history (n): the narrative of events, usually written by the victor and those in power, easily skewed to a specific view point on the events, especially when working with a set of alternative facts
Black Lives Matter rallies, marches, kneel-ins, 8-minutes-on-the-ground-ins, and protests have sprouted up nation-wide and world-wide over the past month. While we might envision these as happening in big cities, where we conceptualize large populations of African American folks live, many have popped up in suburban and rural communities too. There might be only a handful of actual African American people in those communities. And, the majority of the people marching and gathering to listen to testimonials are not African American, but sympathetic, to supportive, to curious.
We live in a rural community. Yes, there are a few African Americans whom we mostly see on the high school sports teams. Yes, we are having BLM marches. It has been interesting to watch how these play out in the public space and news coverage.
The largest town in our little county of 15,000 people had a BLM a few weeks ago. It was organized by couple of African American high school students. About 75 people showed up to walk with them from the main intersection (one of 3 stop-lights in town) to the town park and back. On the way, they passed by numerous groups of vehicles and white people sporting Confederate Battle Flags, white power fists, and signs “All Lives Matter”. Apparently, those folks believed that they needed to protect the town from looters and “busloads” of people who were rumored to be coming from coming from Washington, D.C. No buses showed up. No one broke from the march for any violet action.
The local paper covered the event. A few days later, the weekend supplement carried a 2/3 front page advertisement, “Black Lives Matter”, with the names of many African Americans who have died in policing events.
The next weekend the supplement carried a 2/3 front page advertisement “All Lives Matter to Jesus” with Mark 12:31 quoted (KJV translation of the 17the century), admonishing us to love one another. No names were listed. Guess Jesus loves too many to bother printing them.
In between these weekend, a former resident of this area wrote a Letter to the Editor, scolding the youth of spending too much time on social media, not marching in support of other people who have died, telling them that they do not know history, and ending on an encouraging note of applying themselves to learning, respecting family and neighbors, and working to make society better.
I could not let all this pass without a shot over the bow (or maybe a torpedo into the hull):
Letter to the Editor
Ms. …, in her July 8, 2020 Letter to the Editor encourages the youth who participated in the Black Lives Matter march in Moorefield to learn American history, including that of African Americans, to better inform their protests. I agree that one should have information when making a statement. I also agree with her other suggestions of going beyond marches, to engage with ones community in a helping and respectful manner.
Ms. … mentions a number of specific issues which she would like the youth to address. Having grown up in California, worked in health care for five years in New York City, and ten years in Alexandria, VA, I have had numerous opportunities to interact with people of color, as well has calling some family and friends.
Regarding abortion, I have on several occasions been told by African Americans that this is another way white people are trying to eliminate black people. I can not say that I have evidence of this, but I do know that the women who brought the case of Roe v Wade, were educated, white women who had found their education and careers inconvenienced by unplanned pregnancies, for which they could not get a safe abortion in the USA. They found a poor, white woman, “Jane Roe”, to be their legal test case. Might this be an example of powerful white people using those with little clout in society, white or black?
Regarding the Constitution, numerous African American friend do not have to go far to get to Article 1, Section 2, to find the counting of population for Representative districts to exclude “Indians not taxed, three fifth of all other Persons”. Yes, the 14th Amendment, Section 2, corrected that to one person one count, oh, except it would exclude women, and gosh “criminals”. So, when we incarcerate African Americans, we no longer have to count them. Hmmmm.
Now as to the Emancipation Proclamation, my African American friends will remind me that this only applied to states that had rebelled and joined the Confederacy. Northern state slaves were not freed by Lincoln’s executive order. Guess we needed them to continue working in the Union textile mills and munitions factors to win the war.
I am looking forward to reading, Booker T. Washington’s biography, “Up From Freedom”, which my brother is currently reading. I am reading Fredrick’s Douglas’s bio, “My Bondage and My Freedom”, in the 1855 edition. I came across an enlightening section the other night. Allow me to quote from chapter 5:
“…The poor girl, on arriving at our house, presented a pitiable appearance. She had left in haste, and without permission of Mr. Plummer. She had traveled twelve miles, bare-footed, bare-necked. Her neck and shoulders were covered with scars, newly made; and, not content with marring her neck and shoulders, with the cowhide, the cowardly brute had dealt her a blow on the head with a hickory club, which cut a horrible gash, and left her face literally covered with blood. In this condition, the poor young woman came down, to implore protection at the hands of my old master. I expected to see him boil over with rage at the revolting deed, and to hear him fill the air with curses upon the brutal Plummer; but I was disappointed. He sternly told her, in an angry tone, he “believed she deserved every bit of it”, and, if she did not go home instantly, he would himself take the remaining skin from her neck and back. Thus was the poor girl compelled to return, without redress, and perhaps to receive an additional flogging for daring to appeal to old master against the overseer.
“Old master seemed furious at the thought of being troubled by such complaints. I did not, at that time, understand the philosophy of this treatment of my cousin. It was stern, unnatural, violent. Had the man no bowels of compassion? Was he dead to all sense of humanity? No. I think I now understand it. This treatment is a part of the system, rather than part of the man. Were slaveholder to listen to the complaints of this sort against the overseers, the luxury of owning large numbers of slaves, would be impossible….”
Change overseers to rouge police, masters to political leaders, and the BLM folks’ frustration does not appear to have changed much in the past 165 years.
As to local, West Virginia history in treatment of black people, look to the Hawks Nest electrical generation project in the 1930. A tunnel was cut through the mountain to divert the New River channel through electrical generators. The stone of this mountain was filled with silica, which the development company wanted to also mine for the mineral content. They brought in hundreds of African American workers to do the mining. They knew of the health risks of breathing silica, but did not provide the miners ventilation or breathing protections. Estimates of between 400 and 800 African American miners on the project died within a few years from lung silicosis. Not much difference from working a black slave to his death before he became a burden on the plantation.
Yes, young folks, learn history. It is not pretty. That is coming from a middle aged, middle class, master degree educated, white guy, who has been registered Republican for the past 40 years. I have benefited greatly from all the privileges that come with each of those characteristics.
I would have been peacefully walking with the BLM protest in Moorefield, but that afternoon I happened to be at Howard University in Washington, D.C. helping a a family friend, a young man, of African American decent, with the next step of his college experience. Knowing history is good. Voicing opposition to the wrongs of the world is good. But, these will only progress society when we have relationships and support each other.
As the paid advertisement in the 7/11/20 Weekender quotes Mark 12:31, let us love our neighbors. Then, go back to the paid advertisement in the 7/4/20 Weekender, and read all of the names bordering the BLM add. Research their histories. And, ask “Where was the love?”