The crushing defeat of Hillary Clinton in this presidential election was completely avoidable. It was avoidable if the Democratic Party (DNC) had not lost its way by favoring political cronyism ove…
As a avid devotee of rap music I thought I would share with you my list of the Greatest Rap Groups of All Time. We all have varied tastes and opinions on music and artists and I had often wondered if a list could ever be developed. I certainly understand that fans of the music genre are notorious for debating the finer points of what makes for truly great rap. Some value lyrical flow, others clever writing and some are driven by the quality of beats. In any case when it comes to rap every person’s opinion matters and I hope to add my humble opinion to the conversation.
I am afraid some editorial decisions were required. For one I am randomly adding names to the list without regard to style, location or eras. So initially some of the great old school rap artists or the obvious choices might not appear initially. This allows some flexibility in introducing groups that I think everyone should have in their CD, Vinyl or MP3 collections.
My goal is to share my opinions about Americas other great art form–Rap! And hopefully I can learn a few things from you all.
I will add to the list over time. Please feel free to make suggestions of groups or individual rappers that you think Here are the innaugural ten:
A Tribe Called Quest
De La Soul
Jeru the Demaja
If you’re thinking Brittney Griner forget about it. Ora Mae Washington (b. 1898-d. 1971) was without a doubt the greatest woman basketball player ever and possibly the greatest female athlete, ever.
Remember all the hype that surrounded Brittney Griner, the 6’-8” phenom, after she annihilated the collegiate competition while a “student athlete” at Baylor a few years back? T he projected story line after the 2013 WNBA draft was basically how many “foollettes” she was going to dunk on by the All-Star Break. By all accounts she has certainly lived up to the hype and delivered. In her debut game on May 27, 2013, Griner flipped at least two wigs becoming the third WNBA player to dunk and first to do it twice in one game.
ESPN even attempted to boost ratings by plugging an April 2013 article titled, “Could Brittney Griner play in NBA?” This was serious talk folks and many including Mark Cuban thought seriously about selecting Griner in the NBA draft. But for all the hype Griner just averages a respectable 14 p.p.g. over a three year career. What was also interesting is the consensus thinking among pundits that no woman would ever play in the NBA in our lifetime. But what if I tell you this already happened? Well not exactly the NBA, but by most reasonable standards close enough. See this person played before the NBA was created in 1946. She played at a time when racial segregation was the law and social custom of American life.
This woman was so good that I am convinced that she would be as high as a second round NBA draft pick. Yes, a woman that good. The athlete I speak of was Ora Mae Washington of the Philadelphia Tribune of the Professional Women’s Basketball Association. Washington was, without a doubt, the greatest female Cager (A term used for early basketball players that used to play in cages…literally) of her generation (1930s) and every generation since. I dare say that her accomplishments on the court won’t be matched anytime soon.
Like the Monster Grendel, Washington didn’t just dominate the competition she annihilated the competition. Spanning a 10-year period (1930-40) Washington was the Black women’s basketball league’s leading scorer. She played center for the Philadelphia Tribune sponsored team for 18 years, losing only six games, all of which were to men’s teams. According to blackfivesblog.com, the “Tribune Girls” won 11 straight Women’s Colored Basketball World’s Championships, which meant, with no reasonable objection, that her women’s team was the best in the world. African American newspaper advertisements sensationalized Washington not as one of best female players in the world, but as one of “the best Colored players in the world.”
The Tribune Girls of Philadelphia, 1938. Standing (l. to. r): Marie Leach, Lavinia Moore, Myrtle Wilson, Ora Washington, Rose Wilson, Florence Campbell. Kneeling: Gladys Walker, Virginia Woods.
Washington was born in Germantown, now a suburb of Philadelphia. Largely barred from competing with whites due to racist Jim Crow laws black athletes, like Washington and their sponsors formed leagues of their own. Competition was plentiful as games could be found throughout black America. Sponsored All Black Teams, excluded from playing with whites, would be the seed for current NBA. Many of those early African American women pioneers not only played for the love of the game but as a means to deflate pseudo scientific theories of black physical and mental inferiority. Each game, each win, was not just a win or a loss, it was a repudiation, a vindication, if you will. Each game mattered.
Throughout her career Washington played the Center position for the Germantown Hornets and then the Tribunes teams. The Tribune team was sponsored by the black owned Philadelphia Tribune newspaper at a time when black owned news organizations were mainstays of the black community. With the help of men that rode the rails as Pullman Sleeping Car Porters news of black athletic accomplishments spread along thousands of miles of rail, from New York to Atlanta, from New Orleans to Washington during the 1930’s. Washington and others like her became household names in African American communities.
To better appreciate Washington’s accomplishments it should be understood that the 1930’s was a decade marked by deeply ingrained racial strife. The South was ruled under the vice of racial laws and social customs that forced blacks, no matter how well off, into a system that relegated them to second-class citizenship and maintained white supremacy. Further, the Great Depression that began in the 1930’s tore deeply into both black and white communities bringing out the best and worst in both societies. The Scottsboro Boys case is an example of the racial hatred and hysteria that dominated much of the south and other areas of the country during the Depression. Washington’s domination on the court was such that the games in which she played were seen as excursions away from every day problems of poverty, joblessness, and racism. Advertisements tag lines “They make you forget the Depression” were common. This is the milieu that Ora Mae Washington, a tall, long, and athletic woman made rags of the competition and managed to entertain the problems of Great Depression communities away for 48 minutes.
If her complete domination of the cage is not evidence enough of Washington’s athletic prowess, take the nine consecutive singles tennis championships she won between 1929 and 1937, and twelve straight doubles championships with partner Lula Ballard, also from Philadelphia, from 1925 onwards. Playing in the all-black American Tennis Association (ATA), Washington never had the opportunity to test her skills against reigning world woman’s champion Helen Wills Moody, who refused to play her because Washington was black. In other words, Moody was “scurred.” No African-American woman would play in the United States National Lawn Tennis Association until Althea Gibson broke the color barrier in 1950. Althea Gibson was a two-sport athlete and dominated women’s professional tennis including winning two Wimbledon’s but neither her nor the legendary Babe Didrikson Zaharias ever accomplished much at the professional level. Washington dominated day in and day out for a decade.
Yet, for all of her accomplishments on the court Ora Mae Washington is not in the Professional Basketball Hall of Fame. I think the time is NOW for her, and the inclusion of other Black Five greats, into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
I am sitting here trying to put into words how simply awful is Spike Lee’s new comedic satire “joint” Chi-Raq. So if my points come off as glib I humbly apologize. I would be remised if I actually called Mr. Lee’s new film a joint because that would be way too generous and far too sympathetic. Chi-Raq reminds me of my failed and embarrassing attempt as a young kid to pass off oregano as ganja simply because I wanted to look cool in front of a throng of girls and then embarrassingly gaging after a few puffs to the delight of my buddies. And like all embarrassing moments in childhood I am still trying to live that moment down.
We all know that Mr. Lee has had a hit or miss career when it comes to making films. His Malcolm X, Do the Right Thing, Inside Man, and Clockers, were masterpieces. But he has also failed miserably at times racking up a list of decidedly atrocious films: Girl 6, School Daze, Drop Squad, Bamboozled, and Get on the Bus, just to name a few. But his latest outing Chi-Raq, and I want to be frank here has got to be his worst and possibly one of the worst films I have ever seen in my life. Now to say that something should be called as one of the worst or best of anything borderlines on arrogance. Certainly Mr. Lee could accuse me of not knowing much about filmmaking and compared to a Martin Scorsese he probably would have a valid point. But I, like many of my readers have spent a lifetime watching and studying films and have learned a thing or two about what it takes to really make a great film. And Brothers and Sisters, this ain’t one of them.
Great films are not just works that have good subject matter and subject matter he has. Mr. Lee leaned on the history of Greek comedy and the current American urban violence to construct this narrative so he’s safe on this score. The film is based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, a Classical Greek comedy play in which Greek women withhold physical affection from their husbands as punishment for fighting in the Peloponnesian War (431–404 BC). Mr. Lee has never been want of good subject matter. He has, in previous films, relied heavily on things that matter to the black community: civil rights, race, gentrification, inter-racial and black on black love, color dynamics, and the exploitation of black athletes. His latest subject: Chicago and American inner city violence is indeed a worthy for our times. But filmmaking is more than just having great subject matter. Great filmmakers are masters of technique. They understand how their films look, sound and are meant to feel to their audience, something I thought he clearly nailed in Do the Right Thing. Great filmmakers learn that filmmaking involves the nitty gritty grind of good writing, lighting, cinematography, proper casting, set and costume design, and sound. All of these technical aspects must be brought to bear to enliven a Directors vision of an idea that is expressed through the media of film. In this case Chi-Raq is a masterful mess, a cataclysmic failure of epic proportions. You know the film lacks technical acumen when one person rolls out of one scene headed in one direction and then miraculously appears in the next scene. This shows a clear lack of attention to detail. In one scene he shows women in Tokyo joining the fight to withhold sex. But Mr. Lee never explains why women in Tokyo need to join the fight to end urban gang violence. There were so many moments in the film when I simply screamed bullsh**t that my fellow film goers began to think I was a Spanish Torero.
If you weren’t familiar with Lysistrata or Chicago’s spate of gang troubles the film is set in the inner core of Chicago, Illinois, one of the most troubled spots (Englewood) for violence, particularly black on black violence. Chi-Raq’s female sexual prohibition occurs after a black child is caught in the cross fire of two rival gangs: the Spartans and Trojans (Yes, you heard it: Spartans and Trojans—never should one accuse Mr. Lee of a lack of imagination). And there you have it. Naturally Mr. Lee then attempts to showcase how the holding back of sex, could in some way, highlight the power that modern day brown and black women have if only they were able to harness this power and realize group solidarity. Now you might be asking why is this a bad thing? It’s actually not. This is not a new idea and theoretically it has merit: the sexual occupation of female bodies by men. The problem is how Mr. Lee uses 118 minutes to unfold the nexus of this centuries old male-female dilemma.
Adapting Lysistrata to modern times requires skillful subtlety and a complete grasp of the stakes involved by the victims of crime, the perpetrators and all those that suffer from the loss of loved ones. The Greeks got it because the Peloponnesian War was the defining moment in Greek history, reducing Athens to complete subjugation and Sparta to unbridled domination of the Greek Diaspora. The original Greek play was neither meant to be in support of female power nor a call for pacifism but a call for an honorable end to the war. What honor can come from ending gang violence and the killing of innocent children? Comedic satire of any subject only works if one has an idea what is satire. I am not sure Mr. Lee has learned this over his career–Bamboozled comes to mind. There is a fine line between satire and propaganda, and even finer line between purposely comedic satire. Great filmmakers are masters of subtle propaganda even when they intend to smash us out of our seats. Mr. Lee should watch or re-watch Dr. Strangelove, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Chaplin’s Modern Times. In film as in life timing is everything, particularly in comedy.
Another area of the film that is completely distracting is that the film script is written in singsong; yes nearly the entire film actors rhyme their lines. Yes, rhyme! For such a meaningful subject this fails to do anything but trivialize the subject matter, but I did say earlier this was a comedic satire didn’t I? Perhaps this was meant to be appealing to younger audiences? One can only wonder. The film features some old Lee actors: Samuel Jackson plays Dolmedes (Dolomite rip-off) who moves in and out of the film adding narration to drive the picture from one major scene to the next. Dave Chappelle makes a cameo appearance and John Cusack plays Fr. Mike Corrida giving the film a dimension of faux diversity. Wesley Snipes plays Cyclops, a one-eyed rival gang-banger to Nic Cannon’s role as Chi-Raq. Snipes is not funny and just is simply miss-cast in this role. Cannon is credible but lacks the material necessary to allow his talent as an actor to really shine. Angela Bassett suffers that same fate as Miss Helen who champions the power of books. Ms. Bassett is poorly used and not fitting with her remarkable skills as an actor.
Now I know that many people will like the film but that is what film criticism is all about, diversity of opinion. It’s clear that early reviews of the film are mixed and tend to see the film as some type of artistic display and demonstrative of Mr. Lee’s late period work. But lets be honest with ourselves: in light of the police murders, the incessant gang violence, loss of life and the anguish that black mothers and sisters live with as their men die needlessly the movie is simply stupid. But if there is one thing positive to take away from the film: is that a ton of black actors had work.
Beasts of No Nation an American film directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre, 2009 & Jane Eyre, 2011) is based on the acclaimed book under the same title by Nigerian author, sociologist and physician Uzodinma Iwealaand. Beasts stars the acclaimed British-Afro actor Edris Elba as the Commandant and Ghanaian newcomer Abraham Attah as Agu–a boy given little choice but to become one of the estimated 120,000 child soldiers of Africa.
Beasts is a gut wrenching drama set in an unnamed African country being torn apart by the ravages of civil war. To set the stage of how devastating civil war has been to African families, the film begins with an exploration of the close relationship between Agu, his mother, sister, older brother, father and grandfather. Agu is growing up surrounded by the daily rhythms of life disrupted by war but safe, at the moment, by the protection of Nigerian Peace-Keepers. Agu’s family, like many families in Sub-Saharan Africa are not rich materially but wealthy in shared community and familial bonds. But life is soon devastatingly interrupted as both Government and Rebel Armies advance on their village intent on rooting out sympathizers of both sides of the conflict.
When war comes to Agu’s community, his mother and sister are able to escape but he along with his brother, father and grandfather are left to fend for themselves against the onslaught of two Armies making their way and gearing up for the final battle in the capital city. Government soldiers’ callously murder Agu’s brother, father and grandfather in a display of callous indifference. Agu manages to escape into the jungle but soon is captured by the Rebel Army. At this juncture Agu meets and is saved by the Commandant (Edris Elba). The remainder of the film is an exploration of the methods used, by the Rebel Army, to control the minds of the African children and adolescent boys for the purposes of exploiting their bodies as pawns in struggle of personal ambitions. At one key moment in the film, the Commandant reminds his 2IC (Second in Command) that no young child is worthless because they have eyes to see the enemy and fingers to pull the triggers. African mysticism, patriotism, mythology of war, ritual, the psychological warfare are used to bind the young soldiers in a cause for revenge and to be exploited in the Commandants quest for his share of the wealth. But more importantly the Commandant gives Agu the ability to revenge the death of his father and brother.
One of the most fascinating but under explored aspects of the film by Fukunaga is whether the child soldiers have come to accept war as a fait du compli, or whether there is hope to reclaim these young boys from the ravages of war and mental abuse. The ending (no spoilers here) suggests no particular answer to this question, except to say the film suggests that more than a few of the boys struggle with conceiving a life without war.
The casting of the film is superb. Elba has the cultural and historical genes necessary to pull off his role and his acting is credible. Elba was born in Newham, Essex, England. His father was a Sierra Leonean who worked in a Ford motor factory, and his mother, Eve, was a Ghanaian who had a clerical job. . The Sierra Leone Civil War (1991–2002) began when the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with support of Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), intervened in Sierra Leone in an attempt to overthrow the Joseph Momoh government. The civil war lasted 11 years, and left over 50,000 dead. Elba as the Commandant portrays a complex character that is cruel, ambitious, merciful and above all else a realist. Abraham Attah (Agu) won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best actor at the 72nd Venice International Film Festival.
The film opened in select theaters on Oct. 2015 amid controversy. The production company made a decision to release the film simultaneously on just a few theaters and primarily on Netflix, who paid roughly $12 million dollars for exclusive rights to the film’s early release. This is a direct threat to as many major theatre chains and their boycott, while at the end of the day is futile, is understandable. Netflix and other movie streaming services pose the greatest challenge to traditional over-salted–faux butter popcorn–and sticky floor theaters.
In any case Beasts of No Nation is a shot across the bow and should garner some consideration for a nomination for best actor (Abraham Attah) and possibly best picture. It’s streaming now on Netflix.
If you haven’t read the latest veiled corporate attack on #BlackLivesMatter you should all take a look at last weeks Pittsburgh Post Gazette article written by Jack Kelly an Editor at the Gazette. The article exposes the depth of American racism and reveals why it is likely to remain, at least for the foreseeable future, a permanent fixture in American society. Not only does the article show a deep lack of sensitivity for black life but illuminates the failure of our multi-cultural education system to properly educate Americans about the true role of slavery in American life. For those of you interested in reading the article I have created a link to the Gazette. The essence of the article places blame for the recent #blacklivesmatter civil unrest squarely on black people for failing to get over slavery. The Gazette chose, after reading my article, not to publish it in full length but asked for a watered down version that would be printed in notes to the Editor. I simply refused to do that.
So I have published my response here.
Here is what I wrote:
For many Americans, slavery ended with the surrender of the Confederacy at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia in 1865. But for the millions of enslaved and free black Americans the end of the Civil War was just a beginning to the quest for full and equal citizenship.
Slavery was not only a moral abomination it violated the very principles of American freedom inculcated by Thomas Jefferson’s historic words that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
While some argue that slavery was a worldwide, ancient tradition practiced by many nations and that the United States was simply in step with the times, no nation, except the United States had so forthrightly professed the equality of man while enslaving others for profit. The cost to bring America in line with its own professed goals of equality cost millions of lives both black and white.
What is hard for many Americans to not only comprehend and to accept is that for the four million former slaves and the millions of free blacks the effects of slavery and the quest for full citizenship did not end at that day at Appomattox. Slavery was not only a physical cruelty, but also the lingering effects of racial attitudes, ideologies and policies that formed the basis of white supremacy brought devastating economic and psychological harm to generations of black people.
Historian Jim Downs stated that life for former slaves was so heinous that between 1862 and 1870 at least 1 million out of 4 million blacks died of malnutrition and disease when the Federal government abandoned them to their own fate. Out of this devastation former slaves picked themselves up and formed the basis of the black community. Left to fend for themselves blacks had to contend with American terrorist groups that sought to keep blacks from gaining economic, social and most of all political equality. On May 21, 1921 white vigilante groups allied with the Tulsa Police Department, and the National Guard destroyed the entire black community of Tulsa, appropriately known as the “Black Wall Street” named for its economic prosperity. For the first time in American history, airplanes were used to drop bombs on black homes and businesses. When the smoke cleared over 10,000 black Tulsa residents were left homeless. Restitution was never paid to the victims.
The attack on black life was not confined to violence. Black life was stymied in every direction. Take for example the American Medical Association (AMMA), largely seen as a paragon of virtue. The white dominated AMMA used segregation to not only to discourage and exclude black medical school aspirants but also to exclude black physicians from obtaining necessary hospital privileges for the better part of its existence. “A Snapshot of U.S. Physicians: Key Findings” from the 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey, Data Bulletin No. 35 reported that three out of four physicians identified themselves as white, non-Hispanic, while just 3.8 percent were black. Today black health disparities remind us of the AMMA’s devastating attempts to limit black health outcomes by creating a shortage of black physicians who would have worked to address our community health issues.
African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. Emily Badger reported in May the Department of Housing and Urban Development settled with the largest bank headquartered in Wisconsin over claims that it discriminated from 2008-2010 against black and Hispanic borrowers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. These glaring statistics and examples of present day discrimination are a reminder that while slavery and Jim Crow are largely a thing of the past its lingering effects still haunt our nations past, present and possibly future. For blacks the “past is never dead, or even truly past.”
This past June (2015) Killer Mike of rap duo Run the Jewels endorsed Bernie Sanders for President. He did this, as he stated, because of Senator Sander’s position to continue the fight for minority voting rights. Killer Mike’s endorsement signaled a major cultural setback for Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations. After all former Secretary Clinton has enjoyed huge support within the black and minority communities, except when, with blacks leading the charge, abandoned her for candidate Barack Obama. The very fact that Senator Obama was the blackest and smartest man in the room made it a fait de compli that he would garner over 90% of the black vote. Yet, during this election cycle Clinton’s black support has returned. Ironically, Clinton’s “black credentials” are suspect and she has little credible evidence or a voting record to show her actions helped rather than hindered black life. Senator Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist worked for decades to uplift black, brown and poor folk and marched with Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., something no other Presidential candidate can claim. His “black credentials” are authentic. However, he might have a much harder time selling his candidacy to African Americans. This is what black folks in the south used to call a conundrum.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, Clinton received a 71% favorable ratting among nonwhite women. I presume that all facets of the non-white female community wholeheartedly feel an affinity and sisterhood with the former Secretary. Given the ubiquity of gender discrimination this is understandable. But her approval rating among non-white men plummets to just 59%. This is what black folks in the North call ironic. Why is this? What is it about Hillary Clinton that black and minority men seem less likely to support? Is it her gender? My suspicion is that many black men don’t see her as an authentic expression of their worldview. A view marked by the constant necessity to be on guard against societies unsettled relationship toward them. What is particularly interesting about Killer Mike’s endorsement is its veritable validation of Bernie Sanders’ cultural “street cred” which is just another way of saying “cool black M.C. supports my candidacy for President. Who you got?”
It remains to be seen whether any other black “cool guy or girl” celebrity will rush to embrace Sanders. What I do believe is that this election will test the mainstream Democratic National Committee’s narrative of why it controls the black vote. Here is what I mean. Prior to the election of Democrat Franklin Roosevelt as the nation’s 32nd President of the United States in 1930 blacks were predominately members of the Republican Party and in varying degrees also belonged to leftist radical political parties in the United States like- the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)–If your unaware Bernie Sanders is a self proclaimed democratic socialist (Cornell West is an Honorary National Chairman of the DSA). The Republican Party that emerged from the ashes of the Whig Party in 1854 was formed by radical activists who clamored for the destruction of slavery. After the Civil War newly elected Congressional Black Republicans pushed for Native American, women, and Asian rights. They sought to ensure voting rights were protected and sought to establish free education for all citizens. These very same ideas are those that candidate Sanders has supported all of his political life.
Many African Americans including NACCP co-founder and intellectual W.E.B. Dubois, singer-actor Paul Robeson, economist Abram Harris, Jr. writer Richard Wright, Jamaican American poet Claude McKay, the entire African Blood Brotherhood, members of the Black Panther Party including Angela Davis were all committed socialists. Socialists were always at the forefront of defending and supporting African American civil rights even against extreme white supremacy in the South and in major northern cities. It was socialists not Democrats nor Republicans that defended The Scottsboro Boys, falsely accused of raping two white women in 1931 Alabama. The Boys were defended and supported for years by the International Labor Defense (ILD), a socialist legal advocacy organization.
If candidate Sanders struggles with the black vote it will be with the middle of black America. The middle has always been slow to change course even in the face of injustice (the Black Middle class supported segregationist Woodrow Wilson). However, I believe Killer Mike’s constituency: black men, will be more likely to support Sanders but the real work ahead is with black women. This will require an earnest effort to remind large segments of the black population of the depth and breadth of the black radical tradition. The Sander’s campaign should remind black women that the first African American woman to run for President of the United States was socialist Charlene Mitchell who ran in 1968 (four years before Shirley Chisolm) and Angela Davis who ran for Vice President of the Untied States during the Reagan years. Both were committed to socialist ideals.
A 2015 Reason Rupp poll asked Americans to rate their favorability towards capitalism, socialism, a free market economy and a government managed economy. Socialism received a 36% favorable rating compared to capitalism (55%), and free markets (69%). It’s clear that Americans favor a free and fair market economy over capitalism. Most likely it’s because many Americans have witnessed first hand the destructive force of capitalism. This should give the Sanders campaign a glimmer of hope and provide the necessary data that suggests favorability ratings of American capitalism are low and that socialism can get a hearing from many open minded Americans, particularly black women who are effected in more personal ways by our gender biased capitalist-free market economy. Black women understand from real economic experience there is nothing free about an American free market or fair in a capitalist one either.
African American’s historical legacy of working as socialists and within various socialist political organizations should give every black political consultant and voter pause to reconsider, rethink and re-prioritize our ties to traditional candidates and to a greater point re-evaluate our almost blind political allegiances. Bernie Sanders appeal to the black community is not an aberration and neither is Killer Mike’s support. It’s mainstream black political thought. Bernie Sanders’ campaign represents a return to or at least a shift back toward our political roots. The question is whether Bernie Sanders, who I believe more fully represents the non-racial aspects of black life, can inspire young black voters, in particular black middle class women to care enough to come to the polls in 2016. Killer Mike’s endorsement is a start but more work has to be done.
The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (EAME), the site of the terrorist attack on June 17, 2015, was again thrust into the forefront of the nation’s sorry culture of racism. The EAME’s history is entangled not only in its mission to provide for the spiritual needs of Charleston’s African American citizenry but its history is centered deeply and intertwined within the nations long and troubled history of slavery, abolition and struggle for black liberation. The EAME’s story is worth revisiting in conjunction with one of the nation’s darkest and most tragic incidents the rebellion and hanging of Denmark Vesey.
In 1781, Bermudian slave merchant Captain Joseph Vesey purchased a 14-year old African slave named Telemaque. After a time for reasons unknown, Vesey sold Telemaque to a planter in French Saint-Domingue what is now present-day Haiti. Telemaque suffered epileptic seizures and was returned to Captain Vesey who subsequently refunded the purchase price to the French planter. (Historians believe that Vesey probably faked his epileptic seizures to escape the brutal conditions of slave life in Haiti)
Telemaque had a gift for languages and learned to speak, read and write in French, Spanish and English. This would serve him later as he became an outspoken leader. Following the American Revolution, Captain Vesey retired from the sea and slave trade, settling in Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston was an international hub connected to the Caribbean’s booming merchant shipping trade, particularly focusing on illegal or contraband slaves (slave importation had been outlawed in 1808), rice and indigo exports. Vesey “hired out” Telemaque as a carpenter, and he quickly became a well-known artisan in the city and a member of the Charleston slave and free black community.
Port of Charleston circa 1865
On November 9, 1799, Telemaque, 32 years of age, won $1500 dollars in a Charleston city lottery. This would amount to roughly $31,000 dollars (calculating purchasing power) in 2015. Telemaque purchased his freedom from Captain Vesey and settled in the City as Denmark Vesey, a free man of color (Vesey chose the name Denmark from the country of Denmark). Vesey married a slave and had children. However due to American slave laws Vesey’s wife and children remained in bondage. Vesey made repeated attempts to purchase his family but was unable to do so. Meanwhile, Vesey found fellowship among the free black population. However, the black community had long been subjected to overtly harsh racism by its white citizenry. In particular the white community had, by law, complete oversight of the where and how its black population worshipped. Generally blacks could not worship after daylight hours, were forbidden to read and had to be supervised by white clergy.
Denmark joined a local white run Presbyterian Church. The local Methodist Episcopal Church of Charleston relegated its black congregation to second-class membership, subjecting it to constant indignities and insults. The church segregated blacks in separate seating, denied them any say in Church governance and forbid blacks a ministerial role. The breaking point came in 1816 when white Church leaders voted to build a Hearse House on top of the black burial grounds. This insult spurred the entire black congregation to walk out and to form what became the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (EAME). Vesey was one of its organizers.
The EAME Church was supported by a few progressive white clergy in the city and rapidly attracted nearly two thousand members, making this the second-largest AME congregation in the nation. However, Charleston had a rabid pro-white-anti-black citizenry, led by, among others Preston Brooks a ferocious advocate of black slavery, preacher of black inferiority and advocate of states’ rights. Brooks is primarily remembered for beating Senator Charles Sumner an abolitionist, with a cane on the floor of the United States Senate, on May 22, 1856 after Sumner gave an impassioned anti-slavery speech.
Senator Preston Brooks of South Carolina
The EAME Church became a breeding ground for black pride and uplift. White city officials became so alarmed by the EAME’s growing influence among its black slave and free population that it twice closed it for violating slave laws related to times and purpose of gatherings. In 1818 Charleston officials arrested 140 black church members and sentenced eight church leaders to heavy fines and whippings. City officials again raided the church in 1820 and 1821.
Although the details are sketchy, most likely in early 1822, Vesey a co-organizer of EAME became leader of a group of blacks and planned to start a slave uprising. The logistics were fairly simple as Charleston had a majority black population. Vesey and his followers were thought to have planned to kill slaveholders in Charleston, liberate the slaves, and sail to the black republic of Haiti, which had won its independence in 1804. It’s likely that Vesey wanted to rescue his family from slavery. Word of the plan was leaked, (most probably by a fellow black) and city officials and white citizens terrified that a black revolution, like that of Haiti, would visit its State quickly had a militia arrest the plot’s leaders and many suspected followers in June. Not one white person was killed or injured. Vesey and five slaves were among the first group of men judged guilty by the secret proceedings of a city-appointed Court and condemned to death; they were executed by hanging on July 2, 1822. Later one of his sons was judged guilty of this conspiracy and was among many blacks deported. Interesting enough the Haitian Revolution spurred South Carolinians to ensure that every white male citizen was armed and eligible for militia service.
In 1822 the city-appointed Court of Magistrates and Freeholders continued to arrest blacks and in July roughly 30 more were executed. The Court examined a total of 131 men, convicted 67 of conspiracy, hanged 35 (including Vesey), deported 31 men, reviewed and acquitted 27, and questioned and released 38. Because Vesey was one of the plot organizers and leader the original church was burned down. It is unlikely that 131 blacks were involved and many believed that whites used the Vesey plot as a means to terrorize the black community and in particular to punish the EAME Congregation. Whites believing that black churches fermented slave rebellions outlawed all-black churches in Charleston in 1834. The EAME Congregation met in secret until the end of the Civil War in 1865.
View of the last Palmetto tree in Charleston (1865)
On February 18, 1865 the mayor surrendered the city to Union General Alexander Schimmelfennig; and Union troops. After the eventual surrender of the Confederate States of America, Federal forces remained in Charleston during the city’s reconstruction. After the city’s liberation Bishop Daniel Payne (Head of the National AME Church) installed Reverend Richard H. Cain as the pastor of the congregations that would become Emanuel A.M.E. and Morris Brown A.M.E. In 1872, after serving in the South Carolina Senate (1868-1872), Reverend Cain became a Republican Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The congregation rebuilt the church between 1865 and 1872 under the lead of the architect Robert Vesey, one son of Denmark Vesey. After an earthquake demolished that building in 1886, President Grover Cleveland donated ten dollars ($300) to the church to aid its rebuilding efforts, noting that he was “very glad to contribute something for so worthy a cause.” However, being a Democrat, he also donated $20 ($600) dollars to the Confederate Home, a “haven for white widows.” The current EAME building was constructed in 1891. The location of the post-Civil War churches is on the north side of Calhoun Street (named after rabid racist and secessionist, former Vice President John C. Calhoun); blacks were not welcome on the south side of what was then known as Boundary Street when the church was built.
The continued saga of the EAME church underscores the continued and disturbing racial animosity, fear and hatred of black religious self expression and the need to consider a move toward a systematic and formalized commitment of black church security. This would include security guidelines, procedures, and ongoing contact with law enforcement including the FBI and a recognition that no matter how much we are tied to this land there will always be individuals committed to insisting that this is and will remain a “white man’s country.”
Recently this month two white female high school students, in what appeared to have been a pre-orchestrated event, stood proudly waving Confederate Battle Flags on one of America’s most hallowed grounds the Gettysburg Civil War Memorial Battlefield. The girls not only shared the photos via social media but also captioned the photos with “South will rise,” and “Already bought my first slave.”
While one parent attributed the North Carolina’s East Chapel High school girls actions to naiveté their actions are representative of an alarming trend of young white kids from Long Island to California that are not only espousing racial hatred toward non-whites, as in the case where in 2012 Texas’ High School students taunted Mexican American basketball players with chants of “U.S.A.,” but underscore a troubling resurgence of Confederate Nationalism.
Take the incident in April 2014 when a couple of white male students who appeared at Long Island’s St. Anthony’s Catholic high school handball game were suspended for wearing the Confederate battle flag. In another recent case the photo of a group of Denver Colorado high school students dressed for prom, holding guns and the Confederate flag caused a social media uproar. In another example 28 year-old Bus driver Ken Webber of Oregon was suspended for flying the battle flag on his school bus. Rather than removing the flag a defiant Webber defiantly took the suspension saying, “No one here is gonna tell me what I can and can’t believe in.” Weaver filed a lawsuit and won. Long Island, Colorado and Oregon could hardly be called southern strongholds. Yet, an increasing trend of whites in these areas seem to have gravitated toward what some argue are symbols of white supremacy and slavery.
These episodes whether isolated or falling into a coherent line of Confederate ideology are troubling. Foremost many white students and their parents have elected to reject years of purposeful multicultural education where students were taught the history of the long train of racial abuses suffered by African Americans both free and enslaved. Further they downplay the sacrifices of whites that fought to end slavery and the social, economic, and the political cost of waging the most horrific war ever fought on earth just to hold others in bondage.
The mythology of Confederate Nationalism has long since been debated by those that argued that it developed as an outgrowth of the Civil War and those that denied its existence altogether. Whether real or imagined Confederate Nationalism was always, at least within the African American community, a real and salient feature of white southern culture. Since the end of the Civil War African Americans, particularly those in the southern United States have always had to deal with a type of shadow Confederate Army. Southern white men and women have proudly flown the Battle Flags at state capital buildings, waved them at sporting events and displayed them to taunt Civil Rights marchers. Just recently the battle flag was moth balled as the representative symbol by one American university.
What has emerged, as a new twist to this surge in Confederate pride, is the linking of the Stars and Bars as the flag is often called with being American. Take for example the Colorado students that instagramed the photo of themselves holding guns and the Confederate flag. The kid’s stated, “We didn’t know it was wrong and we were tyring to express our love of being American.” How these kids were able to conjoin their Americaness to the most important symbol of Confederate and Anti-American identity is a twist of logic that only 19th century racial pseudo scientists could only envy. One only knows if Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, is turning in his grave?
One question we should ask is why is this happening? During the 1970’s as a means to skirt school desegregation laws wealthy white parents opted out of public schools and created exclusive private schools. The less affluent white students that were left behind had no choice but to attend schools with minority students. However, beginning in the somewhere in the 2000’s less affluent white parents began a process of creating schools in all white communities after many cities were released from Federally mandated desegregation plans. Propublica reports that the south is seeing a resurgence of school re-segregation to the degree that 1 in 3 black student’s attends a school that looks as if “Brown V. Board of Education never happened.”
But it’s not only the reforming of segregated schools. School curriculums and textbooks have become battlegrounds for pro or neutral revision of antebellum history. In 2013, Tracy Thompson author of the Mind of the South (2013) wrote of the ongoing revisionist history effort whereby southern schools and churches are still pretending the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. Thompson quoting James Loewen, a sociologist and author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” has said that when he speaks to public school educators across the country today, somewhere between 60 and 75 percent say that the Civil War was fought over the issue of states’ rights, rather than slavery.
The re-assurgence of Confederate nationalism seems to me not only a rejection of multi-culturalism but also an affirmation of a kind of distorted form of white identity. When did Confederate Nationalism equate with American identity and why does it appeal to young men and women in Oregon? Why are so many young people willing to voice their disdain for multi-culturalism by adopting the symbols of hate?
What I fear is that as America continues to brown it may reach a threshold where Confederate Nationalism is not something that remains solely an act of flag waving but the acts and aspirations of a “disgruntled minority” that feels grieved that its white historical legacy is in jeopardy. The America south and the so-called Bible Belt is increasingly arming its citizenry by passing open gun carry laws, the question is for what purpose?
There is no doubt that the recent events of Ferguson has uncovered a dramatic gulf that exists between the young who seek freedom from oppression and are willing to pay any price to remit that oppression and the old that seek reform only through old tactics of non-violence. This cleavage between the young and the unyoung comes at a time when youth dominated protests movements have crystalized throughout much of the so-called Third World: The Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, the sit-in at Taksim Gezi Park in Turkey, Occupy USA, the various Arab Spring movements from Tunisia to Cairo including the struggle for dignity in Gaza.
After Ferguson there can be no denial of the truth –no other way than to face facts beyond change: since 1865–the end of the Civil War, segments of American society have been engaged in a low-grade genocidal war against Native and African- American communities. From the 19th well into the 20th century this war saw the exile of indigenous people to reservations, the destruction of centuries old Indian cultures and the obliteration of all black towns: from Rosewood to Tulsa; the segregation of blacks into urban ghettos, the mass incarcerations and the extension of that war to the deportation of thousands from immigrant Latin American communities residing in the U.S.
Young African Americans activists must realize that their desire for justice must be tied to and understood in the larger world wide historical demand for justice that extends from David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829) against international slavery to the continued war against police and State brutality in Brazil, to the continued suburban ghettoization of European youth. This war is a fight against oppressive government sanctioned and institutionalized power that seeks to force people of color into accepting the status quo where 1% of the world’s population controls 99% of the world’s resources–from land where people of color are in the majority. Make no mistake this is a genocidal war of domination of such epic magnitude that it would make Julius Caesar green with envy.
Non-violent struggle (the authors assert that non-violence is, and can often be, a form of low grade violence) was borrowed from Henry David Thoreau who devised this strategy in the face of an American government attempting to profit from the expansion of slavery in the west. Non-violence was later taken up by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to unseat a racist European power that, through force of violence, dominated every facet of life in India. Martin Luther King, Jr., borrowed these same tactics and preached a form of non-violence that showed the world the true colors of southern racism as they raped, lynched and destroyed black lives, undermined black potential, and forced blacks into a caste system that relegated blacks to poverty and despair. As Civil Rights victories mounted blacks internalized these victories and began to seek the spoils of American life in earnest.
Over time we witnessed the expansion of the black middle and upper classes that earned their way to wealth and prosperity and in some cases to positions of power and authority in American society. Yet, there remained cracks in the veneer of success. Black urban poverty became a way of life rather than a temporary condition, prestigious black colleges that had educated generations of black intellectuals were abandoned and many closed, black health disparities increased, and the mass incarceration of youth to enrich the prison industrial complex gutted communities of color and with that came the loss of voting rights for numerous black males. This was tantamount to the emasculation of black men. This was largely accomplished through the now recognized failed war on drugs, a conscience effort to funnel children of color into prison (see school to prison pipeline) and through state and local legislative policies that solidified institutional racism. No one was spared–neither the poor, the colored, nor the young. Blacks from the middle and upper classes, who had hoped that the content of their character would be the sine quo non of a new American racially egalitarian society, bore witness to their own struggles of racism at work, in their communities and the countless confrontations with police and state authority.
During the past 50 years the older generation of African Americans strived to enter American society as co-equals with white Americans in the work place and in seemingly diverse communities. And while blacks strove they abandoned historically black colleges and universities, abandoned the poor in inner cities, and failed to create any lasting structures that would enable young blacks any real opportunity to move ahead without losing their culture and their dignity. In effect whites demanded a form of cultural monotony while, at the same instance, they denigrated blackness. Black Strivers incorporated a go-along-to-get-along strategy by adopting white cultural values while abandoning the very black values that had created Washington, Garvey, Dubois, Johnson, Angelou and Shakur.
The young have to understand that their education has been defiled in a way to placate them and give them a sense of duty and loyalty to a country that desires to see them give up their culture for a way of life that has destroyed the environment, emasculated Native Americans, fought catastrophic wars from Vietnam to Iraq for resources–the last being for oil; destroyed Union protections for workers and seeks to give Wall Street cartels carte blanche in enriching the 1% while the middle and poorer classes see their stake in society erode.
Protest marches have failed because black leadership has failed. Boycotts have failed because black strategies and tactics have failed. Old ways must be torn asunder. New ways of thinking and acting must be deployed, a new vocabulary that seeks to honor the environment, seek justice for all regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual and religious orientation must be at the forefront of this and future struggles against the forces of darkness that, if given their way will destroy every ecosystem on this planet and along with it human life.
Black, White, Brown, Yellow and Red youth must envision a new alchemy, a new spirit, a new way to thinking. Old revolutionary talk will not free the imprisoned mind, this will only occur through the creation of new paradigms, and new articulations of justice. We, old must work with the youth to achieve new symmetry that will eradicate race as a dominating factor in the life chances of millions from the impoverished Favelas of Brazil to the Detroit’s 8 Mile.
The fight will be hard, and fraught with difficulty. The benefits of justice will require thick skins, strong backs and a firm resolve—but without this resolve what price freedom? What price continued enslavement?
To summarize we assert the following:
- African Americans must seek international condemnation for a racist American justice system that unfairly targets people of color; African Americans must seek condemnation for genocidal practices by Federal, State and Local governments that seek to use State sanctioned violence and oppression against People of color;
- Build coalitions with minority communities and those whites that seek an alternative structures to replace existing hegemonic institutions;
- Create new democratic organizations that value diversity of opinion, diversity of race, color, creed, sexual orientation and religious orientation; and to seek greater and open access to affordable education for all.
- Develop institutions that value the natural environment and those creatures that depend on its wholeness for their survival.
- Recognize and respect the varied ways in which people seek to govern themselves; and to only wage war only as a tactic of defense and when no other options are available.
Also contributing to this article was Major Aldo Putman, USAR. (Ret.). Major Putman served as a combat advisor in Afghanistan.