It is September 23, 2009, and there is a dust storm in Sydney. But, Grace is from a family of pagans, so it is not only a dust storm for them. As the amber glow, which Grace calls the glowing, tangerine-colored fog, blankets the city, Grace Fieldgrill, now in her seventies, senses her time has come to die. The amber glow will want a sacrifice, and she is ready to give herself.
Grace believes the day she unlocks the trunk in the corner of her room, the spirit of John, her feu sacré or sacred flame, would come, as prophesied by her mother, to whisk her away. But, before she dies, she wants her son, Christian, to know the truth about his birth father and her granddaughter Samantha (Sam) to succeed in her career. These are affairs she must sort through before sunset. Grace commands Sam to unlock the trunk, and this is where our story begins.
“73-years is a long time to remain earthbound when you want to fly.”
I am not convinced Ms. Waters is not a poet. As with Catch the Moon Mary, Fields of Grace is full of poetic language and reads like a romantic love story and a historical fiction novel. When Sam opens the trunk and pulls out items, we follow Grace back to 1934, where she lives at the Wyncote House, a ladies-only establishment. The women of the house are hilarious. Although, Julia’s low self-esteem and constant complaints about not being pretty made me want to jump through the page and shake her.
As a history buff, I loved how the author used actual historical figures to interact with the fictional characters, which I love doing in my own writing. Sir John Gielgud was an English actor and theater director whose career spanned eight decades. And Peggy Ashcroft was an English stage actress who appeared in both classic and modern plays. Peggy and Gielgud’s relationship in the novel reminded me of brother and sister:
‘Our new thespian is rich, flings money like confetti at a wedding. A little flattery will grant me artistic freedom.’
‘Peg pushed my remaining ribbons aside and swiveled to face Mr. Gieldgud. ‘How rich?’
‘I knew that was all you heard.’
Wendy Waters, Fields of Grace
The author also gives us updates on Hitler and the pending war and where the world stood on women’s rights at the time.
Some parts were so fun I found myself reading some of the lines aloud as if I was in a play. Here is a funny exchange between Peggy and Grace about a handsome man named Dashiell Tanner, who has just replaced another actor:
‘I think he has talent, don’t you?’
‘He’s incredibly handsome.’
‘He’s incredibly arrogant.’
‘So, you’re not in love with him?’
‘Do I sound like I’m in love with him?’
Wendy Waters, Fields of Grace
You will learn the significance of this exchange when you read the book.
The story goes back and forth from past to present. I was worried about getting lost, but the author did this so well it was not confusing at all.
My only criticism is the book is very long, and it might be too much for readers with not a lot of time on their hands. (It took me a while to finish myself). Otherwise, I found Fields of Grace to be an exciting and entertaining read.
“Beginning in about 1890 and continuing until 1968, white Americans established thousands of towns across the United States for whites only. Many towns drove out their black populations, then posted sundown signs.” – James W. Lowen
When I first published this article in 2017, I got much controversy about it. I didn’t take it personally for two reasons. First, very little literature covers sundown towns, and not much is said about it in the limited topics covered during black history month.
The other reason is, although these towns were known as sundown towns, the people of the town did not call it that. It was only a well-known fact that some blacks were not allowed in some towns, and if they visited, they had better leave before the sun sets or risk lynching. Therefore, when I wrote about it, some people thought I was making it up.
This past week, I posted this image to my Instagram, and I was surprised to see how many more people had not heard of this. For this reason, today, we are revisiting our black history fun fact on sundown towns.
“Is it true that ‘Anna’ stands for ‘Ain’t No Niggers Allowed’?” I asked at the convenience store in Anna, Illinois, where I had stopped to buy coffee. “Yes,” the clerk replied. “That’s sad, isn’t it,” she added, distancing herself from the policy. And she went on to assure me, “That all happened a long time ago.” “I understand [racial exclusion] is still going on?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. “That’s sad.”—conversation with clerk, Anna, Illinois, October 2001.
Anna, Illinois, was named after the daughter of the town’s founder but got its more derogatory name after the 1909 lynching of a black man in Cairo, IL, and the mob of angry white citizens who drove out Anna’s 40 or so black families following the lynching. It is at this point that Anna, IL became a sundown town.
A sundown town is a town with an exclusive population of non-whites on purpose. They are towns with overwhelming populations of non-whites and are so deliberately. Sundown towns were also known as “Sunset Towns.”
“A sundown town town is an organized jurisdiction that for decades kept African Americans or other groups from living in it and was thus “all-white” on purpose.”
Side Note: In the black community, black kids are constantly warned to “come in the house when the street lights come on,” so many of us had to be in the house before the sunset. I wonder if Sundown Towns had something to do with this. Not to say black parents are the only ones with this command, but it’s food for thought.
Although signs were posted, forced exclusion was also implemented:
“There were also race riots in which white mobs attacked black neighborhoods, burning, looting, and killing. Across America, at least 50 towns, and probably many more than that, drove out their African American populations violently. At least 16 did so in Illinois alone. In the West, another 50 or more towns drove out their Chinese American populations. Many other sundown towns and suburbs used violence to keep out blacks or, sometimes, other minorities.”
– America’s Black Holocaust Museum, James W. Loewen, PhD; Fran Kaplan, EdD; and Robert Smith, PhD
Sundown towns began after slavery and the Civil War when blacks left the plantations and poured into every city and corner of the country. This was followed by the system we know as Jim Crow.
Jim Crow laws were state and local laws that enforced racial segregation in the southern and northern United States to keep blacks in a state of servitude. It included having to look down and step to the side when a white person walked by, drinking from separate water fountains, entering the rear of the bus, sitting in the balcony of the movie theater (which came to be known as “Nigger Heaven,”), attending separate schools, and more.
While Jim Crow and segregation are most notably known as a southern practice (“The Jim Crow South”), it also existed in the north. In fact, many parts of the north were more segregated than the south, and when it comes to Sundown Towns, these communities mainly existed in the north as the Great Migration brought floods of blacks into northern cities. Many suburbs to this day are mostly white because they were either part of redlining -the systematic denial of various services to black residents either explicitly or through the selective raising of prices – or its white residents ran its black residents out of town, and the descendants of those people kept it that way.
I’ll use Chicago as an example, still one of the most segregated cities in America. Yes, I said Chicago. Remember, we started this conversation with Anna (“Ain’t No Negroes Allowed”), Illinois.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Chicago in 1966 due to the high poverty rate in black neighborhoods and rented an apartment on the west side. He was there as part of what he would call The Poor People’s Campaign and the Freedom Movement. On August 5, 1966, King led a march through Cicero, an all-white district, and was hit in the head with a rock by members of the angry mob.
Years later (the early 80s), my brother-in-law and his friends would be chased out of this same area, racial slurs hitting their backs as they rode their bikes out of Cicero.
This statue below is of Orville Hubbard, which sits outside of the City Hall in Dearborn, Michigan, was the cause of much controversy when people started to learn more about his past.
Hubbard was the mayor of the then all-white suburban town outside of Detroit from 1942 to 1978 and, in a 1969 speech acquired by the New York Times, said that “If whites didn’t want to live with N–they sure didn’t have to.” He went on to say this was a free country, and this was America.
“City police cars bore the slogan ‘Keep Dearborn Clean,’ which was a catch phrase meaning ‘Keep Dearborn White,’ ” according to David Good, a lifelong resident of the city who is the author of ‘‘Orvie: The Dictator of Dearborn,” a biography of Mayor Hubbard.
“Out here in Dearborn where some real Ku Klux Klans live. I know Dearborn, you know I’m from Detroit, used to live out there in Easten. And you had to go through Dearborn to get to Easten. Just like riding through Mississippi once you got to Dearborn.” – Malcolm X
Over time the name “Sundown-town” faded, but Sundown Suburbs still exist. A sundown suburb is a discrete way in which Sundown-towns live today when large white populations migrate to the suburban part of the city with the express purpose of separating themselves from the minority population. We can see this in our Cicero example.
Many Black Americans are replacing their fourth of July celebrations with Juneteenth. I don’t celebrate holidays, and as much as I love my people, this includes Kwanzaa and Juneteenth. But I think it’s important to talk about Juneteenth, and why it is celebrated. For some, this day is a celebration of freedom, but even after Juneteenth, many blacks were still enslaved and suffering.
According to the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, the proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
By rebellious states, it was referring to those states that had seceded or withdrawn from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. The freedom it promised also depended upon United States military victory. In brief, emancipation only applied to those slaves who lived near Union lines.
Sound like a bunch of excuses to me.
News of the supposed emancipation did not spread as quickly as the movies would have us to believe. Many slave-owners packed up their belongings and their slaves and moved to Texas in mass.
“Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach.” (Henry Louis Gates Jr.)
In a hurried re-enactment of the original Middle Passage, more than 150,000 enslaved people had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery. As one former slave recalled, “it looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.” For the next two years, the enslaved would live removed from the updates of the war, and slavery would go on, business as usual.
And so, when General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, on June 19th to lead the Union occupation force, he had to deal with ongoing slavery in defiance of the Emancipation Proclamation. To fix this, he issued the following order:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
“The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idlenesseither there or elsewhere.”
Long story short, this proclamation, specifying “all slaves were free,” is the foundation for Juneteenth’s celebration, combining June and the nineteenth when they issued the order, commemorating the freedom of the enslaved and allegedly ending slavery in the US.
But, this order did not free all enslaved persons.
“There is much evidence to suggest that southern whites—especially Confederate parolees—perpetrated more acts of violence against newly freed bondspeople in Texas than in other states,” writes historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner in an essay titled “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory.”
“Between the Neches and Sabine rivers and north to Henderson,” she continues, “reports showed that blacks continued in a form of slavery, intimidated by former Confederate soldiers still in uniform and bearing arms.” Murder, lynching, and harassment were common. “You could see lots of Negroes hanging from trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom,” reported one freed slave, “They would catch them swimming across Sabine River and shoot them.”
Blacks celebrated their freedom with the first official Juneteenth event in 1866, where they read the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and, oddly, praised Abraham Lincoln as the great liberator.
The celebrations continued until coming to a halt with the institution of Black Codes and, eventually, Jim Crow. These laws essentially put Blacks back into a form of slavery where they were fully disenfranchised. After the Civil War and the end of slavery, Southern states, which had amassed great wealth from slavery, found their economy in shambles. They had to figure out how to keep a slave-like system going.
So that’s what they meant by “they will not be supported in idleness.”
These laws could be imposed on Black men easily, sending them to jail, and thus, former slave owners turned “entrepreneurs” could lease them to various companies that would work them to death and treat them like they were slaves. This made the states tons of money.
In 1883, about ten percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from convict leasing. In 1898, nearly 73 percent of total revenue came from this same source. Death rates among leased convicts were approximately ten times higher than the death rates of prisoners in non-lease states. In 1873, for example, 25 percent of all black leased convicts died.
The laws passed in Texas were similar to those passed in every other Confederate state. Modern-day politicians often make comparisons to Jim Crow as one of the worst periods in African American life. Jim Crow didn’t have shit on the Black Codes, which was the South’s attempt to recreate enslavement and go back to business as usual. Mass incarceration isn’t a recent invention; during the Black Codes, Black people could do little without running afoul of the law with the penalty being sent back to the fields if they weren’t already there.
Juneteenth didn’t make a full resurgence until The Civil Rights Movement, when Blacks began to celebrate it in full again. And while many Blacks have celebrated it for centuries, it still did not become an official Holiday until 1980, when it was made a Texas State Holiday. Still, it wasn’t until 1997 that Congress recognized June 19 as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” after pressure from a collection of groups like the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage and the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation.
This post was originally published three years ago, in June of 2018. As of today, June of 2021, Juneteenth is now being turned into a National Federal Holiday.
But the question remains, what exactly did Juneteenth accomplish for the black man, woman, and child? What freedom did it bring about? Some sum it up this way:
“Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.” – https://juneteenth.com/
But, Spivey brings out another good point worth considering:
Slavery still existed in Delaware and Kentucky, which resisted all Union attempts to end slavery and refused to ratify the 13th Amendment. In California, slavery was sort of outlawed in 1850 as a condition for statehood. The exception was slaves who had been brought to California and where the possibility they might return one day to their original home existed, even if that state had voted to ratify the 13th Amendment.
New Jersey had as many as 400 people remain slaves long after Juneteenth. Oregon’s provisional government banned slavery in 1844 but forbade free black people from settling in the territory. Settlers continued to bring slaves with them. General Joseph Lane, a former territorial governor, kept at least one slave on his farm until 1878, 13 years after the passage of the 13th Amendment.”
It is true Blacks were not free on July 4, 1776. But it is also true many Blacks were not free on June 19, 1865, either.
As many African Americans celebrate and reflect this weekend on what this day means to them, there is certainly much to think about.
Speaking of Freedom, this is a great time to dive into The Stella Trilogy if you have not already! Below is the link to book one. Enjoy!
In book one, Cynthia McNair and her boyfriend, Alex, express some racists’ feelings toward blacks. They visit Cynthia’s Grandmother Sidney McNair, who recounts the story of her ancestor, a slave named Stella Mae. Cynthia has no idea of her African ancestry or how deep this rabbit hole goes.
You are a rarity.
A gemstone that is not only precious but scarce.
You’ve been disgraced and beatdown so long
I doubt you know the difference.
Something is only precious when it is preferred.
But when a gemstone is rare
people search for it, and when they find it, they rejoice
for a rare gem is not easily available
for it, one must look.
There is no creation like you.
There is no body like yours.
No mind can conceive of the things you’ve seen
Even the ground is confused in the way that you walk
When you wake, the earth
quakes and shudders and the sun smiles
No instruction can map out the contents of your mind
You precious one.
You delicate rock.
You silk mountain.
Do not become small for those who refuse to climb.
Let the ordinary ones stay on the ground.
Let those who cannot swim stay on land.
Understand, you are a fist full of moon.
And those who cannot appreciate your light
must stay in the darkness.
There is no place for shadows
in the land of the living.
You are life.
You are womb.
Without you, the man was incomplete,
and without help.
You are not only golden
You are gold.
You are historic.
You are not only precious
You are rare.
We were knee-deep in a new pandemic when I noticed this film in August 2020. Immediately upon seeing the trailer, I was hooked. I could not wait to see the movie. Well, it is 2021, and the film is finally here, and you better believe I saw it. Here are my thoughts.
If you are familiar with biopics, you know they are based on a true story, so you already know how this ends. Still, I must tell you this review contains spoilers if you have not seen the movie.
Judas and the Black Messiah
First, let’s talk about this title.
Judas was one of the original twelve emissaries chosen by the Messiah, but he was a traitor. So, when the Scribes and Pharisees were looking for a way to kill Yahoshua, the Biblical Messiah, they found what they were looking for in Judas. He spoke with the chief priests and captains, who agreed to pay him for his services. (Luke 22:3-6) He is called “the son of destruction” in John chapter seventeen verse twelve because he set out to destroy the savior. After selling out Yahoshua, Judas ended his own life by committing suicide. (Matt. 27:5)
William O’Neal was only seventeen-years-old when the FBI recruited him to infiltrate The Black Panthers after stealing a car and speeding across state lines. Like the biblical Judas was chosen by Yahoshua, O’Neal was selected and promoted to head of security by Chairman Fred. Just as Judas met with high priests and captains of his day, O’Neal met with FBI agents like Roy Mitchell.
Judas was paid thirty pieces of silver, and O’Neal was paid $300 after the raid of December 4, 1969. Judas sold out Yahoshua with a kiss, and O’Neal sold out Fred with a floor plan.
Both committed suicide.
The title of the film is fitting.
Like most movies based on a true story, I expected Judas and the Black Messiah to take some creative liberties. It is not possible, for instance, for us to know exactly what the conversations was like, especially between William and Roy.
However, I found the film to be mostly accurate with only minor exceptions.
Hampton and O’Neal’s Perceived Age
While in the movie, the actors look 30-ish, it’s important for viewers to know they were young in real life. Fred’s activism started when he was just a teen organizing a way for black kids to go swimming in Maywood, a suburb of Chicago. The white kids swam at the pool at a private Veteran Industrial Park, but black kids weren’t allowed. Even though he couldn’t swim, Fred and his friends carpooled black kids from Maywood to a Chicago Park District in Lyons several miles away.
Fred’s outspokenness caught the attention of Don Williams, head of the West Suburban Chapter of the NAACP. In 1964, at just sixteen years old, Fred was head of the NAACP Youth Branch.
William O’Neal was also young, only seventeen, as stated, when he was recruited for the FBI. According to O’Neal’s 1990 testimony in the documentary Eyes on the Prize, he (Williams) was looking for an opportunity to work off his case, which made it easier for Roy Mitchell to recruit him.
I want us to think about this for a moment.
A young man stealing cars and joyriding is not a hard thing to imagine. Young people do stupid stuff as we also did stupid stuff when we were young. This is not to excuse O’Neal’s actions. But, the men’s youthfulness, in my opinion, adds depth when you realize the FBI took extraordinary measures to destroy a movement led by teenagers. The FBI started their investigation into Fred Hampton in 1967, a year before they recruited O’Neal. Fred was nineteen years old.
These were kids and America feared them.
O’Neal’s Repentant Heart
They may have been kids in the beginning but O’Neal grew up working for the FBI and it shows.
In the movie, the fictional O’Neal seemed more repentant than the real O’Neal. Based on his interview in part two of Eyes on the Prize (and in part one as well), I couldn’t help but feel an uneasiness watching him. His eyes shifted a lot, and he had a hard time looking directly at the camera. I could tell recounting the story was bothering him. He seemed kind of cold.
Nick Pope describes what I mean:
“Watching his infamous ‘tell-all’ interview with the 1990 docuseries Eyes on the Prize II, you’d be hard pressed to find a semblance of guilt or shame about his role in the Chicagoan group’s violent downfall. Equally, he refused to accept any blame for the murder of Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton at the hands of the Chicago Police Department in 1969.
“Do I feel like I betrayed someone? Absolutely not. I had no allegiance to the Panthers,” O’Neal told the interviewer, in a section that ultimately didn’t air. He simply thought of himself as a man who “had the courage to get out there and put it on the line”; a man who had been made a “better person” through his work with the FBI. By the end of the conversation, he seemed sanguine about his legacy. “I think I’ll let history speak for me.”
I don’t know how much we can trust that came out of O’Neal’s mouth that day, so it makes sense that filmmakers took it with a grain of salt.
“In an interview, the writers told Decider that the biggest assumptions they made involved Hoover’s knowledge of the raid that took Hampton’s life (which was recently confirmed) and O’Neal’s relationship with Mitchell. For the latter, they had to fill in some gaps, as O’Neal’s information – available via the docu-series Eyes On The Prize featured at the end of Black Messiah – is understandably unreliable.” (Gabriel Ponniah)
“Nine months after conducting the explosive interview, in the early morning of 15 January, 1990, the 40-year-old committed suicide by running out onto the westbound lanes of Chicago’s Eisenhower Expressway.”
Although O’Neal does not appear repentant, that’s not for any of us to decide. “In an article from the Chicago Reader titled “The Last Hours of William O’Neal,” O’Neal’s uncle Ben Heard details his nephew’s fear, saying, “He said they had someone tied up and they were pouring hot water over his head. They were trying to get him to do something.” perhaps referencing informant George Sams. Heard went on to suggest O’Neal was plagued by guilt for the rest of his life after Hampton’s murder: “I think he was sorry he did what he did. He thought the FBI was only going to raid the house.” O’Neal’s suicide attempts would back this up – and in the end, one of those attempts succeeded.”
Stanfield did a great job in his role as the Judas that was O’Neal, although it was so stressful for Stanfield that he mentioned needing to go to therapy afterward.
50/50: Did O’Neal Personally Lace Hampton’s Drink?
I had to look into O’Neal personally poisoning Hampton and delivering the drink. I am still skeptical about if he did it personally, but I did discover multiple sources that confirm this part of the story is true.
It’s still 50/50 for me though.
First, why am I skeptical?
When discussing whether he was personally responsible, in one instance he doesn’t outright reject the accusation but in another he also seems to reject it, saying:
“I don’t buy it. There’s just no way. Fred was the type of person that you didn’t have to drug anyway. Fred was always tired. He could get in a car, and we couldn’t ride two blocks without him dozing off. I mean, he, he just, he was a high-energy person that ran on very little fuel, and wherever he’d sit down, he was well-rested. I have never, I have never believed that, I mean…”
In everything O’Neal spoke about, he never seemed comfortable admitting to poisoning Hampton. This isn’t to say Fred wasn’t drugged because they found it in his system, but perhaps O’Neal was conflicted within himself.
“Per a 2021 report (via Esquire), O’Neal once admitted “while high” that he did indeed drug Hampton. Specifically, the former FBI informant used “a substantial dose” of secobarbital (a barbiturate) in a glass of Kool-Aid, at least according to a “criminal associate” who testified in court.”
O’Neal says Hampton never consumed marijuana or any drugs and that most party members didn’t even drink alcohol so the Kool-Aid thing makes sense. Additionally, In The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther, Hass talks about the report from Cook County chemist Eleanor Berman who ran two separate tests that presented evidence of barbiturates in Hampton’s blood, though he was not known to take drugs.
The FBI did not find such evidence in their own tests, but then, of course they didn’t.
Did William O’Neal personally poison Hampton or did they pin this on him?
What I Know is Real
Outside of these exceptions, I found a lot about the movie to be accurate. Thanks in large part to Fred Hampton Jr., and Akua Njeri, formerly Deborah Johnson, who Dominique Fishback plays in the film.
Hampton’s arrest on the charge of stealing the ice cream happened, the shootout with the officers and the building set on fire and the community helping to restore the building is all true.
The bit about Fred’s mom babysitting Emmett Till is also true.
Mamie Till and Emmett were neighbors to the Hamptons. Mamie Till had come to Chicago from Mississippi a few years earlier, and Emmett’s father found a job at the Corn Products Company in Argo (a suburb on the southwest side of Chicago) just as Fred’s father had. Fred’s mother, Iberia, became friends with a woman named Fannie Wesley, Emmett Till’s regular babysitter. Because Iberia stayed home with her children (until Fred was eight), she sometimes babysat Emmett too, who she described as “a handful” (haha). Fred was only six years old when Emmett was brutally murdered in 1955.
In the movie, the FBI wrote a letter to one gang pretending it was from the Panthers to cause disunity in the community.
This is accurate.
The Panthers persuaded members of the Black Stone Rangers and Chicago’s Puerto Rican gangs to call a truce and be of service to the community. From my perspective, Hampton saw their grit and no non-sense demeanor not as a weakness but as something that could be a strength and add value to the movement.
“We all were living in shoddy housing. We all were not receiving education. We all were getting our asses kicked by the police,” says Felipe Luciano. “Why shouldn’t we get together?”
But following FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s orders, O’Neal and others* undid much of Hampton’s work to foster peace in the community.
FBI agents wrote a letter to Jeff Fort, the Black P Stones leader, saying the Panthers were putting a hit on him. This kind of disinformation happened all the time. Today there is disinformation through Social Media and email. Back then, it was through handwritten letters and phone wiretaps.
The FBI tried to make The Black Panther Party out to be a hate group. Hampton destroyed this idea every time he preached “All Power to All People,” including white power to white people, yellow power to yellow people, red power to red people, and black power to black people. Hampton worked with white-dominated groups like Students for a Democratic Society and the Weather Underground. He called the multiracial groups he collaborated with his “Rainbow Coalition.”
“People learn by example. Huey P. Newton said people learn by observation and participation,’ so we understand by observing that we need to do more acting than writing. We didn’t talk about a breakfast for children program; we got one.”
The Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast Program did so well that the FBI claimed the program indoctrinated and disrupted children. They then vowed to do away with this “nefarious activity” of feeding children.
These are just some examples of the “imaginative and hard-hitting counterintelligence measures aimed at crippling The Black Panther Party.”
This is the extent the government went to discredit, disarm, and do away with the panthers to prevent what they referred to as “the rise of a Black Messiah.”
You know you gotta be doing outstanding work to be considered “the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States.”
*O’Neal was not the only agent. Mitchell had as many as nine informants within the Black Panthers leading up to Fred’s murder. O’Neal went into a Federal Witness Protection Program in 1973, four years after Hampton’s death.
Can we talk about Daniel Kaluuya’s Fred Hampton accent? He nailed it!
Now, look past the fact that Kaluuya looks nothing like Hampton (Tee Hee)
But his accent and acting is on point.
Fred Hampton was an intelligent young man who studied pre-law at Triton College and already had experience working with the NAACP. He spoke quickly and with authority. If you are not careful, you will miss some of what Fred says because he spoke fast. The Hampton quotes recited by Daniel in the movie were spot on, and I enjoyed the creative direction in its delivery.
“We are an organization that understands politics, and we understand that politics is nothing but war without bloodshed, and war is nothing but politics with bloodshed.” – Fred Hampton
The real Fred said this to reporters while standing outside of a Panther office in Chicago during an interview with ABC News. In the movie, they showed him teaching this to members in a classroom setting. I liked this direction because it showcased the teaching role of the Panthers’ activism. In a 1989 interview O’Neal says:
WILLIAM O’NEAL: “We would go through political orientation. We would read certain paragraphs and then Fred Hampton and Rush would explain to us, the new membership, basically what it meant, and what was happening, and they drew parallels to what was going on in the past revolutions in the various countries, like, for instance China or Russia, and they was drawing parallels to what was going on in the current political scene within the United States. So they were drawing associations between the revolutions in, in, in the Communist countries, as I understood it, as to what was happening in the United States. And, and so I understood them to be a little bit more sophisticated than a gang. I expected that there would be weapons, and we would be out there doing turf battles with the, the local gangs, but they, they weren’t about that at all. They were into the political scene: the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon, and specifically freeing Huey. That was their thing.”
Speaking of politics, my favorite part by Dominique Fishback as Deborah was when she walked up to Fred and told him he was a poet. It reminded me of a speech Amanda Gorman did when she said that Poetry is Political. Their romance scenes were cute.
Even the negative quotes in the movie were pretty much word for word.
“He’s barely alive. He’ll barely make it.”
“He’s good and dead now.”
We heard this in the movie but according to the testimony of Akua Njeri (Deborah Johnson), the police also said this when they killed Fred in real life.
The reason he was barely alive was because of the amount of fentanyl they laced in his drink. Hampton’s autopsy revealed he had enough in his system to knock out a horse.
Sadly, even if Hampton had not been shot, it is a good chance he would still have died of the poisoning.
Preventing the Rise of Black Saviors
Yahoshua, the Biblical messiah’s purpose was to save his people from their sins, but there were many messiah’s throughout history that saved the children of Israel like Moses.
The Panthers and other organizations like them’ engaged in activities and programs that could save, redeem, and restore the black community in the same way these messiah’s rescued the children of Israel from their oppressors back then. This strikes much fear into the heart of America.
There has always been a separation between righteous revolution and pseudo-revolution. Do not be thrown off by that word revolution. It only means change, and those who set out to positively change the conditions of black people have always been attacked by those who wish for things to remain as they are.
Controversy Over Who Shot First
The movie gave additional details about what happened in the aftermath through text at the end but did not detail the controversy of the trial.
It would have been a bonus to show how the Black Panther Party took people in the community through the apartment to show what they had done to Fred, Mark Clark, and the others after the raid.
Cook County State Attorney Edward Hanrahan went on TV to say that the Panthers attacked the officers first. The Panthers conducted their own investigation by hosting visuals of the apartment to members of the community. They could do this because although the raid/murders happened on Dec 4th, the apartment wasn’t sealed until Dec 17th, so the Panthers used that time to get evidence that proved it was, in fact, the officers who shot first. Evidence included pictures of bullet holes that were not bullet holes but nail heads.
“Our goal was to really make a movie that captured 1968. But so little has changed between 1968 and 2021, that we don’t really have to draw parallels to the present.” – Shaka King
“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Film, 2021) Prime Video
The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI Murdered a Black Panther by Jeffrey Haas (Chapters 1-3)
More Movie Reviews Coming! You can find them under the Movie Night Friday page of this blog. From this point, forward movie reviews will be titled like book reviews using the words: “Yecheilyah’s Movie Reviews,” or “Yecheilyah’s Book Reviews.”
An Instagram video inspired today’s post, where a group of young black people engaged in a debate about whether light skin blacks are treated better than dark skin blacks. This debate spun out of control and eventually led to a full-blown argument that made it difficult for the viewer to comprehend what each party said. In the young people’s voice was a lot of hurt and pain. The caption on the video read: “Does Light-Skin Privilege Exist in America?”
Not to bestow to Willie Lynch any gift of prophecy, but when he said to “pitch the light-skin slave against the dark-skin slave and the dark-skin slave against the light skin-slave,” it was as if he c-sectioned the calendar and saw color bias in black people’s future.
Even if one does not wholly believe The Willie Lynch Letter is entirely accurate, one cannot ignore the Black community’s divisions based on skin color in a way that is strangely accurate to William’s letter. To add to this, Willie Lynch did not say these divisions will help for a few days, weeks, and months. In 1712, William Lynch said that if implemented “properly,” slave owners could expect these divisions to keep the blacks mentally enslaved and divided for generations.
It is 2021, but skin-tone is still an important physical characteristic among some black people that sometimes cause divisions in the black community. Historically, people immediately noticed a black person’s skin-tone and recognized it as a critical component in joining churches, fraternities and sororities, and other social interactions. Throughout history, variations in skin tone have reflected social status and hierarchies. The most notable social experiment was the paper bag test, used widely among African Americans to determine inclusion in certain activities and groups.
The Brown Paper Bag Test
The Brown Paper Bag Test, known widely as “The Paper bag Test,” was a form of racial discrimination practiced within the African-American community in the 20th century by comparing an individual’s skin tone to a brown color paper bag.
If a person’s skin tone matched or was lighter than the brown bag, they would be more likely to be accepted than a person whose skin tone was darker than the paper bag.
Many famous black clubs and social organizations used this test to determine membership, including churches and employers.
The Lighter the Skin, the Better the Chances
In Spike Lee’s movie, School Daze, two groups of black sorority women are at odds over which group’s hair and skin color are best. In the film, the Gamma Rays had to be “paper bag light.”
The Alpha Kappa Alpha Brown Paper Bag Test
A letter from 1928, written by sophomore Edward H. Taylor, at Howard University discusses the Alpha Kappa Alpha brown paper bag test and colorism. Watch the Yard details the statements made in the student newspaper “The Hilltop.” Watch the Yard said the article:
“accused fraternities of “splitting the various classes into groups of different shades — yellow, brown, and black.” According to Taylor, “The light-skinned students are sought after by the fraternities and sororities, particularly the latter, as members and the dark ones passed by. The darker brown students then form their own cliques while the blacks are left in the cold.”
Jack and Jill Brown Paper Bag Test
Jack and Jill of America was established in 1938 with a mission of “nurturing future African American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving, and civic duty.”
But an article from the Pittsburg Courier says Jack and Jill has seen its share of negative press from the Black community over the last 81 years. Similar to African-American sororities and fraternities, in the early years, Jack and Jill had a reputation of only being for elite “light-skinned Blacks”. The article says:
“some Blacks saw it as open only to those who had ‘good hair’ and were able to pass ‘the paper-bag test.’”
Resumes Used to Emphasize “Light Colored”
Nadra Kareen Little from ThoughtCo. discussed colorism in her article about skin tone discrimination. The article said:
“Colorism didn’t disappear after the institution of slavery ended in the U.S. In black America, those with light skin received employment opportunities off-limits to darker-skinned blacks. This is why upper-class families in black society were largely light-skinned.”
Her article mentions a writer Brent Staples who discovered this while searching newspaper archives near the Pennsylvania town where he grew up. She said:
“In the 1940s, he noticed, Black job seekers often identified themselves as light-skinned. Cooks, chauffeurs, and waitresses sometimes listed ‘light colored’ as the primary qualification—ahead of experience, references, and the other important data. They did it to improve their chances and to reassure white employers who…found dark skin unpleasant or believed that their customers would.”
Article from the NY Times that gave an example of a job ad from the 1950s that specifically requested applicants with light-colored skin.
“The owner of Chock full o’ Nuts, a white man named William Black, advertised in the tabloids for ‘light colored counter help.’
Advertising jobs for people with lighter skin or “Eurocentric” features is no longer legal or acceptable when doing business, but research shows that these preferences still play a role in our society. The same NY Times article reported that:
“Researchers tell us that it affects how people vote; who appears in Hollywood movies and television news shows; who gets hired and promoted in corporate America; and even who gets executed for murder.”
“Passing is a deception that enables a person to adopt certain roles or identities from which prevailing social standards would bar him in the absence of his misleading conduct. The classic racial passer in the United States has been the “white Negro:” the individual whose physical appearance allows him to present himself as “white” but whose “black” lineage makes him a Negro according to dominant racial rules.”
– Randall Kennedy, Racial Passing
Racial passing was a common practice among lighter-skinned African Americans and is the focal point of book two of The Stella Trilogy, where Stella changes her name to Sidney McNair, marries a white man, and has biracial children whom she raises as white. This narrative is taken directly from historical accounts of light-skin blacks (mixed or not) passing and living their lives as Europeans.
As a child of a white mother and a light-skinned black man, Gregory Howard Williams was a person who assumed that he was white because his parents pretended to be white. Not until he was ten years old, when his parents divorced, did Williams and his brother learn that they were black.
Many lighter-skinned blacks pretended or classified themselves as white in the US, which gave them access to the rights and opportunities that other blacks could not enjoy. In the image we see here, Dr. Albert Johnston passed to practice medicine. After living as leading citizens in Keene, N.H., the Johnstons revealed their true racial identity and became national news.
For Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs, a similar situation occurred where she discovered a cousin she had never met. This cousin lived in California as a white woman from her mother’s instruction, who sent her away from Chicago many years ago. The mother thought her daughter would have the best chance of success living as a white woman.
“She was black, but she looked white,” Hobbs said. “And her mother decided it was in her best interest to move far away from Chicago, to Los Angeles, and to assume the life of a white woman.”
This came around and bit the mother when her husband died and her daughter, now fully immersed in her life, said that she would not attend the funeral, saying, “I can’t. I’m a white woman now.”
The most famous instance is probably art imitating life in the 1934 film “Imitation of Life,” starring Fredi Washington playing a black woman who passes as white. They made this movie at a time where passing was a widespread practice for fair-skinned blacks. They remade this film in 1959.
Colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group, where lighter-skin is treated more favorably than darker skin. The brown paper bag test was used to determine who was acceptable and not based on colorism or color bias. When darker-skinned blacks bleach their skins or attempt to look lighter for the special treatment given to lighter skin (such as to join an organization), it is like passing.
While this is fading as dark skin is becoming more and more appreciated, that video of those young people arguing is proof there is still some work to do.
In the latest Mixed-Ish episode, Johan (pronounced Yohan) allowed his peers to think he was Mexican, thus passing for Mexican. Alicia’s sister Denise’s remark that Rainbow’s parents had indirectly caused this by living in a community where race, specifically blackness, was not discussed or considered has some truth to it. People think that by saying, “I don’t see race,” this is a compliment, but it is not. The one who does not see race also does not see racism.
“You all taught that poor boy of being ashamed of being black. You took him to that commune where…nobody talked about race, and that taught him not to be proud of his blackness.”
Why is there truth to this? Because one cannot be proud of what one does not know exists. If Johan does not know what it means to be black and all his people’s rich experiences, how can he see the shame in not telling his peers who he really is? Johan allowed his peers to think he was Mexican because he does not fully understand who he is as a black boy.
[Side Note: Can someone explain to me why they chose The Color Purple as the movie to help a black boy understand blackness? I can think of tons of movies from the 80s that are better suited to teach blackness to black children. The Color Purple ain’t one of them. They could have put on Cornbread, Earl, and Me.]
It turned out the kid who called Johan the racist Mexican slur was also black. This is another example of color bias within the African American community. Now, whether the child understood Johan to be black reflects the school system and the lack of representation of black people and black history. Contrary to the popular myth, not all light-skinned black people are mixed. Blacks produce a variety of skin-tones within the race, but that is a topic for a different day.
All Black is Beautiful
Today, “Blackness” (black skin) is promoted in pop culture. I hate to say it this way, but “dark-skin is in.”
With actresses like Daniel Kaluuya and Lupita Amondi Nyong’o, people once looked down on for being “ugly” for their dark skin tone (“too dark”) are now looked upon as being sexy, beautiful, and exotic. Dark skin is now socially acceptable, highly praised, and elevated, among many now seeing the beauty of brown skin.
While this is not a bad thing, the hope is that it has not become some fad in which dark-skin is fetishized. We would not want a reversal of the paper bag test in which light-skinned blacks are looked down on in the way dark-skinned blacks have always been. Blackness is not a trend that goes in and out of style and should not be treated as such.
The message here should be that all black is beautiful, no matter the shade.
I love entrepreneurship. I talk about it. I live it. I stand behind it. I encourage all people, especially black people, to go on and do it if it is within their means to do so. If you’ve ever had a desire to own your own business, I say to go for it.
Here are some black-owned communities that prospered to get your blood pumping.
Free Blacks of Israel Hill
This community was the inspiration for the backstory of Renaissance: The Nora White Story. Nora is a descendent of the free blacks of Israel Hill. It is how her father Gideon inherited five acres of land and why, although Nora’s not very impressed, they’re doing well financially compared to those around them. It was during my trip to New Mexico in 2016 while reading Melvin Patrick Ely’s book Israel on The Appomattox, winner of THE BANCROFT PRIZE, A New York Times Book Review, and Atlantic Monthly Editors’ Choice that the first inklings of the back story emerged.
The community was settled in Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1810-1811 by ninety formerly enslaved persons. These slaves (now freedmen) received freedom and 350 acres from Judith Randolph under the will of her husband, Richard Randolph. These Israelites and other free Blacks worked as farmers, craftspeople, and Appomattox River boatmen. Some labored alongside whites for equal wages, and the family of early settler Hercules White bought and sold real estate in Farmville. Israel Hill remained a vibrant black community into the twentieth century.
The Rosewood community came back into people’s consciousness when John Singleton made a movie for it starring Ving Rhames in 1997. The quiet town prospered in 1870 when a railway depot was set up to transport the abundant red cedar, from which the town got its name, from Rosewood to a pencil factory in cedar key. By 1900 it was predominantly Black with a school, turpentine mill, baseball team, general store, and sugarcane mill. The community had two dozen plank two-story homes, some other small houses, and several small unoccupied plank structures.
There was much revelation during my New Mexico trip. During that time, I learned of Blackdom, another little-known Black community about 18 miles southwest of Roswell, New Mexico, and was founded by Frank and Ella Boyer. Walking 2,000 miles on foot from Georgia to New Mexico, Boyer left his wife and children behind to cultivate land in the West’s free territory before sending his family some three years later. At this time in history, Blacks had begun migrating from the south in significant numbers in a movement called “The Great Exodus” following the Homestead Act of 1862, particularly in Kansas. Henry was a wagoner in the American-Mexican war when he first set eyes on the New Mexico land. The Artesian Water sprang in abundance as more and more blacks were invited and nourished on the land. Blackdom had its own school and post office.
Mound Bayou, MS
The first all-black town in Mississippi, Mound Bayou was founded by two former slaves, Isaiah Montgomery and his cousin, Benjamin Green. In December of 1886, according to a Cleveland Mississippi article of July 1887, Montgomery and Green bought 840 acres of land from the Louisville-New Orleans & Texas Railroad for $7 an acre. That acreage would serve as the site of Mound Bayou.
The men were successful, reaching a population of 4,000 people (99.6 percent black) by 1907. The community had a train depot, a bank, a post office, numerous thriving industries, various stores and eateries, a newspaper, a telephone exchange, and, eventually, a hospital. Mound Bayou was a flourishing community.
Nicodemus Township in Graham County, Kansas
This town was founded in 1877 by seven members, six of whom were Black along the south fork of the Solomon River. Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a former slave and Underground Railroad conductor, helped produce the “Kansas Fever” of the late 1870s. Tens of thousands of African Americans left their homes headed for Singleton’s Cherokee County colony or Nicodemus, in Graham County, Kansas.
Promoted as the “Promised Land” throughout the south, founders hosted visits by potential settlers. By 1879 the town’s population stood at about 700.
The All-Black Community of Boley, Oklahoma
The all-black community of Boley, OK, was founded in 1904. With Railroad access and land that helped, Boley became one of at least 20 Black towns in Oklahoma to thrive. By 1907, it had at least 1,000 residents, and twice that many farmers settled outside of town. There were several businesses and an industrial school.
Fort, Mose, Florida
Located just north of St. Augustine, Fort Mose was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States. King Charles II of Spain issued what would become one of the first proclamations that any male slave on an English Plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom if he joined the Militia and converted to catholicism. We see this a lot throughout history. Whether we are talking Catholicism, Islam, or Christianity, none of these religions had anything to do with the black man, woman, and child’s natural Israelite way of life (Muhammad converted blacks to Islam a thousand years before the Europeans came with Christianity.)
In any event, by 1738, there were hundreds of blacks, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. They were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. They created a colony of freed people with accompanying women and children that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.
There were over twenty black communities in Oklahoma.
Greenwood, a neighborhood in North Tulsa, Oklahoma, was one of the most successful and wealthiest black communities in the United States during the early 20th Century. It was popularly known as America’s “Black Wall Street” due to its financial success that mirrored Wall Street. During the oil boom of the 1910s, which gained the town such titles as “Oil Capital of the World”, the area of northeast Oklahoma around Tulsa flourished, including the Greenwood neighborhood. Home to several prominent Black business people, the community held many multimillionaires.
Greenwood had grocery stores, clothing stores, barbershops, banks, hotels, cafes, movie theaters, two newspapers, and many contemporary homes. The dollar circulated thirty-six to one-hundred times, which means that sometimes it took up to a year before the dollar left the community. To put this in perspective: today, the black dollar leave the black community in fifteen minutes.