On this day in American History – July 5, 1852 — Frederick Douglass gives his famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

One hundred and sixty-eight years ago today Frederick Douglass gave his famous speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

douglass-large

Douglass was born into slavery in 1818, the product of a white male raping a Black woman.

White men raping Black women happened for centuries.  Dutch artist, Christiaen van Coubwenberg, captures this in a painting completed in 1632.  Note that the Dutch played a prominent role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

1024px-Rape_of_the_negro_girl_mg_0026

 

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On this Day in American History — June 24, 2015, Confederate Flag Flies at Alabama Capitol until this day in 2015; Monuments Remain (From the Equal Justice Initiative 2020 Calendar)

On June 24, 2015, Alabama officials removed a Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the state capitol in Montgomery. The move came in response to national scrutiny of Confederate symbols on public property, triggered by a tragic shooting at a South Carolina church that left nine black people dead at the hand of a white supremacist who embraced Confederate iconography as a symbol of hatred.

Three days after the flag was removed from the Alabama Capitol, a predominately-white crowd of hundreds gathered on the capitol grounds in protest. Many wore or waved Confederate flags and other related images, and held signs proclaiming slogans like, “Southern Lives Matter!” The protesters insisted that the flag’s removal constituted a cultural genocide and erasure of their heritage.

The Confederacy was defeated by Union forces in 1865, ending a Civil War waged to preserve slavery. Much of the Southern – and then national – retelling of the history of the Civil War and the Confederacy took place through monuments and the organizations that formed to erect them. Around the turn of the 20th century, white Southerners installed monuments to the Confederacy across the South as part of a concerted effort to redeem their defeat and build cultural support for the re-establishment of white supremacy.

Confederate symbols and monuments gained renewed prominence in the mid-twentieth century, supporters of white supremacy felt increasingly threatened by the growing civil rights movement. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, scores of new Confederate monuments were added to the Southern landscape, many in direct response to federal desegregation efforts. In 1955, one year after the Supreme Court struck down segregated public schools in Brown v. Board of Education, a bronze figure of Robert E. Lee was installed in front of then all-white Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, Alabama. A few months later, in its own act of defiance, the state of Georgia redesigned its state flag to include the Confederate battle flag. This is the modern heritage of Confederate iconography.

Many Southern states continue to glorify these symbols of resistance to racial equality and resist efforts to honestly reflect on their origins. In recent years, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia have passed “heritage” laws to shield Confederate monuments from growing public pressure to remove or relocate them.

Though Alabama has not reinstalled the Confederate flag removed from the capitol in 2015, an eighty-eight-foot-tall Confederate Monument remains prominently displayed on the Capitol grounds. The Monument includes an inscription that honors “the knightliest of the knightly race…” Currently, at least fifty-nine markers documenting Confederate history are visible throughout the city of Montgomery. Statewide, Alabama is home to at least one-hundred Confederate monuments. At least twenty-five percent of Confederate monuments at Alabama courthouses were erected within the last thirty years.

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Talladega Knights: The Ballad of Bubba Wallace, “Sweet Home Alabama,” and the Day of the Noose

Headline: Bubba Wallace, NASCAR’s only Black driver who races full-time in NASCAR’s top three series – a noose was found in his garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway, “the biggest and baddest track.”

NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag from its events, and Bubba Wallace is an outspoken critic of the Confederate symbol, but it is still emblazoned upon the hearts and minds of many white Southerners, who claim it as part of their cultural heritage, ignoring what it stands for: breaking away from the Union (these United States), forming its own entity, the Confederate States of America, starting a Civil War, all to preserve slavery and its underpinning theory of white supremacy, which only exists if Black people are deemed inferior. In other words, white supremacy doesn’t stand on its own as a true belief, and only exists in the dichotomous world of white supremacy, which is starkly black and white, and demands the white race over the Black.

Before Bubba Wallace took to the racetrack, a large Confederate flag was flown across “Alabama/Where the skies are so blue.” (From “Sweet Home Alabama.)

“Sweet Home Alabama” was released as a single on June 24, 1974, by Lynyard Skynyrd. At many performances of this iconic song, there’s a Confederate Flag in the backdrop. At a performance in Tennessee, before performing the song, the lead singer, a Confederate flag hanging from the microphone, says, “The South shall rise again!” The white fans in attendance are screaming their heads off, perhaps in approval. (I doubt a Black person attended this performance.)

In the song, one question pretty much sums up many white Southerners’ sentiments: “Does your conscience bother you, tell the truth?” We know the answer, given that the Confederate flag and Confederate monuments, currently under scrutiny under these here United States, still have strong Southern support, evidenced by people outside the Talladega Superspeedway waving Confederate Flags, a large Confederate Flag being flown across the Sky, and the “packaging” of Strange Fruit on display for Bubba Wallace, the Noose.

In my award-winning epic poem, Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present, I write about this Noose:

XXIV

The birth of a nation –

A white reign of terror

Spread across the land.

Blood ran down the streets

As long as the Nile

Redeemers and Red Shirts:

White supremacists

With black blood on their hands.

Hooded figures in white robes

With fiery crosses

In one hand,

Nooses in the other.

 

“The Day of the Rope.”

 

Black bodies swinging from trees:

Strange fruit.

 

Cheering white mobs –

Man, woman and child.

The new national pastime.

 

“Take me out to the lynching,

Take me out to the tree….”

Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass

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Juneteenth!

Juneteenth Flag

From my award-winning epic poem, “Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass: Remembrance of Things Past and Present”:

XXI

The Emancipator,

the Great Friend of the Negro,

wanted to save the Union,

at any cost.

The South could have slavery,

but it couldn’t

break up the Union.

Southern disunionists.

Southern Secessionists.

The Confederate States of America.

The rebel states,

the Confederacy,

forced Abe’s hand.

The Union was torn asunder.

Confederate cannons fired

on Fort Sumter.

Bloody fighting began.

It raged on.

At first blush,

redneck Southerners

had more to lose.

They fought with that passion

of people who believe

in what they’re fighting for.

Northerners weren’t

quite so passionate.

Were white men dying

so black men could be free?

Draft riots in New York City.

White mobs attacking blacks,

willing to risk their lives

fighting black men

but not fighting white men

so black men could be free.

The Emancipation Proclamation,

the Day of Jubilee! —

a shrewd political move.

The Day of Jubilee! —

Juneteenth.

Black feed dancing in the streets,

remembering the holy beat.

The balance of power

suddenly shifted.

The Northern cause

was infused with black passion.

Blacks in the slave states

were “freed” to fight

their former masters,

while the slaves in the

states loyal to the Union

remained slaves.

“Slaves in the Union,

obey your masters.”

“Slaves in the Confederacy,

do not obey your masters.”

Take up arms.

Fight for your freedom!

Liberty or death!

1st North Carolina Volunteers

Corps d’ Afrique.

54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Marching to glory.

Blacks fought with the passion

of people who have everything

to lose, and gain.

They had to.

Redneck rebels would

kill black POWs —

no gentlemen rules of war —

that legendary southern

gentility absent —

not for black soldiers,

no Geneva convention.

One of white men’s greatest fears

had come true.

Black men were facing

them across a battlefield,

the levelest of all playing fields.

Facing death.

Death, the great equalizer.

When black soldiers were captured,

they were killed.

The brutality against them

was inflicted with passion,

like crimes of passion,

destroying genitalia —

the big black cock

that had frightened white men

from the very beginning.

This treatment of black POWs,

of black soldiers,

was even more brutal

than the brutalest

treatment meted out

to the most recalcitrant slave.

These black soldiers

represented

the ultimate threat

to slave masters.

They’d set

a dangerous precedent.

They’d taken up arms.

They’d vowed

to kill white men,

slave masters

and their supporters,

for black freedom,

not to save the Union.

This outraged

white slave masters.

“How dare niggers

take up arms

against white men.

Abe was crazy

to arm niggers

in the first place,

to provide the seeds

for a future race war.”

Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass

 

 

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On this Day in American history – June 19, 1865 — Juneteenth (From the Equal Justice Initiative)

Although President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation declared enslaved Black people in Confederate territories free, these locations were under Confederate control, which rejected the freedom of enslaved people on plantations throughout the South. The Proclamation did little to emancipate enslaved people. With the Civil War lost, the Confederate army’s surrender on April 9, 1865 should have resulted in immediate freedom for enslaved Black people.

White Southerners, however, remained committed to white supremacy and used violence, misinformation and threats to keep Black people enslaved in defiance of federal law.  Enslaved Black people in Texas did not learn about the Emancipation Proclamation until June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived with news that the Confederacy had lost the war. For generations, African Americans have recognized this date as the day that marked the end of enslavement for Black people in America and the hope for what freedom ought to bring.

Slavery, except for punishment for crime, did not become illegal in the U.S. until December 6, 1865, when the 13th Amendment was officially ratified. Many Southern states including Kentucky and Delaware resisted ratification for decades. Mississippi refused to ratify the 13th Amendment for 130 years, and didn’t formally file its ratification until February 7, 2013.

African Americans quickly learned that the promise of Juneteenth would not be fulfilled, as the Union’s commitment to ending slavery did not include a commitment to Black equality. The end of the Civil War brought the liberation of formerly enslaved people and drastically altered the political and social landscape of the nation. Emancipation presented the opportunity to lay a new foundation and to build towards repairing the harms of enslavement, but that was an opportunity leaders in the United States ultimately failed to pursue.

Reconstruction’s hopeful promise proved to be short-lived, dangerous, and deadly. As EJI’s newly released report on Reconstruction in America documents, at least 2,000 African Americans were victims of racial terror lynchings during this 12-year period. In response to Reconstruction era policies, racial violence and discriminatory political movements committed to re-establishing white supremacy emerged to ensure that emancipation would not mean political participation, social equality, or economic independence for Black people. White Southerners responded to losing the Civil War with increased violence against African Americans across the South that reached epidemic proportions in the summer of 1865 and persisted through the first half of the 20th century.

In 1877, the U.S. government abandoned its promise to protect newly emancipated Black people after enslavement and withdrew federal troops from the South. This decision marked the end of Reconstruction and multiracial democracy, and it left Black men, women, and children vulnerable to a century of racial terror. From 1877 to 1950, at least 4,400 African Americans were killed by racial terror lynchings. During this era, the nation’s legal system turned a blind eye and allowed white Americans to kill with impunity.

Today, more than 150 years after the enactment of the 13th Amendment, very little has been done to address the legacy of slavery and its meaning in contemporary life—despite the fact that the enslavement of Black people created wealth, opportunity, and prosperity for millions of white Americans and gave birth to the American economy. Slavery in America traumatized and devastated millions of people. It created false narratives about racial difference that still persist today. These narratives and the ideology of white supremacy lasted well beyond slavery and fueled decades of racial terror, segregation, mass incarceration, and racial hierarchy.

Juneteenth should be a national day of reflection that invites us all to confront the unfulfilled promises and justice denied to Black people in this nation. This reflection can better prepare us to deal with the legacies of racial injustice that we live with today. By strengthening our understanding of racial history, we can create a healthier discourse about race in America that can lead to an era of truth and justice. EJI is persuaded that the hope of racial justice in America will be shaped not by the fear and resistance of those who doubt its importance but by the commitment, dedication, and action of those who believe that a future free of racial injustice is possible.

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A Bibliography of Police Misconduct for Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats

As I have indicated elsewhere, when working on my collection of poetry about police misconduct, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats, I drew on news reports and headlines. While doing a little Spring cleaning, I came across the original manuscript and my notes, as well as this Bibliography. Note the dates of these articles, not the headlines, things we are talking about more than 20 years later as they relate to police misconduct, and reform.

Boyd, Herb, “City Hall rally rebukes Workfare, police brutality,” New York Amsterdam News, Sept. 20-24, 1998, p. 5.

Boyd, Herb, “Police brutality protesters rally against ‘Stolen Lives,’” New York Amsterdam News, Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 1998, p. 6.

Brooks, Charles, “Black undercover cop is shot; a case of possible ‘friendly fire,’” New York Amsterdam News, Mar. 5-11, 1998.

Jenkins, Daryle Lamont, “Real reform can stop police brutality,” Sunday Times-Herald Record, Sept. 28, 1997, p. 49.

“Los Angeles Officer Is Held in Drug Theft in Unusual Graft Case,” New York Times, Sept. 6, 1998, p. 22.

Milgrim, John, “Suspect shot by cop still in ICU,” Times Herald-Record, Aug. 22, 1998, p. 3.

Morales, Ed, “A Bit of Justice,” Village Voice, Oct. 13, 1998, p. 25.

“Police kill suspect in domestic dispute,” Times Herald Record, Aug. 20, 1997, p. 7.

Randall, Michael, “Don’t let it happen again,” Times Herald-Record, Aug. 26, 1998, p. 3.

Richmond, Peter, “No Way Out,” GQ, Oct. 1998, p. 232.

Sena-Stahl, Margaret, “Neighbors call shooting unjust,” Times Herald-Record, Aug. 22, 1998, p. 3.

Vidal, Gore, “The War at Home,” Vanity Fair, Nov. 1998, p. 96.

Wise, Daniel, “Settlement of $3 Million in Fatal Choking by Officer,” New York Law Journal, Oc. 2, 1998, p. 1, col. 3.

 

Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats

Posted in Amadou Diallo, being a teenager, Black Shadows and Through the White Looking Glass, crime, Justice Chronicles, juveniles, Lest We Forget, Murder, NYPD, Poetry, police involved shooting, police-involved killing, Politics, race, raising black boys, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats, Streets of Rage, Urban Impact | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Slaughter of the Innocents

In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, I have been rereading some of my poems in my collection about police misconduct, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats. I am even more disturbed now than when in 1995 I started writing poems taken from headlines of police misconduct and police killings of the innocents, especially kids. This poem, “The Slaughter of the Innocents, is from said collection:

Another policeman stands accused

Of yet another innocent’s death.

Community pressure on prosecutors

To indict this killer cop.

A 13-year-old boy with a toy gun,

Like a common criminal shot dead.

One moment alive, playing cops and robbers,

The next dead – a moment far too many parents dread!

At the morgue, the parents identify their boy,

A still life picture of him on a stainless steel slab –

Recent memories of him playing with his toy.

Mother and father dab at their eyes.

They look at their dead son in disbelief,

Unable to contain their unspeakable grief.

Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats

Posted in being a teenager, crime, Growing Up, Justice Chronicles, juveniles, Lest We Forget, Murder, NYPD, police involved shooting, police-involved killing, race, raising black boys, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats, Streets of Rage | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blue Knight Riders

Despite national and even global protests on police misconduct and killings of unarmed Black men, another Black male, Rayshard Brooks, is shot twice in the back by a white police officer in Atlanta, Georgia for what amounts to sleeping while black!

As I pointed out elsewhere, twenty years ago I wrote a collection of poetry on police misconduct, Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats.  Nearly every poem in the collection is based on an actual case of police misconduct.

 

Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats

This is my favorite poem, “Blue Knight Riders,” from Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats:

 

They don’t wear white sheets

Or burn crosses in the night,

But there’s an unmistakable connection

Between these blue and white knights.

They kill innocent Black males

For horrific crimes real and imagined,

And because grand juries won’t vote true bills –

They give these cops a license to kill.

There’s something familiar in their faces,

A clearly recognizable white rage –

There since the birth of this nation –

Misreported in this tabloid age.

This is no mere comedy of errors,

But a full-fledged reign of terror.

 

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The South Won the War of Northern Aggression?

Imagine a visitor from another planet, say Mars, is touring the Southern states and is in modern day Virginia. The Martian makes its way to Jamestown, which he finds both interesting, and puzzling. It has familiarized itself with 200 years of Southern history, from 1619-1819. The Martian decides that it will approach a number of Southerners, Black and white, to see if it can find answers to its questions. Intuitively, the Martian shape shifts into an 18-year-old European male. He has a guidebook in his hand.

In a parking lot, the Martian approaches a white Southerner in front of his white pickup truck. The Martian spies a gunrack in the back, and a Confederate flag hangs from the back of the window of the truck like a curtain.

“Excuse me,” the Martian says in a slight, unrecognizable accent, to the trucker. “I’m from out of town. I find Southern history fascinating, though I admit I don’t know much.” The Martian pauses. “Who was Robert E. Lee?” the Martian continues.

The trucker, who’s great great grandfather distinguished himself in serving the South during the War of Northern Aggression, proclaims passionately in a menacing Southern drawl, “He was the greatest General of the Confederacy!”

The Martian nods, not in agreement, but in acknowledgment of the statement.

Hours later the Martian returns to its hotel, having talked with a number of white Southerners. During the walk back to the hotel it feels the awesome history of the South, and its paradoxes: gentility and brutality, side by side. It had paused on Confederate Way, pondering this. In its hotel room, the Martian turns on the television. There’s spirited debates about Confederate monuments, that they didn’t belong, that they never should have been erected, that they belong, that they are part of something “great.” Despite this, as political officials worked to have them removed, people took to the streets and desecrated them or tore them down. The Martian had seen a number of them throughout its trip in the South thus far. There’s also spirited protests, from both Black and white people, around police brutality, and the meaningfulness of Black lives.

The next day the Martian plans to talk to some Black Southerners, about #BlackLivesMatter, and Confederate monuments. Its view are informed by various news reports, including the nonstop coverage on CNN.

In a mall named after a five-star general, Douglas MacArthur, the Martian approaches a very attractive middle-aged Black woman. “Excuse me,” it says, in that unrecognizable accent. “I’m from out of town, studying Southern history, which I find fascinating. On the television there’s a lot of talk about Robert E. Lee, about removing a monument dedicated to him. Who was he?”

The Black woman looks around before she exclaims in a melodious Southern drawl, “A traitor to the Union!” She looks around again before she continues, “When Southern States broke away from the Union, they founded the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy started a bloody Civil War that lasted more than four years because they wanted Black people to remain slaves! Truth be told, we’re still fighting this war!”

“The War of Northern Aggression?” the Martian asks.

The Black woman chuckles. “That’s what some white Southerners call the American Civil War.”

“And all these Confederate Monuments?”

“Obviously the South won the war!” the Black woman says, more as a fact than facetiously.

“That’s what I thought!” For some reason, the Martian believes it can confide in this woman, so it quickly shape shifts to its true form, and then back to the 18-year-old European male, and it tells her that it’s not from earth, but from Mars. The Black woman doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. “On Mars, our generals who have won wars against other planets have monuments honoring their great deeds!”

“Believe it or not,” the Black woman continues, “the South actually lost the Civil War. You wouldn’t know that from all the monuments honoring people who wanted to keep Black people in slavery, who fought for that! If the South had won, right now I’d probably be on one of the plantations as a slave, and not at liberty to talk to you.”

“How did they get away with this? Monuments for losers? For traitors, as you said?” The Martian poses these questions rhetorically, because the Martin knows there is no reasonable explanation. Americans haven’t answered these questions in 155 years.

The Black woman shrugs her shoulders. “It’s a long story! More than one hundred years of history since the Civil War ended, and more than two hundred years before the Civil War began.”

The Martian is shaking its head. “And we had heard on Mars that America is the greatest nation in human history.”

“That’s what we like to tell people, but ask some Black folk. They’ll tell you otherwise.” The Black woman pauses. She knows that there is so much in between. “There are times in America’s history when her people show greatness, and then there are times when the very same people are ugly, so ugly they are unrecognizable. I’m just trying to be fair. I love my country! My father served in the Second World War, and a great uncle served in the First World War. We won those wars. Black people also fought in the Civil War! They have no monuments for them in the South, not that I know of!”

The Martian asks the Black woman if it can take a selfie with her. She agrees. The Martian extends its arm and snaps a photo. They are both smiling. It decides to post it on the Instagram account, OutofthisWorld, it has created. It does, and it tags it #BlackLivesMatter!

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The Black Blood of Poetry

I am working on my fourth collection of poetry, entitled “The Black Blood of Poetry.” I first came across that phrase in the works of an Eastern European poet, whom I can’t remember, but I remember the phrase because it resonated with me as a Black male poet, and I knew that one day I would work it into my poetry.

I can’t quantify how much of American history is written in blood, but an awful lot of it is the blood of Black folk. A couple of days ago I referenced Claude McKay’s famous poem, “If We Must Die,” about the race riots that spread across America in 1919. (For people who associate rioting with black folk, I must reiterate that white folk descended into Black neighborhoods, beating and killing Black folk.) It’s a beautiful sonnet, not really about dying, but about resisting and fighting back even when death is certain, even more so because death is certain, that there’s a certain beauty that must be honored in an honorable death.

In the poem McKay writes about how this black blood is “precious” – a precursor of #BlackLivesMatter.

A number of years ago I wrote a series of poems on hero worship. It was a PEN Writing Award Honorable Mention. Given the pandemic, and how we now see essential workers as “heroes,” I took a look at those poems and refined some of them. Given the global protests in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, who just wanted to live (to breathe), not to be a martyr of police brutality (Note that I wrote a collection of poetry on police brutality, “Sometimes Blue Knights Wear Black Hats”), I was inspired to resume work on “The Black Blood of Poetry.” From it I want to share this poem:

The Alchemy of Hero Worship

In death they’re transfigured,

Turned into heroes by a strange alchemy.

 

On sweltering summer Southern streets,

They stared the enemy in the eye,

Barking dogs and barking white people,

And earned their stripes on bloody Southern streets.

 

Some watched the action

From the safety of their homes,

In black-and-white.

 

Some spouted opinions

They weren’t willing to die for,

While the others faced the enemy:

Barking dogs and barking white people,

And law enforcement brandishing batons

And wielding water hoses.

 

Passively, peacefully protesting,

They were violently blasted down the street,

Made clean in this unholy baptism –

Southern hate and water hoses,

Their blood mixing with the water.

 

History’s witness:

Their tall tales are true,

Not whitewashed!

They stood on the battlefield.

They stood tall on Southern streets,

On sweltering summer Southern streets,

Staring the enemy in the eye:

Barking dogs and barking white people;
Their blood mixing with the water

Blasting out of water hoses.

 

On those sweltering summer Southern streets,

They were washed in the blood

Of Southern hate and racism

And were transmuted.

 

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