Ever wonder what Black Americans celebrated before Juneteenth? Our quasi-national holiday was “Emancipation Day,” celebrated on January 1, the anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. My recent article on Emancipation Day celebrations in Black California. @ucpress Journal of Calif History.
If you haven’t read the latest veiled corporate attack on #BlackLivesMatter you should all take a look at last weeks Pittsburgh Post Gazette article written by Jack Kelly an Editor at the Gazette. The article the depth of American racism and reveals the while it will remain a permanent fixture in American society for some time. Not only does the article show a deep lack of sensitivity for black life but illuminates the failure of our multi-cultural education system to even remotely properly educate Americans about the true role of slavery in American life. For those of you interested in reading the article I have created a link to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. The Gazette chose, after reading my article, not to publish it in full length but asked for a watered down version that would be printed in notes to the Editor.
I simply refused to do that. So I published my response here.
Here is what I wrote:
For many Americans, slavery ended with the surrender of the Confederacy at the Appomattox Court House in Virginia in 1865. But for the millions of enslaved and free black Americans the end of the Civil War was just a beginning to the quest for full and equal citizenship.
Slavery was not only a moral abomination it violated the very principles of American freedom inculcated by Thomas Jefferson’s historic words 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.”
While some argue that slavery was a worldwide, ancient tradition practiced by many nations and that the United States was simply in step with the times, no nation, except the United States had so forthrightly professed the equality of man while enslaving others for profit. The cost to bring America in line with its own professed goals of equality cost millions of lives both black and white.
What is hard for many Americans to not only comprehend and to accept is that for the four million former slaves and the millions of free blacks the effects of slavery and the quest for full citizenship did not end at that day at Appomattox. Slavery was not only a physical cruelty, but also the lingering effects of racial attitudes, ideologies and policies that formed the basis of white supremacy brought devastating economic and psychological harm to generations of black people.
Historian Jim Downs stated that life for former slaves was so heinous that between 1862 and 1870 at least 1 million out of 4 million blacks died of malnutrition and disease when the Federal government abandoned them to their own fate. Out of this devastation former slaves picked themselves up and formed the basis of the black community. Left to fend for themselves blacks had to contend with American terrorist groups that sought to keep blacks from gaining economic, social and most of all political equality. On May 21, 1921 white vigilante groups allied with the Tulsa Police Department, and the National Guard destroyed the entire black community of Tulsa, appropriately known as the “Black Wall Street” for its economic prosperity. For the first time in American history, airplanes were used to drop bombs on black homes and businesses. When the smoke cleared over 10,000 black Tulsa residents were left homeless. Restitution was never paid to the victims.
The attack on black life was not confined to violence. Black life was stymied in every direction. Take for example the American Medical Association (AMMA), largely seen as a paragon of virtue. The white dominated AMMA used segregation to not only to discourage and exclude black medical school aspirants but also to exclude black physicians from obtaining necessary hospital privileges for the better part of its existence. “A Snapshot of U.S. Physicians: Key Findings” from the 2008 Health Tracking Physician Survey, Data Bulletin No. 35 reported that three out of four physicians identified themselves as white, non-Hispanic, while just 3.8 percent were black. Today black health disparities remind us of the AMMA’s devastating attempts to limit black health outcomes by creating a shortage of black physicians who would have worked to address our community health issues.
African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. Emily Badger reported in May the Department of Housing and Urban Development settled with the largest bank headquartered in Wisconsin over claims that it discriminated from 2008-2010 against black and Hispanic borrowers in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. These glaring statistics and examples of present day discrimination are a reminder that while slavery and Jim Crown are largely a thing of the past its lingering effects still haunt our nations past, present and possibly future. For blacks the “past is never dead, or even truly past.”
W. Gabriel Selassie I, Ph.D.
The Ralph Bunche Associate Professor, U.S. & African American History