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.
I have been writing about from where would come the New Way of American progressivism. Well, I think to everyone’s surprise she’s here and awakened. She landed on Plymouth Rock with a pair of Big Girl sized stiletto heels or what more precisely was on the White House lawn and in cities and capitals world-wide. Never in our nation’s (or world’s ) history has there ever been such a protest movement against a newly inaugurated President of the United States. In 1820 the Adam’s Boys ran out of Washington, DC and in 1973 Nixon’s inaugural motorcade car was bottled but never before has a movement, and a movement of women rocked an inauguration as it did on January 21, 2017. To my knowledge no banana republic puppet government has ever seen this level of national and global political defiance. And yet here we are.
There comes a time when social forces culminate in an explosion of sentiment so astounding that it brings forward a new epoch in the form of historical consciousness. Ben Franklin’s revolutionary protestation “Join or Die” was a progressive idea heard throughout the American colonies and awakened a revolutionary consciousness. Today, women are awakened to their own political power and men to that realization. Now, I think our Sister’s have everyone’s attention. Women are awakened to a belief that they were not asleep during the 2016 election but simply in respite. What we also learned on Saturday that progressive ideas matter and they seemingly matter most of all to women! (Black Lives Matter was founded by Sisters!) This new wave of progressive sentiment was unleashed by millions of women and their male allies. Women of all races, creeds, religions, origins and orientations made it known that the liberation of women from oppressive and Neanderthalish dictums should have been a thing of a distant past.
Donald Trump’s inauguration met progressivism head on Saturday and progressivism won. But this is only the beginning. This is merely the first salvo in what should must become a sustained political movement. Power is never relinquished without a fight. Fighting is what Americans do. Now is the time for Progressives to put on the gloves and MMA style this country into the 21st century. We must have a progressive populist movement forged to keep America moving in a direction that affirms and sustains modern progressive ideas. For me Progressive Populism affirms the idea that America is a nation founded on the backs of African slaves and immigrants. The complete and absolute respect for people of First Nations, the right to a clean environment, a free and good education, health care as a right and not a luxury. That Black Lives Matter. It would affirm that women have the right to make their own health care decisions about their bodies. Progressive populism stands for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian crisis, Veterans first, decent human habitation and a respect for the elderly and poor. That every American deserves to earn a living wage. Open access in technology. That racism has no place in a modern American nation. Progressive populism affirms the right of people to identify with religions and the culture of their choice while remaining firmly American. And above all a Constitutional amendment that places people before corporations.
Trump’s inauguration (left) and Obama’s in 2009.
But this cannot happen without some growing pains. Progressive Populism means leaving the politics of the few for the politics of the many. A21st progressivism be respectful but acknowledge to old political leaders that now is the time for new leadership and not a return to more of the same. It’s time to move forward and onward. A return to a focus on making life better for people and that must being in locally. Local communities is where real politics begins and ends. Political battles must be waged at the local level and spring upward to the City, County, State and National levels. The time for political action is now!
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