Category: African American history
The Overlooked Black History of Memorial Day
worker | May 31, 2021 | 8:16 pm | African American history | No comments

An April 1865 photo of the graves of Union soldiers buried at the race course-turned-Confederate-prison where historians believe the earliest Memorial Day ceremony took place.

An April 1865 photo of the graves of Union soldiers buried at the race course-turned-Confederate-prison where historians believe the earliest Memorial Day ceremony took place.
Civil war photographs, 1861-1865, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division
MAY 22, 2020 12:00 PM EDT

Nowadays, Memorial Day honors veterans of all wars, but its roots are in America’s deadliest conflict, the Civil War. Approximately 620,000 soldiers died, about two-thirds from disease.

The work of honoring the dead began right away all over the country, and several American towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Researchers have traced the earliest annual commemoration to women who laid flowers on soldiers’ graves in the Civil War hospital town of Columbus, Miss., in April 1866. But historians like the Pulitzer Prize winner David Blight have tried to raise awareness of freed slaves who decorated soldiers’ graves a year earlier, to make sure their story gets told too.

Clubhouse at the race course where Union soldiers were held prisoner.

Clubhouse at the race course where Union soldiers were held prisoner.
Civil war photographs, 1861-1865, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In the approximately 10 days leading up to the event, roughly two dozen African American Charlestonians reorganized the graves into rows and built a 10-foot-tall white fence around them. An archway overhead spelled out “Martyrs of the Race Course” in black letters.

TIME Explains Memorial Day
About 10,000 people, mostly black residents, participated in the May 1 tribute, according to coverage back then in the Charleston Daily Courier and the New York Tribune. Starting at 9 a.m., about 3,000 black schoolchildren paraded around the race track holding roses and singing the Union song “John Brown’s Body,” and were followed by adults representing aid societies for freed black men and women. Black pastors delivered sermons and led attendees in prayer and in the singing of spirituals, and there were picnics. James Redpath, the white director of freedman’s education in the region, organized about 30 speeches by Union officers, missionaries and black ministers. Participants sang patriotic songs like “America” and “We’ll Rally around the Flag” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” In the afternoon, three white and black Union regiments marched around the graves and staged a drill.

The New York Tribune described the tribute as “a procession of friends and mourners as South Carolina and the United States never saw before.” The gravesites looked like a “one mass of flowers” and “the breeze wafted the sweet perfumes from them” and “tears of joy” were shed.

This tribute, “gave birth to an American tradition,” Blight wrote in Race and Reunion: “The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration.”

About 50 years after the Civil War ended, someone at the United Daughters of the Confederacy asked the Ladies Memorial Association of Charleston to confirm that the May 1, 1865, tribute occurred, and received a reply from one S.C. Beckwith: “I regret that I was unable to gather any official information in answer to this.” Whether Beckwith actually knew about the tribute or not, Blight argues, the exchange illustrates “how white Charlestonians suppressed from memory this founding.” A 1937 book also incorrectly stated that James Redpath singlehandedly organized the tribute — when in reality it was a group effort — and that it took place on May 30, when it actually took place on May 1. That book also diminished the role of the African Americans involved by referring to them as “black hands which only knew that the dead they were honoring had raised them from a condition of servitude.”

An Alfred Waud illustration of the.Union soldiers cemetery known as Martyrs of the Race course in Charleston, S.C.

An Alfred Waud illustration of the.Union soldiers cemetery known as “Martyrs of the Race course” in Charleston, S.C.
Morgan collection of Civil War drawings at the Library of Congress

The origin story that did stick involves an 1868 call from General John A. Logan, president of a Union Army veterans group, urging Americans to decorate the graves of the fallen with flowers on May 30 of that year. The ceremony that took place in Arlington National Cemetery that day has been considered the first official Memorial Day celebration. Memorial Day became a national holiday two decades later, in 1889, and it took a century before it was moved in 1968 to the last Monday of May, where it remains today. According to Blight, Hampton Park, named after Confederate General Wade Hampton, replaced the gravesite at the Martyrs of the Race Course, and the graves were reinterred in the 1880s at a national cemetery in Beaufort, S.C.

The fact that the freed slaves’ Memorial Day tribute is not as well remembered is emblematic of the struggle that would follow, as African Americans’ fight to be fully recognized for their contributions to American society continues to this day.

A year after George Floyd’s death, pent-up rage remains as Louisiana faces its own policing issues

https://www.nola.com/news/politics/article_7f9b0e84-bdac-11eb-a7a3-637858ff7f44.html

A year after George Floyd’s death, pent-up rage remains as Louisiana faces its own policing issues

It began with a few dozen protesters shouting into traffic on North Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans, four days after George Floyd was killed last May under a police officer’s knee in Minnesota.

Hours later, a wave of rage over Floyd’s death and the policing of Black people in America began spilling across the state.

Thousands of protesters poured into the streets in Lafayette and hundreds more in Lake Charles, Shreveport and the state Capitol in Baton Rouge. Smaller groups took to the courthouse in Houma, the civic center in Monroe, a gritty corner in the West End of New Iberia.

NO.protests.060620.246.jpg
Protesters gather around a Henry Lipkis mural in Jackson Square depicting the slain George Floyd.

In New Orleans the protests ran for weeks into the summer, including a clash on the Crescent City Connection in which police lobbed tear gas and fired projectiles.

The cry that echoed loudest at those protests was Floyd’s: “I can’t breathe.”

The pent-up outrage that was unleashed over the Floyd killing one year ago remains, fueled most recently by Louisiana’s own horrific contribution: police body cam footage unearthed by the Associated Press last week showing Black motorist Ronald Greene dying in a brutal, long-hidden 2019 encounter with White Louisiana State Police troopers.

How much Floyd’s death, or that of Greene, has altered attitudes in Louisiana over police accountability is uncertain — though there are indications of a shift.

Lawmakers this week are debating a host of policing reforms, including tight limits on chokeholds and no-knock warrants. Advocates also are pushing for legislation to end the “qualified immunity” that shields misbehaving police officers from state lawsuits seeking damages.

82059257-c90b-57bb-8f2d-66c3783dd9ef
This undated handout photo provided by Christopher Harris shows George Floyd. (Christopher Harris via AP)

The bills came out of a task force the Legislature set up a month after Floyd’s killing, as a debate over the use of excessive force by law enforcement roiled nationally.

“This is really about being who we say we are as a country,” said Judy Reese Morse, president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana. “Quite honestly, the proof is in the pudding, and the pudding just doesn’t taste good right now.”

A survey released in April by LSU’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs found a wide gap between how Black and White respondents viewed racial discrimination in various contexts. But on one point the majority agreed: Black people are treated less fairly by police.

Ted Quant, a longtime civil rights activist in New Orleans, said the video of Floyd’s final moments provided evidence that couldn’t be explained away.

“People witnessed George Floyd being murdered. They could see it. And it couldn’t be covered up, it couldn’t be lied about,” Quant said. “I think it was an education for the people of America.”

The nonprofit E Pluribus Unum, founded by former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, released its own survey this week. It found similar divisions across the Southern states.

While a large majority of Black respondents said Floyd’s killing and others prove there is a systemic problem, “Whites have a tendency to want to say it’s a few bad apples,” Landrieu said of the survey results.

Still, Landrieu pointed to a broader agreement for the notion that Floyd was wrongfully killed and that more reforms need to happen, as well as support for getting rid of total civil immunity for offending police officers.

“One of the things the public is demanding now, across racial and party lines, is transparency — before you can get to accountability,” Landrieu said. “People do not think we have done enough. Everyone wants the police to treat people with great respect and great dignity. That’s a pretty high line of common ground.”

The family of African American George Floyd appealed on Tuesday for sweeping police reform on the anniversary of his murder by a white officer as they met President Joe Biden at the White House.

https://news.cgtn.com/news/2021-05-26/George-Floyd-family-urges-police-reform-on-anniversary-of-murder-10zjgzSuFfG/index.html

George Floyd’s family urges police reform on anniversary of murder
Updated 14:54, 26-May-2021
CGTN

Philonise Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, talks to reporters alongside other family members and lawyers after meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House, May 25, 2021. /CFP

The family of African American George Floyd appealed on Tuesday for sweeping police reform on the anniversary of his murder by a white officer as they met President Joe Biden at the White House.

The president and Vice President Kamala Harris hosted several of Floyd’s relatives in the Oval Office after the family spoke to top lawmakers hoping for progress on police reform.

“If you can make federal laws to protect the bird, the bald eagle, you can make federal laws to protect people of color,” said Philonise Floyd, George’s younger brother, after a private meeting in the Oval Office.

Floyd’s mother, siblings and his daughter Gianna, along with family lawyers, had earlier gathered at the U.S. Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic members of Congress.

A mural reading “I Can’t Breathe” at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 25, 2021. /CFP

“We have to act. We face an inflection point,” said Biden in a statement issued by the White House after meeting the family nearly a year after their first encounter ahead of Floyd’s funeral.

Biden said he was “hopeful” that a deal could be struck on the police reforms after the Memorial Day holiday this weekend, though the president reportedly had set Tuesday as a deadline for passing police reform legislation.

Floyd, 46, who died in handcuffs with his neck pinned to a Minneapolis street under the knee of Derek Chauvin – a white policeman, has become the face of a national reckoning with racial injustice and police brutality in the U.S.

Chauvin, 45, faces up to 40 years in prison when he is sentenced on June 25. The three other officers at the scene have pleaded not guilty to aiding and abetting Chauvin, and will go on trial next year.

Local leaders and politicians, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, seventh from left, kneel for more than nine minutes to remember the murder of George Floyd in New York, May 25, 2021. /CFP

How the U.S. remembered Floyd

In Minneapolis, a foundation created in Floyd’s memory by some in his family organized an afternoon of music and food in a park near the downtown courtroom where Chauvin was convicted last month of murdering Floyd.

Later on Tuesday, mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil at the stretch of road where Floyd passed away.

By the afternoon, small crowds were gathering at the intersection for a festive, sunny afternoon of music and children’s activities. A man set out paint ready to create a fresh mural in the square, which has been closed to most vehicle traffic for a year and is filled with flowers and art commemorating Floyd and other Black victims of police violence.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey were due to join activists in a city park for a silence of nine minutes and 29 seconds – the time that Chauvin knelt on Floyd, in memory of Floyd’s murder.

Demonstrations were planned in New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio joined activists in kneeling in silence for nine minutes and 29 seconds. Earlier on Tuesday, Shaun Donovan, a Democratic candidate for mayor, was among a group of five protesters arrested for blocking traffic near a major tunnel into Manhattan.

A bullet casing is seen after shots were fired in George Floyd Square on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, May 25, 2021. /CFP

Events at George Floyd Square were briefly interrupted by gunfire on Tuesday. One person was reported injured as at least 20 rounds were fired. Police said the incident remains under investigation, and it is unclear if the shooting is connected to events in the area commemorating the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death.

Legislation has been pursued in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia to increase the accountability or oversight of police, and 24 states have enacted new laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The laws have included the mandating of body-worn cameras for officers, banning neck restraints or making it easier for the public to see police officers’ disciplinary records.

Read more:

U.S. House approves police reform bill named after George Floyd

(With input from agencies)

Black in the USSR
worker | November 1, 2020 | 2:24 pm | Africa, African American Culture, African American history, struggle against racism, USSR | Comments closed

https://rtd.rt.com/films/black-in-the-ussr/

Black in the USSR

Stories of black Americans, who fled to the Soviet Union to escape race discrimination

Get short URL

Racism in the US in the 1930s forced hundreds of African Americans to leave the country and move to the Soviet Union. Inspired by Soviet ideology, many came seeking a society without racial prejudice. At home, African Americans faced a lack of prospects and restrictions which separated them from society. Desperate to receive equal treatment, hundreds fled their homeland to be free of discrimination in the Soviet Union. Some of them still live in Russia and explain why they left the ‘land of dreams’ and how they gained freedom behind the Iron Curtain.

Paul Robeson: His Life as an Unfinished Symphony
worker | October 21, 2020 | 8:11 pm | African American Culture, African American history, Culture and Art, Paul Robeson | Comments closed

Paul Robeson: His Life as an Unfinished Symphony

Football star, leading man, communist, outcast: RT dives into life of black icon hounded for beliefs
worker | May 6, 2018 | 7:38 pm | African American history, Paul Robeson | Comments closed

https://www.rt.com/usa/425932-robeson-mccarthy-soviet-star/

Football star, leading man, communist, outcast: RT dives into life of black icon hounded for beliefs

Football star, leading man, communist, outcast: RT dives into life of black icon hounded for beliefs
Paul Robeson rose from poverty and early loss to become one of the most famous performers in the world. But his prickly activism and a Soviet connection cost him his career, but not his legacy.

A son of a preacher, whose mother died in a fire when he was six, Robeson was a bewilderingly talented man. At Rutgers, where he was the only black student on the whole campus, he was chosen as valedictorian, won oratory prizes, played leading parts in the theater, sang to audiences, and was voted an All-American as a football player – eventually winning a place in the College Football Hall of Fame.

His early adult career was similarly gilded. He moved between heavyweight dramatic roles, such as Othello, becoming the first black Hollywood leading man, and singing hits beloved by millions; while rubbing shoulders with the world’s richest and most powerful, and living in luxury that his runaway slave father could never have envisaged for his son.

But Robeson did not want to be just a song-and-dance man… RT explores the journey that gave him a cameo in many of the major events of the 20th century, from the Spanish Civil War, to the McCarthy trials, and the Civil Rights Movement. As well as uncovering unexpected curios from his back catalogue, like the performance of the Soviet anthem in English in his deep baritone, the 16-minute report exposes the sustained campaign of hounding that led to the one-time star living out his years in reduced circumstances. It wonders what lessons one man’s battle to remain true to himself in the face of hostility has for American activists today.

 

The Incomplete List of US Companies & Universities That Benefited From Black Slavery – Abagond
worker | April 30, 2018 | 7:17 pm | African American history, Struggle for African American equality | Comments closed

https://abagond.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/the-incomplete-list-of-us-companies-and-universities-that-benefited-from-black-slavery/amp/

The Incomplete List of US Companies & Universities That Benefited From Black Slavery

 

brown-university-hall

University Hall in Brown University. Providence, Rhode Island, December 27th 2003.

Americans tend to think that only the South or only slave traders and slave owners benefited from slavery.

But it was not that simple. Slaves and land were the main forms of wealth in the US before 1860. Therefore slaves figured in insurance policies and bank loans. Therefore universities turned to slave owners and slave traders to raise money. Industry in the North and in Britain made money processing slave-grown tobacco, cotton and sugar from the South and the Caribbean. Railway companies used slave labour. The most profitable activity on Wall Street was – the slave trade.

For example:

aig

AIG – bought American General Financial which owns US Life Insurance Company. US Life used to insure the lives of slaves.

aetna

Aetna – insured the lives of slaves in the 1850s.

bank-of-america

Bank of America – grew in part out of the Bank of Metropolis, which accepted slaves as collateral.

brooks-brothers

Brooks Brothers – got its start making clothes for slaves!

Brown-Brothers-Harriman

Brown Brothers Harriman – a Wall Street bank that owned hundreds of slaves and lent millions to Southern planters, merchants and cotton traders.

brown

Brown University – named for the Brown brothers who gave money to the university. Two were slave traders, another ran a factory that used slave-grown cotton. University Hall was built in part by slave labour.

csx

CSX – rented slaves to build rail lines.

fleet-boston

Fleet Boston – grew out of Providence Bank, founded by one of the Brown brothers (see Brown University above), a slave trader who owned slave ships. The bank made money from the slave trade. Providence, Rhode Island was the home port for many slave ships.

harvard-law

Harvard Law School – endowed with money from Isaac Royall, an Antiguan slave owner and sugar grower.

jp-morgan-chase

JP Morgan Chase – made a fortune from the slave trade. Predecessor banks (Citizens Bank, Canal Bank in Louisiana) accepted slaves as collateral, taking possession of 1,250 slaves from owners who defaulted on loans.

new-york-life

New York Life – insured slaves. Of its first 1,000 insurance polices, 339 were policies on slaves.

norfolk-southern

Norfolk Southern – the Mobile & Girard, now part of Norfolk Southern, rented slaves to work on the railroad. Central of Georgia, also now part of the company, owned slaves.

Princeton

Princeton – raised money and recruited students from rich, slave-owning families in the South and the Caribbean. Princeton was not alone in hitting up slave owners and traders for money and students. So did:

  • Harvard,
  • Yale,
  • Penn,
  • Columbia,
  • Rutgers,
  • Brown,
  • Dartmouth and the
  • University of Delaware.

By the middle 1700s, most Princeton students were the sons of slave owners. Many of Columbia’s students were sons of slave traders.

Tiffanys

Tiffany’s – founded with profits from a cotton mill in Connecticut that processed slave-grown cotton.

usa-today

USA Today – its parent company, Gannett, had links to slavery.

WellsFargo

Wells Fargo – Georgia Railroad & Banking Company and the Bank of Charleston owned or accepted slaves as collateral. They later became part of Wells Fargo by way of Wachovia. (In the 2000s Wells Fargo targeted blacks for predatory lending.)

yale

Yale University – money from slave trading went to its first endowed scholarships, professorship and library.

Universities not only sought and accepted money from slave owners and traders, they helped to create scientific racism.

Sources: Craig Steven Wilder, “Ebony & Ivy” (2013), Atlanta Black Star (2013), Nell Irvin Painter, “Creating Black Americans” (2006), The Harvard Crimson (2006), New York Times (2001).