Americans who have not been given a fair share of America’s wealth and opportunity,” Abernathy said, “and we will stay until we get it.”
This is now
So, how far have Black people progressed since 1968? Have we gotten our fair share yet? Those questions have been on my mind a lot this month.
Financial security, too, still differs dramatically by race. In 2018 black households earned $57.30 for every $100 in income earned by white families. And for every $100 in white family wealth, black families held just $5.04.
Another troubling aspect about black social progress – or the lack thereof – is how many black families are headed by single women. In the 1960s, unmarried women were the main breadwinners for 20% of households. In recent years, the percentage has risen as high as 72%.
Depending on who you ask, then, Black people aren’t much better off than in 1968 because either there’s not enough government help or there’s too much.
What would MLK do?
I don’t have to wonder what Dr. King would recommend. He believed in institutional racism.
In 1968, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Council sought to tackle inequality with the Economic Bill of Rights. This was not a legislative proposal, per se, but a moral vision of a just America where all citizens had educational opportunities, a home, “access to land,” “a meaningful job at a living wage” and “a secure and adequate income.”
To achieve that, King wrote, the U.S. government should create an initiative to “abolish unemployment,” by developing incentives to increase the number of jobs for black Americans. He also recommended, “another program to supplement the income of those whose earnings are below the poverty level.”
Those ideas were revolutionary in 1968. Today, they seem prescient. King’s notion that all citizens need a living wage portends the universal basic income concept now gaining traction worldwide.
King’s rhetoric and ideology are also obvious influences on Sen. Bernie Sanders, who in the 2016 and 2020 presidential primaries has advocated equality for all people, economic incentives for working families, improved schools, greater access to higher education, and for anti-poverty initiatives.
Progress has been made. Just not as much as many of us would like.
To put it in Dr. King’s words, “Lord, we ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”
First Nation's People are the only group this country has treated as badly or worse than Black people. This was their land and it was stolen from them by deceit and genocide.
I've heard other ethnic groups, sometime in response to racism complaints from African-Americans talk about how their ancestors were discrimination against when they first immigrated to the United States. Every white immigrant group who came to this country did so voluntarily and for the most part had a home country to return to if they so choose. In fact, the first immigrants, the Piligrams, who the Thanksgiving myth is based upon were saved by First Nation People and then they betrayed them.
In the 1920s, a white community conspired to kill Native Americans for their oil money. Yet another example of how our predatory legal system was used to systematically oppress. Below is the documentary, "Back In Time: Osage Murders – Reign of Terror", which tells the story.
The shared history of betrayal is fresh in the memory of black people. There's irony in the title of this article, because the genocide and land theft were among the first exploitations. Conservatorships were simply one of the many atrocities committed against the indigenous people who were the original settlers of what we now call the United States.
by Andrea Seielstad, University of Dayton
Pop singer Britney Spears’ quest to end the conservatorship that handed control over her finances and health care to her father demonstrates the double-edged sword of putting people under the legal care and control of another person.
A judge may at times deem it necessary to appoint a guardian or conservator to protect a vulnerable person from abuse and trickery by others, or to protect them from poor decision-making regarding their own health and safety. But when put into the hands of self-serving or otherwise unscrupulous conservators, however, it can lead to exploitation and abuse.
Celebrities like Spears may be particularly susceptible to exploitation due to their capacity for generating wealth, but they are far from the only people at risk. As a lawyer with decades of experience representing poor and marginalized people and a scholar of tribal and federal Indian law, I can attest to the way systemic inequalities within local legal practices may exacerbate these potentially exploitative situations, especially with respect to women and people of color.
Perhaps nowhere has the impact been so grave than with respect to Native Americans, who were put into a status of guardianship due to a system of federal and local policies developed in the early 1900s purportedly aimed at protecting Native Americans receiving allotted land from the government. Members of the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma – Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole nations – were particularly impacted by these practices due to the discovery of oil and gas under their lands.
Swindled by ‘friendly white lawyers’
A conservatorship, or a related designation called a guardianship, takes away decision-making autonomy from a person, called a “ward.” Although the conservator is supposed to act in the interest of the ward, the system can be open to exploitation especially when vast sums of money are involved.
By that time, federal policy had forced the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from eastern and southern locations in the United States to what is presently Oklahoma. Subsequent federal policy converted large tracts of tribally held land into individual allotments that could be transferred or sold without federal oversight – a move that fractured communal land. Land deemed to be “surplus to Indian needs” was sold off to white settlers or businesses, and Native allotment holders could likewise sell their plots after a 25-year trust period ended or otherwise have them taken through tax assessments and other administrative actions. Through this process Indian land holdings diminished from “138 million acres in 1887 to 48 million acres by 1934 when allotment ended,” according to the Indian Land Tenure Foundation.
Lawyers and conservators stole lands and funds before death as well, by getting themselves appointed as guardians and conservators with full authority to spend their wards’ money or lease and sell their land.
Congress created the initial conditions for this widespread graft and abuse through the Act of May 27, 1908. That Act transferred jurisdiction over land, persons and property of Indian “minors and incompetents” from the Interior Department, to local county probate courts in Oklahoma. Related legislation also enabled the the Interior Department to put land in or out of trust protection based on its assessment of the competency of Native American allottees and their heirs.
Unfettered by federal supervisory authority, local probate courts and attorneys seized the opportunity to use guardianships to steal Native Americans estates and lands. As described in 1924 by Zitkála-Šá, a prominent Native American activist commissioned by the Secretary of Interior to study the issue, “When oil is ‘struck’ on an Indian’s property, it is usually considered prima facie evidence that he is incompetent, and in the appointment of a guardian for him, his wishes in the matter are rarely considered.”
The county courts generally declared Native Americans incompetent to handle more than a very limited sum of money without any finding of mental incapacity. Zitkála-Šá’s report and Congressional testimony documented numerous examples of abuse. Breaches of trust were documented in which attorneys or others appointed conservators took money or lands from Nation members for their own businesses, personal expenses or investments. Others schemed with friends and business associates to deprive “wards.”
‘Plums to be distributed’
One such woman in Zitkála-Šá’s report was Munnie Bear, a “young, shrewd full-blood Creek woman … [who] ran a farm which she inherited from her aunt, her own allotment being leased.” Munnie saved enough money to buy a Ford truck and livestock for her farm, with savings remaining in a bank account. Once oil was discovered, however, the court appointed a guardian, who appointed a co-guardian and retained a lawyer, each of whom deducted monthly fees that depleted Bear’s funds. During the period of her guardianship, she was unable to spend any money or make any decisions about her farm or livestock, nor did she control her bank investment.
Zitkála-Šá’s report displays the extent of this practice:
“Many of the county courts are influenced by political considerations, and … Indian guardianships are the plums to be distributed to the faithful friends of the judges as a reward for their support at the polls. The principal business of these county courts is handling Indian estates. The judges are elected for a two-year term. That ‘extraordinary services’ in connection with the Indian estates are well paid for; one attorney, by order of the court, received $35,000 from a ward’s estate, and never appeared in court.”
Wards were often kept below subsistence levels by their conservators while their funds and lands were depleted by the charging of excessive guardian and attorneys’ fees and administrative costs, along with actual abuse through graft, negligence and deception.
Reports like that of Zitkála-Šá’s resulted in Congress enacting the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. This put the Indian land that had not fallen into non-Indian hands during the federal policy of allotting plots back into tribal ownership and secured it in the trust of the United States. It also ended the potential for theft through guardianship.
But the lands and funds lost as a result of guardianships were not restored nor did descendants of those swindled ever enjoy the benefit of their relatives’ lands and monies either.
In order to successfully represent yourself in court, you need to know what your government is capable of doing to achieve it's objectives. You should assume state, county and local governments participate in the same sort of illicit activities as the federal government, just on a smaller scale; otherwise you'll be unprepared when they use corrupt tactics against you. The Confessions of an economic hitman section was added by Randall Hill and was not included in the original article.
by Raphael Bossniak & Sara Mohammadi, Kontrast
In 1906, Iran was one of the first states in the Middle East to officially to become a democracy. However, in order to secure cheap oil from the country, the US and Britain overthrew progressive Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953 and turned Iran into a “pro-Western” dictatorship. In doing so, they also destroyed a great opportunity for Iran to become a model for a democratic, peaceful Middle East. Since then, the US and Iran have been at war with each other almost constantly.
In TV images, we have seen demonstrators in Iran burning US flags for decades. And the media portrays Iran as an enemy of the West and our democracy. Relations hit a low point when, in 1979, Iranian students occupied the US Embassy in Tehran and held diplomats hostage. In the wake of this crisis – US President Jimmy Carter failed to free the hostages, he lost the election to his successor, Ronald Reagan, who eventually succeeded in freeing them. In 1988, again, an Iranian passenger plane was shot down over the Persian Gulf by the U.S. warship USS Vincennes because it was mistaken for a military plane. 290 people onboard died.
Beginning in 2014, negotiations over the Iran nuclear agreement saw a short-term rapprochement between the two countries until US President Donald Trump brought relations back to a standstill. The latest low point in relations was the targeted killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by a US drone in January 2020. And that is just a small excerpt from a long list of political and violent confrontations between Iran and the United States.
Overview of armed conflicts between US and Iran
1953: CIA organizes violent coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh.
1979-1981: Iranian students take Americans hostage at U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
1980: In the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. supports Iraq. Quasem Soleimani is there as a Revolutionary Guard on the Iranian front.
1983: The pro-Iranian militia Hezbollah claims responsibility for an attack on U.S. naval headquarters in Beirut in which over 300 people lost their lives.
1988: U.S. shoots down Iranian passenger plane, killing 290.
2017: After Trump denied Iranian citizens entry to U.S., Iran tests ballistic missiles as military provocation.
June 2019: U.S. accuses Iran of responsibility for attacks on oil tankers in Persian Gulf.
December 2019: U.S. conducts airstrikes on targets in Iraq and Syria linked to pro-Iranian militias.
January 2020: U.S. kills Quasem Soleimani. Iran responds with attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq, accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing 176 people.
But how could it have come to this? Above all, this conflict was and is about coveted oil. Let’s take a look at the history of Iran.
Confession of an Economic Hitman
John Perkins describes the methods he used to bribe and threaten the heads of state of countries on four continents in order to create a global empire and he reveals how the leaders who did not “play the game" were assassinated or overthrown. Everytime I hear about a coup or assasination such as the July 7th murder of Haiti's President, Jovenel Moïse, I think about this speech.
Iran: The first democracy in the Middle East
Iran was ruled by the Shah and his royal family until 1906. Shah means ruler in Persian. Detail on the side: the name of the game chess is derived from it. But back to the Shah: he ruled Iran in an absolutist way.
But this changed in 1906: In the so-called Constitutional Revolution, Western-oriented merchants, artisans, aristocrats and some clergymen fought for a parliamentary system of government and a modern legal system. This replaced the absolute monarchy at the time.
From then on, there was an interplay of power between the shah and parliament. Several times, the royal family took control again. The young Shah Reza Pahlavi also ruled authoritatively again for some time: at that time, he obtained parliament only to preserve the appearance of democracy.
Democracy or Monarchy? British side with King Reza Pahlavi
Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, however, only came to power with the help of the British. And this was to the displeasure of the Iranian population: Great Britain was considered by the Iranians to be a hated exertor of influence.
Even Shah Reza Pahlavi’s father forged alliances with other powers in order to ensure his influence in Iran. He had worked closely with Germany since the 1920s, for example, even during the Nazi era. But when Syria fell under the control of the Axis powers at that time, the British put down a military uprising in Iraq. This was close to Nazi Germany. Then, Britain and the Soviet Union invaded Iran, deposed the old Shah, and appointed the young Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as the new “King of Kings” at age 21.
The rise or Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh
But the royal family and Shah Reza Pahlavi then had to share power over Iran with Parliament. Shah Pahlavi’s opponent was Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. He was democratically elected by the people in 1951 and presided over the Iranian parliament. Democrats like Mossadegh viewed the shah’s function as purely ceremonial-unlike the shah himself.
Prime Minister Mossadegh was extremely popular with the Iranian people. He provided robust social programs: a support allowance for the unemployed and sick, peasants no longer had to perform forced labor for their landowners. Mossadegh also embarked on his heart’s project: to nationalize Iran’s oil, much of which was in the hands of British corporations.
Britain strips profits off Iranian oil
Oil was already gushing in Iran at the beginning of the 20th century. But the Iranians themselves hardly benefited from it. The oil was produced by the British oil giant BP, known at the time as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The profit share of the Iranians themselves was far less than half, only about 20 percent.
Great Britain, then a major power, was involved not only economically but also politically: Newspapers were bought, the government bribed. Iran became an “informal colony” of Great Britain.
The reason for the immense greed for oil was that after the end of World War II, global oil consumption increased dramatically. The whole world needed more oil. The unstoppable rise of the automobile happened simultaneously with the ever-increasing demand from the ever-expanding factories.
In addition, the world was in the midst of a Cold War: The world seemed divided in two, the two superpowers, the USA and the Soviet Union, were arming themselves militarily. And both needed oil to fuel their tanks and fleets. Thus, the extraction of raw materials such as petroleum increasingly became a cause of war in various international theaters. In the search for new oil deposits, the focus falls primarily on the Middle East. The world’s largest reserves are located there. And Iran is one of the most oil-rich countries.
The war for Iranian oil begins
Prime Minister Mossadegh, however, wanted to hand over control of Iran’s oil to the Iranian state. He proposed to the British Anglo-Iranian Oil Company that it share half of its oil resources with the Iranian state, but Britain refused. Iran then dissolved the contract with the British oil company and nationalized the oil industry.
The British responded with economic warfare and imposed a ban on exports from Iran. British warships subsequently barricaded the Persian Gulf. And so the aberrant situation arose in which the Iranians could not sell their own oil on the world market.
Economic war against Iran
Britain was now trying to gain US support. But the American government initially remained neutral. The British were allies, but the US did not want to weaken Iran. It was still the Cold War: Iran was not to be driven into the arms of the arch-enemy Soviet Union.
And so Iran slid into a severe economic crisis because of the British blockade. The Shah took advantage of this crisis situation and refused to appoint a war minister to the elected head of state, Mossadegh. Prime Minister Mossadegh resigned in protest because of this. However, because of the many social measures and his anti-British stance, the latter had a broad section of the population behind him despite the economic crisis. When the shah then appointed Ahmad Qavam, a British-friendly member of parliament, as prime minister, protests followed.
Broad sections of the population joined the protests. Even those who were originally opponents of Mossadegh. Religious, socialists, nationalists, and even communists demonstrated together in the streets, demanding Mossadegh’s return. Mossadegh eventually became prime minister again, but the support of the Communists hurt him in Washington. This was because during the Cold War, the communist Soviet Union was considered the US’s greatest adversary.
Fear of Communism: USA opposes Prime Minister Mossadegh
The US government in Washington, however, now fears that Mossadegh may be a communist. Originally, Mossadegh was quite popular in the U.S. Time magazine even named him “Man of the Year” in 1951. But the mood turned when Mossadegh showed himself willing to accept economic aid from the Soviet Union if necessary. At the same time, a new president came to power in the USA: the hardliner and anti-communist Dwight D. Eisenhower. The latter aligned his stance with the British: Prime Minister Mossadegh must go. The secret services CIA (USA) and the British MI5 jointly hatched a plan to overthrow Mossadegh.
Overthrow from the Outside: Operation AJA
1953: The plan called Operation Ajax by the CIA and MI5 is in full swing. Britain wants power over Iranian oil back, the US wants to weaken communism. In addition, with the suppression of independence in Iran, they want to weaken other anti-colonial uprisings in what was then called the “Third World.”
The CIA’s director of operations is Kermit Roosevelt. He is the son of former President Theodore Roosevelt and, with a million US dollars in his pocket, is looking for supporters for the CIA plan. He finds what he is looking for in the Shah’s Iranian palace.
Roosevelt often allows himself to be smuggled into the royal palace for secret meetings with the Shah. The plan: The Shah should depose Mossadegh and install a general as a puppet.
The coup fails, however: military informants warn Mossadegh of the impending coup. The military continues to support Mossadegh and arrests the coup plotters.
Mossadegh speaks of an attack by the British on Iran – he mistakenly believes the US is still on his side. Mass protests by Mossadegh supporters follow, after which the Shah flees the country. Prime Minister Mossadegh triumphs for the last time.
Prime Minister Mossadegh is overthrown
But the CIA and MI5 do not give up. For: Mossadegh becomes increasingly vulnerable. Land reforms and the oil crisis have brought Mossadegh new enemies. He is trying to master the crisis with radical emergency decrees. Critics therefore accuse him of ruling in an authoritarian manner.
The CIA and MI5 intelligence agencies take advantage of this: They bribe politicians, officials and journalists. They pay demonstrators to provoke riots. They print and disseminate propaganda. Mossadegh lulls himself into a false sense of security.
With CIA money, anti-Mossadegh military and Islamic clerics launch a new coup: They pay demonstrators to pose as Communists or Shah supporters. These groups rioted in the Iranian capital Tehran on August 19, 1953.
Citizens initially join the demonstrations, which turn into street battles between Communists and Shah supporters. The CIA also paid extra gangsters from Tehran’s slums to further exacerbate the violent nature of the protests. Under the pretext of trying to end the riots, the military finally intervenes. Government buildings are occupied. Mossadegh’s house comes under tank fire, and a short time later he is forced to surrender.
After his arrest, Mossadegh ends up in court and later in prison. In 1956 he is released and retreats to his private house – guarded by employees of the Iranian secret service SAVAK. He dies on March 5, 1967.
The End of Democracy
When Mossadegh is deposed, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi returns to Iran with CIA support. The years of democracy are over: the Shah seizes absolute power. He has his political opponents hunted down and systematically tortured by the SAVAK secret service. In this way, the Shah eliminates Mossadegh’s supporters and the Communists – in line with the wishes of his supporters Great Britain and the USA. Iran becomes a so-called pro-Western dictatorship, closely allied with the US.
Dictatorship instead of democracy: Peace and prosperity for the Iranian people, who wanted to live in a democracy, fell victim to the economic-political interests of the USA and Great Britain. Some of the profits from Iranian oil now fell back to the British. However, from now on they also had to share with five US companies. And what happened next politically in Iran?
Iran becomes an Islamic Republic
For the Shah, however, his political career was over again in 1979: he had ruled the country for 26 years. A revolution swept him from the throne: under pressure from the US, he had somewhat relaxed the repression against his own people. And that ultimately proved to be his undoing. His opponents rallied across large segments of the population: Islamists, Communists and former supporters of Mossadegh and his National Front party eventually overthrew the Shah.
But once again, democracy did not follow the revolution: Islamists took advantage of the situation to eliminate their opponents and established an authoritarian “theocracy” in Iran.
Positions become increasingly polarised
During the revolution, the memory of former Prime Minister Mossadegh and the once-stolen democracy played a major role. To this day, the Iranian people blame the influence of Great Britain and the USA for their suffering. After all, the secret services of these two countries were instrumental in the fall of the then democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadegh.
This resentment on the part of Iranians was also evident when, in the course of the revolution, students stormed the American embassy in Tehran and took American diplomats hostage. Since this incident, up to this day, the fronts on the part of the United States have hardened. From now on, Iran is perceived as an enemy.
The US and its allies are hated in Iran to this day. The Islamism promoted by the Iranian government further strengthens the anti-American tendencies. Photo: Mohamad Sadegh Heydary, no changes have been made.
US flags burn regularly in Iran, whether after the assassination of Iranian officer Qasem Soleimani or during the dispute over Iran’s controversial nuclear program. To this day, the USA and Iran remain at odds.
Late admission of guilt
The CIA itself did not acknowledge its influence at the time until 2013, on the 60th anniversary of the coup against Iran’s elected Prime Minister Mossadegh. For them, the coup against Mossadegh was pure power politics. The price: the loss of democracy for Iranians.
Republished with permission under license from Scoop.me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 Belland 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.
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 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.
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.
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 Compromise” in 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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 "Ma" Rainey (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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
“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.”
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.
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.