Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Watch Night

New Year’s Eve is often called “Watch Night,” a traditional service for many African-American churches...the most accepted "origin" of this tradition is linked to Dec. 31, 1862, as African-American families and churches celebrated "Freedom's Eve" and waited for word that Abraham Lincoln’s "so-called" Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect on Jan. 1, 1863.

But, the tradition of plantation slave gatherings on New Year’s Eve predates the Emancipation Proclamation.  Friends and family would gather (possibly for the last time) on New Year's Eve because New Year’s Day (early January) for many slaves in the South was known as “Heartbreak Day” or "Hiring Day"...a day when slaveholders sold slaves and other property in order to "balance their financial affairs" or to make money through the "hiring out" of excess slaves.

Big Times..."Winter Holidays in the Southern States"

In 1937, former slave Kisey McKimm and Beauregard Tenneyson described "Heartbreak Day"...

“The great day on the plantation, was Christmas, when we all got a little present from the Master...them kind of good times makes me think of Christmas. Didn’t have no Christmas tree, but they set up a long pine table in the house and that plank table was covered with presents and none of the Negroes was ever forgot on that day..Allow me to elaborate briefly on what Christmas meant for the African-American slave population in the South of America. Christmas could mean joy but often the air was filled concurrently by the fragrances of delicacies on the table and of the fear what the New Year would bring. Christmas was sometimes called “The Big Times”, but it ended for many of them with a “Heartbreak Day”.

Harriet Jacobs
Harriet Jacobs, writes in her famous book “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” about "Hiring Day"...

“Hiring-day at the south takes place on the 1st of January. On the 2d, the slaves are expected to go to their new masters...on New Year’s eve they gather together their little alls, or more properly speaking, their little nothings, and wait anxiously for the dawning of day. At the appointed hour the grounds are thronged with men, women, and children, waiting, like criminals, to hear their doom pronounced...(The best master) is surrounded by a crowd, begging, “Please, massa, hire me this year. I will work very hard, massa.” If a slave is unwilling to go with his new master, he is whipped, or locked up in jail, until he consents to go, and promises not to run away during the year.”

"Were it not that hiring is near at hand, and many families are fearfully looking forward to the probability of separation in a few days, Christmas might be a happy season for the poor slaves... “Big Times” and a “Heartbreak Day” were separated by just a few days."
A former slave recalled how each New Year’s Day...
“the cries and tears of brothers, sisters, wives, and husbands were heard in the streets” as black families were separated – at least for twelve months, but possibly forever."

I wish you a Happy New Year!

Tonight remember...your family and friends...those who are serving our country...the homeless and oppressed...

Let us celebrate our freedom and resolve to kill more jellyfish in 2014.

Friday, December 27, 2013


Battle of Bastogne
December 20-27, 1944

The Siege of Bastogne (part of the larger Battle of the Bulge) was a battle from December 20-27, 1944 between Allied (23,000) and German forces (55,000) at the Belgian town of Bastogne...the Americans had been ordered to "hold Bastogne at all cost".
Cold...Hungry...Low on Ammunition
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZzYkxtQQo4 (1:16)

 Bastogne was a crossroads of seven main roads and it was critical to the control of the sea harbor of Antwerp. The Americans who were completely surrounded were given an ultimatum to surrender by the German commander...

Several Germans delivered the message to General Anthony McAuliffe. The General's first reaction was that the Germans wanted to surrender to us...when it was explained that the German's demanded our surrender General McAuliffe laughed and said:

"Us surrender? Aw, nuts!"

A short time later, General McAuliffe decided that a written response was in order.  He typed the following response:

To the German Commander, 
The American Commander."

Upon receiving the note from Col. Joseph Harper, the German major asked, "Is the reply negative or affirmative? If it is the latter I will negotiate further."

Harper answered, "The reply is decidedly not affirmative... If you continue your foolish attack your losses will be tremendous."

Upon "releasing" the German officer Harper said...

"If you don't know what 'Nuts' means, in plain English it is the same as 'Go to Hell'. And I'll tell you something else, if you continue to attack we will kill every goddamn German that tries to break into this city."

Ed "Bazooka Man" Peniche
Listen to Eduardo Peniche's Bastogne memories (3:00 minutes)...


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Words Kill

Dr. Martin Luther King once commented on the history of Native Americans in the United States...

“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.” 

Some primary source quotes about Native Americans from "Our Great White Fathers"...

George Washington- "Indians and wolves are both beasts of prey, tho' they differ in shape."

Thomas Jefferson- “There is perhaps no method more irresistible of obtaining lands from them than by letting them get in debt, which when too heavy to be paid, they are always willing to lop off by a cession of land."

James Monroe- "The hunter or savage state requires a greater extent of territory to sustain it, than is compatible with the progress and just claims of civilized life, and must yield to it." 

Andrew Jackson- "They have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits, nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear."

California Governor Peter Burnett- "A war of extermination will continue to be waged between the two races until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected."

Abraham Lincoln ordered the largest mass execution (38 Dakota Indians) in Mankato, Minnesota.

Major General John Pope-  "It is my purpose utterly to exterminate the Sioux if I have the power to do so… They are to be treated as maniacs and wild beasts."

Theodore Roosevelt- "an alien race with a coveted prize (land) in their feeble grasp."

Woodrow Wilson- "the purposes and motives of this great government and of our nation as a whole towards the red men have been wise, just, and beneficent. The remarkable progress of our Indian brothers towards civilization is proof of it and open for all to see.

John Wayne- "I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves."

John F. Kennedy- "Our treatment of Indians...still affects the national consciousness.... It seems a basic requirement to study the history of Indian people. Only through this study can we as a nation do what must be done if our treatment of the American Indian is not to be marked down for all time as a national disgrace.

Ronald Reagan- "Let me tell you just a little something about the American Indian in our land. We have provided millions of acres of land for what are called preservations - or reservations, I should say. They, from the beginning, announced that they wanted to maintain their way of life, as they had always lived there in the desert and the plains and so forth. And we set up these reservations so they could, and have a Bureau of Indian Affairs to help take care of them. At the same time, we provide education for them - schools on the reservations. And they're free also to leave the reservations and be American citizens among the rest of us, and many do. Some still prefer, however, that way - that early way of life. And we've done everything we can to meet their demands as to how they want to live. Maybe we made a mistake. Maybe we should not have humored them in that wanting to stay in that kind of primitive lifestyle. Maybe we should have said, no, come join us; be citizens along with the rest of us."

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The American Holocaust

 In 1976, Pulitzer prize-winning author and WWII historian John Toland wrote:
“Hitler’s concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed much, so he claimed, to his studies of English and United States history. He admired the camps for Boer prisoners in South Africa and for the Indians in the wild west; and often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination – by starvation and uneven combat – of the red savages who could not be tamed by captivity.”

Over the past 237 years, the United States government has had some very interesting names for it's Indian "Civilization" Policy...Indian Removal, Liquidation, Extermination, Assimilation, Friends of the Indian, Reorganization, Self-Determination, Reservations...(not to mention the hundreds of broken treaties) were/ are "policies" that amount to nothing less than an American Holocaust. 

It was/ is not only a genocide...it was/ is multiple genocides of hundreds of Nations, millions of Native Americans, hundreds of distinct cultures, languages, and tribal identities, the confiscation of billions of acres of land, etc.

Some (idiots) would say that we need to move on...the ends justify the means...ultimately good and progress came from this bad...that was a long time ago...why should I care...

One social commentator said that...

"anyone who didn't celebrate the annihilation of the native peoples of the Americas was self-hating, ridiculous, ignorant, and sinister." People who regard critically the genocide that was carried out in America's past are simply reactionary and that...
"atrocities happen to be the way history is made"
 and "to complain about[atrocities] is as empty as complaint about climatic, geological, or tectonic shift"....such violence is worth glorifying since it more often than not has been for the long-term betterment of humankind - as in the United States today, where the extermination of the Native Americans - the American Indians - has brought about a nearly boundless epoch of opportunity and innovation."
I choose not to forget or sugarcoat the atrocities of yesterday and today. Will we ever get serious and begin to repair the wreckage of Westward Expansion and the tragic neglect of today's "invisible man"?  When will we be able to say that love, respect, justice, and mercy happen to be the way history is made?!?
"Let us put our minds together and
 see what life we can make for our children."
                                         -Sitting Bull

Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/s/sittingbul172388.html#YhIP08wJ3jfRKy7o.99
Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/s/sittingbul172388.html#YhIP08wJ3jfRKy7o.99
Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/s/sittingbul172388.html#YhIP08wJ3jfRKy7o.99

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela: Free

Nelson "Rolihlahla" Mandela

As I taught my classes today, my heart was at half staff as I grieved the loss and quietly celebrated the life of one of my heroes...Nelson Mandela. 

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper

While struggling in my head and heart to find the words to say...a poem by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (famous abolitionist and poet) echoed in my ear.  I submit  "Bury Me In A Free Land" as a "tribute in poem" to Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Following is an excerpt of this moving poem...

Bury Me in A Free Land
Make me a grave where'er you will,
In a lowly plain, or a lofty hill;
Make it among earth's humblest graves,
But not in a land where men are slaves.

I could not rest if around my grave
I heard the steps of a trembling slave;
His shadow above my silent tomb
Would make it a place of fearful gloom.

I would sleep, dear friends, where bloated might
Can rob no man of his dearest right;
My rest shall be calm in any grave
Where none can call his brother a slave.

I ask no monument, proud and high,
To arrest the gaze of the passers-by;
All that my yearning spirit craves,
Is bury me not in a land of slaves. 
"Mr. Mandela, sleep well in a free land!"


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"We Do Not Ride On The Railraod..."

In 1854, Henry David Thoreau wrote...

“We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us.”

He used this paradoxical phrase to symbolize the "progress of  technology" (telegraph and the railroad) as a negative that was ruining the environment and America's quality of life...not to mention the millions of buffalo and Native Americans that were exterminated for "progress" aka Manifest Destiny.

Clearly, Thoreau is implying that technology is something that can deceptively and easily control people. Do you ever find yourself spending too much time on the computer, text messaging, watching television, playing video games, cruising YouTube, listening to your iPod, maintaining a blog (ouch that hurt)...are we riding technology or is it riding us?!?

What a great reminder that we probably consider technology much more important than it really is. Let's take time this week to unplug from our busy and distracted lives and enjoy the simpler things...a meaningful conversation with a friend or family member, the beauty of nature, the intrigue of a good book, the joy of helping others, a quiet walk, telling someone how much you love them, watching the sun set, etc. 


Monday, December 2, 2013

Lady Freedom and Langston Hughes

December 2, 1863

Today is the 150th Anniversary of the crowning of the Capitol Dome with Freedom.  She is a colossal bronze figure (designed by Thomas Crawford) standing 19½-feet tall, weighing approximately 15,000 pounds and standing 288 feet above Washington, D.C.  Freedom holds a sheathed sword in her right hand, while a laurel wreath and the shield of the United States are held in her left hand. 

1855 Phrygian Cap Design
Ironically in 1855, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (later to become POTCSA) was in charge of the Capitol construction project and Crawford's original design was adorned with a Phrygian Cap...an ancient Roman symbol for an emancipated slave!  This seemed to be a direct insult to slaveholders and Davis erupted with anger (so much hypocrisy/ irony here) against this Northern assault to the "Southern Way of Life":

 “Its (Phrygian Cap) history renders it inappropriate to a people
who were born free and would not be enslaved”.

The original design was changed and the final version of Freedom wearing a military helmet with stars, an eagle's head and crest of feathers was placed atop the dome as the Civil War raged!

She gracefully stands on a cast-iron globe inscribed with the words:

The freedom that seemed so close in 1863 and so far away in 1963...is still a freedom worth striving for...for many.
This poem (1965) about a "telescope of dreams" by Langston Hughes is a powerful metaphor to remind us that freedom is not merely the casting off of chains...it is also killing jellyfish...
Long View: Negro
Emancipation: 1865
Sighted through the
Telescope of dreams
Looms larger,
So much larger,
So it seems,
Than truth can be.
But turn the telescope around,
Look through the larger end-
And wonder why
What was so large
Becomes so small