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African American Historical Personalities: Gallant Warriors for Freedom and Equality
Included in here are the following people:
Ukawsaw GronniosawJupiter Hammon, Olaudah Equiano, W.E.B. du Bois; Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr; Rosa Parks, Philis Wheatly, Peter Williams, Prince Hall, Ibrahim Abd ar-Rahman, Nat Turner, Slave accounts, George Jackson, Frederick Douglass, Claude McKay, Jube Benson
IN THEIR OWN WORDS AND WRITING
There is a rich history of African American people that needs to be re-told and paid close attention-to. There have been and there are still men and women who are willing to put their life and fortune on the line just to see their people acquire complete freedom and equality so long denied them in the United States of America. These men and women have existed during the era of American Chattel Slavery and, through the times of the Black Codes, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movements.
These men and women have used their own ingenuity and tactics to try to deflect and change the situation of their people under seriously trying circumstances and reality. Historians have justified this absence of slave voices in the history of slavery and the American people by insisting that , after all, the slaves left no record, accomplished little that was "noteworthy," and they did not have much history.
They somehow, conveniently left-out the laws and the legal and the draconian edicts and processes, as were applied to the people of African ancestry, which were, in many ways, an expression of social control. We are going to look at some of these people and what they had to do to uplift their enslaved people from the House of Bondage. This re-writing of some of the history of African American Slaves has been carried-out in this article because the subject been treated by most historians as a specialized and exotic entity, and not as a central focus of the study of the development of American people.
Herb Boyd, in whose book Autobiography of a People enabled the retelling and information about the slaves possible says: "There is probably no better time to reflect on the past than at the dawn of a new millennium… The story of African American people is a glorious one, replete with a pantheon of mighty voices and courageous souls who in their combined strength have overcome inestimable odds and carved a special niche in the gallery of world culture...… My only wish is that in a small way I have narrowed the scope for future endeavors of this sort". In a smaller way I hope to bring attention to the stories covered by him in this piece to help push forward learning and awareness of a rich history of the African Americans in the words and or recorded voices of the slaves themselves.
Black history in the United States must be viewed as an integral, if usually antagonistic, part of the history of the American people. Without understanding the historical development of the Black(African) society, culture, and community, comprehension of the totality of America's development impossible. Slavery was a fundamental part of the history of the whole American people, just as its aftermath continues to pose a fundamental question for our national life.
Most discussion of American development has ignored, side-stepped, or treated as a minor theme slavery and its aftermath. Emphasis has been placed, instead, upon geographic conditions, upon technological achievements and the organization of industry, upon technological achievements and the organization of industry, upon ideological uniqueness, and upon, and upon governmental practice and constitutional theory. The history of American society has been subordinated to the history of the American State; the reality of the American people to ideologically determined abstractions. The history of the American people has been subordinated to the history of industrial technology, of capitalism, and of related values and institutional arrangements.
There has been as a consequence very little written social history of the American people, and what there has been has usually avoided discussion of either class conflict r the subordination of Blacks(Africans) to Whites. Thus, for example, labor historians have usually focused upon the institutional development of trade unions, rather than upon the activities of working people No one has written a "Making of the American Working Class," but there have been many serious works on the institutional history of particular trade union organizations. If White workers rarely appeared in the annals and chronicles of the American people, Blacks(Africans) have appeared hardly at all. And the black(African) slave himself/herself has been virtually absent from the written history other than as the victim of White aggression or the recipient of White paternalism.
The Black(African) slave usually has been portrayed as the victim who never enters his own history as its subject, but only as the object over which abstract forces and glorious armies fought. Historians have justified this absence of slave voices in the history of slavery and the American people by insisting that, after all, the slaves left no records, accomplished little that was "noteworthy," and therefore did not have much of a history. Peter Chew wrote: "A subjugated people, reduced to and held in a condition little better than that of domestic animals,is not likely to make much history .... As uneducated slaves, Blacks(Africans were obviously in no position to lead noteworthy careers: they could not become lawyers, doctors, military leaders, architects, engineers, statesmen."
But it is not enough to assert that the history of Black(African) people has never been made integral to the history of the American people, or that the voices of the slaves have been rarely heard. There must be sources that demonstrate that White society cannot be understood without seeing its symbiotic relationship to Black(African) society, sources in which the slaves speak for themselves. But we have been told very often that slaves were illiterate and therefore left no records. And those historians most interested in finding the slaves' own accounts have so far depended upon those books left by occasional, and exceptional, runaway slaves.
Yet there is a large body of previously untapped material which directly expresses the views of slavery held by those who had been slaves. It is largely upon this work that the Hub is based, selections from which comprise the collection of material that this Hub introduces. What are these sources?
First, there were scores of slave autobiographies published before the Civil War or shortly thereafter. While there are o uneven quality, they are at least no less significant than the special pleadings of the slaveowners and White abolitionists whose writings historians have always dealt with seriously. Further, there were thousands of interviews with ex-slaves recorded in the 1920a and 1930s by several groups of investigators, by private scholars, and under the auspices of the federal government, all of which have received only scant attention by historians.
There were at least eighty published slave narratives which appeared before the Civil War and probably more. These fell generally into three types: those which were written by former slave who had made their way to freedom;those obviously written by an amanuensis but clearly and accurately reflecting the experiences of the narrator; and those which were either thoroughly ghostwritten by a well-known abolitionist such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Richard Hildreth, most of the slave narratives were clearly of the first two types.
In addition to the narratives published before the Civil War, there was a thin but steady stream that followed in the four decades after the war. These often were written by Black(African) ministers as fundraising devices for themselves and their churches; consequently, they tend to be very moderate in the views of the slave experience, reflecting the required ideological posture Black(Africans) had to assume in order to get money our of Whites.
It is worth noting that many ex-slaves clearly did not distinguish between the experience under slavery and that after abolition The plantation system did not change drastically for most ex-slaves after the end of slavery, and many continued to live and work on the same plantations where they formerly had been slaves. Indeed, when interviewed in the 1930s, some were still living on the same plantation or very near to it, even though they might have owned the portion of the plantation they worked. Evidence of this important continuity between slavery and freedom must be made available if we are to understand the depths of the system of American slavery and racism
This collection of slave narratives and interviews is no exception. The value of such narratives and interviews does not generally lied in their descriptions of great historical events. While we might learn something from them of the politics of the antebellum South, of the economic development of the nation, of its intellectual life, such information does not dominate the works in this hub. Instead, they reveal day-to-day life of people, their customs, their values, their ideas, hopes, aspirations, and fears.
We can derive from them a picture of slave society and social structure and of the interaction between Black(African) and White. We can see in them the outline the outlines of the slave community, that network of communication systems whereby people were enable to live. And we can study through them the development of the community. From these materials we can see how the Black(African) slaves, forced to abandon his/her African pst with its institutions had to adapt himself/herself to being a slave under White masters in a new land, formed from an Afro-American way of life that combined the thought patterns of the African heritage with the social forms and social conditions of the new land. Rather than becoming "deculturized," the slaves used what they brought with them from Africa to meet Africa to meet the new conditions; they created new social forms and behavior patterns which syncretized African and New World elements under the particular conditions of slave life in the United States. In these stories we can find ways of understanding and dealing with the slaves' daily accommodations to their conditions and, as well, with their resistances and rebellions. We can learn a great deal about the treatment of the slaves and the consequences of such treatment.
When we look at the records that come across from slave records written by some slavers as Ship captains, we cannot cull much information, but the best sources are from slave narratives wherein we get a sense of what life was like in some regions and villages of West Africa for the latter part of the eighteenth century, and in eighteenth century America. We begin by looking at the narrative of a slave who was taken from Africa, to America, but held on to his beliefs which coincided with those of the Christians from Europe; he was able to get the concept of paying, God, and reading the bible how all this connected to the way he was brought-up.
James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1710-- ?), Says he was a son of the King of Bornu. He gives us a glimpse of his life in Africa and what led to his capture. In his own narrative he says that he was born in the city of Bornu(Baurnou) and his mother was the eldest daughter of the reigning King. He say that he was the youngest of six children, is mother loved him and his grandfather doted over him. He said he was an inquisitive child and asked his parents and family questions they could not answer.
He grew up being taught about the Great Man of power, whom he was supposed to worship. He grew up wondering about 'Some Superior Power' that his mother always told him was responsible for the heavens and the stars and their lives and other peoples lives. He held on to this thoughts until he was taken into slavery. He says on one Saturday he woke up at three in the morning to be on time at their place of worship, where they would pray kneeling down till the sun came up(he estimates about 10 or 11 am in the morning).
They then got up upon the signaling from the Priest and headed for home. His people were manufacturing clothes and supplying the rest of the country with meat drinks and clothes. His life changed, as he put it when about this time, there came a merchant from the Gold Coast(the third city of Guinea), he traded with the inhabitants of our country in ivory.
He took great notice of him and told him that if his parents would let him take him away, it would be of service to him than anything he could imagine. He told him that he would see houses with wings walk upon water, and would see a lot of white folks. He also told him he had many sons his age, and that afterwards he would bring him back. Ukawsaw was taken by all this and he left his family. He says:
"I was now more than a thousand miles from home, without a friend or any means to procure one. soon after I came to the merchant's house, I heard the drums beat remarkably loud, and the trumpets blow, and was very inquisitive to know the cause of rejoicing, and asked many questions concerning it; I was answered that it was meant as a compliment to me, because I was the grandson of the King of Bornu."
A Dutch Ship came and took hi away, after he pleaded with the captain not to let him be ill-treated. The captain brought him and he goes on to add: "I was now washed and clothed in the Dutch or English manner. I watched everything he did very carefully. He used to read prayers in public to the ships crew every Sabbath day; and when I first saw him read, I was never so surprised in my whole life as when I saw the book talk to my master; for I thought it did, as I observed him to look upon it, and move his lips.
"I wish it would do so to me. As soon as my master had done reading, I followed him to the place where he put the book, being mightily delighted with it, and when nobody saw me, I opened it and put my ear down close upon it, in great hope that it would say something to me; but was very sorry and greatly disappointed when I found it would not speak, this thought immediately presented itself to me, that everybody, and everything despised me because I was Black."
The ship he was taken in was bound for Barbados, but it docked in New York where he was sold for fifty dollars to a man he names as Vanhorn. His work was to wait at table and tea and also clean knives. He said his life was easy and he noticed and learned that the rest of the slaves in the compound cursed a lot, and he too picked up the language(English) easily and he cursed too a lot. One day one of the slaves, and old man, told him that if he kept it up, he will be the child of the Devil and he was going to burn in hell. This scared him a lot and he stopped cursing.
The maid, with whom she was working with, lost her cool when she mistakenly sprinkled her waistcoat with a mop. The mistress got angry and called upon god to damn her, and this surprised and shocked Ukawsaw, and he also thought that the girl was foolish to have acted the way she did. This concerned him so much that he told the mistress that there is a black man called the Devil and lives in hell, and was going to put fire on her and burn her.
Upon inquiring who told him all that, Ukawsaw said the old slave, Old Ned, told him so. When her husband came back, she told him what Ukawsaw said, and old Ned was whipped and the old man and other slaves were banned from entering into the kitchen. Ukawsaw's mistress never got mad at him, but went on to tell all her visitors about Ukawsaw and his story. It was until a minister, called Freelandhouse took interest in him, persuaded Ukawsaw's master to sell him to him, minister Freelandhouse. After some persuasion, Ukawsaw was sold for fifty British Pounds.
Ukasaw later wrote: "He took me home with him, and made me kneel , and put my hands together, and prayed for me, and every night and morning he did the same.-I could not make out what it was for, nor the meaning of it, nor what they spoke to when they talked.-I thought it comical, but liked it very well.
After I had been a little while with my new master, I grew more familiar, and asked him the meaning of prayer: (I could hardly speak English to be understood) he took great pains with me, and made me understand that he prayed to God, who lived in heaven; that he was my father and best friend. I told him that this must be a mistake; that my father lived in Bornu, and I wanted very much to see him, and likewise, my dear mother, and sister, and I wished he would be so good to send me back to them; and I added all I could think of to induce him to convey me back.
I appeared in great trouble, and my good master was so much affected that the tears ran down his face. He told me that God was a great and good Spirit, that he created all the world, and every person and thing in it, Ethiopia, Africa and America and everywhere. I was delighted when I heard this. There, says I, I always thought so when I lived at home! Now,If I had wings like an eagle. I would fly to tell my dear mother that God is greater than the sum, moon and stars; and that they were made by him.
I was exceedingly pleased with this information of my master's, because it corresponded so well with my own opinion; I thought now if I could but get home, I should be wiser than all my country folks, my grandfather, or father, or mother, or any of them.-But though I was somewhat enlightened, by the information of my master's, yet I had no other knowledge of God than that he was a good Spirit, and created everybody, and everything.
I was never sensible in myself, nor had anyone ever told me, that he would punish the wicked, and love the just. I was only glad that I had been told there was a God, because I had always thought so. He knew that what was taught to him as the 'Superior Power that were responsible for the heavens' was the same as what he has already learned as a slave.
The story of Ukawsaw teaches us that, many of the slaves were people who were aware that there was God, a thing they learned from their parents and community. He took time to learn English and write about his experience. This is an important lesson that clearly shows us that most African were cognizant of the higher being and his powers, love and understanding.
Some slaves wrote letter and petitioned for themselves their own freedom and labor re-compensation,vote and recognition for their contributions to national defense and to be recognized and residence. This is one was written in 1780 to The Council and House of representatives for the state of Massachusetts in New England.
John Cuffe 1755- (from the Colored Patriots of the American Revolution)
"The petition of several poor negroes and mulattoes, who are inhabitants of the town of Dartmouth, humbly showeth,-That we are being chiefly of the African extract, and by reason of long bondage and hard slavery, we have been deprived of enjoying the profits of our labor or the advantage of inheriting estates from our parents, as our neighbors the white people do, having some of us not long enjoyed our own freedom.
Yet of late, contrary to the inevitable custom and practice of our country, we have been, and now are, taxed both in our poor and that small pittance of estate which,through much hard labor and industry, we have got together to sustain ourselves and families with all. We apprehend it therefore, to be hard usage, and will doubtless(if continued) reduce us to a state of beggary, whereby we shall become a burden to others, if not timely prevented by the interpretation of your justice and power.
Your petitioners further show, that we apprehend ourselves to be aggrieved, in that, while we are not allowed the privilege of freemen of the State, having no vote or influence in the election of those who tax us, yet many oaf our color(as is well known) have cheerfully entered the field of battle in the defense of common cause, and that(as we conceive) against a similar exertion of power(in regard to taxation), too well known to need a recital in this place.
We most humbly request, therefore, that you would take our unhappy case into your serious consideration, and, in your wisdom and power, grant us relief from taxation, while under our present depressed circumstances, and your poor petitioners, as in duty bound, shall ever pray.
Karl Marx wrote about this situation as follows:
"...As soon as the people, whose production still moves within the lower forms of slave-labor, corvee labor,are drawn into the whirlpool of an international market dominated by capitalistic mode of production, the sale of their products for export becoming their principal interest, the civilized horrors of over-work are grafted on the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom and so on.
"Hence the Negro labor in the Southern States of the American Union preserved something of a patriarchal character, so long as production was chiefly directed to immediate local consumption. But in proportion, as the export of cotton became of vital interest to these states, the overworking of the Negro and sometimes the using up of his life in seven years' of labor became a factor in a calculated and calculating system".
The existence of the slaves in the United States must be seen as an integral part of antagonistic part of the history of the American people. In fact, the history of the American people has been subordinated to the history of industrial technology, of capitalism, and of related values. What is even more serious there's a paucity of material written in the eighteenth century by slave themselves because they were to allowed to read.
Unless some masters, like in the case of Ukawsaw, where he eventually got to know how to speak and write English and the case of John Cuffe or Jupiter Hammon and countless others who counseled their brethren. Some of these narratives were written by former slaves reflecting on their experiences. This is what one said in the address in an address to the negroes in the state of New York:
Jupiter Hammon (1711-1802) Said that: ".... I have wanted exceedingly to say something to you, to call upon you with tenderness of a father and friend, and to give you the last, and I may say, dying advice of an old man, who wishes your best good in this world, and in the world to come. But while I have had such desires, a sense of my own ignorance, and unfitness to teach others, has frequently discouraged me from attempting to say anything to you; yet, when I thought of your situation, I could not rest easy....
I think you will be more likely to listen to what is said, when you know it comes from a Negro, one of your own Nation and color; and therefore have no interest in deceiving you, or saying anything to you, but what he really thinks is your interest and duty to comply with. My age, I think, gives me some right to speak to you, and reason to expect you will hearken to my advice. I am now upwards of seventy years old, and cannot expect, though I am well and able to do almost any kind of business, to live much longer.
I have passed the common bounds set for man, and must soon go the way of all the earth. I have had more experience in the world than most of you, and I have seen a great deal of the vanity and wickedness of it. I have had great reason to be thankful that my lot has been so much better than most slaves have had. I suppose I have had more advantages and privileges than most of you, who are slaves, have ever known.
"Now I acknowledge that liberty is a great thing, and worth seeking for, if we can get it honestly; and by our good conduct, prevail on our masters to set us free: though for my own part I do not wish to be free, yet I should be glad if others, especially the young Negroes, were to be free; for many of us who are grown up slaves, and have always had masters to care of us, should hardly know how to take care of themselves; and it may be more for our own comfort to remain as we are.
That liberty is a great thing we may from our own feelings, and we may likewise judge so from the conduct of the white people in the late war. How much money has been spent, and how many lives have been lost to defend their liberty. I must say that I have hoped that God would open their eyes, when they were so much engaged for liberty, to think of the state of the poor blacks, and to pity us....
Let me beg of you, my dear African brethren, to think very little of your bondage in this life; for you're thinking of it will do you no good. I f God designs to set us free, he will do it in his own time and way; but think of your bondage to sin and Satan, and do not rest until you are delivered from it.
That is why it is interesting to note that many ex-slaves did not distinguish between the experience under slavery and that after abolition. Many slaves continued to live and work on the same plantations. There were those who , although they remain in slavery, wanted to see their offspring become free, but, as Jupiter counsels his brothers in the excerpt above, there was no need to dwell over what happened to his generation, but the younger one ought to taste freedom with all its new lifestyles.
Bu if the slave has a history, then his behavior changed over time as he learned from his past life of bondage and applied himself to the new frontiers of freedom. Men do not start revolutions on their own, but, only when they can no longer stand the contradictions of their own lives and personalities do they move into some decisive action very quickly. Victims are always in the process of becoming rebels because the contradictions in life and society demand and dictate for such a resolution.
Whether it was a belief in God, or dealing and asking for justice in a slave-holding society or exhorting ones fellow-men to grab freedom with both hands, all were doing what they did for the good of their brothers, society and future generations. Our reminding of ourselves of these narratives, helps to put history in a correct and clear path, and a unique perspective of understanding and knowing for ourselves and society what happened during slavery, from the slaves' accounts, and what it is we can do, learn and make better the present life we all live and exist in.
From The Poems of Phillis Wheatley Boston, 1770s
On Being Brought From Africa To America
"Twas mercy brought from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there's a God, that there's a Savior too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
"Their color s a diabolic die."
Remember, Christians, Negroes, Black as Cain
My be refin'd , and join the angelic train.
To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth, His Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for North-America, & c.
Hail, happy day, when, smiling like the morn,
Fair Freedom rose New-England to adorn:
The Northern clime beneath her genial ray,
Dartmouth, congratulates they blissful sway:
Elate with hope her race no longer mourns,
Each soul expands, each grateful bosom burns,
While in thine hand with pleasure we behold
The silken reins, and Freedom's charms unfold.
Long lost to realms beneath the northern skies.
She shines supreme, while hated faction dies:
Soon as appear'd the Goddess long desired,
Sick at the view, she languished and experienced;
Thus from the splendors of the morning light
The owl in sadness seeks the aves of night.
No more, America, in mournful strain
Of wrongs, and grievance underdressed complain,
No longer shalt thou dread the iron chain
Which wanton Tyranny with lawless hand
Had made, and with it meant to enslave the land.
Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,
Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,
Whence flow these wishes for the common good,
By feeling hearts alone best understood,
I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate
Was snatched from Africa's fancy happy seat:
What pangs excruciating must molest,
What sorrows labor in my parent's breast?
Steel'd was that soul and by no misery mov'd
That from a father seized his babe beloved:
Such, such my case. And can I then but pray
Others may never feel tyrannic sway?
For favors past, great Sir, our thanks are due,
And thee we ask thy favors to renew,
Since in thy pow'r, as in thy will before,
To sooth the griefs, which thou did'st once deplore.
May heavenly grace the sacred sanction give
To all thy works, and thou for ever live
Not only on the wings of fleeting Fame,
Though praise immortal crowns, the patriot's name,
But to conduct to heavens refulgent fane,
May fiery coursers sweep the' ethereal plain,
And bear thee upwards to that best abode,
Where, like the prophet, thou shalt find thy God.
Prince Hall - 1797
"Beloved Brethren of the African Lodge"
"It is now five years since I delivered a charge to you on some parts and points of masonry. As one branch or superstructure of the foundation, I endeavored to show you the duty of a mason to a mason, and of charity and love to all mankind, as the work and image of the great God and the Father of the human race. I shall now attempt to show you that it is our duty to sympathize with our with our fellow-men under their troubles, and with the families of our brethren who are gone, we hope, to the Grand Lodge above.
"We are to have sympathy," said he, "but this, after all, is not to be confined to parties or colors, nor to towns or states, nor to a kingdom, but to the kingdoms of the whole earth, over whom Christ the King is head and grand master for all in distress.
"Among these numerous sons and daughters of distress, let us se our friends and brethren; and first let us see them dragged from their native country, by the iron hand of tyranny and oppression, from their dear friends and connections, with weeping eyes and aching hearts, to a strange land, and among a strange people, whose tender mercies are cruel,-and there to bear the iron yoke of slavery and cruelty, till death, as a friend, shall relieve them.
And must not the unhappy condition of these, our fellow-men, draw forth our hearty prayers and wishes for their deliverance from those merchants and traders, whose characters you have described in Revelations xviii. 11-13? And who knows but these same sort of trader may, in a short time, in like manner bewail the loss of the African traffic, to their shame and confusion? The day dawns now in some of the West India Islands. God can and will change their condition and their hearts, too, and let Boston and the world know that He hath no respect of person, and that that bulwark of envy, pride, scorn and contempt, which is so visible in some, shall fall.
"Jethro, and Ethiopian, gave instructions to his son-in-law, Moses, in establishing government.Exodus xviii. 22-24. Thus, Moses was not ashamed to be instructed by a Black man. Philip was not ashamed to take a seat beside the Ethiopian Eunuch, and to instruct him in the gospel. The Grand Master Solomon was not shamed to hold conference with the Queen of Sheba. Our Grand Master Solomon did not divide the living child, whatever he might do with the dead one; neither did he pretend to make a law to forbid the parties from having free intercourse with one another, without the fear of censure, or be turned out the synagogue.
"Now, my brethren, nothing is stable; all things are changeable. Let us seek those things which are sure and steadfast, and let us pray God that, while we remain here, he would give us the grace and patience, and strength to bear up under all our troubles, which, at this day, God knows, we have our share of Patience, I say; for were we not possessed of a great measure of it, we could not bear up under the daily insults we meet with in the streets of Boston, much more on public days of recreation.
How, at such times, are we shamefully abused, and that to such a degree, that we may truly be said to carry our lives in our hands, and the arrows of death are flying about our heads. Helpless women have their clothes torn from their backs. ... And by whom are these disgraceful and abusive actions committed?
Not by the men born and bred in Boston,-they are better breed; but by a mob or horde of shameless, low-lived, envious, spiteful persons-some of them, not long since, servants in gentlemen's kitchens, scouring knives, horse-tenders, chaise-drivers I was told by a gentleman who saw the filthy behavior in the Common, that, in all places he had been in, he never saw so cruel behavior in all his life; and that a slave in the West indies.
On Sundays, or holidays, enjoys himself and friends without molestation. Not only this man, but many in town, who have seen their behavior to us, and that, without provocation, twenty or thirty cowards have fallen upon one man. (O, the patience of the Blacks!) 'Tis not for want of courage in you, for they know that they do not face you man for man; but in a mob, which we despise, and would rather suffer wrong than do wrong, to the disturbance of the community, and the disgrace of our reputation; for every good citizen doth honor to the laws of the State where he resides.
"My brethren, let us not be cast down under these and many other abuses we at present are laboring under,-for the darkest hour is just before the break of day. My brethren, let us remember what a dark day it was with our African brethren, six years ago, in the French West Indies. Nothing but the snap of the whip was heard, from morning to evening.
Hanging, breaking on the wheel, burning, and all manner of tortures, were inflicted on those unhappy people. But, blessed be God, the scene is changed. They now confess that
goth hath no respect of persons, and, therefore, receive them as their friends, and treat them as brothers. Thus doth Ethiopia stretch forth her hand from slavery, to freedom and equality."
Peter Williams - 1808
Fathers, brethren, and fellow citizens: At this auspicious moment I felicitate you on the abolition of the Slave Trade. This inhuman branch of commerce which, for some centuries past, has been carried on to a considerable extent, is, by the singular interposition of Divine Providence, this day extinguished. An event so important, so pregnant with happy consequences, must be extremely consonant to every philanthropic heart.
But to us, Africans and descendants of Africans, this period is deeply interesting. We have felt, sensibly felt, the sad effects of this abominable traffic. It has made, if not ourselves, our forefathers and kinsmen its unhappy victims; and pronounced on them, and their prosperity, the sentence of perpetual slavery.
But benevolent men have voluntarily stepped forward to obviate the consequences of this injustice and barbarity. They have striven, assiduously to restore our natural rights; to guarantee them from fresh innovations; to furnish us with necessary information; and to stop the source from whence our evils have flowed.
The fruits of these laudable endeavors have long been visible; each moment they appear ore conspicuous; and this day has produced an event which shall ever be memorable and glorious in the annals of history. We are now assembled to celebrate tis momentous era; to recognize the beneficial influences of humane exertions; and by suitable demonstrations of joy, thanksgiving, and gratitude, to return to our heavenly Father, and to our earthly benefactors, our sincere acknowledgements.
Review, for a moment, my brethren, the history of the Slave Trade. Engendered in the foul recesses of the sordid mind, the unnatural monster inflicted gross evils on the human race. Its baneful footsteps are marked with blood; its infectious breadth spreads war and desolation; and its train is composed of the complicated miseries of cruel and unceasing bondage.
Before the enterprising spirit of European genius explored the western coast of Africa, the state of our forefathers was a state of simplicity, innocence, and contentment. Unskilled in the arts of dissimulation, their bosoms were the seats of confidence; and their lips were the organs of truth.
Strangers to the refinements of civilized society, they followed with implicit obedience the (simple) dictates of nature. Peculiarly observant of hospitality, they offered a place of refreshment to the weary, and an asylum to the unfortunate. Ardent in their affections, their minds were susceptible of the warmest emotions of love, friendship and gratitude.
Although unacquainted with the diversified luxuries and amusements of civilized nations, hey enjoyed some singular advantages from the bountiful hand of nature and from their own innocent and amiable manners, which rendered them a happy people. But, alas! This delightful picture has long since vanished; the angel of bliss has deserted their dwelling; and the demon of indescribable misery has rioted, uncontrolled, on the fair fields of our ancestors.
After Columbus unfolded to civilized man the vast treasures of this western world, the desire to gain of gain, which had chiefly induced the first colonists of America to cross the waters of the Atlantic, surpassing the bounds of reasonable acquisition, violated the sacred injunctions of the gospel, frustrated the designs of the pious and humane, and, enslaving the harmless aborigines, compelled them to drudge in the mines. ...
I need not, my brethren, take a further view of our present circumstances, to convince you of the providential benefits which we have derived from our patrons; for if you take a retrospect of the past situation of Africans, and descendants of Africans, in this and other countries, to your observation our advancements must be obvious.
From these considerations, added to the happy event which we now celebrate, let us ever entertain the profoundest veneration for our for our magnificent benefactors, and return to them from the altars of our hearts the fragrant incense of incessant gratitude. But let not, my brethren, our demonstrations of gratitude be confined to the mere expressions of our lips.
The active part which the friends of humanity have taken to ameliorate our sufferings has rendered them, in a measure, the pledges of our integrity. You must be well aware that notwithstanding their endeavors, they have yet remaining, form interest and prejudice, a number of opposers. these, carefully watching for every opportunity to injure the cause, will not fail to augment the smallest defect in or lives and conversation; and reproach our benefactors with them as the fruit of their actions.
Let us, therefore, by a steady and upright deportment, by a strict obedience and respect to the laws of the land, form an invulnerable bulwark against the shaft of malice. thus, evincing to the world that our garments are unpolluted by the stains of ingratitude, we shall reap increasing advantages fro the favors conferred; the spirits of our departed ancestors shall smile with complacency on the change of our state; and posterity shall exult in the pleasing remembrance.
May the time speedily commence when Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands; when the sum of liberty shall beam resplendent on the whole African race; its genial influences promote the luxuriant growth of knowledge and virtue.
Ibrahim Abd Ar-Rhaman
I was born in the city of Tombuctoo. My father had been living in Tombuctoo, but removed to be King in Teembo, in Foota Jallo. His name was Alman Abrahim. I was five years old when my father carried me from Timbuctoo. I lived in Teembo, mostly, until I was twenty-one, and followed the horsemen. I was made Captain when I was twenty-one-after they put me to that, and found that I had a very good head, at twenty-four they made me Colonel.
At the age of twenty-six, they sent me to fight the Hebohs, because they destroyed the vessels that came to the coast, and prevented our trade. When we fought, I defeated them. But they went back one hundred miles into the country, and hid themselves in the mountain. We could not see them, and did not expect there was any enemy.
Wen we got there, we dismounted and led our horses, until we were half-way up the mountain. Then they fired upon us. We saw the smoke, we heard the guns, we saw the people drop down. I told everyone to run until we reached the top of the hill, then to wait each other until all came there, and we would fight them.
After I had arrived at the summit, I could see no one except my guard. They followed us, and we ran and fought. I saw this would not do. I told everyone to run who wished to do so. Everyone who wished to fun, fled. I said I will not fun for an African. I got down from my horse and sat down. One came behind and shot me on the shoulder. One came before and pointed his gun to shoot me, but seeing my clothes, (ornamented with gold), he cried out, that! The King. Then everyone turned down their guns, and came and took me.
When they came to take me, I had a sword under me, but they did not see it. The first one that came, I sprang forward and killed. The one cam behind and knocked me down with a gun, and I fainted. They carried me to a pond of water, and dipped me in; after I came to myself they bound me. They pulled off my shoes, and made me go barefoot one hundred miles, and led my horse before me. After they took me to their own country, they kept me for one week.
As soon as my people got home, my father missed me. He raised a troop, and came after me; and as soon as the Hebohs knew he was coming, they carried me to the Mandingo country, on the Gambia. They sold me directly, with fifty others, to an English ship. They took me to the Island of Dominica. After that I was taken to New Orleans. They took me to Natchez, and Colonel Foster] bought me. I have lived with Colonel F. for 40 years. Thirty years I have labored hard. The last ten years I have been indulged a great deal.
I have left five children behind me. I desired to go back to my own country again; but when I think of my children, it hurts my feelings. If I go to my own country, I cannot feel happy, if my children left. I hope, by god's assistance, to recover them. Since I have been in Washington, I have found a good many friends. I hope they will treat me in other cities as they have treated me in the city of Washington, and then I shall get my children. I want to go to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, and then I shall return hither again.
Nat Turner 1800 - 1831
Sir, — you have asked me o give a history of the motives which induced me to undertake the late insurrection, as you call it - To do so I must go back to the days of my infancy, and even before I was born. I was thirty-one years of age the 2 of October last, and born the property of Benj.
Turner, of this country. In my childhood a circumstance occurred which made an indelible impression on my mind, and laid the ground work of that enthusiasm, which has terminated so fatally to many, both White and Black, and for which I am about to atone at the gallows. It is here necessary to relate this circumstance-trifling as it may seem, it was the commencement of that belief which has grown with time, and even now, sir, in this dungeon, helpless and forsaken as I am, I cannot divest myself of.
Being at play with other children, when three of four years old, I was telling them something, which my mother overhearing, said it happened before I was born-I stuck to my story, however, and related somethings which went, in her opinion, to confirm it-others being called on were greatly astonished, knowing that these things had happened, and caused them to say in my hearing, I surely would be a prophet, as the Lord has shewn me things that had happened before my birth. ...
My grandmother, who was very religious, and to whom I was much attacked-my master, who belonged to the church, and other religious persons who visited the house, and whom I often saw at prayers, noticing the singularity of my manners, I suppose, and my uncommon intelligence for a child, remarked I had too much sense to be raised, and if I was, I would never be of any service to any one as a slave.
To a mind like mine, restless, inquisitive and observant of everything that was passing, it is easy to suppose that religion was the subject to which it would be directed, and although this subject principally occupied my thoughts-there was noting that I saw or heard of to which my attention was not directed.
The manner in which I learned to read and write, not only had great influence on my own mind, as I acquired it with the most perfect ease, so much so, that I have no recollection whatever of learning the alphabet-but to the astonishment of the family, one day, when a book was shewn to me to keep me from crying, I began spelling the names the names of different objects-this was a source of wonder to all in the neighborhood was constantly improved at all opportunities, particularly the Blacks.
When I got large enough to go to work, while employed, I was reflecting on may things that would present themselves to my imagination, and whenever an opportunity occurred of looking at a book, when the school children were getting their lessons, I would find many things that the fertility of my own imagination had depicted to me before; all my time, not devoted to my master's service, was spent either in prayer, or making experiments in casting different things in moulds made of earth, in attempting to make paper, gun-powder, and many other experiments, that although I could not perfect, yet convinced me of its practicability If I had the means(When questioned as to the manner of manufacturing those different articles, he was found well informed on the subject)).
I was not addicted to stealing in my youth, nor have ever been-Yet such was the confidence of the negroes in the neighborhood, even at this early period of my life, in my superior judgement, they would often carry me with them when they were going on any roguery, to plan for them.
Growing up among them, with this confidence in my superiority, and when this, in their opinions, was perfected Divine inspiration, from the circumstances already alluded to in my infancy, and which belief was ever afterwards zealously inculcated by the austerity of my life and manners, which became the subject of remark by White and Black. Having soon discovered to be great,
I must appear so, and therefore studiously avoided mixing in society, and wrapped myself in mystery, devoting my time to fasting and prayer. By the this, having arrived to man's estate, and hearing the scriptures commented on at meetings, I was struck with that particular passage which says: "Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you." I reflected much on this passage, and prayed daily for light on this subject.
As I was praying one day at my plough, the spirit spoke to me, saying, "Seek ye the kingdom of Heaven and all things shall be added unto you." Question:-'what do you mean by the Spirit' Ans: 'The spirit that spoke to the prophets in former days'-and I was greatly astonished, and for two years prayed continually, whenever my duty would permit-and then again I had the same revelation, which fully confirmed me in the impression that I was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty.
Several years rolled round, in which many events occurred to strengthen me in this belief. At this time I reverted my mind to the remarks made of me in my childhood, and the things that had been shewn me-and as it had been said of me in my childhood by those whom I had been taught to pray, both White and Black, and in whom I had the greatest confidence, that I had too much sense to raised, and if I was, I would never be of any use to any one as a slave. Now finding I had arrived to man's estate, and was a slave, and these revelations being made known to me, I began to direct my attention to this great object, to fulfill the purpose for which, by this time, I felt assured I was intended.
Knowing the influence I had obtained over the minds of my fellow servants (not by the means of conjuring and such like tricks-for to them I always spoke of such things with contempt) but by the communion of the spirits whose revelations I often communicated to them, and they believed and said my wisdom came from God.
I now began to prepare them for my purpose, by telling them something was about to happen that would terminate in fulfilling the great promise that had been made to me-About this time I was placed under an overseer, from whom I ran away-and after remaining in the woods under an overseer , from whom I ran away-After remaining in the woods thirty days, I returned, to the astonishment of the negroes on the plantation, who thought I had made my escape to some part of the country, as my father had done before.
But the reason for my return was, that the Spirit appeared to me and said I had my wishes directed to the things of this world, and not to the Kingdom of Heaven, and that I should return to the service of my earthly master-"For he who knoweth is Master's will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes, and thus have I chastened you."
And the Negroes found fault, and murmured against me, saying that if they had my sense, they would not serve any master in the world. And about this time I had a vision-and I saw White Spirits and Black Spirits engaged in battle, and the sun was darkened-thunder rolled in the Heavens, and blood flowed in the streams-and I heard a voice saying, "Such is your luck, such you are called to see, and let it come rough or smooth, you must surely bare it."
I now withdrew myself as much as my situation would permit, from the intercourse of my fellow servants, for the avowed purpose of serving the Spirit more fully and it appeared to me , and reminded me of the things it had already shown me, and it appeared to time, and reminded me of the things it had already shown me, and that it would reveal to me the knowledge of the elements, the revolution of the planets, the operation of the tides, and changes of the seasons.
After this revelation in the year of 1825, and the knowledge of the elements being made known to me, I sought more than ever to obtain true holiness before the great day of judgement should appear, and then I began to receive the true knowledge of faith. And from the first steps of righteousness until the last, was I made perfect, and the Holy Ghost was with me,and said, "Behold me as I stand in the Heavens" — and Looked and saw the forms of men in different attitudes-and there were lights in the sky to which the children of darkness gave other names that what they really were-for they were the lights of the saviors hands, stretched forth from East to West, even as they were extended on the cross on Calvary for the redemption of sinners.
And I wondered greatly at these miracles, and prayed to be informed of a certainty of the meaning thereof-and shortly afterwards, while laboring in the field, I discovered drops of blood on the corn as though it were dew from heaven-and I communicated it to may, both Black and White,in the neighborhood-and then I found on these leaves in the woods hieroglyphic characters, and numbers, with the forms of men in different attitudes,portrayed in blood, and representing the figures I had seen before in the heavens.
And now the Holy ghost had revealed itself to me, and made plain the miracles it had shown me-For as the blood of Christ had been shed on this earth, and had ascended to the heaven for the salvation of sinners, and was now returning to earth again in the form of dew-and as the leaves on the trees bore the impression of the figures I had seen in the heavens, it was plain to me that the Savior was about to lay down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and the great day of judgement was at hand.
About this time I told these things to a White man, (Etheldred R. Brantley) on whom it had a wonderful effect-and he ceased from his wickedness, and was attacked immediately with a cutaneous eruption, and blood oozed from the pores of his skin, and after praying and fasting nine days, he was healed and the Spirit appeared to m again, and said, as the Savior had been baptized so should we be also-and when the White people would not let us be baptized by the church, we went down into the water together, in the sight of many who reviled us, and were baptized by the Spirit.
After this I rejoiced greatly, and gave thanks to God. And on the 12 of May 1828, I heard a loud noise in the heavens, and the Spirit had instantly appeared to me and said the Serpent was loosened, and Christ had laid down the yoke he had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent, for the time was fast approaching when the first should be last and the last should be first. Quest.
Do you not find yourself mistaken now? And. Was not Christ crucified? And by signs in the heavens that it would make known to me when I commenced the great work-and until the first sign appeared, I should conceal it from the knowledge of men-and on the appearance of the sign, (the eclipse of the sun last February) I should arise and prepare myself,and slay my enemies with their own weapons.
And immediately on the sign appearing in the heavens, the seal was removed from my lips, and I communicated the great work laid out for me to do, for four in whom I had the greatest confidence, (Henry, Hark, Nelson,and Sam)-it was intended by us to have begun the work of death on the 4 July last-Many were the plans formed and rejected by us, and it affected my mind to such a degree, that I fell sick, and the time passed without our coming to any determination how to commence-Still new schemes and rejecting, when the sign appeared again, which determined me not to wait longer.
Since the commencement of 1830, I had been living with Mr. Joseph Travis, who was a kind master and placed the greatest confidence in me; in fact, I had no cause to complain of his treatment of me. On Saturday evening of the 20 of August, it was agreed between Henry, Hark and myself, to prepare a dinner the next day for the men we expected, and then to concert a plan, as we had not yet determined any. Hark, on the following morning, brought a pig, and henry brandy, and being joined by Sam, Nelson, Will and Jack, they prepared in the woods a dinner, where, about three o'clock, I joined them. ...
I saluted them on coming up, and asked Will how came he there, he answered, his life was worth no more others, and his liberty as dear to him. I asked him if he thought to obtain it? He said he would, or lose his life. This was enough to put him in full confidence. Jack, I knew, was only a tool in the hands of Hark, it was quickly agreed we should commence at home (Mr. J. Travis') on that night, and until we had armed and quipped ourselves, and gathered sufficient force, neither age nor sex was spared, (which was invariably adhered to).
We remained at the feast until about two hours in the night, when we went to the house and found Austin: they all went to the cider press and drank, except myself. On returning to the house, Hark went to the door with an axe, for the purpose of breaking it open, as we knew we were strong enough to murder the family, if they were awakened by the noise; but reflecting that it might create an alarm in the neighborhood, we determined to enter the house secretly, and murder them whilst sleeping.
Hark found a ladder and set it against the chimney,own which I ascended, and hoisting a window, we entered and came down stirs, unbarred the door,and removed the guns from their places. It was then observed that I must spill the first blood. On which, armed with a hatchet,and accompanied by Will, I entered my master's chamber,it being dark, I could not give a death blow, the hatchet glanced from his head,he sprang from the bed and called his wife, it was the last word, Will laid him dead, with a blow of his axe, and Mrs. Travis shared the same fate, as she lay in bed.
Short On Nat Turner
The leader of a slave insurrection in Virginia,known as the "Southampton Insurrection", or more frequently, "Nat Turner's Rebellion." He was born in Southampton County, Virginia, in 1800. From his childhood he claimed to see visions and hear voices, and became a Baptist preacher of great influence among the Black(African) Slaves.
Unlike most slaves(Africans) of the time, Turner was literate. In 1828he confided to a few companions that a voice from heaven had announced that "the last shall be first," which was interpreted to mean that the slaves should control. An insurrection was planned, and a solar eclipse in February 1831 and peculiar conditions atmospheric conditions on the 13 of August were accepted as the signal for beginning the work.
On the night of the 21 August 1831, with seven companions, he entered the home of his master, Joseph Travis, and murdered the residents. After securing guns, horses and liquor they visited other houses, sparring no one. Recruits were added, in some cases by compulsion, until the band numbered about sixty.
About noon on the 22nd they were scattered by a small force of Whites, hastily gathered. Troops, marines and militia were hurried to the scene, and all participants were hunted down. In all thirteen men, eighteen were women, and twenty-four children had been murdered. After hiding for six weeks, Nat was captured on the 30 of October and was tried and hanged, having made, meanwhile, a full confession(Part of it can be read above).
Nineteen of his associates were hanged and twelve were sent out of the state. The insurrection, which was attributed to the teachings of the abolitionists, led to the enactment of stricter slave codes(Black Codes).
The Religion of the Slaves
In the nineteenth century there was a strong attempt by Whites[in America) to use religion as a form of social control. These White masters sought to impose to superimpose a formal religion on the slaves. But that religion never seemed to gain total adherence of the slaves who continued to carry on prayer meetings at night. What contemporaries referred to as the "AfricanCult" not only did not disappear, it continued to flourish with great creativity and strength and was clearly the mainspring of African religion in the United States.
The slaves' emphasis upon religion has often been seen as simply a release from the daily world of work, a way of finding a refuge in the promise of salvation n the future. And this might indeed have been the case if the slaves and been generally secular and urban people and if the only religious expression they had was that dominated by their masters. But that isa one-sided view of reality and ignores the independent basis of slave religion in the nighttime prayer meetings and sings. While religion certainly may at times be an opiate, the religion of the oppressed usually gives them the sustenance necessary for developing a resistance to their own oppression.
The religion of the slaves kept alive in them the desire and basis for a struggle for freedom. On a more immediate level, it made their daily lives bearable. If the community was not yet strong enough to overcome adversity, it could at least bear with it; the ability to survive adversity in the present is, of course, necessary to the ability to overcome it in the future…
In prayer meetings and night sings Africans became American slaves while American-born slaves renewed their contact with the African experience through exchanges of ideas with newly arrived migrants from Africa.
The slave narratives and slave autobiographies(some of which have been already written above), contain hundreds of references to such prayer meetings and night sings. Often they were held late at night in a cabin in the slave quarters. Often they took place in an "arbor church" an outdoor meeting place usually attached to a group of trees that were considered particularly sacred and as having magical properties.
The evidence indicates that such meeting s were usually held once a week on most plantations and that often slaves from several plantations would attend. The slaves, men and women, would crowd into an earthen-floored hut to sing, to pray, to shout and get "happy." Often they would do a slow circle, each individual's hand on the next person's shoulder. Through these prayer meetings the bonds among people were tightened.
Carey Davenport, a retired Black(African) Methodist minister from Texas, had been born a slave in 1855. He had the following to say about slave religion:
"I don't 'emember no culled(Colored) preachers in slavery times. The White Methodist circuit riders came around on horseback and preach. There was a big box house for a church house and culled(Colored) folks sit off in one corner of the church. Sometimes culled(Colored) folks go down in dugouts and hollows and hold hey own service and they used to sing songs what come a-gushing up from the heart."
There were to religious expressions: the official, Sunday service in the White church and the prayer meetings where the Black Maranos sang the songs that came "a-gushing from the heart." Clara Brim, born in the 1830s in Louisiana, indicates the same bipartite religious system:
"When Sunday come, old Massa ask who want to go to church. Dem what wants could ride hoss-back or walk. Us go to de White folks church. Dey sot(sat) in front and us sot(sat) in back. Us had prayer meetin' too, regular every week. One old culled(Colored) man a sort of preacher. He de leader in 'ligion.
Cato Carter , born in 1836 or 1837 as a slave in Alabama, indicates how slaves' own religion was often prohibited and practiced secretly:
"Course 'slaves' had their ser'ous side too. They loved to go to church and had a li'l log chapel for worship. But I went to the White folks church. In the chapel some 'slave' mens preached from the Bible,but couldn't read a line no more than a sheep could. The Carters didn't mind their 'slaves' prayin' and singin' hymns, but some places wouldn' 'low them to worship a-tall and they had put their heads in post to sing o pray."
Carter's testimony that the slaves were sometimes prohibited from religious expression in the nineteenth century is verified by other slaves, who also indicate other nuances of slave religion. Adeline Cunningham was born a slave in Texas in 1852. She says of her Master and his family about slave religion:
"Dey was rough people and dey treat ev'rybody rough .... No suh, we never goes to church. Times we sneaks in de woods and prays the Lawd to make us free and times one of the de slaves got happy and made noise dat dey heerd at de big house and den de overseer come and whip us 'cause we prayed de Lawd to set us free."
Ellen butler, born a slave in Louisiana in 1859 in 1859, had the following comment about slave religion:
"Massa never 'lowed us slaves to go to church but hey have holes in the fields they gits down down in and prays. They done that way 'cause the White folks didn't want them to pray. They used to pray for freedom."
Adeline Hodges, born a slave in Alabama, indicates the importance of the independent slave religion to her:
"De slaves warn't 'lowed to go to church, but they whisper roun', and all meet in de woods and pray. De only time I 'members my pa was one when I was a li'l chile, he set me on a log by him and prayed."
Mingo White indicates the importance of mid-week meetings in the total life of the slave, and how they were related in the minds of the slaves to other aspects of autonomy such as having their own gardens to work, Saturday night "frolics," and hostility to going to Sunday church:
"After de day's wuk(work) was done there warn't anything for de slaves to do but to go to bed. Wednesday night we went to prayer meetin'. We had to be in de bed by nine o'clock. Ever' night de drivers come 'round ten ter make sho' dat we was in de bed. I heard tell of folks goin' to bed an' den gittin' up and goin' to youther platation.
On Sat'day de hans' wukked(worked) 'twell noon. Eyhad de res' of de time to wuk(work) dey gardens.Ever' fambly(family) had a garden of dere own. On Sat'day night the slave could frolic for a while. Dey would have parties sometimes an' whiskey and homebrew for de servants. On Sundays we didn't do anything but lay 'round an' sleep, 'case we didn't lack to go to church."
The slaves understood that the official religion was being used as a method of social control and it was clear that for many slaves it simply didn't work. Wes Beady, born in about 1850 in Texas, told it as he saw it:
"We went to church on the place and you ought to heard that preachin'. Obey your massa and missy, don't steal chickens and eggs and meat, but nary(not) a word 'bout havin' a soul to save."
Lewis Fabor, born a slave in Georgia in 1855, had this to say about White preaching under official auspices:
"On Sunday all were required to attend the White church in town. They sat in the back of the church as the White minister preached and directed the following text at them: 'don't steal your master's chickens or his eggs and your backs won't be whipped."(see picture in Photo Gallery)
The slaves at times prayed in one way while the preacher preached in another way. Minnie Davis, an ex-slave from Georgia. About ten years old when the war ended, said:
I recall that Dr. Hoyt used to pray that the Lord would drive the Yankees back. He said that "Niggers were born to be slaves." My mother said that all the time he was praying out loud like that, she was praying to herself: "oh Lord, please send the Yankees on and let them set us free."
One of the richest expressions of this counterposition of the slaves' reactions to the official religion and his practice of his own religion is in the following account of Richard Carruthers, born in Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid-1830s, and raised as a slave in Texas:
"When the White preacher come he preach and pick up his Bible and claim he gittin' the text right out of the Good Book and he preach" "The Lord say, don't you niggers steal chickens from your missus. don't steal your master's hawgs." That would be all he preach ...
Us 'salves used to have a prayin' ground down in the hollow and sometimes we come out of the field, between eleven and twelve at night, scorchin' and burnin' up with nothing to eat, and we wants to ask the food Lawd to have mercy. We put grease in a snuff pan or bottle and make a lamp. We take a pine torch, too, and goes down to the hollow and pray. Some gits so joyous they stars to holler loud and we has to stop they mouth. I see 'slaves' gits so full of the Lawd and so happy they draps unconscious."
The slaves' religious ceremonies emphasized and tightened the social bonds among people. In the religious meetings the people of the slave quarters gathered together to discuss the events of the day, to gain new strength from the communal reality to face their individual realities, to celebrate the maintenance of life in the midst of adversity, and to determine the communal strategies and tactics. Out of these meetings came the modern Black church and many black lodges which play such an important role in the modern Afro-American community, and which continue to function as important social institutions both for accommodation and for struggle.
Frederick Douglass - 1840
The impression which I had received respecting character and condition of the people of the North. I found to singularly erroneous. I had very strangely supposed, while in slavery, that few of the comforts, and scarcely any of the luxuries, of life were enjoyed at he north, compared with what were enjoyed by slaveholders of the South. I probably came to tis conclusion from the fact that northern people owned on slaves.
I supposed that they were about upon a level with the non-slaving holding population of the south. I knew they were exceedingly poor, and I had been accustomed to regard their poverty as the necessary consequence of their being non-slaveholders. I had somehow imbibed the opinion that, in the absence of slaves, there could be no wealth, and very little refinement.
And upon coming to the North, I expected to meet with a rough, hard-handed, and uncultivated population, living in the most Spartan-like simplicity, knowing nothing of the ease, luxury, pomp, and grandeur of southern slaveholders. Such being my conjectures, any one acquainted with the appearance of New Bedford may very readily infer how palpably I must have seen my mistake.
In the afternoon of the day when I reach New Bedford, I visited the wharves, to take a view of the shipping. Here I found myself surrounded with the strongest proofs of wealth. Living at the wharves, and riding in the stream, I saw many ships of the finest model, in the best order, and of the largest size. Upon the right and left, I was walled in by granite warehouses of the widest dimension, stowed to their utmost capacity with the necessaries and comforts of life.
Added to this, almost every body seemed to be at work, but noiselessly so, compared with what I had been accustomed to in Baltimore.There we no loud songs heard from those engaged in loading and unloading ships. I heard no deep oaths of horrid curses on the laborer. I saw no whipping of men; but all seemed to go smoothly on.
Every man appeared to understand his work, and went at it with a sober, yet cheerful earnestness, which betokened the deep interest which he felt in what he was ding, as well as a sense of his own dignity, as a man. To me this looked exceedingly strange. From the wharves I strolled around and over the town, gazing with wonder and admiration at the splendid churches, beautiful dwellings, and finely carved gardens; evincing an amount of wealth, comfort,taste, and refinement, such as I had never seen in any part of slaveholding Maryland.
Everything looked clean, new, and beautiful. I saw few or no dilapidated houses, with poverty=stricken inmates; no half-naked children and bare-footed women,such as I had been accustomed to see in Hillsborough, Easton, St. Michaels', and Baltimore. The people looked more able, stronger, healthier and happier, than those of Maryland. I was for once made glad by a view of extreme wealth, without being saddened by seeing extreme poverty. But the most astonishing as well as the most interesting thing to me was the condition of the colored people, a great many of whom, like myself, had escaped thither as refuge from the 'hunters of men'.
I found many, who had not been seven years out of their chains, living in finer houses, and evidently enjoying more of the comforts of life, than the average slaveholders in Maryland. I will venture to assert, that my friend Mr. Nathan Johnson (of whom I can say with a grateful heart, "I was hungry, and he gave me meat; I was thirst, and he gave me a drink; I was a stranger, and he took me in") lived in a neater house; dined at a better table; took, paid for, and read, more newspapers; better understood the moral, religious, and political character of the nation, — than nine-tenths of the slaveholders in Talbot County Maryland.
Yet Mr. Johnson was a working man. is hands were hardened by toil, and not his alone, but those also of Mrs. Johnson. I found the colored people much more spirited than I had supposed they would be. I found among them a determination to protect each other from the blood-thirsty kidnapper, at all hazards.
Soon after my arrival, I was told of a circumstance which illustrated their spirit. A colored man and a fugitive slave were on unfriendly terms. The former was heard to threaten the latter with informing his master of is whereabout. Straightaway a meeting was called among the colored people, under the stereotyped notice, "Business of Importance!" The betrayer was invited to attend.
The people came at the appointed hour, and organized the meeting by appointing a very religious old gentleman as president, who, I believe, made a prayer, after which he addressed the meeting as follows: "Friends, we have got him here,and I would recommend that you young men just take him outside the door, and kill him!" With this, a number of them bolted at him; but they were intercepted by some more timid than themselves, and the betrayer escaped their vengeance, and has not been seen in New Bedford since. I believe there have been no more such threats, and should there be hereafter, I doubt not that would be the consequence.
I found employment, the third day after my arrival, in stowing a slop with a load of oil. It was new, dirty, and hard work for me; but I went at it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master. It was a happy moment,the rapture of which can be understood only by those who have been slaves.
It was the first wok, the reward of which was to be entirely my own. There was no Master Hugh standing ready, the moment I earned the money, to rob me of it. I worked that day with a pleasure I had never before experienced. I was at work for myself and newly married wife. It was to me the starting-point of a new existence.
When I got through with that job, I went in pursuit of a job of calking; but such was the strength of prejudice against color, among the White calkers, that they refused to wrk with me, and of course I could get no employment(Frederick D., stated that, "I was told that colored person can now get employment, at calking in New Bedford-a result of anti-slavery effort."
Finding my trade of no immediate benefit, I threw off my calking habiliments, and prepared myself to do any kind of work I could get to do. Mr. Johnson kindly let me have his wood-horse and saw, and I very soon found myself plenty of work. There was no work too hard-none to dirty. I was ready to saw wood, shovel coal, carry wood, sweep the chimney, or roll oil casks,-all of which I did for nearly three years in Bedford, before I became known to the anti-slavery world.
In about four months after I went to Bedford, there came a young man to me, and inquired if I did not wish to take to take the "Liberator." I told I did but, just having made my escape from slavery, I remarked that I was unable to pay him for it then. I, however, finally became a subscriber to it.
The paper came, and I read it from week to week with such feelings as it would be quite idle for me to attempt to describe. The paper became my meat and my drink. My soul was set all on fire. Its sympathy for my brethren in bonds-its scathing denunciations of slaveholders-it faithful exposures of slavey-and its powerful attacks upon the upholders of the institution-sent a thrill of joy through my soul, such as I had never felt before!
I had not long been a reader of the "Liberator," before I got a pretty correct idea of the principles, measures and spirit of the anti-slavery reform. I took right hold of the cause. I could do but little; but what I could, I did with a joyful heart, and never felt happier than when in an anti-slavery meeting. I seldom had much to say at the meeting,because what I wanted to say was said so much better by others.
But, while attending an anti-slavery convention at Nantucket, on the 11 of August 1841, I felt strongly moved to speak, and was at the same time urged to so by Mr.William C. Coffin, a gentleman who heard me speak in the colored's people's meeting in New Bedfrod. It was a severe cross, and I took it up reluctantly.
The truth was, I felt myself a slave, and the idea of speaking to White people weighed me down. I spoke for a few moments, when I felt a degree of freedom, and said what I desired with considerable ease. From that time until now, I have been engaged in pleading the cause of my brethren-with what success,and with what devotion. I leave those acquainted with my labors to decide.
Black Prisoners, White Law
The first Black prisoners in America were Africans brought to these shores in chains in 1619. Like our brothers in prison today-and like our selves-those American ancestors were victims of the political, economic and military rapacity of White America. Slave camps, reservations and concentration camps; bars, chains and leg irons; Alcatraz, Cummings and Sing Sing.; these are the real monuments of America, more so than Monticello or the Statue of Liberty. They are monuments of legal inequity which has it roots in the basic laws of the United States which still endures.
To justify and protect its oppression of Blacks(Africans), White America developed an ideology of White supremacy which shaped the American State, its politics and all its interlocking cultural institutions-education, church, law. Apartheid, generally attributed to 20th-century South Africa, was developed as an instrument of oppression by this country in the 1600s and has its basis in the laws themselves, in the Constitution itself.
The function of law is to establish and regulate the political and economic franchise of the citizens within a given state. The Constitution, ironically hailed as a magnificent guarantee of human equality and freedom, deliberately refused franchise to Black(African) Americans and Indians and granted it only to White Americans of means. Indeed Black(African) were defined as a source of White franchise, in the 3/5 clause(that Africans in America were Three-fifths of a human being). This clause gave the slaveholder a preponderance of political power by apportioning him 3/5 constituency for every slave he possessed, in addition to his own free White constituency.
The rights of slaves to escape bondage was also forbidden: In article IV, Section 2, "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof,escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party of whom such service or labor may be due." Escaped slaves were to be returned to the slaveowner-by national decree.
Designed by agrarian slaveholders and northern industrialists and merchants, the Constitution defined the relationship between their economic interests and their political franchise. Hence its preoccupation with finance and the divisions of power. The bill of Rights, appended 4 years later,is an afterthought, as a concession to human rights.
Black(African) people were governed by the infamous Slave Codes(Black Codes?), which forbade manumission, voting, education, civil status and personal rights and privileges.
The Constitution was an apartheid document that guaranteed the continuance of Slavey and racism as permanent institutions and perpetuated them as cultural realities. Despite the elimination by law of Slavery and discrimination, we are still the victims of that racism sanctioned and encouraged by the Constitution.
Black(African) people cannot be protected by American law, for we have no franchise in this country. If anything, we suffer double jeopardy: We have no law of our own and no protection from the law of White America which, by its intention and b the very nature of the cultural values which determined it, is inimical to blackness(Africaness).
In the literal sense of the word, we are out-laws. We are most subject to arrest-and most frequent victims of crime. Over 40% of the prion inmates int the State of California are Black(African). More Blacks(Africans) than Whites are executed in the United States-an tis does not include lynchings, "self defense" or police killings.
From 1930-1969, 2,066 Black (African) people were executed to 1,751 Whites. Four hundred and five Black(African) men were executed for rape, as compared to 48 whites during the same period. In his article "Black Ecology" (The black Scholar, April 1970) Nathan Hare points out that "Blacks(Africans) are about four times as likely to fall victim to forcible rape and robbery and about twice as likely to face burglary and aggravated assault."
Being outside the law, Black(African) Americans are either victims or else prisoners of a law which is neither enforced nor designed for us-except with repressive intent. for example, gun control legislation was enacted by the United States only after Black(African) people began buying guns and endorsing the principle of self defense(a la Black Panthers), which is a qualitatively different inspiration than the assassination of individuals such as John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Furthermore, Black(African) leaders who address themselves to the fundamental question-that Black(African) Americans must have full political and economic franchise-are arrested or harassed. To list just a few Black(African) leaders who have been or are political prisoners:
W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, the Honorable Elijah Mohammad, Martin Luther King, as well as some of the currently embattled brothers and sisters, Rap Brown(re-imprisoned as of now for some other charges), Bobby Seale, Angela Davis, Assatta Shakur(exiled to Cuba), Ahmed Evans, Erica Huggins, The Soledad Brothers and Cleveland Sellers.
The demand for Black(African) equality in America exposes its most basic contradiction: that as a democracy it cannot endure or allow the full liberation of tis Black(African) citizens.
All Black(African) prisoners, are political prisoners, for their condition derives from the political inequity of Black(African) people in America. A Black(African) prisoner's crime may or may not have been a political action against the state, but the state's action against him is always political. This knowledge, intuitively known and sometimes transcribed into political terms, exists within every Black(African) prisoner.
For we must understand that the Black(African0 offender is not tried and judged by the Black(African) Community itself, but by the machinery of the White community, which is least affected by his actions and whose interests are served by the systematic subjugation of all Black(African people). Thus the trial or conviction of a Black(African) prisoner, regardless of his offense, guilt or his innocence, cannot be a democratic judgement of him by his peers, but a political action against him by his oppressors.
Grand juries, the state and federal judges of the Circuit Courts, superior Courts and supreme Courts, are appointed and not elected. This fact alone prejudices a fair trial and precludes Black(African) representation, for Black(African) people do not have a single official in this country who has the power to appoint or grand jury to the bench.
Furthermore, because of the appointive nature of most judgeships, judges have no direct responsibility to the persons they try, through recall or election. Nor do trial juries always reflect the racial and economic composition of the populations which they represent. If a city has a 40% Black(African) population, it should have the same percentage on its juries, in its legal staff and in its judges.
It is of course obvious that mugging, theft, pimping and shooting dope are not themselves political actions, particularly when the victims are most often other Black(African) people.To maintain that all Black(African) offenders are by their actions politically correct is a dangerous romanticism. Black(African) anti-social behavior must be seen in and of its own terms and be corrected for the enhancement of the Black(African) community.
But it must be understood that the majority of Black(African) offenses have heir roots in the political economic deprivation of Black(African) Americans by the Euro-american State and that these are the primary causes and conditions of Black(African) crime. The individual offender and his Black(African) community must achieve this primary understanding and unite for our mutual protection and self-determination.
Thus, the matter of Black(African) prisoners and White law involves the basic question of self-determination for all Black(African) people. Black(African) people must determine when a Black(African) has violated the Black(African) community, and that Black(African) community must take the corrective action.
As we drive for new economic and cultural institutions, we must also create new legal institutions that will accurately reflect the judgement, the social fabric, the conditions of the Black(African) community. As it stands now, only the White American community determines when a Black(African) person has offended the Black(African) community, and this is a colonial imposition and a political injustice.
Most important, the Black(African) community outside of bars must never divorce itself form the Black(African) community within bars. Freedom is a false illusion in this society; prison is reality. black(African) prisoners must be supported by the Black(African) community during their incarceration ad after they are released(Unfortunately this has not yet been the reality, up to this point at the writing of this Hub).
For the Black(African) prisoner is the most vulnerable member of our community-in a naked way he is directly at the mercy of the White power structure. It is also apparent that Black(African) prisoner is one of the most valuable members of our community, as well-the organization, the discipline, the fraternity that Black(African) prisoners have developed within prison to survive must be developed by us outside the prison if we are to survive.
We must employ all means necessary to protect and support Black(African) people within prison walls. We are all prisoners, and our unwavering task must be the achievement or organization, unity and total liberation
On Viewing the Coast of Africa
From my cabin window I look out on the full moon, and the ghosts of my forefathers rise and fall with the undulating waves. Across these same waters how many years ago they came! What were the inchoate mutterings locked tight within the circle of their hearts? In the deep, heavy darkness of the foul smelling hold of the ship, where they could not see the sky, nor hear the might noises, nor feel the warm compassion of the 'tribe,' they held their breath against the agony.
How does the human spirit accommodate itself to desolation? How did they? What tools of the spirit were in their hands with which to cut a path through the wilderness of their despair? If only Death of the body would come to deliver the soul from dying! If some sacred taboo had been defiled and this extended terror was the consequences-there would be no panic in the paying.
If some creature of the vast and pulsing jungle had snatched the life away-this would even in its wildest fear be floated by the familiarity of the daily hazard. If Death had come being ushered into life by a terrible paroxysm of pain, all the assurance of the Way of the "Tribe" would have carried the spirit home on the wing of precious ceremony and holy ritual.
But this! Nothing anywhere in all the myths, in all the stories, in all the ancient memory of the race had given hint of this tortuous convulsion. There were no gods to hear, no magic spell of witch doctor to summon; even one's companion in chains muttered his quivering misery in a tongue unknown and a sound unfamiliar.
O my Father, what was it like to be stripped of all supports of life like the beating of the heart and the ebb and flow of fetid air in the lungs? In a strange moment, when you suddenly caught your breath, did some intimation from the future give to your spirits a hint of promise? In the darkness did you hear the silent feet of your children beating a melody of freedom to words which you would never know, in a land in which your bones would be warmed again in the depths of the old earth in which you will sleep unknown, unrealized and alone?
If We Must Die
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While around us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
12 Years a Slave Paperback by Solomon Northup
Lessons From the Stono Rebellion
The Lessons From The Stono Rebellion
During the four-year period from 1735 to 1739, eleven thousand Africans passed through Sullivan's Island. More than eight thousand were from the Angola region. These slaves were rumored to be prone to rebellion. Living in squalor on Carolina's rice plantations, whole communities of Angolans cohabited, communicated, suffered together under European rule. In 1739, Jemmy decided it was time for the suffering to stop.
A recent arrival from Angola, Jemmy built important alliances with his fellow Angolans, Africans from other countries, and those who had been born in America. He found the deeper language they all shared, the language of the oppressed when speaking of the oppressor. He had a plan, and they began to listen.
The year 1739 seemed intent on rumor that slaves were fleeing to St. Augustine, lured by the Spanish offer of liberty. In February, rumors of an African uprising were heard throughout the colony. In April, four slaves joined with an Irish indentured servant and reached St. Augustine on stolen horses — but not before killing one White man and wounding another. In July, Spanish soldiers were reported just off the Carolina coast. In September, the official word arrived: England and Spain were at war.
In the dawning hours of September 9, 1739, Jemmy led approximately twenty slaves, most of them Angolans, toward Stono Bridge, south of Charleston. The band of renegades hungered for the freedom the Spanish would grant them if they toppled the English and fled to Florida.
At Stono, they overwhelmed the proprietors of the general store and obtained firearms and gunpowder. The storekeepers, Robbert Bathurst and Mr. Gibbs, died first. The runaways left their heads on the doorstep before setting southward toward St, Augustine. Retribution was a key element of this rebellion, and a clear message was being sent to Whites who had grown fat on the system of servitude and suppression.
The Godfrey family died, as did Lemmys. But Jemmy and his followers spared the lives of those who treated their slaves well. By the end of the day, they had killed more than twenty people. This description, excerpted from a "Letter from South Carolina Dated October 2," appeared in the London publication "Gentlemen's Magazine":
"They increased every Minute by new 'Negroes' coming to them; so that there were above Sixty, some say a Hundred; on which they halted in a field, and set to Dancing, singing, and beating drums, to draw more 'Negroes' to them, thinking they were now victorious over the whole Province, having marched ten Miles, and burnt all before them without Opposition."
The rebels may have expected Spanish support; they may have hoped eventually to disappear in the wilderness. But it wouldn't be long before the mighty fist of the colonial forces came down upon them. A rapid and decisive quashing of the violent uprising would speak volumes, not only to enslaved South Carolinians, but to every colonist who had long feared this moment. It would send a message to other slaves: "You can't win. You'll die if you try." There would be reprisals. But for the time that Jemmy and his men rested beneath their own flag, they were an army.
What might success have meant to those with no chance of succeeding? It may have meant a moment to stand and say, "If I live, I live free. If I die, I die free."
The White man called them slaves, but they shrugged off the White man's rules to wage a war against their captors. They stood strong, and still. They waited. And when Carolina militia surrounded and attacked their camp, some refused to run from their moment of liberty. Standing their ground, they died free. At least fourteen of Jemmy's men lost their lives in the attack; others were shot after being question. Captured and being beaten up, Tiberius gave this following statement:
"Y'all want me to sit here?" he said, nodding toward the barrel amidst the old barn because his hand were tied behind his back. Tiberius was wearing a linen frock and red velvet waistcoat. He was thin, clubfooted, and not too happy that the militiamen had brought him back to colonel Hext's place after what he and others had done to the old man's wife. But they hadn't killed him, as they'd done with fourteen of his co-conspirators — laying waste to them in a one sided battle — and maybe, Tiberius thought, they'd let him live if he just did what they asked.
He sat down heavily on the barrel, taking just a moment to glance round at the bins of grain, the lofts of hay and straw overhead, and the frail light shafting down from cracks in the roof to the spot where they'd placed him. "All right now, I'm sitting down, just like you asked, but they don't have to push. What's that? You want to know why I joined up with Jemmy?"
Tiberius looked down at his bare feet, took a breath, then his eyes fluttered up at the three White men surrounding him. They were passing a flask of home brew between them. One of the trio he recognized two. Mr. Hutchenson, owner of the general store in Stono. Tiberius placed his age at forty. Forty-five. He wore a pair of riding boots and a tattered balandranas.
His eyes were a bit red-webbed from the whiskey, his chestnut hair was thinning, and Hutchenson looked at him with a profound sadness, or so Tiberius thought. He'd run errand for his Bathurst family since he was a boy, and prayed that Hutchenson, if no one else, would understand how his life had been turned upside down in the last twenty-four hours - or, more precisely, since the King of Spain promised to shelter and protect runaway 'Negroes' if they made it to Augustine.
The other man he knew was Ethan Whittaker, an overseer with a gray Cathedral beard, who worked on the farm of Tiberius's master, William Boswelll, and Tiberius was more than afraid of him, seeing how ruthlessly they heavyset Whittaker drove Blacks at planting time; he was drumming a sort-handled whip over and over against his palm. the last man - Ethan called him Colonel Bull - was dressed in a travel-stained coat and had a double-barreled gun loaded with buckshot hitched under his arm. He had the air of a person or maybe a politician, somebody important at least, but Tiberius'd never seen before — or had he? — So when he spoke, staring up at the three men standing over him, he directed his words at Hutchenson.
"Sir, you know me. I ain't never been one for trouble, or for fightin,' or steppin' out of line in any way. Ain't that so? I was born right here, not like Jemmy and them others who come from Africa. I played with your children when we was growing up. You remember that? I don't know nothin' but here.
"I I always been thankful Mastah Boswell let me work in the house, seeing how I can't get around too well. You ask him, he'll tell you what a good worker I am. I,' always hup before anybody at the house, even before the daylight horn is blown to wake up the field hands. It take me time to walk from the quarters, but I'm there before Mastah Boswell wearin' his Beard box, gets outta that big bed with its pewterized nickel headboard.
"See, I'm the one lays out everyday his razors imported from England - he likes a different one every morning, you know? I lays his linen shirt with lawn ruffles on the sleeves, his cravat, and breeches. It is cold, I'm the one lights the fireplaces downstair, and I carries coal in a pan to all the other fireplaces upstairs and down — it stays colder in them second-floor room than downstairs, you know.
"And it's me makes sure Mastah Boswell's breakfast is just like he wants it. Toast with a li'l flavor of woodsmoke in it. And he likes his coffee roasted and ground no more'n two hours before I serves it to him. His wife, well, favors egg bread, grilled fowl, bricks of cheese, and fish from New Orleans, along with ice water and mint tea in the morning. You ask them if I don't make that old cook Emma have everything just so on the table with the pewter bowls and plates set out right pretty, before the Mastah and Missus come downstair."
He saw Hutchenson nodding. He'd eaten more than once at Boswell's home, knew how much effort went into preparing those elaborate meals, and Tiberius felt consoled by the slight upturn at the corner of his lips. "I've always done my best by 'em, and read my Bible like they wanted. You know, just between you'n me, some folks in the quarters didn't like me much 'cause I worked in the house.
"I told 'em it was on account of my affliction that Mastah Boswell didn't send me to the fields. But that didn't change their minds. They still thought I had it easier than they did. I swear, sometimes I felt like I was living in two worlds, just 'cause I worked in the house. On Sunday, the day y'all give us to ourselves, I'd bring food the Mastah and Missus didn't eat over to that spot near the general store where coloreds get together and talk and dance and such.
If Mastah Boswell complain to his wife 'bout one of the field hands, I'd take that fellah aside and tell him what I heard so Mistah Whittaker there wouldn't wind up havin' to whip him. What's that? How'd I meet Jemmy? Yessir, all right. I'll talk about that. Just let me collect my thoughts a li'l...
The White men waited. Tiberius, facing the open barn door, could see other Carolina militia men bringing their bound captives to Hext's farm. The sky above Colleton County was fast losing light. He found it hard to swallow, but cleared his throat and licked his dry lips, and went on:
"I reckon Jemmy came to St. Paul's Parish 'bout a year ago, him and a wagonload of other saltwater 'Negroes'. That's what we call them come straight from Africa. I don't know who his Massah is. At first I didn't pay them no mind when I seen them on Sundays at the gatherin' place. I couldn't talk to most of them, they bein' from Angola and all, they couldn't read or figure. Jemmy, he spoke better English than them others. I guess what they talked was Portuguese. It sound li'l bit like Spanish, don't it?
Thing is, there was somethin' 'bout Jemmy that was ... different. Oh no, I'm not just talkin' 'bout the way Jemmy looked. They were all big, strappin' boys. Jemmy stood six foot five. You got to figure they had to be strong 'cause working rice broke so many people down. Visit any of the quarters, and you'll find somebody got Malaria. Cholera. Whooping cough. The children keep intestinal worms. So, Yessir, Jemmy, he was fit. But more'n that, he had somethin' ... inside. You could see it in his eyes. The way he looked right through you. If I recollect, them Angolans was workin' on a road crew round the time we heard about the Spanish King's proclamation. That was last Sunday.
Della, she took a newspaper from Mastah Boswell's study, and Jemmy asked me to read it, which I did, tellin' 'bout how slaves who fled to the Presidio at St. Augustine, Florida, was free. Jemmy listened real close when I read that newspaper. His eyes got real quiet. Then he told the others what I said in Portuguese. Just 'bout that time, Mistah Whittaker, you come out to Mistah Hutchenson's store, seen what we was doin,' and ripped that paper right outta my hands. Jemmy snatched it back.
And him doin' that liked to make you so mad" - Tiberius laughed, then caught himself — "you commenced to beatin' on him with a harness strap. I ain't never seen you so wild. But Jemmy took it straight up without makin' a sound. Didn't take his eyes off you either or move until finally you was all sweaty and breathin' hard and tuckered out, and just threw down that strap and strode off. You remember that last Sunday?
The other White men look quizzically at Whittaker, whose cheeks flushed bright red. The muscles around his eyes tightened. He spat a foot from where Tiberius sat, then turned away.
"Yeah," he nodded, "Jemmy had that effect on lots of people. It was like there was somethin' inside him too heavy to move. Excuse me? Come again, Mistah Hutchenson? Was I afraid of Jemmy? Well, Yessir, I suppose I was. And ... What?" ... If I was scared, why'd I join up with him?". Oh sure, I was just getting to that ..." Tiberius leaned forward, stretching out his arms behind him to take the pressure of the ropes off the wrists, then sat back, both feet planted on either side of the crate. 'The way it come 'bout was when I went to the meeting place this morning'.
When I got there I was surprised. Wasn't nobody playin' music. Or dancin' or carousin'. They was all sittin' together under a tree, and Jemmy was right in the middle. I smelled liquor. I turned around to leave, but Jemmy told me to sit down. They was all starin' at me.. 'Bout eighteen field hands. Fellahs you didn't fool with. I'm talking 'bout men so tired from that awful work in the rice fields that in the morning some of 'em was so stiff and sore they couldn't bend over to put on their shoes. Men that'd cut you just as soon as look at you. An at one time or another, Jemmie'd either gone heads up with every one of 'em, or backed 'em down, or done somethin'. I figured, yeah, maybe I better sit down."
"Once I found a place, Jemmy went back to talkin'. He talked a long time. Listenin' to him, I felt maybe I was in church or somethin' He was citing' all the things — horrible things - White people had done. Like cripplin' runaways, Castratin' 'em. Pesterin' the women. workin' the field hands 'til they dropped in the water, and all that evil, says Jemmy, was done just so people like Massah Boswell could have his fresh coffee and grilled fowl ever morning. But it didn't have to be that way, Jemmy says. Back in Africa, he knew somethin' different and he never let it go. And we didn't have to either. I heard him say somethin' like 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend.' He was talkin' 'bout the Spanish down in Florida. Jemmy said if we struck out together, we could make it to St. Augustine."
Tiberius stared past his captors, his eyes narrowing a little, watching something only he could see. "I never thought 'bout bein' free 'til then, Never saw how things could be different than they was until I listened to Jemmy. Everythin' looked changed after he spoke. Like I lived alla my life in a cave, believin' the shadows I seen were real until Jemmy held up a light and they all melted away.
For the first time I could see what things would be like if the best food we had wasn't leftovers from Mastah's plate, how I wouldn't need to tip around all the time, peepin' and hidin' and worryin' 'bout what White folks might be up to. What I'm sayin' is that if you listened to Jemmy - really listened - you come to see that slavery was mad. Just mad. We was all like folks in one of them madhouses, Black and White, thnkin' the way we lived and died was the nat'ral ways of things when, from top to bottom, it was crazy as can be. We were crazy.
I felt like a sleeper.A man who'd been dreamin' his whole life. But Jemmy woke me up. And when I looked at the men Jemmy'd brought together, some of 'em wearin' old shoes fixed up with wire or no shoes at all, I seen they'd follow him anywhere."
From outside tow rifle shots exploded, shattering the air. Tiberius stopped. Through the barn door he saw to militiamen dragging a black body across the yard. He stood up, taking hesitant step toward the door. Ethan Whittaker shoved Tiberius back onto the barrel.
"Like I said, Jemmy swore he'd kill me if I told on 'em. I knew they was gonna break into the general store to steal arms and gunpowder, but I swear I didn't know they planned to kill Mr. Bathurst and Mr. Gibbs. Nossir. I let on like I was with 'em, but as soon as I could, I slipped away and come back to the house. I wanted freedom, you know, but I wasn't ready to kill nobody, 'least not on the Sabbath."
Tiberius began coughing from the smell of gunpowder drifting into the barn. Outside, every few moments another 'Negro' was executed by the Carolina militia. He looked at the nearly empty bottle in Colonel Bull's had and, panting a little, said "You think I could whet my throat with some of that?" Bull stepped forward, grabbed Tiberius hair in his left hand, and held the flask to the prisoner's lips with his right. Liquor ran down the sides of Tiberius's mouth. After his last Swallow, he clamped shut his eyes as the home brew burned its way down. Then Tiberius sighed, and went on:
"So I knew what they was hup to, yessir. But I wan't part of it, not at first. When I got to Mastah Boswell's house, it wasn't cold enough to start a fire, so I went right to the smokehouse and got some ham hanging from the rafters, then to the dairyhouse. I took all the fixin's for breakfast back to the kitchen. I din't see Della. So I started makin' Mastah Boswell's breakfast myself. That took, oh, maybe two hours.
Then, just as I was settin' the food on the table, I heard singin' outside, thought I heard a drum too. Then the back door burst open. All of a sudden, I see Jemmy and another fellah named Hannibal come flying barefoot through the dining room, so fast if I'd blinked I woulda missed 'em. Me, I stopped breathin'. I froze right where I was, butterin' a slice a toast, starin' at the ceilin' overhead. It was quiet, quiet. quiet. quiet.
My head felt light. Didn't a sound breathe through that house until from upstairs I heard a thump. Godamercy, they musta cut Mastah Boswell's throat straightaway. Next come his wife screaming. They took their time with her, playing with her, I reckon. And since I didn't know what else to do - I mean, I was part of this thing now, whether I was ready or not.
I sat down at the table, stuck a napkin under my collar, and commenced to eatin' that nice breakfast I put out before it got cold. I figure there wasn't no sense in it going to waste, right?" 'Bout time I was finnishin' my second cup of mint tea, Jemmy and Hannibal come downstairs, blood splattered over 'em like they'd been to a butcherin'. Hannibal was carryin' Mastah Boswell's head. He put it on the porch like a Halloween pumpkin ..."
Colonel Bull muttered something, then swung the butt of his gun against Tiberius's head, knocking him off the barrel. Hutchensom and Whittaker pulled him off the prisoner, who was bleeding now from a gash on his forehead. Hutchenson helped him back onto the barrel.
"Why'd you'd do that?" Tiberius's head was tucked like a turtle's. He asked Hutchneson, "Why'd he do that? I been tellin' the truth!" He watched them talking among themselves, whispering, and angrily brought out, "No, I'm not lyin'! What's that? What'd he say? Colonel Bull sayin' I tried to drag him off his horse? Oh, that's where I remember you from! Well sir, I ... I ain't callin' you no liar, I wouldn't do that. I guess maybe me 'n some of the others did pull a white man off his horse when he come ridin' down Pon Pon road ... but just got swept hup in the rebellion, that's all."
They were quit for a few moments. Hutchenson had that sad look on hi face again. Colonel Bull began loading his rifle. Whittaker took a step toward Tiberius, who flinched, waiting to be it again, but all the overseer did was ask a simple question.
"Nossir, Mistah Whittaker, I did not kill anybody. You know me better 'n that. I wouldn't hurt a fly, sir. It's just that, like I was trying to tell you, I felt like I'd been sleepin' all my life and just woke hup. You a Christian man, right? You understand how it feels when the spirit hits you at meetin' time, like you was blind but suddenly you can see.
That's how it was for me. I was with them when they left the farm, that's right, and marched over to the Godfrey place, then to the Lemy farm, pickin' up as they went more field hands ready to risk everythin' for just one day of freedom and folks like me, who wanted it too but was used to the old ways and had to be swept along. I reckon Jemmy had an army of over a hundred by the time y'all found our camp.
We'd covered ten miles and Jemmy thought maybe he'd brought the whole Province to its knees. Guess that was a mistake, eh?" He tilted his head left to keep the blood trickling from his forehead out of his eyes. "I just want you to know the reason they let so many good White people live — the ones that treated 'Colored' folks right — is 'cause I took hup for 'em. That's right."
"That's enough," said Hutchenson. "You don't have to tell us any more. I understand. I believe in freedom, too." He lifted Tiberius to his feet, gripping his left arm. Whittaker took hold of his right. They began walking him toward the barn door.
"Thank you, Mr. Hutchenson," he said. "i knew that you'd understand. I guess y'all fixing to let me go no, huh?"
From the Gentleman's Magazine letter:
The 'Negroes' were soon routed, though they behaved boldly; several being killed on the Spot, many ran back to the Plantations, thinking they had not been missed; but they were then taken and host; such as were taken in the Field also were, after being examined, shot on the Spot; and this is to be said in Honor of the Carolina Planters that, notwithstanding the Provocation they had received from so many Murders, they did not torture one 'Negro', but only put them to an easy Death."
As an enraged militia headed for Charleston, they left the head of the dead rebels on the mileposts along the way. Although Jemmy's passionate revolt had been quashed, with more time the ragtag army would have doubled or tripled, and the rebellion might have been impossible to control. If that had happened, the White community would have been forced to confront both the moral price of the system and its inherent dangers, and the slaves would have had evidence that slave revolts could succeed.
For Whites, the lesson of the Stono Rebellion was that the slave population would have to be unconditionally controlled. Freedom of movement, communal gatherings, and learning to write were outlawed by a 1740 slave code. Some efforts at restriction resulted in moves that seemed compassionate. Attempting to buy slave loyalty(as Tiberius said ("...when you had given us to ourselves"-on Sunday), the Assembly guaranteed Sunday as a day off and reduced workdays to fourteen hours during the Fall and Winter, fifteen hours during growing season. These actions were also designed to make the slave think their situation was improving.
Up from Slavery Paperback by Booker T. Washington
Paul Laurence Dumbar
The Lynching of Jube Benson
Gordon Fairfax's library held but three men, but the air was dense with clouds of smoke. The talk had drifted from one topic to another much as the smoke wreaths had puffed, floated, and thinned away. Then Handon Gay, who was an ambitious young reporter, spoke of a lynching story in a recent magazine, and the matter of punishment without trial put new life into the conversation.
"I should like to see a real lynching," said Gay rather callously.
"Well, I should hardly express it that way," said Fairfax, "but if a real, live lynching were to come my wayI should not avoid it."
"I should," spoke the other from the depths of his chair, where he had been puffing in moody silence. Judged by his hair, which was freely sprinkled with gray, the speaker might have been a man of forty-five or fifty, but his face, though lined and serious, was youthful, the face of a man hardly past thirty.
"What! You, Dr. Melville? Why, I thought you physicians wouldn't weaken at anything."
"I have seen one such affair," said the doctor gravely; "in fact, I took a prominent part in it."
"Tell us about it," said the reporter, feeling for his pencil and note-book, which he was, nevertheless, careful to hide from the speaker.
The men drew their chairs eagerly up to the doctor's. But for a minute he did not seem to see them, but sat gazing abstractedly into the fire; then he took a long draw upon his cigar and began:
"I can see it all vividly now. It was the summer time and about seven years ago. I was practicing at the time down in the little town of Bradford. It was a small and primitive place, just the location for an impecunious medical man, recently out of college.
"In lieu of a regular office, I attended to business in the first of two rooms which I rented from Hiram Daly, one of the more prosperous of the townsmen. Here I boarded and here also came patients-white and Black-Whites from every section, and Blacks from 'nigger town,' as the West portion of the place was called.
"The people about me were most of them coarse and rough, but they were simple and generous, and as time passed on, I had about abandoned my intention of seeking distinction in wider fields and determined to settle into the place of a modest country doctor. This was rather a strange conclusion for a young man to arrive at, and I will not deny that the presence in the house of my host's beautiful young daughter, Annie, had something to do with my decision. She was a girl of seventeen or eighteen, and very far superior to her surroundings. She had a native grace and a pleasing way about her that made everybody that came under her spell her abject slave. White and Black who knew her loved her, and none, I thought, more deeply and respectfully than Jube Benson, the Black man of all work about the place.
"He was a fellow whom everybody trusted-an apparently steady-going, grinning sort, as we used to call him. Well, he was completely under Miss Annie's thumb, and as soon as he saw that I began to care for Annie, and anybody could see that, he transferred some of his allegiance to me and became my faithful servitor also. Never did a man have a more devoted adherent in his wooing than did I, and man a one of Annie's tasks which he volunteered to do gave her an extra hour with me. You can imagine that I liked the boy, and you need not wonder any ore that, as both wooing and my practice waxed apace, I was content to give up my great ambitions and stay where I was.
"It wasn't a very pleasant thing, then, to have an epidemic of typhoid break out in the town that kept me going so that I hardly had time for the courting that a fellow wants to carry on with his sweetheart while he is still young enough to call her his girl. It was now that Jube proved how invaluable he was as a coadjuster.
He not only took messages to Annie, but brought sometimes little ones from her to me, and he would tell me little secret things that he had overhear her say that made me throb with joy and swear at him for repeating his mistress's conversation. But best of all, Jube was a perfect Cerberus, and no one on earth could have been more effective in keeping away or deluding the other young fellows who visited Dalys.
He would tell me of it afterward, chuckling softly to himself. 'An' Doctah, I say to Mistah Hemp Stevens, "'Scuse us, Mistah Stevens, but Miss Annie, she des gone out," an' den he go outer de gate looking moughty lonesome. When Sam Elkins come, I say, "Sh, Mistah Elkins, Miss Annie, she done tuk down," a' he say, "what, Jube, you don't reckon hit de-" Den he stop an' look skeert, an' I say, "I feared hit is, Mistah Elkins," an' sheks my haid ez solemn. He goes outer de gate loon' lak his bes' frien' done daid, and all de time Miss Annie behine de cu'tain ovah de po'ch des a-laffin' fit to kill.'
"Jube was a most admirable liar, but what could I do? He knew that I was a young fool of a hypocrite, and when I would rebuke him for these deceptions, he would give way and roll on the floor in an excess of delighted laughter until from very contagion I had to join him-and, well, there was no need of my preaching when there had been no beginning to his repentance and when there must ensue continuance of his wrong-doing.
"This thing went on for over three months, and then, pouf! I was down like a shot. My patients were nearly all up, but the reaction from overwork made me an easy victim of the lurking germs. then Jube loomed up as a nurse. He put everyone else aside, and with the doctor, a friend of mine from a neighboring town, took entire charge of me. Even Annie herself was put aside, and I was cared for as tenderly as a bay. Tom, that was my physician and friend, told me all about it afterwards with tears in his eyes. Only he as a big, blunt man, and his expressions did not convey all that he meant.
"He told me how Jube had nursed me as if I were a sick kitten and he my mother. Of how fiercely he guarded his right to be the sole one to 'do' for me, as he called it, and how, when the crises came, he hovered, weeping but hopeful, at my bedside, until it was safely passed, when they drove him, weak and exhausted, from the room. As for me, I knew little about it at the time, and cared less. I was too busy in my fight with death. To my chimerical vision there was only a Black but gentle demon that came and went, alternating with a White fairy, who would insist on coming on her head, growing larger and larger and then dissolving. But the pathos and devotion in the story lost nothing in my blunt friend's telling.
"it was during the period of a long convalescence, however, that I came to know my humble ally as he really was, devoted to the point of abjectness. There were times when, for very shame at his goodness tome, I would beg him to go away, to do something else. He would go, but before I had time to realize that I as not being ministered to, he would be back at my side, grinning and puttering just the same. He manufactured duties for the joy of performing them. He pretended to see desires in me that I never had, because he liked to pander to them, and when I came entirely exasperated, and ripped out a good round of oath, he chuckled with the remark, "Dah, now, you sholly is gittin' well. Nevah did heah a man anywhaih nigh Jo'dan's sho' cuss lak dat."
"Why, I grew to love him, love him him, oh, yes, I loved him as well-oh, what am I saying? All human love, and gratitude are damned poor things; excuse me gentlemen,this isn't a pleasant story. The truth is usually a nasty ting to stand.
"It was not six months after that that my friendship to Jube, which had been at such great pains to win, was put to too severe a test.
"It was in the summer time again, and, as business was slack, I had ridden over to see my friend, Dr. tom. I had spent a good part of the day there, and it was past four o'clock when I rode leisurely into Bradford. I was in a particularly joyous mood and no premonition of the impending catastrophe oppressed me. No sense of sorrow, present or to come, forced itself upon me, even I saw men hurrying through the almost deserted streets.
When I got within sight of my home and saw a crowd surrounding it, I was only interested sufficiently to spur my horse into a jog trot, which brought me up to the throng, when something in the sullen, settled horror in the men's faces gave me a sudden, sick thrill. They whispered a word tome, and without a thought save for Annie, the girl who had been so surely growing into my heart, I leaped from the saddle and tore my way through the people to the house.
"It was Annie, poor girl, bruised and bleeding, her face and dress torn from struggling. They were gathered around her with white faces, an oh! With what terrible patience they were trying t o gain from her fluttering lips, the name of her murderer. They made way for me and I knelt at her side. She was beyond my skill, and my will merged with theirs. One thought was in our minds.
"Who? I asked.
Her eyes half opened. 'That Black-' She fell back into my arms dead.
"We turned and looked at each other. The mother had broken down and was weeping, but the face of the father was like iron.
" 'It is enough,' he said; 'Jube has disappeared.' He went to the door and said to the expectant crowd, 'She is dead.'
"I heard the angry roar without swelling up like the noise of a flood, and then I heard the sudden movement of may feet as the men separated into search parties, and, laying the dead girl back on her couch, I took my rifle and went out to join them.
As if by intuition the knowledge had passed among the men that Jube Benson had disappeared, and he, by common consent, was to be the object or our search. Fully a dozen of the citizens had seen him hastening toward the woods and noted his skulking air, but, as he grinned in his old good-natured , they had at that time, thought nothing of it. Now, however, the diabolical reason of his slyness was apparent. He had been shrewd enough to disarm suspicion, and by now was far away. Even Mrs. daly, who was visiting with a neighbor, had seen him stepping out by a back way, and had said with a laugh, 'I reckon that black rascal's a-runing off somewhere.' Oh, if she had only known!
" 'To the woods! To the woods!' that was the cry; and away we went, each with the determination not to shoot, but to bring the culprit alive into town, and then to deal with him as his crime deserved.
"I cannot describe the feeling I experienced as I went out that night to beat the woods for this human tiger. My heart smoldered within me like a coal, and I went forward under the impulse of a will that was half my own, half some more malignant powers. My throat throbbed drily, but water nor whiskey would have quenched my thirst. The thought has come to me since that now I could interpret the panther's desire for blood and sympathize with it, but then I thought nothing. I simply went forward, and watched, watched with burning eyes for a familiar form that I had looked for as often before with such different emotions.
"Luck or ill-luck, which you will, was with our party, and just as dawn was graying the sky, we came upon our quarry crouched in the corner of a fence. It was only half light, and we might have passed, but my eyes caught sight of him, and I raised the cry. We leveled our guns and he rose and came toward us.
" 'I t'ought you wa'n' gwine see me,' he said sullenly' 'I didn't mean no harm.'
"Some men took the word up with oaths, others were ominously silent.
"We gathered around him like hungry beasts, and I began to see terror dawning in his eyes. He turned to me, 'I's moughty glad you's heah, Doc,' he said; you ain't gwine let 'em whup me.'
" 'Whip you, you hound,' I said, 'I'm going to see you hanged,' and he made a motion as if to resent the blow against such odds, but controlled himself.
" 'W'y, Doctah,' he exclaimed in the saddest voice I have ever heard, 'w'y, Doctah! I ain't stole nuffin' o' yo'n, an' I was comin' back. I only run off to see my gal, Lucy, ovah to de Centah.'
" 'You lie!' I said, and my hands were busy helping others bind him upon a horse. Why did I do it? I don't know. A false education, I reckon, one false from the beginning. I saw his black face glooming there in the half light, and I could only think of him as a monster. It's tradition. At first I was told that the Black man would catch me, and when I got over that, they taught me that the devil was black, and when, and when I had recovered from the sickness of the belief, here were Jube and his fellows with faces of menacing blackness. There was only one conclusion: This Black man stood for all the powers of evil, the result of whose machinations had been gathering in my mind from childhood up. But this has nothing to do with what has happened.
"After firing a few shots to announce our capture, we rode back into town with Jube. The ingathering parties from all directions met us as we made our way up to the house. All was very quiet and orderly. There was no doubt that it was, as the papers would have said, a gathering of the best citizens. It was a gathering of stern, determined men, bent on a terrible vengeance.
"We took Jube into the house, into the room where the corpse lay. At sight of it he gave a scream like an animal's, and his face went the color of storm-blown water. This was enough to condemn him. We divined rather than heard his cry of 'Miss Ann, Miss Ann; oh, my god! Doc, you don't t'ink I done it?'
"Hungry hand were ready. We hurried him out into the yard. A rope was ready. A tree was at hand. Well, that part was the least of it, save that Hiram Daly stepped aside to let me be the first to pull upon the rope. Ot was lax at first. Then it tightened, and I felt the quivering soft weight resist my muscles. Other hands joined, and Jube swung off his feet.
"No one was Masked. We knew each other. Not even the culprits face was covered, and the last I remember of him as he went into the air was a look of sad reproach that will remain with me until I meet him face-to-face again.
"We were tying the end of the rope to a tree, where the dead man might hang as a warning to his fellows, when a terrible cry chilled us to the marrow.
" 'Cut 'im down, cut 'im down; he ain't guilty. We got de one. Cut him down, fu Gawds sake. Here's de man; we found him hiding in de barn!'
"Jube's brother, Ben, and another 'Negro' came rushing toward us, half-dragging, half-carrying a miserable-looking wretch between them. Someone cut the rope, and Jube dropped lifeless to the ground.
" 'Oh , my Gawd, he's daid, he's daid!' wailed the brother, but with blazing eyes he brought his captive into the center of the group, and we saw in the full light the scratched face of Tom skinner, the worst White ruffian in town; but the face we saw was not as we were accustomed to see it, merely smeared with dirt. It was blackened to imitate a "Negro's".
"God forgive me; I could not wait to resuscitate Jube. I knew he was already past help; so I rushed into the house and to the dead girl's side. In the excitement they had not yet washed or laid her out. Carefully, carefully, I searched underneath her broken finger nails. There was skin there. I took it out, the little curled pieces, and went with it to my office.
"There, determinedly, I examined it under a powerful glass, and read my own doom. It was the skin of a White man, and in it were embedded strands of short, brown hair or beard
"How I went out to tell the waiting crowd I do not know, for something kept crying in my ears, 'Blood guilty! Blood guilty!'
"The men went stricken into silence and awe. the new prisoner attempted neither denial nor plea. When they were gone I would have helped Benny carry his brother in, but he waved me away fiercely, 'You he'ped murder my brothah, you dat was his frien' go 'way! I'll tek him home myse'f,' I could only respect his wish, and he and his comrade took up the dead man and between them bore him up the street on which the sun was now shining full.
"I saw the few men who had not skulked indoors uncover as they passed, and I-I-stood there between the two murdered ones, while all the while something in my ears kept crying, 'Blood guilty! Blood guilty!'"
The doctor's head dropped into his hands and he sat for some time in silence,which was broken by neither or the men; then he rose, saying, gentlemen, that was my last lynching."
Something Wrong With Mayor Hizzoner?
If You Lived When There Was Slavery In America Paperback by Anne Kamma
The Mayor and the freeing of the slaves, saga
The Mayor's Tale
By Charles Johnson and Patricia Smith
Once upon a time in a nation not very old the people of a large, northeastern city awoke one morning and discovered to their surprise (though they should have seen it coming) that something has changed in their lives.
The city's Mayor like many others went to sleep the night before, curled beneath the warm covers beside his Wife, feeling as he drifted off to sleep that all was well in the world. Their two children rested comfortably down the hallway in the great, three-story house; they were doing well at their studies , according to the tutor he'd hired for them, and it was likely both boys-then ages eight and twelve-would be easily accepted at the nation's oldest and most prestigious college when the time came for them to apply.
His investments were performing better than expected, given the country's delicate political situation, but when, after all, he'd worked hard all throughout 1850 to beat his competitors in neighboring cities along the eastern seaboard for a few lucrative contracts that would further industrialize his own city, which would assure his reelection, and he was meeting with representatives of those companies in the morning.
Furthermore, his Wife of twenty years seemed pleased with her personal affairs, the charity work she and her friends did each weekend, and particularly with her abolitionist activities. He, being a progressive man, supported fully the cause of the Negro manumission, both in his role as Mayor and, even more importantly, in his home, where he employed five free Negroes, as servants.
Indeed, he had cheered on and publicly supported the recent Compromise that abolished the slave trade in the District of Columbia. He treated his black help royally, or so the Mayor believed, and he overlooked what everyone in his social circle agreed were inherent and unfortunate deficiencies in colored people. These shortcomings, after all, were not their fault, but rather the unjust distribution of talent, beauty, and intelligence by Nature, so that those ore generously endowed by Providence were duty bound to help them.
Without White men, the Negro would be lost. They were like children in their dependency. The Mayor paid his servants handsomely and on time, was lavish with his tips, inquired frequently into their health and well-being, told them repeatedly they were an important part of his family, and he proudly pointed them out when his friends, business associates, and political colleagues dined with his family or dropped by. And, as if that were not enough, the Mayor had a lovely, new mistress-a young singer of thirty (which was half his age), who gave him good reason to look forward to those weekends his Wife and here friends were away.
Yes, all was well-as well as a civilized man might expect-in the world on Wednesday, January 1, 1851.
Thursday, however, was quite another story. When he opened his eyes and stretched, having slept well-the sleep of the just, he'd say-the Mayor felt rested as he did on Saturday, the day he normally slept in. But this wasn't the weekend. Or was it? For a moment he wasn't sure. He shook his Wife''s shoulder, rousing her awake, and she said, "Why are you still here" Aren't you supposed to be at City Hall?" Like Imannuel Kant, the Mayor preferred his life "to be like the most regular verbs."
So he was at first bewildered, then upset, by this disruption of his schedule. He stumbled from bed, his bare feet landing on a floor so cold its chill went through him like a shock, squeezed a whoop from his lips, and sent him hopping around the room for his slippers. He found his wire-rim spectacles on a nigthstand, then shivering so badly his teeth chattered, he bent over to better see the small, wooden clock. It was quarter past eleven. He'd slept all morning, missing at least five appointments.
And All The Fireplaces were dark and cold.
The Mayor rang for his butler, Henry, who had always awoke him and had each fireplace blazing by 5 a.m. No answer. He rang again, waiting and watching his breath steam the bedroom air as if he were standing outside on the ice-cold street.. "Please get him to light the Fireplaces now! Wailed his Wife. "I'm not leaving this bed until the house is warm! And tell the maid I'm hungry!"
The Mayor sighed and said, "Yes dear, I ... I will. Henry must be sick this morning-he's never been remiss in his duties before, you know." He hurried to dress himself, and found to his great dismay that not only had his personal servant failed to wake him, but Henry had not prepared or set out his clothing for the day either. Because he was so late and had no idea where Henry put his freshly pressed linen, the Mayor grumbled and pulled on his wrinkled shirt from the day before ...(On the front was a red sop stain from a lunch he'd taken at his club, but he couldn't worry about that now) his uncreased trousers, his coat, then hurried downstairs and through the frigid hallways of his many-roomed house, calling for their servants.
Again, there was no answer. In the kitchen, in the chambers set side for their live in help, and in the livery stable, there was silence. And not a black face to be found. Moreover, the horses had not been groomed. Or fed. His carriage was not ready. He would have to travel, he realized, the five miles to the city Hall under his own locomotion!
Not being accustomed to walking, it took the Mayor two hours to traverse the distance between his home and office. He stopped to rest often, puffing, placing his hand against a wall, his heart racing and empty stomach growling. And what he saw-or rather didn't see-along the way to work startled him. There were no Black people. It wasn't as if he looked for them every day… No, most of the time they blended in background of his city, as unnoticeable as trees or weather vanes or lampposts-or maybe like the inner workings if a finely tuned watch.
Obviously, no one paid attention to a timepiece's hidden mechanics until it ceased to work.But now, along the five-mile stretch between his home and City Hall, he saw chaos. Coal had not been delivered to homes, and this was the dead of winter. Barges had not been unloaded in the harbor. Fresh bread had not been delivered from the bakeries. Roadwork lay unfinished, as if the fingers of God had plucked its dusky crews off the face of the earth.
No windows were washed. No snow was shoveled. It was as if his city had run out of its primary source of power, coal. (A terrible pun, he knew, but on this awful day it seemed appropriate.) He wondered aloud as he galumphed down the nearly empty streets, "What in heaven's name is going on?" No carriages, driven by Black coachmen, bore White passengers to and from the offices where they conducted the country's crucial business, domestic and international. Indeed,half the offices he saw were closed.
It was, therefore, a befuddled and disheveled Mayor who finally reached City Hall by 2 p.m. ad slumped heavily behind his desk, wondering if his heart might fail him once and for all after his morning's exertions. Everything he'd accomplished this morning (which wasn't much) had taken two-perhaps three-times longer to do. His secretary, a young man named Daniel, looked very sad that Thursday. He told the Mayor that the people with whom he'd missed appointments were furious
Two entrepreneurs of enormous wealth and influence who'd traveled a great distance to see him-and a railroad man, the other a maritime merchant-felt insulted by what they called Hizzoner's "malfeasance" and planned to cancel further discussions of their proposed contracts and in the future only do business with other cities.
"No!" whispered the Mayor.
His secretary said, "I'm afraid so, sir. Your political rivals will make great capital of this. Your reelection is only months away, and you promised in the last campaign to improve commerce, shipping and transportation."
"I know what I promised, damn it!" The Mayor pounded his desk. "But it's not my fault! Nothing's been normal today!" He leaned back in his seat, red-faced, and began pulling at his fingers. "All the Negroes are gone… Have you noticed that? What on earth could have happened to them?"
"What you agreed to, I guess," said his secretary.
"Me? What are you babbling about, man? Talk sense! I never told the Negroes to go away! Have you been drinking?"
"No, sir. I'm quite sober, insofar as it appears we both will be out of a job by November. I am referring to the Compromise in Congress, which you fully endorsed."
"What does that have to do with our Negroes being gone?"
Quietly, his secretary stepped from the Mayor's office to his own room, then returned after less than a minute with a copy of a newspaper from the day before. "Perhaps you should read this. Please read it carefully, sir. Meanwhile, if you don't mind, I'd like to repair to my office in order to finish sending out copies of my resume to potential employers. And I have a dreadful headache today ..."
His secretary departed, leaving the Mayor more baffled than before. He opened the day-old newspapers, and there it was, the complex Compromise. In it, California became the thirty-first state. New Mexico and Utah were to be organized as territories and residents could decide and residents could decide for themselves whether to be free or slave.
The slave trade was ended in DC, and-Wait! He looked closer, bringing the paper closer to his eyes in order to read some changes in he Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. Vaguely, he recalled this item, but hadn't attended closely to its details. Under the amendment, federal commissioners were granted the power to issue warrants for runaway slaves. They could form posses to capture fugitive Blacks
They could fine citizens if they refused to help in returning Negroes to their former masters, who had nothing more than submit an affidavit in court. The Blacks were denied a jury trial. They could not testify to defend themselves. Slowly, he put the newspapers down. His man, Henry ... their cook ... their three other servants and perhaps all the Coloreds in his city were runaways. No doubt they'd changed their names. And once they learned of the amendment to the fugitive Slave Act, they'd fled en masse during the night, probably to Canada. Who would blame them? And he had endorsed this disaster.
Gloomily, the Mayor left City Hall. Night was coming on ... and street lamps were unlit. He plodded on, realizing that until now, he'd not seen how dependent the life of the city-and his own fortune-was on Blacks. They were interwoven, albeit invisibly, into the fabric of Everything; and, like the dangling string on a sweater which, if pulled, unravelled the entire garment, so too their removal caused everything-high and low, private and personal-to collapse.
Without sealing the deal on those contracts, he would lose his office. He was certain of that now. His own business would suffer. My God, he might even lose his mistress and be left with only his Wife, who sometimes could be a shrew! Miserably, he trumped back home in the snow, which seeped into his shoes and dampened his feet so thoroughly he felt his toes had frozen in one solid block of flesh by the time he reached his front door, coughing, his nose burning and running badly, because-yes-he'd picked up a nasty cold.
The house was colder and darker than before. If anything, he only wanted a little sympathy now from his Wife. He did not see her downstairs. So, blowing his nose into his handkerchief, he climbed the steep stairs to their bedroom, dripping all the way.
"Dear," he said, opening the door, "I have some bad news ..."
"Well," she crabbed, "you can same whatever it is until you find dinner for us. I haven't eaten all day. I'm starving! And so are the children!"
It dawned on him that she had not left their bed all day. "You couldn't find something for yourself in the kitchen?"
"Nothing's prepared! I haven't had to cook in years! You know that. I want you to go out right now and find us something to eat."
Slump-shouldered, feeling butchered, the Mayor went back outside, walking tow miles in the darkness, with fresh snow beginning to fall, flaking on his shoulders. An hour later he arrived at the building that housed his club, thinking perhaps there they would wrap four plates of food, which he could carry home to his family. He tried the door. It was locked. Inside no lights were on whatsoever. Then he saw a sign in the ground-floor window. "No Waiters Or Cooks Today". He stared blankly, helplessly, at the words. His mouthed wobbled. Of course, he thought, Of course...
And then Hizzoner broke down and wept in the snow.
Soledad Brother Paperback by George Jackson
Some Quotes By George Jackson:
“[The system] also breeds contempt for the oppressed. Accrual of contempt is its fundamental survival technique. This leads to the excesses and destroys any hope of peace eventually being worked out between the two antagonistic classes, the haves and the have-nots. Coexistence is impossible, contempt breeds resistance, and resistance breeds brutality, the whole growing in spirals that must either end in the uneconomic destruction of the oppressed or the termination of oppression.”
“Patience has its limits. Take it too far, and it’s cowardice.”
“The author of my hunger, the architect of the circumstantial pressures which are the sole causes of my ills will find no peace, in this existence or the next, the one following that; never, never. I’ll dog his trail to infinity.” letter written July 28, 1967,”
"But now with the living conditions deteriorating, and with the sure knowledge that we are slated for destruction, we have been transformed into an implacable army of liberation."
"Very few men imprisoned for economic crimes or even crimes of passion against the oppressor feel that they are really guilty."
"Most of today's black convicts have come to understand that they are the most abused victims of an unrighteous order."
"Up until now, the prospect of parole has kept us from confronting our captors with any real determination."
"The savage repression of blacks, which can be estimated by reading the obituary columns of the nation's dailies, Fred Hampton, etc., has not failed to register on the black inmates."
"They have learned that resistance is actually possible. The holds are beginning to slip away."
"“It's very contradictory for a man to teach about the murder in corporate capitalism, to isolate and expose the murderes behind it, to instruct that these madmen are completely without stops, are licentious, totally depraved — and then not make adequate preparations to defend himself from the madman's attack. Either they don't really believe their own spiel or they harbor some sort of subconscious death wish”
"“Right now, we are in a peak cycle. There’s tremendous energy out there, directed against the state. It’s not all focused, but it’s there, and it’s building. Maybe this will be sufficient to accomplish what we must accomplish over the fairly short run. We’ll see, and we can certainly hope that this is the case. But perhaps not. We must be prepared to wage a long struggle. If this is the case then we’ll probably see a different cycle, one in which the revolutionary energy of the people seems to have dispersed, run out of steam. But – and this is important- such cycles are deceptive. Things appear to be at low ebb, but actually what’s happening is a period of regroupment, a period in which we step back and learn from the mistakes made during the preceding cycle.”
“The blanket indictment of the white [so-called] race has done nothing but perplex us, inhibit us. The theory that all whites are the immediate enemy and all blacks our brothers (making them loyal) is silly and indicative of a lazy mind (to be generous, since it could be a fascist plot). It doesn’t explain the black pig; there were six on the Hampton-Clark kill. It doesn’t explain the black paratroopers (just more pigs) who put down the great Detroit riot, and it doesn’t explain the pseudo-bourgeois who can be found almost everywhere in the halls of government working for white supremacy, fascism and capitalism” (Soledad Brother p221-222)
(From Blood in My Eye, p 4-5)
“You must teach that socialism-communalism is as old as man; that its principles formed the basis of mostly all the East African cultures (there was no word to denote possession in the original East African tongues). The only independent African societies today are socialistic. Those which allowed capitalism to remain are still neo-colonies. Any black who would defend an African military dictatorship is as much a fascist as Hoover.
“….there are only two ways by which societies can ever be governed and organized for production of their needs: the various types of totalitarian methods represented by assorted capitalist and fascist arrangements, and the egalitarian method. Egalitarianism is people’s government and people’s government and economics is socialism, dialectical and materialist. How else can societies be governed? There must be hierarchies or the elimination of hierarchies.”
"All political parties, as things stand, will support the power complex. Any individual elected will either be a supporter of the established politics -- or an 'individual.' What would help us, in fact, is to allow as many right-wing elements as possible to assume 'political' power. ...The fascists already have power. The point is that some way must be found to expose them and combat them. An electoral choice of ten different fascists is like choosing which way one wishes to die. The holder of so-called high public office is always merely an extension of the hated ruling corporate class. It is to our benefit that this person be openly hostile, despotic, unreasoning. [my emphasis] We are not living in a nation where left-wing parties hold eighty out of two hundred seats in a congressional body...This is a huge nation dominated by the most reactionary and violent ruling class in the history of the world, where the majority of the people just simply cannot understand that they are existing on the misery and discomfort of the world." (Blood In My Eye p 71-72)
“The corporative state allows for no genuinely free political opposition. They only allow meaningless gatherings where they can pant more spies than participants. They feel secure in their ability to mold the opinion of a people interested only in wages. However, real revolutionary activity will draw panic-stricken gunfire. Or heart attacks.
“So what is to be done after a revolution has failed? After our enemies have created a conservative mass society based on meaningless electoral politics, spectator sports, and a 3 percent annual rise in purchasing power strictly regulated to negate itself with a corresponding rise in the cost of living. …What can we do with a people who have gone through he authoritarian process and come out sick to the core!!!
“Our overall task is to separate the people from the hated state. They must be made to realize that the interests of the state and the ruling class are one and the same. They must be taught to realize that the present political regime exists only to balance the productive forces within the society in favor of the ruling class. It is at the ruling class and the governing elites, including those of labor, that we must aim our bolts.”
(Blood in My Eye, p 174-5).
"Black capitalism, black against itself. The silliest contradiction in a long train of spineless, mindless contradictions. Another painless, ultimate remedy: be a better fascist than the fascist. Bill Cosby, acting out the establishment agent -- what message was this soul brother conveying to our children? I Spy [the sixties TV program where he played a CIA agent's subordinate] was certainly programmed to a child's mentality. This running dog in the company of a fascist with a cause, a flunky's flunky, was transmitting the credo of the slave to our youth, the mod version of the old house nigger. We can never learn to trust as long as we have them. They are as much a part of the repression, more even than the real live rat-informer-pig. Aren't they telling our kids that it is romantic to be a running dog? The kids are so hungry to see the black male do some shooting and throw some hands that they can't help themselves from identifying with the quislings. So first they turn us against ourselves, precluding all possibility of trust, then fascism takes any latent divisible forces and develops them into divisions in fact: racism, nationalism, religions."
“So what’s happening with a guy who says he is for us but not against the government? Or one who says he’s for us and against all whites – except the ones who may kick his ass? There is a great deal of cowardice and treachery and confusion here. The black bourgeoisie (pseudo-bourgeoisie), the right reverends, the militant opportunists, have left us in a quandary, rendered us impotent. How ridiculous we must seem to the rest of the black world when we beg the government to investigate their own protective agencies. Aren’t the wild hip-shooting pigs loose among us to protect the property rights of the people who formed the government? “
"International capitalism cannot be destroyed without the extremes of struggle. The entire colonial world is watching the blacks inside the U.S., wondering and waiting for us to come to our senses. Their problems and struggles with the Amerikan monster are much more difficult than they would be if we actively aided them. We are on the inside. We are the only ones (besides the very small white minority left) who can get at the monster's heart without subjecting the world to nuclear fire. We have a momentous historical role to act out if we will. The whole world for all time in the future will love us and remember us as the righteous people who made it possible for the world to live on.”
“The capitalist Eden fits my description of hell. To destroy it will require cooperation and communication between our related parts; communion between colony and colony, nation and nation. The common bond will be the desire to humble the oppressor, the need to destroy capitalist man and his terrible, ugly machine. If there were any differences between us in the black colony and the peoples of other colonies across the country, around the world, we should be willing to forget them in the desperate need for coordination against Amerikan fascism.
“We must accept the spirit of the true internationalism called for by Comrade Che Guevara….We need allies, we have a powerful enemy who cannot be defeated without an allied effort! The enemy at present is the capitalist system and its supporters. Our prime interest is to destroy them. Anyone else with this same interest must be embraced, we must work with, beside, through, over, under anyone, regardless of his or her external physical features, whose aim is the same as ours in this. Capitalism must be destroyed, and after it is destroyed, if we find we still have problems, we’ll work them out. That is the nature of life, struggle, permanent revolution; that is the situation we were born into. There are other peoples on this earth. In denying their existence and turning inward in our misery and accepting any form of racism we are taking on the characteristic of our enemy. We are resigning ourselves to defeat. For in forming a conspiracy aimed at the destruction of the system that holds us all in the throes of a desperate insecurity we must have coordinating elements connecting us and our moves to the moves of the other colonies, the African colonies, those in Asia and Latin Amerika, in Appalachia and the south-western bean fields.
“We must establish a true internationalism with other anticolonial peoples. Then we will be on the road of the true revolutionary. Only then can we expect to seize the power that is rightfully ours, the power to control the circumstances of our day-to-day lives.
“The fascist must expand to live. Consequently, he had pushed his frontiers to the farthest lands and peoples. This is an aspect of his being, an ungovernable compulsion. This perverted mechanical monster suffers from a disease that forces him to build ugly things and destroy beauty wherever he finds it.
“We must fall on our enemies, the enemies of all righteousness, with a ruthless relentless will to win! History sweeps on, we must not let it escape our influence this time!!!!”
Blood in My Eye Paperback by George L. Jackson
The Prison Letters of George Jackson
George L. Jackson: September 23, 1941 — August 21, 1971
In 1960, at the age of eighteen, George Jackson was accused of stealing $70 from a gas station in Los Angeles. Though there was evidence of his innocence, his court-appointed lawyer maintained that because Jackson had a record (two previous instances of petty crime), he should plead guilty in exchange for a light sentence in the county jail. He did, and received an indeterminate sentence of one year to life. Jackson spent the next ten years in Soledad Prison, seven and a half of them in solitary confinement. Instead of succumbing to the dehumanization of prison existence, he transformed himself into the leading theoretician of the prison movement and a brilliant writer. Soledad Brother, which contains the letters that he wrote from 1964 to 1970, is his testament.
In his twenty-eighth year, Jackson and two other black inmates — Fleeta Drumgo and John Cluchette — were falsely accused of murdering a white prison guard. The guard was beaten to death on January 16, 1969, a few days after another white guard shot and killed three black inmates by firing from a tower into the courtyard. The accused men were brought in chains and shackles to two secret hearings in Salinas County. A third hearing was about to take place when John Cluchette managed to smuggle a note to his mother: "Help, I'm in trouble." With the aid of a state senator, his mother contacted a lawyer, and so commenced one of the most extensive legal defenses in U.S. history. According to their attorneys, Jackson, Drumgo, and Clutchette were charged with murder not because there was any substantial evidence of their guilt, but because they had been previously identified as black militants by the prison authorities. If convicted, they would face a mandatory death penalty under the California penal code. Within weeks, the case of the Soledad Brothers emerged as a political cause célèbre for all sorts of people demanding change at a time when every American institution was shaken by Black rebellions in more than one hundred cities and the mass movement against the Vietnam War.
August 7, 1970, just a few days after George Jackson was transferred to San Quentin, the case was catapulted to the forefront of national news when his brother, Jonathan, a seventeen-year-old high school student in Pasadena, staged a raid on the Marin County courthouse with a satchelful of handguns, an assault rifle, and a shotgun hidden under his coat. Educated into a political revolutionary by George, Jonathan invaded the court during a hearing for three black San Quentin inmates, not including his brother, and handed them weapons. As he left with the inmates and five hostages, including the judge, Jonathan demanded that the Soledad Brothers be released within thirty minutes. In the shootout that ensued, Jonathan was gunned down. Of Jonathan, George wrote, "He was free for a while. I guess that's more than most of us can expect."
Soledad Brother, which is dedicated to Jonathan Jackson, was released to critical acclaim in France and the United States, with an introduction by the renowned French dramatist Jean Genet, in the fall of 1970. Less than a year later and just two days before the opening of his trial, George Jackson was shot to death by a tower guard inside San Quentin Prison in a purported escape attempt. "No Black person," wrote James Baldwin, "will ever believe that George Jackson died the way they tell us he did."
Soledad Brother went on to become a classic of Black literature and political philosophy, selling more than 400,000 copies before it went out of print twenty years ago. Lawrence Hill Books is pleased to reissue this book and to add to it a Foreword by the author's nephew, Jonathan Jackson, Jr., who is a writer living in California.
I was born eight and a half months after my father, Jonathan Jackson, was shot down on August 7, 1970, at the Marin County Courthouse, when he tried to gain the release of the Soledad Brothers by taking hostages. Before and especially after that day, Uncle George kept in constant contact with my mother by writing from his cell in San Quentin. (The Department of Corrections wouldn't put her on the visitors' list.) During George's numerous trial appearances for the Soledad Brothers case, Mom would lift me above the crowd so he could see me. Consistently, we would receive a letter a few days later. For a single mother with son, alone and in the middle of both controversy and not a little unwarranted trouble with the authorities, those messages of strength were no doubt instrumental in helping her carry on. No matter how oppressive his situation became, George always had time to lend his spirit to the people he cared for.
A year and two weeks after the revolutionary takeover in Marin, George was ruthlessly murdered by prison guards at San Quentin. Both he and my father left me a great deal: pride, history, an unmistakable name. My experience has been at once wonderful and incredibly difficult. My life is not consumed by the Jackson legacy, but my charge is an accepted and cherished piece of my existence. It is out of my responsibility to my legacy that I have come to write this Foreword to my uncle's prison writings.
Today I read my inherited letters often — those written from George to my mother with a dull pencil on prison stationery. They are things of beauty, my most valuable possessions, passionate pieces of writing that have few rivals in the modern era. They will remain unpublished. However, the letters ofSoledad Brother demonstrate the same insight and eloquence — the way George's writings make his personal experience universal is the mainstay of his brilliance.
When this collection of letters was first released in 1969, it brought a young revolutionary to the forefront of a tempest, a tempest characterized by the Black Power, free speech, and antiwar movements, accompanied by a dissatisfaction with the status quo throughout the United States. With unflinching directness, George Jackson conveyed an intelligent yet accessible message with his trademark style, rational rage. He illuminated previously hidden viewpoints and feelings that disenfranchised segments of the population were unable to articulate: the poor, the victimized, the imprisoned, the disillusioned. George spoke in a revolutionary voice that they had no idea existed. He was the prominent figure of true radical thought and practice during the period, and when he was assassinated, much of the movement died along with him. But George Jackson cannot and will not ever leave. His life and thoughts serve as the message — George himself is the revolution.
The reissue of Soledad Brother at this point in time is essential. It appears that the nineties are going to be a telling decade in U.S. history. The signposts of systemic breakdown are as glaringly obvious as they were in the sixties: unrest manifesting itself in inner-city turmoil, widespread rise of violence in the culture, and international oppression to legitimize a state in crisis. The fact that imprisonments in California have more than tripled over the last decade, supported by the public, is merely one sign of societal decomposition. That systemic change occurred during the sixties is a myth. The United States in the nineties faces strikingly analogous problems. George spoke to the issues of his day, but conditions now are so similar that this work could have been written last month. It is imperative that George be heard, whether by the angry but unchanneled young or by the cynical and worldly mature. The message must be carried farther than where he bravely left it in August of 1971.
Over the past twenty-five years, why has George Jackson not been an integral part of mainstream consciousness? He has been and still is underexposed, reduced to simplistic terms, and ultimately misunderstood. Racial and conspiracy theory aside, there are rational reasons for his exclusion. They stem not only from the hard-line revolutionary aspects of George's philosophy, but more importantly from the nature of the political system that he existed in and under.
Howard Zinn has pointed out in A People's History of the United States that "the history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated." U.S. history is essentially that type of hidden history. Without denying important mitigating factors, the United States of today is strongly linked to the values and premises on which it was founded. That is, it is a settler colony founded primarily on two basic pillars, upheld by the Judeo-Christian tradition: genocide of indigenous peoples and slave labor in support of a capitalist infrastructure. Although the Bible repeatedly exalts mass slaughter and oppression, Judeo-Christian morality is publicly held to be inconsistent with them. This dissonance, evident within the nation's structure from the beginning, informs the state's first function: to oversimplify and minimize immoral events in order to legitimize history and the state's very existence simultaneously.
Ironically, traditional Judeo-Christian morality is a perfect vehicle for genocide, slavery, and territorial expansion. As a logical progression from biblical example, expansion and imperialism culminated in the United States with the concept of Manifest Destiny, which held that it was the colonists' inherent right to expand and conquer. Further it was a duty, the "white man's burden," to save the "natives," to attempt to convert all heathens encountered. Protestant Calvinism provided a set of ethics that fit perfectly with the colonists' conquests. Max Weber, in his definitive study on religion,The Sociology of Religion, wrote, "Calvinism held that the unsearchable God possessed good reasons for having distributed the gifts of fortune unevenly"; it "represented as God's will [the Calvinists'] domination over the sinful world. Clearly this and other features of Protestantism, such as its rationalization of the existence of a lower class, 1 were not only the bases for the formation of the United States, but still prominently exist today. "One must go to the ethics of ascetic Protestantism," Weber asserts, "to find any ethical sanction for economic rationalism and for the entrepreneur." When a nation can't admit to the process through which it builds hegemony, how can anything but delusion be a reality? "The monopoly of truth, including historical truth," stated Daniel Singer in a lecture at Evergreen State College (Washington) in 1987, "is implied in the monopoly of power."
Clearly, objective history is an impossibility. This understood, the significant problem lies in how the general population defines the term; history implies that truth is being told. It is an unfortunate fact that history is unfailingly written by the victors, which in the case of the United States are not only the original imperialists, but the majority of the "founding fathers," dedicated to uniting and strengthening the existing mercantile class among disjointed colonies. There can be no doubt that from the creation of this young nation, history as a created and perceived entity moved further and further away from the objective ideal. Genocide, necessary for "the development of the modern capitalist economy," according to Howard Zinn, was rationalized as a reaction to the fear of Indian savages. Slavery was similarly construed.
The personalization of history, the process by which we construct heroes and pariahs, is a consequence of its dialectical nature. Without fail, an odd paradox is created around someone who, by virtue of his or her actions, becomes prominent enough to warrant the designation "historical figure." There is a leap on the part of the general public, sparked by the media, to another mindset. Sensational deeds are glorified, horrible acts reviled. A few points are selected as defining characteristics. The media, conforming to their restrictions of concision (which make accuracy nearly impossible to attain), reiterate these points over and over. Schools and textbooks not only teach these points but drill them into young minds. Howard Zinn comments that "this learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly."
A few tidbits, factual or not, incomplete and selective, are used to describe the entirety of a person's existence. They become part of mainstream consciousness. We therefore know that Lincoln freed the slaves, Malcolm X was a black extremist, and Hitler was solely responsible for World War II and the Holocaust. All half-truths go unexplained, all fallacies go unchallenged, as they appear to make perfect sense to the everyday, noncritically thinking American. The paradox has been created: The more famous a person becomes, the more misunderstood he or she is. This accepted occurrence is incredibly counterintuitive: the public should know more, not less, about a noteworthy individual and the sociopolitical dynamics surrounding him or her.
This historical mythicization is not, for the most part, a consciously created phenomenon. The media don't go out of their way to mislead the public by constructing false heroes and emphasizing the mundane. Fewer "dimly lit conferences" take place than conspiracy theorists believe. It is the existing political system that is responsible for the information that reaches the general public. The state's control of information created the system, and it continually re-creates it. Propagated by schooling and the media, information that reaches the public is subject to three chief mechanisms of state control: denial, self-censorship, and imprisonment.
Denial is the easiest control mechanism, and therefore the most common. If events do not follow the state's agenda or its ecumenical ideology and might bring unrest, they are denied. Examples are plentiful: prewar state terrorism against the people of North and South Vietnam and later the bombing of Cambodia; government funding and military aid to the Nicaraguan Contras; and support of UNITA and South Africa in the virtual destruction of Angola, among many others.
Denial goes hand in hand with self-censorship. The media emphasize certain personal characteristics and events and de-emphasize others, in a pattern that supports U.S. hegemony. The information that reached the public after the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 is telling. It was not until much later, after the heat of controversy, that the average citizen had access to the scope of the devastation. The effectiveness of self-censorship in this case was maximized, as the full details of the Panama invasion were patchwork for years.
While we may assume that the media have an obligation to accurately convey such an event to the public, the media in fact perpetuate the government's position by engaging in their own self-censorship. Noam Chomsky points out in Deterring Democracy, "With a fringe of exceptions — mostly well after the tasks had been accomplished — the media rallied around the flag with due piety and enthusiasm, funnelling the most absurd White House tales to the public while scrupulously refraining from asking the obvious questions, or seeing the obvious facts."
Denial and self-censorship create a comfort zone for the U.S. citizenry, generally uncritical and willing to accept digestible versions of historical personalities and world events. The reasoning behind denial and self-censorship: do not make the public uncomfortable, even if that means diluting, sensationalizing, or lying about the truth.
Ultimately, when denial and self-censorship may not be sufficient for control of information, the state resorts to imprisonment. All imprisonment is political and as such all imprisonments carry equal weight. Society does, however, distinguish two categories of imprisonment: one for breaking a law, the other for political reasons. A difference is clear: American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier, serving a federal sentence for his supposed role at Wounded Knee, is considered a different type of prisoner than an armed robber serving a five-to-seven-year sentence.
State policy reflects institutional needs. When the state as an institution cannot tolerate an outside threat, real or perceived, from an individual or group, the consequences at its command include isolation, persecution, and political imprisonment. All may occur in greater or lesser form, depending on the degree of threat.
Political incarceration removes threats to the political and economic hegemony of the United States. Even though in 1959 George Jackson initially went to prison as an "everyday lawbreaker" with a one-year-to-life sentence, it was his political consciousness that kept him incarcerated for eleven years. In 1970 George wrote:
International capitalism cannot be destroyed without the extremes of struggle. The entire colonial world is watching the blacks inside the U.S., wondering and waiting for us to come to our senses. Their problems and struggles with the Amerikan monster are much more difficult than they would be if we actively aided them. We are on the inside. We are the only ones (besides the very small white minority left) who can get at the monster's heart without subjecting the world to nuclear fire. We have a momentous historical role to act out if we will. The whole world for all time in the future will love us and remember us as the righteous people who made it possible for the world to live on. If we fail through fear and lack of aggressive imagination, then the slaves of the future will curse us, as we sometimes curse those of yesterday. I don't want to die and leave a few sad songs and a hump in the ground as my only monument. I want to leave a world that is liberated from trash, pollution, racism, nation-states, nation-state wars and armies, from pomp, bigotry, parochialism, a thousand different brands of untruth, and licentious usurious economics.
Nothing is more dangerous to a system that depends on misinformation than a voice that obeys its own dictates and has the courage to speak out. George Jackson's imprisonment and further isolation within the prison system were clearly a function of the state's response to his outspoken opposition to the capitalist structure.
Political incarceration is a tangible form of state control. Unlike denial and self-censorship, imprisonment is publicly scrutinized. Yet public reaction to political incarceration has been minimal. The U.S. government claims it holds no political prisoners (denial), while any notice given to protests focused on political prisoners invariably takes the form of a human interest story (self-censorship).
The efficacy of political incarceration in the United States cannot be denied. Prison serves not only as a physical barrier, but a communication restraint. Prisoners are completely ostracized from society, with little or no chance to break through. Those few outside who might be sympathetic are always hesitant to communicate or protest past a certain point, fearing their own persecution or imprisonment. Also, deep down most people believe that all prisoners, regardless of their individual situations, really did do something "wrong." Added to that prejudice, society lacks a distinction between a prisoner's actions and his or her personal worth; a bad act equals a bad person. The bottom line is that the majority of people simply will not believe that the state openly or covertly oppresses without criminal cause. As Daniel Singer asked at the Evergreen conference in 1987, "Is it possible for a class which exterminates the native peoples of the Americas, replaces them by raping Africa for humans it then denigrates and dehumanizes as slaves, while cheapening and degrading its own working class — is it possible for such a class to create a democracy, equality and to advance the cause of human freedom? The implicit answer is, `No, of course not."'
How does a person — inside or outside prison — confront the cultural mindsets, the layers of misinformation propagated by the capitalist system? Sooner or later, what can be called the "radical dilemma" surfaces for the few wanting to enter into a structural attack/analysis of the United States. Culturally, educationally, and politically, all of us are similarly limited by these layers of misinformation; we are all products of the system. None of us functions from a clean slate when considering or debating any issue, especially history as it pertains to the United States.
George Jackson struggled against the constraints of denial and self-censorship, to say nothing of his physical and communicative distance from society. Political prisoners are inherently vulnerable to an either/or situation: isolating silence or elimination. For George, his vociferous revolutionary attitude was either futile or self-exterminating. He was well aware of his situation. In Blood in My Eye, his political treatise, he wrote:
I'm in a unique political position. I have a very nearly closed future, and since I have always been inclined to get disturbed over organized injustice or terrorist practice against the innocents — wherever — I can now say just about what I want (I've always done just about that), without fear of self-exposure. I can only be executed once.
George was equally aware that revolutionary change happens only when an entire society is ready. No amount of action, preaching, or teaching will spark revolution if social conditions do not warrant it. My father's case, unfortunately, is an appropriate indicator. He attempted a revolutionary act during a reactionary time; elimination was the only possible consequence.
The challenge for a radical in today's world is to balance reformist tendencies (political liberalism) and revolutionary action/ideology (radicalism). While reformism entails a legitimation of the status quo as a search for changes within the system, radicalism posits a change of system. Because revolutionaries are particularly vulnerable, a certain degree of reformism is necessary to create space, space needed to begin the laborious task of making revolution.
George's statement "Combat Liberalism" and the general reaction to it typify the gulf between the two philosophies. George was universally misunderstood by the left and the right alike. As is the case with most modern political prisoners, nearly all of his support came from reformists with liberal leanings. It seems that they acted in spite of, rather than because of, the core of his message.
The left's attitude toward COINTELPRO is a useful illustration. COINTELPRO, the covert government program used to dismantle the Black Panther Party, and later the American Indian Movement, is typically cited by many leftists as a damning example of the government's conspiratorial nature. Declassified documents and ex-agents' testimonies have shown COINTELPRO to be one of the most unlawful, insidious cells of government in the nation's history. COINTELPRO, however, was really a symptomatic, expendable entity; a small police force within a larger one (FBI), within a branch of government (executive), within the government itself (liberal democracy), within the economic system (capitalism). Reformists in radicals' clothing unknowingly argued against symptoms, rather than the roots, of the entrenched system. Doing away with COINTELPRO or even the FBI would not alter the structure that produces the surveillance/elimination apparatus.
In George's day, others who considered themselves left of center, or even revolutionary, concerned themselves with inner-city reform issues, mostly black ghettos. The problem of and debate about inner cities still exists. However, recognition of a problem and analysis of that problem are two very different challenges. The demand to better only predominantly black inner-city conditions is unrealistic at best. In the capitalist structure, there must be an upper, middle, and especially a lower class. Improving black neighborhoods is the equivalent of ghettoizing some other segment of the population — poor whites, Hispanics, Asians, etc. Nothing intrinsic to the system would change, only superficial alterations that would mollify the liberal public. As Chomsky asserts in Turning the Tide:
Determined opposition to the latest lunacies and atrocities must continue, for the sake of the victims as well as our own ultimate survival. But it should be understood as a poor substitute for a challenge to the deeper causes, a challenge that we are, unfortunately, in no position to mount at the present though the groundwork can and must be laid.
Failure to understand the radical, encompassing viewpoint in the sixties led to reformism. In effect, the majority of the left completely deserted any attempt at the radical balance required of the politically conscious, leaving only liberalism and its narrow vision to flourish.
Nobody comprehended the radical dilemma more fully than George Jackson. Indeed, he developed his philosophy not out of mere happenstance, but with a very conscious eye upon maintaining his revolutionary ideology. He writes in Blood in My Eye:
Reformism is an old story in Amerika. There have been depressions and socio-economic political crises throughout the period that marked the formation of the present upper-class ruling circle, and their controlling elites. But the parties of the left were too committed to reformism to exploit their revolutionary potential.
George's involvement with the prison reform movement should therefore be seen as a matter of survival. Unlike the reformist left, prison oppression wasdirectly affecting him. His balanced reform activities — improving prisoners' rights while speaking out against prison as an entity — were required to make living conditions tolerable enough for him to continue on his revolutionary path. Simply, he did what he had to do to survive — created space while simultaneously pursuing his radical theory.
The reform George Jackson did accomplish was and still is incredible, transforming the prison environment from unlivable to livable hell, from encampments that he called reminiscent of Nazi Germany to at least a scaled-down version of the like. With his influence, these changes occurred not only in California, but throughout the nation. Only now is his influence beginning to slip, with reactionary politics bringing about torture and sensory deprivation facilities such as Pelican Bay State Prison in California, as well as the reintroduction for adoption of the one-to-life indeterminate sentence. This type of sentence is fertile ground for state oppression, as it is up to a parole board to decide if an inmate is ever to be let go. A prison can easily and effectively create situations that transform a one-to-life into a life sentence. (Tellingly, the indeterminate sentence is being promoted not by the right, but by a California senator formerly associated with mainstream liberal causes.)
Politically, George Jackson provided us all with a radical education, a viable alternative to viewing not only the United States but the world as a political entity. He gave the disenfranchised a lens through which they could clearly see their situation and become more conscious about it. He wrote in April 1970:
It all falls into place. I see the whole thing much clearer now, how fascism has taken possession of this country, the interlocking dictatorship from county level on up to the Grand Dragon in Washington, D.C.
Crucially, George's treatment is a concrete, undeniable example of political oppression. Race is more times than not the easy answer to a problem. Among people of color in the United States, the quick fix, "blame it on whitey" mentality has become so prevalent that it shortcuts thinking. Conversely, stereotypes of minorities act as simple-minded tools of divisiveness and oppression. George addressed these issues in prison, setting a model for the outside as well: "I'm always telling the brothers some of those whites are willing to work with us against the pigs. All they got to do is stop talking honky. When the races start fighting, all you have is one maniac group against another." On the surface, race has been and is still being put forth as an overriding issue that needs to be addressed as a prerequisite for social change. In fact, although it seems to loom as a large problem, race as an issue is again a symptom of capitalism. Of course, on a paltry level and among the relatively powerless, race does play a part in social structure (the racist cop, the bigoted landlord, etc.), pitting segments of the population against each other. But revolutionary change requires class analysis that drives appropriate actions and eliminates race as a mitigating factor. Knowing these socioeconomic dynamics, George Jackson was first and foremost a people's revolutionary, and he acted as such at all times without compromise. His writings clearly reflect his belief in class-based revolutionary change.
Considering the many structural elements affecting him, it is easy to see why George and his message have been misinterpreted. The quick takes on him are abundant: it's assumed that he was imprisoned and oppressed because he was black, because he had publicized ties with the Black Panther Party and was a well-known organizer within the prison reform movement. Although George became a "prison celebrity," a status that certainly didn't help him in terms of acquittal and release, ignorance of the actual forces responsible for his prolonged imprisonment is inexcusable. The radical viewpoint is absolutely indispensable when regarding both George's life circumstance and philosophy. His life serves not as a mere individual example of prison cruelty, but as a scalding indictment of the very nature of capitalism.
In these times, there are two very different ways to be born into privilege. First and most obvious in the system of capital is to be born into wealth. Second, and not precluding the first, is to have an intellectual, politically conscious base from which to grow as a person philosophically and spiritually. Radical figures in modern society — Lenin, Trotsky, Ché Guevara, my father, Jonathan Jackson, and my uncle George Jackson — have the capability of providing this base through their examples and writings.
Those not born into privilege can achieve a politically conscious base in different ways. No veils separate the lower class from the realities of everyday life. They have been given the gift of disillusion. Bourgeois lifestyle, although perhaps sought after, is in most cases not attainable. Daily survival is the primary goal, as it was with George. Of course, when it finally becomes more attractive for one to fight, and perhaps die, than to live in a survival mode, revolution starts to become a possibility. Not a riot, not a government takeover by one or another group, but a people's revolution led by the politically conscious.
This consciousness doesn't simply appear. Individuals must grow and work into it, but it's an invaluable gift to have insight into and access to an alternative to the frustration, a goal on the horizon.
The nineties are an unconscious era. The unimportant is all-important, the essential neglected. What system than capitalism, what time period than now, is better suited to naturally create the scape-goat, the seldom-heard political prisoner, misunderstood in his cult-of-personality status, held back in a choke hold from society? It is not only our right, but our duty, to listen to and comprehend George Jackson's message. To not do so is to turn our backs on one of the brilliant minds of the twentieth century, an individual passionately involved with liberating not only himself, but all of us.
Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are dying who could be saved, that generations more will die or live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution. Pass on the torch. Join us, give up your life for the people.
Jonathan Jackson, Jr.
Recent Letters and an Autobiography
JUNE, 1970 10
Dear Greg, 2I probably didn't work hard enough on this but I'm pressed for time — all the time.
I could play the criminal aspects of my life down some but then it wouldn't be me. That was the pertinent part, the thing at school and home I was constantly rejecting in process.
All my life I pretended with my folks, it was the thing in the street that was real. I was certainly just pretending with the nuns and priests, I served mass so that I could be in a position to steal altar wine, sang in the choir because they made me. When we went on tour of the rich white catholic schools we were always treated very well — fed — rewarded with gifts. Old Father Brown hated me but always put me down front when we were on display. I can't say exactly why, I was the ugliest, skinniest little misfit in the group.
Blackmen born in the U.S. and fortunate enough to live past the age of eighteen are conditioned to accept the inevitability of prison. For most of us, it simply looms as the next phase in a sequence of humiliations. Being born a slave in a captive society and never experiencing any objective basis for expectation had the effect of preparing me for the progressively traumatic misfortunes that lead so many blackmen to the prison gate. I was prepared for prison. It required only minor psychic adjustments.
It always starts with Mama, mine loved me. As testimony of her love, and her fear for the fate of the man-child all slave mothers hold, she attempted to press, hide, push, capture me in the womb. The conflicts and contradictions that will follow me to the tomb started right there in the womb. The feeling of being captured . . . this slave can never adjust to it, it's a thing that I just don't favor, then, now, never.
I've been asked to explain myself, "briefly," before the world has done with me. It is difficult because I don't recognize uniqueness, not as it's applied to individualism, because it is too tightly tied into decadent capitalist culture. Rather I've always strained to see the indivisible thing cutting across the artificial barricades which have been erected to an older section of our brains, back to the mind of the primitive commune that exists in all blacks. But then how can I explain the runaway slave in terms that do not imply uniqueness?
I was captured and brought to prison when I was 18 years old because I couldn't adjust. The record that the state has compiled on my activities reads like the record of ten men. It labels me brigand, thief, burglar, gambler, hobo, drug addict, gunman, escape artist, Communist revolutionary, and murderer.
I was born as the Great Depression was ending. It was ending because the second great war for colonial markets was beginning in the U.S. I pushed out of the womb against my mother's strength September 23, 1941 — I felt free.
My mother was a country girl from Harrisburg, Illinois. My father was born in East St. Louis, Illinois. They met in Chicago, and were living on Lake Street near Racine when I was born. It was in one of the oldest sections of Chicago, part ghetto residential, part factory. The el train passed a few yards from our front windows (the only windows really). There were factories across the street and garage shops on the bottom level of our flat. I felt right in the middle of things.
Our first move up the social scale was around the corner to 211 North Racine Street, away from the el train. I remember every detail of preschool days. I have a sister 15 months older than myself, Delora, a beautiful child and now a beautiful woman. We were sometimes allowed to venture out into the world, which at the time meant no further than fenced-off roof area adjoining our little three-room apartment built over a tavern. We were allowed out there only after the city made its irregular garbage pickups. The roof area was behind the tavern and over an area where prople deposited their garbage. But, of course, I went out when I pleased.
Superman was several years old about then, I didn't really confuse myself with him but I did develop a deep suspicion that I might be Suppernigger (twenty-three years ahead of my time). I tied a tablecloth around my neck, climbed the roof's fence, and against my sister's tears would have leaped to my death, down among the garbage barrels, had she not grabbed me, tablecloth and all, and kicked my little ass.
Seeing the white boys up close in kindergarten was a traumatic event. I musthave seen some before in magazines or books but never in the flesh. I approached one, felt his har, scratched at his cheek, he hit me in the head with a baseball bat. They found me crumpled in a heap just outside the school-yard fence.
After that, my mother sent me to St. Malachy catholic mission school. It was sitting right in the heart of the ghetto area, Washington and Oakley streets. All of the nuns were white; of the priests (there were five in the parish) I think one was near black, or near white whichever you prefer. The school ran from kindergarten to 12th grade. I attended for nine years (ten counting kindergarten). This small group of missionaries with their silly costumes and barbaric rituals offered the full range of Western propaganda to all ages and all comers. Sex was never mentioned except with whispers or grimaces to convey something nasty. You could get away with anything (they were anxious to make saints) but getting caught with your hand up a dress. Holy ghosts, confessions, and racism.
St. Malachy's was really two schools. There was another school across the street that was more private than ours. "We" played and fought on the corner sidewalks bordering the school. "They" had a large grass-and-tree-studded garden with an eight-foot wrought-iron fence bordering it (to keep us out, since it never seemed to keep any of them in when they chose to leave). "They" were all white. "They" were driven to and from school in large private buses or their parents' cars. "We" on the black side walked, or when we could afford it used the public buses or streetcars. The white students' yard was equipped with picnic tables for spring lunches, swings, slides, and other more sophisticated gadgets intended to please older children. For years we had only the very crowded sidewalks and alley behind the school. Years later a small gym was built but it just stood there, locked. It was only allowed to be used for an occasional basketball game between our school and one of the others like it from across the city's various ghetto areas.
Delora and I took the Lake Street streetcar to school each morning, and also on Sundays when we were forced to attend a religious function. I must have fallen from that thing a hundred times while it was in motion. Each time Delora would hang on to me, trying to save me, but I was just too determined and we would roll down Lake Street, books and all, miraculously avoiding the passing cars. The other black children who went to public school laughed at us. The girls had to wear a uniform, the boys wore white shirts. I imagined that the nuns and priests were laughing too every time they told one of those fantastic lies. I know now that the most damaging thing a people in a colonial situation can do is to allow their children to attend any educational facility organized by the dominant enemy culture.
Before the winter of my first-grade year, my father, Lester, prepared a fifty-gallon steel drum to store oil for our little stove. As I watched, he cleaned the inside with gasoline. When he retreated from his work temporarily for a cigarette he explained to me about the danger of the gas fumes. Later when he had completed work on the barrel, I sneaked back out to the roof with my sister Delora trailing me like a St. Bernard. I had matches and the idea of an explosion was irresistable. As soon as my sister realized what I was going to do, she turned her big sad eyes on me and started crying. I lit a match as I moved closer and closer to the barrel. The I lit the whole book of matches. By now Delora was convinced that death was imminent for us both. She made a last brave effort to stop me but I was too determined. I threw the matches across the last few feet. Delora shielded my eyes with her hand as the explosion went off. She still carries her burns from that day's experiences. I was injured around the lower face but carry no sign of it. Our clothes were burned and ripped away. I would probably be blind if not for this sister.
My parents had two more children while we were hanging on there at North Racine, Frances and Penelope. Six of us in the little walk-up. The only thing that I can think of that was even slightly pleasant about the place was the light. We had plenty of windows and nothing higher about us to block off the sun. In '49 we moved to a place in the rear on Warren near Western that was the end of the sun. We had no windows that opened directly on the street, even the one that faced the alley was blocked by a garage. It was a larger place but the neighborhood around the place was so vicious that my mother never, never allowed me to go out of the house or the small yard except to get something from one of the supermarkets or stores on Madison and return immediately. When I wanted to leave I would either go by a window, or throw my coat out the window and volunteer to take out the garbage. There was only one door. It was in the kitchen and always well guarded.
I spent most of the summers of those school years in southern Illinois with my grandmother and aunt, Irene and Juanita. My mother, Georgia, called it removing me from harm's way. This was where my mother grew up and she trusted her sister Juanita, whose care I came under, completely. I was the only man-child and I was the only one to get special protection from my mother. The trips to the country were good for me in spite of the motive. I learned how to shoot rifles, shotguns, pistols. I learned about fishing. I learned to identify some of the food plants that grow wild in most areas of the U.S. I could leave the house, the yard, the town, without having to sneak out of a window.
Almost everyone in the black sector of Harrisburg is a relative of mine. A loyal, righteous people; I could raise a small army from their numbers. I had use of any type of rifle or pistol on those trips downstate and everyone owned a weapon. My disposition toward guns and explosions is responsible for my first theft. Poverty made ammunition scarce and so . . . I confess with some guilt that I liked to shoot small animals, birds rabbits, squirrels, anything that offered itself as a target. I was a little skinny guy; scourge of the woods, predatory man. After the summer I went back up north for school and snowball (sometimes ice-block) fights with the white kids across the street.
I don't remember exactly when I met Joe Adams, it was during the early years, but I do recall the circumstances. Three or four of the brothers were in the process of taking my lunch when Joe joined them. The bag was torn, and the contents spilled onto the sidewalk. Joe scrambled for the food and got all of it. But after the others left laughing, he returned and stuffed it all into my pockets. We were great friends from then on it that childish way. He was older by a couple of years (two or three years means a lot at that tender age), and could beat me doing everything. I watched him and listened with John and Kenny Fox, Junior, Sonny, and others sometimes. We almost put the block's businessmen into bankruptcy. My mother and father will never admit it now, I'm sure, but I was hungry and so were we all. Our activities went from stolen food to other things I wanted, gloves for my hands (which were always cold), which I was always wearing out, marbles for the slingshots, games and gadgets for outdoorsmen from the dime store. Downtown, we plundered at will. The city was helpless to defend against us. But I couldn't keep up with Joe. Jonathan, my older brother, was born about this time.
My grandfather, George "Papa" Davis, stands out of those early years more than any other figure in my total environment. He was separated from his wife by the system. Work for men was impossible to find in Harrisburg. He was living and working in Chicago — sending his wage back to the people downstate. He was an extremely aggressive man, and since aggression on the part of the slave means crime, he was in jail now and then. I loved him. He tried to direct my great energy into the proper form of protest. He invented long simple allegories that always pictured the white politicians as animals (jackasses, toads, goats, vermin in general). He scorned the police with special enmity. He and my mother went to great pains to impress on me that it was the worst form of niggerism to hook and jab, cut and stab at other blacks.
Papa took me to his little place on Lake and fed me, walked me through the wildest of the nation's jungles, pointing up the foibles of black response to crisis existence. I loved him. He died alone in southern Illinois the fifth year that I was in San Quentin, on a pension that after rent allowed for a diet of little more than sardines and crackers.
After Racine Street we moved into the Troop Street projects, which in 1958 were the scenes of the city's worst riots. (The cats in those projects fell out against the pig with heavy machine guns, 30s and 50s that were equipped with tracer ammunition.)
My troubles began when we were in the projects. I was caught once or twice for mugging but the pig never went much further than to pop me behind the ear with the "oak stick" several times and send for my mortified father to carry me home.
My family knew very little of my real life. In effect, I lived two lives, the one with my mama and sisters, and the thing on the street. Now and then I'd get caught at something, or with something that I wasn't supposed to have and my mama would fall all over me. I left home a thousand times, never to return. We hoboed up and down the state. I did what I wanted (all my life I've done just that). When it came time to explain, I lied.
I had a girl from Arkansas, finest at the mission, but the nuns had convinced her that love — touching fingertips, mouths, bellies, legs — was nasty. Most of my time and money went to the other very loose and lovely girls I met on the stairwells of the projects' 15-story buildings. That was our hangout, and most of the time that's where we acted out the ritual. Jonathan, my new comrade, just a baby then, was the only real reason that I would come home at all; a brother to help me plunder the white world, a father to be proud of the deed — I was a fanciful little cat. But my brother was too young of course. He's only seventeen now while I'm twenty-nine this year. Any my father, he was always mortified. I stopped attending school regularly, and started getting "picked up" by the pigs more often. The pig station, a lecture, and oak-stick therapeutics. These pickups were mainly for "suspicion of" or because I was in the wrong part of town. Except for once or twice I was never actually caught breaking any laws. There just wasn't any possibility of a policeman beating me in a footrace. A target that's really moving with evasive tactics is almost impossible to hit with a short-barreled revolver. Through a gangway with a gate that only a few can operate with speed (it's dark even in the day) up a stairway through a door. Across roofs with seven- to ten-foot jumps in between (the pig is working mainly for money, bear in mind, I am running for my life). There wasn't a pig in the city who could "follow the leader" of even the most timid ghetto gang.
My father sensed a need to remove me from the Chicago environment so in 1956 he transferred his post-office job to the Los Angeles area. He bought an old '49 Hudson, threw me into it, and the two of us came West with plans to send for the rest of the family later that year. I knew nothing of cars. It was the first car our family had ever owned. I watched my father with great interest as he pushed the Hudson across the two thousand miles from Chicago to Los Angeles in two days. I was certain that I could handle the standard gearshift and pedals. I asked him to let me try upon our arrival in Los Angeles that first day. He dismissed me with an "Ah — crazy nigger lay dead" look. We were to stay with his cousin Johnny Jones in Watts until the rest of the family could be sent for. He went off with Johnny to visit other relatives, I stayed behind with the keys and the car. I made one corner, down one street, waited for a traffic light, firmed my jaw, dry-swallowed — took off around the next corner, and ended the turn inside the plate-glass window and front door of the neighborhood barbershop. Those cats in the shop (Watts) had become so immune to excitement that no one hardly looked up. I tried to apologize. The brother that owned the shop allowed my father to do the repair work himself. No pigs were called to settle this affair between brothers. One showed up by chance, however. I had to answer a court summons later that year. But the brother sensed that my father was poor, like himself, with a terribly mindless, displaced, irresponsible child on his hands, probably like his own, and didn't insist upon having the gun-slinging pig from the outside enemy culture arbitrate the problems we must handle ourselves.
My father fixed the brother's shop with his own hands, after buying the materials. No charges were brought against me for the damages. My father straightened out the motor bed, plugged the holes in the radiator, hammered out some of the dents and folds from the fender, bought a new light, and taped it into place on the fender. He drove that car to and from work, to the supermarkets with my mother, to church with my sisters, for four years! It was all he could afford and he wasn't the least bit ashamed of the fact. And he never said a word to me about it. I guess he was convinced by then that words wouldn't help me. I've been a fool — often.
Serious things started to happen after our settling in L.A. but this guy never abandoned me. He felt shame in having to bail me out of encounters with the law but he would always be there. I did several months in Paso Robles for allegedly breaking into a large department store (Gold's on Central) and attempting a hijack. I was 15, and full grown (I haven't grown an inch since then). A cop shot me six times point-blank on that job, as I was standing with my hands in the air. After the second shot, when I was certain that he was trying to murder me, I charged him. His gun was empty and he had only hit me twice by the time I had closed with him — "Oh, get this wild nigger off me." My mother fell away from the phone in a dead faint when they informed her that I had been shot by the police in a hijack attempt. I had two comrades with me on that job. They both got away because of the exchange between the pigs and me.
Since all black are thought of as rats, the third degree started before I was taken to the hospital. Medical treatment was offered as a reward for cooperation. At first they didn't know I had been hit, but as soon as they saw the blood running from my sleeve, the questions began. A bullet had passed through my forearm, another had sliced my leg, I sat in the back of the pig car and bled for two hours before they were convinced that lockjaw must have set in already. They took me to that little clinic at the Maxwell Street Station. A black nurse or doctor attended. She was young, full of sympathy and advice. She suggested, since I had strong-looking legs, that instead of warring with the enemy culture I should get interested in football or sports. I told her that if she could manage to turn the pig in the hall for a second I could escape and perhaps make a new start somewhere with a football. A month before this thing happened a guy had sold me a motorcycle and provided a pink slip that proved to be forged or changed around in some way. The bike was hot and I was caught with it. Taken together these two things were enough to send me to what California calls Youth Authority Corrections. I went to Paso Robles.
The very first time, it was like dying. Just to exist at all in the cage calls for some heavy psychic readjustments. Being captured was the first of my fears. It may have been inborn. It may have been an acquired characteristic built up over the centuries of black bondage. It is the thing I've been running from all my life. When it caught up to me in 1957 I was fifteen years old and not very well-equipped to deal with sudden changes. The Youth Authority joints are places that demand complete capitulation; one must cease to resist altogether or else . . .
The employees are the same general types found lounging at all prison facilities. They need a job — any job; the state needs goons. Chino was almost new at the time. The regular housing units were arranged so that at all times one could see the lockup unit. It think they called it "X". We existed from day to day to avoid it. How much we ate was strictly controlled, so was the amount of rest. After lights went out, no one could move from his bed without a flash of the pigs' handlight. During the day the bed couldn't be touched. There were so many compulsories that very few of us could manage to stay out of trouble even with our best efforts. Everything was programmed right down to the precise spoonful. We were made to march in military fashion everywhere we went — to the gym, to the mess hall, to compulsory prayer meetings. And then we just marched. I pretended that I couldn't hear well or understand anything but the simplest directions so I was never given anything but the simplest work. I was lucky; always when my mind failed me I've had great luck to carry me through.
All my life I've done exactly what I wanted to do just when I wanted, no more, perhaps less sometimes, but never any more, which explains why I had to be jailed. "Man was born free. But everywhere he is in chains." I never adjusted. I haven't adjusted even yet, with half my life already spent in prison. I can't truthfully say prison is any less painful now than during that first experience.
In my early prison years I read all of Rafael Sabatini, particularly The Lion's Skin. "There once was a man who sold the lion's skin, while the beast still lived, and was killed while hunting him" This story fascinated me. It made me smile even under the lash. The hunter bested, the hunted stalking the hunter. The most predatory animal on earth turning on its oppressor and killing it. At the time, this ideal existed in me just above the conscious level. It helped me to define myself, but it would take me several more years to isolate my real enemy. I read Jack London's, "raw and naked, wild and free' military novels and dreamed of smashing my enemies entirely, overwhelming, vanquishing, crushing them completely, sinking my fangs into the hunter's neck and never, never letting go.
Capture, imprisonment, is the closest to being dead that one is likely to experience in this life. There were no beatings (for me at least) in this youth joint and the food wasn't too bad. I came through it. When told to do something I simply played the idiot, and spent my time reading. The absentminded bookworm, I was in full revolt by the time seven months were up.
I went to school in Paso Robles and covered the work required for 10th-year students in the California school system, and entered Manual Arts for the 11th year upon my release. After I got out I stopped in Bakersfield, where I planned to stay no more than a week or two. I met a woman who felt almost as unimpressed with life as I did. We sinned, I stayed. I was 16 then, just starting to get my heft, but this wonderful sister, so round and wild, firm and supple, mature . . . in one month she reduced my health so that I had to take to the bed permanently. I was ill for eleven days with fevers and chest pains (something in the lungs). When I pulled out of it I was broke. I'd collected a few friends by that time. Two of them would try anything. Mat and Obe. We talked, borrowed a car, and went off.
A few days later we were all three in county jail (Kern County) on suspicion of committing a number of robberies. Since the opposition cleans up the books when they find the right type of victim, they accused us of a number of robberies we knew nothing about. Since they had already identified me for one, I copped out to another and cleared Mat and Obe on that count. They "allowed" Obe to plead guilty to one robbery instead of the three others they threatened him with. They cleared Mat altogether. Two months after our arrest Mat left the county jail free of charges.
I was in the "time tank" instead of the felony tank because they had only two felony tanks (that was the old county jail) and they wanted to keep the three of us separated. After Mat left, a brother came into the time tank to serve 2 days. The morning he was scheduled to leave I went back to his cell with a couple of sheets and asked him if he would aid me in an escape attempt. He dismissed me with one of those looks and a wave of the hand. I started tearing the sheet in stripes, he watched. When I was finished he asked me, "What are you doin' with that sheet?" I replied, "I'm tearing it into these strips." "Why you doin' that?" "I'm making a rope." "What-chew gonna do with ah rope?" "Oh — I'm going to tie you up with it."
When they called him to be released that morning, I went out in his place. I've learned one very significant thing for our struggle here in the U.S.: all blacks do look alike to certain types of white people. White people tend to grossly underestimate all blacks, out of habit. Blacks have been overestimating whites in a conditioned reflex.
Later, when I was accused of robbing a gas station of seventy dollars, I accepted a deal — I agreed to confess and spare the county court costs in return for a light county jail sentence. I confessed but when time came for sentencing, they tossed me into the penitentiary with one to life. That was in 1960. I was 18 years old. I've been here ever since. I met Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Engels, and Mao when I entered prison and they redeemed me. For the first four years I studied nothing but economics and military ideas. I met black guerrillas, George "Big Jake"Lewis, and James Carr, W.L. Nolen, Bill Christmas, Torry Gibson and many, many others. We attempted to transform the black criminal mentality into a black revolutionary mentality. As a result, each of us has been subjected to years of the most vicious reactionary violence by the state. Our mortality rate is almost what you would expect to find in a history of Dachau. Three of us were murdered several months ago by a pig shooting from 30 feet above their heads with a military rifle.
I am being tried in court right now with two other brothers, John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo, for the alleged slaying of a prison guard. This charge carries an automatic death penalty for me. I can't get life. I already have it.
When I returned to San Quentin Prison last week from a year in Soledad Prison where the crime I am charged with took place, a brother who had resisted the logic of proletarian-people's revolutionary socialism for the blackman in America sent me these lines in a note:
"Without the cold and desolation of winter there could not be the warmth and splendor of spring! Calamity has hardened my mind, and turned it to steel!! Power to the People"
Dear Fay, 3On the occasion of your and Senator Dymally's tour and investigation into the affairs here at Soledad, I detected in the questions posed by your team a desire to isolate some rationale that would explain why racism exists at the prison with "particular prominence." Of course the subject was really too large to be dealt with in one tour and in the short time they allowed you, but it was a brave scene. My small but mighty mouthpiece, and the black establishment senator and his team, invading the state's maximum security row in the worst of its concentration camps. I think you are the first woman to be allowed to inspect these facilities. Thanks from all. The question was too large, however. It's tied into the question of why all these California prisons vary in character and flavor in general. It's tied into the larger question of why racism exists in this whole society with "particular prominence," tied into history. Out of it comes another question. Why do California joints produce more Bunchy Carters and Eldridge Cleavers than those over the rest of the country?
I understand your attempt to isolate the set of localized circumstances that give to this particular prison's problems of race is based on a desire to aid us right now, in the present crisis. There are some changes that could be made right now that would alleviate some of the pressures inside this and other prisons. But to get at the causes, you know, one would be forced to deal with questions at the very center of Amerikan political and economic life, at the core of the Amerikan historical experience. This prison didn't come to exist where it does just by happenstance. Those who inhabit it and feed off its existence are historical products. The great majority of Soledad pigs are southern migrants who do not want to work in the fields and farms of the area, who couldn't sell cars or insurance, and who couldn't tolerate the discipline of the army. And of course prisons attract sadists. After one concedes that racism is stamped unalterably into the present nature of Amerikan sociopolitical and economic life in general (the definition of fascism is: a police state wherein the political ascendancy is tied into and protects the interests of the upper class — characterized by militarism,racism, and imperialism), and concedes further that criminals and crime arise from material, economic, sociopolitical causes, we can then burn all of the criminology and penology libraries and direct our attention where it will do some good.
The logical place to begin any investigation into the problems of California prisons is with our "pigs are beautiful" Governor Reagan, radical reformer turned reactionary. For a real understanding of the failure of prison policies, it is senseless to continue to study the criminal. All of those who can afford to be honest know that the real victim, that poor, uneducated, disorganized man who finds himself a convicted criminal, is simply the end result of a long chain of corruption and mismanagement that starts with people like Reagan and his political appointees in Sacramento. After one investigates Reagan's character (what makes a turncoat) the next logical step in the inquiry would be a look into the biggest political prize of the state — the directorship of the Department of Correction.
All other lines of inquiry would be like walking backward. You'll never see where you're going. You must begin with directors, assistant directors, adult authority boards, roving boards, supervisors, wardens, captains, and guards. You have to examine these people from director down to guard before you can logically examine their product. Add to this some concrete and steel, barbed wire, rifles, pistols, clubs, the tear gas that killed Brother Billingslea in San Quentin in February 1970, while he was locked in his cell and the pick handles of Folsom, San Quentin, and Soledad.
To determine how men will behave once they enter the prison it is of first importance to know that prison. Men are brutalized by their environment — not the reverse.
I gave you a good example of this when I saw you last. Where I am presently being held, they never allow us to leave our cell without first handcuffing us and belting or chaining the cuffs to our waists. This is preceded always by a very thorough skin search. A force of a dozen or more pigs can be expected to invade the row at any time searching and destroying personal effects. The attitude of the staff toward the convicts is both defensive and hostile. Until the convict gives in completely it will continue to be so. By giving in, I mean prostrating oneself at their feet. Only then does their attitude alter itself to one of paternalistic condescension. Most convicts don't dig this kind of relationship (though there are some who do love it) with a group of individuals demonstrably inferior to the rest of the society in regard to education, culture, and sensitivity. Our cells are so far from the regular dining area that our food is always cold before we get it. Some days there is only one meal that can be called cooked. We never get anything but cold-cut sandwiches for lunch. There is no variety to the menu. The same things week after week. One is confined to his cell 23½ hours a day. Overt racism exists unchecked. It is not a case of the pigs trying to stop the many racist attacks; they actively encourage them.
They are fighting upstairs right now. It's 11:10 A.M., June 11. No black is supposed to be on the tier upstairs with anyone but other blacks but — mistakes take place — and one or two blacks end up on the tier with 9 or 10 white convicts frustrated by the living conditions or openly working with the pigs. The whole ceiling is trembling. In hand-to-hand combat we always win; we lose sometimes if the pigs give them knives or zip guns. Lunch will be delayed today, the tear gas or whatever it is drifts down to sting my nose and eyes. Someone is hurt bad. I hear the meat wagon from the hospital being brought up. Pigs probably gave them some weapons. But I must be fair. Sometimes (not more often than necessary) they'll set up one of the Mexican or white convicts. He'll be one who has not been sufficiently racist in his attitudes. After the brothers (enraged by previous attacks) kick on this white convict whom the officials have set up, he'll fall right into line with the rest.
I was saying that the great majority of the people who live in this area of the state and seek their employment from this institution have overt racism as atraditional aspect of their characters. The only stops that regulate how far they will carry this thing come from the fear of losing employment here as a result of the outside pressures to control the violence. That is O Wing, Max (Maximum Security) Row Soledad — in part anyway.
Take an individual who has been in the general prison population for a time. Picture him as an average convict with the average twelve-year-old mentality, the nation's norm. He wants out, he wants a woman and a beer. Let's say this average convict is white and has just been caught attempting to escape. They may put him on Max Row. This is the worst thing that will ever happen to him. In the general population facility there are no chains and cuffs. TVs, radios, record players, civilian sweaters, keys to his own cell for daytime use, serve to keep his mind off his real problems. There is also a recreation yard with all sorts of balls and instruments to strike or thrust at. There is a gym. There are movies and a library well stocked with light fiction. And of course there is work, where for 2 or 3 cents an hour convicts here at Soledad make paper products, furniture, and clothing. Some people actually like this work since it does provide some money for the small things and helps them to get through their day —without thinking about their real problems.
Take an innocent con out of this general population setting (because a pig "thought" he may have seen him attempting a lock). Bring him to any part of O Wing (the worst part of the adjustment center of which Max Row is a part). He will be cuffed, chained, belted, pressured by the police who think that every convict should be an informer. He will be pressured by the white cons to join their racist brand of politics (they all go under the nickname "Hitler's Helpers"). If he is presidposed to help black he will be pushed away — by black. Three weeks is enough. The strongest hold out no more than a couple of weeks. There has been one white many only to go through this O Wing experience without losing his balance, without allowing himself to succumb to the madness of ribald, protrusive racism.
It destroys the logical processes of the mind, a man's thoughts become completely disorganized. The noise, madness streaming from every throat, frustrated sounds from the bars, metallic sounds from the walls, the steel trays, the iron beds bolted to the wall, the hollow sounds from a cast-iron sink or toilet.
The smells, the human waste thrown at us, unwashed bodies, the rotten food. When a white con leaves here he's ruined for life. No black leaves Max Row walking. Either he leaves on the meat wagon or he leaves crawling licking at the pig's feet.
Ironic, because one cannot get a parole to the outside prison directly from O Wing, Max Row. It's positively not done. The parole board won't even consider the Max Row case. So a man licks at the feet of the pig not for a release to the outside world but for the privilege of going upstairs to O Wing adjustment center. There the licking process must continue if a parole is the object. You can count on one hand the number of people who have been paroled to the streets from O Wing proper in all the years that the prison has existed. No one goes from O Wing, Max Row straight to the general prison population. To go from here to the outside world is unthinkable. A man mustgo from Max Row to the regular adjustment center facility upstairs. Then from there to the general prison population. Only then can he entertain throughts of eventual release to the outside world.
One can understand the depression felt by an inmate on Max Row. He's fallen as far as he can into the social trap, relief is so distant that is very easy for him to lose his holds. In two weeks that little average man who may have ended up on Max Row for suspicion of attempted escape is so brutalized, so completely without holds, that he will never heal again. It's worse than Vietnam.
He's dodging lead. He may be forced to fight a duel to the death with knives. If he doesn't sound and act more zealous than everyone else he will be challenged for not being loyal to his race and its politics, fascism. Some of these cons support the pigs' racism without shame, the others support it inadvertently by their own racism. The former are white, the latter black. But in here as on the street black racism is a forced reaction. A survival adaptation.
The picture that I have painted of Soledad's general population facility may have made it sound not too bad at all. That mistaken impression would result from the absence in my description of one more very important feature of the main line — terrorism. A frightening, petrifying diffusion of violence and intimidation is emitted from the offices of the warden and captain. How else could a small group of armed men be expected to hold and rule another much larger group except through fear?
We have a gym (inducement to throw away our energies with a ball instead of revolution). But if you walk into this gym with a cigarette burning, you're probably in trouble. There is a pig waiting to trap you. There's a sign "No Smoking." If you miss the sign, trouble. If you drop the cigarette to comply, trouble. The floor is regarded as something of a fire hazard (I'm not certain what the pretext is). There are no receptacles. The pig will pounce. You'll be told in no uncertain terms to scrape the cigarette from the floor with your hands. It builds from there. You have a gym but only certain things may be done and in specified ways. Since the rules change with the pigs' mood, it is really safer for a man to stay in his cell.
You have work with emoluments that range from nothing to three cents an hour! But once you accept the pay job in the prison's industrial sector you cannot get out without going through the bad conduct process. When workers are needed, it isn't a case of accepting a job in this area. You take the job or you're automatically refusing to work, even if you clearly stated that you would cooperate in other employment. The same atmosphere prevails on the recreation yard where any type of minor mistake could result not in merely a bad conduct report and placement in adjustment center, but death. A fistfight, a temporary, trivial loss of temper will bring a fusillade of bullets down on the darker of the two men fighting.
You can't begin to measure the bad feeling caused by the existence of one TV set shared by 140 men. Think! One TV, 140 men. If there is more than one channel, what's going to occur? In Soledad's TV rooms there has been murder, mayhem, and destruction of many TV sets.
The blacks occupy one side of the room and the whites and Mexicans the other. (Isn't it significant in some way that our numbers in prison are sufficient to justify the claiming of half of all these facilities?)
We have a side, they have a side. What does your imagination envisage out of a hypothetical situation where Nina Simone sings, Angela Davis speaks, and Jim Brown "splits" on one channel, while Merle Haggard yodels and begs for an ass kicking on another. The fight will follow immediately after some brother, who is less democratic than he is starved for beauty (we did vote but they're 60 to our 40), turns the station to see Angela Davis. What lines do you think the fighting will be along? Won't it be Angela and me against Merle Haggard?
But this situation is tolerable at least up to a point. It was worse. When I entered the joint on this offense, they had half and we had half, but out half was in the back.
In a case like the one just mentioned, the white convicts will start passing the word among themselves that all whites should be in the TV room to vote in the "Cadillac cowboy." The two groups polarize out of a situation created by whom? It's just like the outside. Nothing at all complicated about it. When people walk on each other, when disharmony is the norm, when organisms start falling apart it is the fault of these whose responsibility it is to govern. They're doing something wrong. They shouldn't have been trusted with the responsibility. And long-range political activity isn't going to help that man who will die tomorrow or tonight. The apologists recognize that these places are controlled by absolute terror, but they justify the pig's excesses with the argument that we exist outside the practice of any civilized codes of conduct. Since we are convicts rather than men, a bullet through the heat, summary execution for fistfighting or stepping across a line is not extreme or unsound at all. An official is allowed full range in violent means because a convict can be handled no other way.
Fay, have you ever considered what type of man is capable of handling absolute power. I mean how many would not abuse it? Is there any way of isolating or classifying generally who can be trusted with a gun and absolutediscretion as to who he will kill? I've already mentioned that most of them are KKK types. The rest, all the rest, in general, are so stupid that they shouldn't be allowed to run their own bath. A responsible state government would have found a means of weeding out most of the savage types that are drawn to gunslinger jobs long ago. How did all these pigs get through?! Men who can barely read, write, or reason. How did they get through!!? You may as well give a baboon a gun and set him loose on us!! It's the same in here as on the streets out there. Who has loosed this thing on an already suffering people? The Reagans, Nixons, the men who have, who own. Investigate them!! There are no qualifications asked, no experience necessary. Any fool who falls in here and can sign his name might shoot me tomorrow from a position 30 feet above my head with an automatic military rifle!! He could be dead drunk. It could really be an accident (a million to one it won't be, however), but he'll be protected still. He won't even miss a day's wages.
The textbooks on criminology like to advance the idea that prisoners are mentally defective. There is only the merest suggestion that the system itself is at fault. Penologists regard prisons as asylums. Most policy is formulated in a bureau that operates under the heading Department of Corrections. But what can we say about these asylums since none of the inmates are ever cured. Since in every instance they are sent out of the prison more damaged physically and mentally than when they entered. Because that is the reality. Do you continue to investigate the inmate? Where does administrative responsibility begin? Perhaps the administration of the prison cannot be held accountable for every individual act of their charges, but when things fly apart along racial lines, when the breakdown can be traced so clearly to circumstances even beyond the control of the guards and administration, investigation of anything outside the tenets of the fascist system itself is futile.
Nothing has improved, nothing has changed in the weeks since your team was here. We're on the same course, the blacks are fast losing the last of their restraints. Growing numbers of blacks are openly passed over when paroles are considered. They have become aware that their only hope lies in resistence. They have learned that resistence is actually possible. The holds are beginning to slip away. Very few men imprisoned for economic crimes or even crimes of passion against the oppressor feel that they are really guilty. Most of today's black convicts have come to understand that they are the most abused victims of an unrighteous order. Up until now, the prospect of parole has kept us from confronting our captors with any real determination. But now with the living conditions of these places deteriorating, and with the sure knowledge that we are slated for destruction, we have been transformed into an implacable army of liberation. The shift to the revolutionary antiestablishment position that Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and Bobby Seale projected as a solution to the problems of Amerika's black colonies has taken firm hold of these brothers' minds. They are now showing great interest in the thoughts of Mao Tse-tung, Nkrumah, Lenin, Marx, and the achievements of men like Che Guevara, Giap, and Uncle Ho.
Some people are going to get killed out of this situation that is growing. That is not a warning (or wishful thinking). I see it as an "unavoidable consequence" of placing and leaving control of our lives in the hands of men like Reagan.
These prisons have always borne a certain resemblance to Dachau and Buchenwald, places for the bad niggers, Mexicans, and poor whites. But the last ten years have brought an increase in the percentage of blacks for crimes that can clearly be traced to political-economic causes. There are still some blacks here who consider themselves criminals — but not many. Believe me, my friend, with the time and incentive that these brothers have to read, study, and think, you will find no class or category more aware, more embittered, desperate, or dedicated to the ultimate remedy — revolution. The most dedicated, the best of our kind — you'll find them in the Folsoms, San Quentins, and Soledads. They live like there was no tomorrow. And for most of them there isn't. Somewhere along the line they sensed this. Life on the installment plan, three years of prison, three months on parole; then back to start all over again, sometimes in the same cell. Parole officers have sent brothers back to the joint for selling newspapers (the Black Panther paper). Their official reason is "Failure to Maintain Gainful Employment," etc.
We're something like 40 to 42 percent of the prison population. Perhaps more, since I'm relying on material published by the media. The leadership of the black prison population now definitely identifies with Huey, Bobby, Angela, Eldridge, and antifascism. The savage repression of blacks which can be estimated by reading the obituary columns of the nation's dailies, Fred Hampton, etc., has not failed to register on the black inmates. The holds are fast being broken. Men who read Lenin, Fanon, and Che don't riot, "they mass," "they rage," they dig graves.
When John Clutchette was first accused of this murder he was proud, conscious, aware of his own worth but uncommitted to any specific remedial action. Review the process that they are sending this beautiful brother through now. It comes at the end of a long train of similar incidents in his prison life. Add to this all of the things he has witnessed happening to others of our group here. Comrade Fleeta spent eleven months here in O Wing for possessing photography taken from a newsweekly. It is such things that explain why California prisons produce more than their share of Bunchy Carters and Eldridge Cleavers.
Fay, there are only two types of blacks ever released from these places, the Carters and the broken men.
The broken men are so damaged that they will never again be suitable members of any sort of social unit. Everything that was still good when they entered the joint, anything inside of them that may have escaped the ruinous effects of black colonial existence, anything that may have been redeemable when they first entered the joint — is gone when they leave.
This camp brings out the very best in brothers or destroys them entirely. But none are unaffected. None who leave here are normal. If I leave here alive, I'll leave nothing behind. They'll never count me among the broken men, but I can't say that I am normal either. I've been hungry too long. I've gotten angry too often. I've been lied to and insulted too many times. They've pushed me over the line from which there can be no retreat. I know that they will not be satisfied until they've pushed me out of this existence altogether. I've been the victim of so many racist attacks that I could never relax again. My reflexes will never be normal again. I'm like a dog that has gone through the K — 9 process.
This is not the first attempt the institution (camp) has made to murder me. It is the most determined attempt, but not the first.
I look into myself at the close of every one of these pretrial days for any changes that may have taken place. I can still smile now, after ten years of blocking knife thrusts and pick handles, of anticipating and faceless sadistic pigs, reacting for ten years, seven of them in Solitary. I can still smile sometimes, but by the time this thing is over I may not be a nice person. And I just lit my seventy-seventh cigarette of this 21-hour day. I'm going to lay down for two or three hours, perhaps I'll sleep . . .
Seize the Time.
JUNE, 1970 12
You know I had a visit yesterday from an old friend, Joan. They told her she couldn't come back again, an economy move. It costs the state too much to supervise my half-hour visits, so I'll be held incommunicado it seems. They turned my sister away today. Someone is going to have to come up with some guts. These fools must be stopped. Absolute power in the hands of idiots! It makes me think of Rome and England. Do you know where the barbarians and guerrillas are going to come from to destroy Imperial Amerika, from the black colonies and these concentration camps. The three of us are the only convicts in this joint who have to accept half-hour visits, with a special guard, handcuffed and chained. Now it seems we won't even get that. My sister, my brother can't visit me in what could be the last days of my life! Well, one good thing comes from this experience; no question remains in the minds of any member of my family as to where their energies would best be spent. My father will have a whole den of Panthers there to feed.
With each attempt the pigs made on my life in San Quentin, I would send an SOS out to my family. They would always respond by listening and writing letters to the joint pigs and Sacramento rats, but they didn't entirely accept that I was telling them the truth about the pig mentality. I would get dubious stares when I told them the lieutenants and the others who propositioned some of the most vicious white convicts in the state: "Kill Jackson, we'll do you some good." You understand, my father wanted to know why. And all I could tell him was that I related to Mao and couldn't kowtow. His mind couldn't deal with it. I would use every device, every historical and current example I could reach to explain to him that there were no-good pigs. But the task was too big, I was fighting his mind first, and his fear of admitting the existence of an identifiable enemy element that was oppressing us because that would either commit him to attack that enemy or force him to admit his cowardice. I was also fighting the establishment's public relations and propaganda machine. The prisons all use the clean, straight faces, or the old, harmless-looking pigs to work in areas where they must come in contact with free people. And these pigs are never allowed to use their tusks. Regarding the racism, my father would remind me that there were black pigs too. But, of course, that means nothing at all. They simply work around the blacks when necessary. One guard or two guards working together is all that's needed to murder any con in the joint. But it isn't really necessary to work around the black pigs. They'll all cooperate or turn their heads.
The black cop could be a large factor in preventing our genocide. But no help can be expected from that quarter. The same stupidity and desperation that brought him to the gates prevents him from interceding. The job, the wage means too much to him. Often he feels compelled to prove himself, prove that he is loyal to the force, prove that he is not prejudiced in favor of us, prove that he is honest. His honesty prevents him from dealing in contraband as every white pig does. Look, I was in San Quentin for seven straight years. I knew everything that was brought in and by whom. The white pig actually considers it his privilege to supplement his income by bringing in and selling narcotics, weapons, and, of course, pornography. The black pig is afraid, too unsure of his position to be dishonest.
This same fear will cause him to show more zeal in the "club therapy" sessions than even the whites manage. If the victim is black, he's going to get so mad that the white pigs will have to stand back and let him swing. If they don't have murder planned for that session, they'll have to pull that nigger off of you. A pig — is a pig.
It all falls into place. I see the whole thing much clearer now, how fascism has taken possession of this country. the interlocking dictatorship from country level on up to the Grand Dragon in Washington, D.C.
The solidarity between the prison here and the court in Salinas, between the judge and grand jury, the judge and the D.A. and other city officials. The institution has effectively cut me off from any relief. The unmeek have taken over this whole county, the state, the entire country. They work together, to the same end, effective control.
I knew of these links before this, long before this, but seeing it in operation is pretty frightening. What force binds them together? I'm referring to the intermediary, the physical thing, not the ideal. What is it that really ties that fat rat with a chain of department stores to a uniformed pig? The fat rat wants the country and world policed, made safe for his business to expand. But how does he sell the ideal to the man who must do the policing? Money is the bond I think. They're in it for the money, these pigs and skinny rats. The fascist ideal doesn't really take hold until one gets into the upper levels of the power pyramid. Then any ideal that preserves becomes attractive.
People's government would decentralize this power that they hold over us — these men must be stopped.
Power to the People.
JUNE, 1970 13
No one here knows about the scheduled court hearing. They say we're not going. The prison doesn't like moving us, so somehow they have managed to arrange with the judge to leave us out of our own trial! Or pretrial. Can they try us in absentia (is that the term??)? Some bull (pig I mean) just said that the judge under no circumstances wants us in his court. In that case they shouldn't mind dropping the whole thing or sending us to another county for trial. Berkeley perhaps. But as you've said more than likely it'll be Orange County.
Why do we accept this sort of thing? We have numerical superiority — but they have guns and money. And then the righteous don't like to cut throats, so we languish in misery.
When you finally get me out of this mess, you'll have to send me away somewhere for a while, somewhere like Cuba or China or Tanzania, so that I can reorient myself. My understanding had been strained to the utmost.
JUNE, 1970 14
I don't think we can afford to be nice much longer, the very last of our protection is eroding from under us. There will be no means of detecting when that last right is gone. You'll only know when they start shooting you. The process must be checked somewhere between now and then, or we'll be fighting from a position of weakness with our backs against the wall. (I think we still have the advantage now.) We of the black colony know about that kind of action, fighting off of the wall. It's not the best way to get down.
It's getting tighter here, they're taking our visits. It looks as if they're stopping our court appearances. They also made a mistake concerning our "money draw" this month. This means we'll be without the little things even.
You may never read this letter either, our mail is being held back, returned, thrown away somewhere. Nice people aren't they? They richly deserve anything we can do to them. This man who just passed my cell counting, he'll never listen to reason. His mind isn't constructed that way. While we reason with him in ideals and ideas, he isn't listening. He is thinking about which rule he'll quote to dismiss us. When he walks away, you'll see the little code book protruding from his ass pocket. That's where he carries his mind, in his ass pocket. When we attack the problem with intellectualism we give away the advantage we have in numbers.
I'm with Bobby! We are going to have to kick him where he keeps his brain, in the region of the ass.
Live from Death Row Paperback by Mumia Abu-jamal (Author) , John Edgar Wideman (Introduction)
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, and Mr. Chairman. It is with pride that I introduce this resolution with 120 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. It is with pride that I serve as a member of this institution, in this building that was built with slave labor, and for which the new Visitors Gallery will be known as Emancipation Hall. It was a gentleman from this side of the aisle, the party of Lincoln, Representative Zach Wamp from my state, and this side of the aisle, Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., who eloquently spoke to a subcommittee of which I'm a member, urging the remembrance and recognition of the work of the slaves who helped construct this magnificent capitol building and have the entryway named Emancipation Hall.
This country had an institution of slavery for 246 years and followed it with Jim Crow laws that denied people equal opportunity under the law. There was segregation in the south and other places in this country, at least through the year 1965 when civil rights laws were passed. There were separate water fountains for people, marked white and colored, there were restaurants, there were separate hotels, there were job opportunities that were not available to African-Americans. There were theaters that were segregated.
It's hard to imagine, in 2008, that such a society existed and was sanctioned by law, that the laws of the nation provided for segregation and enforced slave fugitive slave laws. In fact, the history of slavery goes not just through the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to our constitution, but as so eloquently written, just yesterday, in "The Baltimore Sun" in an editorial by Mr. Leonard Pitts Jr., that slavery existed up until about World War II, but it was a form of slavery where people were bought and sold for debts, it was slavery by another name. In a book called Slavery By Another Name by Douglass Blackman, a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, when he talked about a convict leasing system in the south where in poor black men were routinely snatched up and tried on false petty or nonexistent charges by compliant courts, assessed some fine they could not afford, and then put into the servitude of an individual who bought them. This system continued up until World War II.
The fact is, slavery and Jim Crow are stains upon what is the greatest nation on the face of the earth and the greatest government ever conceived by man. But when we conceived this government and said all men were created equal we didn't in fact make all men equal, nor did we make women equal. We have worked to form a more perfect union, and part of forming a more perfect union is laws, and part of it is such as resolutions like we have before us today where we face up to our mistakes and we apologize, as anyone should apologize for things that were done in the past that were wrong. And we begin a dialogue that will hopefully lead us to a better understanding of where we are in America today and why certain conditions exist.
In 1997, President Clinton talked to the nation about the problem this country had with race. And he wanted a national dialogue. He considered an apology for slavery. I happened to run into President Clinton at that time, at the Amtrak station here in Washington and discussed with him having an apology for Jim Crow as well as slavery. I encompassed that in a letter dated July 2, 1997 that as a state Senator in Tennessee I wrote to President Clinton. In that letter, I urged him to have a slavery apology and a Jim Crow apology and to mark it on the 30th Anniversary of the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and that event tragically took place in April of 1968 in my city and that the appropriate time for President Clinton to have that apology would be on that 30th anniversary.
In going through my papers as I was elected to congress, I found this letter and I thought about it and I said to myself, you're a member of congress, you don't need to wait on a response from the President of the United States, which my friend, the president's office, failed to make a response. I can take action myself. So I introduced the resolution in February of 2007 with 120 sponsors joining me as time went on. It is important on this day that we admit our error, that we apologize. I've been in this body and voted with the rest of the body on unanimous voice vote to encourage, this past year, the Japanese Government to apologize for its use of Chinese women as "comfort women" during the war. And not a voice was raised questioning that resolution which passed unanimously on us calling on a foreign country to apologize for its use of "comfort women." Twenty years ago this congress passed a bill apologizing for the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II. In fact, subsequent to the consideration of this resolution, the distinguished lady from California, Ms. Matsui, has a resolution recognizing and celebrating the 20th anniversary of the passage of that bill.
This Congress did the right thing in apologizing for the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and in encouraging the Japanese Government to apologize for the use of "comfort women." But the fact that this government has not apologized to its own citizens, African-Americans, for the institution of slavery and for the Jim Crow laws that followed and accepted that fact and encouraged changes in our dialogue and understanding in the actions of this country to rectify that is certainly a mistake. And today we rectify that mistake. This is a symbolic resolution but hopefully it will begin a dialogue where people will open their hearts and their minds to the problems that face this country, from racism that exists in this country on both sides and which must end if we're to go forward as the country that we were created to be and which we are destined to be. So it is with great honor that I speak on this resolution and urge the members of this body to pass this historic resolution, recognize our errors, but also recognize the greatness of this country, because only a great country can recognize and admit its mistakes and then travel forth to create indeed a more perfect union that works to bring people of all races, religions and creeds together in unity as Americans part of the United States of America. Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the time and I urge my colleagues to vote unanimously to pass this resolution today. Thank you.
Soul on Ice Paperback by Eldridge Cleaver
Antique colored slide of Gordon during his 1863 medical examination Known for Pivotal figure in exposing the brutality of slavery
To Die for the People Paperback by Huey Newton (Author) , Toni Morrison (Editor)
Master And Slave Treatment
The picture of slave treatment and of slave response which we get from the slave narratives and interviews provides a much more balanced and concretely realistic view. slave interviews enable us to see maltreatment of the slaves within the context of the total life of the slaves, who, while oppressed and exploited, were not turned into brutalized victims, but found enough social living space to allow them to survive as whole human beings.
The interviews that were garnered from slaves themselves enable us modern Africans, today, to see slaves as having certain autonomy which they created for themselves in a situation which there were really no instant revolutionaries nor absolute victims. This enables us, too, to see in a very specific and realistic manner the many ways in which slaves were resistant to their decrepit condition.
In the interviews that had been made from the slaves themselves, we are in a position today, to see the conflicts between Maser and Slave that took place daily, and the development of these relations throughout time. In this instance, we are able to se the these conflicts between master and slave in this 'slave-holding' society as harsh,and brutal, and in many as also a way in which these relations were were becoming arranged and set, because there was a constant interaction between African slaves and Whit slave-holders. So that, the resistance that emanated form these relations gave rise to a network of informal organization within that community and really assumed forms and characteristics that in their meaning were derived from that community as it existed at that time.
Also, fro their treatment, the ex-slaves gave narratives and interviews that helped us to see the and become aware to the suffering that the slaves endured from the beatings and whippings; also, there was this fact that they were often poorly fed, clothed in a drab manner and housed in rickety and shoddily built houses.
We are told by Na'im Akbar that:
"This characteristic is a sense of our(African()inferiority as African-American people. This characteristic has been discussed by psychologists more than any other. It has been used as an explanation for nearly every aspect of Africa-American behavior. The self Hatred or low-esteem of African American people has certainly been overworked but is worthy our consideration in this discussion.
"The shrewd slave-makers were fully aware that peopple who still repected themselves as human beings would resist to the death the dehumanizing process of slavery. Therefore, a systematic process of creating a sense of inferiority in the proud Africa was necessary in order to maintain them as slaves. this was done by humiliating and dehumanizing acts such as public beatings, parading them on slave blocks unclothed, and inspecting them as through they were cattle or horses.
"They were forbidden to communicate with other slaves which would have been a basis of maintaining self-respect. Many historians and slave narratives report how young children were separated from tier mothers because the mother's love might cultivate some self-respect in the child.
"Cleanliness and personal effectiveness are fairly essential in the maintenance of self-respct. The slaves were kept filthy and the very nature of physical restraints over long periods of time began to develop in the people a sense of helplessness. the loss of the ability to even clean one's body and to shield oneself from a blow began to teach the slaves that they should have no self-respect.
"These things, conbined with the insults, the loss of cultural traditions, rituals, family life, religion, and even names, served to cement the loss of self-respect. As the slave master exalted himself and enforced respect of himself, he was increasingly viewed as superior to the slaves. The superiority was based on the utter ehumanization of the Africans. The slave was forced to bow and bend to the slave owner and treat him as god. with the if a Caucasian man even as god, and with all kinds of images of Africans as dirty and olny half human, it was inevitable that a sense of inferiority would grow into the African American personality."
This is what Carter G. Woodson observed more than a century ago:
"...to handcap a student for life by teaching him that his black face is a curse that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless, is the worst kind of lynching. It kills one''s aspirations and dooms him to vagabondage and crime."
"This sense of inferiority still affects us in many ways. Our inability to respect African American leadership, our persistent and futile efforts to look like and act like Caucasian people, is based upon this sense of inferiority. The persistent tendency to thin of 'Dark Skin" as unattractive, 'kinky' hair as "bad hair", and African features as less appealing than Caucasian features, come from this sense of inferiority. Our lack of respect for African-American expertise and the irresponsibility of many African-American experts comes from this sense of inferiority.
"The disastrously high Black-on-black homicide rate is in may ways indicative of fundamental disrespect for Black life growing out of this same sense of inferiority. It is a simple fact that people who love themselves seek to preserve tieir lives-notdestroy them.
"The fact that we remain as consumers and laborers, rather than manufacturers, planners, and managers, has a lot to do with the sense of inferiority. The continued portrayal in the media of African-Americans as clowns, servants, crooks(thugs), and incompetents maintain this sense of inferiority. the limited number of powerful and dignified images of African-Americans in the media and the community as a whole reduces our sense of self-respect.
"This is a continuation of the slavery patterns. oOnly those persons who looked like. acted lie, and thought in the frame of reference of the master, were completely acceptable. those earning such acceptance were projected as far superior to those who like, acted like, and thought in the frame of reference of African -self-affrimation."
The slave's accounts of their treatment clearly make the point of the suffering they endured from their beatings and whippings, and highlight the fact that they were often overworked and that the women were regularly used as sexual objects by whites, and also that men were used as as breeding bulls and their children were consistently abused too.
It is also in the same vein that these slave always indicated that they had many ways of compensating and augmenting their food and clothing that was supplied and given to them by their White enslavers, meanwhile, in the process got around having non-regimented social relations with their fellow slaves. In many cases they were able to find ways of breaking these legal boundaries and barriers imposed by slavery, such as learning or teaching themselves to read despite the Apartheidized reality that barred them from learning such skills, because within their lot, regulated by these artificial divisions of house slaves, field slaves, and those slaves that hired out their own time, and gathered news that they circulated amongst themselves that provided news in their communities.
In the slaves telling their stories, we come across a chunk of evidence about the reality and nature of their daily resistance to their enslaved reality that emerged from their semi-independnent communities of slaves.
It is worth noting that physical coercion was necessary to slave societies, particularly for the reality and fact that the slaves outnumbered the enslavers or masters and non-slaving-holidng socieites. George Fitzhugh, and ideologue of the Slave-holding south noted:
"Physical force, not moral suasion, governed the slave world. The African slave was the slave driver's lash, and became accustomed to to be obedient and cheerful in this industry, and was aware that the lash was the force that impelled him [to be a slave]. Fitzhugh was correct that physical force governed and enforced control in the slave's world, and also, that it is a fact, from the slave narratives that the slaves were aware that it was the lashes that compelled him to work and toil as a slave.
A Swiss traveller in the West Indies, writing at the beginning of the nineteenth century, noted that a "mournful silence" pervaded the slave communities. While no doubt that slaves sang and talked about it, it became clear from the slave narratives and interviews that the quality of the slave response, that this 'silence bred 'rebellion.'(George Lamming)
So that it became clear that the whippings were the consequences of group or in most cases, individual resistance. However,, it is either the rebelliousness 'acused' mistreatment or the mistreatment caused rebelliousness. When one reads carefully the slave narratives, both were the same thing and outcome of these social relations between the masters and the slaves that caused either of the results in both cases.
The slave only had o see the lash in order to become pliant to the work routines; he was conditioned and doomed to often feel it. these slaves accounts of the feel of the lash and the paddle on the back were more convincing than Fitzhugh's account and assertion that it was seeing the lash that caused the slaves' industry and that the industry was often "cheerful." Usual, it is more authentic to learn and listen to the slaves' account in their own own words and lived experiences, as Eli Coleman, born a slave in Kentucky recalled in 1846, recalled:
"Massa whooped a slave if he got stubborn or lazy. He whooped one so hard that the slave said he'd kill him. so Massa done put a chain round his legs, so he jes' hardly walk, and he has to work in the field that way. At night he put 'nother chain round his neck and fastened it to a tree. After three weeks Massa turn him loose and he the prodes' nigger in the world, and the hardes' workin' nigger had after that." (FWPSN. Texas, Vol. 1, p. 237)
There were many other accounts of slaves working with chains.. the chain-gang method was a southern invention and Southern penologists after the civil War. Were the wearers of chains submissive, docile, cowed people or were they people so defiant that there was no other way to have kept them in line?. The chains might work, as in the case described above, but there was the ever present danger of other incorrigibles threatening to kill "Massa."
These slave narratives contained many stories of complicated and gruesome methods of punishment. Wes Beady, born in 1849 in texas, had this account of one how one overseer's practice:
"He'd drive four stakes in the ground and tie a nigger down and beat him till hi's raw. then he'd take a brick and grind it up in a powder and mix it with lard and put it all over over him and roll him in a sheet. It's be two days or more 'fore that nigger would work again. I seed one nigger done that way for stealin' a meat bone from the meathouse."(FWPSN)
Richard Carruthers, born a slave in Memphis, Tennesse, in 1829 told of his master who he called "Old Debbill":
"... he used to whup me and the other niggers if we don't jump quick enough when he holler and he stake us out like you stake out a hide and whup [us] till we bleed. Many the time I set down and make a eight-plait whip, so he could whup from the heels to the back of the head 'til he figger he get the proper re'ibution. sometimes he take salt and rub the nigger so he smart and burn proper and suffer mi'sry. They was caliboose right on the plantation, what look like a ice-house, and it was sho' bad to sit locked up in it."(FWPSN, p. 134)
Slavery and Chains
Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton Paperback by Bobby Seale
Thomas Cole, born in 1845 in alabama, was on a plantation where the slaver were not beaten, but he knew many details of beatings "on other plantations":
"... us lucky, 'cause Massa Cole don't whip us. De man that have a place next ours, he sho' whip he slaves. He have de cat-o-nine-tails of rawhide leather platted round a piece of wood for a handle. De wood ;bout ten inches long and de leather braided on pst the stock quite a piece, and 'bout a foot from dat all de strips tied in knot and spangle out, and makes de tassle. dis am call de cracker and it am what split de hide. Some folks call dem bullwhips, 'sted of cat-o-nine-tails. De first thing dat man do when he buy a slave, am give him de whippin'. He call it puttin' de fear of Gawd in him." (FWPSN, p. 227) - [remember the narrative of Na'im Akbar above].
Anne Clarke, aged 112 in 1937, was a repository of horror stories, tales that unfortunately had their counterparts in the reminiscences of may other slaves:
"They'd whop us with a Bullwhip. we got up at 3 o'clock, at 4 we done et and hitched up the mules and went to the fields. We worked all day pullin' fodder and choppin' cotton. Master'd say, "I wan' you t lead dat field today, and if you don't do it, I'll put you in de stocks. Then he'd whop me iffen I didn't know he was talkin' to me.
"Mu poppa was strong. he never has a lick in his life. He helped the master, but one day the master says, "Si, you got to have a whoppin'," and my poppa says, "I never had a whoppin' and you can't whop me." An' the marster says, "But I kin kill you," an' he shot my poppa down. My mama tuk him in the cabin and put him on a pallet. He died.
"When woman was with child they'd dig a hole in the groun' and put their stomach in the 'ole, and then beat 'em. Thy'd allus whop us." (FWPSN, p. 223-224)
Punishments often became complex and ingenious. Loius Cain, born in North Carolina in 1849, told the follwoing story:
"One nigger run to the woods to be a jungle nigger, but Massa cotched him with the dog and took a hot iron and brands him. then he put a bell on him, in a wooden frame what slip slip over the shoulders and under the arms. He made that nigger wear the bell a yea and took it off on Christmans for a present to him. It sho' did make a good nigger out of him." (FWPSN, p. 187)
There were many stories about making the captured runaways wear chains and bells. Carey Davenport, born in slavery in the early 1850s, said:
"One man Jim, he run away lots and sometimes they git the dogs after him. He run away one time and it was so cold his legs git frozen and have to cut his legs off. Sometimes they put chains on runways slaves and chined 'em to the house. I never knowed of 'em puttin' bells on the slaves on our place, but over next to us they did. they had a piece what go round they shoulders and round thy necks with pieces up over they heads and hung up the bell on the piece over they head." (FWPSN, p. 282)
Ida Henry, born in Marshall, Texas, in 1854, also referred to the use of the ball and chain. she said, "when a slave was hard to catch for punishment, dey would make 'em wear ball and chains. De ball was about de size of de head and made of lead." FWPSNOklahoma, p. 135)
Whipping was not only a method of punishment. It was a conscious device to impress upon th slaves that they were slaves; it was a crucial form of social control, particularly if we remember that it was very difficult for slaves to run away successfully. Katie Darling, born in 1849 in texas, indicated that slaves were whipped whether they had broken the master's rules or not:
"When the niggers done anything, Massa bullwhip them, but didn't skin them up often very often. He'd whip the men for half doin' the plowin' or hoein', but if they done it right , he'd find something else to whip them for."FWPSN, Texas, p. Vol. I, p. 229)
Slaves were whipped as a lesson for other slaves. Whipping was part of the entire social structure of slavery; slaves who were foremen or drivers were often the instruments of super-brutality toward the slaves under them. At times slaves would be killed by masters in order to educate other slaves that captured runaways would mot be let off with light punishments. Cato Carter, born i 1836 or 1837 in Alabama, summarized this set of relationships between punishment and social control:
"They whupped the women and they whupped the mens. I used to work some in the tan'ry and we made whups. they'd tie them down to a stob, and give them the whuppin'. some niggers, it takes four men to whup them, but they got it. the nigger driver was meaner than the white folks. thy'd better not leave a blade of grass in the rows. I seed 'em beat a nigger half a day to amke him 'fess up to stealin' a sheep or shoat. Or they'd whup 'em for runnin' away, but not so hard if they came back on their own 'cordance when got hungry and sick in the swamps. but when they had to run 'em down with nigger dogs, thy'd git in bad trouble.
"The Carters never did have any real 'corrigible niggers, but I heard of 'em plenty on other places . When they was real 'corrigible, the White fold said they was like mad dogs and didn't mind to kill them so much as killin' a sheep. They'd take 'em to to ehe graveyard and shot 'em down and bury 'em face downwards, with their shoes on. I never seed it done, but they made some the niggers go for a lesson to them that they could git the same." (FWPSN, p. 205)
American Slavery: 1619-1877 [Paperback] Peter Kolchin
Weapons of African Mass Enslavement
American Slavery, American Freedom [Paperback] Edmund S. Morgan
All right, you can interview me if you wish, but there's really not much to say. I think that white bier you see swinging over the street, just above our heads, with the legend THE FUNERAL OF LIBERTY says it all. Or over there-do you see it?-the union flag hanging upside down? Or there, on those shopkeepers' windows? They're draped in b;lack because today we have collectively committed suicide in Boston.That's why you've got twenty-thousand people out here today. We are dead. We are mourning ourselves as much as we are the decision that went against ANthony Burns
By returning that colored man to his master we have thoroughly undone the revolution. We are not who we say we are. There's nothing left, I'm telling you, but lies and hypocrisy. And so I feel ashamed to wear this uniform. what's that? Yes, I resigned this morning as captain o the watch. Until this trial-this mockery of justice-came along, I was damned proud to be a Marine. My grandfather was with General Washington at Valley Forge. I grew up hearing stories every night at the dinner table about how the`Tree Of Liberty' is watered with the blood of the patriots.
That's Jefferson, in case you didn't know, and form the time I was a boy I have believed that sentiment, sir, with all mu heart and soul. I cut my teeth on the words of Thomas Paine. On his belief that our Revolution, our freedom, was worth protecting with my life, if need be. I was a soldier. My daily bread was duty and obedience to the nation I served. So yes, I suppose it seems odd that I disobeyed a direct order from my commanding officer to escort Burns from his jail in the courthouse in order for this contingent of men to march him back into bondage.
But it's not odd, I'm saying. You can quote ,e on that. My refusal to be a party to the enslavement of another human being is of a piece with my grandfather's resistance to British oppression during the war. There's the rub! D'you see what we've become? By holding the Negroes in slavery we are the very enemy we fought in 1776. As a patriot to the principle, if not this wretched government that intensified the Fugitive Slave Act four years ago, I have chosen to leave the military that has been my life. Now tell me again, what newspaper did you say you represent?
Rendition Of Burns(Artist's Impression) 1899
Continuing the Saga of Burns
"Disappointed? Why, yes, I suppose you can say that. I have been here in Boston for the last moth on business. What is my business? Tobacco. My home is Charleston, and what that means is that I know a great deal more about Negroes and their needs than do you Northerners. I've watched this trial, you know, for the last nine days.By my calculations, the cost of returning this runaway to his owner is a riot, the life of one U.S. marshal, and $50,000, which must be taken from the public treasury. No doubt the North will find a new way to tax the South to pay for the expenses.
sFrom my hotel window I saw the abolitionists when they stormed the southwest door of the courthouse, determined to break out this "Nigra" Burns and set him free. I was watching too when it was over and the body of the marshal's deputy was brought outside. What I wish to know is why no one called that criminal action by its proper name: treason. It is blatantly against recent legislation, and the Constitution, to harbor or abet a fugitive 'Nigra'.
He is property,first and foremost, if you were in that courthouse on the last day of the trial, as I was, you would have seen the recognition in Burns's eyes when his master appeared-it was the look of a craven, guilty animal cornered at last. But was anyone here, in this city, at all pleased that the rightful goods of an honest man were restored? That today the law is being enforced? Hardly. And that is why I am illy plesed. Nay, disgusted. If this tenuous union is to prevail, which I doubt increasingly everyday I am in Boston, they you Yankees must honor the customs and way of life in the southern states.
You Must-I put it to you, sir-stop this rape of our rights. Ho, you don't agree with me? Then consider these facts:since declaring independnence. the United States has acquired 2,373,046 square miles of territory from which it has excluded the South. but it is the slavery question that stings us most. On this the North has been irrational. You-and your agitators for Negro Manumission who now control the government-force the South to choose between abolition or secession. We have no say in this government. No a'tall!
As John C. Calhoun put it, what was once a constitutional federal republic has been subverted and transformed into one that is as absolutist as that of of the Autocrat of Russia. Can you see the South's position? My position? I do not want my business destroyed. My liberties rescinded. Or to see an inferior race released upon the South to wreak havoc with all that is genteel, civilized, and sanctioned by the Almighty.but that is what is happening day after day, and it will result-mark my words-in the dissolution of the union. No, if you know the Negro better, you would not have such a long face today. But enough! This insufferable Government will be the ruin of us all..."
"Aye, guv'nor, I think its a pitiful sight! All those soldiers and a canno jst to send one poor black devil back into slavery? sweet, merciful Heaven, what's to become of us! What'd e ye say? That's right I wons this bakery behind us. worked on ships twelve years afore I can buy it. And it was me put black drapery in the years afore I could buy it.And it was me put black drapery in the window this morning. sure now, I worked beside coloreds, unloadin' boats when they came in, and far as I can see they're no diff'rent than other blokes here in Boston. I'd wager a few are better citizens.
"They have to be. Some of 'em are fugitives, sure enough. they run here to away from their bloody owners, find wives and husbands, and start families. And what's this new law say? I tell ye! It says a man kin be torn away from his rightful wife and wee li'l, put into chains like that fellah Burns, and taken back to a life of torture. Anyone kin see why this city is under martial law. No selfprespectin' Christian can just stand by and watch the Devil at work tight outside his door. No, guv'nor, ir we don't right this wrong-and bloody soon-we all deserve to burn in hell
Slave Kidnap Post
The Story of Burns continues
"You want to know about that night? Fine, then, I'll tell you, but only if your newspaper prints exactly what I say. And as I say it. After Anthony was captured and locked away in the courthouse, a public meeting to discuss his plight was called at Faneuil Hall. The time was seven oclock. I should have been on my to work at the hotel. I'ma waiter, and a damned good one, but I saw the notice of what the were doing to this Blackman. I couldn't carry on as if if everything was normal, now could I? So I went to the meeting at Faneuil Hall.
"I sat for an hour listening to the city's important colored and white men debating the question of what to do about poor Anthony's imprisonment. You know, it's always his way when Whites and Boston's officially chosen Black spokesmen are brought together to confront the evils of oppression. Nothing happens but talk. Guilty Whites bare their souls. They listen, oh so sympathetically, to handpicked representatives of the negro community narrate a litany of abuses they've endured since childhood. And nothing gets done!
"I hate those meetings. I've been to dozens of them, and after every one the Whites feel so much better about themselves because they spent an evening with their darker brothers, and the official Negros-oh,let me tell you!-they use those meetings to emotionally blackmail White people, wringing concessions out of them for their own personal advancement.
"I left in disgust with a friend of mine, another waiter, who informed me that only a few blocks away another gathering of only Blacks was about to take place to decide what to do about Anthony. We went there straightaway. The room held about ten men and women. There wasn't a Negro spokesman anywhere to be seen. The talk was over in ten minutes, I tell you! For what was there, after all, to discuss? A man was being enslaved. We had to free him. Period.
"Fifteen minutes after my friend and I arrived, we were all out on the street,moving on to the courthouse, battering at its door. When word of our attack reached Faneuil Hall-where they were still talking, trying to determine what to do-the Hall emptied, and they joined us in our assault. As you know, we were beaten back by the guards, and driven away, but not before that marshal's deputy was killed. No, I cannot tell you how he died. but when he did, that was all the excuse the authorities needed to bring in eight companies of militia and the United States Marines.
"The sight of them on the streets makes me sick. The are arrogant! Worse, they tell me that the government is a willing accomplice in this crime against Anthony Burns. Would that I could do something! You know, Blacks comprise the entire class of waiters here in boston. We took a vow-all of us-to refuse to serve an of he soldiers who have taken over this city. It's a small thing, I know. But during this crises, even meager acts of resistance are better than none at all. And whose side, pray, are you on?"
The Trial Of Anthony Burns
Remembering Anthony Burns
Continuing The Saga Of Anthony Burns
"You want my opinion of this affair? Mine? Do you know who I am? For your information, I am a mystic, a Transcendentalist, and a natural philospher. I have been imprisoned by this government for refusing to pay my poll tax, the reason being that I knew it was applied to the support of slavery. I have spoken with John Brown. I am, you should know, an advocate of civil disobedience. And you still want to quote me? Very well. Write this down young man:
"My thoughts are murder to the State today. Little by little, week by week, I have watched the AMerican government lose its integrity. Now it endeavors to make all of us agents of injustice. One can no longer be associated with it except in disgrace. Look around you right now. D'you see that detachment of lancers marching in front of Anthony burns? They are unthinking machines of the State, serving it with their bodies, and they command no more respect from me than men of straw or a lump of dirt.
"An over there, in the courthouse, we have legislators, politicians, and lawyers who serve the State with their heads, though they rarely make any moral distinctions, and thus are as likely to serve the Devil, without intending it, as God. All of them tools of the State,not men, and the slave BGovernment that is their master has on this day forced them to commit a crime against humanity.
"My advice to all Anthony Burns's friends who call themselves abolitionists is that they should effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of first Massachusetts, then the United States. They must see that the only social obligation any of us have is to do ant any time what we know is right. they must be willing to go to prison for their beliefs, Just as Anthony Burns is now being led to a lifelong prison sentence; they must , I am saying, get it into their heads, once and for all, that any State that can do to a man what we have done today must be torn down, destroyed, and let the Devil take the hindmost.
"The, when this stain on our souls has been scrubbed away through revolution, perhaps men and women of god. blacks and Whites, can rebuild America with wood less crooked than that used by the Founders.did you get all that? Even the part about the Government officials? Good. Now please excuse me. I must return to my room for a time to write down all the details I can remember of this monstrous day. One of the most important things we can do, young man, is never forget..."
Anthony Burns - Boston's Last Mistake
The African Family In slavey in the United States
African Family Under Slavery In The United States
Kenneth Stampp days that "the slave houses were in a rude, one-room huts, but with a substantial minority of slaves having "snug dwellings of logs covered with weather boarding, or frame houses of bricks, clapboards, or shingles. This is what he had to write about the social consequences of these living arrangements:
"Since slave mothers and fathers both customarily labored full-tim for the master, while their children supervised by the mistress or by an old slave woman,their cabins merely served as places to sleep and as shelters during the inclement weather. Most of their dwellings were obviously designed for these simple purposes, not as centers of an active family life."
The slave dwelling being seen as not designed for family dwelling and upbringing, this was by design. The slaves routine around this enclaves was that of hanging around, if the weather permited. they usually cooked outdoors or in a cooking shed; slaves had nowhere to go and hung around their dwellings, smoking-children played in front of their huts; and as they engaged in various chores, gossip was the staple. This is they type of life-style not unique to the slaves in the US, but many people around the world were living the same way as did the slaves in the US, although some of them were not enslaved but were poor.
But this is what Stampp wrote in specific reference to the African American slaves:
"Here as at so many other points, the slaves lost their culture without being able to find a workable substitute and therefore lived in a kind of a cultural chaos." This is a misrepresentation in two ways. Stampps sources were almost exclusively White, and Stampp himself could not overcome the present-day White ideological obsession that "innately "Negroes" are, after all, only White men with Black skins, nothing more, nothing less. So that, according to Stampp
, that the slaves were deprived of any life of freedom or not being slaves, they way Whites behaved was normal, so that, if the African slaves were 'permited' to live as free men. Yet we learn from John Hope Franklin as he emphasized all the tendencies that operated to destroy the African family; he asserted that "courtship and normal relationships, preliminary to marriage seldom existed"; that the slave woman "may have learned to care for her husband who had been forced upon her, but the likelihood was not very great"; and that the slave woman did not have "much opportunity to develop real attachment for her children".Franklin was astute enough as a historian and intellectual not to use any language that presupposed the destruction of the African family, thus he wrote:
"... in the absence of institutional controls the relationship between mother and child has become essential social bond in the family and the woman's economic position has developed in her qualities which are associated with a "matriarchal" organization". There is also plenty evidence of the devotion of the slave mother to her own offspring. The Father was often a visitor ti the cabin two or three times a week, and his interests in his children was adventitious. Thus there developed among the the slaves a type of a family that was held together principally by the bonds of blood and feeling existing between the children and the same household (Frazier)
Frazier was generally correct, and the slaves stories themselves add another dimension to his explanation above. Although at times defining the African slave family in the polygamous African past or to see it as an imperfect and loosely variant of the European-American family will be totally misleading. It should be stated here therefore that the AfricanAmerican family under slavery was part of a distinct, viable African culture, adapted to slavery and deprivation.
It should also be carefully noted that slaves were not allowed to make or enter into marriage contracts; and men and women in the slave community did not simply breed conspicuously. There were a variety of socially approved and culturally sanctioned relationships between the different sexes in the slave community; as well as there was less sexual structured sxual contact which led to birth of progeny.
Even though the father did not live with is family, there were families which had a father and mother under one roof. they functioned socially and economically as a single family unit, not dissimilar to the European kinship pattern, and the slave family was consistently broken up by the sale of their members, if the master died, or the master thought that he could make a hefty profits from such a sale, and so on.
The thing about the African slave families and their relationship, these were controlled and facilitated for by the Master, and these masters. Their offsprings, were usually permitted to make sexual alliances on either a casual or formal basis with one or more slave women. But when one listens to the actual accounts of the slaves themselves they begin to give one a picture of the range of possible family arrangements and marriage customs under slavery. One such account was told by Betty Foreman Chessier, who was born a slave in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1834, narrated:
""My Mother was named Melinda Manley, the slave Governor Manley of North Carolina, and my father was named Arnold Foreman, slave of Bob and John Foreman, two young masters. They come over from Arkansas to visit my master and my pappy and mammy met and get married, 'though my pappy only seen my mammy in the summer when his masters come to visit our master and dey took him right back. I had three sisters and two bothers and none of dem was my whole brothers and sisters. I stayed in the Big House all the time, but my sisters and bothers were given to the master''s sons and daughters when dey got married and dey was told to send back for some more when dem died. I didn't never stay with my mammy doing of slavery. I stayed in the Big House. I slept under the dining room table and with three other darkies.
"After the War, I went to mammy and my step-daddy. she done married again, so I left and went to Warrington and Halifax, North Carolina, jest for a little while nursing some White chillun. I stayed in raleigh, where I was born till 7 years ago, when I came to Oklahoma to live with my only living child. I am the mother of 4 chillun and 11 grandchillun."(FWPSN, Oklahoma)
We earn from Polly Colbert, 83 years old in 1935, was born in Oklahoma, informs us that:
"My mother, Liza, was owned by de Colbert family and my father, Tony, was owned by de Love family. When Master Holmes and Miss Betty Love was married dey fathers give my father ad mother to de for a wedding gift. I was born at Tishomingo and we moved to de farm on Red River soon after dat and I been here ever since. I had a sister and a brother, but I ain't seen dem since.
"My mother dies when I was real small, and about a year after dat my father dies. Master Holmes told us children not to cry, dat he and Miss Betty would take good care of us. Dey did, too."This is what we learn from Octavia George:
"I was born in Mansieur, Louisiana, 1852, Avoir Parish. I am the daughter of Alfred Clementine. I do not know much about my grandparents other than my mother told me my grandfather's name was Fransuai, and was one time a king in Africa."
Here's an accoun tby Robert Grinstead:
""I was born in Lawrence County, Mississippi, February 17, 1857. My father's name is Elias Grinstead, a German, and my mother's name is Ann Grinstead after that of her master. I am a son by mother and her master. I have four other half bothers: William (Bill) oldest, Albert, silas and John .... On account of being the son of my master's I received no hard treatment and did little or no work .... I was the only child of my Master as he had no wife. When the War broke out he went to war and left the plantation in charge of his overseer his two sisters. As the overseers were hard for them to get along with they were oftener without an overseer as with one, and therefore they used one of the Negroes as overseer for the most time."(FPWSM, Oklahoma)
We learn some history from Martha King who states that:
"My mother was Harriet Davis and she was born in Virginia. I don't know who my father was. My grandmother was captured in Africa when she was a little girl. A big boat was down at the edge of a bay an' the people were all excited about it an' some of the bravest went up on board and they could have the pretty red handkerchiefs, red and blue beads and big rings. A lot of them went on board and the ship sailed away with them. My grandmother never saw any of her folks again."
Some slaves talked about their marriages.
"Bert Luster reported that he was born in 1853in Tennessee, and that his father and mother were owned by different masters, and that he and his mother were taken by their master to Texas without the father After the War he went with his other and stepfather to Greenville, Texas.. This is what he has to say about that time:
"I married my woman, Nannie Wilkerson, 58 years ago. Dat was slavery, and I love her, honest to God I does. Course in dem days we didn't buy no license, we jest got permission from old Master and jumped over the Broomstick and jest got married." FWPSN, pg. 204)
This is how Stephen McCray, born in 1850 in Alabama talked about his family in this way:
"My parents was Wash and Winnie McCray. they was the mother and father of 22 chillun. Jest five lived to be grown and the rest died at baby age. My father's mother and father was named Mandy and Peter McCray. They all had the same Master, Mister McCray, all the way thru. we live in log huts and when I left home grown, I left my folks living in the same log huts,
"Marriage was performed by getting permission from Master and go where the woman of your choice had prepared the bed, undress and flat-flooted jumped a broomstick together into the bed." (FWPSN, pg. 207)
Marshal Mack was born in 1854 narrated that his mother was Sylvestus Mack and his father was Booker Huddleston. His father was owned by his his half-borhter, who beat him often. His "father had to slip off a night to come and visit .... He lived a mile and a half from our house .... He'd oversleep hisself and git up arunning. We would stand in our door and hear min running over them rocks until he got home. He was trying to git dere before his master called him." (FWPSN, pg. 212)
Allen Manning was born in 1849 came from a family of nine children, six of them born during slavery and three born free. His family stayed together during the entire period.(FWPSN, pg 217).
Salomon Oliver's father was the Master. She was married to Salomon Oliver, Sr. under slavery conditions. He had then become a preacher. the following account was told by his son who stated: "Father use to preach to the slaves when a crowd of them could slip off into the woods. .... He was caught several times off the woods and because he was the preacher I guess they layed on the lash a little harder trying to make him give up preaching."FWPSN, pg. 217)
John Southall, who was born in 181816, and by the time he was interviewed he was 122 years old, had this interesting story to tell about his parents:
""Of all my mammy's children, I am the first born and the longest living. The others all gone to join Mammy. She was named Mary White, the same name as her Mistress, the wife of the first master, James White. About my pappy. I never hear his name and I never see him, not even when I was the least child around the old Master's pace 'way back there in Georgia more'n one-hundred-twenty years ago!
Mammy try to make it to me clear about my daddy. she married like the most of the slaves in them days. He was a slave on another plantation. One day he come for to borrow something from Master White. He sees a likely looking gal, and the way it worked out that gas was to be my Mammy. After that he got a paper saying it was all right fro him to be off his own plantation. He come a'courting over to Master White's. After a while he talks with the Master. Says he wants to marry the gal, Mary.
"The Master says it's all right with Mary and other White folks. He finds out it is and they makes ready for the wedding. Mary says a preacher wedding is the best but Master say he can marry them just as good. There wasn't no Bible, just an old Almanac. Master White read something out of that. That's all and they was married. The wedding was over!
"Every night he gets a leave paper from his Master anc come over to be with his wife, Mary. The next morning he leaves her to wrk in the fields. then one night Mammy say he don't come home. The next night is the same, and the next. From then on Mammy don't see him no more-never find out what happen to my pappy.
"When I was born, Mammy named me John, John White She tells me I was the blackest "white" boy she ever see! I stays with her till I was eleven year old. The Master wrote down in the book that i was born, April 10, 1816, and I know it's right. Mammy told me so, and Master told me when I was eleven and he sold me to Sarah Davenport.
Here are John White's comments on sexual relations between Whites and slave women:
"Sometimes the White folks go around the slave quarters for the night . Not on the Davenport plantation, but some close around. The slaves talked about it amongst themselves. After a while they'd be a new baby. Yellow. When the child got old enough for chore work, the master would sell him (or her). No difference was it hi his own flesh and blood-if the price was right!"I have just barely scratched the surface bout the slave families in the United States, but this is just an example as to what life was like for slave families and how they viewed the family and, married and slav lives.
What one learns and observes about the slave is that they had more stable kinship units than heretofore understood; the slave families had a strong male figure in that kinship unit and this was more common than not in the slave communities throughout the United States; the slave family was was better adapted to the conditions of the slaves, including their ability to struggle against those conditions that has been seriously recognized and acknowledged. Most of the so-called uneducated slaves presented a much more positive view of the African family under slavery, than the "African bourgeoisie" of the slavery day(those who could write books and some semblance of education
Stockely Carmichael(Kwame Ture)
Excerpted From "Ready For Revolution", By Stokely Carmichael
A Band Of Brothers, A circle of trust:
Hitting A Straight Lick With A crooked Stick: African Folk Stories a-la carte....
"... Because of this Christianity, many of our people this was a living faith, selectively based on the highest values of ancient scriptures. From the depths of slavery, against the intractable evidence of their bitter experience, our ancestors had reached their imagination deep into the sacred books of ancient Hebrews ( a very African world, by the way), and plucked an enduring metaphor of their condition and a view of history.
A long view, which our people enshrined in the doctrine and liturgy of their church and the poetry other sorrow songs. Those same spirituals that Dr. Du Bois had called "the most beautiful expressions of the human spirit this side of the seas. The singular spiritual heritage of this nation, "Let the church say Ahmen!"
So my peoples" were strong in faith and certain of their ultimate deliverance. for in all things are possible. Thad overarching this narrow world was the infinite grace and certain justice of God's purpose, the gradual and unchanging are of whose universe curved toward freedom.
So my people articulated a God, the God of Abraham, Moses, and the prophets. A god of justice and of ultimate righteos attribution. A God who absolutely forbade oppression and was not mocked. A God who bound the captives' wounds, "There is a balm in Gilead", they comforted themselves, "to make the wounded whole."
A God who cast down the mighty-"Pharaoh's army got drowned," they exulted-who raised up th e lowly, yea, making the crooked straight and the rough smooth. For were notwe not a;so God's children? "In time, chillun, all in God's time," they counseled, "cause even the does not move, no lie can live forever, and the arc of this universe, it curve towards freedom. 'It do, it do,"
So, my people were sho nuff armored by faith-a faith not in principalities or powers, not in the goodwill of prices nor tin sons of men, but in the ultimate justice of divine purpose, that irresistible motion of the universe that mindsets among men as history, and the Lord helps those who help themselves. So, a faith in their own strenuous and collective effort: "Lifting was ye climb. Walk together chillun, don't you git weary." Seize the time when it comes.
Yeah, you say that's the tradition that's the tradition. You probably learned that in the chapel at Howard. Mayhaps, but what I saw and felt in Mississippi was that these ideas were real, still living and informing the people's view of reality and themselves as much as they infused the language of their songs.
So that, let us say, at a meeting in a lonely church-never mind that the Klan or he sheriff's men were driving by flashing their headlight-when we sang "Guide my feet, Lord, while I run this race, for I don't want to run this race in vain" or "Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land, tell Ol' Pharaoh, let my people go," and "wade in the water chillun, God's gonna trouble the rate," it was prophecy being fulfilled and history made manifest around us.
Not in spite of, but because of the danger, and through those ancient songs, the music, we were at one with our ancestors. You felt their presence. At these times when we would sing these songs, I'd always get an almost eerie feeling that, somehow by the power of that music, time was eclipsed.
I think we all shared something of that feeling. But I know I'd feel in those moments of peril that our mood and circumstances were exactly the same as our ancestors' - those nameless Africans, enslaved in this strange land, who out of faith and th troubles they were seeing had composed words of such enduring inspiration. And through the words and the music we felt their presence.
How else could the words of those old songs, essentially unchanged, feel so right and work so well? "How can you", as the Mystic Revelations of Ras Tafari would ask, "Sing King Alpha's song in a strange land?"
It was an experience that we could not have bought and is never to be repeated or forgotten. It is little wonder that our most effective local organizers all could sing an summon up where necessary the rolling cadences of a strong sermon..
Some like Sherod and Bevel were indeed young seminarians. Sam Block (peace be unto him), Willie(Now Wazir), Peacock, and hollis Wtkins were all beautiful singers. I was never a good singer, but I did learn to preach a bit.
HAVING A STRAIGHT LICK WITH A CROOKED STICK
That was one of Sterling Brown's favorite line. It was his metaphor for the folks' artful wa with a story. When he used it, Prof meant a style of "indirection, cunningly saying one thing to signify another".It didn't take me any time to see how deeply ingrained in the people's style of discourse this approach was, especially in public situations.
It came clear that some older folks too great pride in constructing stories that took a crooked path to hit a straight lick on whatever issue was being discussed. Almost as if it were intellectually beneath them to simply jump on the naked issue without first "dressing it some." Some of the younger Southern people seem to have mastered that style and skill Bob Mans and Ed Brown in particular come to mind.
Later when I'd encounter almost the exact same storytelling approach to discussion among village elders in the hills of Guinea, it would feel familiar and comfortable.
In Mississippi, you saw this best in "mass" meetings, most of which rarely had more than thirty people in attendance. I recall one meeting in the rural where the community had come under severe pressure because of the eviction of people from the surrounding plantations.
People whose home were already crowded were taking in families less fortunate, a child here, two there. But clearly that could only be a desperate holding action. The iris was real, growing and coming ever closer.
The movement(SNCC) was appealing fo federal intervention in terms of emergency aid. Good luck. We also collecting food and clothes in the North, but this too could only be a drop in the bucket. So the meeting was unusually well attended andthemood very, very somber.
"Wat is we gon' do?"
As was the custom, everyone who felt moved got up to testify. I remember two speakers. First was, I think, preacher. a stout, bull-shouldered, older gentleman with a close-cropped head and a deliberate way of talking. After him a large lady could pick up on the man's effort with a story of her own.
"What is we got' do?"
"Was," he said, "it put me in min' of a time when things was mighty hard ... fre the rabbits." Then in a deep, unhurried voice that commanded the meeting's attention, the deacon tells a story. The hounds were hunting the poor defenseless rabbits to near extinction. so hard-pressed they couldn't even sneak into the fields to nibble the grass.
"Driven to this destruction, the rabbits called a mass meeting. Unable to find a solution, they decided to commit mass suicicde. Issue, to drown thyself. So, they locked paws and started for the river. A long line of rabbits moving as one in the moonlight. they topped a rise and came face to face with the hounds out looking for rabbits to chase.
But when them ol' dogs saw this long, unbroken line of rabbits, shoulder to shoulder, advancing on them steady, them ol' hounds turned tail and took off running. Ran so far and ran so fast they were often the country before before sunup. Rabbits had no more trouble. Not a bit.
HIT A STRAIGHT LICK
Folks were laughing and applauding, but not everyone. "Now, Elder Jones, I know you ain't saying we gotta drown ourselves, now is you?""No, you know he ain't saying any of that, " the large lady intervened. "He is saying something else. Y'know, a hit remind of those little boys.
"See hit was these two brothers walking along jest a-chunking rocks at evrah thang they meet. Evrah thang day see, nothing but a rock up side day haid. They came upon a cow. the biggest boy, he went upside that ol' cow's back with a rock. The cow jumped up, holler off. The lil' one laughed. You know how boys is.
So the path of destruction proceeded to their great amusement. They hit a mule, a donkey, a pig, a rooster, and a duck, each of which gave the approbate bray, cackle, or quack, ran off of flew away. "Then they comes along this big, I mean it was a big, ole hornets nest'."
"Ooohiee, looks that," said the lil' one, "le's bust that sucker wide open." He drew back his arm, but his big brother grabbed it'
"No," he said, "no. We ain't gon chunk that un."
"We isn't? Why isn' we gonna bust that one?" the younger asked. "Let's do it."
"Nah. Uh-uh, we sho aint gonna bust that un." the older brother said. "An' the reason we ain't gonna do none o' that is ... because dey's organized.
WID A CROOKED STICK
The men used to tell a different kind of story when they were "drinking likker and' telling lies. Out in the plantation quarters the likker in question wan an evil-looking, oily, yellowish stump likker called "gosh" or "slap-yo-mammy."
This moonshine smelled bad and had a metallic taste, but the stories were good. A good many of these tall tales concerned a slave named John, more properly, High John the Conqueror.
Now, High John, he was a "be" man. He 'be' there when times were good and he 'be' there when times was hard. He always was outwitting the White folks and successfully stealing pigs or chickens, which he'd share with the hungry folk. Ol' High John, High John the Conqueror.
High John's owner was a gambling cracker. He'd rather bet money than eat shrimp, and High John was clever enough to win him a lot of money. Now, High John on the neighboring plantation was a slave named Goliath. This Goliath was a massive, bullet-headed, bull-necked nigra, meaner than a jailhouse dawg and strong as ten mulesHis master had a standing bet of one thousand gold dollars that no one could beat this slave fighting. He'd killed more than twenty strong black men.
So, High John's master eyes got big for them thousand dollars and he set to thinking. "Boy," he called one of the slave. "Go fetch me John.""Boss, High John done gone fishing' and say he don't want no nigras disturb him"The master didn't like that one bit, but he knew High John. "He said that, now did he" Well I guess I jes' have to go disturb him my own self. Boy, fetch me man horsewhip. And off he stomped looking mighty angry.
Down to the creek there was High John lying on his back in the shade holding a cane pole twixt his toes.
"John," said the Ol' Massa sweet as milk,hiding the whip behind his back. "Yo' know that Goliath nigger?"
"Reckon Ah do," said John. looking at his line. "Reckon Ah do, Cap'n."
"Think you can whup him fighting?"
"Doesn't thank," said High John, who was not one to waste too many words on White folk. "You doesn't, uh, don't think you can?" Ol' Massa asked."Doesn't thank," said High John. "Ah knows."
"You don't think. You knows? Knows, I mean know what?" Ol' Massa asked.. He wasn't bright, y'know.
"I knows that boy ain't going fight me," John explained."Oh, yes, he is, Ol' Massa said. "Cause I already done bet cColonel Jackson one thousand dollars.""You done what?" High John looked at him. "Well, makes no never mind. That boy ain't going' fight me," John explained.
"Oh yes, he is," Ol' Massa said, "'cause Nigger, if you lose me my money, you gone wish he'd gone an' killed yo' Black ass.""Yo money is safe, Cap'n. That ol' boy don't want no smallest part o' High John. I kin win yo' that money, but you may not like how Ih'm got' do it now."
You win me that money, boy, you be all right with me. I won't fergit you, Boy, but you damn sure better be right."Bet yo' life and' live fo' evah, Cap'n. That boy ain't gon want no part of me. An' Ah knows you ain't gon' fergit me neigther."
And high John pulled his straw hat back over his eyes and make pretend he sleeping.
Day of the fight all theWhite folks gather at the fighting place. All the Blacks be watching from a good distance 'cause none of them cared to get too close to that crazy Goliath. He were a fearsome sight. He were seven foot tall, even though he had bowlegs, and went about of' hundred pounds.
His li'l old pig eyes were bloodied, his skin were coal black. He had an iron collar and a long, heavy ol' iron chain around his neck. On both sides this chain was fixed to a sturdy tree. Live Oak on the right. Hickory tree o the left, and evrah time Goliath jerked them chains, them big ol' trees would creak and bend like they fixing to break clean. He jes' a-foaming and a-bellowing and a-smacking hisself upside the head.
Pow! Pow! Pow!. He were some fearsome sight, yes indeedy!
The fight's 'spotted to be at noon. The sheriff, who was olding the two bags of gold, pulled out his watch."Five minutes," he announced. "Yore boy ain't hear in five minutes, the purse go to Colonel Jackson."
High John's missis she start to fume and fuss at Ol' John's Massa. Jus' a fusion' and a-fumming."Tol' you vowing to lose mwah money. That shifts John done fun off so now you done lost a slave too.. And if John come, it's the same thang.
"That ugly Goliath nigger going to kill him sho. Ooooh, I cain't bear to even look at him. You crazy ol' fool," and she jest would not stop.
"Be half a minute to go an' the sheriff be looking at his timepiece and counting down. Ol' Mississ so angry until she cry living eye water and she ain't stopped fussing even one little bit. You dad-busted ol' fool. Done lost us our money and some shiftless dark."
Suddenly Ol' Massa give a mighty shout. "Great Gawd in the morning'! Here come John. We got us a fight. We got a fight." He's so excited his face gets all red and he jump into the air and slapped his Stetson down in the dust.Everybody-even goliath- turned to look where he is pointing.
And sho nuff yeah come Ol' John. Had him a top hat and a white linen suit and he be riding a white horse. It was Ol' Massa's best suit, his bes' hat, and his favorite thoroughbred racing horse.And there come High John, horse be just trotting an' a-cantering. John he be jest' a-stylin' and a-bowing, greeting the folk jes' like he was a congressman.
"Howdy do, Good to see ya. So good o' y'awl to come. Howdy. Go a-bowing and a-smiling and tipping his hat-polite as you please.
Yas, suh. Ol' High John. High John the Conquerer. Even Ol' Goliath forgot to roar and baller, he stood jes' a-watching an' beholding like the rest of the folk.
Ol' Missis, she could not believe her eyes or her husband's best suit or his bes' hat or his purebred racing horse.
"Nigger!" she screamed. You sightless, coconut, nappy-head, chicken-stealing, and snuff-dipping-"
She never got to even finish. High John jumped down offen that horse an' walked over to her."Woman," he roared, "ain't I done told you not to evah call me outen mah name?"
And he opened his hand and "Kapow!" Smacked that white woman down in the dust. Y'hear me, chillun?"
There was a dead silence, broken by this loud crash. When Goliath, crazy as he was, saw High John smack that White lady, it scared him near to death.
He tore down them trees, broke off them chains, and took off a-running. Nobody know where he go.
"Negra bad nuff to smack Ol' Missus," he muttered, "whut he gon do to po' me? That must' be the baddes' negra God's got."
Ol' High John look at that boy a-running.
"Collect yo' money, Cap'n," he say to Ol' Massa.
"Didden Ah tell yo' that boy down wan no part o' me?"
Old High John. High John Tha Conquerer...
Written And Retold By:
Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael)