Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jamestown – “The Scene of the Crime”

It is my hope, truly, that I’ve been a source of empowerment as you’ve traveled this wonderful journey known as Black History Month through the articles I’ve posted. During this expedition, I’ve tried to resurrect those legendary segregated communities I’ve called “Brownsville”, recalled heart wrenching events, and victories resulting from unimaginable struggle that African Americans had to endure. I would be remised if I did not include an article that takes us back to the scene of the crime.

The Jamestown colony, England's first permanent settlement in North America was a marshy wasteland, poor for agriculture and a breeding ground for malaria carrying mosquitoes. The settlement was such a harsh environment that only thirty-two of the estimated one hundred original settlers survived the first seven months. His-story describes this as the “starving times” but all would change.

On August 20, 1619, the first African “settlers” reached North America as cargo onboard a Dutch man-of-war ship that rode the tide into Jamestown, Virginia carrying Captain Jope and a cargo of twenty Africans. It seems strange to me, but history cannot tell us why this mysterious ship anchored off Jamestown. It is believed the captain needed food and in exchange for food he offered his cargo of Africans as payment.

When the deal was consummated, Antoney, Isabella, and eighteen other Africans disembarked. Although they were not the first Africans to arrive in North America, they were the first African “settlers”. Regarded as indentured servants rather than slaves, fifteen were purchased to serve their redemption time working for Sir George Yardley, the Governor of Virginia and proprietor of the thousand-acre Flowerdew Hundred plantation.

In ten years, by the 1630’s, the colony had established a successful economy based on tobacco through the use of the Africans. Slavery was born and slave trading became big business. These human souls were acquired in Africa for an average price of about twenty-five dollars each, paid primarily in merchandise. They were sold in the Americas for about one hundred fifty dollars each. As the price of slaves increased, so did the inhumane overcrowding of the ships.

This was the beginning of the worst crime every inflicted upon a people and the most morally reprehensible agenda the world has ever known. Adding to this in justice and more horrifying was that the perpetrators believed their actions were sectioned by God with a religious manifestation that justified Slavery. The next two-hundred years was a designed systematic effort to destroy millions of lives through in documentation, brutality, savagery, and terror. I am always struck by the use of the word civilization in this matter because the root word is “civil” and there is/was NOTHING civil about the institution of slavery, which means chattel making human beings property and servants for life.

The business of slave trading had one purpose – PROFIT. The process would begin with the African being paid to venture into the interior of the continent, capture other Africans, put them on a death march to the coast and sell their captives to Europeans. Now, if capturing and stealing the victims was not misery enough what was to follow surely was in every sense of the word.

A typical slave ship traveling from Gambia, the Gold Coast, Guinea, or Senegal would take four to eight weeks to reach New England, Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, or the West Indies. Africans from Senegal were the most prized because many were skilled artisans. Ibos from Calabar were considered the most undesirable because of their, high suicide rate. Women, men, and children were crammed so tightly in the ships that out of a load of seven hun¬dred, three or four slaves would be found dead each morning.

Most ships had three decks with the lower two used for transporting slaves. The lowest deck extended the full length of the ship and was no more than five feet high. The captives were packed into tomb like compartments side by side to utilize all available space. In the next deck, wooden planks like shelves, extended from the sides of the ship where the slaves were chained in pairs at the wrists and ankles crammed side by side. Men occupied middle shelves and were most often chained in pairs and bound to the ship's gunwales or to ringbolts set into the deck. Women and children were sometimes allowed to move about certain areas of the ship.

There was no sanitation, although buckets were pro¬vided for use as toilets, which were not emptied regularly. The ships smelled of excrement, disease, and death. It is estimated that between 15 and 20 percent of the slaves died in route to the colonies, mostly from diseases associated with overcrowding, spoiled or poisoned food, contaminated water, starvation, thirst, and suicide. Others were thrown overboard; shot, or beaten to death for various reasons.

A typical slave ship coming directly to the American mainland from Africa weighed about one to two hundred tons, although some were slightly larger. Slave ships were eventually built especially for human cargo. These slave ships could carry as many as four hundred slaves and a crew of forty-seven, as well as thirteen thousand pounds of food. They were long, narrow, fast, and designed to direct air below decks. Shackling irons, nets, and ropes were standard equipment.

The competition at slave markets on the African coast grew so exceptionally that historians estimate that as many as 60 million human souls were captured and taken from the continent of Africa to be sold in to bondage. It is estimated that as many as one-third of that number did not survive the trip called the “Middle Passage” to reach the shores of a place like Jamestown in the name of God. Did you know the first registered slave ship was named “The Good Ship Jesus” and in the name of God the greatest crime the world has known began in this place called “Jamestown”.

I am reminded of the powerful words of Sojourner Truth who was asked shortly before her death, if she knew how many slaves she freed while conducting the Underground Railroad. She did not think about it - replying quickly, “I could have freed a lot more, if they had only known they were slaves.” My hope is that one day the devastating effect of bondage will be removed and we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Just a Season
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Brother Minister – R.I.P.

Malcolm X was no doubt one of the most profoundly significant, famous, and controversial African American leaders of our time. I cannot recall any other MAN, except maybe Dr. King, whose impact was so overwhelmingly felt. The Minister’s prophetic words spoken over forty-five years ago resonate as relevant today as the day they were spoken evoking the same emotions of truth.

February 21st was the anniversary, for lack of a better word, of Minister Malcolm X’s assassination at the Audubon Ballroom that has yet to be fully resolved in the minds of most of us. What I can say is that we lost a champion unlike anyone I have witnessed in my lifetime. Therefore, it would be blasphemy to dedicate an entire month to the ghost of the greats and not include the most articulate orator of our time.

I could go deeply into the making of this man but so many people, agencies, institutions and organizations have covered this great man’s brief life on earth in much more detail than I can. As you know, there is a vast sea of in-depth analyses, books, movies, and biographies on his life and philosophies. I will not try to rewrite history rather simply pay homage to the legacy of this great man as brief as I can, honoring him for his contributions to the African American Diaspora.

There are facts (known & unknown), suspicions and of course theories surrounding the assassination of Malcolm X, the impact it has had on our culture and the world the world. Like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X also had a dream. It began bathed in the tenets of anger and hatred, fostering economic independence on the shoulders of retaliatory separatism that ended with the swelling acceptance of a unified brotherhood and the replacement of hatred with peace and with the nagging thirst for international equality for all mankind.

As the story goes, early in Malcolm’s life a white teacher asked him what he would like to be and his answer was “a lawyer”. The teacher, who had encouraged his white students on their career choices, told Malcolm, “That’s no realistic goal for a nigger”. This statement discouraged a bright student to not seek his full potential leading to a life of crime. After being caught and arrested for carrying a concealed weapon he was sentenced to prison. While serving more than six years he began educating himself, converted to the Islamic faith and became a Black Muslim in the Nation of Islam (NOI).

After his release in 1952, Malcolm Little, now known as Malcolm X, went to Detroit and began to actively preach to the frustrated African American population about what Islam had to offer. It made no difference where he conducted his sermons and teachings, whether on the streets or in a temple. He spread the word to anyone who would listen. It was not long before Malcolm became a favorite of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam. He was made a minister and began to travel from city to city, preaching the message, founding new temples and converting thousands of people to the faith. Two years later, Malcolm X became minister of the famed Temple Number Seven in Harlem, New York.

Then came the split with Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam (NOI) to which Malcolm X knew he was a marked man. He had formed the Muslim Mosque Incorporated (MMI) and made the comment that “the NOI leaders got to kill me. They can’t afford to let me live ... I know where the bodies are buried. And if they press me, I’ll exhume some”.

Malcolm then formed the OAAU (Organization of Afro-American Unity) and began embarking on a course in opposition to the capitalist system. He planned to create a Black Nationalist party integrated with his travels throughout Europe, the Middle East, the UAR, and Africa where he readily exposed the oppression of African-Americans to the world through the United African Nationalist movement. This was the last thing the U.S. government wanted since it would make the nations racial problems an international human rights issue.

In April of 1964, Malcolm X made a pilgrimage to Mecca which led to his second conversion. He met brothers of the faith who were from many nations and of many races, black, brown, white, and all the sons of Allah. The reality dawned on him that advocating racial cooperation and brotherhood would help resolve the racial problems in America and, hopefully, lead to a peaceful coexistence throughout the world. Malcolm X’s transformed ideas and dreams reached full fruition and were ready for implementation. He changed his name, this time to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and found himself going against the system, but this time he would not be alone in the fight for equality and justice.

It did not take long for the reactionaries to strike out at Malcolm X. Members of the NOI resented what they thought were his attempts to supplant Elijah Muhammad. Government entities feared his involving the NOI in international issues, as well as his starting to lean too far to the left, while law enforcement officials looked upon him and his actions as radical, criminal and detrimental to society.
Early on the morning of February 14, 1965, Malcolm and his family were peacefully asleep in their home in Elmhurst, New York.

They were suddenly awakened by the sounds of shattering glass and explosions. Several Molotov cocktails had been thrown through their living room window, engulfing the house in roaring flames. Malcolm and his wife, Betty, quickly gathered their children and rushed out of the burning house. Once safe, they stood outside in the cold air, watching as their home and possessions burned. It was never determined who had tried to kill them, though Malcolm did tell authorities he thought it may have been the NOI.

Just one week later at a scheduled appearance at the Audubon Ballroom, which was almost full on a cold February day with over 400 followers of Islam anxiously awaiting Brother Malcolm X. No uniformed police were visible inside the Audubon, but two were stationed outside the entrance although it was common knowledge that an attempt on Malcolm’s life was a real possibility. Inside the Audubon Ballroom, several dark-suited NOI guards were positioned near the stage and towards the rear of the room. As soldiers of the NOI, the militancy of the neatly dressed men was evident in their demeanor, as they surveyed the room, quietly watching the seating of late arrivals.

Malcolm X, his pregnant wife and their four children waited as a tense and nervous Malcolm X ordered two of his guards to take his family out into the hall to their seats in a box near the front of the stage. Seemingly irritated and exhausted, Malcolm X mentioned to his aides that he had reservations about speaking. Malcolm’s misgivings were reflected in his taut features as his restless eyes darted around the room as he listened to Brother Benjamin Goodman making his opening speech.
At approximately 3:08 pm, Brother Benjamin ended his speech and introduced Malcolm X, who walked out onto the stage to a lengthy ovation.

Malcolm stepped up to a wooden podium and looked out at the audience. When the applause finally settled down, he offered the audience the Muslim greeting and smiled when they responded in-kind. Just as he began to speak again, a commotion broke out near the rear of the ballroom. Two men jumped up, knocking wooden folding-chairs to the floor, as one of the men yelled, “Get your hand out of my pocket!” As Malcolm responded with cool it there brothers, a loud explosion suddenly erupted in the back of the room, which began to fill with smoke.

Malcolm’s bodyguards and aides hardly had time to react as the well coordinated ruses effectively diverted their attention from him, allowing unopposed gunmen to begin their attack. A man rose from the front row and pulled out a double-barreled sawed-off shotgun from under his coat and fired twice at Malcolm. Simultaneously, as Malcolm was falling backwards and clutching his bloody chest, two more men jumped up and fired pistols at him as they rushed the stage. Although Malcolm was down, the two men repeatedly fired bullets into his body before turning and running to flee the premises. More shots were fired as they ran.

Betty Shabazz shielded her children with her body beneath a bench. As soon as the shooting ceased, she rushed toward the still body of her husband as she screamed, “They’re killing my husband! They’re killing my husband!” When she reached his side she realized he was dead, despite the frantic efforts of followers trying to stop the flow of blood from his bullet riddled body.

Upon learning of the assassination of Malcolm X, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. remarked that “One has to conquer the fear of death if he is going to do anything constructive in life and take a stand against evil”. We may never know all of the facts about who was behind the assassination or who ordered his death. But we do know that these assassins denied him the chance to act upon his newly formed convictions.

Today, the man and the name, Malcolm X, are known in America and throughout the world. He was a celebrated freedom fighter and motivating force to those whose future he had the vision to see, the will to stand up and fight for. Postage stamps and posters now bear his image out of recognition and honor for his final crusade.

The eulogy that actor Ossie Davis delivered at his funeral profoundly impresses upon us that, “However we may have differed with him, or with each other about him and his value as a man, let his going from us serve only to bring us together, now. Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man but a seed which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is a Prince, our own black shining Prince! Who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved us so.”

Malcolm X was a man who fulfilled his place in history and stayed true to his words: "It is a time for martyr's now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood."

A collection of Malcolm X Speeches

The Black Man’s History

By any means necessary


Monday, February 22, 2010

Harlem – The Underworld

The rich history of Harlem could never be told in a few words or just one article. Actually, it will require several posts to come close to capturing the essence of Harlem’s grandeur and with that said, this is the continuation of Harlem’s great legacy – The Underworld. It has been said that the character of the community is determined by its members.

Since the hamlet came into existence Harlem’s storied past has been highly romanticized. Aside from its artistic achievements, what was most romanced was the role of the underworld, which was a huge part of the nightlife and social scene. During the 1920’s, the Jewish and Italian mafia played major roles in running the whites-only nightclubs and the speakeasies that catered to white audiences. While the famous mobster, Dutch Schultz, controlled all liquor production and distribution in Harlem during prohibition.

Rather than compete with the established mobs, black gangsters concentrated on the “policy racket,” also called the “Numbers game”. This was a gambling scheme similar to today’s lottery that could be played, illegally, from countless locations around Harlem. By the early 1950’s, the total money at play amounted to billions of dollars and the police force had been thoroughly corrupted by bribes from numbers bosses.

When you talk about Harlem gangsters, particularly of that era, two names immediately come to mind. One of the most powerful early numbers bosses was a woman, Madame Stephanie St. Clair, a black French woman from Martinique known as Queenie or Madame Queen. A tall, abrasive, and tough woman, with a seldom-seen gentle side, ran the famous New York extortion gang known as The Forty Thieves.

The Forty Thieves had a reputation for being so tough that even the white gangsters would not interfere with their illegal operations or attempt to take over their turf. She utilized her experience and talents to set up operations as a policy banker and recruited some of Harlem’s most noteworthy gangsters to support her and her growing numbers business. Within a year she was worth more than $500,000 with more than 40 runners and 10 comptrollers in her charge.

Then there was the legendary Ellsworth Raymond “Bumpy” Johnson known as the Godfather of Harlem. You may recall Lawrence Fishburn played Bumpy Johnson in the movie Hoodlum. Bumpy was one of Madame Queen’s main recruits. He was a colorful character from Charleston, S.C. He had moved to Harlem with his parents when he was a small boy and was given the nickname, Bumpy, because of a large bump on the back of his head. He was a dapper gangster who always made it a point to wear the latest, and best, clothes while flashing wads of cash wherever he went. Bumpy was a pimp, burglar and stickup man who possessed a recalcitrant attitude. He always carried a knife and gun, which he would not hesitant to use.

Bumpy feared nobody and did not shy from confrontations. He was known for barroom clashes over the slightest issue, having a short fuse and for his arrogance. He never learned to curb his temper or to bow his head to any man. It was because of his negative demeanor that he spent almost half of his life in prisons before he even reached age 30. During his interments he became an avid reader and began writing poetry. Bumpy also proved to be an incorrigible prisoner and spent one-third of a 10-year sentence in solitary confinement. Because of his attitude, he was shuttled from prison to prison until his release in 1932.

Despite his tough-guy reputation, Bumpy Johnson had a soft side. It was common knowledge among Harlemites that he often helped many of Harlem’s poor with secret cash donations and gifts. Madame Queen liked what she saw in Bumpy and offered him a position as henchman in her numbers racket. He accepted and quickly gained her trust. One of his first tasks was to confront the Bub Hewlett gang. It erupted into one of Harlem’s most violent and bloody gang wars. Eventually, Bumpy gained the edge and defeated Hewlett, temporarily saving the numbers game from the Mobs first takeover attempt.

The relationship between Madame Queen and Bumpy was strange and tenuous at best. Some said they had an ongoing affair but most claimed the odd couple were only business partners. Bumpy never abandoned his pimping and robbery professions both of which irritated Madame Queen but both knew what would make the numbers game a success, so they successfully coexisted. These bosses became financial powerhouses, providing capital for loans for those who could not qualify for them from traditional financial institutions – loan sharking. They invested in legitimate businesses and real estate as a way to legitimize their profits.

The Godfather of Harlem lived until 1968, dying from a heart attack as oppose to dying by the gun in the manner most did in his business. As a testament to his success he maintained control of the underworld for nearly forty years with some saying that nothing illegal took place in Harlem without his permission. After Bumpy’s death the underworld became loosely organized and overcome by the drug trade with its many factions. Bumpy’s protégé, Frank Lucas and his rival Nicky Barnes became the most dominate players in the game.

Frank Lucas operated the largest drug business in Harlem after Bumpy’s death during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. He was particularly known for cutting out the middle man in the drug trade and buying heroin directly from sources in the Golden Triangle of Thailand. Lucas boasted that he smuggled heroin using the coffins of dead American servicemen. He controlled such large quantities that he was a supplier to the Mafia. When Frank was busted facing life in prison, he flipped turning states evidence for the Fed’s causing the conviction of more than a hundred associates. However, it is important to note that most of those criminals were on the police force. His career was dramatized in the 2007 feature film American Gangster.

Leroy "Nicky" Barnes, known as Mr. Untouchable, led the notorious African-American crime organization known as “The Council” made up of seven powerful Harlem gangsters similar to the Mafia that controlled the heroin trade. Barnes was convicted in 1978 of multiple counts of RICO violations, including drug trafficking and murder, for which he was sentenced to life in prison without eligibility for parole. While in prison, Barnes became a “Rat” turning state’s evidence against his former associates in "The Council". In exchange for his testimony, Barnes was released into the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Comparing the gangsters of the two eras, one thing is clear despite the viciousness of their chosen profession, the contemporary gangster’s careers were short lived and all of their ill-gotten gains were lost.As a result of the carnage distributed by these characters the drug addiction rate in Harlem was ten times higher than the New York City average and twelve times higher than in the United States as a whole. Of the 30,000 drug addicts at the time estimated to live in New York City, 15,000 to 20,000 lived in Harlem. Property crime was pervasive, and the murder rate was six times higher than New York's average.

In the 1980’s, the use of crack cocaine became widespread, which produced collateral crime as addicts stole to finance their purchasing of additional drugs. Dealers fought for the right to sell in particular regions or over deals gone bad causing the murder rate to skyrocket. By the end of the crack wars in the mid 90’s and with the initiation of aggressive policing, crime in Harlem plummeted and a since of normalcy returned to the once proud historical hamlet of Harlem.


Just a Season
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Harlem - The Black Mecca

This is the next installment of the “Brownsville Series”. If you have not been following or traveling along with me on the “Chitlin Circuit”, which is not to be confused with those entertainment venues where African American artist were only allowed to perform. The “Brownsville Series” is my way of resurrecting the memory of those areas designated for Blacks during the era of segregation, you know across the tracks – the other side of town. All of the above mentioned terms are fittingly proper for the place I am about to explore - Harlem USA. A cultural icon I will refer to as the Black Mecca.

Let me first pay homage, with great pride, to those noted theaters on the Chitlin Circuit. For those who are not familiar with the term “Chitlin Circuit”. It was the collective name given to the string of performance venues throughout the eastern and southern United States that were safe, acceptable, and in most cases the only places Negro musicians, comedians, and other entertainers could perform during the era of racial segregation. It was in these venues where the ghost of the greats crafted their skills laying the foundation for the great performers we enjoy today.

The most popular of these venues were the Cotton Club, Wilt’s Small Paradise, the famed Apollo Theater, Robert’s Show Lounge, Club Delisa, the Regal Theatre in Chicago, the Howard Theater in Washington, DC, the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, the Royal Theater in Baltimore, the Fox Theater in Detroit, the Victory Grill in Austin, Texas, the Hippodrome Theater in Richmond, and the Ritz Theater in Jacksonville, Florida. It is with great pride that I honor the memory and contributions of those venues.

Now on to Harlem, once referred to as the “Capital of Black America”; it began as a European settlement established in July 1639 in what was then known as New Harlem. It was formalized in 1658, when the English took control of the colony changing the hamlets name to Harlem. At that time, it was merely a small agricultural town just outside of New York City. The name Harlem was a synonym for elegant living through a good part of the nineteenth century. For example, the estate of Alexander Hamilton was located in Harlem.

In 1893, the Harlem Monthly Magazine wrote that “it is evident to the most superficial observer that the centre of fashion, wealth, culture, and intelligence, must, in the near future, be found in the ancient and honorable village of Harlem.” Even then Harlem seemed ordained to be the center of cultural significance but it was not until the mass migration of blacks in 1904 that it began to flourish as a predominantly Black enclave. It was because of a real estate crash that caused worsening conditions for blacks throughout New York City. Prompting Philip Payton, owner of the Afro-American Realty Company, to almost single-handedly created the migration of blacks from their previous neighborhoods establishing Black Harlem or Uptown as it came to be known.

Then black churches began to move uptown. St. Philip's Episcopal Church, for one, purchased a block of buildings on West 135th Street to rent to members of its congregation. Black Harlem has always been a religious community with over 400 churches of every faith becoming very influential because of their large congregations and wealth as a result of its extensive real estate holdings. However, many as do today, operated what is known as storefronts from an empty store, a building’s basement or a converted brownstone townhouse.

At the same time blacks were migrating to northern industrial cities fueled by their desire to leave behind the Jim Crow South seeking better jobs and education for their children. Jobs were abundant and many blacks were able to obtain work because expanding industries recruited black laborers to fill new jobs as a result of the war effort. Another reason was to escape a culture of lynching and violence.

By 1920 in a mere twenty years, Harlem became the center of a flowering black culture that became known as the Harlem Renaissance. This period witnessed the greatest collection of artistic production creating the sound and entertainment of the “Roaring Twenties”, but blacks were sometimes excluded from viewing what their peers were creating. Some jazz venues, including the famed Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington played or Connie’s Inn were restricted to whites only, although some uptown clubs were integrated.

The most famous venue in Harlem, and world renowned, was the Apollo Theater that opened on 125th Street on January 26, 1934 in what was a burlesque house. Best known for its “Amateur Night at the Apollo” that continues to this very day. The Apollo was a proving ground, of sorts; if you could make it there you could make it anywhere. Every black performer or artist was ordained by its audience in one way or another. I don’t have enough space to list all of the greats that graced the Apollo stage. If they were successful, they played the Apollo Theater. Another famous spot was the Savoy Ballroom, on Lenox Avenue, was a renowned venue for swing dancing immortalized in a popular song of the era "Stompin' at the Savoy".

During the 1920’s and 1930’s, between Lenox and Seventh Avenues in central Harlem had over 125 entertainment places operating. Such as speakeasies, cellars, lounges, cafes, taverns, supper clubs, rib joints, theaters, dance halls, and bars and grills. Throughout the twentieth century, particularly during the “Harlem Renaissance”, Harlem served as the home and key inspiration to generations of novelists, poets, musicians, and actors. It was because of the city’s pace, the blend of their backgrounds, the difficulties associated with living in Harlem and their experiences that found expression in theater, fiction, and music, among other art forms.

Some of the luminaries produced by Harlem were Paul Robeson, Claude McKay, and Langston Hughes just to name a few. Though Harlem musicians and writers are particularly well remembered, the community has also hosted numerous actors and theater companies, including the New Heritage Repertory Theater, National Black Theater, Lafayette Players, Harlem Suitcase Theater, The Negro Playwrights, American Negro Theater, and the Rose McClendon Players. Arthur Mitchell, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, established Dance Theatre of Harlem as a school and company for classical ballet and theater training in the late 1960’s.

Harlem is also home to notable contemporary artists such as the Harlem Boys Choir, a famous touring choir and education program for young boys, most of whom are black. There is also a Girls’ Choir of Harlem and both companies have toured both nationally and internationally. Harlem is also credited with the creation of Hip-Hop and many hip-hop dances associated with this genre. It is also known for producing Rappers such as Kurtis Blow and Hip Hop Mogul P. Diddy.

After the romantic era of the Harlem Renaissance, Harlem ceased to be home to a majority of NYC's blacks and the character of the community changed in the years after the war, as middle-class blacks left for the outer boroughs and suburbs. With the increase in a poor population, it was also a time when the neighborhood began to deteriorate, and some of the storied traditions of the Harlem Renaissance were driven by poverty, crime, or other social ills.


Just a Season

Thursday, February 18, 2010

THE PLAN!!! Real or Hoax

It has been a great pleasure to share empowering information, and maybe some knowledge, with regard to Black History through the vehicle of “Thought Provoking Perspectives”. I am humbled by the countless positive comments that have been made to the posted articles - THANK YOU.

The idea to highlight our proud heritage came because so much of it has become little more than a footnote to history. Therefore, I hope the knowledge shared was found to be meaningful and has caused you to be enlightened with respect to our glorious history. It is with great honor and respect that I share the stories of those who came before us making it possible for me, and you, to enjoy life today as human beings.

From that day in 1619, when the first Africans were dragged onto the shores of Jamestown to today where we’ve witnessed the most significant event since the resurrection of Christ; the first African American President of these United States or as Jesse would put it “from the outhouse to the White House”. It is no doubt that our story is the greatest story ever told and as it was said through scripture “the first shell be last and the last shell be first”, but there was a plan, a sinister master plan, derived at some point to ensure that people of our hue remain the least of thee.

As the story goes, a British slave owner from the West Indies was invited to the colony of Virginia sometime during the year 1712, to teach his methods to slave owners there. Willie Lynch was the name of the man credited with a speech delivered on the banks of the James River. It is noteworthy to mention that the James River was named for the diabolical King of England, who was the same guy responsible for the twenty-eighth version of the cherished Holy Bible.

This man Lynch brought with him, as he put it, a foolproof method for controlling black slaves that will last for a thousand years. Consequently, it is believed the term “lynching” was derived from his last name as a way to pay homage to him for delivering this ingenious approach. The name Willie Lynch is interesting because it may be a simple play on words. For example, Will Lynch or Will he Lynch. Whatever the reason, it no doubt has significant psychological implications that played heavily on a naive race of people.

Lynch began his historic presentation with a warm greeting: “Gentlemen, you know what your problems are; I do not need to elaborate. I am not here to enumerate your problems. I am here to introduce you to a method of solving them. In my bag here, I have a foolproof method for controlling your black slaves. I guarantee every one of you that if installed correctly it will control the slaves for at least three hundred years. My method is simple…The black slave after receiving this indoctrination shall carry on and will become self re-fueling and self generating for hundreds of years, maybe thousands….” The seeds of devastation were fertilized and the process of destruction was underway for the making of a race into slaves.

In the speech, Lynch outlined a number of differences among the slaves. He stressed to his audience that they should take these differences and make them bigger. These differences included such things as age, color, intelligence, fine hair vs. coarse hair, tall vs. short, male vs. female. These tactics were not new, however they were more than likely put together collectively for this specific purpose for the first time as keys to control.

This short eight-paragraph speech was profound in that it was the embodiment of the cruelest demoralizing agenda ever imposed upon a people since the days when the Romans crucified our Lord. As Lynch closed his speech that day, he said, “They must love, respect, and trust only us.” This is the key to producing a successful strategy. Whether this story is true or not is cause for much speculation. However, as history demonstrates, a manufactured plan was developed by someone to achieve these results that continue to this day. This and other hidden cultural inequities I hoped would cause these you to see that “all is not what it seems.”

The Willie Lynch letter first appeared in the early 1970’s but gained widespread notice during the nineties, when it began appearing on the Internet. Since then, it has often been promoted as an authentic account of slavery during the 18th century, but its inaccuracies and anachronisms have led historians to conclude that it is a hoax. Let’s be honest, I don’t think any intelligent or reasonable person would think that those persons present, if there was a meeting, took written notes. However, the same reasonable thinking person can see that there was a designed plan created by someone in order to sustain such division. It may have been something as simple as “divide and conquer”.

So let’s suppose the Willie Lynch story is a myth. Then, either the concept was ingenious or the biggest urban myth ever, in any event, my question is why are we still fighting amongst ourselves or working in concert with each other. Further, how can the ruling people or anyone for that matter justify an evil philosophy that sanctioned murder, among other atrocities, as a way of building and maintaining a government (with respect to enslaving human beings)? Knowing this, and mind you, I was not taught in school nor did anyone explained that the government through legislative sessions passed laws to ensure that our bondage was sustained. Nor is it taught today.

Lastly, and with no disrespect, this wicked system was sanctioned by the church in the name of God. What is important to understand, when the church endorsed slavery and the vehicle that drove it, this meant, in the eyes of the system God himself authorized this amoral agenda. LET ME BE PERFECTLY CLEAR: I am not disapproving of religion IN ANY WAY. I am simply stating a historical fact that it was sanctioned and used to enslave a people for centuries.

Maybe the question should be asked: Does it still?

Just a Season

Monday, February 15, 2010

Brown v Board of Education – Changed the Face of America

On May 17, 1954, the Warren Court’s unanimous (9-0) decision stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” This was the day that the landmark Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision changed the face of America unlike any other decision before or since. It was the cornerstone that laid the foundation for all of the civil rights African American’s know today, just as the late Thurgood Marshall, who brilliantly argued and won this case envisioned. It is also very appropriate to recognize the skillful talent of Justice Marshall for his more than fifty victories before the Supreme Court, more than any other attorney in history.

The Brown case, as it is known, was not the first such case regarding civil rights argued before the Supreme Court. It was just the most significant of what some would say was the final battle in the courts that had been fought by African American parents since 1849, which started with Roberts v. City of Boston, Massachusetts. It is also important to note that Kansas was the site of eleven such cases spanning from 1881 to 1949.

The case was named after Oliver Brown one of 200 plaintiffs. The Brown case was initiated and organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) leadership who recruited African American parents in Topeka, Kansas for a class action suit against the local school board. The Supreme Court combined five cases under the heading Brown v. Board of Education: Delaware, Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. The ultimate goal sought by the NAACP was to end the practice of “separate but equal” throughout every segment of society, including public transportation, dining facilities, public schools and all forms of public accommodations.

The Brown Supreme Court ruling determined racial segregation in public education was unconstitutional in Brown I, the first opinion. The court’s implementation mandated "with all deliberate speed" in 1955 known as Brown II. In 1979, twenty five years later, there was a Brown III because Topeka was not living up to the earlier Supreme Court ruling, which resulted in Topeka Public Schools building three magnet schools to comply with the court's findings.

As had been the case since Homer Plessy, the subject in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a Louisiana law mandating separate but equal accommodations for blacks and whites on intrastate railroads was constitutional. This decision provided the legal foundation to justify many other actions by state and local governments to socially separate blacks and whites.

Now that I have provided some history related to the case let me add my commentary. It has been said that as sure as things change they remain the same. First, it took 60 year to overturn Plessy with Brown and it took “with all deliberate speed” 13 years for integration to begin fully. During this period of time from 1954 to 1967, governors blocked school entrances and actually closed schools rather than comply with the law of the land. I am not going to touch on the violence that caused Presidents to send the US Army and National Guard troops to schools in order to protect the safety of those the ruling was intended benefit as a result of the Brown decision.

Since then, and over time, many scams have been devised to disenfranchise minorities, and African Americans in particular. I need only remind you of “No Child Left Behind” where we see persistent patterns of underachievement for lower-income students on standardized test scores. These standardized tests serve as gatekeepers to a child's academic future, which I don’t believe was the spirit of the Brown case.

This brings us to where we are today concerning the inequity that still exists. For example in Washington DC the capital of the free world with its minority public school student population of about 95% (all minorities included) suggests that schools are equally as segregated, poorly funded, and there dilapidated facilities equate to pre Brown V Board era schools. The police presence that exists today unlike then serves to save, often times, the students from themselves. About three-fourths of elementary students are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. The dropout rate averages 2 to 1. These are just a few issues that by any measure of academic standards or common sense suggest failure.

The Quality Counts Report, a publication from Editorial Projects in Education, which publishes the trade magazine Education Week, rated the 50 states and the District in six areas of educational performance and policy. Washington schools were ranked 51st in the report, but the lead researcher said that Washington is more comparable to large cities than to states, which have a mix of struggling urban and higher-performing suburban and rural schools. Like school districts in most large cities, Washington schools are severely challenged with daunting problems with the most serious being a large population of students from poor families living in troubled neighborhoods.

To address these issues Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed Chancellor Michelle Rhee in 2007 to be the seventh person to lead the District of Columbia Public Schools System in a decade. This is a school district serving more than 47,000 students in 123 schools. Chancellor Rhee has made great strides in overcoming a combination of a low-performing schools and a system with an unimpressive history of policymaking that has generally not received better than a D-plus.

Under the leadership of Chancellor Rhee, the public school system has made some progress in addressing these issues. But here tenure not unlike her predecessor’s has been marked with much adversity. I choose this school district as an example but I dare say must school districts with predominately minority populations endure the same daunting challenges, which begs the question as sure as thing change they remain the same.

After fifty-five years, it is not unreasonable to seek and ask that the spirit of Brown rest in the city where the decision was rendered into law. I understand that public education was not created to develop minds rather it was intended to simply teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. It was created to maintain a permanent underclass. Much like it was then, a travesty, in many ways it remains a travesty for the children in most Urban Public School System’s particularly in the city that is supposed to be the beacon of freedom around the world.

I, like Dr. King believe in the dream but we have unfinished business and as it stands - it is a dream deferred. That’s why it is imperative for us to celebrate this milestone and continue the struggle as the ghosts of so many greats who died for this principle: “education is the single most important ingredient necessary to neutralize those forces that breed poverty and despair”.

Just a Season book trailer

Friday, February 12, 2010

“Charm City” – The Jewell of the Chesapeake

The next city in the “Brownsville Series” is Upton in Baltimore, Maryland where I found one of the most affluent African American neighborhoods in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century. As I continue my quest to resurrect the ghost of those storied segregated communities of a time long past I will examine the “Jewell of the Chesapeake”. Today, B-more is called “Charm City” which should have been the name given to this splendid community back in the day - called Upton.

In Upton, Pennsylvania Avenue was the main drag connecting all African American life in the city and beyond. To the south and west of Upton were the poor and working class African American neighborhoods of "The Bottom” - to its east were the German American and Jewish American neighborhoods. Upton is about a fifteen minute walk from Downtown Baltimore but blacks of that era had no need to go downtown, for obvious reasons, they were not allowed to patronize or enter through the front door of the white establishments - unless they were working.

Baltimore is best known for crabs, crab cakes, delicious seafood, and of course a good time, but let’s never forget it rich history. Upton was home to the most educated African Americans, property owners, and professionals to include doctors, lawyers, retailers who served the middle class and an upscale clientele. On the Avenue, as it was called, was home to a premiere shopping strip for black Baltimorians, inspiring comparisons to Lenox Avenue in Harlem. Upton had it all jazz clubs, dance halls, theaters, as well as other public and private institutions for the black community.

Upton was also the staging ground for much of the local and national civil rights initiatives. It was a crossroad for many great African Americans who fought for equality and improving conditions for communities suffering from the ridged “separate but equal laws” and cruel amoral agendas. People like the great Frederick Douglass, Justice Thurgood Marshall, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey all visited Upton and organized in its local churches. The Baltimore chapter of the NAACP was based in Upton as well as the New Negro Alliance who rallied for justice from this proud community.

In the mid-20th century, Upton's population swelled due to the popularity of the neighborhood and the pressures of segregation that kept African Americans confined to certain areas. Single family homes were subdivided into small apartments and Pennsylvania Avenue's sidewalks were crowded on Saturday nights, as loud music and heavy drinking became popular vices on the strip. There were several notable venues hosting great entertainment like the New Albert Hall, the Savoy and the Strands that drew many performers and partygoers.

But it was the Douglass Theater, renamed The Royal Theater, at Pennsylvania and Lafayette, that became famous and a mainstay on the Chitlin Circuit on par with the legendary Apollo Theater. Cab Calloway grew up in Upton and Eubie Blake performed his debut in a club on Pennsylvania Avenue. Stars such as Ethel Water, Pearl Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, James Brown, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations all performed at the Royal. It was like the Apollo in the sense that you had to play the Royal to get your chops.

Churches were also a huge part of this community providing safe havens for its people. Since the 18th Century, African American churches have nurtured their souls, feed the hungry, clothed and housed the poor but their roll was far more important. The church community was a launch pad for activism and served as a communication networks, which was the backbone of the community. The church community fought for civil rights, supported business initiatives, and job placement. From the beginning going back beyond the Underground Railroad, Baltimore’s churches were a place of empowerment through worship and serve as incubators for organizing and planning regardless of domination or faith.

Baltimore has produced prominent businessmen such as Raymond Haysbert who was the owner and founder of the famed Parks Sausage Company that became the first black-owned company to go public in 1969. The Parks Sausage Company was a legend in Baltimore and you could hear its slogan “more Parks Sausages mom” everywhere. After the company experienced financial difficulties two former National Football League Hall of Famers Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris partnered to come to its rescue maintaining the company’s black-owned legacy. James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul”, was also a prominent businessman in the city owning WEBB, a local radio station, and several other businesses.

Upton also produced its share of colorful characters known as “hustlers” who were legendary. One of the most famous was "Little Willie" Adams. Mr. Adams or "Little Willie", as he was known, opened a shoeshine stand on the Avenue when he was 18. Sources say he was an ambitious young hustler with dreams of being his own man. One day a flamboyant numbers man got in his chair, he popped his rag like a firecracker while talking jive making him laugh. He convinced the numbers man that he too was a businessman, solid and dependable, and he wanted in on the numbers game. The hustlers slapped palms and Little Willie started at the bottom the next day as a runner.

Hustling was a family business and Little Willie was taught by his grandfather who ran an after-hours gambling house on Madison Avenue were most of Baltimore’s established hustlers and entrepreneurs enjoyed their favorite vices. Little Willie was a welcome star at grand pop’s gambling house as he was eager to learn this way of life, as early as age seven. By age 34, the young dapper Adams was already a living legend and the King of B-more. Little Willie was known to say, after he became the numbers czar, “This was our thing started by slaves”. I’m told he would say that “prayer is good but when you get up off your knees. You’ve got to hustle”.

Then there was Mr. Melvin Williams who was the inspiration for the enormously popular HBO series "The Wire." Known as “Little Melvin”, also featured the documentary “American Gangster” where he told his story, his way. Before he was old enough to shave Little Melvin possessed a genius I.Q. of 160 but he says it’s closer to 200. Despite being a high school dropout, he can talk tax codes, inner-state commerce, calculus and physics with the best of them. Little Melvin, a legend at age 15 years old had made a few hundred grand in the gambling haunts and alleyways along glittering Pennsylvania Avenue.

When heroin addiction exploded in the 1960’s, Mafia drug traffickers sought out connections in big cities that were accustomed to dealing in large sums of cash and were smart enough to keep their mouths shut. They needed to look no further than to Melvin, known in street lore today as “the man who brought heroin to Baltimore.” For three decades Melvin ruled as the uncrowned king.

Frustrated with their inability to penetrate his operation, Baltimore police framed him by planting a hand full of pills in his pocket during an orchestrated bust. Five years later, Melvin emerged from prison a bitter man out for revenge. He accomplished his mission accumulating untold millions in narco-profits but ultimately paid the price by serving 26.5 years in prison.

His street legend was larger than life, when the Baltimore riots erupted after the 1968 killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., there came a knock on Melvin’s door on the fourth morning of fire and rage. In walked National Guard Gen. George Gelston, state Sen. Clarence Mitchell III, and Police Maj. William “Box” Harris. “We think you can help stop the rioting,” they said. “We’ll give you a bullhorn and a bullet-proof vest.” Williams says he told them “I’ll take the bullhorn. Give the vest to Senator Mitchell.” That afternoon, as thousands stood at Pennsylvania Avenue and Mosher Street, Williams told the crowd that they’d expressed their rage, they’d made their point — and now it was time go home. The streets quickly emptied, and that day the riots were over.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, controversial urban renewal projects destroyed much of Upton's historic architecture, especially in the southwestern portion of the neighborhood. However, it only replaced a portion of what was removed. Once the buildings were razed it was difficult to secure developers to build new construction. The famed Royal Theater was demolished in 1971. Further problems faced Upton during this time in the form of economic depression, housing abandonment, crime, and racial rioting.

Pennsylvania Avenue is now lined with sneaker shops, dollar stores, other low-rent commercial uses, and many abandoned storefronts. The Avenue Market sells produce and holds occasional events such as jazz shows. According to the city, 60% of Upton families with children under 5 are living in poverty. The median home sale price in Upton in 2004 (not including Marble Hill) was $28,054. Many of the row houses in the neighborhood are vacant, either abandoned by their property owners or owned by the city.

Yes, the ghost of what was our creation has been stained and the Jewell of the Chesapeake has lost its luster. Unfortunately, the city of Baltimore, known as Charm City, forgot that Upton was responsible for a large part of its charm but African Americans know it lure looms large, and its legacy will never die.

Just a Season

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Mis-Educated Negro

I once taught a college course where “The Mis-Education of the Negro” was the required class text. It was an amazing experience because I realized that this message is very relevant today. This great work was originally published in 1933 by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, known as the father of BLACK HISTORY MONTH. I feel this book should be mandatory reading for all African America’s – young and old.

As the class read the assigned chapters and we discussed them I was struck by the fact that we have not understood the powerful message contained within its pages. The thesis of Dr. Woodson's book is that Negro’s of his day were being culturally indoctrinated, rather than taught, in American schools or not taking advantage of education period. This conditioning, he claims, causes African-Americans to become dependent and to seek out inferior places in the greater society of which they are a part. This assertion is clearly evident nearly eighty-years later.

He challenged his readers to become empowered by doing for themselves, regardless of what they were taught: “History shows that it does not matter who is in power... those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they did in the beginning.”

Today with all the advantages concerning educational opportunities, business exposure, and social networking we are in the best position to succeed than at any time in our history. So the question is “why are we not networking and doing business with each other?” Every other ethnic community takes advantage these options to strengthen and empower themselves - while robbing our communities in the process. We will let anybody setup shop in our communities and take our money.

My point is: we must learn to do business with each other in order to gain wealth by keeping the money in our community. Some say we spend TRILLION’S annually and nearly all of it leaves our community within 15 minutes. Let me remind you that the definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing and expect a different result. We can change the world but first we must change ourselves.

Here is a quote from the “The Mis-Education of the Negro”:

"When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary."

Now, many of you who have read my blog and therefore know that I believe education is the single most important ingredient necessary to neutralize those forces that breed poverty and despair. So I say it is time to know where you came from to know where you’re going, if we are ever going to get there.

Just a Season

Black Empowered Men

Friday, February 5, 2010

“Brownsville” – Washington DC’s Georgetown

This is the second article in the Black History Month series I’m calling “Brownsville”. As you travel with me on this journey exploring the rich history of those African American communities that have become little more than footnotes in the annals of time. I hope you will be empowered by knowing more about the greatness that once was our proud history. These segregated communities were the result of an unholy system imposed upon people of color commonly referred to as “Jim Crow” and every city or town in America had such a place.

This leads me to the next examination of a “Brownsville” located in Washington DC - Georgetown. DC is the capital of the free world with its avenues of grand marble structures that are more or less a crystallization of magnificence for tourist to admire. These magnificent architectural marvels are symbols of the power associated with America’s wealth. This area downtown is known as the Federal Triangle because it is the area established for federal government entities.

However, there is a hidden Washington that some have called a tale of two cities. Just blocks for these symbols of opulence live the disenfranchised, downtrodden, and neighborhoods of the forgotten. Prior to 1967, the city was run by and under federal control, which is why it is called a District – i.e., the District of Columbia. It was President Johnson who appointed Walter Washington, an African American, as the city’s first ever Mayor-Commissioner in an effort that came to be known as home rule.

The city has always been predominately African American with no real authority over its direction. The “District” as many locals call it was at that time a sleepy southern town not much different than a town in South Carolina or Mississippi as far as African Americans were concern. It was run by Dixiecrats to this point and the Dixiecrats were worst than what we know today a Conservatives or Republicans. What you may not know, even today Washington has no voting representing in Congress making the capital of the free world basically a plantation.

Washington has many African American enclaves that have long storied histories but did you know Georgetown, one of Washington’s most renowned upscale communities, was once one of them. It is probably best known today as the home of Georgetown University and its championship basketball teams coached by the legendary John Thompson, and now by his son, or the many luminous sports figures produced by the institution. You may also know Georgetown because of its world renowned nightlife, shopping or maybe a place home to famous people. One of its most famous residents was a young John Kennedy and his new bride Jackie, who called Georgetown home prior to moving into the White House.

It is also worth mentioning that many notable African American figures resided in communities around town such as the great orator Fredrick Douglass who owned a home in Anacostia. Carter G. Woodson the creator of the concept “Black History Month” also owned a home in the city. These great men and all prominent African American politicians, artists, entrepreneurs, scholars, athletes and socialites were relegated to live in a town divided by the harsh separate but equal laws of the day.

Georgetown began as a Maryland tobacco port on the banks of the Potomac River in 1751. When Congress created the District of Columbia to be the nation’s capital in 1791, its 10-mile square boundaries were drawn to include this port town, as well as the very similar Virginia tobacco port of Alexandria just across the river. Alexandria was given back to Virginia in 1846 but Georgetown remains as one of Washington's most lively urban neighborhoods.

Georgetown historically had a large African American population, including both slaves and free blacks. Slave labor was widely used in the construction of new buildings in Washington just as they were used to provide labor on tobacco plantations in Maryland and Virginia. Let me be very clear, slaves and their labor was the workforce that built the White House, Capital, and most of the grand marble structures of opulence.

Georgetown was also a major slave trading deport that dates back as early as 1760, when John Beattie established his business on O Street and conducted business at other locations called “pens” around Wisconsin Avenue and M Street with both locations being just a short distance from the White House. Slave trading continued until the mid-19th century, when it was ended on April 16, 1862. Many former slaves moved to Georgetown following their freedom establishing this thriving community.

When African American’s settled in Georgetown the free men established the Mount Zion United Methodist Church that remains today, which is the oldest African American congregation in Washington. This feat due to their strong religious convictions was a testament to their fortitude after experiencing the horrors of slavery. Mount Zion also provided a cemetery for free burials to Washington’s earlier African American population. Prior to establishing the church, free blacks and slaves went to the Dumbarton Methodist Church where they were restricted to a hot, overcrowded balcony.

I’m sure a sense of extreme prided was evident in Washington at the time because it became the home of Howard University. Although not in Georgetown, this preeminent university was established for Blacks in 1867 with the aid of the Freedmen’s Bureau. It was named for the commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau, General Oliver Otis Howard. The Freedmen’s Bureau was intended to help solve everyday problems of the newly freed slaves but its most widely recognized achievement was its accomplishments in the area of education. Prior to the Civil War, no southern state had a system of universal, state-supported public education for “Coloreds” but Washington now had an advanced school of learning.

In the early twentieth century new construction of large apartment buildings began on the edge of Georgetown. The eyes of the elite became trained on the area. John Ihlder led efforts to take advantage of new zoning laws to get restrictions enacted on construction in Georgetown. However, legislators largely ignored concerns about the historic preservation of Georgetown until 1950, when Public Law 808 was passed establishing the historic district of “Old Georgetown”. The law required the United States Commission of Fine Arts to be consulted on any alteration, demolition, or building construction within the historic district. As you can imagine, this proper and official sounding solution was not designed to benefit the African American citizens living in Georgetown.

Georgetown began to emerge as the fashion and cultural center of the newly identified community. While many “old families” stayed in Georgetown, the neighborhood’s population became poorer and more racially diverse, its demographics started to shift as a wave of new post war residents arrived, many politically savvy, well-educated, and people from elite backgrounds took a keen interest in the neighborhood’s historic nature for their own benefit. It was during this time that the Citizens Association of Georgetown was formed. It is my understanding that the Old Georgetown Act was really a polite, or maybe not so polite, way of saying gentrification.

I am not implying nor suggesting that the Act was designed to remove African American’s and poor residences from the community (wink) but it did create an environment where people of low to moderate income could no longer afford to live there. High-end developments and gentrification have revitalized the formally African American neighborhood and what was viewed as a blighted industrial waterfront. The Districts old refuse incinerator and smokestack preserved for years as an abandoned but historic landmark was redeveloped in 2003 to become part of the most pronounced feature of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (see photo).

Let me conclude with the concept of what happened in simple terms according to the thinking of the day; someone decided to trade a penny for a pound, and very effectively.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Ghost of Jim Crow

In an earlier article someone made a comment and ask a question that, frankly, surprised me. The question was; what do you mean when you say “Jim Crow”? My first thought was, how can history so recent and one that I’ve witnessed, and know to be true, be removed from the consciousness of anyone living in America. I suppose it speaks to the indifference of what is learned today, or not, through the education system.

So I will try to enlighten this young lady by providing a brief history of its origin and hopely empower her. The term Jim Crow originated in a song performed by Daddy Rice, a white minstrel show entertainer in the 1830’s. Rice covered his face with charcoal paste or burnt cork to resemble a black man as he sang and danced a routine in the caricature of a silly black person. By the 1850’s, this cruelly belittling blackface character, one of several stereotypical images of black inferiority in America’s popular culture, was a standard act in minstrel shows of the day.

The term became synonymous with the brutal concept of segregation directed specifically at African Americans in the late nineteenth-century. It is not clear why this term was selected; however, what is clear is that by 1900, the term was generally identified with those racist laws and actions that deprived African Americans of their civil rights by defining blacks as inferior to whites while identifying them as subordinate people.

It was around this time that its inception entered the lexicon of racial bigotry after the landmark U.S Supreme Court decision Plessy verses Ferguson in 1896 resulting from a suit brought by the New Orleans Committee of Citizens. The notion was devised as many southern states tried to thwart the efforts and gains made during Reconstruction following the Civil War.

They, the Committee of Citizens, arranged for Homer Plessy’s arrest in order to challenge Louisiana’s segregation laws. Their argument was, “We, as freemen, still believe that we were right and our cause is sacred” referring to the confederacy. The Supreme Court agreed and a policy of segregation became the law of the land lasting more than sixty years as a result of that fateful decision.

As a result of reconstruction African Americans were able to make great progress in building their own institutions, passing civil rights laws, and electing officials to public office. In response to these achievements, southern whites launched a vicious, illegal war against southern blacks and their white allies. In most places, whites carried out this war under the cover of secret organizations such as the KKK. Thousands of African Americans were killed, brutalized, and terrorized in these bloody years. I might add that anywhere south of Canada was "South" as this was the law of the land.

The federal government attempted to stop the bloodshed by sending in troops and holding investigations, but its efforts were far too limited and frankly were not intended to solve the problem. Therefore, black resistance to segregation was difficult because the system of land tenancy, known as sharecropping, left most blacks economically dependent upon planter/landlords and merchant suppliers. In addition, white terror at the hands of lynch mobs threatened all members of the black family - adults and children alike. This reality made it nearly impossible for blacks to stand up to Jim Crow because such actions might bring the wrath of the white mob on one's parents, brothers, spouse, and children.

Few black families were economically well off enough to buck the local white power structure of banks, merchants, and landlords. To put it succinctly: impoverished and often illiterate southern blacks were in a weak position to confront the racist culture of Jim Crow. To enforce the new legal order of segregation, southern whites often resorted to even more brutalizing acts of mob terror, including race riots and ritualized lynchings were regularly practiced to enforce this agenda.

Some historians see this extremely brutal and near epidemic commitment to white supremacy as breaking with the South's more laissez-faire and paternalistic past. Others view this "new order" as a more rigid continuation of the "cult of whiteness" at work in the South since the end of the Civil War. Both perspectives agree that the 1890’s ushered in a more formally racist South and one in which white supremacists used law and mob terror to define the life and popular culture of African American people as an inferior people.

Jessica (who is white) now you know…