1865-1965: black codes, Red Summer

pogroms against black people

An End to Police Brutality
USED BY Dr. Samuel Y. Edgerton, Jr., on
August 28, 1963 in Washington, DC
With all the talk about Juneteenth 1865, it’s important to note how awful the NEXT century was for black Americans. I would posit that the century (1865-1965) was arguably worse.

My view is certainly affected by white compatriots in the 1970s and later. They would say, often genuinely, “Why are black people doing so poorly? Slavery ended over a century ago!” As though there was a light switch from enslavement to freedom. As though it were suddenly a level playing field. Here are some of the factors. Of course, they naturally overlap.

The 13th Amendment, ratified in December 1865. “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. This provision is why one should watch Thirteenth.

Reparations. The formerly enslaved people generally did not receive the promised 40 acres.

Black codes: their primary purpose was to restrict blacks’ labor and activity, including “strict vagrancy and labor contract laws… Blacks who broke labor contracts were subject to arrest, beating, and forced labor… Passed by a political system in which blacks effectively had no voice, [they] were enforced by all-white police and state militia forces—often made up of Confederate veterans of the Civil War—across the South.” The federal government turned a blind eye.

You can never get out from under

Peonage, also called debt slavery or debt servitude: a system where an employer compels a worker to pay off a debt with work. Those hundreds of White men, were hired by several southern states as police officers.

“Their primary responsibility was to search out and arrest Blacks who were in violation of Black Codes. Once arrested, these men, women, and children would be leased to plantations where they would harvest cotton, tobacco, sugar cane. Or they would be leased to work at coal mines or railroad companies. The owners of these businesses would pay the state for every prisoner who worked for them; prison labor.” In other words, it was…

Slavery by Another NameSlavery by Another Name: Douglas A. Blackmon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, made into a documentary. “Tens of thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, hit with outrageous fines, and charged for the costs of their own arrests. With no means to pay these ostensible ‘debts,’ prisoners were sold as forced laborers…" [Compare this with the current discussion on bail reform.] Thousands of other African Americans were simply seized by southern landowners and compelled into years of involuntary servitude.”

A couple of examples: “In Louisiana, it was illegal for a Black man to preach to Black congregations without special permission in writing from the president of the police. If caught, he could be arrested and fined. If he could not pay the fines, which were unbelievably high, he would be forced to work for an individual or go to jail or prison where he would work until his debt was paid off.

“In South Carolina, if the parent of a Black child was considered vagrant, the judicial system allowed the police and/or other government agencies to ‘apprentice’ the child to an ’employer’. Males could be held until the age of 21, and females could be held until they were 18. Their owner had the legal right to inflict punishment on the child for disobedience and to recapture them if they ran away."

“It is believed that after the passing of the 13th Amendment, more than 800,000 Blacks were part of the system of peonage, or re-enslavement through the prison system. Peonage didn’t end until after World War II.” And unlike a slave, who was considered property, the prisoner, if they died, could just be replaced by another prisoner to work in the factory.

Federal abandonment

The end of Reconstruction: the federal response to Reconstruction, often spotty, ended with the compromise that made Rutherford B. Hayes President.

The Ku Klux Klan: a terrorist organization of vigilantes designed “to intimidate Southern blacks – and any whites who would help them.”

Jim Crow Laws – a collection of state and local statutes that legalized racial segregation. They were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education, or other opportunities. Those who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence, and death.” It was codified by the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). This was the period when those hated Confederate statues were being built in large numbers.

Elaine, AR, et al.

Pogroms: “There is a long history of white terrorism destroying Black communities.” So it’s “not just Tulsa.” Here are Five Other Race Massacres That Devastated Black America. Some of the worst of it were in the …

Red Summer. Between April and November of 1919,, there were “approximately 25 riots and instances of white mob violence [and] 97 recorded lynchings.”

In the small town of Elaine, Arkansas, racial tensions turned brutally violent after African-American sharecroppers tried to unionize. A staggering 237 people were estimated to be hunted down and killed in what is now known as the Elaine Massacre. The bloodbath made its way all the way up to the United States Supreme Court.

Birth of a Nation: “D. W. Griffith’s disgustingly racist yet titanically original 1915 feature film.” It and the presence of returning black WWI vets inspired both The Red Summer and a resurgence of the KKK.

Federal wealth theft

Redlining: In 1933, “faced with a housing shortage, the federal government began a program explicitly designed to increase — and segregate — America’s housing stock.” Richard Rothstein’s book, “The Color of Law, examines the local, state, and federal housing policies that mandated segregation. He notes that the Federal Housing Administration, which was established in 1934, furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods.”

The G.I. Bill. It “provided financial support in the form of cash stipends for schooling, low-interest mortgages, job skills training, low-interest loans, and unemployment benefits. But many African Americans who served in World War II never saw these benefits.” And not just in the South. This lost potential for creating wealth had generational implications.

This is a very cursory view of 1865-1965. I left off the last 15 years, the “classic” Civil Rights era of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, et al. In any case, it should be clear that the century after the Civil War, black people were hardly “free.”

For Constitution Day, please watch 13th

from 300,000 inmates in 1970 to over 2 million today

13th amendmentMy daughter has watched the documentary 13th (2016) about a half dozen times. She compelled me to watch it recently as well, and now I commend it to you.

13th refers to the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution: “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.”

The problem is that section that is italicized section effectively meant that people, specifically black people, would be arrested on minor charges such as vagrancy or loitering, and ended up being leased out to industry. It was Slavery by Another Name.

This was followed by Jim Crow segregation and lynching, enhanced in no small part by D. W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation (1915). The modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s arose from the death of Emmett Till. But it was stifled by the mass incarceration efforts of Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Clinton, which affected blacks disproportionately.

Even Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, noted in the film that the much greater sentencing for crack, more often used by blacks, than for powder cocaine preferred by white people.

The country went from having about 300,000 inmates in 1970 to over 2 million today, about 40% black because of various sentencing guidelines. The US has 25% of the incarcerated in the world, though it has but 5% of the world’s population.

13th was directed and co-written by Ava DuVernay, who had directed Selma (2014). Participants include Michelle Alexander, Cory Booker, Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates, Van Jones, Grover Norquist, Charles Rangel, Bryan Stevenson, and several others. Plus archival footage of Lee Atwater, and every President after JFK.

Watch 13th HERE (96 minutes). See the preview HERE.

Listen to:

Letter To The Free – Common ft. Bilal
Work Song – Nina Simone
Human – Rag’n’Bone Man

Nationwide prison strike: pay, voting, et al.

prison strike
Prison strike 2018
About a month ago, wading through my vast vacation email, I came across a story about a nationwide prison strike: incarcerated people across the country were uniting to protest the inhumane conditions that pass for our prison system. Here’s a short video from last week.

The prison strike demands included:

1. Immediate improvements to the conditions of prisons and prison policies that recognize the humanity of imprisoned men and women. Yes, and while they’re at it, getting rid of for-profit prisons.

2. An immediate end to prison slavery. All persons imprisoned in any place of detention under United States jurisdiction must be paid the prevailing wage in their state or territory for their labor.

As MoveOn noted, “Many incarcerated people are often forced to work with minimal or no pay in strenuous jobs. Just this past summer, there were incarcerated individuals fighting fires in California for just $1 an hour — though they won’t even qualify to get jobs as firefighters in California once they’re out of prison.” In states such as Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and Texas, incarcerated people receive no pay for their labor.

Everyone assumes that slavery ended with the 13th Amendment, but the amendment reads as follows:

Section 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.

Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution actually created a loophole that legitimized slavery—and is used to this day to force people in prison to work with little to no pay, a strategy that allowed slavery by another name, starting shortly after the Civil War.

3. An immediate end to the racial overcharging, over-sentencing, and parole denials of Black and brown humans. Black humans shall no longer be denied parole because the victim of the crime was white, which is a particular problem in southern states.

4. The voting rights of all confined citizens serving prison sentences, pretrial detainees, and so-called “ex-felons” must be counted. Representation is demanded. All voices count!

But, of course, I know a lot of folks don’t care. Recently, on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver urged Floridians to vote because convicted felons can’t, ever, unless the law changes.

Oliver showed people thinking that the issue doesn’t matter to them because of the feeling that people in prison must have done something wrong – which may not be true. But even those who did the crime, once they’ve done the time, STILL can’t participate in the democratic process.

Logic suggests one would want those rehabilitated citizens “to participate democratically in the fundamental act of how we shape our society,” to have a sense of ownership in their communities.