Monday, February 20, 2017

William Monroe Trotter:Freedom Fighter

William Monroe Trotter, born in 1872, was a civil rights activist who (in my opinion) carried the torch of civil rights after Frederick Douglass passed away in 1895.

Trotter was famous for launching an attack on Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Movement. He also was an inspiration for the founding of the NAACP (1896), the owner and editor of The Boston Globe (1901), and was a major leader of The Niagara Movement (1905).

But, in this post I will only focus on two of his most boisterous protests against Black accommodation and White racism...The "Boston Riot" of 1903 and The Birth of a Nation protest marches of 1915.

The Boston Riot

In July of 1903, Booker T. Washington traveled to Boston to speak to the National Negro Business League.  Trotter's plan was to shout out a set of nine prepared questions as Washington spoke.  These questions were basically "calling out" Washington on his status as the so-called spokesman for Black people and for his accommodations/ capitulation to White America in regard to education, voting, civil equality, etc.

As Washington was about to speak, the gathering turned into a small "riot" and as Trotter attempted to shout the provocative questions to Washington he was arrested for disorderly conduct.  He was convicted of the "crime" and spent thirty days in jail as punishment.

Booker T. Washington used many tactics (legal actions against Trotter, economic and vocational pressure against Trotter supporters, sending spies to infiltrate Trotter's organizations, started newspapers to counter Trotter's message, etc.) to try and silence Trotter's "radical" agitation, but Trotter and others (especially W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells) were undeterred from their quest for equality.

Birth of a Nation Protest

In 1915, William Trotter mobilized the Black Community to protest against the newly released film Birth of a Nation.  This epic silent movie retells the "history" of the Civil War and looks at the person of Reconstruction in the post-Civil War era.  The movie demonized Black people as inferior, lawless, and violent while it glorified the KKK in a re-imagined America where North and South would reconcile to bring back White Power as the answer to all of America's economic and social woes.

Trotter lobbied politicians to ban the movie, but ultimately lost his battle to stop the screening of the controversial movie.  When the film opened in Boston, Trotter and a large crowd of African Americans demanding to purchase tickets, he was punched by a police officer and placed under arrest.  Protests (and violent clashes) continued for months, but was eventually "silenced" as the wave of  Jim Crow segregation and White Power drowned any possibility that America would follow their greatest creed that "All Men Are Created Equal".

Let us not be washed away by capitulation and systematic racism today!

''My vocation has been to wage a crusade against lynching, disenfranchisement, peonage, public segregation, injustice, denial of service in public places for color, in war time and peace''. 
--William Monroe Trotter

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Robert Taylor (Homes)

Robert Rochon Taylor was born in Tuskegee, Alabama in 1899, and studied architecture and business administration at Howard University and the University of Illinois.  During the 1920's and 30's he became a prominent business leader in the growing Black community in Chicago.

Taylor devoted his time to providing banking and mortgage services to Black Chicagoans and to develop clean, safe and affordable public housing in the south side neighborhood of Bronzeville.

He became a strong proponent of scattered site housing, a practice that he believed would help promote racial, residential, and economic integration in what had become a racist and racially segregated city.

In the 1950's, it became clear that the "White Power" City Council intended to promote racial segregation by limiting Black occupancy in public housing to all-Black neighborhoods...a plan he fought against until his death in 1957.

In 1959 under the racist "leadership" of Mayor Richard J. Daley (and with the political support from nearby all-white neighborhoods), construction of a massive public housing corridor in what would become the largest public housing project in the world (the project also included a massive highway system, later called the Dan Ryan Expressway, that would help separate the project from the surrounding white enclaves).  The project would eventually include 28 densely populated, 16-story high rise buildings that would house over 27,000 people.

Despite protests from the Black community against the idea that the project promoted racially segregated neighborhoods which reinforced the preexisting poverty, unemployment, and isolation from social services that had been allowed to foster in previous decades, the "development" was built.

In a painful irony, the Chicago City Council decided in 1959 to name this massive housing project and symbol of institutional racism, The Robert Taylor Homes...a name he would have vehemently opposed considering the racial segregation, marginalization, and oppression that they represented.

Postscript: The Robert Taylor Homes (and lifelong friendships) were completely demolished in 2007 under the "leadership" of Mayor Richard M. Daley (the son of Richard J. Daley).

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Abraham Lincoln: Asylum of the Oppressed

In 1850's and 60's when Abraham Lincoln was running for political office, he dispelled any rumors that he was a Nativist/ Xenophobe who believed that the promises of the Founding Fathers (All Men Are Created Equal) only applied to white Anglo-Saxons (and not recent German, Irish, and Scandinavian immigrants).

He stated:

"I would like to know, if taking this old Declaration of Independence...and making exceptions to it, where will it stop?"

The immigrants are "blood of blood, and flesh of the flesh, of the men who wrote the Declaration...that is the electric cord that links the hearts of patriotic and liberty-loving men together, that will link those patriotic hearts as long as the love of freedom exists in the minds of men throughout the world."

Lincoln saw the immigrants as farmers, laborers, and merchants (and voters) who would be needed to help expand the economic future of the United States into the west and pushed for laws that encouraged immigration (especially from countries that would benefit him politically...Lincoln frequently pandered to the millions of German immigrants who tended to be much more radical than him on their views of immediate and universal emancipation of the slaves.)

"Foreign immigration, which in the past has added so much to the wealth, development of resources and increase of power to this nation, the asylum of the oppressed of all nations, should be fostered and encouraged."

As we attempt to interpret Lincoln's view on immigration fro over 150 years ago, it becomes clear that Lincoln was not as concerned with a person's country of origin compared to their love of Liberty (and their willingness to vote for him at the ballot box).

Perhaps the politicians (all parties) of today should figure out how to balance their political pandering and rhetoric with humane actions for those who seek to live in the "Asylum of the Oppressed"!

This is called 'the land of the free and home of the brave'; it is called the 'asylum of the oppressed', and some have been foolish enough to call it the 'Cradle of Liberty'.  If it is  the 'Cradle of Libert', they have rocked the child to death"

                                                                                  -William Wells Brown