Sunday, October 01, 2017

||A LEARNING MOMENT|| — Runaways Slaves Suffered From Mental Disease

 Did you know that the desire to escape from slavery was once considered in mental illness?
In 1851 American physician, Samuel A. Cartwright submitted his paper, “Drapetomania, or the disease causing Negroes to flee” to the Medical Association of Louisiana, and thus the disease, drapetomania was born.
Let’s make sure we have the pronunciation right…dray-ptoh-may-nee-uh.

Cartwright — who was born in North Carolina and studied medicine in Philadelphia — declared that sane slaves did not want, nor would ever consider,fleeing slavery. 
Accordingly, those who did were mentally insane — suffering from drapetomania. The cause was masters who foolishly treated their slaves humanely. 
However, all was not lost! Because, Cartwright declared the disease curable if caught in time! 
If a master noticed his slave becoming sulky and dissatisfied without cause, the master should quickly whip the devil out of him in order to make the thought of fleeing dissipate before it was acted on. Another remedy that Cartwright suggested was the severing of both of the slave’s big toes. 
Cartwright also said white slave masters should also be aware of another mental illness, which he termed “drapetomania aethiopica,” and which resulted in a slave’s willingness to work hard. 
He opined that drapetomania aethiopica  was quite often found among “free negroes” than among slaves working large plantations, but all masters should be aware of this newly invented disease. 
His recommended cure?
“ . . . have the patient well washed with warm water and soap; then, to anoint [the slave’s skin] all over in oil, and to slap the oil in with a broad leather strap; then to put the patient to some hard kind of work in the sunshine.”
The Medical Association of Louisiana commended Cartwright on his findings, and his paper was published in DeBow’s Review — a widely circulated magazine in the American South. 
It was also published in “The New Orleans Medical and Surgery Journal.”
Dr. Cartwright gave numerous lectures on “niggerology” during the 1840s and 1850s.

As late as 1914, the third edition of Thomas Lathrop Stedman’s Practical Medical Dictionary included an entry for drapetomania, defined as “Vagabondage, dromomania; an uncontrollable or insane impulsion to wander.” 

Friday, July 28, 2017

|| A LEARNING MOMENT || The 1917 Silent March

THE 1917 Silent Parade 

 “ . . . the streets of New York have witnessed many strange sights, but I judge, never one stranger than this; among the watchers were those with tears in their eyes.” James Weldon Johnson

July 28, 1917 -- 100 years ago today -- The Silent March made history as the very first organized civil rights march.
It was held in response to more than 200 African-Americans being killed in what would later be called the East St. Louis riots.

White mobs burn down homes of African-Americans, turned off fire hoses, and snipers picked off the residents  -- men, women and children -- who fled those burning homes.

The cause of the white mobs ire? Fear that blacks migrating from Louisiana to East St. Louis MIGHT begin to take labor jobs away from white union laborers.

Little was written in the media about the riots, and many in the North had no idea what had occurred.

James Weldon Johnson, who was president of the NAACP, suggested the soon-to-be legendary march to bring attention to the violence against African-Americans, including the victims of the St. Louis riots, and the many lynchings that was taking place in post-Reconstruction America.

One of the fliers that were distributed announcing the March read in part:
“We march because we are thoroughly opposed to Jim Crow cars, segregation, disenfranchisement and the host of evils that are forced upon us. We march in memory of our butchered dead, theu massacre of honest toilers who were removing the reproach of laziness and thriftlessness hurled at the entire race. They died to prove our worthiness to live. We live in spite of death shadowing us and ours.” 

It was estimated that more than 8000 participants silently marched down fifth Avenue, from 57th St. to 24th St., silent the entire time, except for muffled drumbeats from a procession of drummers who march just ahead of the March organizers who were followed by a large grouping of children dressed in white, followed by an even larger grouping of women dressed in white… And ending with a group of men in black business suits. Including James Weldon Johnson and W.E.B. Du Bois.

African-American Boy Scouts flanked the paraders, handing out flyers to onlookers explaining the purpose of the March:

"We march because the growing consciousness and solidarity of race coupled with sorrow and discrimination have made us one: a union that may never be dissolved in spite of shallow-brained agitators, scheming pundits and political tricksters who secure a fleeting popularity and uncertain financial support by promoting the disunion of a people who ought to consider themselves as one."

Though no songs were played, and no words were mouthed, the signs and banners carried by the marchers expressed their sentiments.

"Mother, do lynchers go to heaven?" 

"Mr. President, why not make America safe for democracy?" 

"Thou shalt not kill." 

"Pray for the Lady Macbeths of East St. Louis." 

"Give us a chance to live."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Intergration Isn’t Supposed to be a One-Way Street

Will you consider me a racist if I say I support segregation?
Well, consider away.
I understand that many of my ancestors fought against segregation and I appreciate it. But I wonder what they would think if they saw the end result of integration.
No longer do we have our own banks. No longer do we have our own theaters. No longer do we have our own insurance companies. And we can’t blame it on the white man!
So many black people were so happy to be able to patronize white businesses — from which that they had been barred for so long — that they abandoned their black establishments. We rushed to patronize white establishments, but whites did not rush to patronize ours.
Integration, as far as I can see it, only goes one way.
With few exceptions, when I ask my white friends to name the last book they’ve read that was written by black authors and deals with the black experience, they can only name books they read in school. When I ask them to name the last movie they’ve seen that deals with the black experience and stars black actors, they usually struggle to name one, unless it was a movie that won Oscars — and seldom can even then.
Since whites outnumber blacks in this country, if we support their endeavors but they don’t support ours, the end result is that their endeavors are more successful than ours.
Why? Because they outnumber us. And while we cross over to help the group that outnumbers us, that group doesn’t cross back over to support our endeavors.
And guess what?
White banks are less likely to give our businesses loans than black banks. And if black people are not supporting black banks, black banks go out of business. And if black businesses go out of business, black employment goes down — because black businesses are more likely to hire black people then white businesses.
Of course, if white people patronized our black banks and our black businesses, none of this would happen. But they don’t. We patronize theirs, but they don’t patronize ours.
God bless our ancestors for the fight they fought, but integration has only gone one way.
Remember Lawnside, New Jersey?
About 10 miles outside of Philadelphia and some 25 miles from Atlantic City, it used to be the jumping place for black folks to go on summer weekends during the ’40s and ’50s. All of the top black stars stopped there: Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Billie Holiday. If they were going to be in Atlantic City to play in the white night clubs, they drove the 25 miles down the highway to also make it to Lawnside to entertain their black fans.
Because there was no integration, that was the only way the black fans were able to see them. And black fans flocked to do so. Back in those days, because of segregation, the black dollar stayed in the black community because there was really no other place blacks were allowed to spend it. The end result was that Lawnside was a thriving black community with black banks, black nightclubs, black insurance companies … and the coldest beer that God made!
But then the ’60s came, and all of a sudden blacks were allowed to go into the white hotels and clubs to see the black stars — and also great white entertainers like Frank Sinatra. So they went. And they were so excited about being able to go, they kept going. And soon they stopped going to Lawnside.
While the white folks who had always been going to Atlantic City could care less about traveling to Lawnside.
I won’t bother to tell you what happened to that once-thriving black community.
You can guess.
So, yes, I do support segregation of our economic power. But I really don’t think you can call me a racist.
After all, I do have white friends.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

July 4th? Sorry . . . My Independence Day isn’t until December!

Today, a friend of more than 40 years texted me "Wishing you a safe and happy 4th of July!" followed by six American flag emojis and six celebratory horn-blowing emojis.
I texted back, "Same to you (although I don't know when you got so damn patriotic.)"
His response? "I just learned about emojis. Yay, me!"
His answer satisfied my curiosity. He used the 4th of July like many African-Americans (and quite a few non-African-Americans)  use it  . . . as an excuse to do something else they want to do -- get off work, barbecue in the backyard, have a family reunion (because it's a three-day holiday and it allows out-of-town relatives travel time), or simply to practice sending out emojis.
I do know a few African-Americans who actually celebrate Independence Day with flag waving and parade watching, but very few. When asked (because, you know, I have to ask) why they're celebrating they usually answer that America's a great country, and they're proud to be an American.
I'm never quite sure how to respond without launching into a lecture that I'm quite sure they don't want to hear.
But here it is.
If you're Black, and grateful and proud to be an American that's all cool and dandy, but why are you celebrating the independence of a country that kept you enslaved while declaring their own right to be free?
I mean, let's be clear . . . if there is any date that Black folks should be celebrating as Independence Day, it should be December 18th. That's the day, in 1865, that the Thirteenth Amendment was issued, outlawing slavery.
Oh . . . you thought Lincoln freed the slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation . .!
No. He only freed the slaves in the rebelling Southern states, just to further piss them off.
It was simply a war measure, not a measure of the Nation's compassion or conscience.
Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, parts of Virginia and even parts of Louisiana were allowed to keep right on doing what they were doing - practicing slavery.
So, yeah, while I understand some African-Americans are proud to be an American, and/or want to serve it in some manner (I fall into the latter category, having served in the U. S. Navy for five years. Yay, me!), I just don't understand celebrating an Independence Day that not only is NOT mine, but also celebrating the document that is at the heart of the holiday -- The Declaration of Independence. A document that opens with the words "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. 

My men, my race, weren't considered equal. Our right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness wasn't recognized. The fact is there were 500,000 Blacks being held as slaves as the document was being signed

So no offense, but while I don't mind using the 4th of July as an excuse for a paid day off from work (much as many whites use the MLK holiday), I will reserve my celebration of Independence Day for another five  months 

Friday, June 30, 2017

|| A LEARNING MOMENT || Old Nick Biddle

"If poor old Nick Biddle calls on you with a document, as he calls it, don't say you are in a hurry and turn him off, but ornament the paper with your signature and plant a good round sum opposite your name. Nick has been a good soldier and now that he is getting old and feeble, he deserves the support of our citizens."
                Excerpt of Weekly Miners' Journal  (Pottsville, PA) article 

Do you know know who was the first to have shed blood in The War for the Union, later called the Civil War? 
It was a Black man, a former slave, a 65-year old Pottsville, PA resident named Nick Biddle.

His original name is unknown, but we do know that he was born a slave in Delaware, escaped to Philadelphia, and later moved to Pottsville. Some say that he worked, for a short time, as a servant for Philadelphia financier Nicholas Biddle and decided to name himself after his employer in admiration. 

When Abraham Lincoln called for 90-day volunteers to serve in order to give soldiers to train, a militia company from Pottsville changed their name from the Pottsville Blues to the Washington Artillerists and answered the call, Biddle included. This militia became one of five Pennsylvania companies that were to be forever hailed as The First Defenders.

However, when traveling through Baltimore to get to Washington D.C., their train was attacked by pro-confederate sympathizers. When the mob  saw Biddle, they started shouting "Nigger in uniform." He was subsequently knocked down and hit in the head with a piece of brick -- a wound so deep bone was exposed. He was not the only man to be attacked that day, and perhaps not even the first, but he was the first to be wounded sufficiently to shed blood.

When they finally reached Washington, and were with being personally greeted and given a handshake from the President, Lincoln stopped at Biddle and suggested he seek medical help. The former slave refused -- saying he didn't want to leave his company. 

After serving their 90-day service the Washington Artillerists returned to Pottsville, but while many of the company then reenlisted for three-year terms, Biddle did not. Understandable. He was 65, and still suffering from the severe head wound.

At first he survived by doing odd jobs around Pottsville, but he lived the latter part of his life destitute, indirectly begging for money by reminding people of his service to the country. 

When he died in 1876, the members of the Washington Artillerists and a couple of other companies that made up The First Defenders not only paid for his funeral, but also led a huge procession from his home to the "colored" burial ground. They also paid for his tombstone, which read:
 "In Memory of Nicholas Biddle, Died August 2, 1876. His was the Proud Distinction of Shedding the First Blood in the Late War for the Union, Being Wounded while Marching through Baltimore with the First Volunteers from Schuylkill County. 18 April 1861. Erected by his Friends in Pottsville."

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Soweto Uprising — “And the children shall lead the way to freedom “


"I saw a child fall down. Under a shower of bullets I rushed forward and went for the picture. It had been a peaceful march, the children were told to disperse, they started singing Nkosi Sikelele. The police were ordered to shoot." – Sam Nzima, South African photographer of one of the most iconic photographs in the world.

Hector Pieterson. How many of you know his name?

Today, June 16, is the anniversary of his 1976 murder by South African government in what is now called the Soweto Uprising -- a series of protests led by Black students. Most just children.

But it was young Hector's death, and the famous picture of this 12-year old dying child, that brought worldwide attention to the evil and inhumane system of apartheid.

In 1925, Afrikaans -- a language bastardized from Portuguese, Dutch (with Bantu influences) --  was declared the official language of South Africa. Fifty years later the South African government declared that 50 percent of all lessons (math, science , etc.) in Black schools had to be taught in Afrikaans and the other 50 percent in English. 
This forced Black students to lose opportunity for critical analysis, as they had to focus on understanding the language as opposed to the lesson being taught.
Forced to focus on learning Afrikaans, the language of their oppressors.
White schools were not so restricted, students were largely taught in their own native languages.
Just as infuriating to Black South Africans? It was an insult to be forced to learn Afrikaans -- the language of their oppressor. 
In February 1976, two Soweto teachers quit rather than be forced to teach the lessons in Afrikaans. 
In April of that year, Orlando West Junior School refused to attend classes. 
The protest quickly spread, and soon the majority of students in Soweto schools were refusing to attend. 
By mid-June the students had self-organized (they would later be known as the Soweto Students' Representative Council), and Tsiesti Machinini,  a student and head of the debate team of Morris Isaacson High School, suggested a three-day rally. 
So on June 16, thousands of students headed to the Orlando High School stadium shouting slogans and carrying signs, some of which read: "If we must do Afrikaans, Vorster must do Zulu." (John Vorster was prime minister of South Africa at the time.) as they marched to the demonstration site.
When they were stopped by police-erected road barricades, instead of trying to forcibly removing the barricades they simply took a detour. 
It's estimated they were 20,000 in number, these young students, by the time they reached the school. Waiting for them were met by armed police officers.
The students began singing 'Nkosi Sikelele',  a Black liberation song and the official anthem of the African National Congress. 
When a police dog was released on the crowd it was promptly killed by the students.
It was then that police started shooting.
Some say that it was 15-year old Hastings Ndlovu who was shot first, but it's widely believed that Pieterson was actually the first fatality. 
As he lay dying on the ground his body was scooped by another student, Mbuyisa Makhubo. Photographer Sam Nzima's iconic photograph shows Makhubo carrying young Hector Pieterson as he runs for help, and Pieterson's terrified sister, Antoinette Sithole, crying as she runs alongside of them. 
Twelve-year old Hector was declared dead upon arrival at the hospital. 
Nzima's photograph was published in The World, an Black newspaper out of Johannesburg, and later picked up by media outlets around the world. 
At first the South African government said  the police had not fired directly on the students, but on the ground, and the bullet fatal must have ricocheted off of a stone to hit Pieterson. 
An autopsy later proved that to be false -- the boy was killed by a direct shot.
What started out as a demonstration, soon became an uprising, a rebellion, or a riot -- depending upon your sociopolitical outlook -- that lasted three days. Hundreds of students died as they used stones and bottles as weapons against heavily armed police.
Even tanks were brought in by law enforcement to squelch the rebellion, but still the students fought.
And, to the government's astonishment, there were some right in their own country who sided with the young Sowetans .
At one  point, 400 white students from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg attempted to join the Soweto students, but were stopped and disbanded by police.
The government demanded that hospitals report all people with gunshot wounds so that they could be prosecuted. 
Instead, sympathetic doctors listed bullet wounds as abscesses.
What later became known as the Soweto Students Uprising, motivated students around the country; soon student demonstrations, rallies, and protests we're being held nationwide, and now international media was there to document it all.
And the small number of people who decried apartheid worldwide soon numbered in millions. 
Faced with severe criticism and --  more importantly -- financial sanctions, the South African government had no choice but to abolish the evil system.
Today June 16 is a national holiday in South Africa, called National Youth Day to honor the students of Soweto who fought,  against injustice. 
Personally, I don't think you need to be a South  African or in South Africa to honor them.