Since the meat of book one focuses on what life was like for a little girl, and then a young woman, growing up in slavery, the bulk of my research had to do with reading slave narratives and studying enslavement through the eyes of women and children.
Between Slavery and Freedom centers on Stella’s enslavement on The Saddler Plantation in Louisiana. As I introduce us to the first Stella, she is a six-year-old girl enslaved with her mother, Deborah. At this age, she is not aware that she is living property, which was typical for some enslaved children in their early years. She plays with the other children, including the slave owners’ daughter, but she does not yet understand the value of her flesh, that she could be bought, sold, traded, transferred, deeded, and gifted. Stella describes the plantation as a “big family.” She loves running through the dirt and the way it feels on her toes. She talks of childish things like eating sweet cakes, playing with Miss Carla, and trying to convince Mama, she touched the sun.
“One time, I made it where I touched the sun. It wasn’t even hot either. It didn’t feel like nothing but air. I told Mama the sun was tricking us.
“And how it do that?”
“Cause Mama. I touched it, and it ain’t burn my finger none. It feels hot, but it ain’t really.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
Historically, enslaved children who had a “childhood” in this way realized their status gradually. Their awakened consciousness may have been signified by seeing a family member sold for the first time or being sold themselves. The research points to ten as the age where the enslaved child knew and understood that he or she was property, except in the circumstances, as I have mentioned. As soon as they were old enough, the enslaved child’s life changed, and they realized that their lives as enslaved differed greatly from the lives of the white children they once played with as small children.
Slave-owners raised southern white youth as enslavers in training. Sometimes slave-owners gifted their children an enslaved person as a pet (sometimes it was the same child they played with). Literature also played a role in the training of southern youth to not only accept slavery as a regular part of society but to prepare them to own slaves of their own. Examples of such books is The Child’s Book on Slavery; or Slavery Made Plain. In a chapter called The Duty of Learning about Slavery, it states:
“if slavery is good, we ought to help it forward…”
In a chapter called Does Color Make Slavery, it states:
“Moses and all his people, I have said, were slaves in Egypt, but they were not colored people.”
This explanation was to try to explain to the children that slavery wasn’t based on skin color, and it is a lie. Egypt is in Africa. Moses and his people were “people of color.”
In a chapter called What is a Slave, the author compares the enslaved to a horse, saying:
“Perhaps your father has a horse. That is his property. He has a right to make the horse work, only he should treat him kindly and give him good food. If the horse is his, nobody has a right to tell him he must not use the horse so. And then, if he thinks it best, he has a right to sell the horse to somebody else. Nobody has a right to forbid him. He need not go and ask even the horse, if he may have him plow the garden, or draw the wagon, for the horse would not understand him, and could not speak to him, and will never grow so old or so wise, that he can understand our words, and talk himself.”
Speaking of literature, another part of writing book one was reading many slave narratives, including Frederick Douglass An American Slave, and Up from Slavery. Other books included When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember, and Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Emancipation.
Cane River Creole National Historical Park
“Some people have to take the cotton and pick out the seeds, and others have to spin and weave. They don’t do nothing but spins and weaves. Some people even had to turn the weaves into threads.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
More profound than this is my visit to a former slave plantation at The Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches, Louisiana.
You might ask yourself why anyone would want to visit such a place. I was writing about people living on a slave plantation and what better way to get inside their heads than to visit one.
Originally called Bermuda, the founder of Oakland was Jean Pierre Emmanuel Prud’ Homme, who began farming the land in 1785 and received a Spanish land grant in 1789. The land’s first cash crops were tobacco, indigo, and cotton. The Prud’ Hommes were the first family west of the Mississippi River to farm cotton on a large scale.
“Down in the quarters, every family had a one- or two-room log cabin. Mostly one room though. We had mattresses filled with corn shucks. Sometimes the men build chairs at night. We didn’t know much about having anything, though. There were a lot of cabins for the slaves, but they weren’t fitting for nobody to live in. We just had to put up with them.”
– Stella, Between Slavery and Freedom
After the Civil War, sharecropper and tenant farmers continued to live on the land until the 1970s, and slave quarters became homes to sharecroppers later. The people worked twelve hours a day, six days a week. Seeing this with my own eyes put it into perspective how the south had reconstructed slavery by returning land to former slave owners and putting former slaves back into the fields under another name. Slave codes designed to control the enslaved became black codes intended to control freedmen, and cotton pickers became sharecroppers.
Finally, part of my preparation for book one also included where I was living at the time I started writing these books.
At the time I released the first book in this trilogy, my husband and I lived in an old house owned by our elderly cousin on 40-acres of land. Over the years, we planted a garden on the property, built a chicken coop and raised chickens, owned several dogs, goats, and even a horse. My grandmother-in-law also recounted stories of when she and some cousins picked cotton on this land.
The elderly cousin and her father built the house we rented many years ago. It was an old house and an old land. It was easy for my overactive imagination to envision what it would be like if we were not renting this house from our cousin; if we were not free to live life on our own terms; if this was not the 2000s, but the 1800s, and if we were not free but enslaved. I walked the property, breathed the air, and looked up at the trees. I had dreams of black people hanging from those trees and visions of people trying to escape.
We lived on that land for five years, eventually moving away in 2015, and I had a completed manuscript.
Welcome to the first Black History Fun Fact Friday episode of 2019! BHFFF was founded in 2015 on this blog where we give doses of Black History year around. For more episodes, be sure to visit the page where we have archived all our episodes so far HERE.
Q. Why are people talking so much about the 400th Year? What is this?
2019 is being called the 400th Year because it marks the 400 years since American slavery. Founded in 1607, America celebrated her 400 year anniversary in 2007. Twelve years from 1607 (1619) she brought to her shores the first 20 persons of African descent to begin American slavery.
At the top of the year, a group of celebrities traveled to Ghana to celebrate the opening of 2019. Ghana is one of many African countries offering African Americans easy return in a second exodus type commemoration they are calling The Year of Return, Ghana 2019. While as early as May 1616, blacks from the West Indies were at work in Bermuda providing knowledge about the cultivation of tobacco and in 1526, enslaved “Africans” were part of a Spanish expedition to establish an outpost on the North American coast in present-day South Carolina, 1619 remains an important part of Black American history because it was the beginning of American slavery as we know it today, where the first Blacks appeared in Virginia as captives to begin the American Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. August 2019 marks 400 years and many are commemorating it with what has been coined The Year of Return.
“A Dutch ship carrying 20 Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, on Aug. 20, 1619, a voyage that would mark the beginning of slavery in the American colonies. The number of slaves continued to grow between the 17th and 18th centuries, as slave labor was used to help fuel the growing tobacco and cotton industries in the southern states. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, some 4 million slaves were set free. However, racial inequalities and violence toward newly freed slaves would persist in the country throughout the 1860s and 1870s.” – BET National News
In September of 2010, I had the opportunity to visit Jamestown Virginia and to stand on the banks of the James River where 20 of the first documented arrival of “Africans” were brought to the colony of Virginia. The 20 captives were removed from the Portuguese slave ship, San Juan Bautista, following an encounter the ship had with the White Lion and her consort, the Treasurer, another English ship as documented by John Rolfe, Virginia’s first tobacco planter. He wrote about the account of the African landing in a letter to the Virginia Company of London. The captain of a Dutch warship that arrived in Jamestown in August 1619 “brought not any thing but 20 and odd Negroes, wch the Governor and Cape Marchant bought for victuale . . . at the best and easyest rate they could.”
“The slaves were herded onto a Portuguese slave ship in Angola, in Southwest Africa. The ship was seized by British pirates on the high seas — not brought to Virginia after a period of time in the Caribbean. The slaves represented one ethnic group, not many, as historians first believed.” – Lisa Rein, Mystery of Va.’s First Slaves Is Unlocked 400 Years Later
It is interesting that historians have now verified that the enslaved represented one ethnic group and not many because for too long we’ve grouped the many peoples of Africa into one category. We have been brainwashed into referring to them as Africans instead of by their true nationality. Africa is a continent made up of over fifty countries and many different nationalities. When the first 20 Blacks were brought to the Americas, they were not just Africans. They were part of an entire nation of people. They were descendants of the ancient Israelites and brought to America as part of biblical prophecy. (Gen. 15:13) The most revealing account of the Hebrew heritage of these Africans is told in the memoir of Olaudah Equiano, known in his lifetime as Gustavus Vassa, a writer, and abolitionist from the Igbo region of what is today southeastern Nigeria according to his memoir. He states:
“And here I cannot forebear suggesting what has long struck me very forcibly, namely, the strong analogy…which appears to prevail in the manners and customs of my countrymen and those of the Jews, before they reached the land of promise and particularly the patriarchs…an analogy which would induce me to think that one people sprang from the other. We practiced circumcision like the Jews and made offerings and feasts on that occasion in the same manner they did. Like the Israelites in their primitive state, our government was conducted by our chiefs or judges, our wisemen and elders; and the head of the family, with us, enjoyed a similar authority over his household with that which is ascribed to Abraham and the other patriarchs.” – The Life of Olaudah Equiano, Chapter 1, pp 22-24)
Other examples can be found among the Ashanti Tribe of Ghana, where the priesthood is hereditary to a specific family, such a family has little or no possessions, is exempt from all taxes, supplied with food and advises the king. Compare this with the Levites of ancient Israel. While not all “Blacks” are Israelites (Africa is filled with many nations of Black people), it is clear that many of the cultural differences of the many nations of Africa are Hebraic in nature and that many of these customs have been hidden from the world. For example, The name Ashanti, the predominant tribe in Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, comes from the Hebrew word “Ashan” meaning, “smoke.” The name Ashan was the name of a city located in southern Israel.
“Their sanitation laws closely mirror that of what is written in the Torah. They were originally a pastoral people until they were forced to move into the bush, which is similar to what has happened to the Igbos. The selling of prisoners of war as slaves or the enslavement of their fellow man in order to pay off debt as it is found in the Torah, the five Books of Moses. Also when one dies, the place in which a person has expired is cleansed and locked up for nine days, which is like how in Leviticus 14 a room is shut up for seven days. They never fought on Saturday (Sabbath) they started their calendar in the fall like Jews and Hebrews. The Ashanti society is a Patriarchal one.” – Ashanti of Ghana, Hebrew Igbo
Slavers went into the interior of the African continent in search for a specific people. They may have practiced the laws of the Old Testament, wore fringes, kept the Sabbath and lived their lives in striking resemblance of the Israelites of the bible, their ancestors.
“The early 1600s was a time of war and empire-building in Southwest Africa; Portuguese traders under the rule of the king of Spain had established the colony of Angola. The exporting of slaves to the Spanish New World was a profitable enterprise. The Portuguese waged war against the kingdoms of Ndongo and Kongo to the north, capturing and deporting thousands of men and women. They passed through a slave fortress at the port city of Luanda, still Angola’s capital.” – Rein, L.
The Treasurer and the White Lion each took 20 to 30 enslaved Israelites before the San Juan Bautista continued to Veracruz. They landed at Jamestown within four days of each other and traded the Hebrews for provisions. The Treasurer then sailed to Bermuda, dropping off more of the enslaved, and returned to Virginia a few months later, trading the final nine or ten more. In 1640, John Punch, a runaway indentured servant, was the first documented slave for life and in 1662, slavery was recognized in the statutory law of the colony.
In 1662, Virginia legally recognized slavery as a hereditary, lifelong condition. Even before this statute appeared, however, many blacks were being held as slaves for life, and as black laborers gradually replaced white indentured servants as the principle source of agricultural labor during the second half of the seventeenth century, laws restricting the activities of Africans were being introduced, codifying slavery as a race-based system.- The Slave Experience: Legal Rights and Government.
And now you know why 2019 is being deemed the 400th Year, why this is a great time to revisit history (not just the bad stuff but the amazing contributions of Blacks to America over the years as well) and why many of your favorite celebrities brought in 2019 on the continent of Africa.
I have a lot to say so this is only part one as there were multiple dynamics to this film.
WARNING: THIS POST HAS SPOILERS. IF YOU DIDN’T SEE THE MOVIE YET, GO SEE IT AND THEN COME BACK TO THIS POST 🙂
What is Blackkklansman about? First, we should know that the story is based off a true story and a memoir. From Rotten Tomatoes:
“From visionary filmmaker Spike Lee comes the incredible true story of an American hero. It’s the early 1970s, and Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first African-American detective to serve in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Determined to make a name for himself, Stallworth bravely sets out on a dangerous mission: infiltrate and expose the Ku Klux Klan. The young detective soon recruits a more seasoned colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), into the undercover investigation of a lifetime. Together, they team up to take down the extremist hate group as the organization aims to sanitize its violent rhetoric to appeal to the mainstream. Produced by the team behind the Academy-Award (R) winning Get Out.”
“Why do you talk like that?”
I was in the backseat of my cousin’s friend’s car. He was dropping me off at a family members house when his question came.
“Talk like what?” I asked, confused.
“Like that. Proper. You say everything right.”
I frowned, “What?”
I start with this experience because stereotypes concerning language is the foundation of this movie. It is the stereotype concerning Blacks and the English language or the “King’s English,” that makes the plot possible. In social psychology, a stereotype is an over-generalized belief. Stereotypes are generalized because one assumes that the stereotype is true with no real basis or evidence of the belief. There’s no such thing as talking black or talking white. How a person communicates is determined by his upbringing, education or environment, not by his or her race or nationality. But some black people who articulate words well have been teased for years for “trying to talk white.” They have been deemed Uncle Tom’s, sell-outs or simply made fun of and mocked.
In Blackkklansman, Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) uses this language barrier or stereotype to his advantage. Ron speaks proper, to the extent that (according to general thought), he sounds just like a typical European. Ron pretends to be a white guy on the phone who is interested in joining the Klu Klux Klan and mistakenly uses his real name. The person on the other end of the phone invites him down for a meeting except Ron can’t go, obviously. Ron is not white.
Stallworth can’t show up in person as a Black guy so in comes Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver), a Jewish man who pretends to be Ron in person. Because of the stereotype surrounding language, Ron can infiltrate a white racist organization with nothing more than a proper English accent.
Language stereotypes have their roots in Scientific Racism. Scientific Racism is the belief there is scientific proof to justify racism. Examples of such thought is Blacks are related to monkeys, their brains are smaller than other races, and they are less intelligent than other races. In the event someone Black is intelligent, surely it is not of his own doing. He is almost always certainly trying to be like someone else.
Nineteenth-Century scientists were convinced the white race was superior to other races and this superiority can be found in Darwinian Theory. Coined by the cousin of Charles Darwin, Francis Galton, Eugenics comes from the Greek word eugenes, meaning “well-born.” It is a racist scientific process set out to prove, through alleged psychological and medical evidence, the inferiority of Blacks. Eugenics was put into practice by eliminating those born without “well born genes” from the population. From 1924 to 1936, thirteen states in the U.S. utilized eugenics programs that ranged from isolating those deemed “feeble-minded” from the general population to forced sterilization.
Because of Scientific Racism even among blacks, there is a common misconception that if you are a black person who speaks intelligently, proper, enunciate words correctly, or have an extensive vocabulary, you are “talking white.” This belief exists because of the stereotype in many circles that only “white” people can speak intelligently.
Does speaking a certain language and the enunciation of words define a person’s allegiance to a certain group of people? Am I a sellout, coon, or Uncle Tom because I like to read and speak a certain way? Because of Scientific Racism and stereotypes concerning language and intelligence, Ron Stallworth joined the Klan without even showing his face.
The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews
The headline I am using, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews is inspired by a book released in 1991 by the Nation of Islam by the same name that asserts Jews dominated the Atlantic slave trade and has been widely criticized for being antisemitic. (Another book to read is The Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Koestler as well as Jews Selling Blacks also by The Nation of Islam detailing slave sale advertising by American Jews.) But, Jews involvement in the Slave Trade is not the secret relationship to which I am referring.
In Blackkklansman, Ron is a Black guy, but he cannot show up at KKK meetings as a Black guy. So, he recruits the help of Flip Zimmerman who would pretend to be him in person. As it stands today, 2018, Jews are known and recognized as the chosen people of “God.” Their heritage and identity are said to go back to that of the ancient Israelites and the land of Israel /Jerusalem is known and recognized as their land. But there are several historical occurrences that makes this inaccurate.
According to the biblical table of Nations (Gen. 10), the earth was repopulated after the flood by Noah’s three sons and their wives. Shem (Shemites), Ham (Hamites) Japheth (Japhites). According to the bible, the Israelites lineage goes back to Shem but Ashkenaz is the descendant of Noah’s son Japheth.
Ashkenaz is the first-born son of Gomer, again, descendant of Japheth. History traces the descendants of Japheth back to the European nations.
Ashkenaz in Hebrew means German. This means that Asheknazi Jew literally translates, “German Jew.”
Gomer, the first born of Japheth, has been traced back to the Celtics, Goths, Hungarians, Sloths, the Gaels of Ireland and Scotland.
Javan, fourth son of Japheth, has been traced back to the Greeks and Magog has been traced back to the Russians.
According to the bible, the Israelites will be returned to their land by the messiah. This is not how the Jews entered the land of Israel. The British Empire conquered Jerusalem and had a mandate of the land from the Turkish Empire. They gave it to the Jews after the 2nd World War when the Jews said they needed their own land because of the Holocaust. This was done by way of The Balfour Declaration of 1948.
The parts of the earth inhabited by Shem were the territory of Assyria and Persia east of the Tigris River, the eastern part of Syria and parts of the Arabian Peninsula. All the children of Shem were black.
Abraham, father of the Hebrew-Israelite and Arab nation was black.
The Arab nation is made up of black Hamite / Egyptian mothers and black Shemite fathers. Hagar, the black Egyptian is mother of Abraham’s son Ishmael. Ishmael married black Egyptian women and gave birth to 12 sons who became 12 tribes. They inhabited the region from the Euphrates to the Red Sea in the Arabian Peninsula and they were black.
Joseph was second in command in Egypt when the famine drove the eleven sons of Jacob to Canaan to buy food. Joseph’s brothers did not recognize him. First, he had grown into a man since they last seen him and secondly, they could not distinguish him from the black Egyptians because he was black also.
After Pharaoh commanded that all the Hebrew babies be killed by way of his “Birth Control” mandate, Moses passed as the pharaoh’s black grandson for 40 years. This could not happen if Moses, the Israelite “Jew” was not also black.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the 12 tribes were all black.
Due to the mountain of evidence concerning the identity of the ancient Shemites and Japhethites, it is my belief that the so-called African American, Negro, Black, Colored person, are the original “Jews” and true children of Israel and that the Jews we know today are instead the European nations.
With this understanding, the fact that Zimmerman, a Jew, is pretending to be Ron, a black man, in this movie is revealing and I wonder if Spike Lee and Jordan Peele did this on purpose. After all, it wouldn’t be Spike Lee’s first time doing this.
In his movie Bamboozled, a satire of network television’s pitfalls and prejudices and a humorous look at how race, ratings and the pursuit of power lead to a television writer’s rise and tragic downfall, Pierre Delacroix (played by Damon Wayans) is in a room with the writers for his sitcom and a Jewish man is wearing an Afro. Pierre jokes about blacks always being late or on “CP Time” (“Colored People Time”). He then pauses and looks at the Jew with the Afro and his words are: “And no. That Afro does not qualify you my young Jewish friend.” He meant, that Afro does not make you black. (Lee also uses the language stereotype in this movie. More on this in part 2 when we explore the caricature of the Uncle Tom.) This happens all the time in Hollywood where blacks and Jews are jokingly intertwined with one another.
In Blackkklansman, Zimmerman is not really Ron, a black man, just as the Jews are not really the children of Israel, who are black. The secret relationship between Blacks and Jews is that Blacks are the original “Jews,” and everyone knows it but black people. (That’s why it’s a secret).
The Klan and Police Force Connection
In Blackkklansman, Ron is a Black police officer who sincerely believes that justice can take place from within the system. He befriends a young lady named Patrice, an Angela Davis character, working for the Black Panthers as part of Stokely Carmichael’s team. While their relationship attempts to take a romantic turn, her problem with him is his connection to the force (she eventually discovers he’s an undercover cop). At the end of the movie he confirms that while he has turned in his Klan membership, he is not ready to turn in his allegiance to the police force. Her response: “I can’t sleep with the enemy.”
Why did she consider him an enemy for being a police officer?
During the institution of chattel slavery, controlling the actions and whereabouts of slaves was of vital importance. As nothing more than a commodity, slaves were worth hundreds and thousands of dollars. Big feet, for example, may indicate to a slave owner that his slave may be strong and a stout one day while his “skin and bones” appearance may bring down a hopeful price. “Through care and discipline, slaves’ bodies were physically incorporated with their owners’ standards of measure.” (Walter Johnson, Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market)
If a slave approached the auction block with two fingers cut off, for example, both of which were done in the slave’s desperate attempt to escape chains–choosing rather to go about with eight fingers than to become a slave–the true manner of his disablement would be concealed for the time being. Basically, the fact that this slave cut his own fingers off would be a secret for now. The owner would instead lie about the enslaved man’s attempted escape. Maybe a doctor cut off one of his fingers due to illness and the slave, to comply with the doctor’s orders, cut off the other one.
In such case the slave is seen as so stupid and imitative that he would mutilate himself because it’s what the doctor did. For the auctioneer, this increased his chances of selling this slave. Showing stupidity for obedience was better than showing rebellion, which would decrease the auctioneer’s chances of selling the slave.
These kinds of situations, and the constant running away of slaves, caused for serious security over the slave’s whereabouts and required a policing of them known as Slave Patrols.
Slave patrols were organized groups of white men who monitored and enforced discipline upon black slaves during chattel slavery in the U.S. The slave patrols’ function was to police slaves, especially runaways and defiant slaves. These patrols were formed by county courts and state militias and were the closest enforcers of codes governing slaves throughout the South.
Overseers – On large plantations, the person who directed the daily work of the slaves was the overseer, a white man OR an enslaved black man (driver) promoted to the position by his master. Some plantations had both a white overseer and a black driver, especially in the deep South or on plantations where the master was often absent. The overseer had special privileges. He may get to ride around on a horse instead of pick cotton in the fields. He may live in a brick house instead of a slave cabin, and he may get to sit at the masters’ table on special occasions and eat with him.
Many people assert the word “officer” is a direct relation to “overseer,” which is taken to mean that the overseer of slave plantations have become police officers. I don’t know about the name correlation, but I do know that black cops are often teased and accused of being “overseers” by other blacks who have come to distrust the system of American policing overall. For many, police cars have replaced horses and badges have replaced hoods.
This may be because modern-day police enforce the laws of the land and are the most brutal force toward African Americans and black related crimes in this day as well as back in the day. Patrice considered Ron an enemy because Slave Patrols, Night Watches, and Overseers were designed for managing slaves in the same way that modern day Police Departments manage black related crimes. As David Giacopassi and Margaret Vandiver state in Ignoring the Past: Coverage of Slavery and Slave Patrols in Criminal Justice (2006:186) remark:
“the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.”
And the National Humanity Center, Slave Drivers, Overseer, Enslavement:
“How did black drivers relate to their masters, and to their fellow slaves over whom they held authority? How did they adapt to the vulnerable position between master and slave.”
These are questions many blacks have for black police officers. How does a black police officer, aware of the racist practices of his job, relate to the people of his race who are being mistreated and over whom he has authority? How does he balance this allegiance? For women like Patrice and many in the African American community, there is no balance.
I thought the movie was decent. It didn’t wow me. It was just okay. I loved all the connections and messages of the movie and the history. I just thought the movie would do more with those connections. I loved listening to the powerful speech of Kwame Ture or Stokely Carmichael as played by Corey Hawkins, who did an AMAZING job!
Obviously, I did not read the book before seeing this movie so I did not know how it would end. While I don’t believe every officer is evil (just like I don’t believe all blacks are illiterate and ghetto, not all Mexicans are criminals who got to the U.S. illegally, and not all white people are racists), I thought Ron would get more involved with the politics of the Black Panthers and less involved with the police force with all the information he now had. I thought with all the connections, subtle or otherwise, this would lead Ron to leave the force and the movie was going to take a turn similar to Sam Green’s The Spook Who Sat By the Door. This book (so controversial it was removed from shelves) is a fictional account turned movie in the 60s about the first black CIA agent who, after quitting, takes all he has learned from the agency and trains his brothers in the inner-city how to fight. A movie was made of the book in 1973. (There was also a movie released in 1966 called Black Klansman where a light-skinned black man (Richard Gilden) infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan to avenge his daughters murder after she is killed in a church bombing.)
Welcome back to another episode of Black History Fun Fact Friday. It’s been a long time and we have a lot to cover today.
If you’re new to this blog or this segment be sure to visit the BHFFF page HERE for more EPs.
The Caged Man
Mbuti or Bambuti are one of the several indigenous pygmy groups in the Congo region of Africa. One famous Congolese Mbuti, who was made famous in a horrific way, committed suicide 100 years ago. On May 20, 1916, Ota Benga put a gun to his heart and pulled the trigger. Depression and sadness are modest terms we use to understand the spirits that troubled him. But who was he and why is knowing his story important in our time?
In the early 1900s, a “businessman” (more appropriately speaking a slave trader) named Samuel Verner, tasked with the responsibility of acquiring pygmies for a cultural evolution display at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri, encountered Benga in 1904. Paid by the St. Louis Exposition Company a year earlier to hunt men instead of monkeys, he was to bring African Pygmies to America for the St. Louis World Fair.
Ota’s family were killed by a Belgium militia group who set out to control the natives of that land for the large supply of rubber in the Congo. Ota had a wife and two children who were killed in such raids on villages and survived because he was on a hunting mission. To make a long story short, Ota was kidnapped and taken to America by Samuel along with other pygmies who were kidnapped as well and brought to America.
Benga’s physical appearance, as is most Mbuti, astonished onlookers who immediately compared him to an animal, specifically for his short stature and razor-sharp teeth. Displays of humans were very common in the early 20th century to prove the theory of the evolution of man. Most specifically, men and women of color from the Eastern part of the world were used as examples of the lower class of humans and often put on display. They were usually those with abnormal features and deformities. It’s no surprise then that Ota and his fellow men became an instant attraction. Ota’s personality was also said to have been lively and the men attracted spectators wherever they went until Ota was eventually caged at a Bronx Zoo in 1906. He eventually became fond, allegedly, of a monkey and so began The Caged Man in the Monkey House.
Ota’s story is worth telling because Africa is a continent with over fifty countries and comprise many different people and cultures. There are just as many cultures and nationalities of people as there are languages and just as many languages as there are colors. But when you group a people together and call them “Blacks” you deny them their right to heritage and nationhood, because Black does not properly define a people. While I use these terms (Black, African American) for understanding sake, the Bible says nothing about race, nor is the word or concept of different “races” found in the Bible at all (See Gen Ch 10) despite the fact that the term has been used to cause divisions among man. More appropriately, some of the Black “races” of the world are Israelites, some of them Egyptians, Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Senegalese, Congolese, Libyans and so forth. Thus, this story is important to the understanding of identity as well as the medical field and how it fits in with the racial oppression of Blacks in America going back for centuries.
Contrary to popular belief, Eugenics did not start with Margaret Sanger and The American Birth Control League but the concept started much earlier.
Coined by the cousin of Charles Darwin, Francis Galton, Eugenics comes from the Greek word eugenes, meaning “well-born.” It is a racist scientific process that set out to prove, through alleged psychological and medical evidence, the inferiority of Blacks. From 1924 – 1936, thirteen states in the U.S. utilized Eugenics programs that ranged from isolating those deemed “feeble-minded” from the general population to forced sterilization.
“When the infamous German eugenic sterilization initiative began in January 1934, seventeen U.S. states were already performing sterilizations routinely, and that year between two thousand and four thousand Americans were sterilized. Indiana passed legislation requiring the sterilization of the mentally unfit in 1907. By 1911, six states had passed laws providing compulsory sterilization of the mentally unfit. In 1935, twenty-seven states had such laws for the feeble-minded, those on welfare, or those with genetic defects. Forced sterilization was made legal in the infamous 1927 Buck vs Bell.” (Medical Apartheid, Harriet Washington, The Black Stork, pp 202)
Galton, in short, took Darwin’s philosophies and ideas on Evolution and put them into practice in what became known as Eugenics. He proposed that the poor, the sick, the weak and the untalented should be prevented from multiplying. Leonard Darwin, Darwin’s son, was also one of the supporters and proponents of eugenics in Britain. Galton maintained that the principle of the “survival of the fittest” had to be complied with and that only the strongest should be allowed to participate in the world.
“… modern eugenics thought arose in the nineteenth century. The emergence of interest in eugenics during that century had multiple roots. The most important was the theory of evolution, for Francis Galton’s ideas on eugenics – and it was he who created the term “eugenics” – were a direct logical outgrowth of the scientific doctrine elaborated by his cousin, Charles Darwin.” – Ludmerer, Eugenics, In: Encyclopedia of Bioethics, Edited by Mark Lappe, New York: The Free Press, 1978, p. 457
A reviewer of the time said:
“After 1859, the evolutionary schema raised additional questions, particularly whether or not Afro-Americans could survive competition with their white near-relations. The momentous answer was a resounding no…. The African was inferior—he represented the missing link between ape and Teuton.”
– John C. Burnham, Science, Vol. 175, February 4, 1972, p. 506.
Nineteenth Century scientists were convinced that the white race (something that doesn’t actually exist) were superior to other races and that this superiority can be found in Darwinian Theory. One key person in the perpetuation of this was Thomas Huxley who said: “No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man.”
And while Darwin claimed to be opposed to slavery and the horrors of the brutality, his own words are questionable. He presumed that man evolved from ape-like creatures and surmised that some races developed more than others:
“I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit…. The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.” – Charles Darwin: Life and Letters, I, letter to W. Graham, July 3, 1881, p. 316; cited in Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution, by Gertrude Himmelfarb (London, Chatto and Windus, 1959), p. 343.
And of course, the most debated statement of all:
“At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes… will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as the baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. – Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd ed., New York: A.L. Burt Co., 1874, p. 178
In short, it is a fact that White Supremacists supported Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and used it to further racism. For them, the white race had, in short, moved up the evolutionary ladder and was destined to eliminate the other races in the struggle to survive.
Certain African Americans are not to be excluded. Many prominent Blacks also supported Eugenics. Fisk University’s first Black President and critical contributor to The Harlem Renaissance Charles S. Johnson, said that “Eugenic discrimination was necessary for blacks” and that “the high maternal and infant mortality rates, along with diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid, malaria and venereal infection, made it difficult for large families to adequately sustain themselves.” – Charles S. Johnson, A Question of Negro Health, The Birth Control Review, June 1932, 167-169
He later became an integral part of Margaret Sanger’s Negro Project, but he’s not the only one, many blacks agreed. According to Margaret Sanger’s most infamous quote:
“The most successful approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal….we do not want word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the one who can straighten out that idea if it occurs to any of their more rebellious members.”
Sanger said this in a 1939 letter where she outlined her plan to reach out to black leaders — specifically ministers — to help dispel community suspicions about the family planning clinics she was opening in the South. It must be noted that Sanger was not the progenitor of this idea but reaching out to ministers and black leaders in the community was the idea of another very prominent man.
“The mass of ignorant Negros still breed carelessly and disastrously, so that the increase among Negroes, even more than the increase among whites, is from that portion of the population least intelligent and fit, and least able to rear their children properly.”
– National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Founder, W.E.B. Dubois, The Birth Control Review, 1932, Black Folk and Birth Control, pp 166
Dubois went on to say that the Black community were open to “intelligent propaganda of any sort”, and “the American Birth Control League and other agencies ought to get their speakers before church congregations and their arguments in the Negro newspapers.” It worked. Black pastors invited Sanger to speak to their congregations. Black publications, like The Afro-American and The Chicago Defender, featured her writings and the lines between Eugenics and Birth Control became blurred.
Sanger merged the Southern Clinics, the Clinical Research Bureau and The American Birth Control League, to form the Birth Control Federation of America (BCFA) and recruited black leadership as Dubois and others advised. Soon, BCFA clinics started popping up in poor black neighborhoods. The first clinic was The Bethlehem Center in urban Nashville, Tennessee (where blacks constituted only 25 percent of the population and no one made more than $15 a week), opened on February 13, 1940, and the second opened in rural Berkeley County, South Carolina. This site was chosen because South Carolina had been the second state to make limitations on the number of children part of its state public health program after a survey revealed 25 percent of infant deaths occurred in mothers deemed unfit for pregnancy. (These terms: Unfit, Feeble-minded, Poor, Poverty Stricken, Urban, Welfare, Disease Stricken, and the like have been used as code words to refer to the so-called African American since the end of Chattel Slavery.)
“The BCFA members voted unanimously at a special January 29, 1942, meeting to change the organization’s name to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. By then, BCFA had 34 state league affiliates. The state leagues followed suit in changing their name and bylaws. Particularly, the New York State Federation for Planned Parenthood’s old bylaws stipulated that the object was: To develop and organize on sound eugenic, social and medical principles, interest in and knowledge of birth control throughout the State of New York as permitted by law [emphasis added]. The new bylaws replaced birth control with planned parenthood. Eugenics was dropped in 1943 because of its unpopular association with the German government’s race-improving eugenics theories.”
– Robert G. Marshall and Charles A. Donovan, Blessed are the Barren: The Social Policy of Planned Parenthood (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 24-25.
This brings us back to Ota Benga and others like him. Physicians and Scientists were dependent on slavery not just for economic reasons but also for clinical material. Even after chattel slavery had ended, persons like Saartjie Baartman, the first video vixen if you will, Henry Moss, whose leprosy prompted him to exhibit himself, Joice Heth, who racists claimed was the 161-year-old “Mammy” of George Washington and many others were put on display, to argue the “inferiority” and “animalistic” behavior of Blacks.
Finally, Ota’s story is important also to the understanding of the Institution of Chattel Slavery beyond the cotton fields, for in knowledge of what the business of slaveholding was like is a deeper understanding of the magnitude of its influence on American Society. The Slave Market and the “business” of owning slaves was about more than Plantation Life but was a very well thought out and strategic system that bled into every fabric of American life.
Yecheilyah (e-see-lee-yah) is an Author, Blogger, and Poet of nine published works including work in progress and short inspirational guide “Keep Yourself Full.” Learn more by exploring Yecheilyah’s writing on this blog and her website at yecheilyahysrayl.com. Renaissance: The Nora White Story (Book One) is her latest novel and is available now on Amazon.com.
I love finding the hidden treasure of black communities that existed and thrived that we’ll never know about (until we look). I’ve mentioned several of such communities on this blog in the past and here’s another one.
Seneca Village was settled in the 1820s on the eve of Emancipation in New York. The only community of black property in the city at the time, it was located between 82nd and 87th Street east of what is Central Park today.
The Village was a thriving community of blacks (two-thirds) and whites started to settle there as well. The community had its own school and a population of over 250 people. Houses were also built on the land, some of them elaborate two-story with barns and others a bit more modest. This was an achievement because New York, like the rest of the country, was a place of slave-ownership. Contrary to what you’ll learn in school, the South was not the only place to find blacks who were enslaved but many northern cities did as well. In 1703, more than 42 percent of New York City households held slaves and slavery was a key institution in the development of New York. According to The New York Historical Society:
“As many as 20 percent of colonial New Yorkers were enslaved Africans. First Dutch and then English merchants built the city’s local economy largely around supplying ships for the trade in slaves and in what slaves produced – sugar, tobacco, indigo, coffee, chocolate, and ultimately, cotton. New York ship captains and merchants bought and sold slaves along the coast of Africa and in the taverns of their own city. Almost every businessman in 18th-century New York had a stake, at one time or another, in the traffic in human beings. During the colonial period, 41 percent of the city’s households had slaves, compared to 6 percent in Philadelphia and 2 percent in Boston. Only Charleston, South Carolina, rivaled New York in the extent to which slavery penetrated everyday life. To be sure, each slaveholding New Yorker usually owned only one or two persons.”
The only difference between Southern and Northern slavery was that instead of plantations, slaves in the North slept in cellars and attics or above farmhouse kitchens in the country. Nonetheless, the enslaved population of the city was emancipated in 1827 and many of these freedmen comprised the residents of Seneca Village.
The Village’s demise came with the building of what is now Central Park. The government claimed the land under the right of eminent domain and evicted the residents. Since then, Seneca Village has been pretty much forgotten in history. Well, until now.
Don’t forget, you can find all the Black History Fun Fact Articles
Since this is our last Black History Fun Fact of the year (There won’t be one next week. I will be on vacation), I decided to share my inspiration for the first book in my soon-to-be released novel series Renaissance: The Nora White Story.
Despite the wealth of information online, in books, and in movies, there’s still a misconception about what it meant to be black in the south and black in the north in the early 1900s. One recycled piece of information that no doubt holds some truth, is the mass movement of blacks who packed up and carried their southern roots north to escape Jim Crow and to acquire better financial opportunities. But not only were blacks escaping Jim Crow, but the north had a reputation of being prosperous and successful. This image largely shaped by the south’s brutal history.
Slavery is so much the outstanding feature of the South, in the unthinking view of it, that people often forget there had been slaves all over the U.S. Slaves were auctioned openly in the Market House of Philadelphia; in the shadow of Congregational churches in Rhode Island; in Boston taverns and warehouses; In Chicago and weekly, sometimes daily, in Merchant’s Coffee House of New York. The north has been painted as the picture of staunch abolitionism when in truth Northerners bought, sold, and owned slaves.
In the presence of such information, many blacks came to look at northern cities as a saving grace. Not only did it represent freedom from bondage, but discrimination in the north has always been so well organized that it did not have the same up close and the personal effect that the south had. The south was more brutal, more abusive, and more personal whereas the racism in the northern cities was sugar coated (I should use the present tense here).
Blacks then looked up to Harlem and Chicago and many in their hearts scorned their brothers and sisters in Mississippi and Alabama and Louisiana who picked cotton instead of sleep on the floor. Blacks opted to tread north to share rooms with rats and roaches in overcrowding apartment buildings while leaving an impression among their southern brethren that they were in the lands of milk and honey. And even when we returned, many of us maintained this air of superiority and this created a silent fuel between blacks in the south and blacks in the north.
Deep down southern blacks knew that northern blacks thought themselves too proud because they were in New York trying to live like white men but being black men without a pot to piss in, and a window to throw it out of. This was my inspiration behind The Nora White Story.
Shaped by such views, Nora is not as appreciative of the sacrifices that her parents made as she should be. She’s naïve, pampered, and sees the North through the same eyes as many who came before her. Before and during The Harlem Renaissance, many black women tried to mimic the traditional image and role of white women. Many of them saw themselves as elite and often tried to appear “white”. (Many black women lightened their skin or passed as white as portrayed in Book Two of The Stella Trilogy “Beyond The Colored Line” which you can read free HERE). Since the days of chattel slavery blacks have been faced with a constant reminder of America’s sweetheart.
Her blonde hair and blue eyes graced the workplace, newspapers, women’s magazines, and everywhere in their daily lives’. When the end of slavery happened and blacks were given the opportunity to escape the south, a symbol of their captivity, many adapted the model of the white world and white standards of beauty and not only beauty but the concept of success itself, that is to exude whiteness.
Nora is a descendant of freemen, not just slaves. Her family does not sharecrop but they own land, and Nora does not live in a shabby home in the middle of corn fields. This story, Nora’s story, is not of your stereotypical black southern family. Nora’s lineage is a prestigious one. The only question is, will she realize how good she’s got it before it’s gone?
Renaissance: The Nora White Story Coming July 15-16, 2017
Meanwhile, The Road to Freedom is $0.99! Don’t miss out. Get your copy at this super low price now HERE.
“Deeply concerned about the state of Black America, a fight with his brother compels a young Joseph to leave his mother’s house and join his friends for a trip to Atlanta for SNCC’s (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) second conference. Excited to live life on their own, Jo and his friends have left school and the lives they were living for a chance to become part of the movement. With no money and essentially no plan the seven friends, three black and four white, set out for the road when they are stopped by a racist cop who makes them exit the car. The teens are unaware that a mob of Klansmen also await them at the New Orleans bus terminal.”