Thursday, October 30, 2014

Destroy Confederate Statues (and Yankee Amnesia)

Stone Mountain, Georgia
Full disclosure, I am a Yankee who believes that many things in our country that are taken as a "source of pride" may actually be a "symbol of national amnesia/ shame". 

We must stop denying/ avoiding the ugly truths, whitewashing history, avoiding the topic of racism, and glorifying injustice (like Lewis & Clark, Manifest Destiny, Mexican-Am War, The American Holocaust on Native Americans, nativism/ jingoism, Vietnam, etc.)

I frequently ask my students, "Would Germany allow statues of Adolf Hitler, Erwin Rommel, Hermann Goering, or Joseph Goebbels (although they do have Nazi Eagles displayed) to exist and be celebrated in their country?" 
Of course not!
The Noble Cause, Forgiveness, and Reunion
So I ask, "Why do we allow thousands of Confederate statues and memorials (of traitors) to remain in our country?"
The answer: Convenient "Truth" and White Reconciliation/ Power
We allow the statues because The South in her historical amnesia "fought for Noble Causes"...states rights, popular sovereignty, soldiers' honor, country, etc. instead of facing the true cause...SLAVERY and WHITE POWER.
In exchange for statues of Lincoln, Grant, Sherman and "Yankee Forgiveness", the South allows us a bout of Yankee Amnesia to "fight for The Noble Cause" of ending slavery instead of our true motivation...THE UNION.
Dr. David Blight (Yale Historian) most succinctly summarizes post- Civil War "Memory"...
"Jim Crow danced his steps at hundreds of Confederate monument unveilings and veterans' parades. High atop his monument in Richmond, Lee represented...a sense of pride and soldierly honor, an end to defeatism, and a new sense of racial mastery."

 There is no honor in glorifying a lie. 
Maybe it is time to tear down the Confederate "Heroes", destroy Mt. Rushmore, recognize the legitimate sovereignty of indigenous nation (e.g. Sioux Nation), and build monuments to those who have fought for "all men are created equal."



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Freedom, A Motherless Child?

"Contraband" Racing to "Freedom"
This week in class, we have been discussing fugitive slaves who escaped to Ft. Monroe, Virginia at the outset of the Civil War and became "Contraband"...I have often thought what it must have felt like to be free (although, as we know they surely weren't free to fight, vote, etc.) after hundreds of years of slavery.
Listen to Paul Robeson sing the classic version...
When I ponder the thought of slavery/ freedom/ denied freedom...I almost always hear the song "Sometimes, I Feel Like a Motherless Child" ringing in my head. This ageless and plaintive Negro Spiritual is clearly a song of pain, hopelessness, anger, and despair.
To me it communicates...
* A literal message that children and families were sold and separated on a regular basis.
* A metaphorical message of longing for Africa and the family left behind.
* A metaphorical message of still feeling like a slave during and after the a "free" country.
* A prophetic message of longing for reunion of family...longing for heaven in this foreign land.
Richie Havens improvises "Motherless Child" aka "Freedom" at Woodstock...
My favorite version of "Motherless Child" was first improvised by Richie Havens at the beginning of the Woodstock Music Festival...Mr. Havens very adeptly cries for freedom in a land of racism, war, hatred, and oppression. POWERFUL!
Is Freedom (are we) metaphorically a motherless child in this land of...
Racial Profiling
Police Brutality
Anti-immigrant Sentiment
Re-segregated Public Schools
Shopping/ Driving/ Living while Black, Brown, etc.
Jim Crow Prisons
Senseless murder in the street
Is it too late to "Let Freedom Ring?"


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mary Peake:Stole It Back

The first and most important thing that the master stole from (and kept from) the slave was their education, memory, and the master, education and slavery were totally incompatible. In light of this crushing oppression, it is not surprising that the first thing freed people "stole back" was their education.

 Mary Peake (1823-1862) devoted her life to education, senior citizens, and service to the poor. She is mostly remembered for starting a school for newly freed "contraband" underneath an oak tree (later known as the "Emancipation Oak") near Fort Monroe, Virginia. I commonly refer to her as the "First African-American Teacher at Fort Freedom."

Thousands of fugitives escape to Fort Monroe

In 1862, Reverend Lewis C. Lockwood shared this recollection of Mary after her death (Tuberculosis):

"A very old man, in the suburbs, often came to her door, and never went empty away; and frequently at evening she would go and carry him warm tea, and in the winter she brought him wood in small armfuls. When he died, he said he wanted Mary to have all that belonged to him. Though he was scarcely worth three cents, it was a rich heart gift."

The "First Freedmen's School":1831-present

Mary Peake should be an "inspiration of service" and to us all...

What do we seek in this life...fame...fortune..."superiority"?

 Or will we "steal things back" and receive the "rich heart gift" of thanks from those we serve?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sleeping Serpent

Recently in class, we listened to a quote by John Jay Chapman...

"There was never any moment in our history when slavery was not a sleeping serpent. It lay coiled up under the table during deliberations of the Constitutional Convention. Owing to the cotton gin it was more than half awake. Thereafter, it was on everyone's mind though not always on his tongue."

Are today's "sleeping serpents" race, immigration, our national deficit, ineffective educational "reform", Jim Crow "Justice", disintegration of family...topics on everyone's mind, but seldom on our tongue?

Unfortunately, racial categories and classifications have been constructed over the past centuries to help "prove" differences, hierarchies, dominance, superiority...Anglo-Saxon Rights, Manifest Destiny, The Master Race...

Ridiculously ironic, when we consider that all "races" are an accumulation of  human interaction over the centuries.

Paul Hoffman writes...

"Our society is obsessed with race and confused by it...we treat race as a polar phenomenon; you are either this or that."

The racial categories created by Johann Blumenbach "scientists", the United States Government Census Bureau,  our stereotyped lens of others, etc. ignores the overwhelming evidence of science that we are genetically the same. 

Hoffman notes that .012  of 1%  is what "separates" us genetically!

Will we ever be able to deconstruct our "differences of melanin" and emphasize our similarities...face our problems head on?

My hope is with my children's and student's generation!


Thursday, October 16, 2014

What did you learn in school today?

Probably the most asked question (besides "how are you doing") in America is "What did you learn in school today"...the usual student response..."NOTHING!"  With the popularity of books with titles like "Lies My Teacher Told Me", it is maybe not so surprising that when students say "NOTHING" is probably the truth.
Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger
Click this link to listen to "What did you learn in school today?"

Tom Paxton, a famous song writer and folk singer (50+ year career) known for his sometimes serious/ critical thinking lyrics posed this question in the early 1960' is his answer.
I learned that Washington never told a lie...I learned that soldiers seldom die.
I learned that everybody's free...And that's what the teacher said to me.
I learned that policemen are my friends...I learned that justice never ends.
I learned that murderers die for their crimes...Even if we make a mistake sometimes.
I learned our government must be strong...It's always right and never wrong.
Our leaders are the finest men...And we elect them again and again.
I learned that war is not so bad...I learned of the great ones we have had.
We fought in Germany and in France...And someday I may get my chance!
That's what I learned in school today...That's what I learned in school.
I truly hope in this age of "boy bands", lyrics that degrade women and glorify drugs, gangs, violence, etc...that my students would be able to "write lyrics" like Tom Paxton for their world in 2014.


Monday, October 13, 2014

On Mexico!

The Mexican-American War perfectly reflected the expansionist/ racial superiority policy of slave owning POTUS James Polk and was largely a "popular" yet controversial war...there was a small group of very vocal critics.

Henry David Thoreau- refused to pay taxes (and spent time in jail) because it directly supported the war.

This war is "the work of a few individuals using government as their tool."

Paying this tax supports "a violent and bloody measure that enables the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood."

John Quincy Adams- cast the first vote in 1846 against the war.

"This is a most unrighteous war."

Abraham Lincoln- openly criticized President Polk's version of "American blood spilled on American soil".

"Show me where there is American blood on American soil...with facts, and not with arguments."

Ulysses S. Grant- serving in the war later said...

"One of the most unjust wars ever waged by a stronger nation against a weaker nation."

Ralph Waldo Emerson- the great philosopher and writer...

"America's swallowing up of over half of Mexico would be like a man who swallows arsenic...Mexico will poison us."

Frederick Douglass- in a speech often referred to as "On Mexico" gave probably the most inflammatory remarks.

Upon hearing of a General who had been killed said, "another legalized murderer has gone to their account...Why may not the oppressed say, when an oppressor is dead, either by disease or by the hand of the foe on the battlefield, that there is one less oppressor left on earth? For my part, I would not care if, tomorrow, I should hear the death of every man who engaged in that bloody war in Mexico, and that every man had met the fate he went there to perpetrate upon unoffending Mexicans."


Friday, October 10, 2014

Mexican-American War:Manifest Larceny

"I want Mexico next!"

In 1844, James Polk became POTUS while running on a strong "Manifest Destiny/ Expansion" platform which called for the annexation of California and Texas. As soon as Texas was granted statehood (December 29, 1845), Mexico broke off diplomatic relations with the United States and prepared for a potential war with the United States.

Almost immediately, the perfect pretext for this war began...a boundary dispute. For decades, in Spanish and Mexican History the western border of Texas Territory was the Nueces River. But in 1836, the Republic of Texas claimed the Rio Grande River as it's new boundary (a difference of millions of acres) based on a verbal surrender agreement with Santa Anna.  However, this verbal agreement was never recognized or legally ratified by the Mexican government.

Zach Taylor's Troops Camp on the Nueces

President Polk (July 8, 1845) ordered General Zachary Taylor and 4,000 troops into the disputed area...

"The assembling of a large Mexican Army on the borders of Texas , and crossing the Rio Grande with a considerable force will be regarded as an invasion of the United States and the commencement of may in your discretion cross the Rio Grande, disperse or capture the forces assembled to invade Texas, defeat the junction of troops uniting in that purpose, drive them from their positions on either side of the river, and, if deemed practicable and expedient, take and hold possession of other places in the country (Mexico).

General Taylor (October 4, 1845) wrote back to Washington, D.C....

"Mexico having as yet made no positive declaration of war, or committed any overt act of hostilities, I do not feel at liberty under my make a forward movement."

On January 13, 1846, orders were sent to Taylor ordering him to provoke Mexico into war.

Mexican General Pedro Ampudia complained to General Taylor in a letter...

"Your advances on the Rio Grande have not only insulted but exasperated the Mexican nation...If you insist on remaining upon the soil of the department of Tamaulipas (Mexican Territory), it will clearly result that arms, and arms alone, must decide the question."

In April of 1846, hostilities erupted and Polk had his war.  General Taylor announces success in the provocation of Mexico...

"Hostilities may now be considered as commenced."

And that is how to start a war...thank goodness we've never done that before!

Friday, October 3, 2014

"What'll Become of Me?"

Click on this link to read my original post about "12 Years A Slave"

This week my students watched the Academy Award-winning movie "12 Years A Slave" many scenes in this movie have seared my memory with thoughts of good and evil, love and hatred, cruelty and kindness, hope and despair, etc.

Yesterday in class, we discussed the scene where Solomon was rescued as Master Epps, Patsey, and others looked on...

From "12 Years A Slave" page 308 Solomon writes:

On my way back to the carriage, Patsey ran from behind a cabin and threw her arms around my neck.

"Oh! Platt," she cried, tears streaming down her face, "you're goin' to be free - you're goin' way off yonder where we'll neber see ye any more. You've saved me a good many whipping, Platt; I'm glad you're goin' to be free - but oh! de Lord, de Lord!...what'll become of me?"

I disengaged myself from her, and entered the carriage. The driver cracked his whip and away we rolled. I looked back and saw Patsey, with drooping head, half reclining on the ground...

"What'll become of me?", is a very interesting and poignant question...many historians have spent years trying to complete the story of Solomon, Patsey, and others who lived on Master Epps plantation. Unfortunately, most of the hard work has come up empty.  Their lives seemed to have disappeared...but, hopefully not forgotten.

But, the question still begs to be asked (maybe in different ways)...

What'll become of me?

What'll become of African-Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, etc.?

What'll become of (us) the United States of America?

200 years from now what will they be saying "became of us?"

I hope they will see some progress and good amidst our empty words/ hypocrisy...


Thursday, October 2, 2014

"Promises" and Lies

“They (Native Americans) 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.”
                                                                       -Andrew Jackson (1833)
Jeremiah Evarts
Jeremiah Evarts was a leading opponent and outspoken critic of the United States government "Indian Policy"...especially The Indian Removal Act. He was quick to point out the hundreds of legal documents/ promises (and hypocrisy of these "promises") made between the government and Native American Nations. Evarts wrote several books and gave many speeches denouncing the government actions against Native Americans.

An excerpt of some of his words...

"If this case should unhappily be decided against the Cherokees, it will be necessary that foreign nations should be well aware, that the People of the United States are ready to take the ground of fulfilling their contracts so long only as they can be overawed by physical force...A good father (Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, etc.) does not tell lies to his children (Native Americans), nor break his promises to them; especially promises that have been respected over the lapse of many years...if these very promises, and a thousand others, should now be broken, there will be an end of reliance on our promises...and we shall be remembered in infamy for future generations."

Evart ends with a question that is as applicable today as it was in 1829...

"Is it possible that our national rulers shall be willing to
expose themselves and our country to the curses of Almighty God?"