Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Black History, Y'all

I was going to talk about this a couple of days ago, but it slipped my mind. That happens a lot, my mind slipping. But then yesterday, I was confronted with this:

I was at the Wachovia, the Smallville branch, doing a little banking, and they had a television on the wall. It was on CNN-MSNBC-FOX-CNBC or some such, and they were discussing Black History Month.

Someone in line, in public, in full earshot of everyone, said, Why do they need their own month?

They? God if that isn't an offensive term when used like that. They. Not me. Them. I really loathe that word.

So, this Black woman in line, turned to this moron, and said, Well, we were sort of left out of most history lessons, at least when I was in school.

Why do you need your own 'month?'

Can you name me somebody, anybody, of color, that you remember from history lessons?

He said--and I'm not making this up--Slaves.

Can you give me a name of a Black person? Just one person?

I don't know. Obama?

Wow, he got one. Ding-ding-ding. Tell him what he's won, Johnny!

Well, Bob, what he's won is a lesson in Black history, provided by

Now, I'm not a Black man, or woman, at least not in this lifetime, but we need to know who did what and for whom, and when and how, and what color they were, and where they lived and how they lived and died and why.

Whether they're white, black, yellow, red, or gay.

I'm going to be doing my own little Black History Month for y'all.

Because I can.

Slavery began in about 1619--before the Pilgrims, people--when a Dutch ship brought 20 Africans into Jamestown, Virginia. It spread quickly from there, y'all; there are no actual numbers, but estimates are that some 6 to 7 million slaves were imported to the New World in the 1700s alone. African men, women and children kidnapped from their homes and brought to a place where they looked like no one, spoke like no one, and were treated as less than everyone

By the end of the 1700s, a lot of northern states had abolished slavery; but it was vital to the South because of cash crops like tobacco and cotton. Now, get this, although the US Congress outlawed the import of new slaves in 1808, the slave population nearly tripled over the next 50 years. Slaves were brought here and bought and sold, as farmhands, ranch-hands, housemaids, gardeners, concubines, and whipping boys.

Nat Turner

August 1831: Nat Turner lead the only effective, the key word here is effective, slave rebellion in US history. A slave himself, he hated the idea of slavery, of men and women as property of men and women; he fully believed that God wanted him to lead his people from slavery.

In the late summer of 1831, during a solar eclipse, Turner found his 'sign' that rebellion was near. On August 21, 1831, Turner, and a group of fellow slaves, murdered his owners, the Travis family, and then began a march toward the town of Jerusalem, in order to find weapons and recruit more followers. Turner's tiny army of slaves grew to some seventy-five people, and they murdered sixty white people before being captured by a group of locals with the aid of state militia forces. Over 100 slaves, many simply standing on the sidelines watching, lost their lives in the struggle. Turner, himself, escaped capture and spent over a month running, until he was captured, tried and hanged.

Of course, reports of the rebellion had hundreds of whites killed, and so many southern states held special legislative sessions to enact new slave codes; these codes limited education of slaves and assembly of slaves. Slave-owners and traders used the Turner rebellion to convince people that slaves were 'inherently inferior barbarians requiring an institution such as slavery to discipline them.'


With slaves desperate to be free, and some white settlers--like the Quakers--opposed to the idea of slavery on religious or moral grounds, the abolitionist movement began. It was an established movement as early as the 1700s, but by the end of that century, the fire had died for many abolitionists. As the cash crops of the south exploded, slavery became a more vital part of the economy.

Yet in the early 1800s, abolitionism rebounded with a fever, partially because of the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 and the tightening of slave codes in most southern states. William Lloyd Garrison, a journalist from Massachusetts, founded the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator in 1831; he was then known as the most radical of America’s antislavery activists.

Antislavery northerners—freed blacks among them--began to help runaway slaves escapes the plantations of the south using a network of safe houses. This organized effort, known as the Underground Railroad, helped almost 100,000 slaves reach freedom.

Harriet Tubman, its most celebrated conductor, was a former slave herself, who had married a free black man and escaped from Maryland to Philadelphia in 1849. She risked her own life to personally help over 300 other slaves escape, before serving as a scout and spy for Union forces in South Carolina during the Civil War.


frogponder said...

Much better stuff in history books these days with what I have to work with. But it wasn't always this way, especially when you lived in the Pacific North West. My dad, I am proud to say, hired the first black executive, and the first woman executive, way back in the sixties.

Ultra Dave said...

I hope someone gave the dumb white boy an ass whipping when he stepped outside.

Joy said...

History books are much more inclusive now and were when I taught US History quite a few years ago, thank goodness.

What a dumbass in the line!