As we prepare for Veterans Day, we were saddened to hear of the passing of Lt. Col. Herbert Carter, one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II.
Here are some of the Tuskegee Airmen in 1944. If any one can identify more of the men in the picture, please let us know in the comments below.
Was slavery an idyllic world of stable families headed by married parents? The recent controversy over “The Marriage Vow,” a document endorsed by the Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, might seem like just another example of how racial politics and historical ignorance are perennial features of the election cycle.
The vow, which included the assertion that “a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President,” was amended after the outrage it stirred.
However, this was not a harmless gaffe; it represents a resurfacing of a pro-slavery view of “family values” that was prevalent in the decades before the Civil War. The resurrection of this idea has particular resonance now, because it was 150 years ago, soon after the war began, that the government started to respect the dignity of slave families. Slaves did not live in independent “households”; they lived under the auspices of masters who controlled the terms of their most intimate relationships.
Back in 1860, marriage was a civil right and a legal contract, available only to free people. Male slaves had no paternal rights and female slaves were recognized as mothers only to the extent that their status doomed their children’s fate to servitude in perpetuity. To be sure, most slaves did all that they could to protect, sustain and nurture their loved ones. Freedom and the love of family are the most abiding themes that dominate the hundreds of published narratives written by former slaves.
Though slaves could not marry legally, they were allowed to do so by custom with the permission of their owners — and most did. But the wedding vows they recited promised not “until death do us part,” but “until distance” — or, as one black minister bluntly put it, “the white man” — “do us part.” And couples were not entitled to live under the same roof, as each spouse could have a different owner, miles apart. All slaves dealt with the threat of forcible separation; untold numbers experienced it first-hand.
Slave marriages were not granted out of the goodness of “ole massa’s” heart. Rather, they were used as tools to keep slaves in line and to increase profits. Many slaves were forced to marry people they did not choose or to copulate like farm animals — with masters, overseers and fellow slaves.
Abolitionists and ex-slaves publicized excruciating details like these, but the world view of pro-slavery apologists like James Henry Hammond, a senator from South Carolina, could not make sense of motivations like Brown’s. “I believe there are more families among our slaves, who have lived and died together without losing a single member from their circle, except by the process of nature,” than in most modern societies, Hammond claimed. Under the tutelage of warm and loving white patriarchs like himself, slave families enjoyed “constant, uninterrupted communion.”
Hammond’s self-serving fantasy world gave way to reality during the Civil War, as slaves escaped in droves to follow in the footsteps of Union Army soldiers. Although President Abraham Lincoln had promised that he would not interfere with slavery in states where it already existed, he and his military commanders were faced with the unforeseen determination of fugitives seeking refuge, freedom and opportunities to aid the war against their masters….
“Contrabands” became the first beneficiaries of a government appeal to military officers, clergymen and missionaries to marry couples “under the flag.” The Army produced marriage certificates for fugitive slave couples solemnizing their marriages, and giving legitimacy to their children for the first time. But it was not until after slavery was abolished that marriage could be secured as a civil right. Despite resistance from erstwhile Confederates, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which extended the right to make contracts, including the right to marry, to all former slaves.
Why does the ugly resuscitation of the myth of the happy slave family matter? Because it is part of a broad and deliberate amnesia, like the misleading assertion by Sarah Palin that the founders were antislavery and the skipping of the “three-fifths” clause during a Republican reading of the Constitution on the House floor. The oft-repeated historical fictions about black families only prove how politically useful and resilient they continue to be in a so-called post-racial society. Refusing to be honest about how racial inequality has burdened our shared history and continues to shape our society will not get us to that post-racial vision.
Tera W. Hunter, a professor of history and African-American studies at Princeton, is the author of “To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors After the Civil War.”
Excerpted from Frederick Douglass’s Independence Day Address, 1852.
Though the oppressed and oppressors are entirely different groups these days, Douglass’s rebuke of the unearned complacency of the U.S. citizenry in the face of the evils that their government did remains relevant today. Independence Day should not only be a celebration of the birth of this nation, but it should inspire us to keep working to fulfill the noble principles that inspired the founding:
This…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….
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…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.
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."[…]
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?
….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 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….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….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”….
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.
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
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,
The people at my house are still chewing on that “uppity” thing and the defensive reactions to it. Welcome to chez tart; geeks play video games together, nerds talk about one word for 20 hours. Anyway, there are a couple of things I left off of my rant yesterday:
- The people refusing to believe the word is racist when leveled by a white person at a POC (“UGH not everything is about race”) seem to think “uppity” is a secret litmus test and nobody gave them the memo. They aren’t even reacting to the incident that sparked the discussion anymore, it’s all defensiveness and assertions that White People Get Called Uppity, Too. Whether or not those 6 letters are ~RACIST~ (and if you’ve said that word you are ~RACIST~) really is not the point at all, and yet the conversation is stuck there. The point is:
- If you were a black person in the US not long ago (at. all.), uppity was not an insulting word, it was a violent word. Being called uppity was not simply an accusation leveled at you, it was a literal call to arms - and ropes and torches. Thousands of people were terrorized, tortured, mutilated, and murdered for the mere perception that they had not bowed to white supremacist authority. THIS HAS HAPPENED IN OUR LIFETIME and for decades and decades and decades prior. White kids? It might hurt your feelings to be called uppity, but it’s not going to get you hanged, lit on fire, and printed on a postcard for the profit of your murderers. You sound like a real asshole when you suggest it’s all equal by denying the racist implications of that word in that context.
- No one thinks you’re racist for not knowing stuff. Honest. But when you decide that proving you are not ~RACIST~ is more important than continuing the conversation and learning what you don’t know about the systematic oppression of millions of people over a very long period of time, you are being a shitty, selfish, petulant child and nobody has to listen to you anymore.
This. Especially #3.
You’re not only being a childish jerk when you care more about proving you’re not racist than shutting up and learning something, you’re also perpetuating racism. Racially privileged folks who deny lived experiences of racism are silencing people of color.
By suppressing a POC’s experience with racism, you’re basically implying that POC can’t identify racism, but that you, a white person, can. How is that not racist?
“Stagecoach” Mary Fields (c. 1832-1914) was born a slave in Tennessee and following the Civil War, she moved to the pioneer community of Cascade, Montana. In 1895, when she was around 60 years old, Fields became the second woman and first African American carrier for the US Postal Service. Despite her age, she never missed a day of work in the ten years she carried the mail and earned the nickname “Stagecoach” for her reliability. Fields loved the job, despite the many dangers and difficulties such as wolves and thieves (she was an excellent marksman, defending her route with a revolver and a rifle).
The people of Cascade so loved and respected Fields, that each year on her birthday they closed the schools to celebrate the occasion. They even built her a new house when she lost her home in a fire in 1912.
Lady Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies, photographed by Camille Silvy, 1862
Sarah Forbes Bonetta Davies was a child born into a royal West African dynasty. She was orphaned in 1848, when her parents were killed in a slave-hunting war. She was around five years old. In 1850, Sarah was taken to England and presented to Queen Victoria as a “gift” from the King of Dahomey. She became the queen’s goddaughter and a celebrity known for her extraordinary intelligence. She spent her life between the British royal household and her homeland in Africa until her death in 1880.
This is amazing. Epic biopic film, please?