“What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglass

Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52.jpg

On July 5, 1852, the famed American abolitionist Frederick Douglass delivered a speech in Rochester, New York’s Corinthian Hall. Making this speech in front of then US President Millard Fillmore and other notable figures in the country, Douglass equates the treatment of slaves of that of the Americans under British rule and persuades them to help the slaves break free like they helped themselves. Like today, the concept of oppression is a strong one for Americans everywhere, which Douglass doesn’t tread lightly. In fact, he uses the country’s rich but then short history to show Americans how badly they treat their fellow countrymen in bondage. While he reminds them they were once treated as slaves, he stresses his view that slaves and Americans are the same and they’re fighting the same fight as they did back in the 1770s. And since slaves are human beings, they should be treated as such. In addition, while Douglass doesn’t speak against religion in general, he does criticize white American Christianity and how white Christian churches deal with slavery in which he expresses outrage on many sects’ utter lack of responsibility and egregious religious hypocrisy. But he believes that the United States doesn’t have to stay the way it is. The country can progress like it did before during the American Revolution and through religion, which he sees as the problem as well as the main solution. At least once people realize that they aren’t living true to what they say they believe and what the Bible actually says. Since while white Americans may be so proud of their country while rejoicing freedom and liberty, they deny these very things to millions of its residents.

Given that Douglass was born and raised a slave and among the few who was educated and broke free, he gives this speech as a fellow US citizen and a slave fighting for freedom for everyone.While the US is said to be built on the idea of freedom and liberty, Douglass shows that it’s more than anything built on inconsistencies that have been overlooked for so long that they now look like truths. And because of these inconsistencies in the country’s way of duty, it’s made the name “The United States of America,” one of mockery and often held in contempt. But if the nation just abolished slavery and give rights to all Americans, it will no longer be the case. Nonetheless, in the end, Douglass keeps his hope and faith in humanity high since he believes slavery’s end is near and that you can’t stop progress. For knowledge is too available and appeasing to shoo away when its services are inconvenient. And he believes that Americans will soon open their eyes and see the atrocities they’ve been inflicting on their fellow countrymen.

While slavery may be over for 150 years, its appalling legacy still remains in racism, oppression, mass incarceration, and discrimination. Today, the United States is under the leadership of a contemptible man who cares nothing for the country for which he leads nor its people. With Donald Trump in the White House undermining our democracy, poisoning our public discourse, smearing our institutions, crippling our government, debasing our sacred values, inflicting terror on the marginalized and putting us through a horrifying nightmare nobody can escape from, celebrating the Fourth of July doesn’t inspire the same patriotic spirit it once had. Even worse, people I know and care about continue to support this unrepentant con artist who’ll only swindle them in the end if he hasn’t already, which only riles me with anger, outrage, and disgust. I’ve copied and pasted this speech on this post for you since it reflects the mixed feelings many Americans like myself have in regards to the present state of affairs at this very dark time.

 

Mr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens: He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country school houses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.

The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way, for it is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence. But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seems to free me from embarrassment.

The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable — and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say, I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium. With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous indulgence, I will proceed to lay them before you.

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands.

According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations.

Fellow-citizens, I shall not presume to dwell at length on the associations that cluster about this day. The simple story of it is that, 76 years ago, the people of this country were British subjects. The style and title of your “sovereign people” (in which you now glory) was not then born. You were under the British Crown. Your fathers esteemed the English Government as the home government; and England as the fatherland. This home government, you know, although a considerable distance from your home, did, in the exercise of its parental prerogatives, impose upon its colonial children, such restraints, burdens and limitations, as, in its mature judgement, it deemed wise, right and proper.

But, your fathers, who had not adopted the fashionable idea of this day, of the infallibility of government, and the absolute character of its acts, presumed to differ from the home government in respect to the wisdom and the justice of some of those burdens and restraints. They went so far in their excitement as to pronounce the measures of government unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive, and altogether such as ought not to be quietly submitted to. I scarcely need say, fellow-citizens, that my opinion of those measures fully accords with that of your fathers. Such a declaration of agreement on my part would not be worth much to anybody. It would, certainly, prove nothing, as to what part I might have taken, had I lived during the great controversy of 1776. To say now that America was right, and England wrong, is exceedingly easy.

Everybody can say it; the dastard, not less than the noble brave, can flippantly discant on the tyranny of England towards the American Colonies. It is fashionable to do so; but there was a time when to pronounce against England, and in favor of the cause of the colonies, tried men’s souls. They who did so were accounted in their day, plotters of mischief, agitators and rebels, dangerous men. To side with the right, against the wrong, with the weak against the strong, and with the oppressed against the oppressor! here lies the merit, and the one which, of all others, seems unfashionable in our day. The cause of liberty may be stabbed by the men who glory in the deeds of your fathers. But, to proceed.

Feeling themselves harshly and unjustly treated by the home government, your fathers, like men of honesty, and men of spirit, earnestly sought redress. They petitioned and remonstrated; they did so in a decorous, respectful, and loyal manner. Their conduct was wholly unexceptionable. This, however, did not answer the purpose. They saw themselves treated with sovereign indifference, coldness and scorn. Yet they persevered. They were not the men to look back.

As the sheet anchor takes a firmer hold, when the ship is tossed by the storm, so did the cause of your fathers grow stronger, as it breasted the chilling blasts of kingly displeasure. The greatest and best of British statesmen admitted its justice, and the loftiest eloquence of the British Senate came to its support. But, with that blindness which seems to be the unvarying characteristic of tyrants, since Pharaoh and his hosts were drowned in the Red Sea, the British Government persisted in the exactions complained of.

The madness of this course, we believe, is admitted now, even by England; but we fear the lesson is wholly lost on our present rulers.

Oppression makes a wise man mad. Your fathers were wise men, and if they did not go mad, they became restive under this treatment. They felt themselves the victims of grievous wrongs, wholly incurable in their colonial capacity. With brave men there is always a remedy for oppression. Just here, the idea of a total separation of the colonies from the crown was born! It was a startling idea, much more so, than we, at this distance of time, regard it. The timid and the prudent (as has been intimated) of that day, were, of course, shocked and alarmed by it.

Such people lived then, had lived before, and will, probably, ever have a place on this planet; and their course, in respect to any great change, (no matter how great the good to be attained, or the wrong to be redressed by it), may be calculated with as much precision as can be the course of the stars. They hate all changes, but silver, gold and copper change! Of this sort of change they are always strongly in favor.

These people were called tories in the days of your fathers; and the appellation, probably, conveyed the same idea that is meant by a more modern, though a somewhat less euphonious term, which we often find in our papers, applied to some of our old politicians.

Their opposition to the then dangerous thought was earnest and powerful; but, amid all their terror and affrighted vociferations against it, the alarming and revolutionary idea moved on, and the country with it.

On the 2d of July, 1776, the old Continental Congress, to the dismay of the lovers of ease, and the worshipers of property, clothed that dreadful idea with all the authority of national sanction. They did so in the form of a resolution; and as we seldom hit upon resolutions, drawn up in our day, whose transparency is at all equal to this, it may refresh your minds and help my story if I read it.

“Resolved, That these united colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown; and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, dissolved.”

Citizens, your fathers made good that resolution. They succeeded; and to-day you reap the fruits of their success. The freedom gained is yours; and you, therefore, may properly celebrate this anniversary. The 4th of July is the first great fact in your nation’s history — the very ring-bolt in the chain of your yet undeveloped destiny.

Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day — cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight.
The coming into being of a nation, in any circumstances, is an interesting event. But, besides general considerations, there were peculiar circumstances which make the advent of this republic an event of special attractiveness.

The whole scene, as I look back to it, was simple, dignified and sublime.

The population of the country, at the time, stood at the insignificant number of three millions. The country was poor in the munitions of war. The population was weak and scattered, and the country a wilderness unsubdued. There were then no means of concert and combination, such as exist now. Neither steam nor lightning had then been reduced to order and discipline. From the Potomac to the Delaware was a journey of many days. Under these, and innumerable other disadvantages, your fathers declared for liberty and independence and triumphed.

Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too — great enough to give fame to a great age. It does not often happen to a nation to raise, at one time, such a number of truly great men. The point from which I am compelled to view them is not, certainly, the most favorable; and yet I cannot contemplate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory.

They loved their country better than their own private interests; and, though this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will concede that it is a rare virtue, and that when it is exhibited, it ought to command respect. He who will, intelligently, lay down his life for his country, is a man whom it is not in human nature to despise. Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country. In their admiration of liberty, they lost sight of all other interests.

They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was “settled” that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were “final;” not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.

How circumspect, exact and proportionate were all their movements! How unlike the politicians of an hour! Their statesmanship looked beyond the passing moment, and stretched away in strength into the distant future. They seized upon eternal principles, and set a glorious example in their defence. Mark them!

Fully appreciating the hardship to be encountered, firmly believing in the right of their cause, honorably inviting the scrutiny of an on-looking world, reverently appealing to heaven to attest their sincerity, soundly comprehending the solemn responsibility they were about to assume, wisely measuring the terrible odds against them, your fathers, the fathers of this republic, did, most deliberately, under the inspiration of a glorious patriotism, and with a sublime faith in the great principles of justice and freedom, lay deep the corner-stone of the national superstructure, which has risen and still rises in grandeur around you.

Of this fundamental work, this day is the anniversary. Our eyes are met with demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm. Banners and pennants wave exultingly on the breeze. The din of business, too, is hushed. Even Mammon seems to have quitted his grasp on this day. The ear-piercing fife and the stirring drum unite their accents with the ascending peal of a thousand church bells. Prayers are made, hymns are sung, and sermons are preached in honor of this day; while the quick martial tramp of a great and multitudinous nation, echoed back by all the hills, valleys and mountains of a vast continent, bespeak the occasion one of thrilling and universal interests nation’s jubilee.

Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do. You could instruct me in regard to them. That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker. The causes which led to the separation of the colonies from the British crown have never lacked for a tongue. They have all been taught in your common schools, narrated at your firesides, unfolded from your pulpits, and thundered from your legislative halls, and are as familiar to you as household words. They form the staple of your national poetry and eloquence.

I remember, also, that, as a people, Americans are remarkably familiar with all facts which make in their own favor. This is esteemed by some as a national trait — perhaps a national weakness. It is a fact, that whatever makes for the wealth or for the reputation of Americans, and can be had cheap! will be found by Americans. I shall not be charged with slandering Americans, if I say I think the American side of any question may be safely left in American hands.

I leave, therefore, the great deeds of your fathers to other gentlemen whose claim to have been regularly descended will be less likely to be disputed than mine!

THE PRESENT.

My business, if I have any here to-day, is with the present. The accepted time with God and his cause is the ever-living now.

“Trust no future, however pleasant,
Let the dead past bury its dead;
Act, act in the living present,
Heart within, and God overhead.”

We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and to the future. To all inspiring motives, to noble deeds which can be gained from the past, we are welcome. But now is the time, the important time. Your fathers have lived, died, and have done their work, and have done much of it well. You live and must die, and you must do your work. You have no right to enjoy a child’s share in the labor of your fathers, unless your children are to be blest by your labors. You have no right to wear out and waste the hard-earned fame of your fathers to cover your indolence. Sydney Smith tells us that men seldom eulogize the wisdom and virtues of their fathers, but to excuse some folly or wickedness of their own. This truth is not a doubtful one. There are illustrations of it near and remote, ancient and modern. It was fashionable, hundreds of years ago, for the children of Jacob to boast, we have “Abraham to our father,” when they had long lost Abraham’s faith and spirit. That people contented themselves under the shadow of Abraham’s great name, while they repudiated the deeds which made his name great. Need I remind you that a similar thing is being done all over this country to-day? Need I tell you that the Jews are not the only people who built the tombs of the prophets, and garnished the sepulchres of the righteous? Washington could not die till he had broken the chains of his slaves. Yet his monument is built up by the price of human blood, and the traders in the bodies and souls of men, shout — “We have Washington to our father.” Alas! that it should be so; yet so it is.

“The evil that men do, lives after them,
The good is oft’ interred with their bones.”

Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation’s sympathy could not warm him?

Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation’s jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the “lame man leap as an hart.”

But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. Yea! we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there, they that carried us away captive, required of us a song; and they who wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth.”

Fellow-citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, “may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world. My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view. Standing, there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this 4th of July! Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the constitution and the Bible, which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! “I will not equivocate; I will not excuse;” I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgement is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some one of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed. But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are seventy-two crimes in the State of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man, (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment. What is this but the acknowledgement that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write. When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, there will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are ploughing, planting and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and cyphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hill-side, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian’s God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? that he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look to-day, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and lo offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength, than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman, cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is past.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

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. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

INTERNAL SLAVE TRADE

Take the American slave-trade, which, we are told by the papers, is especially prosperous just now. Ex-Senator Benton tells us that the price of men was never higher than now. He mentions the fact to show that slavery is in no danger. This trade is one of the peculiarities of American institutions. It is carried on in all the large towns and cities in one-half of this confederacy; and millions are pocketed every year, by dealers in this horrid traffic. In several states, this trade is a chief source of wealth. It is called (in contradistinction to the foreign slave-trade) “the internal slave trade.” It is, probably, called so, too, in order to divert from it the horror with which the foreign slave-trade is contemplated. That trade has long since been denounced by this government, as piracy. It has been denounced with burning words, from the high places of the nation, as an execrable traffic. To arrest it, to put an end to it, this nation keeps a squadron, at immense cost, on the coast of Africa. Everywhere, in this country, it is safe to speak of this foreign slave-trade, as a most inhuman traffic, opposed alike to the laws of God and of man. The duty to extirpate and destroy it, is admitted even by our DOCTORS OF DIVINITY. In order to put an end to it, some of these last have consented that their colored brethren (nominally free) should leave this country, and establish themselves on the western coast of Africa! It is, however, a notable fact that, while so much execration is poured out by Americans upon those engaged in the foreign slave-trade, the men engaged in the slave-trade between the states pass without condemnation, and their business is deemed honorable.

Behold the practical operation of this internal slave-trade, the American slave-trade, sustained by American politics and American religion. Here you will see men and women reared like swine for the market. You know what is a swine-drover? I will show you a man-drover. They inhabit all our Southern States. They perambulate the country, and crowd the highways of the nation, with droves of human stock. You will see one of these human flesh-jobbers, armed with pistol, whip and bowie-knife, driving a company of a hundred men, women, and children, from the Potomac to the slave market at New Orleans. These wretched people are to be sold singly, or in lots, to suit purchasers. They are food for the cotton-field, and the deadly sugar-mill. Mark the sad procession, as it moves wearily along, and the inhuman wretch who drives them. Hear his savage yells and his blood-chilling oaths, as he hurries on his affrighted captives! There, see the old man, with locks thinned and gray. Cast one glance, if you please, upon that young mother, whose shoulders are bare to the scorching sun, her briny tears falling on the brow of the babe in her arms. See, too, that girl of thirteen, weeping, yes! weeping, as she thinks of the mother from whom she has been torn! The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the centre of your soul! The crack you heard, was the sound of the slave-whip; the scream you heard, was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! that gash on her shoulder tells her to move on. Follow this drove to New Orleans. Attend the auction; see men examined like horses; see the forms of women rudely and brutally exposed to the shocking gaze of American slave-buyers. See this drove sold and separated forever; and never forget the deep, sad sobs that arose from that scattered multitude. Tell me citizens, WHERE, under the sun, you can witness a spectacle more fiendish and shocking. Yet this is but a glance at the American slave-trade, as it exists, at this moment, in the ruling part of the United States.

I was born amid such sights and scenes. To me the American slave-trade is a terrible reality. When a child, my soul was often pierced with a sense of its horrors. I lived on Philpot Street, Fell’s Point, Baltimore, and have watched from the wharves, the slave ships in the Basin, anchored from the shore, with their cargoes of human flesh, waiting for favorable winds to waft them down the Chesapeake. There was, at that time, a grand slave mart kept at the head of Pratt Street, by Austin Woldfolk. His agents were sent into every town and county in Maryland, announcing their arrival, through the papers, and on flaming “hand-bills,” headed CASH FOR NEGROES. These men were generally well dressed men, and very captivating in their manners. Ever ready to drink, to treat, and to gamble. The fate of many a slave has depended upon the turn of a single card; and many a child has been snatched from the arms of its mother by bargains arranged in a state of brutal drunkenness.

The flesh-mongers gather up their victims by dozens, and drive them, chained, to the general depot at Baltimore. When a sufficient number have been collected here, a ship is chartered, for the purpose of conveying the forlorn crew to Mobile, or to New Orleans. From the slave prison to the ship, they are usually driven in the darkness of night; for since the antislavery agitation, a certain caution is observed.

In the deep still darkness of midnight, I have been often aroused by the dead heavy footsteps, and the piteous cries of the chained gangs that passed our door. The anguish of my boyish heart was intense; and I was often consoled, when speaking to my mistress in the morning, to hear her say that the custom was very wicked; that she hated to hear the rattle of the chains, and the heart-rending cries. I was glad to find one who sympathised with me in my horror.

Fellow-citizens, this murderous traffic is, to-day, in active operation in this boasted republic. In the solitude of my spirit, I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave-markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.

“Is this the land your Fathers loved,
The freedom which they toiled to win?
Is this the earth whereon they moved?
Are these the graves they slumber in?”

But a still more inhuman, disgraceful, and scandalous state of things remains to be presented.

By an act of the American Congress, not yet two years old, slavery has been nationalized in its most horrible and revolting form. By that act, Mason & Dixon’s line has been obliterated; New York has become as Virginia; and the power to hold, hunt, and sell men, women, and children as slaves remains no longer a mere state institution, but is now an institution of the whole United States. The power is co-extensive with the star-spangled banner and American Christianity. Where these go, may also go the merciless slave-hunter. Where these are, man is not sacred. He is a bird for the sportsman’s gun. By that most foul and fiendish of all human decrees, the liberty and person of every man are put in peril. Your broad republican domain is hunting ground for men. Not for thieves and robbers, enemies of society, merely, but for men guilty of no crime. Your lawmakers have commanded all good citizens to engage in this hellish sport. Your President, your Secretary of State, your lords, nobles, and ecclesiastics, enforce, as a duty you owe to your free and glorious country, and to your God, that you do this accursed thing. Not fewer than forty Americans have, within the past two years, been hunted down and, without a moment’s warning, hurried away in chains, and consigned to slavery and excruciating torture. Some of these have had wives and children, dependent on them for bread; but of this, no account was made. The right of the hunter to his prey stands superior to the right of marriage, and to all rights in this republic, the rights of God included! For black men there are neither law, justice, humanity, not religion. The Fugitive Slave Law makes MERCY TO THEM, A CRIME; and bribes the judge who tries them. An American JUDGE GETS TEN DOLLARS FOR EVERY VICTIM HE CONSIGNS to slavery, and five, when he fails to do so. The oath of any two villains is sufficient, under this hell-black enactment, to send the most pious and exemplary black man into the remorseless jaws of slavery! His own testimony is nothing. He can bring no witnesses for himself. The minister of American justice is bound by the law to hear but one side; and that side, is the side of the oppressor. Let this damning fact be perpetually told. Let it be thundered around the world, that, in tyrant-killing, king-hating, people-loving, democratic, Christian America, the seats of justice are filled with judges, who hold their offices under an open and palpable bribe, and are bound, in deciding in the case of a man’s liberty, hear only his accusers!

In glaring violation of justice, in shameless disregard of the forms of administering law, in cunning arrangement to entrap the defenceless, and in diabolical intent, this Fugitive Slave Law stands alone in the annals of tyrannical legislation. I doubt if there be another nation on the globe, having the brass and the baseness to put such a law on the statute-book. If any man in this assembly thinks differently from me in this matter, and feels able to disprove my statements, I will gladly confront him at any suitable time and place he may select.

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

I take this law to be one of the grossest infringements of Christian Liberty, and, if the churches and ministers of our country were not stupidly blind, or most wickedly indifferent, they, too, would so regard it.

At the very moment that they are thanking God for the enjoyment of civil and religious liberty, and for the right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, they are utterly silent in respect to a law which robs religion of its chief significance, and makes it utterly worthless to a world lying in wickedness. Did this law concern the “mint, anise and cummin”— abridge the right to sing psalms, to partake of the sacrament, or to engage in any of the ceremonies of religion, it would be smitten by the thunder of a thousand pulpits. A general shout would go up from the church, demanding repeal, repeal, instant repeal! And it would go hard with that politician who presumed to solicit the votes of the people without inscribing this motto on his banner.

Further, if this demand were not complied with, another Scotland would be added to the history of religious liberty, and the stern old Covenanters would be thrown into the shade. A John Knox would be seen at every church door, and heard from every pulpit, and Fillmore would have no more quarter than was shown by Knox, to the beautiful, but treacherous queen Mary of Scotland. The fact that the church of our country, (with fractional exceptions), does not esteem “the Fugitive Slave Law” as a declaration of war against religious liberty, implies that that church regards religion simply as a form of worship, an empty ceremony, and not a vital principle, requiring active benevolence, justice, love and good will towards man. It esteems sacrifice above mercy; psalm-singing above right doing; solemn meetings above practical righteousness. A worship that can be conducted by persons who refuse to give shelter to the houseless, to give bread to the hungry, clothing to the naked, and who enjoin obedience to a law forbidding these acts of mercy, is a curse, not a blessing to mankind. The Bible addresses all such persons as “scribes, pharisees, hypocrites, who pay tithe of mint, anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith.”

THE CHURCH RESPONSIBLE

But the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines. who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion and the Bible to the whole slave system. They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done! These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throne of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that “pure and undefiled religion” which is from above, and which is “first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation — a religion, a church, and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, “Bring no more vain ablations; incense is an abomination unto me: the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth. They are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea! when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOOD; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgement; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow.”

The American church is guilty, when viewed in connection with what it is doing to uphold slavery; but it is superlatively guilty when viewed in connection with its ability to abolish slavery. The sin of which it is guilty is one of omission as well as of commission. Albert Barnes but uttered what the common sense of every man at all observant of the actual state of the case will receive as truth, when he declared that “There is no power out of the church that could sustain slavery an hour, if it were not sustained in it.”

Let the religious press, the pulpit, the Sunday school, the conference meeting, the great ecclesiastical, missionary, Bible and tract associations of the land array their immense powers against slavery and slave-holding; and the whole system of crime and blood would be scattered to the winds; and that they do not do this involves them in the most awful responsibility of which the mind can conceive.

In prosecuting the anti-slavery enterprise, we have been asked to spare the church, to spare the ministry; but how, we ask, could such a thing be done? We are met on the threshold of our efforts for the redemption of the slave, by the church and ministry of the country, in battle arrayed against us; and we are compelled to fight or flee. From what quarter, I beg to know, has proceeded a fire so deadly upon our ranks, during the last two years, as from the Northern pulpit? As the champions of oppressors, the chosen men of American theology have appeared — men, honored for their so-called piety, and their real learning. The LORDS of Buffalo, the SPRINGS of New York, the LATHROPS of Auburn, the COXES and SPENCERS of Brooklyn, the GANNETS and SHARPS of Boston, the DEWEYS of Washington, and other great religious lights of the land, have, in utter denial of the authority of Him, by whom they professed to he called to the ministry, deliberately taught us, against the example of the Hebrews and against the remonstrance of the Apostles, they teach “that we ought to obey man’s law before the law of God.”

My spirit wearies of such blasphemy; and how such men can be supported, as the “standing types and representatives of Jesus Christ,” is a mystery which I leave others to penetrate. In speaking of the American church, however, let it be distinctly understood that I mean the great mass of the religious organizations of our land. There are exceptions, and I thank God that there are. Noble men may be found, scattered all over these Northern States, of whom Henry Ward Beecher of Brooklyn, Samuel J. May of Syracuse, and my esteemed friend on the platform, are shining examples; and let me say further, that upon these men lies the duty to inspire our ranks with high religious faith and zeal, and to cheer us on in the great mission of the slave’s redemption from his chains.

RELIGION IN ENGLAND AND RELIGION IN AMERICA

One is struck with the difference between the attitude of the American church towards the anti-slavery movement, and that occupied by the churches in England towards a similar movement in that country. There, the church, true to its mission of ameliorating, elevating, and improving the condition of mankind, came forward promptly, bound up the wounds of the West Indian slave, and restored him to his liberty. There, the question of emancipation was a high[ly] religious question. It was demanded, in the name of humanity, and according to the law of the living God. The Sharps, the Clarksons, the Wilberforces, the Buxtons, and Burchells and the Knibbs, were alike famous for their piety, and for their philanthropy. The anti-slavery movement there was not an anti-church movement, for the reason that the church took its full share in prosecuting that movement: and the anti-slavery movement in this country will cease to be an anti-church movement, when the church of this country shall assume a favorable, instead of a hostile position towards that movement. Americans! your republican politics, not less than your republican religion, are flagrantly inconsistent. You boast of your love of liberty, your superior civilization, and your pure Christianity, while the whole political power of the nation (as embodied in the two great political parties), is solemnly pledged to support and perpetuate the enslavement of three millions of your countrymen. You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants of Russia and Austria, and pride yourselves on your Democratic institutions, while you yourselves consent to be the mere tools and bodyguards of the tyrants of Virginia and Carolina. You invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad, honor them with banquets, greet them with ovations, cheer them, toast them, salute them, protect them, and pour out your money to them like water; but the fugitives from your own land you advertise, hunt, arrest, shoot and kill. You glory in your refinement and your universal education; yet you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation — a system begun in avarice, supported in pride, and perpetuated in cruelty. You shed tears over fallen Hungary, and make the sad story of her wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen and orators, till your gallant sons are ready to fly to arms to vindicate her cause against her oppressors; but, in regard to the ten thousand wrongs of the American slave, you would enforce the strictest silence, and would hail him as an enemy of the nation who dares to make those wrongs the subject of public discourse! You are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or for Ireland; but are as cold as an iceberg at the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America. You discourse eloquently on the dignity of labor; yet, you sustain a system which, in its very essence, casts a stigma upon labor. You can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a threepenny tax on tea; and yet wring the last hard-earned farthing from the grasp of the black laborers of your country. You profess to believe “that, of one blood, God made all nations of men to dwell on the face of all the earth,” and hath commanded all men, everywhere to love one another; yet you notoriously hate, (and glory in your hatred), all men whose skins are not colored like your own. You declare, before the world, and are understood by the world to declare, that you “hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal; and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; and that, among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;” and yet, you hold securely, in a bondage which, according to your own Thomas Jefferson, “is worse than ages of that which your fathers rose in rebellion to oppose,” a seventh part of the inhabitants of your country.

Fellow-citizens! I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a by word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes. Oh! be warned! be warned! a horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation’s bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!

THE CONSTITUTION

But it is answered in reply to all this, that precisely what I have now denounced is, in fact, guaranteed and sanctioned by the Constitution of the United States; that the right to hold and to hunt slaves is a part of that Constitution framed by the illustrious Fathers of this Republic.

Then, I dare to affirm, notwithstanding all I have said before, your fathers stooped, basely stooped

“To palter with us in a double sense:
And keep the word of promise to the ear,
But break it to the heart.”

And instead of being the honest men I have before declared them to be, they were the veriest imposters that ever practised on mankind. This is the inevitable conclusion, and from it there is no escape. But I differ from those who charge this baseness on the framers of the Constitution of the United States. It is a slander upon their memory, at least, so I believe. There is not time now to argue the constitutional question at length — nor have I the ability to discuss it as it ought to be discussed. The subject has been handled with masterly power by Lysander Spooner, Esq., by William Goodell, by Samuel E. Sewall, Esq., and last, though not least, by Gerritt Smith, Esq. These gentlemen have, as I think, fully and clearly vindicated the Constitution from any design to support slavery for an hour.

Fellow-citizens! there is no matter in respect to which, the people of the North have allowed themselves to be so ruinously imposed upon, as that of the pro-slavery character of the Constitution. In that instrument I hold there is neither warrant, license, nor sanction of the hateful thing; but, interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT. Read its preamble, consider its purposes. Is slavery among them? Is it at the gateway? or is it in the temple? It is neither. While I do not intend to argue this question on the present occasion, let me ask, if it be not somewhat singular that, if the Constitution were intended to be, by its framers and adopters, a slave-holding instrument, why neither slavery, slaveholding, nor slave can anywhere be found in it. What would be thought of an instrument, drawn up, legally drawn up, for the purpose of entitling the city of Rochester to a tract of land, in which no mention of land was made? Now, there are certain rules of interpretation, for the proper understanding of all legal instruments. These rules are well established. They are plain, common-sense rules, such as you and I, and all of us, can understand and apply, without having passed years in the study of law. I scout the idea that the question of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of slavery is not a question for the people. I hold that every American citizen has a right to form an opinion of the constitution, and to propagate that opinion, and to use all honorable means to make his opinion the prevailing one. Without this right, the liberty of an American citizen would be as insecure as that of a Frenchman. Ex-Vice-President Dallas tells us that the constitution is an object to which no American mind can be too attentive, and no American heart too devoted. He further says, the constitution, in its words, is plain and intelligible, and is meant for the home-bred, unsophisticated understandings of our fellow-citizens. Senator Berrien tell us that the Constitution is the fundamental law, that which controls all others. The charter of our liberties, which every citizen has a personal interest in understanding thoroughly. The testimony of Senator Breese, Lewis Cass, and many others that might be named, who are everywhere esteemed as sound lawyers, so regard the constitution. I take it, therefore, that it is not presumption in a private citizen to form an opinion of that instrument.

Now, take the constitution according to its plain reading, and I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.

I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion.

Allow me to say, in conclusion, notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country. There are forces in operation, which must inevitably work The downfall of slavery. “The arm of the Lord is not shortened,” and the doom of slavery is certain. I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age. Nations do not now stand in the same relation to each other that they did ages ago. No nation can now shut itself up from the surrounding world, and trot round in the same old path of its fathers without interference. The time was when such could be done. Long established customs of hurtful character could formerly fence themselves in, and do their evil work with social impunity. Knowledge was then confined and enjoyed by the privileged few, and the multitude walked on in mental darkness. But a change has now come over the affairs of mankind. Walled cities and empires have become unfashionable. The arm of commerce has borne away the gates of the strong city. Intelligence is penetrating the darkest corners of the globe. It makes its pathway over and under the sea, as well as on the earth. Wind, steam, and lightning are its chartered agents. Oceans no longer divide, but link nations together. From Boston to London is now a holiday excursion. Space is comparatively annihilated. Thoughts expressed on one side of the Atlantic are, distinctly heard on the other. The far off and almost fabulous Pacific rolls in grandeur at our feet. The Celestial Empire, the mystery of ages, is being solved. The fiat of the Almighty, “Let there be Light,” has not yet spent its force. No abuse, no outrage whether in taste, sport or avarice, can now hide itself from the all-pervading light. The iron shoe, and crippled foot of China must be seen, in contrast with nature. Africa must rise and put on her yet unwoven garment. “Ethiopia shall stretch out her hand unto God.”[13] In the fervent aspirations of William Lloyd Garrison, I say, and let every heart join in saying it:

God speed the year of jubilee
The wide world o’er!
When from their galling chains set free,
Th’ oppress’d shall vilely bend the knee,
And wear the yoke of tyranny
Like brutes no more.
That year will come, and freedom’s reign,
To man his plundered rights again
Restore.

God speed the day when human blood
Shall cease to flow!
In every clime be understood,
The claims of human brotherhood,
And each return for evil, good,
Not blow for blow;
That day will come all feuds to end
And change into a faithful friend
Each foe.

God speed the hour, the glorious hour,
When none on earth
Shall exercise a lordly power,
Nor in a tyrant’s presence cower;
But all to manhood’s stature tower,
By equal birth!
THAT HOUR WILL, COME, to each, to all,
And from his prison-house, the thrall
Go forth.

Until that year, day, hour, arrive,
With head, and heart, and hand I’ll strive,
To break the rod, and rend the gyve,
The spoiler of his prey deprive–
So witness Heaven!
And never from my chosen post,
Whate’er the peril or the cost,
Be driven.

Advertisements

Thoughts on Charleston

061815-ap-charleston-church-shooting-03

On the night of Wednesday June 17, 2015 at 9:05 p.m., a 21-year-old white gunman named Dylann Storm Roof fired upon a Bible Study group at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. All the victims were black which included 9 killed, particularly senior black pastor Clementa C. Pinckney who’s also a Democratic state senator as well as a one wounded but survived. And they were all black. It was the deadliest attack on an American place of worship since the 1991 mass murder of Wat Promkunaram Buddhist temple in Waddell, Arizona in which nine people also died. And it was the largest American mass shooting since the 2013 Washington Navy Yard shooting. My thoughts, condolences, heart, and prayers goes out to the survivors as well as members of Emmanuel A. M. E. Church, the victims’ families, and the African American community.

What happened in Charleston was a senseless act of terror resulting in 9 senseless deaths and an entire community engulfed in tragedy. What’s even uglier about this tragedy is that it was motivated by racial hatred which was born out of the sad American legacy of slavery that gave rise to white supremacy as an ideology. Even today, though racism is no longer seen as acceptable, it still remains embedded in our systems and institutions as well as in the minds of many of America’s citizens. It’s a toxic ideology that has plagued so much of our culture that as much as I try to fight what I see as hatred plain as day, sometimes even I feel that I’m not above the destructive influence of our infectious racist climate. I am aware of white privilege and probably have benefited from it, even though I may not even know it. But whatever racist thoughts I may have, I am well aware of how unjustifiable they are. Just because I may have it better than some blacks due to the color of my skin does not mean that I am any better or worse than any other black person. And that blacks should be considered as human beings and able to enjoy the same rights as any American citizen. Unfortunately, too many whites don’t seem to see it that way, especially in South Carolina and that’s a problem.

Founded in 1816, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the oldest black churches in the United States as well as a key hotspot for African American activism during the Civil Rights Movement. It was also marred by racial violence in its early years not at all helped by the fact one of its founders was linked to a slave revolt in 1822.

Founded in 1816, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one of the oldest black churches in the United States as well as a key hotspot for African American activism during the Civil Rights Movement. It was also marred by racial violence in its early years not at all helped by the fact one of its founders was linked to a slave revolt in 1822.

This is not the first time Emanuel A.M.E Church has experienced racially motivated violence and I’m certain it won’t be the last. From its founding in 1816, it had seen a long share of violence in the name of white supremacist hate. It began as an illegal church at a time when black churches were outlawed in Charleston and South Carolina prohibited black literacy. It was subject to raids by city officials in 1818, 1820, and 1821. In 1822, one of the church’s founders named Denmark Vessey was implicated in an alleged slave revolt, was arrested and subject to a secret trial along with five other alleged organizers, and executed. The original building was then burned to the ground by white supremacists. By the time it was rebuilt, Charleston had already banned all black churches compelling the congregants to meet in secret until the end of the Civil War in 1865. And as far as black churches go, Emanuel wasn’t the only one subject to white supremacist terrorism either since other black churches have had their share, especially in the South where they have been pillars among the African American communities they served. Many black churches were involved in the Civil Rights Movement as well as acted as sanctuaries from racism and for civil rights rallies. Churches were prime targets by white supremacists terrorists. One of the most famous is the 1963 Klu Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama which killed 4 young girls and called by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as “one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.” Add this to the fact that many blacks were victims of white supremacist violence during the Civil Rights Era mainly because they simply dared to demand equal rights, which many whites didn’t want to happen. White supremacist terrorism was seen as a way to punish black communities and maintain control by creating a climate of terror and fear that would make black political organizing of demonstrations, sit-ins, and other forms of protest impossible.

For much of American history, black churches have played significant roles in the African American community, especially since they were often hubs for political organization during the Civil Rights Movement. This made such places key targets for white supremacist violence. Shown here is Birmingham, Alabama's 16th Street Baptist Church which was subject to a Klu Klux Klan bombing in September 16, 1963 which killed 4 young girls and wounded 22.

For much of American history, black churches have played significant roles in the African American community, especially since they were often hubs for political organization during the Civil Rights Movement. This made such places key targets for white supremacist violence. Shown here is Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church which was subject to a Klu Klux Klan bombing in September 16, 1963 which killed 4 young girls and wounded 22.

It should be obvious to everyone that what happened in Charleston was nothing but a premeditated white supremacist terrorism, which every citizen in this country should take very seriously and part of a long and painful history of politically motivated white violence against blacks. Even if you’re a foreigner who knows absolutely nothing about American History, the mere details in this case should entail that Roof’s nefarious deed was a hate crime. For one, Roof was in the church an hour before he started shooting and reloaded his gun five times. This indicates that he came prepared. Second, one survivor recalled one of the victims asking Roof why he’s doing this in which he reportedly replied, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Anyone who understands race relations in the southern US should know that the image of a black man raping a white woman is a very pervasive one that had been used as an excuse for whites to systematically justify their racism against blacks, especially when it involves the worst forms violence such as lynchings. But this image is seen in Birth of a Nation in which the scene of the Klu Klux Klan lynching a black man is seen as a noble act of heroism (of course, the racism in this movie is extremely vile). And it’s also unfortunate that it led to a KKK revival explaining why its membership numbered to 6 million in 1925 despite being highly racist even by the standards of 1915). It’s present in the minds of the whites of Depression era Maycomb County, Alabama in To Kill a Mockingbird despite the fact that Tom Robinson was 100% innocent of doing anything to hurt Mayella Ewell besides being too nice to her for his own good but is wrongfully convicted by an all-white jury anyway. Not only that, but Roof was said to be shouting racist epithets while gunning down each of the victims and those who managed to survive played dead. Roof might’ve intended at least one person to survive and tell the tale, but I’m not exactly sure. Third, Roof’s Facebook page contains pictures of him with very white supremacist imagery such as the flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as well as a Confederate flag license plate. Fourth, even the people who knew Roof can recall how he expressed his support for racial segregation, his intention to start another civil war, his claim that, “blacks were taking over the world,” and his intentions to kill people, including a plot to attack the College of Charleston. He also had a criminal record prior to the incident as well. All this establishes the fact that Roof was a bonafide racist and his crimes were racially motivated. We should never think otherwise. If the Klu Klux Klan’s racial violence against racial, ethnic, and/or religious minorities should be considered terrorism, then so should Dylann Roof’s as well as anyone else who does the same. The motivation on the Emanuel A.M.E. Church shooting was to terrorize black people.

Despite that the shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. was certainly a deliberate act of white supremacist terrorism,  South Carolina's State Capitol continues to fly the Confederate flag at full mast. This is very disrespectful  to the black victims, their families, and the Charleston black community. This banner has been used to legitimize widespread racism even if such acts were violent, illegal, and dehumanizing.

Despite that the shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. was certainly a deliberate act of white supremacist terrorism, South Carolina’s State Capitol continues to fly the Confederate flag at full mast. This is very disrespectful to the black victims, their families, and the Charleston black community. This banner has been used to legitimize widespread racism even if such acts were violent, illegal, and dehumanizing.

However, as far as American racism is concerned, the Charleston shooting is just the tip of the iceberg. Even today, the discrimination and injustices against African Americans are just too innumerable for me to describe in detail. And even if I could, then I’m sure whatever I say about them can never do justice for so many African Americans who have been harmed by them. But all too often I’ve heard of how blacks have been disproportionately and negatively affected buy such things as mass incarceration, Stand Your Ground laws, police misconduct and brutality, redlining, environmental discrimination, voter ID laws, misconduct by the criminal justice system, racial profiling, gerrymandering, the War on Drugs, destructive stereotypes aimed at poor blacks, rap artists being called out on promoting violence, sex, and butchering the English language (as well as having their songs being marketed like that), a lot of forms of workplace and education discrimination, having their accomplishments downplayed or outright ignored in the American history books, being depicted as either violent brutes or unable to save themselves without white intervention in Hollywood movies, being underrepresented in all spheres of American life, gentrification,  being subject to police intervention and media derision even in their most legitimate protests, inadequate public schooling, and the list goes on. Now the American South isn’t the only place in the country where blacks have experienced racism and injustice by hateful whites, but it’s basically the worst offender, especially South Carolina. It’s well known that slavery treated blacks less than people whose only purpose was to serve their masters without expecting much in return and no prospect of being freed. And we all know that the South seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy so most of the African American population can be considered property, not people, which resulted in a bloody 4-year war over it (a lost cause that was never in any way honorable). It’s also well known that racial segregation and Jim Crow laws were put in place so that blacks would be kept separate from whites and not have any political or any other power to assert themselves. They were also terrorized and lynched by white supremacists in the South if they ever dared to vote, demand their rights, purchased land, or owned successful businesses. Sure, racism might not be as blatant or acceptable as it once was, especially when we have a democratically elected black president, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there and that it’s not a problem. Because if the Charleston shooting has taught us anything, it’s that racism still exists and that it’s a problem. And in the South, it’s particularly bad.

D. W. Griffith's epic 1915 groundbreaking film The Birth of a Nation is the most racist film in American history, even by the standards of the time. The anti-black sentiment in this film is extremely vile in which the African Americans are played by white actors in blackface and the Klu Klux Klan members are seen as the heroic saviors of white Southern honor. Unsurprisingly, it managed to get enough fans that it's attributed to a KKK revival which peaked at 6 million members in 1925. But please, unless you're a film student, I'd strongly encourage that you avoid this disasterpiece of film.

D. W. Griffith’s epic 1915 groundbreaking film The Birth of a Nation is the most racist film in American history, even by the standards of the time. The anti-black sentiment in this film is extremely vile in which the African Americans are played by white actors in blackface and the Klu Klux Klan members are seen as the heroic saviors of white Southern honor. Unsurprisingly, it managed to get enough fans that it’s attributed to a KKK revival which peaked at 6 million members in 1925. But please, unless you’re a film student, I’d strongly encourage that you avoid this disasterpiece of film.

How do I know this? Because the United States is suffused with perverse symbolism that legitimizes anti-black violence and no place in the country is more notorious for this than the American South. This being because it’s the area most likely to embrace the nostalgia of the antebellum Old South and the ideology of the Neo-Confederate “Lost Cause” which portrays the Confederate struggle against the Union as noble one that had absolutely nothing to do with slavery (despite evidence to the contrary). Thus, this leads to white Southerners glorifying and possibly revering their American past as well as perpetuating racist ideas, instead of actually learning that subjugating an entire group of people into involuntary servitude on the basis color is inherently wrong. Sure your average redneck might not mean any harm if he puts a Confederate flag on his pickup truck, other than perhaps showing his love for Lynyrd Skynyrd. And of course, he may not even intend to send a message to impressionable or perhaps disturbed young white men like Dylann Roof that African Americans are less-than-equal members of the political community and that using illegal violence against their interests is justified or that it’s noble to fight and die for the purpose of enslaving black people even if it means betraying your country. In fact, he might not be racist against black people at all (or so he says). But your average redneck might not know that like words, symbols carry meanings that stand independently of any individual’s subjective intentions, which can lead to even the most non-racist but nevertheless passionate Lynyrd Skynyrd fan be mistaken for a racist or believing that lawless pursuit of white supremacy is not necessarily wrong and may at times be worthy of celebration.

Among Southern whites, Nathan Bedford Forrest is a very popular figure, especially in Tennessee where he has several stuff named after him, 32 historical markers dedicated to him, and his own state holiday in July. However, Forrest was a former slave trader best know n for allegedly being the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and accused of war crimes for allowing his men to massacre hundreds of Union black and white Southern Unionist  POWs after the Battle of Fort Pillow. Not someone you'd want to have a state holiday for.

Among Southern whites, Nathan Bedford Forrest is a very popular figure, especially in Tennessee where he has several stuff named after him, 32 historical markers dedicated to him, and his own state holiday in July. However, Forrest was a former slave trader best know n for allegedly being the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and accused of war crimes for allowing his men to massacre hundreds of Union black and white Southern Unionist POWs after the Battle of Fort Pillow on February 12, 1864. Not someone you’d want to have a state holiday for.

But it’s not just Lynyrd Skynyrd fans who have a problem with white supremacist symbolism or even ideas. To this day, South Carolina continues to fly a Confederate flag on the grounds of its state capitol. In the city of Charleston itself, you will find Emanuel A.M.E. is on Calhoun Street, named after antebellum politician and political theorist John C. Calhoun, best known for defending slavery as something positive, distrusting majoritarianism, championing the idea of nullification which states that individual states have a right to declare federal laws null and void if they viewed them unconstitutional, and helping to escalate Southern threats of secession in the face of mounting Northern abolitionist sentiment. Not exactly a guy you’d want to name a street after but despite dying 11 years before the Civil War, he’s fairly influential in American politics, mostly for the worse. A mile and the half of Emanuel A.M.E. is a public park featuring a monument “to the Confederate Defenders of Charleston” commemorating, you know, a bunch of guys who broke off from their country as well as fought and died to keep blacks under involuntary servitude. In Tennessee, you have no less than a high school, a state park, and a university ROTC building named after Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest best known for allegedly being the first Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan (a fact even namesake Forrest Gump admits) as well as being accused of war crimes for allowing forces under his command to massacre hundreds of black Union Army and white Southern Unionist POWs, an incident surrounded in controversy to this day. Prior to the war, he was slave trader. But even this doesn’t keep Tennesseans from putting his bust at the State Capitol in Nashville, dedicating 32 historical markers linked to him (more than resident US presidents Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson), and celebrating July 13 as “Nathan Bedford Forrest Day” which is an official state holiday. Confederate President Jefferson Davis has not only a statue in the US Capitol Rotunda, but also a highway in Northern Virginia as well as counties in Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Texas named after him. And this guy owned a Mississippi cotton plantation of over 100 slaves, believed every state was sovereign and had an unquestionable right to secede from the Union (and continue to do so for the rest of his life), did a terrible job as president of the Confederacy and was highly unpopular, fled the country for a time after a two year imprisonment on the charge of treason, and flushed his own shit into the street of his Richmond home (not exactly relevant or his fault, but true). Davis was no hero and defended the South’s actions until the day he died as well as believed in a Southern social order, according to historian William Cooper, “a democratic white polity based firmly on dominance of a controlled and excluded black caste.” And that doesn’t even bring me to discuss the more than dozen public schools named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee and others save maybe James Longstreet who became a Republican, led an African American regiment against white supremacists during Reconstruction in 1874, and supported civil rights for blacks (but he’s not among the South’s most liked Confederate generals and is usually the one whom most Southerners blame for the Confederate loss at Gettysburg, possibly the war). Or the streets of Charleston being named after Confederate generals as well with the exception of James Longstreet if his name is even on a street sign.

As first and only president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis proved to be a weak and ineffective leader as well as very unpopular by Civil War's end in 1865. He's seen as a hero by many Southern whites today because his writings after the war which contributed to the

As first and only president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis proved to be a weak and ineffective leader as well as very unpopular by Civil War’s end in 1865. He’s seen as a hero by many Southern whites today because his writings after the war which contributed to the “Lost Cause” myth, which was used to perpetuate widespread violence and discrimination against African Americans for decades. He saw absolutely nothing wrong with controlling blacks and excluding them from any political decision making. And he was never sorry for betraying his country. Yet, he has a highway named after him in Virginia. And you don’t want to know where his bodily waste went in Richmond.

Unfortunately, despite that the Charleston church shooting was 100% racially motivated terrorism, some whites Americans go to great lengths to say why this isn’t the case for various reasons. For one, much of the Republicans’ success depends on a lot of support from conservative Southern whites, many of whom are either believers of the “Lost Cause” narrative or at least tend to have a nodding appreciation for the Confederate side of the American Civil War. For a Republican to say that this tragedy was an act of white supremacist terrorism would be to alienate a considerable portion of the electorate who don’t want to be seen responsible for it. Sure Dylann Roof might’ve been a nutjob but he wasn’t an island onto himself and any mental illness he may have doesn’t excuse his actions. Besides, it’s as clear as day that he was a white supremacist who flaunted it (though he was probably influenced by his family and the culture he grew up in). Secondly, the white South doesn’t want to change or own up to anything pertaining to periods of race relations they’d rather nostalgize and romanticize. And even Southern whites who may not have anything against blacks might feel that taking down a Confederate flag or a name like Calhoun or of a Confederate Civil War general would be an affront to Southern pride and Southern culture. But such nostalgia on the “Lost Cause” and the Old South is very toxic when it comes to a group of people who were once subjugated to one of the worst human rights abuses in history during that same time.

The

The “Lost Cause” myth in American history is a mix of Confederate nostalgia and romanticism that paints the South secession as legitimate, noble, and totally not about slavery. Further, it gives the impression that slaves were happy to be working under involuntary servitude with absolutely no rights of their own. Such idea has a very pervasive influence in American history which has led to widespread discrimination as well as violence against African Americans. Unfortunately, this is the kind of fictitious nonsense that’s very likely taught in Texas public schools.

So conservatives tend to say that the church shooting was an Anti-Christian terrorist attack while trying to appeal to the Fundamentalist Christian persecution complex. Sure the shooting took place at a church, but it was at this historic black church known for its involvement in the Civil Rights Movement as well as associated with a man implicated in a slave revolt. If Dylann Roof really hated Christianity, he could’ve just fired upon any Christian place of worship he wished and I’m sure he didn’t have to be too picky on potential Christian victims, especially in South Carolina. Race is the heart of what went on in Charleston and it’s very clear that Roof’s a white supremacist who probably sees blacks as no more than dirt. While persecution of Christians isn’t unknown in American history, it usually applied to a particular denomination like Catholics, Quakers, Jehovah Witnesses, or Mormons among the most targeted groups since their religious practices didn’t conform to the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant ideal to the dismay of some Americans, not Christianity in the general sense of the term. Besides, when it came to attacks on black churches, the white attackers were probably as faithful churchgoing Christians as their black victims despite having a funny way of showing it (and used their faith to justify why blacks were inferior). So no, the Charleston shooting had absolutely nothing to do with religion.

The

The “Black Lives Matter” protests of Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore were formed to address the systematic discrimination and violence against blacks by the criminal justice system. However, it’s been met with a lot of backlash from Fox News and their white allies, pointing to how most black people are killed by other blacks. While this statistic may be true, it doesn’t address why blacks victimized by whites and/or authority figures don’t seem to receive any justice whatsoever. For instance, in Florida, whites were more likely to be acquitted under Stand Your Ground laws if the victim was black than vice versa. This is why the case with George Zimmerman shooting Trayvon Martin was a judicial travesty. So if you were a black living in Florida who shot a white guy in self-defense, I’m afraid Stand Your Ground won’t help you.

But what I think can be even more toxic in the United States is the idea of racial apathy. A lot of white Americans may have racist attitudes because they benefit so much from white privilege and were never subject to racism themselves. Thus, these white Americans are more likely to deny that racism still exists and consider it a thing of the past. But this also leaves them vulnerable to believing a lot of highly racist things and negative stereotypes whether told by Fox News, the mainstream media, Hollywood, family members, the education system, or other areas. Because racism infects the people in ways they wouldn’t recognize. So when a racially motivated act of violence makes front page news, these whites either go out of their way to argue why it wasn’t about race or will simply be peeved when somebody addresses race as a factor. Sometimes they’d simply wouldn’t care and view what went on in Baltimore as nothing more than a meaningless riot or just get sick of the words, “Black Lives Matter.”  To them, racism isn’t currently a problem because it’s not their problem. But many of them would be willing to play the reverse discrimination card whenever a person of color is luckier than them (such as super entitles whites suing over affirmative action because they didn’t get into a particular college they wanted) or if racial minority person is either more successful than or promoted over them. Sometimes when they themselves are called out for their racist comments (if their response isn’t that a certain negative racial caricature is grounded in fact). And if a person of color is elevated to a high position of power or leadership, well, these people would unconditionally hate them for absolutely no reason other than the color of their skin. I know people like this and I’m appalled at they believe in such ideas as well as sometimes feel guilty of not calling them out on it to avoid making a scene. But such racial apathy doesn’t solve anything and gives a silent license to ignore problems and continue the systematic and institutional discrimination blacks and other persons of color experience every day of their lives.

I'm sorry but the Confederate flag isn't a symbol of Southern pride or an emblem that shows love for Lynyrd Skynyrd. It's a symbol of racism and one that has been used to justify lynchings and countless violent crimes in the name of white supremacy. Many of which were never brought to justice. And it was mostly done to terrorize blacks through fear if they ever dared to exercise or demand equal rights as well as purchased land or had a successful business. It had nothing to do with preserving any form of sacred honor despite what you might've heard otherwise.

I’m sorry but the Confederate flag isn’t a symbol of Southern pride or an emblem that shows love for Lynyrd Skynyrd. It’s a symbol of racism and one that has been used to justify lynchings and countless violent crimes in the name of white supremacy. Many of which were never brought to justice. And it was mostly done to terrorize blacks through fear if they ever dared to exercise or demand equal rights as well as purchased land or had a successful business. It had nothing to do with preserving any form of sacred honor despite what you might’ve heard otherwise.

But I believe white Americans can fight racism not but not by being white saviors that Hollywood thinks. The Civil Rights Movement was primarily one led by black activists and organizations while antislavery movements wouldn’t have the kind of legitimacy they did unless the voices of former slaves and free blacks were heard. However, if whites should stand up to racism, then they must acknowledge our racism filled past for what it is and dispose all notions of nostalgia and romanticism of times when racial minorities were subject to systematic and institutional discrimination. We must also acknowledge the racism entrenched in our society as well as how it’s a serious problem in our country that needs addressed. And we must acknowledge and fight any racists attitudes we harbor within ourselves. Now none of this will be easy but I can’t exaggerate the urgency necessity of such actions, especially when a guy not much younger can me can open fire on a church filled with black people. We can’t turn out backs on that and say that racism isn’t a problem just because it doesn’t affect us. Thus, we’d be not much better than the white supremacists who carry out the violence themselves or how our culture gives racial minorities the short end of the stick. As long as whites continue to glorify and celebrate the Old South and the “Lost Cause,” racism will continue in very nasty ways. As long as whites don’t acknowledge that displaying a Confederate flag at your house is a very, very bad way to show your love for Lynyrd Skynyrd, there will be some nuts there interpreting such symbols at their worst connotations as well as committing violent acts of terror against African Americans. And as long as whites side with white perpetrators on behalf of “Stand Your Ground,” instead of their innocent unarmed victims as well as feel that the mantra, “Black Lives Matter,” and protests against systematic racial injustice is a meaningless waste of time, then there will be another Charleston. We can’t let this go on and we can’t let white people not to care.

Black people may not have the same problems white people do. But we should care about the racial discrimination African Americans encounter every day because such actions are unjustifiable by any means, especially if they pertain to white on black violence. As Jesus said,

Black people may not have the same problems white people do. But we should care about the racial discrimination African Americans encounter every day because such actions are unjustifiable by any means, especially if they pertain to white on black violence. As Jesus said, “”The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'” –Matthew 25:40 NASB

And the fight against racism can start when we pressure South Carolina to take down that racist Confederate flag for it’s a symbol of white supremacy, not a symbol of pride. Any white person wishing to express Southern pride or love for Lynyrd Skynyrd should use something else.

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 78 – The Civil Rights Movement

Image

Denzel Washington portrayed Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s 1992 biopic. Sure this may not be the most accurate rendition about his interesting life, but it helps explain why he had the ideas he did. You may love him or hate him but he was much more than an angry black man whose attitude toward whites wasn’t without probable cause because he lived with racism and was greatly harmed by it at a young age. Still, at least this movie averts the idea of a white savior as well as the impression that blacks are incapable of saving themselves which is why I have a picture from the film on this post.

Another event going on in the United States during the Post-War era is the Civil Rights Movement which is seen as one of the most important events in modern American history in which African Americans across the nation stood up and pressured the government to bring progress towards racial equality under the law after nearly a century of being treated as second-class citizens with little or no rights in much of the country, especially in the South. These were laws that pertained to segregation, disenfranchisement, a ban on interracial marriage, or a black guy having a good chance of going to jail for checking out a white woman. We’re not sure when the Civil Rights Movement actually began since there have been blacks who’ve challenged the system as well as made gains in society. Yet, the first big event of the Civil Rights Movement was the 1954 Supreme Court case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka in which a group of black parents sued the a Topeka school district so their kids didn’t have to travel miles to attend a crappier school. Thanks to their efforts as well as the NAACP with Thurgood Marshall representing, the Supreme Court struck down the earlier Plessy vs. Ferguson and declared that school segregation was inherently unconstitutional. The NAACP would go on challenge other discrimination laws as well. In 1955, a Montgomery woman named Rosa Parks was arrested refusing to give up her seat to a white person and move to the back of the bus. This led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and local NAACP head E. D. Dixon. It was a long struggle but they prevailed. Soon there were demonstrations across the nation such as the Freedom Riders, Little Rock, the March on Washington, and others. Sure there was a lot of racist resistance, but by the 1970s segregation was mostly over, the Voting Rights Act was passed, and while racism still exists in a lot of forms, it is no longer acceptable as far as the law and society goes. However, Hollywood isn’t always the right reference when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement though they could make a kind of inspirational story, yet they do have the tendency to introduce a white savior, which leads to the notion that blacks were incapable of saving themselves. Still, there are plenty of other inaccuracies seen in films set in this era which I shall list.

Malcom X:

Malcom X had dark hair. (He was a natural redhead and had lighter skin. Seriously, he was nicknamed “Red” by his friends because of his hair color. Sure people may not believe that a black person can have red hair but it does happen.)

The break between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad was emotionally jarring for the both of them. (Actually, Muhammad was already envious of Malcolm X for all the attention he was getting and Nation of Islam leaders saw him as a threat to Muhammad’s leadership, even before Malcolm left. When Louis Lomax wrote a book about the Nation of Islam When the Word Is Given, he used a photo of Malcolm X on the cover and reproduced five of his speeches and only one of Muhammad’s, greatly upsetting the guy. Not much love was lost between the two when Malcolm left. In some ways, the relationship between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad resembled less of parent-child surrogacy. Rather, it was more along the lines of Malcolm X playing Katniss Everdeen to Elijah Muhammad’s President Coin {though with the opposite outcome if you remember what happened in Mockingjay}.)

It was only after his pilgrimage to Mecca Malcolm X realized that the Nation of Islam’s bastardization of Islam was horseshit. (Actually contrary to Malcolm X, Malcolm actually made his Mecca pilgrimage after he left the Nation of Islam and became a Sunni Muslim. He already knew that the Nation of Islam’s flavor of Islam was horsehit by that time and didn’t need to go to Mecca to realize this. Yet, Spike Lee was right that it was in Saudi Arabia where he saw racial equality in action and the effect on him was very profound. Rather it made him realize that American racism wasn’t a function of whiteness per se as well as consider possible reconciliation between the races in the US. But this didn’t mean he was ready to forgive white America though.)

The attack at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and the New Jersey Riots took place in Malcolm X’s lifetime. (Both of these incidences happened after Malcolm X was assassinated in February of 1965. One happened a month after he died and the other occurred two years later.)

Malcolm X’s family was of no particular importance on him. (Despite that his dad died under suspicious circumstances when he was six and his mother was institutionalized when he was thirteen and that he spent his teenage years in a series of foster homes, his siblings were of major importance to him. Quite a few of his siblings were members of the Nation of Islam and Malcolm’s break with it did cause some degree of drama since his brother Wilfred remained active in that organization. They also secured their mother’s release from that institution 24 years after she was confined {though Malcolm almost never talk about her for fear he’d snap if someone made the wrong remark but he did visit her}. Yet, you wouldn’t know it from Malcolm X, which leaves them out.)

Malcolm X spent weeks in solitary confinement. (He never spent any more than 24 hours in solitary contrary to the Spike Lee film. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been moved to a lower security facility, which he was in real life.)

Malcolm X was a first-class criminal in his younger days prior to his imprisonment. (Contrary to Malcolm X, Malcolm and his gang weren’t the experts they were made out to be. They rarely made plans and none of them could pick a lock. They usually committed larceny in the early evenings at places where owners couldn’t be roused by the doorbell and had trouble selling their stolen goods which were stashed in Malcolm’s apartment. Also, Malcolm was arrested by police when he had a stolen watch repaired at a local jeweler’s who promptly reported him to the police. Oh, and he turned in all of his accomplices while in custody.)

Malcolm X grew disillusioned with the Nation of Islam when he found that it was corrupt with its leaders enjoying lavish houses, new cars, and the sexual favors of young secretaries. (While Malcolm X treats Malcolm’s break from Elijah Muhammad as a son’s disillusionment with a morally flawed surrogate father, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam for political as well as personal reasons. Even before he learned of Elijah Muhammad’s infidelities, Malcolm was already fed up with his leader’s policy of nonengagement that not only prevented members of a group from participating in civil rights protests but even forbade voting. By 1963, he knew that the policy of nonengagement was hurting his recruitment efforts in black communities, as the Civil Rights movement grew in the South. Despite attacking Martin Luther King Jr.’s approach to non-violent resistance, he eventually saw that the Nation of Islam offered no real opportunity to black activists facing vicious white racists in the South. He also knew very well that the Nation of Islam wasn’t above making deals with white people when it suited the leaders’ interests. Malcolm would even admit that while criticizing the civil rights activists working with white liberals, he negotiated a mutual noninterference agreement with the Atlanta chapter of the Klu Klux Klan on Elijah Muhammad’s orders that made him realize that his leader’s insistence that all whites were devils made it possible to justify dealing with the worst of them {such as the hate group most likely responsible for killing Malcolm’s dad}. Thus, Malcolm X’s disillusionment with the Nation of Islam had less to do with the sins of its leaders and more to do with their policies on politics and race relations, particularly the group’s refusal to campaign for civil rights.)

Malcolm X was introduced to the ideas of the Nation of Islam through his cellmate in prison. (Contrary to Malcolm X, his cellmate introduced him to literature, not religion though the two would remain friends. Malcolm actually joined the Nation of Islam at the insistence of family members notably brothers Reginald and Philbert and his half-sister Ella who wrote to him in prison. Yet, once he was a member of the Nation of Islam, he didn’t have to enlighten his friend Shorty who wasn’t transferred upstate and actually became a member himself but not for long when he disagreed with some of Elijah Muhammad’s teachings. Also, the preacher he challenged wasn’t an older man as played by Christopher Plummer but a young Harvard Seminary student who was much more wise and willing to accept that Jesus was brown.)

Malcom X was working as a train porter for the New Haven Line at the time of a boxing match between Billy Cohn and Joe Louis. (Louis and Cohn would have two boxing matches together in the 1940s. Malcolm wasn’t working for the New Haven Line at either time.)

Malcolm X was followed by CIA agents while he was in Mecca. (Contrary to Malcolm X, he was followed by Mecca’s secret service during his trip.)

Malcolm X spent his last year in foreboding the inevitable as well as receiving death threats from the Nation of Islam through telephone calls. (Actually he was quite busy during his final months. Moments include his brief meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. at the U. S. Capitol {that included a photo-op} and his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech at the symposium sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality. He attended a meeting of the Organization of African Unity and had talks with the leaders of Egypt, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, and Uganda. In October 1964, he had a day-long meeting with leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Nairobi which resulted in cooperation between the SNCC and Malcolm’s newly formed Organization of Afro-American Unity. In December of 1964, he made an appearance with Fannie Lou Hamer and other Mississippi civil rights activists as Malcolm’s honored guests at an OAAU meeting in Harlem. In February of 1965, he met with Coretta Scott King in Selma where he affirmed his desire to assist King’s voting rights and explained that if whites knew he was an alternative “it might be easier for them to accept Martin’s proposals.” He even sent a telegram to the American Nazi Party saying: “I am no longer held in check from fighting white supremacists by Elijah Muhammad’s separationist Black Muslim Movement and if your present racist agitation of our people there in Alabama causes physical harm to Reverend King or any other Black Americans. . . you and your KKK friends will be met with maximum physical retaliation.” Yet, almost none of that is depicted in Malcolm X.)

White operatives might’ve been involved in Malcolm X’s assassination. (Contrary to Malcolm X, Malcolm’s independent political discourse attracted deadly enemies. Yet, Malcolm was probably more or less killed by those in The Nation of Islam than anyone else. In fact, the Nation of Islam directed nearly all its violence toward other blacks, particularly defectors. Malcolm certainly would’ve been on the top of their list.)

Betty Shabazz:

Betty Shabazz was a simpleton who was always complaining about Malcolm X’s eating habits. (Contrary to Malcolm X, she was a highly intelligent woman and one of the few Muslims with a college degree. Also, despite that Malcolm definitely wore the pants in the relationship; she wasn’t easily intimidated, not even by her husband.)

Betty Shabazz took all four of her kids to the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965. (She only took three of them contrary to Malcolm X. The youngest was left with a friend.)

Freedom Summer:

The trial involving the murder of the three civil rights activists was a swift movement of justice. (Contrary to Mississippi Burning, it wasn’t for it actually took four years and numerous trials to get them sentenced to anything at all. Not to mention, though the seven convicted were sentenced more to 10 years, none of them served more than six.)

During the case of three missing civil rights activists in Mississippi, FBI agents resorted to vigilante tactics. (Sorry, Mississippi Burning, but it’s said that they paid informants with cash. Seriously, there’s no way in hell FBI agents would get away with what Gene Hackman and William Defoe did in that movie.)

The informant pertaining to the case of the civil rights activists was the sheriff’s wife. (Though depicted this way in Mississippi Burning, it was a person named Mr. X, who decided to remain anonymous but he decided to give information not out of the goodness of his heart but for the $30,000 reward.)

The disappearance and murder of the three missing Civil Rights activists in Mississippi was a police conspiracy. (Contrary to Mississippi Burning, we’re not sure what it was but the local police were certainly no help.)

The FBI was happy to oblige the investigation into the disappearance and murder of three civil rights activists. (Contrary to Mississippi Burning, J. Edgar Hoover wanted absolutely nothing to do with the Civil Rights Movement because he thought it as a load of Communist bullshit and was a racist. He only caved to send FBI agents due to the case’s national attention as well as the fact he was under heavy pressure from Lyndon B. Johnson.)

J. Edgar Hoover sent hundreds of agents to Mississippi to investigate the case of the missing civil rights activists. (Initially, he only sent 11 contrary to what Mississippi Burning depicts. It was a pretty lame effort.)

The FBI agents in Mississippi were hell bent on finding the killers of three civil rights activists and preventing further violence. (Contrary to Mississippi Burning, most of the FBI agents there couldn’t care less. It’s said that the FBI and the Justice Department would only intervene when absolutely necessary in their own point of view. In some cases, it’s said they stood by while beatings took place right in front of them.)

Miscellaneous:

The Civil Rights Movement wouldn’t have been made possible without benevolent white people who helped African Americans out with their own sense of moral responsibility. (Yes, there were whites who supported the Civil Rights Movement such as the white Freedom Riders but the Civil Rights Movement was decades in the making and mostly led by African American organizations like the NAACP as well as other organizations of color. And it was the NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall who argued for the black families involved in Brown v. Board of Education as well as thirty-one others. And out of the 32 case he argued in front of the Supreme Court, Marshall only lost 3 and would soon be seated on the Supreme Court himself as the first African American justice.)

The FBI was the honorable vanguard of civil rights protectors. (They were reluctant presence throughout the proceedings and would only investigate only under heavy pressure by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Also, J. Edgar Hoover had been spying on Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders.)

Black Civil Rights activists trembled in the fear of whites, disbanded their conversations whenever whites approached, and retreated in mute submission. (Contrary to Mississippi Burning {which was harshly criticized by Coretta Scott King for ignoring the role of black and white activists}, most blacks in Mississippi during Freedom Summer weren’t like this. In 1963, 85,000 black Mississippians cast “freedom ballots” to show their determination and prove, contrary to white declarations that they were quite serious about voting. Despite church bombings, arrests, and murders a year later, Mississippi blacks met at local Freedom Schools all summer long. They voted for Freedom Democratic Party delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City that year and created an autonomous social movement. These people were badasses who showed that they wouldn’t be terrorized into silence even if it costs them their lives. Eventually they prevailed. Mississippi Burning fails to show this which is a complete shame. They knew that the white establishment would retaliate with violence but they weren’t quaking illiterates unable and unwilling to stand up for themselves for they certainly did.)

The Civil Rights abuses in Birmingham took place in 1961. (They took place in 1964.)

The Nation of Islam was willing to challenge white authority but didn’t engage in militant action unless its members were threatened. (Actually, their reluctance to challenge white authority was one of the reasons why Malcolm X became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam in the first place. However, Malcolm X would never drop his militant streak and became increasingly close to militant civil rights activist late in life. Still, that Nation of Islam confrontation against white authorities in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X really did happen.)

The Black Panthers were a bunch of leather clad radical leftists. (Actually, they were more or less a community action organization during the late 1960s and 1970s who only wore guns for self-defense. Though they did acquire a shady reputation and were monitored by the FBI.)

The Importance of Black History

February has always been known as Black History Month in which we honor African American history and heritage as well as the achievements and accomplishments of many black American notables. However, after seeing the PBS documentary on African American History called The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, somehow I don’t think devoting a month to black history doesn’t really do any justice. Though Black History Month mainly exists to add diversity to a white male-dominated historical narrative that has become known as American History. Now I am not advocating a White History Month because we all know too well the great history and accomplishments of white Americans. Yet, in many ways, African American history is just as important in the American historical narrative because even if you’re not black, much of it still helps define who we are as a nation, especially in racial relations.

Sure African Americans have been a marginalized people and subject to racism ever since they were brought to America as slaves during the 1600s. Yet, this is a group that not only overcame slavery and segregation but also had great influence on much of our popular music to this day as well as made other accomplishments. Blacks have fought for our country in many of the major US wars just like any other groups of soldiers even in the days of slavery and segregation. African music influences have given rise to genres like jazz, blues, R&B, rock, gospel, hip-hop, and others, which have plenty of fans and imitators worldwide of all skin tones and cultures. For instance, American blues music has always been big in the UK while some of the earliest rock n’ roll musicians were African Americans. The American Civil Rights Movement was not only started by African Americans but also inspired plenty of other demonstrations throughout the nation and worldwide and continues to do so. So it’s no wonder Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Then we have African American scientists like George Washington Carver (who helped start peanut agriculture), Percy Julian (a chemist who pioneered synthesizing drugs from plants), Charles Drew (who helped start the blood bank), Benjamin Banneker (helped survey Washington D.C. and authored a series of successful almanacs), and Ruth Ella Moore (worked on blood grouping and enterobacteriaceae). We also have African American authors like Langston Hughes (who was also gay), Zora Neale Hurston (also social scientist), Alice Walker, Richard Wright, and others.

However, our African American history also show that the US was never the perfect country and shows how racism is still one of our nation’s great sins as well as a threat to liberty and prosperity, especially when you add poverty in the mix. We need to understand that even when our Founders sought to create a new nation conceived in liberty, much of the African American population was still left out wearing the chains of slavery. Free blacks weren’t much better either and could end up as slaves as well. African Americans fought in two world wars while still a people subjected to the Jim Crow Law and segregation with many subjected to disenfranchisement (under such methods like the Grandfather Clause and the poll tax) and were targets of racial violence in the South (many of which are crimes that went unpunished). Even today with a black president, blacks are still subject to racism, especially blacks living in poverty who get the brunt of it. Poor blacks are more likely to face jail time than any other group as well as be subjected to harsh disciplinary measures at school, and be victims of gun violence, especially under Florida’s Stand Your Ground which is a disaster.  They are also very likely to be shamed for their poverty as well as for seeking public assistance. Of course, African Americans still face discrimination in the job market, in the healthcare system, and in other fields. And for a long time in the classroom, their history was considered less important and a significant portion has been left out of the narrative.

Furthermore, black history is important in America because it helps reaffirm the American premise that anything is possible. Time after time, African Americans have showed us how a people can rise from slaves to participating citizens who elected one of their own as president. Sure they may have had help from benevolent white people, but in some ways they did manage to stick up for themselves and for what was right. There may have been white abolitionists during the antebellum years, but the anti-slavery movement didn’t have much teeth until a former slave named Frederick Douglass came along. And it was African Americans who led the Civil Rights Movement. Still, like it or not, African Americans have made history which has affected their lives but ours as well and we need to honor that. So perhaps instead of dedicating a whole month to black history, maybe we should include African American history in the same historical curriculum in schools since blacks have played a key role in American History which should be respected.