For February 28, 2022
[Reminder: We wanted to discuss definitions of systemic racism & structural racism & structural violence. In my Black politics class last fall we said that racism is systemic when policies and decisions by those in power are imposed on a group based on their race.]
September 20, 1830. The first Colored Convention is held in Philadelphia in response to white violence against Blacks in Ohio. 200+ such conventions happen in the 70 years to follow. [none after that? NAACP conventions different?]
We as People, by Cornelius Ealy. Poem from the point of view of the people who came together in “Philly to find out/ What happens / When we stop running, / And we start talking / Among ourselves.”
September 18, 1850. The Fugitive Slave Act is passed, and the abolitionist resistance against these laws ramps up. Harriet Hayden, a fugitive slave, operates the Underground Railroad “station” in Boston.
A Letter to Harriet Hayden, by Lynn Nottage. Nottage imagines a fugitive enslaved woman, now living with a minister (Reverend Potter) and his wife, and dictating a letter to Hayden, thanking her for her help.
Chapter 8: Citizenship, by Martha S. Jones
Jones discusses the Colored National Conventions, which began to meet in 1830 (Philadelphia) with an abolitionist agenda (since there was no political representation possible). By the 1853 convention in Rochester (Frederick Douglass a prominent speaker), the emphasis on demanding citizenship was key–specifically, birthright citizenship, which is fairly unique for the US vs. other democracies but did not exist then–it became a concept with the 14th Amendment and was a huge win. Jones takes us back to 1780, when two free Black brothers, the Cuffes, raised the question of their citizenship for the first time. This could not be resolved at the time, and neither did the Constitution take a stance and defined “what made one a citizen” so that a 1799 petition from Black Philadelphians to Congress asking for the rights promised in it never got an answer from the Legislature. The question was dodged again regarding the Missouri Compromise, when Missouri attempted to prevent Black people from coming to Missouri altogether–if Blacks were US citizens, they actually wouldn’t be able to do that.
For those who actively sought to prevent Blacks from becoming citizens, the idea of “repatriation” to Africa, promoted by the American Colonization Society, founded in 1816, was one way out. Liberia was established by them., and by the 1840s, 4,000 Blacks had settled there. But most Black people (exception: emigration advocate Martin Delany) were skeptical, and they wanted to use the words in the Declaration of Independence to claim the “inalienable rights” for them as well as for whites. But without the franchise, they cannot get there through a political path, and that is where the Conventions and other forms of activism come in. In 1853, past the Fugitive Slave Act and the general increase of racist infractions on Blacks, the citizenship issue was key–citizenship could solve these problems. Even Delany, who advocated for leaving and starting over, was on Douglass’ side in that they both thought of themselves as US citizens.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is debating Black citizenship as well, but in Dred Scott in 1857, it rules unambiguously that “Scott had not right to sue because as an enslaved person, he was not a citizen” and even goes further and rules that “No Black American was intended to be a citizen of the United States by the framers”–against the dissenting opinion of Benjamin Curtis and John McLean. And many lower courts actually refused to enforce this extreme view. Even before the end of the CW, in 1862, “the tide had begun to shift” although calls for citizenship stopped short of considering that enslaved people could be citizens.But the CRA of 1866 declared all but Native Americans “not taxed” citizens if they were born in the US and “not subject to any foreign power” — that became the 14th Amendment. Initially, ratification was a problem until the Reconstruction Act was passed.
The 1869 Colored Convention has a very different feel because now there IS citizenship, and then in February, the 15th Amendment had been passed and given Black people the vote. Douglass had also begun to advocate for Chinese immigrants–which were explicitly excluded the following year, 1870. [She avoids the question of Douglass’ falling out with the women’s suffrage advocates over the 15th.] The last convention was held in 1893, addressing specifically lynching. [She leaves it at that, although one could argue that there is a line that leads from these to the early, if smaller, activist meetings that lead up to the Niagara Movement and then the founding of the NAACP–right? I will have to check on that.]
January 1, 1863 . The Emancipation Proclamation. People gather to listen to hearing it read by the commander, Colonlel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, at Camp Saxton, near Port Royal, SC, where one of the first Black military brigades is stationed. Charlotte Forten, a Black abolitionist who has come to teach there, and Seth Rogers, a white doctor who was the regiment’s surgeon, are part of the crowd.
The Camp, by Darryl Pinckney. A short story that retells that moment, with an emphasis on Forten, “the Schoolteacher” and Rogers, “the Surgeon,” as seen by the Colonel.
July 30, 1866. A mob attacks protesters who have gathered in New Orleans to advocate against a law that would prevent the Black franchise. A white abolitionist named Anthony Paul Dostie is killed, along with 35 others, and the pushback against the violence helps the Republicans gain control of House and Senate in the 1866 election.
An Absolute Massacre, by ZZ Packer. A story about this event, from the (third-person) perspective of a Black man named Lazarus who witnesses it, is wounded, taken to the Freedman’s hospital and gets dropped off along with an already-dead man [at the hospital morgue? to die?]
Chapter 9: Self Defense, by Carol Alexander
When Blacks defend themselves or their property with weapons, they are invariably treated differently than whites–especially if they kill or injure a white person. If a white person claims self-defense against some one who is Black, on the other hand… we know the story. This is true even with the most “loose” of Stand Your Ground laws. Examples: Jessie Murray 2014 vs. George Zimmerman, 2012. Across the board today “the enforcement of self-defense laws varies widely according to race” and whites are almost always more successful evoking SYG laws. The CJ system “is ten times more likely to rule a homicide justifiable if the shooter is white and the victim is Black than the other way around.” And whites are also far more (281% more!) likely to get off with “justifiable homicide” when the victim is a Black person than a white person.
Alexander points out that the whole principle of self-defense as defined by common law since the 18th century has never really worked “equally” in the US context. The Second Amendment was, without making it explicit, about enabling white southerners to defend themselves against Black people–and the many Constitution made all kinds of concessions to them as well (as we already know). That is what the “well-regulated militia” is really about–pushed by both Northern and Southern “Anti-Federalists.” And the Bill of Rights in general was part of this. She quotes a scholar named Bogus [how unfortunate] about the 2nd Amendment to the effect that the “prime function… was slave control.”
In the antebellum era (culmination: 1857 Dred Scott), there were lots of state laws preventing free Black people from having access to guns. And when it looked for a brief moment like Blacks defending themselves would be allowed to arm themselves and get back up, in Christiana, PA, in 1851, after the passing of the FSA, that was quickly squashed.
She points out that the CW outcome was not “freedom given” but “freedom earned,” with 179,000 Black men, 10% of the Union army, involved in the fight. And yet, “when they won their freedom, Black people did not also win the right to defend themselves;” what followed were Black Codes, the Klan, and lynchings etc., and when Blacks, retaining their CW weapons, tried to insist on their 2nd A rights, they typically “suffered brutal repercussions” — massively so right after the CW. Carl Schurz reported unspeakable brutalities at the time; Anderson quotes Annette Gordon-Reed calling it “slow-motion genocide,” which was not blocked (temporarily) under Ulysses S. Grant–not that that held. An 1906 Atlanta killing spree is her example; The Red Summer of 1919 is another (Elaine, Arkansas; Knoxville, TX; Ocoee, Florida in 1920). Another, even later example from WWII times (1944) is a woman named Lena Baker who was executed for defending herself against a white serial rapist and shooting him to death. The litany continues into the 1950s and 1960s–as she points out, not just in the South. California is an example because it enables her to talk about the founding of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966. Important because they pushed the envelope and tested whether the rules about open-carrying arms were race-neutral, as alleged. While white people tended to see the Black Panthers “as indications of dangerous Black pathology” they were really protests against anti-Black violence–and Reagan was later able to exploit that in his politics and convince many people that “Black people were the threat,” which justified violence against them. The notorious example is the 1984 subway killings by Bernhard Goetz.