19. June 2015 10:58
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Price of Freedom, Burden of Terrorism by Ahmad Ward

19. June 2015 10:58 by Administrator | 0 Comments


June 19, 2015 marks 150 years since the ending of slavery in America.  This day is commonly known as “Juneteenth.” Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of the ending of slavery.  Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that all slaves were now free.  Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation which had become official January 1, 1863. Many slave owners sent their slaves to Texas to “stash” them until after the war.  The goal was to retrieve them after a Confederate victory.  Once the South fell, it was finally feasible for the Union forces to come in and effectively free the slaves.  June 19th would then become a day of celebration for newly freed blacks in the South. The Juneteenth holiday should stand as an opportunity for the country to acknowledge “freedom” for all its citizens.  However, the freed blacks were anything but free.

Until the end of slavery, Black people were always depicted as fiercely loyal, docile, and completely devoted to the slave masters. This was done to counteract the work of abolitionists who chronicled the savagery of the “peculiar institution.”   It was only after emancipation, that Blacks inherited the stereotypes of being extremely violent, untrustworthy, dangerous and prone to the need to rape white women. They regaled the masses with the notion that ex-slaves would take over the country and change the American way of life.  The goal here was to hamstring the already difficult effort of freed Blacks to become independent American citizens.   For the next 100 years, Black people would endure the most concentrated form of domestic terrorism on American citizens in the country’s history.   However, America has done its best to avoid calling it by that name.  Despite the night riding of the Klan, the hundreds and hundreds of “sanctioned” lynchings, the various murders of Civil Rights workers, Black people who tried to register to vote, and “troublemakers,” the word “terrorism” has never been used.

Even with one of the most heinous events of Jim Crow, the bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, it was never called terrorism.   Four girls, killed while getting ready to sing in the choir, on Youth Day, in September 1963.  Why is that?   Is it because violence against minorities in America was part of the status quo?  That was “just the way things are?”  Were people too frightened to take the terminology to the next level, because of what could happen to them? In many occasions in the past, the perpetrators of these crimes were set free or not even brought to justice.  During the last part of the twentieth century, with the reopening of Civil Rights cases, we have seen murderers brought to justice.  Notably, three of the individuals who bombed Sixteenth Street, over fifty years ago.  Unfortunately, these extreme acts have not ceased in America. Shootings in schools, movie theaters and yes, places of worship continue to plague this country.  Although the title of “Terrorist” doesn’t seem to fit everyone.

Earlier this week, a twenty-one year old named Dylann Roof walked into a Bible study at a historic Black church and murdered 9 people, including the pastor and an 87 year old woman.  As he reloaded his gun, he spoke of the same stereotypes that have been used to denigrate Black people since the end of slavery. “Taking over the country.”  “Raping ‘our’ women.”  The first words used to describe this shooter, like many of the shooters we’ve seen over the last five years who didn’t fit the narrative:  mentally disturbed, troubled, loner, etc. The events in Charleston have been likened to what happened in Birmingham at Sixteenth Street church.  That horrible day in 1963, helped to change the landscape and the minds of America about what was happening in the Jim Crow South.  Perhaps we can see something come out of the tragedy in South Carolina.

Maybe we will actually have honest conversations about race and “cause and effect.”

Maybe we will see that some people will understand that language has power.

Maybe we will start to call this what it is.   Terrorism. Tried and true, just like Racism in America.

 

Happy Juneteenth.

 

Ahmad Ward is the Head of Education and Exhibitions at BCRI

4. June 2015 14:02
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The Holiday Divide by Josh Cannon

4. June 2015 14:02 by Administrator | 0 Comments

In Montgomery, Alabama last Friday afternoon, a radio traffic reporter announced that many people were getting ready for “another three day weekend.” For the life of me, I could not think of what holiday falls on June 1. But I had forgotten an uncomfortable fact about Alabama.

On the first Monday of June, there is an official public holiday in observance of the birthday of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy. This is only one of three Alabama state holidays commemorating the Confederacy, the other two being Confederate Memorial Day and Robert E. Lee’s birthday. What’s more, in Alabama, as in Mississippi and Arkansas, the state holiday for Robert E. Lee’s birthday is observed on the same day as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The state actually lists it as “Robert E. Lee / Martin Luther King Birthday.”

A total of nine southern states observe Confederate Memorial Day, and a few celebrate this holiday on June 3, Jefferson Davis’ birthday. Texas has gone so far as to combine Jefferson Davis’ birthday with Robert E. Lee’s on January 19, to mark what they have called “Confederate Heroes Day.” Every so often, as was the case this year, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, always the third Monday of January, has to share the day with this Confederate holiday.

Some of these holidays are more recent creations than you might expect. Texas established its “Confederate Heroes Day” in 1973 (the same year Illinois became the first state to adopt a holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday). South Carolina only made Confederate Memorial Day an official state holiday in 2000, a compromise gesture in order to overcome remaining opposition to the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And only since the 1990s have seven southern states annually designated the month of April as Confederate History Month.

In two weeks, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, the oldest known commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States. Given that, it is particularly worth considering the significance of all of these Confederate remembrances, not to mention the myriad physical Confederate memorials and monuments littering the U.S. landscape.

Amid state celebrations of the Confederacy today, you would probably be hard-pressed to find public approval of or fondness for slavery. In fact, you might not hear any mention of slavery at all. But, dig down a bit, and instead, you will still find the revisionist denial that the Confederate cause had anything to do with slavery. Dig a little deeper still, and you might find suggestions that slavery in the South was really not so bad.

It is the persistence of these self-serving revisions and lies that allows a misplaced honor and veneration for the Confederacy to continue to this day. The whitewashing of the centrality of slavery to the cause, and our national failure to tell and show the truth of that slavery, cloud otherwise clear contradictions in our national memory.

The Confederacy cannot be truly recognized apart from either American slavery or the racial subordination which defined that slavery. Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, stated in 1861 that the “cornerstone” of the new Confederate government “rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”

Also in 1861, in its declaration of causes of secession, the state of Texas proudly defended what they called the South’s “beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery” and held that “the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color” was a “debasing doctrine [...] at war with nature.”

Four years later, on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas with the news that the Civil War was over and all slaves were now free. Hence, Juneteenth. In 1980, Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth an official holiday. Since then, more than 40 other states, including Alabama, have chosen to recognize the day.

But something is amiss when Texas celebrates both the end of slavery and their “Confederate heroes.” Or when Montgomery proudly holds itself up as both the “Cradle of the Confederacy” and the “Birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement.” It is important that we tell ourselves the truth about the Confederacy’s primary concern for protecting and expanding slavery, and especially racial hierarchy, not just so we can unequivocally celebrate the end of slavery in 1865.

In addition, we need to tell that truth in order to have proper context for the decades of terror, violence, and racial subjugation that followed Reconstruction, for the violent resistance to the Civil Rights Movement nearly a century later, and for the ways this history still impacts our society today, particularly in policing and the criminal justice system.

In short, if we are not fully honest about our past, and clear about what we celebrate and why, and what we should not celebrate and why, how can we hope to be honest and clear about the continuing, related struggles of the present?

 Josh Cannon is Deputy Program Manager with the Equal Justice Initiative