Thursday, November 28, 2013

A "Kill The Jellyfish" Thanksgiving

Today, as I celebrate Thanksgiving (and a day off from school) with family and friends I am thinking of the many blessings I have to be thankful, friends, employment, my students, etc. and even football!

I am also thankful for living in America (not necessarily for what she has been) and what she is becoming! Our country still has many problems...but, we are young, strong, and determined to overcome.  Let's take an interest in making our country better, caring for our neighbor, and help ordinary people (like ourselves) to strive toward "All Men Are Created Equal" that we can become everything we were meant to be.

Listen to "Let America Be America Again (4:49)...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Independence Day?

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages..."
                                                                                       -Frederick Douglass

Recently in class, I asked my students when they thought the United States began to truly live out the principle of "All Men Are Created Equal".  The Theoretical Nation vs. Real Nation question.

Was it...
July 4, 1776: The Declaration of Independence
April 12, 1861: Ft. Sumter
January 1, 1863: The Emancipation Proclamation
April 9, 1865: Appomattox
February 3, 1870: 15th Amendment Ratified
May 17, 1954: Brown v. Board of Education
Sept. 24, 1957: Federal Troops "Occupy" Little Rock
July 2, 1964: The Civil Rights Act
???????????: ????????????

Maybe a couple of questions will help you determine what our "Independence Day" should be...

What determines freedom in America today?

Citizenship...Land Ownership...Voting...Employment...High Quality Education...

Are we free?

Racial Profiling...Police Brutality...Stop and Frisk..."Low Expectation" Schools...Massive Government Programs...Anti-Immigrant Hatred...

My vote for "Independence Day"...November 11, 1918.  Yes, this is Armistice Day...the day we celebrate the end of WWI..."The War To End All Wars!"  It is also our modern day Veterans Day...I suggest it is the perfect day to celebrate veterans, freedom,  and annually declare war on racism in America! 

W.E.B. DuBois' "Returning Soldier" Essay
But today we return! We return from the slavery of uniform which the world's madness demanded us to don to the freedom of civil garb. We stand again to look America squarely in the face and call a spade a spade. We sing: This country of ours, despite all its better souls have done and dreamed, is yet a shameful land.
It lynches.
And lynching is barbarism of a degree of contemptible nastiness unparalleled in human history. Yet for fifty years we have lynched two Negroes a week, and we have kept this up right through the war.
It disfranchises its own citizens.
Disfranchisement (denying the vote) is the deliberate theft and robbery of the only protection of poor against rich and black against white. The land that disfranchises its citizens and calls itself a democracy lies and knows it lies.
It encourages ignorance.
It has never really tried to educate the Negro. A dominant minority does not want Negroes educated. It wants servants, dogs, whores and monkeys. And when this land allows a reactionary group by its stolen political power to force as many black folk into these categories as it possibly can, it cries in contemptible hypocrisy: "They threaten us with degeneracy; they cannot be educated.
It steals from us.
It organizes industry to cheat us. It cheats us out of our land; it cheats us out of our labor. It confiscates our savings. It reduces our wages. It raises our rent. It steals our profit. It taxes us without representation. It keeps us consistently and universally poor, and then feeds us on charity and derides our poverty.
It insults us.
It has organized a nation-wide and latterly a world-wide propaganda of deliberate and continuous insult and defamation of black blood wherever found. It decrees that it shall not be possible in travel nor residence, work nor play, education nor instruction for a black man to exist without tacit or open acknowledgment of his inferiority to the dirtiest white dog. And it looks upon any attempt to question or even discuss this dogma as arrogance, unwarranted assumption and treason.This is the country to which we Soldiers of Democracy return. This is the fatherland for which we fought! But it is our fatherland. It was right for us to fight. The faults of our country are our faults. Under similar circumstances, we would fight again. But by the God of Heaven, we are cowards and jackasses if now that that war is over, we do not marshal every ounce of our brain and brawn to fight a sterner, longer, more unbending battle against the forces of hell in our own land.
We return.
We return from fighting.
We return fighting.
Make way for Democracy!
We saved it in France, and by the Great Jehovah, we will save it in the United States of America, or know the reason why.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

40 Acres and A Mule: Anonymous Strength

Last week in class we discussed the Black Codes (1865-1866) and their relation to money, political power, culture/ religion, emotions, and isms.  It became clear to our classes that this system (Black Codes/ Jim Crow) truly was "slavery without chains" and that as many believed it was "worse than slavery".

Possibly the worst pledge of freedom was Special Field Order No. 15 aka the "40 Acres and a Mule" promise.  On the Sea Islands of Georgia, the Freedmen were farming, starting schools, and building free settlements under the direction of Tunis Campbell.  But, the old masters were determined to get their land back and were granted their petition by POTUS Andrew Johnson.  Johnson forced General Oliver O. Howard (using African-American troops) to confiscate the lands and return them to the Rebels...General Howard:

I'd endeavored to explain the wishes of the President, and with one voice they cried,
"NO! NO!" 
 In the noise and confusion, a sweet-voiced Negro woman began the hymn,
"Nobody knows the trouble I feel...nobody knows but Jesus..."
The remarkable, anonymous, and unwavering strength of millions to persevere, fight, and survive against racist betrayal...hostility...violence...indifference...empty words, etc. is inexplicable.  Why and how could they continue to work, sing, pray, love, build families, etc.?
My best answer...their belief in God, each other, and us. They were fighting for a future they knew they might not ever see...a future where "All Men Are Created Equal" are not just empty words on a piece of paper!  
"We repeat, therefore, that we are here; and that this is our country...We shall neither die out, nor be driven out; but shall go on with this people (white people), either as a testimony against them, or as an evidence in their favor throughout their generations. We are clearly on their hands."
                                                                             -Frederick Douglass

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Useless War?

"Compromise with the South" Cartoon Interpretation

The Stars and Stripes hanging upside down as a sign of distress...while the Stars and Bars is frayed, but flies triumphantly upright.  The background portrays a Northern city and home on fire, a dead Union soldier, and an African-American Union soldier with his family returned to chains.  The foreground portrays a Union soldier amputee, with his head bowed and hat in his hand. He shakes a Confederate soldier’s hand (resembling Jefferson Davis) clearly defeated.  "Davis" stands proud and rests his foot on a Union grave while breaking a Union sword.  A weeping Lady Columbia sadly kneels beside the soldier at the foot of a grave...The tombstone reads,
“In Memory of the Union a Useless War.”
This Thomas Nast cartoon (September 3, 1864) was intended to criticize Northern politicians, newspaper editors, and families who were calling for an end to the Civil War.  They were calling for a cease fire, a negotiated compromise, and a return to the "United States"...the war, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the attempt to advance civil rights was a failure.  Nast's message is very clear: compromise with the South would be a Confederate victory.
I would suggest that Nast's cartoon is also a poignant foreshadowing of the ultimate Southern victories of the Reconstruction Era... "White Rule" returned to the South (Democrat/ KKK mob rule) and a reinvention of "slavery without chains" (sharecropping/ debt peonage/ lynching, etc.). 
Had the Civil War really been fought in vain?!?
Yankee and Rebel soldiers celebrate "The Noble Cause"
Gettysburg July 1913

"How stands the case with the recently emancipated millions of colored people in our own country? What is their condition today?...By law, by the constitution of the United States, slavery has no existence in our country. The legal form has been abolished. By the law and the constitution, the Negro is a man and a citizen, and has all the rights and liberties guaranteed to any other variety of the human family, residing in the United States....Yet, the old master class was not deprived of the power of life and death, which was the soul of the relation of master and slave. They could not, of course, sell their former slaves, but they retained the power to starve them to death, and wherever this power is held there is the power of slavery. He who can say to his fellow- man, "You shall serve me or starve," is a master and his subject is a slave..."
                                                       -Frederick Douglass (Boston, 1892 or 2013?)


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Veteran's Night

I am so thankful that America celebrates Veterans Day (although we do not have a Veterans Day Assembly at the school where I teach) and thanks Veterans for the many sacrifices they have made to make our freedom possible. THANK YOU VETERANS!


But, tonight (currently 15 degrees in Minneapolis) I am reminded that between 130,000 and 200,000 veterans are homeless in America...and this outrages me!  Maybe we should have a Veterans Night to bring awareness to the plight of thousands of veterans.
Some statistics on homeless veterans:
23% of homeless population are veterans
33% of male homeless population are veterans
67% served three or more years
33% were stationed in a war zone
76% experience alcohol, drug, or mental health problems
46% are age 45 or older
When will we take serious action to address the underlying causes of homelessness and begin to eliminate this tragedy that plagues our nation?  Veterans...stay safe...stay strong...stay warm...stay proud...
"When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?"
                                             - George Canning


Thursday, November 7, 2013

John Brown: The First To Die

First South Carolina (Union) Volunteers
One of my students asked me this week if I knew who was the first African-American soldier to die in the Civil War.  Contrary to popular wisdom, the 54th Massachusetts were not the first African-American troops involved in the Civil War...

Thomas Wentworth Higginson
The following primary source documentation comes from the daily log of  Col. Thomas Wentworth Higginson entitled "Army Life in a Black Regiment"...

It is "well known" that the first attempt (duty) to recruit a Black Regiment was given to Charles T. Trowbridge of New York beginning in May of 1862.  The regiment trained on Hilton Head Island, S.C. until the beginning of August, 1862 and was sent to garrison (equip and protect) St. Simon's Island, on the coast of Georgia.

There were Rebel forces on the island and the First S.C. Volunteers were asked to pursue them.  When they arrived at St. Simon's they learned that the Freedmen (African-Americans) of the island had already attacked the Rebels. 

Twenty-five of them had armed themselves, under the command of one of their own number, whose name was John Brown. The second in command was Edward Gould, who was afterwards a corporal in my own regiment. The rebel party retreated before these men, and drew them into a swamp. There was but one path, and the negroes entered single file. The rebels lay behind a great log, and fired upon them. John Brown, the leader, fell dead within six feet of the log,---probably the first black man who fell under arms in the war,---several others were wounded, and the band of raw recruits retreated; as did also the rebels, in the opposite direction. This was the first armed encounter, so far as I know, between the rebels and their former slaves; and it is worth noticing that the attempt was a spontaneous thing, and not accompanied by any white man. The men were not soldiers, nor in uniform, though some of them afterwards enlisted in Trowbridge's company.

I never knew till today that "John Brown," was the first negro soldier who fell in this war. He was shot in a skirmish on St. Simon's Island, August 8, 1862. A singular coincidence of names. No wonder our soldiers think him the hero of the John Brown hymn!

"When I strike the bees will begin to swarm!"

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Great Emancipator?

When most Americans think of Abraham Lincoln, they almost always remember him as the President who freed the slaves. Celebrated as the "Great Emancipator," he is widely praised as a hero who fought the Civil War (1861-1865) to give African-American slaves their freedom and equality.

American Colonization Society
While this narrative would make a nice bedtime story, the truth is that Abraham Lincoln believed that African-Americans could never be assimilated into white society. He rejected social equality and strongly supported the idea of Colonization (the view that blacks should be "emancipated" and resettled in Africa, Central America, etc.) in order to protect free white labor. In his own words...

1854: "If all earthly power were given me...I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution [of slavery. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land...politically and socially our equals?...My own feelings will not admit of this...those of the great mass of white people will not ... We can not, then, make them equals."

1857: Racial separation "must be effected by colonization...where there is a will there is a way."

1858:  "There is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

1860: "It is still in our power to direct the process of emancipation, and deportation, peaceably, and in such slow degrees, as that the evil will wear off insensibly; and in their places be...filled up by free white laborers."

1861: Lincoln ordered the Secretary of War to travel to Panama (Chiriqui) "for the purpose of reconnaissance of, and a report upon the lands, and harbors of the Isthmus of Chiriqui; the fitness of the lands to the colonization of the Negro race."

1862: Lincoln authorized $600,000 "to make provision for the transportation, colonization and settlement in some tropical country beyond the limits of the United States, of such persons of African race..."

1862: "I cannot make it better known than it already is, that I strongly favor colonization."

1863: Lincoln discussed a plan to "remove the whole colored race of the slave states into Texas."

1876: Frederick Douglass probably best summarizes Lincoln's views...

"In his interest, in his association, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was preeminently the white man's President, entirely devoted to the welfare of the white man. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people, to promote the welfare of the white people of this country."

Monday, November 4, 2013

Civil Disobedience

I know that sometimes my students complain about reading and writing analysis of primary source documents...but, I still contend that it is one of the greatest ways to think about and learn history.

Today's topic: Henry David Thoreau...


One of America's most famous writers, Henry David Thoreau is remembered for his philosophical and revolutionary thought.  One of his best-known essays, "Civil Disobedience" aka "Resistance to Civil Government" has influenced thousands since it was published in 1849.  Thoreau strongly opposed slavery and was one of very few Americans who spoke out against the Mexican-American War. He made a strong case for acting on one's individual conscience and not blindly following the government.  His non-violent approach to political and social resistance was read by and heavily influenced Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, and Upton Sinclar, among many others.

Thoreau's comments on:
 Slavery & The Mexican-American War
“When a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country (Mexico) is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize.”

 "I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also." 

Thoreau also encouraged others to stand up (with a pure conscience) and make a difference even if they are in the minority...suggesting that our society dies when we have no conscience.

“Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now."

Have we become numb to social injustice, violence, political corruption, oppression, isms, etc.?

Have we accepted to be terminally self-centered? Passive? Uneducated?

The most dangerous thing to do is to ignore your conscience...we must never stop killing jellyfish!