Thursday, February 23, 2017

More Black History - After Slavery and Jim Crow

My initial post on slavery was written on August 4th, 2015. The 2nd part - this post, has sat in draft mode until now. It seems fitting that I should post this before Black History Month ends. So many of us don't know our history; not just Black History. As an adult looking back, I can now see that History was one of the more important topics taught - but depending on your sources the picture painted may be incomplete. Is history ever complete? We weren't there so we have to rely on and trust the records of what was done at the time. As it relates to Black history, the more we read, research and speak to others the more we realize that this is an area that is shortchanged on many school's history curriculums. As I said in my prior post, it wasn't until I went to college that I really began to unearth my history. Hopefully, this post whets the appetite for learning more of our history.

America has always been conflicted about how to treat its Black citizens. Though Jefferson coined the phrase all men are created equal, he didn't truly believe it for Jefferson was a slaveowner; his belief and his actions were not aligned. Jefferson, like all slaveholders and many other white members of American society, regarded Negroes as inferior, childlike, untrustworthy and, of course, as property. Jefferson, the genius of politics, could see no way for African-Americans to live in society as free people. He embraced the worst forms of racism to justify slavery. (

Of the nine presidents who owned slaves, only Washington freed his. (

But even though many of them decried it, Southern colonists relied on slavery. The Southern colonies were among the richest in America. Their cash crops of tobacco, indigo, and rice depended on slave labor. They weren’t going to give it up and history has shown they did not.

Here's a brief history lesson taken from various sources. The first U.S. national government began under the Articles of Confederation, adopted in 1781. This document said nothing about slavery. It left the power to regulate slavery, as well as most powers, to the individual states.
A dispute arose over the legislative branch. States with large populations wanted representation in both houses of the legislature to be based on population. States with small populations wanted each state to have the same number of representatives, like under the Articles of Confederation. This argument carried on for two months. In the end, the delegates agreed to the “Great Compromise.” One branch, the House of Representatives, would be based on population. The other, the Senate, would have two members from each state.
Part of this compromise included an issue that split the convention into North–South lines. The issue was: Should slaves count as part of the population? Under the proposed Constitution, the population would ultimately determine three matters:
(1) How many members each state would have in the House of Representatives.
(2) How many electoral votes each state would have in presidential elections.
(3) The amount each state would pay in direct taxes to the federal government.
Only the Southern states had large numbers of slaves. Counting them as part of the population would greatly increase the South’s political power, but it would also mean paying higher taxes. This was a price the Southern states were willing to pay. They argued in favor of counting slaves. Northern states disagreed. The delegates compromised. Each slave would count as three-fifths of a person.

What should be done about the slave trade, the importing of new slaves into the United States? Ten states had already outlawed it. Many delegates heatedly denounced it. But the three states that allowed it — Georgia and the two Carolinas — threatened to leave the convention if the trade were banned. A special committee worked out another compromise: Congress would have the power to ban the slave trade, but not until 1800. The convention voted to extend the date to 1808.
A final major issue involving slavery confronted the delegates. Southern states wanted other states to return escaped slaves. The Articles of Confederation had not guaranteed this. But when Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance, it a clause promising that slaves who escaped to the Northwest Territories would be returned to their owners. The delegates placed a similar fugitive slave clause in the Constitution. This was part of a deal with New England states. In exchange for the fugitive slave clause, the New England states got concessions on shipping and trade.

The black community received an enormous shock with the Supreme Court's "Dred Scott" decision in March 1857. Blacks were not American citizens and could never be citizens, the court said in a decision roundly denounced by the Republican Party as well as the abolitionists, because slaves were property, not people. By this ruling, they could not sue in court. The decision was finally reversed by the Civil Rights Act of 1865.That was 8 long years.

The constitution set forth the ideals of freedom and equality while providing for the continuation of the institution of slavery through the fugitive slave clause and the three-fifths compromise. Slavery was abolished by Amendment 13 of the Constitution. Amendment 13 - Slavery Abolished. Ratified 12/6/1865. Here is the actual text of the 13th Amendment: 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction. 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. 

The ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865 is considered the end of slavery. This then ushered in the Jim Crow era. Jim Crow an appropriate name - not flattering, derogatory, a way of life for blacks and whites, and cruel.

The Jim Crow era accompanied the cruelest wave of "racial" suppression that America has yet experienced. Between 1890 and 1940 (some sources say up to the 60s), millions of African Americans were disfranchised, killed, and brutalized. Quite simply, another human decided that you were inferior because of your skin color. You couldn't drink at the same water fountain, swim in the same pools, go to the same schools or churches, stay in the same hotels, shop at the same stores and many more aggressions because you were Black. You could not vote or participate in democracy. As a Black person, you were raped, lynched, or imprisoned for any perceived slight with minimal recourse. Please let that sink in. This went on for generations and became a way of life for black folk though it was not right. On the flip side, it reinforced a warped sense of superiority in white folks that they never had. This too was not right. Fear is a crazy thing!

Yet, during this time we survived. There was brilliance in Black people and slowly but surely the world came to know. There's MLK Jr, and many before him; there were doctors, nurses, journalists, educators, musicians, athletes, inventors, scientists, activists. There's an endless list of Black achievement from this time frame. There were many battles to fight and many ways to fight them all with the goal of restoring some degree of human dignity to Black people in America.

As a nation, Jim Crow and its vestiges are a part of this country's history. 

Remember, those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it (Edmund Burke).

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