Ferguson, Missouri

I made  a conscious decision not to write about the quagmire developing in Ferguson, Missouri. If doubting my capacity to add fresh insight wasn’t enough,  fearing a distinct possibility of outrage becoming rant sealed the deal. At that moment a ponder formed.

Abolition of slavery was an inconvenience to Southern plantation owners, share cropping was the answer. Slice plantations into tiny pieces, assign plots with wooden shacks, provide each “farmer” with seed and tools, have them work your land, take half the profits, then deduct the cost of housing, seed and tools. Pass laws requiring poll taxes and literacy tests to qualify as voters – voila, it was all a bad dream – business as usual. The south depended on two things – labor and levees.

April of 1926, the Army Corps of Engineers announced levees from Illinois to New Orleans were unbreachable. – that fall it started to rain. By January of 1927 water has topped “flood stage” at Cairo, Illinois – undaunted the Mississippi River Commission sides with the Corps. In March relentless storm water arrives at the Mississippi Delta , a delta inundated and overwhelmed by unimaginable rainstorms. Fearing a breach, residents of Greenville South Carolina start to evacuate. Skittish land owners , terrified share crop labor forces might follow – round up African Americans at gunpoint, forcing them into work camps along the levee. On April 15 Greenville receives over 8 inches of rain.

The next day, south of Cairo Illinois a section of levee fails – 175,000 acres are flooded. At Greenville 30,000 African American “prisoners’ fill sand bags around the clock – guards have orders to shoot anyone attempting escape. April 21 the levee breaks. Within hours the river is almost 100 miles wide, those not swept away cling to rooftops. Greenville is under 10 feet of water. Prominent land owner LeRoy Percy appoints his son Will to head the Flood Relief Committee.

Will orchestrates a relief effort – plucking thousands from trees and roof-tops, taking them to a “crown” of levee still intact.  April 25 finds 13,000 blacks stranded on a strip of land – no food, water or shelter. Will organizes another rescue – boats charged with taking survivors to safety arrive at Greenville. He didn’t realize plantation owners – including his father – couldn’t risk losing their labor. Only 33 white women and children were allowed to leave.

Will convinces the Red Cross to set up a relief center in Greenville.  When provisions arrive they go to white residents first, anything left went to blacks provided they had a tag around their neck marked “laborer”.  Stories of horrific abuse by National Guard troops – theft, rape, beating and murders of African Americans start finding their way to northern news desks. Enter Herbert Hoover.

President Calvin Coolidge appoints presidential wannabe Hoover to investigate allegations of abuse. Hoover forms the Colored Advisory Committee, comprised of African Americans, led by Robert Moton.  Seizing an opportunity, Hoover convinces Moton to silence Committee findings verifying atrocities against blacks on the levees. In exchange Hoover assures Moton that if he is elected his priority will be advancement of African Americans and agricultural land reform. African American votes help elect Hoover –  Hoover had no intention of helping African Americans.

I wonder how many Americans learned this history at school, my guess is very few. Click on the link for a detailed timeline from American Experience. Finally, ponder why this is my response to Ferguson Missouri.


White Pride

This is a response written by my husband regarding “white pride”. I strongly believe each and every person should read it….

Why is ‘black american’ ok, but not ‘white american’? Because that’s all that american blacks have. Everyone else in the US either is an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants, from various countries. These people know of their heritage, so they’re Italian Americans, or Japanese Americans, or Greek Americans or Irish Americans etc. They can call themselves that because they know where they’re from.

Black Americans came over on slave ships, and then a concerted effort was made to strip them of their identity, their culture, their religion, their society.  It was illegal to teach a slave to read and write, so they couldn’t write down a history. Plus, slave owners often split up families, meaning the kids went to one owner, the wife to another, the husband to another. Do this through enough generations, and soon enough, you have no history, apart from your slave history, which could be told via stories and music.

So when you get to the 20th century, what’s left: the only commonality they had, is their skin color. They would probably like to be able to identify as Nigerian americans etc, but any knowledge of such history was lost long ago. So now, they’re ‘black americans’.

It’s a default position. Is this what white people really want? I doubt it. Most immigrants from Europe etc know of and are proud of their heritage, and often keep a bit of that heritage alive, through things like St. Patricks Day, Italian Days here in Vancouver etc.

Black pride.

First off, I think the idea of being proud of something you have no control over, doesn’t make a lot of sense. You’re proud because you were born black, or white? Maybe better to be proud of your own accomplishments.

But the idea of black pride arose in the US in the Sixties, as a way of trying to instill some confidence and sense of self-worth in black americans.

Don’t forget that blacks didn’t get the right to vote in the US until 1870. White property owners had that right since the days of the Revolution; non property owning whtes got it incrementally after 1812. But in reality, in the South, blacks didn’t get the vote until 1965, with the passage of the Voting Rights Act.  In between, blacks in the south were prevented from casting an effective ballot by violence and election fraud.

What you have with blacks in the US, is a group of 30 million people whose forefathers were sold like cattle, kept illiterate, considered as subhuman. During the Civil War, white Union soldiers were made POWs; blacks were just killed on the spot. There’s so much more; but the bottom line is you’re left with a group of people who have been told they’re nothing but niggers, for 300 years. What does that do to self esteem? Then, even once nominally free, they’re excluded from employment, equal education, equal housing etc etc.

So in that climate was born the idea of ‘black pride’. So that maybe they’d stop thinking of themselves as niggers, and start thinking that they have some self worth, and that it might not be futile to try and get ahead.

Do whites need ‘white pride’? They already own most everything, run everything. Do they need a special program to give them a feeling of self esteem? When did they ever not have self esteem?

Equal opportunity.

This is a tough one. It seems unfair. Why should blacks get special treatment? I think it’s a necessary and hopefully temporary evil. Everyone should be treated the same.

Problem is, blacks weren’t treated equally for a long time. No education, no history of scholarly pursuit [they were picking cotton, not going to Harvard]. No property. And a majority in the country hostile to their attempts to integrate.

As well, the US is what it is because of slavery. Slavery is a huge economic advantage, for obvious reasons. An unpaid workforce of millions, making money for their white owners. Slavery is a big part of the reason that the US could become a political and economic powerhouse, a world class power, so quickly. That’s one of the reasons the British tried to stop international slavery after it became illegal in the Empire in 1805 – because countries that still had it, had an economic advantage that would work to the detriment of the British Empire.

So, we have a world power, an economic giant. But the people who did so much to make it happen, have been excluded from the benefits. After what they did for hundreds of years, equal opportunity seems kind of fair, a balancing of the scales. It’s not a question of expecting non-blacks to feel guilty, but to accept that after what’s happened in the past, blacks will need a leg up to become full participants in this wealthy society.

A Dark Day in American History

The not guilty verdict delivered to George Zimmerman; neighbourhood vigilante – is a dark day in American history. I’m not sad or disgusted, I’m depressed. I feel like a crushing weight prevents my every breath and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about it. As good old boys pat each other on the back, raising a glass to this “victory” – bile fills my mouth, fighting waves of grief and disbelief – I ask, where is justice in America?

To be fair, many would consider my description of Zimmerman as “neighbourhood vigilante” biased. To be clear; this ponder is my opinion. I am neither judge or jury – all I have to go on is gut reaction, instinct, and considerable thought. Anyone who has followed my blog for a while understands I don’t believe unelected, non-profit lobbyists should be handed the power enjoyed by the NRA. I’m just as vocal on America’s assertion they have a constitutional right to sleep with a gun under their pillow. I see both as tentacles on the same monster.

I’ve agreed to disagree with many sensible people; sensible in that right or wrong, we are all a product of our environment. People reasonable enough to debate my Canadian mind set, trying to relate it to theirs. believe it or not – I get it; I grasp why Americans keep a gun within reach. That said, these are not the people who would take it upon themselves to prowl their neighbourhood at night, puffed up like a righteous Wyatt Erp.

One thing I’m fairly certain of; if Zimmerman was African American and Trayvon Martin white – the verdict would have been different. That’s the truly depressing part, the point where I’m empty, but for the vomit in my mouth.This is a dark day for America, a point in time encapsulating all that is wrong with the growing tentacles on a very scary monster. Sadly, it takes a lot to truly knock me on my ass – today was one of those rare days.