“In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.”
— Erik Erikson.
What is in a name? Shakespeare asked this question during Romeo’s soliloquy to Juliet. He asked this question because Romeo being part of the family Montague forbade him from associating with his love Juliet. She was of the family Capulet which the Montague’s feuded with for generations. Shakespeare did not reveal what started the families’ feud, but we do know their clash lead to several altercations that were at times deadly. The surname Romeo and Juliet bore carried the weight of a great contention their love could not overcome. Eventually, the discord that existed between Montague and Capulet led to the star-crossed lovers’ demise and the end of the Montague and Capulet dispute.
There is obviously a lot of weight that is held in a name. When we are born, the first thing the doctor declares is the baby’s sex of male or female. The parents name the child and that name follows them generally from cradle to grave. Also, the surname could determine who that child is to become. We’ve experienced this when we hear certain surnames spoken. When I hear Jackson, I think of a family of entertainers. When I hear Rockefeller, I think of a family who made their money in oil. When I hear the name Roosevelt or Kennedy, I think of families tied to American politics. With those examples, we can see how names can help shape the identity of an individual or even a group. We can also see how that identity can shape a person or a group for a lifetime.
Black America has wrestled with their identity for centuries. Since the first African Slaves arrived in the Americas, Black Americans have gone through a plethora of nomenclatures to attempt to define them as a people. Titles have gone from Colored, to Negro, to Black, and now African American. Are any of these designations accurate epithets for Black Americans? If they aren’t, then what is?
I conjecture that all of these inceptions to attempt identify Black people who descend from chattel slavery has caused an identity crisis. What is even more flagitious is the ones who are suffering from such a crisis I’d argue are not even aware of it. Black America does not want to deal with the trauma of what their identity in America really is. If they do, it would cause them to face the reality of their true position in this country which is a bottom cast.
This leads to a mental concern that Black America suffers on the macrosm called Identity Illness. In an article entitled The Impact of Illness Identity on Recovery from Severe Mental Illness by Philip T. Yanos, David Roe, and Paul H. Lysaker, they define Identity Illness as follows:
The set of roles and attitudes that a person has developed in relation to his or her understanding of having a mental illness.
Symptoms of Identity Illness or Identity crisis can include but not limited to:
Questioning who you are
Experiencing great personal conflict due to the questioning of who you are or your role in society.
Questioning things such as your values, spirituality, beliefs, interests, or career path that have a major impact on how you see yourself.
Searching for more meaning, reason, or passion in life
Physical symptoms of this ailment can include:
Depressed mood or feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
Changes in appetite or weight
Issues with concentration, energy levels, motivation, and sleep
Slavery and Jim Crow have an impact of centuries old trauma that has left Black America disjointed. Our group has been seeking wholeness ever since.
The crux of Black America has attempted to redefine itself in a myriad of ways in order to heal from the injury that’s been thrust-ed upon them through Racism White Supremacy. The term African-American may seem to be a product of recent decades, exploding into common usage in the 1990s after a push from advocates like Jesse Jackson, and only enshrined in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001. The phrase was first used in an anti-British sermon from 1782 credited to an anonymous “African American,” pushing the origins of the term back to the earliest days of independence. According to an article published Jan. 31, 1989 in the New York Times entitled ‘African-American’ Favored By Many of America’s Blacks, reads:
“This is deeper than just name recognition,” said Mr. Jackson who, along with others, called for the change at a news conference in late December (1989). ”Black tells you about skin color and what side of town you live on. African-American evokes discussion of the world.”
Discussion of the world I feel is a very fascinating choice of words. Black Americans that descend from chattel slavery are people who’s culture has been appropriated all over the world, but the people has not been accepted all over the world. Quite the opposite has occurred which caused this group to be often demonized. The tropes of savage, mammy, coon, Jezebel – to the modern welfare queen, lazy, thot, and thug plague Black Americans into a hole of mind torture passed on from generation to generation. When one even looks at media and sees how Black women are hyper-sexualized and Black men posthumously criminalized, it is easy to fall into an expanse that this group begins to believe, accuse, and carry out their negative stereotypes. Would it be fair to label these behaviors as indicators of Identity Illness?
People like Jackson sought the solution of calling Black Americans as “African American” to be the cure of this ailment. This notion was birth out of Jackson’s own journey to the continent and a movement called Pan-Africanism. According to an article on Encyclopedia Britannica online, Pan-Africanism is the idea that peoples of African descent have common interests and should be unified. Historically, Pan-Africanism has often taken the shape of a political or cultural movement. There are many varieties of Pan-Africanism. In its narrowest political manifestation, Pan-Africanists envision a unified African nation where all people of the African diaspora can live. (African diaspora refers to the long-term historical process by which people of African descent have been scattered from their ancestral homelands to other parts of the world.) In more-general terms, Pan-Africanism is the sentiment that people of African descent have a great deal in common, a fact that deserves notice and even celebration. “Pan” meaning “all” was an attempt to bring Black people under one umbrella of identity stating that no matter where we are in the world, we are of Africa.
Although the philosophy of Pan-Africanism is appreciable, it is not operational. The reason why is because the continent of Africa is not united under one banner of “Blackness”. Africa is comprised of 54 countries. Within those 54 countries contains a myriad of tribes. According to https://www.africasafari.co.uk/, there are roughly 3,000 different tribes in Africa that speak approximately 2,000 different languages. There are even situations of African countries having immigration problems from one country to another in the same continent. In a recent article from the New York Times South Africa Vows to Crack Down on Violence Against Nigerians published Oct. 3, 2019, the article states:
“Outbreaks of violence against Nigerians and citizens of other African nations have regularly erupted in South Africa in recent years, with some in the country accusing foreigners of taking their jobs or of committing crimes like peddling illegal drugs. – South Africa has been making efforts to repair ties after the government faced criticism for framing the violence against foreigners as everyday crime, and initially not speaking out against the xenophobia.”
African nations also deal with a separatist issue that plagues the continent to present day. In the Atlantic called The Dividing of a Continent: Africa’s Separatist Problem published in 2012 in , it states:
“African borders, in this thinking, are whatever Europeans happened to have marked down during the 19th and 20th centuries, which is a surprising way to do things given how little these outsider-drawn borders have to do with actual Africans. In much of the world, national borders have shifted over time to reflect ethnic, linguistic, and sometimes religious divisions. Spain’s borders generally enclose the Spanish-speakers of Europe; Slovenia and Croatia roughly encompass ethnic Slovenes and Croats. Thailand is exactly what its name suggests. Africa is different, its nations largely defined not by its peoples heritage but by the follies of European colonialism. But as the continent becomes more democratic and Africans assert desires for national self-determination, the African insistence on maintaining colonial-era borders is facing more popular challenges, further exposing the contradiction engineered into African society half a century ago.”
So what does this tell us? Is it proper for Black Americans to look at a fractured continent for identity? Although Black Americans are closer to the continent genetically, they are not culturally. If one looks to Africa with the first thought mentioned, as Biologist Richard Dawkins stated, we all are African. But since people who do not identify as “Black” also don’t identify as “African”, should we?
The truth of the matter is Black Americans are not “African” per se. Black Americans that have been in the United States for multiple generations are something quite different. They are an amalgamation of the enslaved that originally came from West and Central African countries and the en-slaver that is of European descent. In the article entitled The case against ‘African American’ to describe U.S. Black people | Opinion written by Milton W. Hinton posted on NJ.com – he writes:
“Most Black men and women born in the United States are now far removed from Africa, other than sharing some physical characteristics. Most Black Americans speak only English, while Africans often learn multiple languages and dialects in their youth. Most Black Americans — even if their lives depended on it — could not name 10 African languages, tribes or ethnic groups, or any of the continent’s musicians, playwrights, presidents or capital cities. Most of us will never visit Africa. I will go so far as to say that most Black Americans have never read a book by an African writer, which is one of the best ways to learn African history. Being African or African American means more than having similar physical characteristics”.
Black Americans are intermingled with the experiences of Slavery and Jim Crow, which deduces properly the denomination Freedmen or Freedmen Descendants. The term Freedmen was the bestowed on the newly emancipated slaves after the Civil War in 1865. It was also referenced to Black people who were not enslaved before the ending of Chattel Slavery. It was written in government documents and were federal institutions.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also wrote in his book Where do We Go from Here? From Chaos to Community about the Freedmen Descendants and how we are from slaves but also very American. We made America what it is but still bear the burden of past position.
“Who are we? We are the descendants of slaves. We are the offspring of noble men and women who were kidnaped from their native land and chained in ships like beasts. We are the heirs of a great and exploited continent known as Africa. We are the heirs of a past of rope, fire and murder. I for one am not ashamed of this past. My shame is for those who became so inhuman that they could inflict this torture upon us.
But we are also Americans. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. In spite of the psychological appeals of identification with Africa, the Negro must face the fact that America is now his home, a home that he helped to build through “blood, sweat and tears.” Since we are Americans the solution to our problem will not come through seeking to build a separate black nation within a nation, but by finding that creative minority of the concerned from the ofttimes apathetic majority, and together moving toward that colorless power that we all need for security and justice.”
I would correct Dr. King one particular point in this quoted passage. Those who were enslaved from the lands of West and Central Africa were largely sold into slavery, not kidnapped per se. Regardless of that resolve of a more appropriate version of history, King gave an up to mark summation of the Black experience that roots from Slavery in America. We are from those brought to this land from a continent long ago of people brought to America in chains and made to serve generations of other humans for centuries. We are also American and have influenced through blood, sweat, and tears largely to what America is. America would not be America without the ones who built it. Also I would say to him that this nation will never be “colorless”. Often the statement “I don’t see color” is a way to ignore the colossal issues that this nation faces because of the hierarchy of Racism White Supremacy.
Knowing what one’s identity is extremely important. John Cahill stated in the Quora article, Why is identity important? He says:
“Identity is important only because it is an opportunity to become, i.e., to go beyond whatever we and others think our identity is. Identity (the experience of self beyond a mere name) is an uncertain, impermanent shifting concept of a self. It is not one identity but many identities according to the opinions and values of those who may wish to identify an ‘individual’ or a supposed ‘self’.”
The experiences that Black Americans garnered is under the umbrella that we collectively share which are Slavery and Jim Crow. Slavery in America is a blot on history never redressed, but it was also the vehicle that created this nation and made it an economic world power. To think of the brutality of Slavery is painful. To reflect upon the ferocity of Jim Crow is appalling. To continue to suffer under the accrued disadvantages from these institutions is loathsome, however it is at the very foundation who we are. Once Black America embraces who we are as a people, we can start the rebuilding process to overcome our collective Identity Illness. This infirmity has plagued us in the environs of 14 generations. Going beyond “Black is Beautiful” and “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” will leap an entire people into the understanding of we are – the Descendants of enslaved or the Sons and Daughters of the Freedmen. As I quoted King earlier, I am not ashamed of this past. My shame is for those who became so inhuman that they could inflict this torture upon us.
Cynthia McDonald – Medical Case Manager, Health and Political Advocate
This past Monday the nation commemorated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was a civil rights activist that was assassinated April 4, 1968 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN. Since his death, there have been songs written in his honor, a holiday in his name, and countless books, speeches, and content created around his work. The one thing that often happens is little light is shed on King’s core mission which is citizenship for Black Americans.
I know it’s been a while since I have written an entry. Needless to say 2022 was extremely busy. I was fortunate to travel the country and give speeches about economic repair for Freedmen and helped push the notion of normalizing Atheism in the Black Community. I also became a parent to a little boy whose mother passed away 5 days before Christmas in 2021. I’ve been doing some producing and hosting on different podcasts and trying to do what I can to push activism in my own way. I thought it would be fitting that my first post for 2023 would be on King’s legacy and how it ties into the Social Determinants of Health for Black Americans.
Social determinants of health are the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. They include factors like socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood and physical environment, employment, and social support networks, as well as access to health care. When discussing these determinants concerning Black Americans we can pick each factor and see where we are.
According to The Economist, two years before the passage of landmark civil-rights legislation and the Great Society programme, the average wealth of white households was seven times greater than that of black households. Yet after decades of declining discrimination and the construction of a modern welfare state, that ratio remains the same. The mean of black household wealth is $138,200—for whites, that number is $933,700. Median wealth is smaller, but even more lopsided. The typical black family has just $17,100 compared with the typical white one, which has $171,000. The discrepancies are caused by low incomes and by debt. Compared with whites, black Americans have higher debt loads: 19.4% of black households have net wealth at or below $0, compared with 9.2% of whites. There had been slow improvement over the decades, but the Great Recession of 2007-08 wiped this out, since blacks were disproportionately harmed by the subprime mortgage blow-up. Because of that, home-ownership, the conventional wealth-building tool of the middle class, stands at 42% among blacks—only one percentage point higher than it was in 1968—compared with 73% for whites.
According to the National School Boards Association:
In 2018, nearly one third of Black students lived in poverty (32%), compared with 10% of white students in families living in poverty. The percentage of Black students who lived in households where the highest level of education attained by either parent was a bachelor’s or higher degree was 27%, compared with 69% of Asian students and 53% of white students.
64% have parents whose education level is less than high school.
45% live in mother-only households.
35% live in father-only households.
In fall 2017, of the 50.7 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools, 7.7 million were Black. Only 7% of Black students attended low-poverty schools, compared with 39% Asian and 31% white students.
45% of Black students attended high-poverty schools, compared with 8% of white students.
About 25% of Black students were enrolled in public schools that were predominantly Black.
The long-term trend shows that the achievement gap between Black and white students has narrowed. However, the progress is minimal, and the gap is still there. The National Report Card (NAEP) shows that from 1992 through 2019, the average reading and math scores for Black 4th, 8th, and 12th graders had always been lower than those of their white peers.
Only 9 out of 100 Black students performed at or above the NAEP proficient level in civics.
Only 13 out of 100 Black students performed at or above the NAEP proficient level in math.
Only 15 out of 100 Black students performed at or above the NAEP proficient level in reading.
Nationwide, the overall dropout rate decreased from 9.7% in 2006 to 5.3% in 2018. During this time, the dropout rate for Black students decreased from 11.5% to 6.4%. Nevertheless, the dropout rate for Black students remained higher than that for white students (4.2%). Additionally, 22% of Black 18- to 24-year-olds were neither enrolled in school nor working, which was much higher than the percentage of all U.S. 18- to 24-year-olds youth (14%).
Nearly 8 out of 100 Black males dropped out of school.
About 6 out 100 U.S.-born Black students dropped out of school.
About 37 out of 100 institutionalized (such as in correctional or health care facilities) Black students dropped out of school.
In school year 2017–18, the national adjusted cohort graduation rate (ACGR) for public high school students was 85%. However, the ACGR for Black students was 79%, below the U.S. average.
The graduation rates for Black students ranged from 67% in the District of Columbia to 88% in Alabama.
Arkansas, West Virginia, Texas, and Alabama were the only four states in which the graduation rates for Black students were higher than the U.S. average.
From 2000 to 2018, college enrollment rates among 18- to 24-year-olds increased for those who were Black (from 31% to 37%). Among Black males, college enrollment rates were higher in 2018 (33%) than in 2000 (25%). However, among Black females, the rate in 2018 was not measurably different from the rate in 2000.
Of the 16.6 million undergraduate students enrolled in fall 2018, 2.1 million were Black. Although there were 101 degree-granting, 4-year Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and 2-year HBCUs in operation—51 were public institutions and 50 were private nonprofit institutions, the number of Black students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is still low.
13% of Black students obtained bachelor’s degree conferred in a STEM field.
7% of Black students obtained associate’s degrees conferred in a STEM field.
6% of Black students obtained master’s degrees conferred in a STEM field.
5% of Black students obtained doctor’s degrees conferred in a STEM field.
Their concluding findings:
The poverty rate is still the highest for Black students.
A lack of internet access at home has become a barrier for Black students to learn.
A high percentage of Black students attend high-poverty schools.
More Black students with disabilities receive services for emotional disturbances.
The disproportion between Black students and Black teachers has not been improved.
The achievement gap between Black and white students has not been closed.
School dropout rate keeps high among Black students.
Graduation rates and college enrollment rates remain low among Black students.
Neighborhood and Physical Environment
Stark differences in predominantly Black Neighborhoods vs. White are still very present in the 21st century. According to J Health Dispar Res Pract, the absence of jobs for young, urban Black Americans has led to severe economic declines in many neighborhoods. The resulting economic and social disadvantage engendered many of the neighborhood characteristics associated with what Ross and Mirowsky (2001) describe as disorder, which includes poorly maintained built environments, crime, distrust, and unruliness. These by-products exacerbate the ongoing struggle for housing equality experienced by many African American residents. The problem is especially salient for older African Americans who experienced subpar access to housing resources through the widespread practice of de jure segregation. Many Black American neighborhoods were affected by exclusionary policies that limited the ability of residents to purchase high quality, neighborhood-enhancing housing. From the Great Depression until the late 1960’s, the Federal Government, real estate elites, bankers, and insurers participated in the systematic practice of denying loans and insurance to African Americans. This practice included identifying African American neighborhoods as risk hazards by using red lines (redlining) to delineate these areas . The Federal Housing Administration (FHA), created by Franklin Roosevelt in response to the housing crisis emanating from the Great Depression, refused to underwrite loans in red areas. Because of this, lenders were hesitant to provide financing to homebuyers without FHA support.
The macroeconomic transitions over the last quarter-century and patterns of housing inequities have contributed to unhealthy environments within disadvantaged African American neighborhoods. The problem is exacerbated by patterns of racial segregation experienced by residents whose neighborhood environments are isolated from high-quality resources that promote positive health behavior in the form of schools, housing, infrastructure, and employment. Discriminatory policies and practices confining Black people—for whom the incidence of poverty was markedly higher than for white people—to particular city neighborhoods produced much higher poverty rates in those neighborhoods. High rates of poverty exacerbated the flight of capital and essential services, reinforcing the effects of racist policies and practices on neighborhoods. Today, virtually all urban and suburban neighborhoods with high poverty rates are predominantly occupied by Black Americans, and among households experiencing poverty, white households are much more geographically dispersed than Black households.
The neighborhood environment affects many disparities in health outcomes between African Americans and other racial/ethnic groups.Research shows that the role of neighborhood environments in influencing health behavior can be examined along racial and socioeconomic lines.Disease-promoting environments, not genetic factors, contribute to poor health outcomes among many African Americans. The characteristics of the communities that Black Americans live in account for much of the differences in illness mortality between Whites and African Americans.
The legacies of early forms of discrimination have also proved more enduring than formal legal changes would suggest. Living in segregated neighborhoods has blocked Black Americans from the educational opportunities mentioned in the section above, jobs, and wealth building necessary to access well-resourced neighborhoods, while generations of white families have benefited from the structural advantages of the opportunity-rich neighborhoods in which they live. And neighborhoods occupied by Black American often lack the quality services and housing stock necessary to appeal to white homeseekers, who may have many other options. As a result, many Black Americans remain locked in disinvested neighborhoods, while predominantly white neighborhoods grow and prosper more readily.
Employment, and Social Support Networks:
According to Statistica, In 2021, 8.6 percent of the Black or African-American population in the United States were unemployed, the highest unemployment rate of any ethnicity. In 2021, the national unemployment rate stood at 5.3 percent. Even with Black Americans that achieve and Bachelor’s or higher, they still fall short of closing the income gap amongst Whites and Asians. According to the National Funds for Workforce Solutions, Blacks with a BA degree or higher between the ages of 25-64 represent 32% of their racial group however, their average income is about $26 an hour juxtaposed to AAPI at $38 per hour and whites at $34 per hour. According to a Duke University Study released in 2017, What we get wrong about the racial wealth gap, White American wealth was still approximately 15,000 dollars higher without a high school diploma as opposed to Black Wealth with a BA or higher.
Historically, Black American Social Support Systems were primarily the Church, the Family and Schools. According to Pew, Black Americans still have the highest percentage of Christians in the nation but you do have a higher percentage of them leaving the church. The “falling away” comes amidst scandals, and the rise of skepticism especially amongst Millenials and Gen Z. Pew also says Black Americans show about almost 20% of Blacks consider themselves irreligious. The family structure has also suffered the most under institutional and structural barriers often prevent them from being able to realize valued romantic partnerships, marriage, and children., particularly for those who have low incomes.From 1987 to 2017, the rates of cohabitation among Black women ages 19 to 44 increased from 36 percent to 62 percent, a rate similar to that seen among women from other racial groups. The percentage of Black women ever married, however, is lower than those who have cohabitated, at 37 percent. While there are many explanations for lower levels of marriage among Black women, an overwhelming number of theories focus on economics—specifically, the earning potential and availability of Black men.For instance, a lack of employment opportunities for Black men, higher workforce participation among Black women than among Black men, a lack of wage parity between Black women and Black men, and the disproportionate representation of Black men (particularly from low-income backgrounds) in the criminal justice system may result in a lack of marriageable partners (e.g., men who are perceived by women as attractive marriage prospects because of their financial or social standing). Importantly, each of these theories—implicitly, and sometimes explicitly—acknowledges the potential role of systemic racism and its impact on the marriage rate of Black Americans.(child trends, 2021)
Health Equity is also a topic that is prevalent amongst Black Americans but still not achieved. In my Covid-19, Vaccines, and Black America. Is there a Nefarious Correlation?, I wrote:
Black Americans have a major distrust of the Medical Industry. Their distrust is not unwarranted. Unfortunately, Black people in America have experienced a number of malpractice mishaps. James Marion Sims is considered the ‘Father of Modern Gynecology’ who pioneered tools and surgical techniques related to women’s reproductive health. Although he was very groundbreaking in this field, he developed his techniques by conducting research on enslaved Black women without anesthesia. He operated under a false and racist notion that Black people did not feel pain. Today, we know three of the names of the female fistula patients from Sims’s own records—Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey. The first one he operated on was 18-year-old Lucy, who had given birth a few months prior and hadn’t been able to control her bladder since. During the procedure, patients were completely naked and asked to perch on their knees and bend forward onto their elbows so their heads rested on their hands. Lucy endured an hour-long surgery, screaming and crying out in pain, as nearly a dozen other doctors watched. As Sims later wrote, “Lucy’s agony was extreme.” She became extremely ill due to his controversial use of a sponge to drain the urine away from the bladder, which led her to contract blood poisoning. “I thought she was going to die…it took Lucy two or three months to recover entirely from the effects of the operation,”
Sims’s racist beliefs affected more than his gynecological experiments. Before and after his gynecological experiments, he also tested surgical treatments on enslaved Black children in an effort to treat “trismus nascentium” (neonatal tetanus)—with little to no success. Sims also believed that Black Americans were less intelligent than white people, and thought it was because their skulls grew too quickly around their brain. He would operate on Black children using a shoemaker’s tool to pry their bones apart and loosen their skulls.
Moving to another event in Medical Apartheid history, one cannot also forget the Tuskegee Experiment which was an infamous study on Syphilis. The Tuskegee experiment began in 1932, at a time when there was no known treatment for syphilis. After being recruited by the promise of free medical care, 600 men originally were enrolled in the project. The participants were primarily sharecroppers, and many had never before visited a doctor. Doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), which was running the study, informed the participants—399 men with latent syphilis and a control group of 201 others who were free of the disease—they were being treated for bad blood, a term commonly used in the area at the time to refer to a variety of ailments.In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as the men died, went blind or insane or experienced other severe health problems due to their untreated syphilis.
Cases like these and others like the unfortunate story of Henrietta Lacks whose cells from her cervix were bought, sold, packaged, and shipped by the trillions to laboratories around the world, would absolutely warrant any Black American who descends from Chattel Slavery to run screaming from any medical professional coming within ten feet of them. Even in the 21st century, Black Americans are still experiencing adverse disparities in healthcare driven by lack of health resources in our communities and also implicit biases that health care professionals possess. In an NCBI article entitled Health Disparities: Gaps in Access, Quality and Affordability of Medical Care, Wayne J. Riley MD, MPH, MBA, MACP writes,
“…analysis revealed even more objective evidence of major differences and raised the specter of the role of bias and discrimination with regard to populations with equal access to healthcare. Underscoring the resultant discrepant quality of care experienced by populations as manifested in the appropriateness of clinical care and patient preferences, and the often confusing and challenging nature of the healthcare system and its legal and regulatory environment, are the roles of bias, discrimination, and uncertainty.”
Going back to Neighborhoods and Built Environments, Black Americans disproportionately deal with crime and violence that has brought to light a public health crisis. In my article: The Epidemic of Violence in Freedmen Communities, I wrote:
…it is important to note where the most violence occurs in these cities and have a tendency to be the poorest. Looking at Chicago, the most reported violent neighborhood is West Garfield Park, which is located on the city’s West Side. According to https://www.cmap.illinois.gov/, the largest population by race that occupies this area is Black, non-Hispanic which is around 15,888. White non-Hispanic is 358, Hispanic or Latino is 447, and Asian non-Hispanic is 55. According to CMAP, Black non-Hispanic hold about 93% of the population. The Median Income is $24,591 and about 2,706 households have an income less than 25,000 a year. About 18% of the total population is unemployed and 43% of the population live under the federal poverty line.
I would argue that the demographics like these are reflected in the most violent neighborhoods in America. This leads me to believe that high unemployment and rampant poverty is a recipe for unbridled violence.
At the mark of King’s death until today, we still are living under systemic threats to Black Americans Social Determinants of Health. King was more than aware of the disparities that existed for Black Americans and sought with other Civil Rights leaders to stop the bleeding and force a 180 degree turn in our position. Although landmark legislation that lifted the tides of all Americans, evidence shows that Black Positionality has made very little progress. In actuality, our progress in some cases has shown to be regressive. King was well aware of this. During his “Where do we go from Here” Speech, King said:
With all the struggle and all the achievements, we must face the fact, however, that the Negro still lives in the basement of the Great Society. He is still at the bottom, despite the few who have penetrated to slightly higher levels. Even where the door has been forced partially open, mobility for the Negro is still sharply restricted. There is often no bottom at which to start, and when there is there’s almost no room at the top. In consequence, Negroes are still impoverished aliens in an affluent society. They are too poor even to rise with the society, too impoverished by the ages to be able to ascend by using their own resources. And the Negro did not do this himself; it was done to him. For more than half of his American history, he was enslaved. Yet, he built the spanning bridges and the grand mansions, the sturdy docks and stout factories of the South. His unpaid labor made cotton “King” and established America as a significant nation in international commerce. Even after his release from chattel slavery, the nation grew over him, submerging him. It became the richest, most powerful society in the history of man, but it left the Negro far behind.
And so we still have a long, long way to go before we reach the promised land of freedom. Yes, we have left the dusty soils of Egypt, and we have crossed a Red Sea that had for years been hardened by a long and piercing winter of massive resistance, but before we reach the majestic shores of the promised land, there will still be gigantic mountains of opposition ahead and prodigious hilltops of injustice. (Yes, That’s right) We still need some Paul Revere of conscience to alert every hamlet and every village of America that revolution is still at hand. Yes, we need a chart; we need a compass; indeed, we need some North Star to guide us into a future shrouded with impenetrable uncertainties.
Now, in order to answer the question, “Where do we go from here?” which is our theme, we must first honestly recognize where we are now. When the Constitution was written, a strange formula to determine taxes and representation declared that the Negro was sixty percent of a person. Today another curious formula seems to declare he is fifty percent of a person. Of the good things in life, the Negro has approximately one half those of whites. Of the bad things of life, he has twice those of whites. Thus, half of all Negroes live in substandard housing. And Negroes have half the income of whites. When we turn to the negative experiences of life, the Negro has a double share: There are twice as many unemployed; the rate of infant mortality among Negroes is double that of whites; and there are twice as many Negroes dying in Vietnam as whites in proportion to their size in the population. (Yes) [applause]
In other spheres, the figures are equally alarming. In elementary schools, Negroes lag one to three years behind whites, and their segregated schools (Yeah) receive substantially less money per student than the white schools. (Those schools) One-twentieth as many Negroes as whites attend college. Of employed Negroes, seventy-five percent hold menial jobs. This is where we are.
Where do we go from here? First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amid a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values. We must no longer be ashamed of being black. (All right) The job of arousing manhood within a people that have been taught for so many centuries that they are nobody is not easy.
He went on the say:
And so I say to you today, my friends, that you may be able to speak with the tongues of men and angels (All right); you may have the eloquence of articulate speech; but if you have not love, it means nothing. (That’s right) Yes, you may have the gift of prophecy; you may have the gift of scientific prediction (Yes sir) and understand the behavior of molecules (All right); you may break into the storehouse of nature (Yes sir) and bring forth many new insights; yes, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement (Yes sir) so that you have all knowledge (Yes sir, Yes); and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees; but if you have not love, all of these mean absolutely nothing. (Yes) You may even give your goods to feed the poor (Yes sir); you may bestow great gifts to charity (Speak); and you may tower high in philanthropy; but if you have not love, your charity means nothing. (Yes sir) You may even give your body to be burned and die the death of a martyr, and your spilt blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history’s greatest heroes; but if you have not love (Yes, All right), your blood was spilt in vain. What I’m trying to get you to see this morning is that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego, and his piety may feed his pride. (Speak) So without love, benevolence becomes egotism, and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.
I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about “Where do we go from here?” that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. (Yes) There are forty million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. (Yes) And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society. We are called upon to help the discouraged beggars in life’s marketplace. (Yes) But one day we must come to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. (All right) It means that questions must be raised. And you see, my friends, when you deal with this you begin to ask the question, “Who owns the oil?” (Yes) You begin to ask the question, “Who owns the iron ore?” (Yes) You begin to ask the question, “Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?” (All right) These are words that must be said. (All right)
King’s Legacy is much more than a dream, a judgment of the content of character, or marching. King’s legacy, and other martyrs of Black Struggle, is about how we see ourselves as a nation. With Critical Race Theory being attacked, which is really an attack on teaching actual history, too many are concerned about little white children feeling the guilt of America’s maleficence. The guilt will only be alleviated with America acknowledging their crimes against their first citizens, Addressing the disparities Black Americans that descend from Chattel Slavery still face, and exact repair. The question is not the ability to do this. The question is the WILL do to this. Will they?
I gave this speech in September 2021 for the Women of Color Beyond Belief hosted by the Black Non-Believers and was interviewed on Freethought Matters shortly after. I am including the interview, speech and the text of the speech.
James Baldwin (author, poet, activist and sharp critic of the church) once said I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. He also said to accept one’s past—one’s history—is not the same thing as drowning in it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought. Activism in this space happens because although one may love the land they are from does not mean the land has always loved them. It also means that if I do love this land, I must speak up when it is wrong and has wrought harm to its first citizens. I use the term “first citizens” not as an insult to those who have come before or who have immigrated after America was established. I use that term because what we know and how we determine citizenship was as a result of the ending of slavery and the adoption of the 14th amendment. The opening sentence of Section One of the 14th Amendment defines U.S. citizenship as: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” There are certain rights that come with citizenship such as:
Freedom of speech.
Freedom of the press.
Freedom of religion.
Freedom of assembly.
Right to petition the government.
& Freedom of Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Citizenship also comes with responsibilities such as:
Supporting and defending the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
Staying informed of the issues affecting your community.
Participating in the democratic process (example voting).
Respecting and obeying federal, state, and local laws.
& Respecting the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others.
African Americans that were either enslaved or the descendants of the enslaved have kept the responsibilities of what is expected of a citizen, yet the rights and privileges that come with such a title have not always been extended to us. African Americans have supported and defended the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, because we have fought in every war. I, myself, am a daughter of a Korean War Veteran and a great granddaughter of a World War I veteran. African Americans stay informed of the issues that affect our community because we are still living under the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow. African Americans have participated in every election since we were given the right to vote, yet we still face voting suppression in numerous states and municipalities. African Americans obey the laws of the land, yet we are incarcerated more than five times the rate of whites, and at least ten times the rate in five states. According to a study published by NYU Steinhardt and NYU CUSP, and the Stanford Open Policing Project in 2020, Black drivers are about 20 percent more likely to be stopped than white drivers relative to their share of the residential population. The study also found that once stopped, black drivers were searched about 1.5 to 2 times as often as white drivers, while they were less likely to be carrying drugs, guns, or other illegal contraband compared to their white peers. Also according to a study by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Black Americans are 3.23 times more likely than white Americans to be killed by police.
Another indicator of the privileges that come with citizenship is the opportunity to create and pass on generational wealth. Right before the March on Washington in 1963, Dr. M. L. King Jr. addressed a group of activists and organizers. He reminded them of the purpose of the march in the nation’s capital. Often, most people think Dr. King was there so he could speak about his dream. Components of that speech are often misused, misquoted, or misrepresented. The last misuse and misrepresentation I’ve witnessed was from Ken Ham and his panel from Answers in Genesis. King reminded his folks that this march is about gaining full citizenship status which includes a proper share of wealth and economic inclusion.
Quote – “At the same time when America refused to give the negro any land, through an act of Congress, our government was giving away millions of acres of land in the west and the Midwest. It meant that it was willing to undergird its white peasants from Europe with an economic floor. But not only did they give the land, they built land grant colleges with government money to teach them how to farm. Not only that, they provided county agents to further their expertise in farming. Not only that, they provided low interest rates in order for them to mechanize their farms. Not only that, today many of these people are receiving millions of dollars in subsidies not to farm and they are the very people telling the Black Man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps. Now this is what we are faced with and this is the reality. Now when we come to Washington in this campaign, we’re coming to get our check.”
King was referring to a policy called the Homestead Act of 1862. This particular policy lasted for over 114 years. The Government granted more than 270 million acres of land while the law was in effect. The passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 repealed the Homestead Act in the 48 contiguous states, but it did grant a ten-year extension on claims in Alaska. By 1934, well over 1.5 million white families – both American-born and immigrant – eventually profited from it. And, although the process was rife with fraud, as many homesteaders sold their plots to corporations, the original claimants pocketed the income from land sales, establishing a basis of wealth and capital. About 6,000 Black families were able to take advantage of the policy but most of them lost their land through land theft, lynchings, and the like. Enforcement of previous policies like The Oregon land Donation Act of 1850 barred black citizens from owning land and real estate. In 1866 shortly after the end of the Civil War, the Southern Homestead Act (SHA) was supposed to function much like the original Act. During the first year of the SHA, unoccupied southern land was offered exclusively to African Americans and loyal whites, but after 1867 even landless former Confederates applied. You can guess what happened afterwards.
This one act of Congress has approximately 48 million white Americans living today off the wealth from that one policy. Companies like Cargill and Perdue exist because of the Homestead Act. Colleges like USC exist because of the Homestead Act.
The United States has used policy countless times to create wealth in predominantly white communities. Policies like the New Deal enacted in 1933 largely went to whites and excluded Blacks. The GI Bill enacted in 1944 was enacted towards the end of World War II. This policy was to give economic assistance to veterans, such as getting a house, investing in a business, or paying for college. Unfortunately, the management of this policy was given to the states, so Black Soldiers coming home from war were often denied this benefit and never told why. An example is the state of Mississippi only granted 2 Black veterans the GI Bill when it first was enacted. Some 1.2 million Black men served in the U.S. military during the war. 237,000 soldiers were from Mississippi and a large contingency of those soldiers were Black.
Why does this matter? I am glad you asked. Oftentimes the question is raised, “What is wrong with Black People?” What about Black on Black Crime? What about Black gangs? What about the marriage rate being low? What about CHICAGO? What about this and what about that? The “what-about-isms” are what I like to call the symptoms of the disease. I also like to call them “work avoidance”. Since I hit you with a little history of economic injustice, let’s delve into the wonderful world of statistics. Currently, Black Americans own less than 2% of the wealth in the United States. The median income of an African American household is roughly $30 to $43k vs the median income of a White household being $65,902 per year. The estimated median wealth of black households is $36,000 (not liquid), while white households estimated their parents’ median wealth at $150,000. A Black household median wealth with the head of the house with a Bachelor’s degree is roughly $15,000 less than the head of a household that is white without a high school diploma. According to the Economic Institute Policy, African Americans median household income and wealth is lower than ALL racial and ethnic groups. Even with this myth that African Americans have this spending power of 1.3 trillion dollars is a fallacy. That number was based on self-reporting surveys and the combined incomes of African Americans for approximately a year. If you did not know by now, income does not equate to wealth and it damn sure does not mean buying power.
So what now? How is this going to be solved? The only way this is going to be solved is by how the government always solved the issue of groups of people coming into wealth. Policy. Massive Economic Policy and that policy specifically for the injured group is reparations. This can only be achieved through what leading reparations scholar and Duke University Professor Dr. William Darity Jr. calls ARC. Acknowledge, Redress, and Closure. So before we go into ARC, I think it is important to define reparations. Merriam Webster defines reparations as a repairing or keeping in repair – the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury. b: something done or given as amends or satisfaction. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines reparations as a levy on a defeated country forcing it to pay some of the war costs of the winning countries. Reparations were levied on the Central Powers after World War I to compensate the Allies for some of their war costs. Another example of the later definition is when Germany was forced to pay reparations to Jewish Holocaust victims and their descendants if the victim did not survive. Other countries like France and Croatia who were also complicit in this behavior also paid reparations.
When the civil war ended, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman met with former slaves that were pastors and other leaders in their community and asked them what they wanted. They told him land that they could work and farm on their own. On January 16, 1865, during the American Civil War, he issued Special Field Orders No. 15, a wartime order to allot land to some freed families in plots of land no larger than 40 acres. That wartime order was rescinded by the government and the land was redistributed back to the former slave owners after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson became President of the United States. According to an article in Yes! Magazine, those land grants alone would have been worth at least $6.4 trillion dollars today. Another Econ PH.d Candidate told me recently the land grants would have been worth over $19 trillion dollars today.
America has actually acknowledged its malfeasance. On July 29, 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives issued an apology to Black Americans for the institution of slavery, and the subsequent Jim Crow laws that for years discriminated against blacks as second-class citizens in American society. Rep. Steve Cohen, Democrat from TN, issued the resolution and it had 120 co-sponsors. Along with the acknowledgement, President Joe Biden recently signed into law Juneteenth as a national holiday acknowledging the last of the enslaved to be told in Galveston, TX the war was over and they were free. So the United States is already very aware of its complacency, and despite the recent laws in various states banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory (or what I call teaching actual history) it would not negate the fact that America has done a deep injustice and harm to Black Americans. In the spirit of Dr. King’s – not only that – America is also liable for other policies that caused great harm to our community like convict leasing, land theft, domestic terrorism – lynching, redlining, the war of drugs, mass incarceration, multiple Black towns where residents were massacred and whole townships under water, to environmental racism such as Flint, MI water or Cancer Alley in Louisiana. All of this blood is on America’s hands yet we have yet to see any attempt for redress and repair.
So what does redress and repair look like? Dr. Darity, whom I’ve mentioned previously, stated in an article from BU Today Redress is the actual form that restitution might take—and I’ve argued that in any program of reparations, it’s important that restitution must include in some significant way direct payments to eligible recipients. So who is eligible? Darity’s criteria (which I agree with) is a person who identifies as Black or African American for at least 12 years before a reparations program is enacted and can trace their lineage to the institution of Chattel Slavery through at least one ancestor. Some have argued that this is an arduous task. I am here to tell you it is not. According to the Smithsonian, before 1965, black people of foreign birth residing in the United States were nearly invisible. According to the 1960 census, their percentage of the population was to the right of the decimal point. But after 1965, men and women of African descent entered the United States in ever-increasing numbers. During the 1990s, some 900,000 black immigrants came from the Caribbean; another 400,000 came from Africa; still others came from Europe and the Pacific rim. Also as an anecdote, not only am I a descendant from Chattel Slavery, I am also a descendant of Black immigrants. First, second and so on generations of Black immigrants know where we hail.
The United States census from 1870 is the first census to name all former slaves. Using census records constitutes indirect evidence to the institution of chattel slavery. Also it is noteworthy that there are still other documents like bills of sale and other slave records that survived. Dr. Darity proposes in his book he co-wrote with A. Kirsten Mullen From Here to Equality – Reparations for Black Americans in the 21st Century that part of a reparations program would be for the Federal Government to set up an office to help those who have claim to find substantiating documents to confirm their lineage to Chattel Slavery.
At the heart of any reparations program should be to address and close the racial wealth gap. As mentioned earlier, I shared historical examples of multiple infractions that caused this chasm that exists today. It is only through direct payments, economic building programs, and implementing protections can address this macro crisis that Black Freedmen Descendants face. As stated, Black Americans own less than 2% of the wealth in the United States vs White Americans owning over 90%. During the Pandemic in 2020, 41% of closed businesses were Black vs. 17% of White businesses. This is a direct result of not having capital to keep one’s business afloat during perilous times. It is absolutely paramount to create a proper economic floor for African Americans. According American Progress.org:
The persistent Black-white wealth gap is the result of a discriminatory economic system that keeps Black households from achieving the American dream. This system has always made it difficult for Black households to acquire and keep capital, and this lack of capital has created a persistently large racial wealth disparity, as African Americans have had less wealth to pass on to the next generation than white households. There are several other obstacles to building wealth:
Black workers often face labor market discrimination, including being steered toward occupations that are less secure, lower paying, and have fewer benefits and career advancement opportunities. These systematic obstacles to gaining access to good jobs are especially prevalent in the private sector.
Opportunities to contribute to and benefit from innovation and advancements in technologies—and thus building wealth in high value-added industries and occupations—are also limited for African American innovators and entrepreneurs, as federal government research funding regularly excludes them. Black households end up with lower incomes and less wealth than white households as a result.
The financial system strips Black households of their wealth by denying them access to the same investment opportunities and affordable credit that white households have. This systematic bias makes it more difficult for Black households to participate in the stock market, to start and grow their own business, and to put away a rainy day fund, while they carry costlier debt such as car loans, credit card balances, and payday loans at the same time.
Black households continue to face housing market discrimination, which makes it harder for them to own a home in the first place, and their houses appreciate less in value than those of white households.
Additional factors such as systematically worse treatment in education, health care, and in the criminal justice system also feed into the persistent Black-white wealth gap.
Amid the fallout from the pandemic, state and local governments have made deep cuts to public sector jobs. Black workers have seen economic gains thanks to their hard work in the public sector. These income and wealth gains are now at risk again. In September 2020, 211,000 fewer Black workers had a job in the public sector than was the case in September 2019. (NPR.org)
A reparations program should encompass all of these factors to create a pathway of making a group of people whole. Support for education, support for entrepreneurial activity, and some resources that go to historically black colleges and universities is absolutely necessary. But the preponderance of the funds must go to individual recipients. And they must go in such a way that we, in fact, eliminate the racial wealth gap. That should be the primary objective of the reparations project.
So now let’s discuss closure. Malcolm X said “If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. … They haven’t pulled the knife out; they won’t even admit that it’s there.” According to Dr. Darity: Closure is an agreement on the part of both parties—the culpable party and the victimized party—that the debt has been paid. But I want to be clear that closure in that sense does not mean forgetting. An important dimension of reparations programs must address issues concerning the memory of the events that led to the reparations commitment.
Unfortunately, a proper conversation about “closure” cannot be had until the metaphoric knife is acknowledged in the body politic that matters. We have seen “piecemeal policies” proposed, signed into law, benign neglect and the like. Affirmative action which was a policy to help “minorities” be added more to work and education spaces has mostly assisted white women. The 13th amendment still allows for the enslavement of convicted felons and one is already aware of the disproportionate rate of Black Men in US prisons. Black men are roughly 6% of the population but they make up roughly 41% of the prison population. How? Even with the landmark civil rights act of 1964, Dr. King said “Until we commit ourselves to ensuring that the underclass is given justice and opportunity, we will continue to perpetuate the anger and violence that tears the soul of this nation. I fear I am integrating my people into a burning house.”
Continuing in the spirit of Dr. King, oftentimes faith leaders are credited with leading in the space of social justice. But what good has it done us? Even though one cannot deny the organizing efforts of churches along with organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Black wealth is still at the bottom. Despite the ills we as a group have experienced, God is awfully silent concerning our plight even though according to recent Pew Research, 79% of Black Americans identify as Christian. Blacks are still disproportionately killed by police. Black infant mortality is still 2.3 times higher than whites. At every social and economic statistic, Blacks still find themselves at the bottom except for one, our “God” belief. Black theology has gone through periods of speaking on redemption of the negro, liberation of the negro, and as of late the prosperity of the negro. Redemption of the negro often spoke of laying down one’s burdens down by the riverside or when one gets to heaven they will no longer be fettered by the pain in this life. Liberation often spoke principally as a moral reaction to poverty and social injustice. It attempts to liberate people from marginalized communities from multiple forms of political, social, economic, and religious subjugation and views Christian theology as a theology of liberation – a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ. And prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity. The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be blessed. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession.
These are all forms of apologetics to continue to believe and serve a silent and apathetic God that has done NOTHING to change the position of Black Americans. I’d conjecture he is also quite absent at the southern border as well.
It’s time for a new approach. I had a discourse with a Black Conservative who told me the reason for all these abysmal statistics is because of how we think. I cannot completely dismiss that. Often hoping, wishing, and praying for a deity that there is no empirical evidence exists to save our community is a bad approach.
I am of the ilk that wants to believe as many true things as possible and not believe in the things that are not true. If one thing that any civil rights leader that was effective in their advocacy taught us is that none of the things we desire on the macro level can be achieved without a political solution. Voting is important but it is not the full stop of political engagement. Who writes their congressperson today? What about calling their office? How about going to town halls where you can engage them directly? And the engagement is not just on the federal level. Nay Nay! There are state and municipal representatives that need engagement as well because all politics are local.
My friends. Speaking on the need for proper economic justice is a herculean task especially since the issues that Black people face are long and deep. Although it may seem insurmountable, it is still a task that should not be ignored or forgotten. We as a people will not survive without commitment from the powers that are over us to intervene. They won’t do it though without our voices. It can’t just be African Americans saying this either. It has to be a critical mass of all peoples recognizing and putting hand to plow to make this a reality. I as a Black Woman can only do so much. It takes a village to make this happen. And also please recognize that the upliftment of the Black Community is an uplift for America. Every transformative legislation that affects the social and economic make up for America is because Black people said enough is enough. Time for reciprocity.
I originally gave this speech June 25, 2022 at the “Better” Conference hosted by The Atheist Network Group (TANG). Below is the text version and the video is available on my channel Freedmen Freethinkers.
It should seem that Negroes, of all Americans, would be found in the Free-thought fold, since they have suffered more than any other class of Americans from the dubious blessings of Christianity. – Hubert Harrison
Those words are quite provocative aren’t they? Hubert Harrison, an activist of Caribbean descent (St. Croix) yet fully anchored himself in his American Citizenship, socialist, and atheist said those words over 100 years ago yet Black People in America would find themselves being the highest represented group in America in the ‘dubious blessings’ of Christianity. According to Pew Research, 83% of Black Americans believe in absolute certainty that there IS a God. 79% of Black Americans identify as Christian and 94% of Black Christians are affiliated with a Historically Black Protestant Denomination. Juxtaposed to Black American positionality, Black Americans own less than 2% of the wealth in the United States. Over a million Black Families with a single parent live at or under the federal poverty line. Black American women are 2-3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. Black American infant mortality rate is 10.6% and the highest out of all races according to the CDC. The 6 leading causes of death to Black Men in America are due to Police Violence. According to the FBI Crime Statistics, bias against African Americans overwhelmingly comprised the largest category of race-based hate crime incidents, with a total of 56% of race-based hate crimes being motivated by anti-Black bias. Although the Buffalo Shooter wrote a 180 page manifesto regurgitating tenets of the Great Replacement Theory while spewing antisemetic and anti-immigrant rhetoric, he SPECIFICALLY targeted a predominately Black American community in Buffalo to perform a mass shooting and killed 10 Black People at a grocery store on a Saturday. It even was more telling that on the bump stock on his AR-15 was written “here are your reparations.”
It is confounding that the most God believing group in America that cleaves to Jesus like Linus cleaves to his blanket is also the most marginalized. One arrives at that conclusion not by conjecture but by empirical evidence.
Hubert Harrison also said Show me a population that is deeply religious and I will show you a servile population, content with whips and chains, … content to eat the bread of sorrow and drink the waters of affliction. The pie in the sky before you die…
When I come to die
When I come to die
Ooh, when I come to die
Give me Jesus
Give me Jesus, Give me Jesus!
You may have all this world
With it toils and snares
I know this thing for sure
Give me Jesus!
Jesus was given to Black People instead of a social safety net, proper policies, and protections – and we have been falling ever since.
But how did Black America end up here?
In a Washington Post article published April 30, 2019 entitled The Bible was used to justify slavery. Then Africans made it their path to freedom, it says, “The Africans who were brought to America from 1619 onward carried with them diverse religious traditions. About 20 to 30 percent were Muslim. Some had learned of Christianity before coming to America, but many practiced African spiritual traditions. Early on, many slaveholders were not concerned with the spiritual well-being of Africans. But few had qualms about using Christianity to justify slavery.
Some theologians said it was providence that had brought Africans to America as slaves, since their enslavement would allow them to encounter the Christian message and thus their eternal souls would be saved.”
Some preachers encouraged slave owners to allow their slaves to attend worship services — though only in separate gatherings led by white proslavery preachers. They had to be seated in the back or the balcony of a segregated church. Those men of God argued that the sermons on the injunction in Ephesians and Colossians, “slaves, obey your earthly master,” would promote docility among enslaved workers. The “slave Bible,” published in 1807, removed portions of Scripture including the Exodus story that could inspire rebellious thinking. Some ministers promoted the idea that Africans were the descendants of Ham, cursed in the book of Genesis, and thus their enslavement was fitting. The LDS Church also seconded that notion. As early as 1844, leaders suggested that black people were less valiant in the pre-existence. The church’s first presidents, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, claimed that black skin was the result of the Curse of Cain or the Curse of Ham.
So if people from European descent held such beliefs against Black Folks, How in the Hell did we become so religious? To get a better understanding, one first has to look at the social construct we call race and how that construct affected slaves and their descendants. When English people came to the shores of what is now Virginia, they came with a clearly defined self-identity. They were Christians first, English people second, and sometimes used terms like “free-born” to describe themselves. Their identity did not include any concept of being white. This change came about due to the economic and social conditions of the second half of the 17th century. The first people to harvest the tobacco plants in Virginia were English people whose passage to Virginia was paid for by wealthy landowners as part of indentured servitude. The typical term of service was four to seven years and at the end of that period, the indentured servant would be granted a small plot of land to farm as a free person. The labor was harsh and their treatment by those who oversaw the work was very near to that of slavery. Laws were created that could punish the servant class by adding years to their indenture for any infractions. These laws were often abused by the ruling class, taking advantage of their indentured servants by finding reasons to extend their servitude. By the mid-century, these conditions had created a shortage as less of the labor class came to Virginia.
Indentured servants who managed to complete their terms of service found their living conditions to be less than ideal. They were given land along the borders of the Colony in close proximity to very anxious Native Americans who were concerned about how far west the English might go. By 1676, those disaffected by the ruling class rebelled in what is now known as Bacon’s Rebellion.
Nathaniel Bacon was a highly ambitious and reckless member of the gentry and a cousin to Frances Culpeper Stephens Berkeley, the wife of the Colonial Governor, Sir William Berkeley. His ambition caused him to galvanize the frustrations of those who were on the periphery of Colonial life. In rebellion, hundreds of Bacon’s men marched on Jamestown and burned it to the ground in September 1676. Nathaniel Bacon died the following month on October 26, 1676 of what was then known as the “Bloody Flux” (dysentery). His death caused the rebellion to lose momentum and, though the rebellion continued for a short time without Bacon, ultimately led to defeat. As punishment for the rebellion, 23 rebels were tried and convicted of treason.
The ruling class was concerned that these punishments were not enough to quash the potential for future rebellions. How would the ruling class prevent further collaboration between the English servant class, Indigenous peoples, and West African peoples? This is where our modern concept of race comes into play. If being a member of the elite gentry was simply a matter of wealth and landholdings, theoretically anyone could transform their status. But race, as defined by the color of your skin, was not something you could change. Suddenly, the way English Christian people began to self-identify was that of “white.”
In law, white began to define those holding privilege in both Maryland and Virginia. Longstanding Common Law precedents were overturned in order to justify and maintain this distinction among residents of the Colonies. Soon, those who were not white had their rights taken away. These included the right (and in fact the obligation) to bear arms, the right to assembly, the right to testify in court, and many other rights that now were the sole privileges of the white population. This pacified the English servant class by making them superior to West Africans as the shift towards an entirely enslaved group of laborers from West Africa continued and thrived. In 1650, the population of enslaved people in Virginia was just over 300. By the 1700s, the population had risen to 16,390. These non-white residents, who were at one time free, often found themselves enslaved because of these new laws.
So how did Black Americans become largely Christian? Historically, between 15% and 30% of enslaved Africans brought to the Americas were Muslims, but most of these Africans were either enticed or forced into Christianity during the era of American slavery. According to Pew, the largest number, by far, were followers of traditional religions common in West Africa at the time. Many of these African belief systems included a supreme, distant god who created the world and a pantheon of lower gods and ancestor spirits who were active in daily life. Interactions between enslaved people and Christian missionaries (and other evangelists) led to the spread of Christianity among Black Americans. Many slave owners initially resisted these evangelistic efforts partially out of concern that if enslaved people became Christians, they would see themselves as their owners’ equals. On July 21, 1656, Elizabeth Key became the first woman of African descent in the North American colonies to sue for her freedom and win.She was born in 1630 to a Negro Slave Mother and a White Planter Father. Her arguments that by the Common Law the Child of a Woman slave begot by a freeman ought to be free. Also because she has been long since Christened as well. Not only did she win her freedom, her master was ordered to give her Corn and Clothes and give her satisfaction (money) for the time she had served as a slave.
By 1706, this fear by slave owners had spurred legislation in at least six colonies declaring that an enslaved person’s baptism did not entail their freedom. In addition, many enslaved people who did become Christians had to deal with restrictions by masters who forbade them from attending church or prayer meetings. To get around these restrictions, and for alternatives to sermons by White clergy asking them to obey their owners, many Christian enslaved people held secret services with distinctive styles of praying, singing and worship. These services were typically held in their cabins or in nearby woods, gullies, ravines and thickets.
Historians say the biblical story of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt provided a good deal of inspiration to the enslaved people. This was reflected in coded lyrics to some of their religious songs, or spirituals. In “Go Down, Moses,” for example, the lyrics plead with the Hebrew prophet to “tell old Pharaoh, let my people go.” Frederick Douglass wrote that when he was a child, before he had escaped slavery, “a keen observer might have detected in our repeated singing of ‘O Canaan, sweet Canaan, I am bound for the land of Canaan,’ something more than a hope of reaching heaven.
The first Black Protestant denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, was founded in the early 1800s by Richard Allen, who had bought his freedom from slavery. Allen had become a Methodist preacher in the 1780s, but in 1787, he and others left the predominantly White church after being pulled from their knees in prayer for being in a section of the church where Black worshippers were not allowed. Three decades later, he and representatives from five other congregations founded the AME denomination. A similar chain of events in New York led to the creation of the AME Zion Church in 1821.
Toward the end of the Civil War, and in the decades immediately afterward, Black Protestant denominations cemented their place more deeply in the U.S. religious landscape. Especially after emancipation, the AME and AME Zion churches sent large numbers of missionaries to the South, leading many Black Christians to leave mostly White churches and join predominantly Black ones. The AME Church grew from 20,000 members just before the start of the Civil War to 400,000 in 1884, while the AME Zion Church’s membership jumped from 4,600 at the start of the war to 300,000 in 1884. 26 Other major denominations that came into existence during this period were the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (1870) and the National Baptist Convention (1880).27 Overall, the U.S. Census Bureau counted nearly 2.7 million “negro communicants” at Christian churches in 1890, reporting at least a fourfold increase in Black Christians over the previous three decades. It also found that Black people in 1890 were more likely than White people to be members of a Christian congregation (36% vs. 33%)
So here is where the problem comes. Often Black Americans evocate history like this and implore apologetics saying, “See here atheist!” The formation of the Black Church and the theology led to our liberation!” They forget that even during this time White Christian leaders like Joseph E. Brown, (one of the founders of the SBC, a former Whig, and a firm believer in slavery and Southern states’ rights) was a leading secessionist in 1861, and led his state into the Confederacy) exploited mostly black laborers in his coal mines in Georgia. He used the same brutal punishments once practiced by slave drivers. Or Basil Manly Sr., (a prominent pastor, politician, and slave owner) who was a staunch defender of the institute of slavery and often preached that the institution was biblically sound and those who practiced said institution was in the right. Or how about Montgomery’s most prominent pastor, Henry Lyon Jr., who denounced the civil rights protesters and the cause for which they were beaten. He famously said during an address to the White Citizens’ Council, “I am a believer in a separation of the races, and I am nonetheless a Christian. If you want to get in a fight with the one that started separation of the races, then you come face to face with your God. The difference in color, the difference in our body, our minds, our life, our mission upon the face of this earth, is God given.”
We also cannot and should not overlook that according to a survey conducted in 2018 by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) found that white Christians — including evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics — are nearly twice as likely as religiously unaffiliated whites to say the killings of Black men by police are isolated incidents rather than part of a pattern of how police treat African Americans.
And white Christians are about 30 percentage points more likely to say monuments to Confederate soldiers are symbols of Southern pride rather than symbols of racism. White Christians are also about 20 percentage points more likely to disagree with this statement: “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for Blacks to work their way out of the lower class.” And these trends generally persist even in the wake of the recent protests for racial justice.
There are far too many contradictions concerning faith between Black and White Folks who call themselves “believers” or even “Christian”. How can there be such a dichotomous point of view between Christians who are Black and White? It seems, in a historical point of view, White Religion was used to control the Negro and Black Folks tried to use it to Liberate the Negro and perhaps, make the Negro prosporous. Though the control seems to work in some shape, way or form, the prosperity of Christian Black People has not been realized. My partner (Arthur Ward) and I had the pleasure of interviewing filmmaker Jerimiah Camara who released a film called Contradiction: A Question Of Faith. Contradiction addresses the saturation of churches in Black neighborhoods coexisting with poverty and powerlessness. Why are there so many churches yet so many problems? Is there a correlation between high-praise and low-productivity? I will never forget a particular scene where a Black Woman was smoking crack while being interviewed. She said she had asked God to take the taste of Crack out of her mouth. She also mentioned she is a loyal member of a church that attends just about every Sunday. When asked if giving up belief in Jesus would stop her from using crack, would she do it – she passionately responded JESUS IS THE NUMBER ONE IN MY LIFE! In other words, nah.
Going back to Hubert Harrison’s words, deep indoctrination and revisionist history of the “dubious blessings” of Christianity has thwarted a larger population of Black People finding themselves in the Freethought fold. According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans are at an all time low in God Belief sitting at 81% which is 10 points lower than 10 years ago. Even Black Americans, according to Pew, who are non-religious are currently at 18% which is the highest it has been in years. Still the element of “God Belief” and “Pie in the Sky” hovers over our community like an ominous cloud. In the book “The Fire Next Time”, James Baldwin eloquently said, “If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”
Maybe, just maybe, it is time to take the elder’s advice.
Embracing Freedmen as a political status makes me explore my fellow Freemen who were also agnostics, atheists, secular humanists and freethinkers. I like to think myself as one of them.
To learn more about each Freedmen Freethinker I highlighted, click the photo with their quote to learn a little more about them. My hope is that more people will have more knowledge about these extraordinary Freedmen Freethinkers and their curiosity will implore them to learn more about each one.
Cynthia McDonald – Medical Case Manager, Freethinker, Health and Political Advocate
Frederick Douglass was one of history’s great abolitionists and Freedmen. He was born into slavery in Maryland – the exact date isn’t known. After successfully escaping on his third try, Douglass rose to prominence and influence as an eloquent author, intellectual and human rights leader. He was the first African-American to hold high U.S. government ranks, as a diplomat in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and the first to be nominated for vice president. He was also the last serving President of the Freedmen’s Bank before it officially closed in 1874.
His 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, became a best-seller. His powerful speeches at abolitionist churches were widely quoted in newspapers and are credited with helping bring an end to legalized slavery in the U.S.
He said, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe,”.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
Douglass remains an inspirational figure to this day. His tenacity set the stage for the path of the Ex-Slave to be reclassified as “Freedmen”. It also stipulates a promise unfulfilled that needs to be advocated for to restore the inheritance owed to the Freedmen Descendants.
Accompanied by President Ulysses S. Grant and other officials of the federal government, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech at the dedication of the Emancipation Memorial in Lincoln Park, Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1876. Designed and sculpted by Thomas Ball, the monument depicts Abraham Lincoln holding the emancipation proclamation and holding out his right hand over a kneeling ex-slave. The statue was funded mostly by formerly enslaved persons and is also known as the “Freedmen’s Monument”. One of the newspapers covering the event called it “an eloquent oration”.
Friends and Fellow-Citizens:
I warmly congratulate you upon the highly interesting object which has caused you to assemble in such numbers and spirit as you have to-day. This occasion is in some respects remarkable. Wise and thoughtful men of our race, who shall come after us, and study the lesson of ourhistory in the United States; who shall survey the long and dreary spaces over which we have travelled; who shall count the links in the great chain of events by which we have reached our present position, will make a note of this occasion; they will think of it and speak of it witha sense of manly pride and complacency.
I congratulate you, also, upon the very favorable circumstances in which we meet to-day. They are high, inspiring, and uncommon. They lend grace, glory, and significance to the object for which we have met. Nowhere else in this great country, with its uncounted towns and cities,unlimited wealth, and immeasurable territory extending from sea to sea, could conditions be found more favorable to the success of this occasion than here.
We stand to-day at the national centre to perform something like a national act-an act which is to go into history; and we are here where every pulsation of the national heart can be heard, felt, and reciprocated. A thousand wires, fed with thought and winged with lightning, put us in instantaneous communication with the loyal and true men all over this country.
Few facts could better illustrate the vast and wonderful change which has taken place in our condition as a people than the fact of our assembling here for the purpose we have to-day. Harmless, beautiful, proper, and praiseworthy as this demonstration is, I cannot forget that no such demonstration would have been tolerated here twenty years ago. The spirit of slavery and barbarism, which still lingers to blight and destroy in some dark and distant parts of our country,would have made our assembling here the signal and excuse for opening upon us all the flood-gates of wrath and violence. That we are here in peace to-day is a compliment and a credit to American civilization, and a prophecy of still greater national enlightenment andprogress in the future. I refer to the past not in malice, for this is no day for malice; but simply to place more distinctly in front the gratifying and glorious change which has come both to our white fellow-citizens and ourselves, and to congratulate all upon the contrast between now andthen; the new dispensation of freedom with its thousand blessings to both races, and the old dispensation of slavery with its ten thousand evils to both races—white and black. In view, then, of the past, the present, and the future, with the long and dark history of our bondagebehind us, and with liberty, progress, and enlightenment before us, Iagain congratulate you upon this auspicious day and hour.
Friends and fellow-citizens, the story of our presence here is soon and easily told. We are here in the District of Columbia, here in the city of Washington, the most luminous point of American territory; a city recently transformed and made beautiful in its body and in its spirit; weare here in the place where the ablest and best men of the country are sent to devise the policy, enact the laws, and shape the destiny of the Republic; we are here, with the stately pillars and majestic dome of the Capitol of the nation looking down upon us; we are here, with the broadearth freshly adorned with the foliage and flowers of spring for our church, and all races, colors, and conditions of men for our congregation—in a word, we are here to express, as best we may, by appropriate forms and ceremonies, our grateful sense of the vast, high, and pre-eminent services rendered to ourselves, to our race, to our country, and to the whole world byAbraham Lincoln.
The sentiment that brings us here to-day is one of the noblest that can stir and thrill the human heart. It has crowned and made glorious the high places of all civilized nations with the grandest and most enduring works of art, designed to illustrate the characters and perpetuate thememories of great public men. It is the sentiment which from year to year adorns with fragrant and beautiful flowers the graves of our loyal, brave, and patriotic soldiers who fell in defense of the Union and liberty.
It is the sentiment of gratitude and appreciation, which often, in presence of many who hear me, has filled yonder heights of Arlington with the eloquence of eulogy and the sublime enthusiasm of poetry and song; a sentiment which can never die while the Republic lives.
For the first time in the history of our people, and in the history of the whole American people, we join in this high worship, and march conspicuously in the line of this time-honored custom. First things are always interesting, and this is one of our first things. It is the first timethat, in this form and manner, we have sought to do honor to an American great man, however deserving and illustrious. I commend the fact to notice; let it be told in every part of the Republic; let men of all parties and opinions hear it; let those who despise us, not less thanthose who respect us, know that now and here, in the spirit of liberty, loyalty, and gratitude, let it be known everywhere, and by everybody who takes an interest in human progress and in the amelioration of the condition of mankind, that, in the presence and with the approval of themembers of the American House of Representatives, reflecting the general sentiment of the country; that in the presence of that august body, the American Senate, representing the highest intelligence and the calmest judgment of the country; in presence of the Supreme Courtand Chief-Justice of the United States, to whose decisions we all patriotically bow; in the presence and under the steady eye of the honored and trusted President of the United States, with the members of his wise and patriotic Cabinet, we, the colored people, newlyemancipated and rejoicing in our blood-bought freedom, near the close of the first century in the life of this Republic, have now and here unveiled, set apart, and dedicated a monument of enduring granite and bronze, in every line, feature, and figure of which the men of thisgeneration may read, and those of after-coming generations may read, something of the exalted character and great works of Abraham Lincoln, the first martyr President of the United States.
Fellow citizens, in what we have said and done to-day, and in what we may say and do hereafter, we disclaim everything like arrogance and assumption. We claim for ourselves no superior devotion to the character, history, and memory of the illustrious name whose monumentwe have here dedicated to-day. We fully comprehend the relation of Abraham Lincoln both to ourselves and to the white people of the United States. Truth is proper and beautiful at all times and in all places, and it is never more proper and beautiful in any case than when speaking of agreat public man whose example is likely to be commended for honor and imitation long after his departure to the solemn shades, the silent continents of eternity. It must be admitted, truth compels me to admit, even here in the presence of the monument we have erected to hismemory, Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was preeminent as the white man’s President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity to the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country. In all his education and feeling he was an American of the Americans.
He came into the Presidential chair upon one principle alone, namely, opposition to the extension of slavery. His arguments in furtherance of this policy had their motive and mainspring in his patriotic devotion to the interests of his own race. To protect, defend, and perpetuate slavery in the States where it existed Abraham Lincoln was not less ready than any other President to draw the sword of the nation. He was ready to execute all the supposed constitutional guarantees of the United States Constitution in favor of the slave system anywhere inside the slave States. He was willing to pursue, recapture, and send back the fugitive slave to his master, and to suppress a slave rising for liberty, though his guilty master was already in arms against the Government. The race to which we belong were not the special objects of his consideration. Knowing this, I concede to you, my white fellow-citizens, a pre-eminence in this worship at once full and supreme.
First, midst, and last, you and yours were the objects of his deepest affection and his most earnest solicitude. You are the children of Abraham Lincoln. We are at best only his step-children; children by adoption, children by force of circumstances and necessity. To you itespecially belongs to sound his praises, to preserve and perpetuate his memory, to multiply his statues, to hang his pictures high upon your walls, and commend his example, for to you he was a great and glorious friend and benefactor. Instead of supplanting you at this altar, we wouldexhort you to build high his monuments; let them be of the most costly material, of the most cunning workmanship; let their forms be symmetrical, beautiful, and perfect; let their bases be upon solid rocks, and their summits lean against the unchanging blue, overhanging sky, and let them endure forever! But while in the abundance of your wealth, and in the fullness of your just and patriotic devotion, you do all this, we entreat you to despise not the humble offering we this day unveil to view; for while Abraham Lincoln saved for you a country, he delivered us from a bondage, according to Jefferson, one hour of which was worse than ages of the oppression your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose.
Fellow-citizens, ours is no new-born zeal and devotion merely a thing of this moment. The name of Abraham Lincoln was near and dear to our hearts in the darkest and most perilous hours of the Republic. We were no more ashamed of him when shrouded in clouds of darkness, ofdoubt, and defeat than when we saw him crowned with victory, honor, and glory. Our faith in him was often taxed and strained to the utmost, but it never failed. When he tarried long in the mountain; when he strangely told us that we were the cause of the war; when he still morestrangely told us to leave the land in which we were born; when he refused to employ our arms in defence of the Union; when, after accepting our services as colored soldiers, he refused to retaliate our murder and torture as colored prisoners; when he told us he would save the Union if he could with slavery; when he revoked the Proclamation of Emancipation of General Frémont; when he refused to remove the popular commander of the Army of the Potomac, in the days of its inaction and defeat, who was more zealous in his efforts to protectslavery than to suppress rebellion; when we saw all this, and more, we were at times grieved, stunned, and greatly bewildered; but our hearts believed while they ached and bled. Nor was this, even at that time, a blind and unreasoning superstition. Despite the mist and haze that surrounded him; despite the tumult, the hurry, and confusion of the hour, we were able to take a comprehensive view of Abraham Lincoln, and to make reasonable allowance for the circumstances of his position.
We saw him, measured him, and estimated him; not by stray utterances to injudicious and tedious delegations, who often tried his patience; not by isolated facts torn from their connection; not by any partial and imperfect glimpses, caught at inopportune moments; but by a broad survey, in the light of the stern logic of great events, and in view of that divinity which shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will, we came to the conclusion that the hour and the man of our redemption had somehow met in the person of Abraham Lincoln. It mattered little to us what language he might employ on special occasions; it mattered little to us, when we fully knew him, whether he was swift or slow in his movements; it was enough for us that Abraham Lincoln was at the head of a great movement, and was in living and earnest sympathy with thatmovement, which, in the nature of things, must go on until slavery should be utterly and forever abolished in the United States.
When, therefore, it shall be asked what we have to do with the memory of Abraham Lincoln, or what Abraham Lincoln had to do with us, the answer is ready, full, and complete. Though he loved Caesar less than Rome, though the Union was more to him than our freedom or ourfuture, under his wise and beneficent rule we saw ourselves gradually lifted from the depths of slavery to the heights of liberty and manhood; under his wise and beneficent rule, and by measures approved and vigorously pressed by him, we saw that the handwriting of ages, in theform of prejudice and proscription, was rapidly fading away from the face of our whole country; under his rule, and in due time, about as soon after all as the country could tolerate the strange spectacle, we saw our brave sons and brothers laying off the rags of bondage, and being clothed all over in the blue uniforms of the soldiers of the United States; under his rule we saw two hundred thousand of our dark and dusky people responding to the call of Abraham Lincoln, and with muskets on their shoulders, and eagles on their buttons, timing their high footsteps to liberty and union under the national flag; under his rule we saw the independence of the blackrepublic of Haiti, the special object of slaveholding aversion and horror, fully recognized, and her minister, a colored gentleman, duly received here in the city of Washington; under his rule we saw the internal slave trade, which so long disgraced the nation, abolished, and slaveryabolished in the District of Columbia; under his rule we saw for the first time the law enforced against the foreign slave-trade, and the first slave trader hanged like any other pirate or murderer; under his rule, assisted by the greatest captain of our age, and his inspiration, we saw the Confederate States, based upon the idea that our race must be slaves, and slaves forever, battered to pieces and scattered to the four winds; under his rule, and in the fullness of time, we saw Abraham Lincoln, after giving the slaveholders three months’ grace in which to save their hateful slave system, penning the immortal paper, which, though special in its language, was general in its principles and effect, making slavery forever impossible in the United States. Though we waited long, we saw all this and more.
Can any colored man, or any white man friendly to the freedom of all men, ever forget the night which followed the first day of January, 1863, when the world was to see if Abraham Lincoln would prove to be as good as his word ? I shall never forget that memorable night, when in a distant city I waited and watched at the public meeting, with three thousand others not less anxious than myself, for the word of deliverance which we have heard read to-day.
Nor shall I ever forget the outburst of joy and thanksgiving that rent the air when the lightning brought to us the emancipation proclamation. In that happy hour we forgot all delay, and forgot all tardiness, forgot that the President had bribed the rebels to lay down their arms by a promise to withhold the bolt which smite the slave-system with destruction; and we were thenceforward willing to allow the President all the latitude of time, phraseology, and every honorable device that statesmanship might require for the achievement of a great and beneficent measure of liberty and progress. Fellow-citizens, there is little necessity on this occasion to speak at length and critically of this great and good man, and of his high mission in the world. That ground has been fully occupied and completely covered both here and elsewhere. The whole field of fact and fancy has been gleaned and garnered. Any man can say things that are true of Abraham Lincoln, but no man can say anything that is new of Abraham Lincoln. His personal traits and public acts are better known to the American people than are those of any other man of his age. He was a mystery to no man who saw him and heard him. Though high in position, the humblest could approach him and feel at home in his presence. Though deep, he was transparent; though strong, he was gentle; though decided and pronounced in his convictions, he was tolerant towards those who differed from him, and patient under reproaches. Even those who only knew him through his public utterances obtained a tolerably clear idea of his character and his personality. The image of the man went out with his words, and those who read them, knew him.
I have said that President Lincoln was a white man, and shared the prejudices common to his countrymen towards the colored race. Looking back to his times and to the condition of his country, we are compelled to admit that this unfriendly feeling on his part may be safely set down as one element of his wonderful success in organizing the loyal American people for the tremendous conflict before them, and bringing them safely through that conflict. His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin ; and second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful co-operation of his loyal fellow countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent ; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.
Though Mr. Lincoln shared the prejudices of his white fellow-countrymen against the negro, it is hardly necessary to say that in his heart of hearts he loathed and hated slavery.* The man who could say, “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war shall soon pass away, yet if God wills it continue till all the wealth piled by two hundred years of bondage shall have been wasted, and each drop of blood drawn by the lash shall have been paid for by one drawn by the sword. “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I cannot remember when I did not think and feel ” —Letter of Mr. Lincoln to Mr. Hughes, of Kentucky, April 4, 1864.
‘11 judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’ gives all needed proof of his feeling on the subject of slavery. He was willing, while the South was loyal, that it should have its pound of flesh, because he thought that it was so nominated in the bond; but farther than this no earthly power could make him go. Fellow-citizens, whatever else in this world may be partial, unjust, and uncertain, time, time! is impartial, just, and certain in its action. In the realm of mind, as well as in the realm of matter, it is a great worker, and often works wonders. The honest and comprehensive statesman, clearly discerning the needs of his country, and earnestly endeavoring to do his whole duty, though covered and blistered with reproaches, may safely leave his course to the silent judgment of time. Few great public men have ever been the victims of fiercer denunciation than Abraham Lincoln was during his administration. He was often wounded in the house of his friends.
Reproaches came thick and fast upon him from within and form without, and from opposite quarters. He was assailed by Abolitionists; he was assailed by slaveholders; he was assailed by the men who were for peace at any price; he was assailed by those who were for a more vigorous prosecution of the war; he was assailed for not making the war an abolition war; and he was most bitterly assailed for making the war an abolition war. But now behold the change: the judgment of the present hour is, that taking him for all in all, measuring the tremendous magnitude of the work before him, considering the necessary means to ends, and surveying the end from the beginning, infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln. His birth, his training, and his natural endowments, both mental and physical, were strongly in his favor. Born and reared among the lowly, a stranger to wealth and luxury, compelled to grapple single-handed with the flintiest hardships of life, from tender youth to sturdy manhood, he grew strong in the manly and heroic qualities demanded by the great mission to which he was called by the votes of his countrymen.
The hard conditions of his early life, which would have depressed and broken down weaker men, only gave greater life, vigor, and buoyancy to the heroic spirit of Abraham Lincoln. He was ready for any kind and any quality of work. What other young men dreaded in the shape of toil, he took hold of with the utmost cheerfulness. A spade, a rake, a hoe, A pick-axe, or a bill; A hook to reap, a scythe to mow, A flail, or what you will. All day long he could split heavy rails in the woods, and half the night long he could study his English Grammar by the uncertain flare and glare of the light made by a pine-knot. He was at home on the land with his axe, with his maul, with glutes, and his wedges; and he was equally at home on water, with his oars, with his poles, with his planks, and with his boat-hooks. And whether in his flat-boat on the Mississippi river, or at the fireside of his frontier cabin, he was a man of work. A son of toil himself, he was linked in brotherly sympathy with the sons of toil in every loyal part of the Republic. This very fact gave him tremendous power with the American people, and materially contributed not only to selecting him to the Presidency, but in sustaining his administration of the Government. Upon his Inauguration as President of the United States, an office, even where assumed under the most favorable conditions, fitted to tax and strain the largest abilities, Abraham Lincoln was met by a tremendous crisis. He was called upon not merely to administer the Government, but to decide, in the face of terrible odds, the fate of the Republic.
A formidable rebellion rose in his path before him; the Union was already practically dissolved; his country was torn and rented asunder at the centre. Hostile armies were already organized against the Republic, armed with the munitions of war which the Republic had provided for its own defence. The tremendous question for him to decide was whether his country should survive the crisis and flourish, or be dismembered and perish. His predecessor in office had already decided the question in favor of national dismemberment, by denying to it the right of self defense and self-preservation–a right which belongs to the meanest insect.
Happily for the country, happily for you and for me, the judgment of James Buchanan, the patrician, was not the judgment of Abraham Lincoln, the plebeian. He brought his strong common sense, sharpened in the school of adversity, to bear upon the question. He did not hesitate, he did not doubt, he did not falter; but at once resolved that at whatever peril, at whatever cost, the union of the States should be preserved. A patriot himself, his faith was strong and unwavering in the patriotism of his countrymen. Timid men said before Mr. Lincoln’s inauguration, that we had seen the last President of the United States. A voice in influential quarters said “Let the Union slide.” Some said that a Union maintained by the sword was worthless. Others said a rebellion of 8,000,000 cannot be suppressed; but in the midst of all this tumult and timidity, and against all this, Abraham Lincoln was clear in his duty, and had an oath in heaven. He calmly and bravely heard the voice of doubt and fear all around him; but he had an oath in heaven, and there was not enough power on the earth to make this honest boatman, backwoodsman, and broad-handed splitter of rails evade or violate that sacred oath. He had not been schooled in the ethics of slavery; his plain life had favored his love of truth. He had not been taught that treason and perjury were the proof of honor and honesty. His moral training was against his saying one thing when he meant another. The trust which Abraham Lincoln had in himself and in the people was surprising and grand, but it was also enlightened and well founded. He knew the American people better than they knew themselves, and his truth was based upon this knowledge.
Fellow-citizens, the fourteenth day of April, 1865, of which this is the eleventh anniversary, is now and will ever remain a memorable day in the annals of this Republic. It was on the evening of this day, while a fierce and sanguinary rebellion was in the last stages of its desolating power; while its armies were broken and scattered before the invincible armies of Grant and Sherman; while a great nation, torn and rent by war, was already beginning to raise to the skies loud anthems of joy at the dawn of peace, it was startled, amazed, and overwhelmed by the crowning crime of slavery– the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was a new crime, a pure act of malice. No purpose of the rebellion was to be served by it. It was the simple gratification of a hell-black spirit of revenge. But it has done good after all. It has filled the country with a deeper abhorrence of slavery and a deeper love for the great liberator.
Had Abraham Lincoln died from any of the numerous ills to which flesh is heir; had he reached that good old age of which his vigorous constitution and his temperate habits gave promise; had he been permitted to see the end of his great work; had the solemn curtain of death come down but gradually — we should still have been smitten with a heavy grief, and treasured his name lovingly. But dying as he did die, by the red hand of violence, killed, assassinated, taken off without warning, not because of personal hate — for no man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him — but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is double dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.
Fellow-citizens, I end, as I began, with congratulations. We have done a good work for our race to-day. In doing honor to the memory of our friend and liberator, we have been doing highest honors to ourselves and those who come after us; we have been fastening ourselves to a name and fame imperishable and immortal; we have also been defending ourselves from a blighting scandal. When now it shall be said that the colored man is soulless, that he has no appreciation of benefits or benefactors; when the foul reproach of ingratitude is hurled at us, and it is attempted to scourge us beyond the range of human brotherhood, we may calmly point to the monument we have this day erected to the memory of Abraham Lincoln.
AFTER the procession arrived upon the grounds the stand was soon filled with guests. Immediately behind the speaker’s stand were seated President Grant, Senator Ferry, the members of the Cabinet, and the Justices of the Supreme Court; Senators Morton, Boutwell, Spencer, Sherman, Bruce, and others of the Senate; Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Conant, Hons. S. S. Cox, N. P. Banks, and other members of the House; the Japanese Minister, Sergeant-at-Arms French, Dr. C. C. Cox, Hon. W. B. Snell, Dr. J. B. Blake, the distinguished gentlemen who were to take part in the exercises, and many other distinguished personages.
The marine band, stationed at the right of the stand, opened the exercises by playing “Hail Columbia.”
Prof. John M. Langston, Chairman of the National Committee of Arrangements, presided.
Bishop John M. Brown, of the African M. E. church, offered a devout prayer, during the utterance of which a solemn and reverent silence was maintained throughout the vast throng.
Hon. J. Henri Burch, of Louisiana, read the proclamation of emancipation, which was received with as much enthusiasm as if it had just been issued, and at the conclusion the Marseillaise hymn was played.
Prof. Langston explained that Rev. Wm. G. Elliott, who was to present the monument, had been unable to attend, and introduced in his stead Mr. James E. Yeatman, President of the Western Sanitary Commission.
Mr. Yeatman said:
The Rev. Wm. G. Elliott, of St. Louis, to whom had been assigned the presentation of the monument for the acceptance and approval of those who had contributed the funds for its erection, and to give a short historical account of the same, has been prevented from doing so, and it has only been within the last few hours that I received notice that he could not be present, and that I was requested to take his place, which I am but poorly qualified to do. Asking your kind and considerate indulgence, I shall proceed, as the representative and president of the Western Sanitary Commission, to whom was entrusted the contributions of the freedmen, and the expenditure of the same for the erection of a freedmen’s memorial at the National Capital.
It is perhaps proper that I should tell you how it was that a sanitary commission came to be entrusted with this work. This Commission, composed of Rev. Wm. G. Elliott, George Partridge, Carlos S. Greeley, Dr. J. B. Johnson, and James E Yeatman, well-known Union citizens of St. Louis, were appointed by General John C. Fremont, and afterwards ratified by Secretary Stanton. Their duties, principally, where to look after the sick, to fit up and furnish hospitals, provide competent nurses, &c. But as the war progressed, their duties were greatly enlarged. The care of the families and orphans of soldiers, Union refugees, the freedmen—in short, all the humanities growing out of the war—came under their charge. For these various purposes large sums of money, clothing, &c., were contributed and sent to them, and I can say, honestly and judiciously expended. And finally, after the war was closed ; after the lamented, honored, and loved Lincoln had been so foully assassinated in this city, five dollars were sent to us—the contribution of Charlotte Scott, a poor slave-woman, who, on hearing of the assassination of President Lincoln, went, in great distress, to her mistress—that had been, for she was then free—and said to her: “The colored people have lost their best friend on earth ! Mr. Lincoln was our best friend, and I will give five dollars of my wages towards erecting a monument to his memory.” This money, this five dollars, this grain of mustard seed, contributed by Charlotte Scott in gratitude to her deliverer, was sent to us by her former master, Mr. P. Rucker, through the hands of General T. C. H. Smith, then in command of the military post of St. Louis, having received it from Mr. Rucker, who was a Union refugee from Virginia, having sought safety for himself and family in Marietta, Ohio, taking along with him Charlotte Scott, and perhaps others belonging to him. It was these five dollars that was the foundation of this beautiful and appropriate memorial which we now see before us. General Smith addressed a letter to me, conveying it, which was as follows:
ST. LOUIS, April 26, 1864.
JAMES E. YEATMAN, Esq.:
MY DEAR SIR: A poor negro woman, of Marietta, Ohio, one of thosemade free by President Lincoln’s proclamation, proposes that amonument to their dead friend be erected by the colored people of theUnited States. She has handed to a person in Marietta five dollars asher contribution for the purpose. Such a monument would have a historymore grand and touching than any of which we have an account. Would itnot be well to take up this suggestion and make it known to thefreedmen?
Yours truly, T. C. H. SMITH.
In compliance with General Smith’s suggestion, I published his letter, with a card, stating that any desire to contribute to a fund for such a purpose that the Western Sanitary Commission would receive the same and see that it was judiciously appropriated as intended. In response to this communication, liberal contributions were received from colored soldiers, under the command of General J. W. Davidson, headquarters at Natchez, Miss., amounting in all to $12,150. This was subsequently increased from other sources to $16,242.
From the liberal contributions made in the first instance, we are led to believe that a very much larger sum would have been subscribed. But, as our determination was to have a free-will offering without solicitation, we determined to rest with what was voluntarily contributed. Harriet Hosner, one of America’s greatest sculptors, asked for permission to submit a design, which she did It was one of great beauty and merit, and could it have been executed, it would have been one of the grandest and most beautiful monumental works of art ever erected in this or any other country. I mention this here as the design has doubtless been seen by some that are now present. It was published in the London Art Journal and other journals published in thisand other countries. I trust yet that the gratitude of the freed people will prompt them to execute this grand design. I now proceed to give you the history of the Lincoln Monument as adopted and executed.
One of the members of the Western Sanitary Commission, Rev. Wm. G. Elliott, being in Florence in the autumn of 1869, when visiting the studio of Mr. Thomas Ball, saw the group subsequently adopted, and was so much pleased with it that he spoke strongly in its praise after returning to St. Louis. He had learned from Mr. Ball that the work was conceived and executed under the first influence of the news of Mr. Lincoln’s assassination. No order for such a group had been received, but Mr. Ball felt sure that the time would come when there would be a demand for it, and, at any rate, he felt an inward demand to produce it. His aim was to present one single idea, representing the great work for the accomplishment of which Abraham Lincoln lived and died, and all accessory ideas are carefully excluded. Mr. Ball also determined not to part with it, except under such circumstances as to insure its just appreciation, not merely as a work of art but as a labor of love—a tribute to American patriotism.
For several years it has stood there in its place greatly admired, but not finding the direction of its rightful destination. But, when the artist heard of the possible use to which it might be put, as the memorial of freedom by the emancipated slaves themselves, he at once said that he should hold it with that view until the Commission were prepared to take action, and that the price to be paid would be altogether a secondary consideration. When the description was given to the other members of the Western Sanitary Commission they sent for photographs, four of which, presenting the group at different points of view, were taken in Florence, and forwarded to them. They at once decided to accept the design, and an order was given for its immediate execution in bronze, in accordance with the suggestions made by Mr. Ball. The original group was in Italian marble, and differs in some respects from the bronze now to be inaugurated. In the original, the kneeling slave is represented as perfectly passive, receiving the boon of freedom from the hand of the great liberator. But the artist justly changed this, to bring the presentation nearer to the historical fact, by making the emancipated slave an agent in his own deliverance. He is accordingly represented as exerting his own strength with strained muscles in breaking the chain which had bound him. A far greater degree of dignity and vigor, as well as of historical accuracy, is thus imparted. The original was also changed by introducing, instead of an ideal slave, the figure of a living man—the last slave in Missouri taken up under the fugitive-slave law, and who was, at one time, rescued from his captors, (who had transcended their legal authority,) under the orders of the provost marshal of St. Louis. His name was Archer Alexander, and his condition of legal servitude continued until the emancipation act became the law of the land A photographic picture was sent to Mr. Ball, who has given both the face and manly bearing of the negro. The ideal group is thus converted into the literal truth of history without losing anything of its artistic conception or effect. The monument, in bronze, now inaugurated, was cast at the Royal foundry in Munich. An exact copy of the original group as just designed by Mr. Ball has been executed by him in pure white Italian marble for the Western Sanitary Commission, and will be permanently placed, as “Freedom’s Memorial,” in some public building of St. Louis. Of the eminent sculptor, Thomas Ball, to whose genius and love of country the whole praise of the work is due, it is unnecessary to speak. His design was accepted, after three years’ diligent seeking, solely on its merits. But it is a source of congratulation to all lovers of the American Union that this monument, in memory of the people’s President and the freedmen’s best friend, is from the hand of one who not only stands in the foremost rank of living artists, but who is himself proud to be called an American citizen.
The amount paid to Mr. Ball for the bronze group was $17,000, every cent of which has been remitted to him. So you have a finished monument, all paid for by the Government which appropriated $3,000 for the foundation and pedestal upon which the bronze group stands, making the cost in all $20,000. I have thus given you a brief history of the Freedmen’s Memorial Monument, and how and why the Western Sanitary Commission came to have anything to do with it. To them it has been a labor of love. In the execution of the work they have exercised their best judgment—done the best that could be done with the limited means they had to do it with. It remains with you and those who will follow to say how wisely or how well it has been done. Whatever of honor, whatever of glory belongs to this work, should be given to Charlotte Scott, the poor slave woman. Her offering of gratitude and love, like that of the widow’s mite, will be treasured in Heaven when the gifts of those rich in this world’s good shall have passed away and been forgotten.
Professor Langston when receiving the statue, said :
In behalf of our entire nation, in behalf especially of the donors of the fund with whose investment you and your associates of the “Western Sanitary Commission” have been charged, I tender to you, sir, and through you to the Commission, our sincere thanks for the prompt and wise performance of the trust and duty committed to your care. The finished and appropriate memory and honor of him who is to be forever known in the records of the world’s history as the emancipator of the enslaved of our country. We unveil it to the gaze, the admiration of mankind.
Fellow-citizens, according to the arrangement of the order of exercises of this occasion, it has fallen to my lot to unveil this statue which we dedicate to-day ; but we have with us the President of the United States, and it strikes me that it is altogether fit and proper to now ask him to take part in the exercises so far as to unveil this monument.
President Grant advanced to the front of the stand. A moment passed in the deepest silence, but when the President pulled the cord and the flags fell away, and the bronze figures were exposed to view, the people burst into spontaneous applause and exclamations of admiration. To the noisy manifestations of admiration were added the booming of cannon and the strains of the band, which struck up “Hail to the Chief.”
Professor Langton then announced that, by request, an original poem had been contributed by a colored lady of New York, Miss Cordelia Ray, and it would be read by Mr. William E. Mathews, of Baltimore. Mr. Mathews stepped forward, amid applause, and read as follows:
To-day, O martyred chief, beneath the sun We would unveil they form ; to thee who won The applause of nations, for thy soul sincere, A living tribute we would offer here. ‘Twas thine not worlds to conquer, but men’s hearts; To change to balm the sting of slavery’s darts; In lowly charity thy joy to find, And open “gates of mercy on mankind.” And so they come, the freed, with grateful gift, From whose sad path the shadows thou didst lift.
Eleven years have rolled their seasons round Since its most tragic close thy life-work found. Yet through the vistas of the vanished days We see thee still, responsive to our gaze As ever to thy country’s solemn needs. Not regal coronets, but princely deeds, Were thy chaste diadem ; of truer worth Thy modest virtues than the gems of earth. Staunch, honest, fervent in the purest cause, Truth was thy guide; her mandates were thy laws.
Rare heroism; spirit purity; The storied Spartan’s stern simplicity; Such moral strength as gleams like burnished gold amid the doubts of men of weaker mold Were thine. Called in thy country’s sorest hour, When brother knew not brother—mad for power— To guide the helm through bloody deeps of war, While distant nations gazed in anxious awe, Unflinching in the task, thou didst fulfil Thy mighty mission with a deathless will.
Born to a destiny the most sublime, Thou wert, O, Lincoln! in the march of time. God bad thee pause—and bid the oppressed go free— Most glorious boon giv’n to humanity. While slavery ruled the land, what deeds were done! What tragedies enacted ‘neath the sun! Her page is blurred with records of defeat— Of lives heroic lived in silence—meet For the world’s praise—of woe, despair, and tears— The speechless agony of weary years!
Thou utterest the word, and Freedom fair Rang her sweet bells on the clear winter air: She waved her magic wand, and lo! From far A long procession came! with many scars. Their brows were wrinkled—in the bitter strife Full many had said their sad farewell to life. But on they hastened—free—their shackles gone— The aged, young—e’en infancy was borne To offer unto thee loud pœans of praise— Their happy tribute after saddest days.
A race set free! The deed brought joy and light! It bade calm justice from her sacred height, when faith, and hope, and courage slowly waned, Unfurl the stars and stripes, at last unstained! The nations rolled acclaim from sea to sea, And Heaven’s vaults rang with Freedom’s harmony. The angels ‘mid the amaranths must have hush’d Their chanted cadence, as upward rush’d The hymn sublime; and as the echoes peeled God’s ceaseless benison the action sealed.
As now we dedicate this shaft to thee, True champion ! in all humility And solemn earnestness, we would erect A monument invisible, undecked, Save by our allied purpose to be true To Freedom’s loftiest precepts, so that through The fiercest contests we may walk secure, Fixed on foundations that may still endure When granite shall have crumbled to decay And generations passed from earth away.
Exalted patriot! illustrious chief! Thy life’s immortal work compels belief. To-day in radiance thy virtues shine, And how can we a fitting garland twine? Thy crown most glorious is a ransomed race! High on our country’s scroll we fondly trace In lines of fadeless light that softly blend: Emancipator, hero, martyr, friend! While Freedom may her holy sceptre claim, The world shall echo with “Our Lincoln’s” name.
Cynthia McDonald – Medical Case Manager, Health and Political Advocate
October 10th is marked as World Mental Health Day. According to the World Health Organization or the WHO, the overall objective of World Mental Health Day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide. Being aware of a day to focus on mental health raises an issue for me personally. Is it possible to have a serious conversation about the state of mental health in the Black Community?
I was engaged in a conversation with another friend about the internet sensation Kevin Samuels. He has a YouTube show where he mostly takes calls from other black women and deals with their issues of wanting a man and not getting one or their lofty ideas of a man that is not tenable in my opinion. He has also been accused of being misogynistic, a chauvinist, an opportunist and objectifying Black Women in a sensational manner to increase his viewership. I have watched some of his content but I am not prepared to completely acquiesce to these claims per se. He has a tendency to be blunt, abrupt, sharp, insolent and quite harsh. Although this is the case, he will also display aforementioned behaviors to his Black Men callers as well. My biggest issue with this is not so much the behavior towards his callers, rather the content that is clipped and propagated. The calls that are mostly shared are the ones with Black Women saying something problematic and Kevin tearing them a new hole. This raises a lot of issues for me. I, being a Black Woman, instantly want to defend my sisters as much as possible. Although this is my first reaction, I can’t help but to think upon what are the driving forces behind my sisters saying or behaving the way they do on this show. I believe this is a symptom of a more systemic problem that is very prevalent in the Black Community but no one wants to address let alone discuss.
Behavior can be a nebulous contrivance. Behavior or behaviour is the actions and mannerisms made by individuals, organisms, systems or artificial entities in conjunction with themselves or their environment, which includes the other systems or organisms around as well as the physical environment. In psychology, behavior consists of an organism’s external reactions to its environment. Other aspects of psychology, such as emotions, thoughts, and other internal mental processes, don’t usually fall under the category of behavior. In dealing with the subject of behavior in the sense of the actions one has in conjunction with their environment, I don’t necessarily think it would be such a mental leap that some of these behaviors that are witnessed on Kevin’s show is the manifestation of Black Women’s behavioral health state. Black men are also not exempt from these manifestations. The behaviors just show up differently.
This leads me to incite a discussion on the mental state of the Black Community. Overall, mental health conditions occur in Black and African American people in America at about the same or less frequency than in White Americans. However, the historical Black (Freedmen) and African American experience in America has and continues to be characterized by trauma and violence more often than for their White counterparts and impacts emotional and mental health of both youth and adults.
13.4 percent of the U.S. population, or nearly 46 million people, identify themselves as Black or African American and another 2.7 percent identified as multiracial
More than 1 in 5 Black and African American people in the U.S. lived in poverty as of 2018.
Black and African American people living below poverty are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress than those living over 2x the poverty level
Adult Blacks and African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than adult whites.
Blacks and African Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide at all ages. However, Black and African American teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than White teenagers (9.8 percent v. 6.1 percent).
Sixteen percent (4.8 million) of Black and African American people reported having a mental illness, and 22.4 percent of those (1.1 million people) reported a serious mental illness over the past year.
Serious mental illness (SMI) rose among all ages of Black and African American people between 2008 and 2018.
Despite rates being less than the overall U.S. population, major depressive episodes increased from 9 percent-10.3 percent in Black and African American youth ages 12-17, 6.1 percent to 9.4 percent in young adults 18-25, and 5.7 percent to 6.3 percent in the 26-49 age range between 2015 and 2018.
Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts are also rising among Black and African American young adults. While still lower than the overall U.S. population aged 18-25, 9.5 percent (439,000) of Black and African American 18-25-year-olds had serious thoughts of suicide in 2018, compared to 6 percent (277,000) in 2008. 3.6 percent (166,000) made a plan in 2018, compared to 2.1 percent (96,000) in 2008, and 2.4 percent (111,000) made an attempt in 2018, compared to 1.5 percent (70,000) in 2008.
Binge drinking, smoking (cigarettes and marijuana), illicit drug use and prescription pain reliever misuse are more frequent among Black and African American adults with mental illnesses.
At face value, learning these statistics that ties in Black American position in the US when it comes to poverty and the state of mental health in our community is quite sobering. Still there is a very present issue of not really addressing the topic because stigma is very real. In a New York Times article entitled The Extra Stigma of Mental Illness for African-Americans, they highlighted Shaun J. Fletcher, a professor at San Jose State University whose research covers health disparities among African-American men. He gave a 2018 TEDx Talk on how African-Americans communicate about their mental health issues. He said, “…much of the way African-Americans deal with mental health, or choose not to, is based on how we are socialized. We are raised to believe that we have to walk outside with a tough skin at all times to survive in the world.” The author’s article goes on to say that “…our culture has taught us that we do not have the privilege of being vulnerable like other communities; it has taught us to find strength in our faith. Our history has shown us that the medical field cannot be trusted with Black bodies.”
I have to say that I have to somewhat agree with the author from the New York Times. In my own experience, mental health was not part of the conversation in my home as it should have. Being a product of divorced parents, I remember going to counseling when I was young with my family, but the sessions did not last long. It was not until I was 14 that I found myself in therapy because it was very apparent how depressed I was and it started to affect my physical health. Since then, I have found myself taking advantage of some form of mental health assistance when symptoms of clinical depression start to reassert itself.
According to a study conducted by Ward, Wiltshire, Detry, and Brown in 2013:
Black and African American hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects their coping behaviors. The participants in this study were not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, but they were somewhat open to seeking mental health services.
Black and African American men are particularly concerned about stigma.
Cohort effects, exposure to mental illness, and increased knowledge of mental illness are factors that could potentially change beliefs about symptoms of mental illness.
Participants appeared apprehensive about seeking professional help for mental health issues, which is consistent with previous research. However, participants were willing to seek out some form of help.
In 2016, 12.3 percent of Black and African American adults who had a doctor’s office or clinic visit over the past year had difficulty getting needed care, tests or treatment compared to 6.8 percent of white adults. While the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has helped to close the gap in uninsured individuals, 11.5 percent of Black and African Americans, versus 7.5 percent of white Americans were still uninsured in 2018. In 2018, 58.2 percent of Black and African American young adults 18-25 and 50.1 percent of adults 26-49 with serious mental illness did NOT receive treatment. I have to say I am one of the fortunate ones. I was lucky to have medical insurance for the majority of my life so I was able to access mental health care. As you can see, that is not the overall story for many Black Americans.
So what is the solution to address this quite serious issue in the Black American Community? I would have to say it is a two fold solution. The first thing that has to be addressed is the long and pervasive stigma that exists in our community when it comes to mental health. There is a saying that we often use – Black don’t Crack. Is that true? Although this saying is used mostly to illustrate Black people have a way to preserve a more youthful look because we generally possess more melanin, that has nothing to do with what is happening in our minds. Dr. Peter Sealy who is a columnist from Pride News wrote, “Oh what a mask we wear, of bright smiling faces and gloomy aching hearts. The mask that we wear is as true as its lie”. He goes on to say, “Many Black men and women go on for years, wearing a mask that lies and belies how they are really feeling. But all the while something bad is happening to them. It is the depression that begins to grow and take root.” We cannot honestly think that we can allow the collective mental health of a community to deteriorate without acknowledging that the problem is there.
We also need resources that address our mental health in a holistic manner. While human beings can suffer similar medical and behavioral concerns, Black Americans, especially Freedmen Descendants, have a compound historical trauma of racism and disenfranchisement. If you are not from the community, you will not properly understand the community. There are more organizations that are starting to emerge to be that resource, but we need more.
I wish that I had a list of resources that was just as long as this blog post, but that is an example of how this issue needs way more attention than it gets. Freedmen must be more aware of this topic and not shy away from it. We also have to be more proactive in working to make the mental state of our community change. Mental Health is important and it deserves consideration, but we cannot wish it would until we consider it at home.
Cynthia McDonald – Medical Case Manager, Health and Political Advocate
Recently, there was a conference held on race and reparations at the United Nations. It was painfully obvious to observe the nations that were NOT present. The United Kingdom, Canada, United States and several other European countries did not attend out of protest. According to Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US ambassador to the UN, said it (The meeting birth out of the Durban Conference from 2001) “remains opposed to the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic underpinnings of the Durban process, and has longstanding freedom of expression concerns with the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action/ DDPA.” According to CNN.com’s article The United Nations held a major meeting on race. Why the US and UK skipped it, The original Durban Conference in 2001 started with lofty aims but ended in an ugly uproar in the wake of negotiations on how and whether to include Israel-Palestinian issues under the rubric of discrimination. The US and Israel ultimately walked out in protest of one draft of the conference’s final declaration that denounced “racial discrimination against the Palestinians” and others by Israel and equated Zionism with racism.
Even though it was later stated that said countries were still making “fighting racism” a “top priority”, it remains quite spellbinding how an international stage set to speak on this very topic was protested by several powers who profited greatly off of Slavery citing the “Underpinnings” of Antisemitism. Please note, this author does not support Antisemitism or hate of any other group of people whatsoever. I do however see this more as a red herring (a way to mislead or distract from a relevant or important question) used by powerful nations to not have an important discussion on race, let alone redress and repair for those who descend from the enslaved.
This led me to re-release a slightly updated article I originally wrote for www.actifypress.com. This raises the question even further if we can really achieve reparations with an international movement.
Recently Dr. Ray Winbush, a professor at Morgan State University and author of several books on reparations, was on Black Power Media being interviewed by Dr. Jared Ball, professor, and author of the “Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power”, stating that reparations need to have an international push or movement instead of a single-minded focus only on the United States. This particular statement made me reflect on his words and ask myself if his viewpoint is either proper or even practical. As Reparationists continue to fight to achieve the justice claim for the Descendants of Freedmen, it would be proper to start exploring different strategies to make a 155-year-old topic a reality. Is one of those ways to unite with the Diaspora to make Native Black American reparations an international movement?
Lately, there has been much talk about reparations for chattel slavery in many mediums. We have seen reparations talks being organized on several Zoom platforms by organizations who support such a measure. We’ve seen the subject explored on TED Talks, the DNC debate stage, and even had two hearings in June 2019 and February 2021 in the House Judiciary Subcommittee of Congress. HR40, the bill to study reparations first introduced in the late 1980s, has 173 co-sponsors in the House and has a companion bill in the Senate. With the onset of the Black Lives Matter, ADOS/FBA/B1, and Freedmen Movements, and the highlighting of extreme actions of vigilantes and police that led to the deaths of, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd – there is an outpouring from various voices that reparations can wait no longer.
Reparations for Slavery is not a new topic. There has been a discussion of reparations since before the Emancipation Proclamation. The first concrete action for reparations was Special Field Order No. 15. This was a military order issued during the American Civil War, on January 16, 1865, by General William Tecumseh Sherman, commander of the Military Division of the Mississippi United States Army.
They provided for the confiscation of 5.3 million acres of land to the formerly enslaved. However, only 400,000 acres were settled by 40,000 freedmen before Andrew Johnson reversed the policy. General Sherman issued his orders four days after meeting with twenty local Black ministers and lay leaders and with the U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton in Savannah, Georgia. Brigadier General Rufus Saxton, an abolitionist from Massachusetts who had previously organized the recruitment of Black soldiers for the Union Army, was put in charge of implementing the orders.
After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the order had little-to-no concrete effect. As stated previously, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation that returned the lands to Southern owners who took a loyalty oath. Johnson granted amnesty to most former Confederates and allowed the rebel states to elect new governments. These governments, which often included ex-Confederate officials, soon enacted Black Codes, measures designed to control and repress the recently freed slave population. General Saxton and his staff at the Charleston South Carolina Freedmen’s Bureau’s Office refused to carry out President Johnson’s wishes and denied all applications to have lands returned. In the end, Johnson and his allies removed General Saxton and his staff, but not before Congress was able to provide legislation to assist some families in keeping their lands.
Since the rescinding of Special Field Order No. 15, other reparations activists emerged. Examples are Callie House and Isaiah Dickerson, who chartered the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief, Bounty and Pension Association in 1898, to Queen Mother Moore who was a civil rights leader, Black Nationalist, and founder of the “Republic of New Afrika”. Moore was also the founder and president of the Universal Association of Ethiopian Women as well as the founder of the Committee for Reparations for Descendants of U.S. Slaves. Moore actively promoted reparations from 1950 until her death in 1997.
Other organizations also emerged to help continue the work of achieving reparations such as The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCOBRA), National African-American Reparations Commission (NAARC), and The Caribbean Community (CARICOM). The aforementioned organizations share a “Pan African” (a global cultural and political movement aiming at strengthening bonds of solidarity between all indigenous and diasporic ethnic groups of African origin) ideology and objective. They also coalition in some respects with one another, however, CARICOM is specific concerning the community they are advocating for when it comes to reparations. Fifteen countries are included in the advocacy pool within CARICOM’s community, but the United States is not one of them. CARICOM states on their website they promote and support a unified Caribbean community that is inclusive, resilient, and competitive; sharing in economic, social, and cultural prosperity.
As of late the issue of SPECIFICITY when it comes to reparations in the United States has been a source of some contention between those who garner a Pan African philosophy versus those who are considered “Freedmen First”. The criteria from Duke University Professor Dr. William “Sandy” Darity and co-author of “From Here to Equality” lays out who should be the group that qualifies for reparations in the United States. His criteria is a person who has identified as “Black” or “African-American” on government documents for at least twelve years before a reparations legislation has been enacted and can trace their lineage through at least one ancestor to US Chattel Slavery. Simple right?
There are those of the Pan African sensibility that have tried to conflate the criteria to a blood quantum rule or the possibility of DNA tests. None of these claims are factual. The claims, however, seem to raise a larger argument that because those who are Black Descendants of US Chattel Slavery, lockout others from the African Diaspora who happen to be in the United States. Arguments such as “White Supremacy is global” or “racism affects all Black people” are often raised and even misconstrued with the aforementioned statements that Dr. Darity’s criteria is xenophobic because it excludes Black people who are not Descendants of American Chattel Slavery.
The facts are that every reparations program, be it by legislation or lawsuit has always been specific. Some examples include:
● The Pueblo Lands Act of 1924, Congress authorized the establishment of the Pueblo Lands Board to adjudicate land title disputes, along with a payment of $1,300,000 to the Pueblo for the land they lost.
● The Shoshones were paid over six million dollars for land illegally seized from them.
● The Indian Reorganization Act authorized $2 million a year in appropriations for the acquisition of land for Indians (except for the state of Oklahoma and the territory of Alaska until 1936). Congress made appropriations until 1941. In total $5.5 million was appropriated for 400,000 acres of land, and further legislation added 875,000 acres to reservations. One million acres of grazing land and nearly one million acres intended for homesteading were returned to the tribes.
● The Navajo-Hopi Rehabilitation Act was passed, authorizing an appropriation of $88,570,000 over 10 years for a program benefiting the Navajo and Hopi, including soil conservation, education, business, and industry development on reservations, and assistance in finding employment off-reservation.
● Civil Liberties Act of 1988: President Ronald Reagan signed a bill providing $1.2 billion ($20,000 a person) and an apology to each of the approximately 60,000 living Japanese-Americans who had been interned during World War II. Additionally, $12,000 and an apology were given to 450 Unangans (Aleuts) for internment during WWII, and a $6.4 million trust fund was created for their communities.
● In the United States Court of Claims case Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska v. United States, the plaintiff tribes won a judgment of $7.5 million as just compensation for land taken by the United States government between 1891 and 1925.
● A $10 million out-of-court settlement was reached between the U.S. government and Tuskegee victims, Black men who had been unwitting subjects of a study of untreated syphilis, and who did not receive available treatments.
All of these claims have in common the naming of a specific group for a specific injury. There has been no precedent made in the United States where reparations were paid to a blanketed group of people. I, as an African American, cannot stake claim to the Civil Liberties Act that paid Japanese Internment Camp victims from WWII nor would I qualify to receive redress from the Navajo-Hopi Rehabilitation Act since I am not of that lineage, nor a member of those tribes. Makes sense does it not? The injured party from a specific injury is the one who should receive the redress and repair.
So let us revisit Dr. Winbush’s statement of reparations needing to be an international movement. The other claim that is often made by Pan Africans is that being “specific” concerning United States reparations immediately means that advocacy from and to the Diaspora is immediately cut off. I push back on this claim because African Americans have always advocated for justice for the Diaspora. African American leaders like W.E.B Dubois advocated against exclusionary tactics by the United States to keep Africans out of the country. Also, it has to be mentioned how African Americans advocated ending Apartheid in South Africa calling for American companies to divest from doing business in the country. That and other demonstrations in the United States and in South Africa led to the collapse of that racist separatist system.
Specificity does not have to be an enemy of international advocacy. In South Africa, The South African government was to pay reparations to thousands of people identified as victims of apartheid by the country’s truth commission. At the time, South African President Thabo Mbeki had said his government would make a payment of 30,000 rand ($3,890) each to more than 19,000 people identified by the commission as victims of gross human rights violations. Those of us in the United States support and applaud that effort. But I would not expect to receive any of that payment because I was not a victim of apartheid. That does not mean as a member of the Diaspora I can’t support South Africa to do right by its citizens that were harmed by the Apartheid policy. The same can be said for Black Descendants of Chattel Slavery or Freedmen. Although all Black people living in the United States would not qualify for reparations if not a Descendant of United States Chattel Slavery, the international community (within and without the United States) can and should support this cause for the Freedmen’s Descendants to get their justice claim.
I agree with Dr. Winbush’s statement that reparations can and should be an international movement. It is quite apparent that members of the African Diaspora have been harmed by White Supremacy on many levels and deserve justice from oppressive government policies all over the world. Even though this is the case, redress and repair are going to look different based on who and where the injury is exacted. I cannot expect reparations to look the same in Brazil as they would in Jamaica. Although slavery was practiced in both countries, the governments that enacted those institutions are different. Brazil’s claim would be from Portugal and Jamaica’s would come from Great Britain. We can and should implore all from the Diaspora to support one another in our justice claims. But keep in mind that our claims are specific to the countries we are in. Reparations can be supported globally but should be an issue handled domestically.
Cynthia McDonald – Social Worker, Health and Political Advocate
I was recently invited with the intelligent and beautiful Jena Miyu on her show International Free Thinkers – We are Sober (IFWAS) to rebut the recent testimony to Dr. Christina Parks. Dr. Parks has a PHD in cellular and molecular biology. She testified recently for the Michigan State Congress against vaccine mandates.
I watched her testimony and was deeply disappointed because she was using her credentials to make arguments from authority that was often positioned in fallacious ways. Her testimony has gone viral and many people on YouTube and other platforms are using her testimony to bolster the reason for more people to remain unvaccinated.
This is a dangerous thing. It is only adding to the unfortunate atmosphere of an already politicized pandemic. Jena, a nurse in the state of California, and myself tackle the herculean task of responding to Dr. Parks testimony in a fair and informed position. Please watch and thank you in advance.
Cynthia McDonald – Medical Case Manager, Health and Political Advocate
Most of my posts are normally researched with source material because I want to make sure the points that I make are backed by empirical data. This post, however, is more personal. It is because COVID was in my home and struck someone that I love dearly, my mom.
August 14, 2021 was a very frightful night. I was helping to produce a stream that was doing a fundraiser for a non-profit of which I am a member. Towards the end of the broadcast, my niece comes to my room and tells me that my mother is feeling faint and having difficulty breathing. I told the other producer what was going on, and that I had to go. He told me not to worry and to go do what I had to do.
I went to her bedroom to investigate the matter. She was disjointed in her speech and had a hard time focusing. I told her that we needed to call 911 but she did not want to. I said, “Okay, let’s call the nurse and report your symptoms. If they say go to the hospital, will you go?” She agreed and I went to contact the on call nurse assigned to my mom’s doctor. As I went over her symptoms and also informed them she tested positive for COVID about a week earlier, they advised me to contact the paramedics and have her taken to the ER.
When the paramedics got to my home, they did their normal triaging and then transferred my mother to the ambulance to take her to the ER. I asked if I could ride along because my mother told me she did not want to be by herself. They agreed and allowed me to stay by her side. When we got to the ER, she was immediately transferred to an isolation room that was pressurized to keep her infection from spreading.
We stayed in that room for hours. During that time, she was examined by medical staff, x-rayed, and had blood drawn for further tests. The lab results showed that COVID was still present and she’d developed pneumonia from the infection.
Close to 5:00 AM, my mom was moved from the pressurized room in the ER to a floor dedicated to treating COVID infected patients. I walked up to the floor with the orderly. Once I got to the floor, I decided to peer through the doors of the patients’ rooms. I noticed most of the patients were elderly. As I moved through the hallway, I was stopped by one of the nurses. She told me family was not allowed on the floor. I was immediately flooded with emotions. Anger, sadness, and grief overwhelmed me all at once.
My mom does not want to be alone!
What if something happens to her and I am not here?
You can’t make me leave her!
Don’t make me go, please…
All of these feelings and sentiments were running through my head. I gathered myself enough to ask pertinent questions like who was going to be the attending doctor and how I could get in touch with my mother. The charge nurse gave me the information I requested and, with much chagrin, I said goodbye to my mother.
I did not go home right away. I sat in the lobby for a while, called my partner and cried on the phone. I asked him why they made me leave her. How could they do such a thing? I wasn’t just angry at the nurse that made me leave, I was angry at the whole situation. My mom did everything that she was supposed to do. She stayed at home mostly. She wore a mask when she was in public. She got vaccinated even though she was not too keen on doing so, but she still was a breakthrough infection case. How could this happen?
My mother is part of a very vulnerable population to COVID infection. She is a senior and has various comorbidities including Multiple Myeloma which makes her more immunocompromised. According to the CDC, effectiveness estimates for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines was about 53% against the delta variant. These findings indicate that mRNA vaccines provide protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection among nursing home residents; however, VE (vaccine efficacy) was lower after the Delta Variant became the predominant circulating strain in the United States. It is also noteworthy that out of the 673K in the United States from Covid-19, the death toll amongst those who are 65 and older is higher than any other age group. Also according to Fortune.com, the Covid-19 will will soon surpass the Spanish flu as America’s deadliest pandemic.
The number of deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have already surpassed those from the 1968 flu ( an estimated 100,000). At their current pace, COVID-related deaths will also surpass the 675,000 estimated U.S. deaths caused by the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic—the deadliest in U.S. history—before the end of September 2021.
My mom stayed in the hospital for a week. While there, she was given a standard treatment of Remdesivir (a broad-spectrum antiviral medication) and antibiotics to combat the pneumonia set in her lungs. She was also kept on oxygen because her levels were dropping due to the fluid building in her lungs. Fortunately she did not have to go on a ventilator. I could only imagine this post would have looked differently if that had happened.
She was brought home in an ambulance. The paramedic came into our home and set up her oxygen machine and left her with 2 portable units. She couldn’t do much for herself. I ended up taking time off from work to take care of both her and myself. I had to learn the nuances of working her oxygen machine, taking her vitals, giving her medication, and also making sure she did her physical therapy exercises. I became her main caregiver doing everything in my ability to make sure she could recover.
I don’t necessarily want to make this all about me, but I cannot help to describe my personal mental state seeing my mom infected with this illness. I could not concentrate on work. I did not want to exercise. I ended up on antidepressants because my anxiety got out of control. I felt helpless. I was thinking I could have prevented this somehow, but the facts are that I could not. I am a human being. I am limited and no matter how much information I absorb about this pandemic. To be honest, I felt as if COVID and I were in a boxing ring and COVID won with a TKO.
I get absolutely livid when I see people using their platforms to either be flippant about the pandemic or spreading misinformation. I even had the displeasure of watching a testimony from Christina Parks who has a Phd in Cellular and Molecular Biology. She was testifying regarding COVID-19 vaccines and mandating them. In this video, she makes a number of blatantly false claims concerning the MRNA vaccines and their efficacy. My fear concerning her, and people like her, is they make arguments from authority and people take what they say as gospel. We’ve even witnessed Nikki Minaj make a claim that a cousin’s friend in Trinidad took the vaccine, which made his testicles swell and caused him to become impotent. Despite impotence not being a side effect of the current vaccines, plus no one could corroborate her claim, there were people who organized a march on the CDC because they believed her.
The facts are that currently the people who are filling up the hospitals now are mostly unvaccinated people. The facts are that the current vaccines that are available have a higher rate of efficacy against the Delta Variant rather than having no vaccine at all. There is plenty of open source data to corroborate this but somehow people are prone to listen to conspiracy theorists or entertainers who have no skin in the game.
My mom is doing better. She is even starting to wean off the oxygen. She even prepared her own breakfast this morning. The other day, she was in her room sitting on the side of the bed singing with no oxygen tube on. Needless to say I was overjoyed. My mom isn’t completely out of the woods but her state is improving. Although there are other comorbidities to address, at least the Covid-19 infection is gone and she is on the mend.
Seeing Covid upfront was an eye opener for me. Did this change me? Perhaps, but this situation really made me double down my outspokenness and advocacy for people getting vaccinated. My mom got infected from an unvaccinated person. I cannot help to think if everyone who crossed our threshold was vaccinated, or at least had on a mask, that my mom would have never gotten infected and gone through this hell called Covid. I will never know. All I know is Covid was here and I will do what I can with this platform to help make sure others don’t have to see Covid face to face. They just may not make it if they do.
Cynthia McDonald HIV Medical Case Manager and Healthcare Advocate
I recently attended a Reparations Rally in Atlanta, GA hosted by the United Sons and Daughters of Freedmenhttps://www.usadof.org/ President and host of the Be the Power podcast Nyhiem Way El. The President (Marlon Watson) and Vice President (Arthur Ward) http://www.freedmenabsolute.com of our political advocacy group Freedmen Descendants of Chicago, representatives of other Freedmen political advocacy organizations, local elected officials, activists, and US Senate candidate Tamara Johnson Shealy were invited to speak. It was a beautiful event filled with passionate reparationists speaking with clarity and specificity on why redress and repair is owed to the Descendants of US Chattel Slavery. We answered a call to gather and demand reparations policy from the Federal Government on the eve of Juneteenth, now a federal holiday. Good vibes were felt by all who attended but it did raise a question for me. Where do we go from here?
Reparations is a hot political topic thanks to adement reparationists that pushed for redress and repair for the atrocities of Slavery, Jim Crow, land theft, lynchings, red lining, convict leasing, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, and the like. HR 40, the bill to create a commission to study reparations, has left the House Judiciary subcommittee. This is the most movement this bill has experienced since it was first introduced by the late Rep. John Conyers in 1989. He introduced this bill at the opening session of Congress every year until he retired in 2017.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of TX took over as sponsor of HR40 and oversaw two (June 19, 2019 and February 17, 2021) Congressional hearings where supporters and dissenters of reparations testified. It was extremely telling that the non congressional members against reparations that offered testimony were often themselves Descendants of US slaves. I suppose one should not be shocked by such a phenomenon since most Slavery insurrections were thwarted by other enslaved people to gain the favor and protection of their masters.
Since before America became the United States, there have been activists who organized to dismantle oppressive institutions against Black people. During Slavery, these specific people were called Abolitionists. Once Slavery 1.0 was abolished by the 13th amendment in 1865, there were activists like Callie House that organized around the effort to achieve reparations for the formally enslaved. Others since have continued to work for reparations to become reality in some shape, way, or form for 156 years.
Revisiting my previously posed question, Dr. King attempted to answer in his last book before his death “Where do we go from Here? From Chaos to Community”. The last chapter laid out his idea of massive capital infused in Black American communities and people. Towards the final years of his life, Dr. King was much more vocal concerning Black positionality and the government being the culpable party to foot the bill in making the Negro whole. It is often said by some historians and lecturers that his more radical language led to his eventual demise.
During the rally, a point was raised by Marlon Watson during his address. He stated that the effort of reparations has not been achieved in part because previous advocates have not come to the government with the right language. HR40 uses the language “Enslaved Africans in America”. I could argue using this language is problematic because there are others in America that could rest under that description yet they are not of those from US Chattel Slavery. My parent from the Caribbean can claim descendant of enslaved Africans in America but my parent is not a descendant of US Chattel Slavery. This claim is not specific to every Descendant of the Enslaved in America. It is specific to those who’ve descended from the Freedmen.
When nearly 4 million people who were enslaved in the United States in 1865 were emancipated, they were given the specific designation of “Freedmen”. There were then federal institutions created specifically for them called the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Freedmen’s Bank. Unfortunately, both institutions folded. In the case of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the government abandoned its efforts to provide long-term protection for blacks or ensure any real measure of racial equality. The Freedmen’s Bureau was disbanded by Jan 28, 1872 by the Secretary of War only 7 years after its inception due to pressure from White Southern Congress members who no longer wanted to use federal funding to provide things like food, housing, and education for the emancipated.
The Freedmen’s bank folded in 1874 due gross mismanagement and fraud. 57 million dollars (approximately 1.3 billion dollars in today’s currency) was deposited by the Freedmen while the bank was in operation. The bank’s headquarters moved from New York to Washington DC in 1867 and a group of local bankers, politicians and businessmen took control. At the urging of the new trustees, Congress amended the bank’s charter and the trustees began to invest in real estate projects and railroads. They made risky loans to friends, some with no collateral. Some of the trustees were in charge of other banks, as well, and when they made bad loans at those banks, they transferred the bad loans to the Freedmen’s Bank. Frederick Douglas took over the bank and attempted to save it by depositing approximately 15k of his money but was unable. He would later describe the bank had become “the black man’s cow but the white man’s milk.”
We that are the Descendants of the formerly enslaved, the Freedmen, have now inherited the burden of all the centuries of systematic depression and oppression wrought on our communities. Our ancestors were purchased and made to build a country for nearly 250 years but were abandoned by the very nation that used them to build its wealth. The small effort during reconstruction was destroyed by the same oppressors and met with Black Codes, Jim Crow, and the Klu Klux Klan. Even after Black people managed to aquire land and set up townships, they were met various acts of domestic terrorism and destroyed. Tulsa was not the only massacre that took place. According to Dr. William Darity, Duke University professor and co-author of “From Here to Equality ”, it is estimated there were upwards of 100 massacres that took place between the end of the Civil War and the 1940’s .
So where do we go from here? Being privy to all the history of what enslaved people and their Descendants endured, what is our next course of action? Are we just to twiddle our thumbs and pontificate on how bad things were and are? Are we satisfied with an additional day off June 19th and organize cookouts? Are we to only regulate our political advocacy to voting once every 4 years when herded to the polls to choose a president, or we to do something more?
We have been passed the torch to continue to fight for justice. Even though freedom has been paid for, it still has not been achieved. If we who are 13% of the population yet only hold less than 2% of the wealth our ancestors are responsible for creating, we are not free. If we are of the population that is disproportionately stopped and killed by the police and vigilantes juxtaposed to our white neighbors, we are not free. If we are 40% of the homeless individuals and 52% of the homeless families in the country our ancestors built and fought for in every American war, we are not free.
The American Descendants of Freedmen have a charge. The charge is to not accept anything less than what is owed to us through the toil of our ancestors. Juneteenth being made into a federal holiday is good but it is NOT reparations. If anything, as one of speakers at the Reparations Rally Leader and Reparations Activist Ty Harper put it, it’s an admission of guilt. America is guilty of the harm it has inflicted on its first citizens, guilty of failing to protect its first citizens, and is responsible for repairing all the damage rendered.
Freedmen Descendants should use Juneteeth as a day of commemorating our ancestors and to politically activate. Freedmen should be engaged in their localities all the way to holding their Federal representatives in Congress accountable. We should be speaking in one voice that we tire of symbolism and demand policies that advantage us. We DEMAND reparations. Nothing less is acceptable. America must acknowledge they’re guilty, repair its people, and bring about closure to a centuries old debt.