A brass band performed on North Foster Drive, in protest, on the Wednesday after the killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress." - Frederick Douglass
"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. Chance has never yet satisfied the hope of a suffering people." - Marcus Garvey
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
These questions are still much debated in the field of professional history. There are still people who defend the old story of the Civil Rights struggle. These works are referred to as the “Short Civil Rights Movement” and the “Top Down Approach.” Their opposition believes, like I do, that the Civil Rights Movement is longer than the dominant tale says it is and that the grassroots activists involved in the struggle were more responsible for the overall success of the Movement than were the national leaders who took credit for it. They also argue that the Movement extends beyond the Voting Rights Act of 1965, though not necessarily quite as far as some others would argue. Their positions are referred to as the “Long Civil Rights Movement” and the “Bottom Up Approach.” “The Long Civil Rights Movement and The Political Uses of the Past,” by Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, “The Long Movement as Vampire: Temporal and Spatial Fallacies in Recent Black Freedom Studies," by Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Clarence Lang, “Debating the Civil Rights Movement: The View from the Nation,” by Steven L. Lawson, and “Debating the Civil Rights Movement: The View from the Trenches,” by Charles Payne will be used to explore this dynamic. These models, the Short Civil Rights Movement vs. The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Top Down Approach vs. the Bottom Up Approach, will be used to briefly review the historiography of the Civil Rights Movement. They will then be used as a guide to tell an alternate story of the Civil Rights Movement. This story will trace the origins of the Civil Rights Movement from long before the foundations of the Republic, on to the Abolitionist Movement, and so forth. It will then argue that it is still going on. This, however, will come only after a new definition of the Civil Rights Movement, which will be more inclusive and comprehensive, is presented.
A New Definition of the Civil Rights Movement
Long Movement or Short Movement?
In her piece “The Long Civil Rights Movement and The Political Uses of the Past,” published in The Journal of American History, Jacquelyn Dowd Hall argued in the opposite direction. She disagreed that taking the Movement outside of the South was a problem. She believed that confining it to the South limits the gravitas of a remarkable movement that affected the entire nation. She also argued that it hides the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr. did more than just fight for the rights of African Americans by getting the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts passed. She also held that this periodization and geographic limitation of the Movement limited the reality that a movement of people forced the federal government to act against its own interests. She liked the fact that many scholars were taking the scholarship towards a Longer Movement, but wondered why the old narrative was still so widely accepted by the general public. Her answer was that the “New Right” took a hold of the legacy of the Movement, in the early 1980s, and turned the legacy of the Movement into something just about colorblind equality before the law, in order to limit the effects of the Movement. They did not want to legitimize actions of organizations like the Black Panthers and the opinions of people like Stokley Carmichael. Their goal in limiting the Movement, to its now traditional boundaries, was to make the actions and statements of such people radical and unacceptable. Her opinion was that the Civil Rights Movement extended back to the 1930s and the positive and negative effects of the New Deal policies. She pointed to how many unions moved to enfranchise African Americans in the South to help the national labor movement, the actions of A. Philip Randolph, who forced the formation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission, and the Smith v. Allwright case, which furthered the march towards voter equality, as the biggest events that take the movement into this earlier period. She also extended the Movement into the early 1980s, with the onset of “white flight” into the suburbs and the defacto re-segregation of the inner cities.
Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Clarence Lang believed that the struggle for freedom was temporally limited, geographically isolated, and that is now over. They exclude the actions of organizations like the Black Panthers as something totally different, a solitary movement, “the Black Power Movement.” Whereas, Hall believed that the movement started earlier and is still going, and that such groups are part of a much broader scheme. When looking at both sides of this argument, it is very easy to see that Hall’s argument makes much more sense. It is very agreeable that by limiting the movement to a single period of just eleven years, much is lost in the overall story of the struggle for freedom. A specific case would be Martin Luther King, Jr. Hall points out that King, “opposed the Vietnam War, advocated for the unionization of workers, planned the Poor People’s Campaign, and supported a sanitation workers’ strike right up until his death.” She is very right in saying this, for considering such truths and events that occurred before and after the traditional tale, on the same level as that tale, not only broadens the Movement, but also makes it more accessible to the general public. It seems like it would have the potential to stir a deeper sense of belonging in people were they to realize that the Movement was, in reality, about many of the same problems that they presently are facing in their own lives. Perhaps there can be some sort of middle ground reached. Cha-Jua and Lang did recognized the creation of a new term for the Long Movement, “the Black Liberation Movement.” However, in this context, it might be appropriate to change it to the "American Liberation Struggle." Perhaps, this term can be an umbrella term, recognizing the continuity of the struggle for freedom, while still making note of the differences in particular periodizations of the overall Movement and the actions or conditions of different groups, peoples, and regions. The reasoning behind this choice of terminology will soon become abundantly clear.
Grass Roots Activists or National Leaders?
According to Charles Payne, in “Debating the Civil Rights Movement: The View from the Trenches,” published in the same text, the Bottom Up approach is most appropriate to understanding the Civil Rights Movement. He started his analysis during World War II, moved on to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, discussed the formation of grassroots organizations like SNCC and CORE, discussed the Freedom Summer in Mississippi, and he ended with the argument that “the course of the Movement was influenced by a great many people, among whom Dr. King was probably the most visible and best known to those outside the Movement.” He also answered the argument that his opinion somehow lessened the contributions that Dr. King made to the Civil Rights Movement by saying, “Insisting that the Movement was larger than Dr. King does him no dishonor. The reassessment of King in recent decades is less a rewriting of history than a correction of it.” To solidify the critical role that grassroots activists played in the success of the Movement, Payne offered transcripts of interviews with people like Fannie Lou Hamer, Bob Moses, and Eldridge W. Steptoe, Jr., all of whom were from the areas in which they worked, and all whom have been lost in the historical narrative of a Civil Rights Movement that only happened at the national level.
Setting aside the fact that Lawson’s argument constantly contradicts itself, and focusing just on the point of the argument, in comparison to that of Payne, both arguments merit consideration. Obviously, the federal government, national leaders, and the grassroots activists of the Movement all played a comparatively important role in the victories achieved. The government could have simply refused to deal with the people and the people could have never chosen to begin their struggle for freedom at al, which further, would not have given rise to national leaders who could carry the cause forward. Without the people, there would have been nothing for the government to do. Without the government, the people would have had a next to impossible job ahead of them as they sought to dismantle a rigid and very repressive establishment in the segregated South, and without the people, there are no national civil rights leaders. More importantly, though, without the people, there is no government. What Payne does that separates his article from Lawson’s is show very clearly how important grassroots activists were to the success of the Civil Rights Movement, as without them, as was just said, there would have been no national leadership. This leads, one must admit, to a much greater reliance on his argument, as it makes more sense that success must be built from the ground up, rather than from the top down.
The Historiography of the Debate
Muse’s final chapter places the book in line with the National Figures influence in two ways. He focused on the final report on urban violence of The President’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. He looked at its, “findings,” and its reported need to work with “the greatest urgency,” as if the commission were the first organization to notice that something more substantial had to be done. At the end, though, he did give Martin Luther King some credit as, “…one of the greatest Americans of our time.” It seems that by saying this, however, despite speaking about many locally based events, he felt that without King, there would have been no Civil Rights Movement. Muse also revealed his political leanings when he said that the Commission’s recommendations for fixing the issues were “drastic and costly.” He apparently referred to urban renewal projects, increased public housing and income supplementation for the poor, and the creation of two million new jobs, as drastic and costly. One can admit to the high price of such programs, but calling them drastic is going too far; especially, when they were helping people to overcome the problems that they were lashing out about in the first place. The biggest problem with this text is that Muse was writing much too soon. There had not been enough time for people to really see what would come out of everything that had only recently occurred. His story would have to change dramatically after just a few more years. This is partially evidenced by the fact that his title refers to the “Negro Revolution,” and does not use the term Civil Rights Movement.
Another person who limits the scope of the Civil Rights Movement, to the Short Movement, is Harvard Sitkoff in, The Struggle for Black Equality, 1954-1980. Published in 1981, more time had passed since the “end” of the Civil Rights Movement which, at the least, gave him more time to approach the topic from a more objective perspective. However, it does not seem like he used that opportunity. He began the first chapter, entitled “Up From Slavery,” with the statement, “During the last decade of the nineteenth century, few Afro-Americans struggled for racial equality with much optimism.” He continued by analyzing the “powerlessness” that blacks had to endure. In the second chapter, Sitkoff jumped all the way to Rosa Parks. He portrayed Mrs. Parks as the weary woman who, “after her long hard day of holiday seasonal work at the man’s alteration shop of the Montgomery Fair Department Store, and not feeling well, wanted to remain seated for the rest of her ride,” rather than the cognizant local dissident that she was. This is evidence of how Sitkoff’s approach to the direction of the Movement placed his text in the Top Down camp, as well. He indirectly discredited local heroes like Rosa Parks and focused more on Martin Luther King, Jr. and the SCLC’s work in the cases of the March on Selma and others, John F. Kennedy and his taking action to stop the violence of the 1961 Freedom Rides, and LBJ and his promises to enact further sweeping legislation to augment the progress of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. Sitkoff solidified his position in the last pages of the text, when he stated, “Overall, black improvement came because of an expanding economy,” which negated any other statements he made about African Americans taking control of their own destiny. One wonders what sources he was using, because, despite saying in his bibliographic essay that “the literature on the modern black struggle is voluminous,” and that “the student of history needs to make judicious use of journalistic accounts and participant stories,” he paid little attention to Ida B. Wells, whose Anti-Lynching Campaign began in the 1890s and was very rigorous, despite her failure to end the practice. Adam Fairclough, in Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000, made her contribution to the Movement quite clear, and did so with sources that would have been easily available to Sitkoff. Sitkoff also made Rosa Parks’ actions appear random, even though just before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, she had attended the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee to receive training in organizing, as Fairclough pointed out. The way he analyzed the Civil Rights Movement makes it seem as if African Americans had absolutely no chance to meet their goals on their own, and that it was circumstances outside their control that gave them the little bit of success that they did manage to achieve.
There are several other books that fit into this framework. There are too many to mention them all; however, a few standout. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, by David Garrow, which focuses on the actions of a singular leader, in this case, Martin Luther King, Jr., is such a text. The study is also centered on the events of a very specific time period, 1954-1965/68. Granted, this text is a biography, but it still puts earlier events and later events in the background. It also leaves out a lot of people who came before and after King. When considering government officials, The Bystander: John F. Kennedy and the Struggle for Black Equality, by Nick Bryant, does much the same thing. His analysis indicated that President Kennedy’s inaction or actions are what made or broke the early 1960s era of Civil Rights Movement, and he addressed only a brief period of time. This narrow analysis of the Movement is also present in The Great Society: A Twenty Year Critique, edited by Barbara C. Jordan and Elspeth D. Rostow. This publication resulted from a panel that was organized in April of 1985 in Austin, Texas to review the legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson, twenty years after his actions during the Civil Rights Movement. Jordan opened up, and early on said, “Governments, presidents, and congresses must never cease in their search for the right.” She went on to praise Johnson’s decisive actions as being crucial to the success of the Civil Rights Movement. Congressmen, and other government officials, also came to this meeting to praise and remember Johnson’s Civil Rights victories and the Great Society. Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., the Civil Rights leader and lawyer, even said, “I think celebration of the civil rights accomplishments of Lyndon Johnson is an absolute must.” Was no one else there? Did nothing else happen? These texts, and those before, make it seem that way. They minimize or exclude the actions of people on the ground in the Movement in both the traditional period of the Movement and the periods before and after. Without such people, the Civil Rights Movement would never have occurred. People on the ground had to become fed up, and they had to be the ones to motivate themselves and their neighbors, otherwise the national actors would not have had anything to do or even any reason to exist. A general without an army is just a lonely person standing in a field wearing a funny looking suit.
A book that combines the Long Civil Rights Movement and the Bottom Up approach is The Civil Rights Movement, by Mark Newman. In this text, Newman started in the late 1930s to the early 1940s with the after effects of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the coming effects of World War II. He ended with the white backlash against the Movement through the Reagan Administration into the 1980s. He showed his support for the Bottom Up approach when he wrote about how the scholarship used to approach the Movement, “By Relying on Presidential and federal archives, the records of major civil rights organizations, the personal memoirs and papers of prominent actors, earlier scholarship encouraged a Top Down approach.” He then went on to write that he supported the opposite view. He showed his support of the Long Civil Rights Movement when he wrote, “This book traces the Civil Rights Movement from the 1940s,” which he later wrote is also a change from earlier scholarship. He did mention earlier events, though. He backed these statements up by focusing more on how the Civil Rights Movement affected or was led by lesser known people and less on how major national players directed the movement. He was adamant that national leaders could not do anything without local leaders organizing and motivating the base of the Movement.
A book that supports this idea, as well, is Civil Rights History from the Ground Up: Local Struggles, a National Movement, edited by Emilye Crosby. This book is a collection of essays that analyzed major events in the Movement from the Bottom Up perspective. There is a particular author who analyzed the Long Civil Rights Movement, going back to the 1930s, in combination with this Bottom Up approach. In “Local People and National Leaders: The View from Mississippi,” John Dittmer focused on the actions of people like Fannie Lou Hamer, and her work with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and James Meredith, who organized a protest march from Memphis to Jackson. People like these two, while they received national attention, were not on the national stage like Martin Luther King, Jr. or the many government officials involved in the affair. Dittmer argued that these local activists needed help from those national leaders, but were slow to receive it, and that it was their actions that drew national leaders into the fray. He also looked at the reactions of local whites in Mississippi to the many events taking place in their state and around the country. He concluded by saying that “for a brief moment in the mid-1960s the nation got a glimpse of the possibilities of democracy, when ordinary people accomplished extraordinary things in the bastions of white supremacy.” In, “Focusing Our Eyes on the Prize: How Community Studies are Reforming and Rewriting the History of the Civil Rights Movement,” J. Todd Moye recognized the shift from a short to a long movement, and argued that this had happened because of local studies. He even argued that this shift had changed the nature of the Movement. He pointed out that if the Civil Rights Movement began much earlier than the traditional tale would have people believe, then the movement is not what people think it is. He argued that it was “less incremental and more revolutionary and involved the creation of an alternative culture.” He then argued that it involved much more than just the struggle for equal rights and was part of a larger struggle for liberation that is still going on.
As stated before, the Bottom Up interpretation of the Civil Rights Movement is the most agreeable. There has to be people on the ground willing to do what is necessary to succeed for national leaders to be relevant. It is also agreeable that the Long Civil Rights Movement is much more appropriate than the traditional shorter version. It, however, is just not convincing that the 1930s are where the Movement started. Moye is of the opinion that it is still in progress, and he is correct. To a degree, Adam Fairclough’s text, Better Day Coming: Blacks and Equality, 1890-2000, agrees with this idea. He argued that “The long fight to end lynching was the starting point of the modern civil rights struggle, the beginning of the fight back against white supremacy.” Fairclough went beyond Hall’s and the others’ arguments when he looked at the actions of Ida B. Wells and considered people and actions that came long before even the new Long Movement. He considered the actions of people like W.E.B. DuBois and Marcus Garvey. Further, he followed the Movement past the Voting Rights Act of 1965, through the Black Power Movement, all the way up to the present day. He argued that there is still much left unfinished. However, this piece argues that the Civil Rights Movement began long before that. Would it be a stretch to include the Stono Rebellion? What of the debates over slavery during the Constitutional Convention in 1787? Furthermore, what of the debate over slavery after the founding of the Republic? These discussions sparked future action and people, both black and white, worked to end the evil of slavery. Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, and many others, pushed for the end of slavery. Beginning with these people, it then becomes most definitely necessary to include the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era in the Civil Rights Movement. The passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were monumental achievements.
Fairclough has opposition, and it is reasonable to assume that this piece would receive even more skeptical responses. This “totalizing” perspective, as Cha-Jua and Lang call it, in their opinion, “flattens chronological, conceptual, and geographic distances and contradicts the empirical evidence.” They mention the term “Black Liberation Movement,” coined by Long Movement scholars and argued that this Long Movement “removes the Black Liberation Movement from the historical process of change, development, demise, and regeneration.” They are not the only ones. In, “Upheaval in Savannah: The Protest Cycle of a ‘Short’ Civil Rights Movement,” published in The Journal of Contemporary History, Clare Russell used a local civil rights struggle in Savannah, Georgia from 1960-1964 to argue against the Long Movement. Hosea Williams led this movement, but when he left, according to Russell, “the movement deflated, and the old guard stepped into leadership roles.” Essentially, the movement in that city fell apart, and older members of the community stepped in to try and keep it running, while also retreating to a more conciliatory approach to protest actions. Russell essentially agreed with Cha-Jua and Lang, in that “to conceive of the direct action movement as the culmination of the earlier movement overlooks the processes by which action was mobilized, sustained, and deflated.” However, is very easy to see that it actually does a lot to reveal these things more clearly.
Despite the arguments of the opposition, Fairclough does have his supporters. One such supporter is Kenneth Clark. In “The Civil Rights Movement: Momentum and Organization,” published in Daedalus. He argued that “The American Civil Rights Movement in its most important sense is as old as the introduction of human slavery in the New World.” What makes this particularly interesting is that this article was written in the 1960s. Kenneth Clark was a contemporary of Benjamin Muse who, as discussed, severely limited the range of the Civil Rights Movement. Risa L. Goluboff also supported the idea of the Long Civil Rights Movement. In “The Thirteenth Amendment and the Lost Origins of Civil Rights,” published in the Duke Law Journal, she argued that the Movement began in the 1930s, though her story, obviously, does not go back as far as this piece, Fairclough, or Clark’s. There is, of course, Hall, but she, like Goluboff, does not go quite as far back as the others. Each also supports the Bottom Up approach. So, why can the Civil Rights Movement not be traced back to the beginning of American slavery and the earliest points of the Abolitionist Movement’s work to abolish it? After all, Arthur Zilversmit argued, in The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North, slavery did exist in northern states, and it was successfully abolished there long before 1865. Using this logic, if one were to reconsider the definition of Civil Rights given by Cha-Jua and Lang, “…for African Americans, civil rights have connoted incorporation into the U.S. Polity, as well as, American Civil Society,” then it would seem that the Movement can be easily traced back to the Abolitionist Movement and long before. The struggle for freedom has never ended in this country from the outset. Over-periodization of this struggle is what creates a disconnect in history. “U.S. History” is not considered an overly broad term. It encompasses everything that has occurred in North America, which is actually extremely broad when considering how far back such studies can go. Perhaps, the terminology of the Movement could be considered in this way. The following section will consider this possibility. It will operate under the new definition of the Movement, "for Americans, civil rights have connoted incorporation into the U.S. Polity, as well as, American Civil Society," and the new name, the "American Liberation Struggle."
The American Liberation Struggle
In Edmund S. Morgan's, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia, one learns of the first arrival of African slaves in the Jamestown colony. One also learns of the 1640s case of John Punch, an African slave who ran away from Virginia to Maryland. Upon his capture, he was sentenced to a lifetime of servitude for his crime. The two white indentured servants, who had run away with him, were sentenced to serve extended indentures. This is the point where African's tenure as slaves in the American colonies began to take on a perpetual nature, an early defeat in the American struggle for liberation. In, Black Protest: History, Documents, and Analyses, 1619 to the Present, edited by Joanne Grant, one finds evidence of some of the earliest moments when slavery was abolished in portions of the future United States. They involved Quakers and Mennonites, both of which were groups that would later play huge roles in the Abolitionist Movement. On May 18, 1652, at a General Court in the Quaker town of Warwick, Pennsylvania, a resolution was passed, “…let it be ordered that no black mankind or white being shall be forced by covenant, bond, or otherwise to serve any man or his assignees…” On April 18, 1688, Mennonites in Germantown, Pennsylvania passed a similar resolution, “Pray, what thing in the world can be done worse towards us, than if men should rob us or steal us away, and sell us for slaves to strange countries; separating husbands from their wives and children. Being now this is not done in the manner we would be done at; therefore, we contradict, and are against this traffic of men-body.” Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick L. McKissack in, Rebels Against Slavery: American Slave Revolts, offer a very clear image of the very important Stono Rebellion. On September 9, 1739, a group of African born slaves, led by a man whose slave name was Cato, rose up against their masters and raided a guarded arms stash, in the area around Stono Creek, South Carolina. Using drums, Cato communicated with other African born slaves in the area and built up a force of nearly one hundred armed rebels. This group then made its way south towards Florida. Despite initial success, the group stopped prematurely to regroup. This cost them their freedom and their lives. Their masters caught up with them, and after a ten day fight, they were executed. Afterwards, drums, labeled “tools of rebellion,” were outlawed in the Carolinas and Virginia.
On January 18, 1773, in a letter to Robert Pleasants, Patrick Henry, referring to slavery, wrote, “I believe a time will come when an opportunity will be offered to abolish this lamentable evil.” This sentiment was not uncommon amongst a great many of the men that would found the United States. In fact the Original Copy of the Declaration of Independence, as written by Thomas Jefferson, had a passage in it that banned slavery, blaming the whole affair on King George III, who sought to force the menacing trade upon the American colonies. On March 15, 1786, in a letter to R. Lushington, John Jay wrote “It is much to be wished that slavery may be abolished. The [honour] of the States, as well as justice and humanity, in my opinion, loudly call upon them to emancipate these unhappy people. To contend for our own liberty, and to deny that blessing to others, involves an inconsistency not to be excused.” On April 12, 1786, in a letter to Robert Morris, George Washington, referring to slavery, wrote, “There is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do, to see a plan adopted for the abolition of it.” This did not prevent, however, the writing of the Three-Fifths Compromise into the United States Constitution, which not only legally recognized that human beings could own other human beings as property and slaves, but also legally recognized that African Americans were only to be counted as three-fifths of an actual person. If ever in American history there two moments when the right thing could have and should have been done, it was these two moments, but the one thing that these men were not going to do what threaten the very basis of their economic success. For many of the people writing these documents, especially those from the South, slavery was the bedrock of the lifestyle. They were not going to crash their own economic interests just to "do the right thing," and who was there to challenge them on behalf of the millions of people whose lives had just been dealt away?
Quotes from comments and official statements such as these could fill entire books, and stories of slave rebellions in the Americas are well known and plentiful. One must include such things in the American Liberation Struggle, going back to the Amistad Rebellion, the Stono Rebellion, and earlier, because these people were actively seeking to free themselves from the evils of slavery. It is of no matter whether they were successful or not, they struggled for liberty, and thus, they must be included. Early statements by important American leaders, like John Jay, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and others must also be included, as must the resolutions of the Quakers and the Mennonites because their words and actions, tough they did not always match up with one another, set the ground work for future actions in the move to free American Africans from the bondage of slavery. In 1783, in Common Wealth vs. Nathaniel Jennison, in their April term, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that slavery was unconstitutional and ordered all slaves within the borders of the state immediately released. Chief Justice William Cushing used a section of the 1780 Massachusetts State Constitution to set the precedent for this ruling where it stated, “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights; among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.” He argued that “And upon this ground, our Constitution of Government, by which the people of this Commonwealth have solemnly bound themselves, sets out with declaring that all men are born free and equal -- and that every subject is entitled to liberty, and to have it guarded by the laws, as well as life and property -- and in short is totally repugnant to the idea of being born slaves. This being the case, I think the idea of slavery is inconsistent with our own conduct and Constitution; and there can be no such thing as perpetual servitude of a rational creature, unless his liberty is forfeited by some criminal conduct or given up by personal consent or contract.”
In, In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process, The Colonial Period, by A. Leon Higginbotham, one finds that in the same year, both Connecticut and New Hampshire established gradual programs that freed the children of slaves and freed all other slaves after a period of years based on either their age or the disposition of their master. New York and New Jersey were a little bit more recalcitrant and waited to free their slaves, but after the asserted action of organizations like the New York Manumission Society, they too adopted programs to end slavery in their states. The last slave in the North was freed in New York by 1827. One can refer back to Arthur Zilversmit's, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North for the full story of this episode of the story. The next stage of the American Liberation Struggle moved southward with the goal of the complete abolition of slavery in the United States. On July 4, 1829, William Lloyd Garrison made a speech at the Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts that set the beginning of his abolitionist career. He made a speech to all those in attendance that made it clear what his intentions were. He opened up by saying, “I stand up here in a…solemn court…to obtain the liberation of two million of wretched, degraded beings, who are pining in hopeless bondage, over whose sufferings scarcely an eye weeps or a heart melts or a tongue pleads either to God or man.” This is an indication of his intentions to begin such a process. He followed this up later by stating that it is “the right of the free states to remonstrate the continuance and to assist in the overthrow of slavery.”
Towards the end of the speech, Lloyd made a statement that shows that he was to be dedicated to the end of slavery until it was completely gone. He said, “I admit that the emancipation of all the slaves of this generation is most assuredly out of the question. The fabric which now towers above the Alps must be taken away brick by brick and foot by foot, till it is reduced so low that it may be over-turned without burying the nation in its ruins. Years may elapse before the completion of the achievement; generations of blacks may go down to the grave, manacled and lacerated, without hope for their children; the philanthropists who are now pleading in behalf of the oppressed may not live to witness the dawn which will precede the glorious day of universal emancipation; but the work will go on, laborers in the cause will multiply, new resources will be discovered, the victory will be obtained, worth the desperate struggle of a thousand years. Or, if defeat follow, woe to the safety of the people! The nation will be taken as if by a mighty earthquake…The terrible judgment of an incensed God will complete the catastrophe of republican America.” One can look to The Abolitionist Decade, 1829-1838: A Year-by-Year History of Early Events in the Antislavery Movement, by Kevin C. Julius for the full text of the speech and some very good back story. This vigor and moral fortitude that permeated Garrison’s speech was one of the many things that set the stage for the eventual emancipation of all of the enslaved persons in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment made sure of that. Along the way and leading up to these events, however, there were many other actions, news organizations, and people that characterized the Abolitionist Movement as a very important part of the American Liberation Struggle.
An action of particular importance was the slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. On can get a good representation of this story in Breaking the Chains: African American Slave Resistance, by William Loren Katz. On August 21, 1831, Nat Turner led a group of slaves from Northampton County, Virginia in an armed rebellion against their condition of slavery. They raided and took over a local arms store, and then for two days, before they were put down and executed, they traveled from plantation to plantation killing a total of about 55 to 65 members of the white elite connected to various plantations. Before his death, Nat Turner gave his confession to one Thomas R. Gray, who then published it as a pamphlet. In the confession, Turner outlined the justifications for his rebellion. He spoke of the countless mistreatments that he was forced to endure over a lifetime. It seemed that in doing so, he made the point that he saw himself as being at war rather than in rebellion. It is correct to assume this because near the end of his confession, he stated, “I will not shock the feelings of humanity, nor wound a fresh the bosoms of disconsolate sufferers of this unparalleled and inhuman massacre, by detailing the deeds of their fiend-like barbarity.” He was simply following the Eye for Eye concept. He, of course, was speaking of the treatment that had motivated his and others outburst of violence. One can find the full text of his confession in the pamphlet, The Confession of Nat Turner: The Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, VA, as recorded by Thomas R. Gray. Who can possibly say that Turner's rebellion was not justified, or that his methods were inhuman? He had watched, his entire life, as similar actions, or worse, were taken against him, his family, and hie entire people. His war against injustice was the embodiment of the American Liberation Struggle.
As for inspirational figures in the Abolitionist Movement in, Blacks in the Abolitionist Movement, edited by John H. Bracey, Jr., August Meier, and Elliot Rudwick, Benjamin Quarles in his article, “Abolition’s Different Drummer: Frederick Douglass,”referred to Frederick Douglass as “one of the most important abolitionists of his day.” Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland in April of 1818 and escaped to freedom on September 3, 1838. Not long after his successful escape attempt, he joined the Abolitionist Movement. Waldo E. Martin, in his book, The Mind of Frederick Douglass, did a fantastic job of picking Douglass' mind. His speeches, debates, and interviews, for the modern student, remind one of Martin Luther King, Jr. Douglass canvassed the United States and Europe arguing for the abolition of slavery. Active in speaking against slavery from 1841 right up to the release of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he was prolific, never missing an opportunity to draw people to the cause. He then also spoke in support of the 13th Amendment, and he later advocated for greater equality for his people. In October of 1841, Douglass made an impassioned speech in Lynn, Massachusetts about his ordeal in slavery. The speech draws one in from the start, “I feel greatly embarrassed when I attempt to address an audience of white people. I am not used to speaking to them, and it makes me tremble when I do so, because I have always looked up to them in fear. My friends, I have come to tell you something about slavery, what I know of it, as I have felt it. When I came North, I was astonished to find that the abolitionists knew much about it, that they were acquainted with its deadly effects as well as if they had lived in its midst. But though they can give you its history, though they can depict its horrors, they cannot speak as I can from experience; they cannot refer you to a back covered with scars, as I can; for I have felt these wounds; I have suffered under the lash without the power of resisting. Yes, my blood has sprung out as the lash embedded itself in my flesh. And yet my master has the reputation of being a pious man and a good Christian. He was a class leader in the Methodist Church. I have seen this pious class leader cross and tie one of his young female slaves, and lash her bare skin and justify the deed by the quotation from the Bible, ‘he who knoweth his master’s will and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.’”
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by American Slaves in the Antebellum South as they sought to escape to freedom in free states to the north. There were even some individuals who made their way all the way up into Canada. The fugitive slaves, as they were referred to by the US justice system of the day, were able to do so because of the aid that they received from abolitionists and other allies who were sympathetic to their cause. The term, Underground Railroad is also used to refer to the abolitionists, free African Americans, and former slaves who assisted these runaway slaves in their quest for freedom. Various other routes led to Mexico or even overseas. An earlier escape route running south toward Florida, then a Spanish possession, existed from the late seventeenth century until shortly after the American Revolution. The network that is now generally known as the Underground Railroad was formed in the early nineteenth century, and it reached the height of its activities between 1850 and 1860. It has been suggested that by 1860, nearly one-hundred thousand slaves had escaped the oppression the Old South via the Underground Railroad. It is further estimated that over thirty thousand of these daring individuals successfully made it all the way to Canada, where slavery was prohibited by British law. The journey for these brave souls, no matter where they went, was not easy. Their lives were in constant danger, and their freedom was always in jeopardy as they ran from slave catchers. Numerous escaped slaves allowed their stories to be documented. Some of these are represented in the book, The Underground Railroad Records. The book was published, in 1872, by William Still, an abolitionist who had been the leader the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, one of the groups that oversaw operations, when the Underground Railroad was at its height. By far, now, the most famous figure of this struggle is Harriet Tubman, herself a freed slave.
Of course, the culminations of the work of these people, up to this point, is the Civil War, which solved the issue of human bondage for labor, once and for all, and the post war Reconstruction Period, which was supposed to put African Americans on an equal footing with the rest of the nation, as they set out to make free lives for themselves. Settling the question of slavery cost the lives of nearly seven hundred thousand men, African American and white, freedman and slave, native born American and immigrant. In this ultimate battle for the future of their people, over two hundred thousand African American men enlisted in the Union Army and the Union Navy to fight against the tyranny of the Southern slave powers. Of these hundreds of thousand of men, countless numbers of them were injured, even critically mutilated, while fifty thousand of them made the ultimate sacrifice, as they surrendered their lives to the cause of liberty. This conflict changed the lives of millions of people, not just in this country, but also, around the world, as it revealed to all of humanity the wanton destruction that human beings were capable of in the industrialized world, as well as, the lethal power of the new killing machines that were produced by the new factories that were popping up all across the United States and Europe. James M. McPherson's text, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, is by bar the most popular book on the Civil War. He followed this up with a recent publication that offers even more insight into the importance of the Civil War to modern American history and the struggle for liberty, The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters.
Then, of course, came the Reconstruction Period. After President Lincoln's assassination in April of 1865, Southern sympathizers tried to take over the process, but they were undone by the election of Ulysses S. Grant to the Presidency and the subsequent assumption of Congressional control over the process. The Freedman's Bureau was established, freed slaves were granted land, new schools were established, trade programs were established, Federal troops occupied the South to keep the peace, and countless African American were able to participate in Southern governance. This, however, only lasted for a short period of time. Eventually, in 1877, Congress was retaken by Southern sympathizers, and Reconstruction was brought to an abrupt halt. Any progress that had been made was immediately reversed, and the era of Jim Crow began, which would set the stage for Ida B. Wells and the later formation of the NAACP. Eric Foner's text, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution is by the most popular text on this post Civil War period. James M. Campbell and Rebecca J. Fraser offer up a much more realistic rendition of the period in Reconstruction: People and Perspectives.
When Wells returned from her trip, she wrote an editorial on the event in the next edition of her paper; in which, she effectively began the Anti-Lynching Movement, “The City of Memphis has demonstrated that neither character nor standing avails the Negro if he dares to protect himself against the white man or become his rival. There is nothing we can do about lynching now, as we are outnumbered and without arms. The white mob could help itself to ammunition without pay, but the order was rigidly enforced against the selling of guns to Negroes. There is therefore only one thing left that we can do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.” Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells, edited by Alfreda M. Duster, caught the spirit of the editorial. This movement that she started became a life-long commitment, with her speaking out against lynching for the rest of her life. She later joined the staff of the New York Age, owned The Conservator, based out of Chicago, and even restarted the Free Speech paper for a time. She, unfortunately, had to do all this away from Memphis because the white backlash to her editorial was not being properly mangaged by the white municipal leadership, and her life was subsequently placed in grave jeopardy. Patricia Prijatel recounted Wells' flight from Memphis at the hands of many of the same men that lynched the three men she had written about, in, “Free Speech and Headlight,” published in Women's Periodicals in the United States: Social and Political Issues, edited by Kathleen L. Endres and Therese L. Lueck.
The Black Liberation Army's operational standard was a mixture of, generally, three leftist political philosophies. Their combat strategy was based on Maoism. Maoism rejects the idea of the vanguard party and puts responsibility for the revolution in the hands of the rank and file of the general citizenry. As such, they do not fight like a traditional military force, but rather, they organize independent cells, usually operating in their own home territories, and fight a guerrilla style revolution. The goal is to make it difficult to catch, or even be able to identify, any major leaders, but also to confuse and disrupt the oppressing force, as they are faced with different fighting strategies in every territory that they control. They combined this with a hint on Anarchism. Very simply defined, Anarchism is the absence of authority. The Army implemented this philosophy with their choice of targets and their 'no terms accepted' attack campaign. They attacked government buildings, bombed police vehicles, and robbed government owned or operated armored vehicles, all in an effort to established amongst the general public, a sense that the government was losing its authority. They wanted the people to believe that the government could no longer effectively protect them. Their intended governing and economic strategy was based upon the principles of Marxist–Leninism. Marxist–Leninists espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of Marxism and Leninism, but generally they all support the idea of a vanguard party, a pro working class agenda, state control of the economy, internationalism, opposition to bourgeois democracy, and opposition to capitalism. For a very personal and even, emotional, rendition of this story, one should look to the work of Evelyn A. Williams, Assata Shakur's Aunt and the trial attorney of the Black Liberation Army, Inadmissible Evidence: The Story of the African American Trial Lawyer Who Defended the Black Liberation Army.
A Companion to the Black Liberation Army, was the Weather Underground Organization, commonly referred to as just, the Weather Underground, which was an American radical left-wing organization founded on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan. Originally called Weatherman, the group became known colloquially as, the Weathermen. The Weather Underground organized in 1969, as a faction of the organization, Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. They were composed, for the most part, of the national leadership of SDS and its supporters. Their goal was to create a clandestine revolutionary party whose mission it would be to the overthrow U.S. government. With revolutionary positions characterized by black power, they worked together with organizations like the Black Panthers and the Black Liberation Army, and opposition to the Vietnam War, the group conducted a campaign of bombings through the mid-1970s and took part in actions such as the jailbreak of Dr. Timothy Leary. The Days of Rage, their first public demonstration on October 8, 1969, was a riot in Chicago timed to coincide with the trial of the Chicago Seven. In 1970, the group issued a Declaration of a State of War against the United States government, where they made the name, Weather Underground Organization, known to the American public. Their bombing campaigns targeted mostly government buildings, along with several banks. The group stated that the government had been exploiting other nations by waging war as a means of solidifying America's position as a imperialist superpower. The bombings were a response to this. Most were preceded by evacuation warnings, along with communiques identifying the particular matter that the attack was intended to protest. No people were killed in any of their acts of property destruction, although three members of the group were killed in the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion. For the bombing of the US Capitol building, on March 1, 1971, the group issued a communique stating that the bombing was in protest of the U.S. invasion of Laos. For the bombing of the Pentagon, on May 19, 1972, they issued a communique stating that they were retaliating against the U.S. bombing raid in Hanoi. For the January 29, 1975 bombing of the United States Department of State building, they issued a communique indicating that they were protesting the past escalation of the Vietnam conflict.
Finally, they too, like most all other such organizations, were under constant harassment by the government. They were first, just like the Black Panthers, subject to J. Edgar Hoover's COINTELPRO. When that program was ended in 1973, the FBI organized the Special Target Information Development program, where agents were sent undercover to penetrate the Weather Underground. By the late 1970s, the Weather Underground had, further, split into two factions, the May 19th Communist Organization and the Prairie Fire Collective, with Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers in the latter. The Prairie Fire Collective favored coming out of hiding and establishing an above ground revolutionary mass movement. The May 19 Communist Organization continued to operate in hiding as a clandestine organization. By the end of the decade, however, a number of Weather Underground leaders had turned themselves in to the police in exchange for light or no jail sentences. Many were freed of any or all bomb related charges against them because the Church Committee, a committee investigating wrong doing by the FBI, found that the evidence against them had been obtained illegally. By the early 1980s, however, the end had come for the Weather Underground. The revolutionary wave that they had gotten caught up in was coming to an end, and they had begun to fade away. Their final breath was taken on the same day as the Black Liberation Army when they, in a joint organization referred to as 'The Family,' either died, went to prison, or went on the run until they were caught. Bernardine Dohrn was the most famous of the Weather Underground's fugitives. Ron Jacobs offers a great telling of the Weather Undergrounds story, purpose, struggle, and unfortunate demise in The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground.
These events just about bring everything discussed so far to the present day, but there is still one more thing that needs to be most earnestly addressed when it comes to the present status of the American Liberation Struggle, and that is the Black Lives Matter movement. Many people want to question the need for such a movement in the twenty-first century. Aren't we supposed to be past these things by now? Others try to deflect energy from the movement by saying that the Black Lives Matter movement is racist because they will not support the counter movement All Livers Matter. Whey should they? The sole purpose of such a counter movement is to take attention and energy away from the Black Lives Matter movement, which is the movement that actually has a legitimate gripe in this country. Have these All Livers Matter 'persons' not studied African American history in this country? It would appear that they have not. Maybe this little piece can be their crash course. Until they do read up on some history, which is not likely to happen, they are going to continue to spew the their reactionary rhetoric like, "If you do what the police say, you should not have a problem." Worse, they will do so without having any clue as to why this whole situation is really a situation in the first place. Protected by white privilege and white supremacy, these people will resist the Black Lives Matter movement like their ancestors have done every other movement that African Americans have begun in their effort to obtain full inclusion in the American experience. Here are just a few examples of the many reasons why the Black Lives Matter movement has a legitimate reason to be angry and why it should be considered the latest stage in the American Liberation Struggle.
In July of 2013, amidst the acquittal of George Zimmerman for his unwarranted killing of Trayvon Martin, as well as, two more national covered murders, those of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the Black Lives Matter movement was born. Black Lives Matter was put on the national stage for the mass protests that it organized for these three events, and it has been on point ever since. In the early part of July of this year, two men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, were fatally shot by the police in their respective towns. Here the weapon that is the Smart Phone, did much more than document yet another fatal example of a white police killing an African American male. It allowed the entire world, streamed live by his Castile's fiance, to watch as the life drained out of him in from of her and their young child seated in the back of their car. The smart phone filmings of Sterling also showed the absolute brutality that is regularly used by predominantly white officers against African American men. The leader of the Black Lives Matter movement, DeRay McKesson, was recently arrested at an event protesting the death of Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The latest killing of an African American by the police, actually involved a woman, Korryn Shandown Gaines, aged 23, of Baltimore, Maryland. During a standoff with the police, she made efforts to document the event on social media. Before she could get up more than two one minutes videos, however, the police were able to get court orders to shut down her social media accounts, so that the event would not go viral. Ms. Gaines held off the police for seven hours before they entered her home and wounded her fatally. This event is but only a few days old, but Black Lives Matter is already preparing to organize protests over her death. As of her death, Ms. Gaines was the sixteenth African American female to be killed by the police in recent years. The have all also lost their lives to the violent tactics of predominantly white police officers. Miriam Carey, Yvette Smith, Shelly Frey, Darnisha Harris, and Rekia Boyd were just a view of the many who lost their lives.
The final thing that needs to be looked at in the latest stage of this new American Liberation Struggle, are the recent cop killings in Dallas, Texas, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the Dallas shooting, the main suspect, Micah Xavier Johnson, killed in progress, was a United States Army Reservist. His MOS was Carpentry and Masonry. He was deployed to Afghanistan in December of 2013. In May of the following year, he was sent home, with an Other Than Honorable Discharge, on alleged charges of sexual harassment. Other reports, accuse him of being chronically mentally ill, even though work associates and his family are on record as reporting him to be a steady hard working employee and a loving and extremely dedicated family man. However, on July 7, 2016, Johnson in an extremely well organized, professionally executed operation executed five Dallas city police officers, with minimal collateral damage, operating as a mobile sniper. The police had to use a mobile drone carrying extremely powerful explosives to kill him. Gavin Eugene Long, the primary suspect in the recent Baton Rouge cop killings, was also killed in progress. He was an honorably discharged Marine, who had reach the rank of Sergeant (E-5). He was also highly decorated for bravery in the line of duty. He too was reported to be a good employee at his job and a happy family man at home. However, on July 17, 2016, Sergeant Long, possibly accompanied by two, as of yet, unidentified accomplices killed three Baton Rouge police officers, at point blank rang with a high powered rifle.This ordeal sounds eerily familiar. Dr. Huey P. Newton was an educated man and came from a strong family background, yet he found himself in a situation where he fired upon and killed an Oakland police officer. As has already been noted, David Hilliard, Keith Zimmerman, and Kent Zimmerman, in Huey: The Spirit of the Panther, caught the eerie nature of that night; however, no one could get it quite as good as Dr. Newton himself in Revolutionary Suicide, as has also already been note. Dr. Mutulu Shakur was a doctor and a licensed acupuncturist, yet he found himself involved in a series of bank robberies and police killings. Joy James, in Imprisoned Intellectuals: America's Political Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation, and Rebellion, does a really good job working to analyze what could lead Drs. Newton and Shakur down the paths that led one to death and the other to what could very possibly be a lifetime in prison. She also looks to the lives of Bernardine Dohrn and her compatriots in the Weather Underground, many of whom abandoned lives of wealth and ease to join the fight against oppression in the United States. So, could these principles for which these people were fighting be the very same principles for which Micah Johnson and Gavin Long were fighting, right up to the moment that they gave the last full measure of devotion to their cause? Could it be that they, too, were tired of watching their fellow African Americans getting treated like animals? Could it be that they too felt that the time had long since past for negotiation? Could it be that they felt that it was time, once again, for the master's white supremacy and white privilege to know that the foundation of their artificially created wonderland was beginning to crack again? If so, and there is no doubt that it is so, then let them be marked as the latest in a long line of fallen heroes, who have willingly, and without fear, given the last full measure of devotion in their effort to further the cause of the American Liberation Struggle.
So, Why the American Liberation Struggle?
Going back to the beginning of this exercise, the difference between the Short Civil Rights Movement and the Long Civil Rights Movement were made clear. Further, a new definition of the Civil Rights Movement was written, “For Americans, civil rights have connoted incorporation into the U.S. Polity, as well as, American Civil Society.” Further, in conjunction with this new definition, it was determined that the Long Civil Rights Movement best fit this new definition. It was further determined that while national leaders are important to any movement, it was the actions of grass roots activists, people on the ground that made the national leaders relevant. There is another aspect to this new definition; however, because, to be honest, as this piece reads, so far, it really does just sound like an extension of the Long Civil Rights Movement, in that it only traces the African American struggle for liberty and the accompanying white people, who have worked to help make African American liberty in this country a true reality. To this point, there are a great many people who have been left out of this story. These people are also an important part of the American Liberation Struggle, which is the term that this piece argues is best appropriate for the struggle for Civil Rights in the United States. Native Americans, Latin Americans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Irish, the Italians, the Germans, Jewish Americans, Catholics, Muslims, the Physically and Mentally Disabled and Forcefully Detained, Women, Workers, Children, and the LGBTQ community, among others. Each of these groups of people, and many others like them, have faced struggles as they have fought to be a part of the American community. Even more, many of these people are still struggling to realize that dream, what the white power structure has deemed, the American Dream. The idea that if you work hard enough and play by the rules, you too can obtain the abundant wealth that is so prevalent in the the American media. This is the idea that you to can buy the biggest houses, the fastest cars, and never have to worry about anything every again. This is the idea that the whole world can be at your finger tips. All you have to do is abandon everything that you care for and embrace the overt opulence, unnecessary excesses, and soulless escapades of a ruling class that cares for nothing more than than the accumulation of wealth.
Meanwhile, its seams to be forgotten that since the arrival of Europeans, ninety-five percent of the Native population in the all of the Americas has been eliminated. Charles C. Mann points this out in his text, 1491: New Revelations of the American Before Columbus, and shows how the Native American population rivaled that of both Europe and Africa combined before the European Genocide began. This, of course, says nothing about the miseries of living on Forced American Reservations. It also seems to be absent in the minds of the most Americans that a great portion of the United States' total land mass was obtain by way of Imperial Conquest. The whole of the American Southwest was stolen, by way of deception, social violence, and formal military engagements, from the Republic of Mexico, the northern most of the Western Hemisphere's Latin American nations. Paul. A Short, in his text, Offhand, Killing Affair: Soldiers and Social Conflict During the Mexican-War, spoke rather clearly of the many atrocities that were committed during the Mexican-American War. Latin American's also had the United Farm Worker's Union, under the leadership of Cesar Chavez, which constantly faced unjustified investigations and harassment at the hands of the government. They have also had the Chicano Movement, which straddled the movement for worker's rights. This, of course, says nothing of the hell that now faces Latin Americans as they struggle to assimilate into a culture that, in their eyes, does not want them here. There also seems to be a gap in people's memory when it comes to the Chinese laborers that helped to build the Trans Continental Railroad and a great much more of the infrastructure of the early transportation industry of the state of California. How many people are aware of their role in the gold mining industry? How many people are aware of the thousands of Chinese laborers who are buried next to those rail lines and gold mines in unmarked graves? Charles J. McClain tells a moving story of the Chinese Experience in the United States during these periods in his text, In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle against Discrimination in Nineteenth-Century America. Then, of course, have people forgotten about the Internment Camps that Japanese Americans were placed in during World War II? What about the businesses built with a lifetime of labor and investment that were lost in a single horrible night? In, Infamy: The Shocking Story of Japanese American Internment in World War II, Richard Reeves points out the violations that entire communities had to suffer after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, solely because they were of Japanese heritage. What of the Irish then? Has everyone forgotten the signs that read, No Irish Need Apply? Have they forgotten the ancient Gaelic culture that that the Irish were force to abandon? Have people forgotten the awful things that the Irish were made to do to earn their bones as white people? Just read Noel Ignatiev's How the Irish Became White, if you would like to find out.
How about how Italian immigrants were treated when they arrived in the United States? Their first problem? They could not speak English on arrival. Many immigrants were swindled out of their life savings because of this. Others were unskilled laborers, whose only employment opportunities were in factories that were not safe to work in. They were also confined to unhealthy, overcrowded slums, where disease was rampant. Is it not a wonder that many turned to crime to survive? The American Mafia was born out of these poor conditions. Ken Ciongoli and Jay Parini catch the stories of Italian immigrants in a very unique way in their text, Passage to Liberty: The Story of Italian Immigration and the Rebirth of America. There is also, then, the case of German Americans. German Americans have been in this country since its colonial period, and since that time, whether it be for their religion, their language, their political philosophy, or for just the fact they were German, they have had to struggle to be a part of the American story. The most dangerous period for German Americans was the time period that spanned the two World Wars, as Germany was the United States' primary enemy in both of these conflicts. This was the same for immigrants and native born American citizens, and at times, both were forced to take Loyalty Pledges to keep from suffering either legal or social repercussions. Petra Dewitt gives a good look into what it what is was like for Germans in the World War period in her text, Degrees of Allegiance: Harassment and Loyalty in Missouri's German-American Community during World War I. What then of Jewish Americans? Most of the Jews that fled to the United States were fleeing from the pogroms of Tsarist Russia, the persecution of the Catholic Church across Europe, or their segregation into ghettos by cities and rulers that sought to minimize their ability interact with their societies. Later generations fled straight genocide, Hitler and World War II, all the while, many Jews faced the very same conditions in the United States that they had fled from in Europe and elsewhere. Hasia Diner tells their story very well in, The Jews of the United States, 1654-2000.
Catholics also had to earn their bones in the United States. Prior to the Civil War, American Catholics were looked upon by American Protestants as agents of the Roman Pope. They, thus, could not be trusted. It was not until countless Catholics gave their lives on the American battlefields that that this particular form of discrimination began to dissipate. It did disappear completely, though, as the KKK made anti-Catholicism one its main platforms. In fact, it still goes on to this very day as Latin American immigrants bring their Catholicism with them. Karl Keating offers a very cogent analysis of anti-Catholic discrimination in the United States in Catholicism and Fundamentalism – The Attack on "Romanism" by "Bible Christians." How many Americans would be surprised to learn that Muslims, too, have been in this country since early colonial times? One can be assured that many people would try to role it off as propaganda. Would it also not surprise them that when called upon to defend this country, many did so with distinction and integrity? One can imagine that it would. There were Muslim fighters from the Kingdom of Morocco that fought for American Independence long before the French and Germans arrived. There is, however, another particular story that pulls at the hear that must not go unmentioned. During the War of 1812, a cotton and rice plantation owner, living on one of the barrier islands of the state of South Carolina, heard a rumor that a fleet of British ships was advancing on the Carolinas. Fearing for his home goods and his family's well being, he packed up his goods and his family and prepared to leave. The slaves were going to be left behind. As he was prepared to leave, he was approached by one of his slaves, a devout Muslim. What the slave said next is both shocking and heart wrenching, "Master, arm us, your Muslim slaves, and we will defend your lands against the English invaders. I cannot answer for your Christian slaves Master, but I can promise you, on my oath to Allah, that your Muslim slaves will fight to the death." The slave master took a risk, and armed these men. They then commenced to patrolling the property in the military style that they had learned as young men in Africa. The English were seen off shore at one point, but the organized patrols convinced them to move on. When their Master returned, the Muslim slaves, to the man, returned their rifles to their Master and immediately went back to work. Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, in A History of Islam in America: From the New World to the New World Order, makes mention of these stories.
Now what of the mentally ill, physically disabled, and those interned for legal reasons? Dorothea Dix began in her career to reform prisons and facilities for the mentally and physically disabled in 1836. She decided to take up the cause while working with for the State of Massachusetts to educate prisoners being held in East Cambridge prison. The prisoners health conditions were atrocious, their mental health was ignored, their sanitation facilities were putrid, and they were regularly physically abused by the prison's staff. As she continued her work, she found that the conditions were the same or worse in facilities for the mentally and physically disabled. On some occasions, she even voluntarily admitted herself into facilities to learn about the conditions that their inmates were enduring. It is Dix's work that began the long fight that would end with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (10 Stat. 327) in 1990. Margaret Muckenhoupt tells Dix's story with passion in her text, Dorothea Dix: Advocate for Mental Health Care. There is then the cause of the American Woman. The League of Women Voters is an American civic organization that was formed to help women take a larger role in public affairs as they won the right to vote. Women justifiably wanted more say in the way that their nation was run. It was founded, in 1920, by Carrie Chapman Catt. At the final meeting of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, approximately six months before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution gave women the right to vote, the organization was founded to continue the fight that had only just achieved one of many victories. The League of Women Voters, first, was considered a political experiment aimed to help newly enfranchised women exercise their responsibilities as voters. Originally, only women could join the league; but in 1973, the charter was modified to include men. It operates at the local, state, and national level with over one thousand local and fifty state leagues. The League of Women Voters is officially nonpartisan, though it supports a variety of progressive public policy positions, including campaign finance reform, universal health care, abortion rights, climate change action and environmental regulation, and gun control. Each of these issues involves the fate of women just as much as they do men, if not more. Louise Merwin Young, and Ralph B. Young, Jr. do a great job of telling the story of the League of Women Voters and their struggle for women's rights, in their text, In the Public Interest: the League of Women Voters, 1920-1970.
There is then the cause of the American working class, which involves all Americans. One the most famous organization to fight for the rights of American workers was the Knights of Labor. The Knights of Labor, known officially as the Noble Order of the Knights of Labor, was the largest and one of the most important American labor organizations of the nineteenth century. Its most important leader was Terence V. Powderly. The Knights promoted the social and cultural uplifting of the working man, rejected socialism and anarchism, even though many of their demands were socialist in nature, demanded the eight-hour day, and promoted the producers' ethic of republicanism, a contradiction that did not go unnoticed. As a labor union, they negotiated with employers, and as a social organization, they helped to organize workers into their own associated unions. Unfortunately, the Knights were never very well organized, and after a rapid period of expansion in the mid 1880s, they suddenly lost most of their new members and became a small operation again. The Knights were founded by Uriah Stephens on December 28, 1869. By 1880, they had reached twenty-eight thousand members members. Just for your years later, however, they had skyrocketed to over one hundred thousand members. By 1886, twenty percent of all American workers were affiliated with the Knights of Labor, ballooning the organization to nearly eight hundred thousand members. Unfortunately, their poor organizational structure could not cope with the overload, especially as they faced charges of failure from their members and charges of violence from the government. The failure of the Great Southwestern Railroad Strike in 1886 was the event that signaled the organization's decline. Their association with the Haymarket Square incident, later that same year, was another nail in their coffin. Most of their members dropped their affiliations by end of 1887, leaving at most one hundred thousand members in the organization in 1890. Many of them chose to join groups that helped to identify their specific needs, instead of the Knights who addressed many different types of issues. The final death blow to the Knights came in the form of the Panic of 1893. This financial panic greatly contracted the American economy and effectively eliminated any need for the Knights. They had also begun to see themselves slowly replaced by a new labor organization, the American Federation of Labor. Remnants of the Knights of Labor carried on until 1949, when the organization's last fifty member local dropped its affiliation. Leon Fink did a great job of telling their story in his text, Workingmen's Democracy: The Knights of Labor and American Politics. What then of child labor? Children were use as miners, children were used as chimney sweepers, children were used as sewer cleaners, they were used on dangerous industrial machinery, they were denied a proper education, they had absolutely no job security or insurance if they go hurt on the job, and they were paid wages that would make most people scoff now. The Fair Labor Standards Act (52 Stat. 1060) is the federal legislation that finally began to put child labor into the past in the United States. Hugh D. Hindman did a great job of exposing the unjust lives that children lived before they received the protections of federal labor laws which they, ultimately, did a lot to help influence. He did so in his text, Child Labor: An American History.
There is, then, of course, the LGBTQ movement, which has found itself on the wrong side of history for a very long time. For the longest time, being LGBTQ was considered to be a psychological malformation that could end a person up in one of the the mental facilities that Dorothea Dix fought to hard to clean up. To keep stuff like from happening, the community has had to exist underground for the majority of American history. However, on a fateful day in June of 1969, that all began to change. The Stonewall Riots were a series of unplanned protests and violent outbursts by citizens of New York City's gay community. The anger and frustration clearly visible in the riots were justifiably directed at the New York City Police Department. More specifically against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of mid Manhattan. This is, by far, is considered to be the watershed event that gave rise to the modern gay rights movement. Technically speaking, the police had a solid legal justification for raiding the bar. The bar was a well known Mafia establishment, which was serving liquor without a license, running an illegal gambling racket, and hosting a prostitution ring. Despite this, and with good reason, New York’s gay community had grown weary of the police department targeting gay clubs. New York City had very strict anti-gay laws, and as a result, a majority of the gay clubs prior this event had already been raided and closed. As soon as the police arrived, a crowd began to form outside the club. The crowd watched quietly as Stonewall’s employees were arrested, but when the police started forcing customers into a paddy wagon, the crowd began throwing bottles at the them. The officers were forced to take shelter inside the establishment, and two policemen were slightly injured before reinforcements arrived to disperse the crowd. The crowd, however, would not be dispersed, and the spontaneous protest spilled over into the neighboring streets. It was so raucous, in fact that order was not restored until the deployment of New York City's riot police. The riot was followed by several days of demonstrations all over the city. The culmination of this watershed moment was the case of Obergefell v. Hodges 576 U.S. ___ (2015), in which all limits were removed on the right to marry in the United States. Unfortunately, though, the fight is not over because of cases like the North Carolina Bathroom Law, but things are moving forward. Ann Bausum, in her text, Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights, did a great job of showing how that one riot set the mood for the future of the Gay Rights Movement in the United States, reaching a high mountain top in the Supreme Court's marriage ruling in 2015 and preparing the way for future struggles.
There are a number of reasons for dragging this exercise out so far as has been done. First, it needed to be shown that the African American struggle for liberty in the United States is older than the country itself and is still going. They have been, are being, and will continue to be treated like second class citizens as long as the present white power structure continues to retain its control over the American political, social, and economic systems. Second, it also needed to be shown that everyone else in this country, whether they be Native Americans, Latin Americans, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Irish, the Italians, the Germans, Jewish Americans, Catholics, Muslims, the Physically and Mentally Disabled and Forcefully Detained, Women, Workers, Children, or the LGBTQ community, has also had to suffer some sort of persecution in their efforts to be accepted into the broader American society where wealth, fame, and the American Dream are but a hard day's work out of the reach from of any an every person who wants to play the game by the established rules. Now, here is the real question. If it were true that for every person in this country, the American Dream was just hard day's work away, why is it so difficult for the average American to make just a basic living for themselves, let alone reach the heights of success that the American Dream claims are possible for everyone that works for it? The answer to this question is the third point. People are still struggling as hard as they are at this point because, very plainly, the American Dream is not really for them. Most people do not have the racial qualifications, in that they are not White. Further, most people do not have the ethnic qualifications, in that they are not Anglo-Saxon, and many other cannot meat the Protestant qualification. Granted, there are many people who can adapt to meet these qualifications, but it requires that they somehow magically forget who they are, where they came from, and what there ancestors had to go through to get them to that position. For the rest of us who have been rejected, have refused to adapt, or who cannot adapt because of certain unavoidable circumstances, like skin tone, religion, or social beliefs, there is no adapting, and thus, there is no American Dream for us. There is no bone to be thrown to us, only to be taken away, if we break the rules. We are left on the outside to remain there, and if we refuse to like it, there are police officers available to help convince us otherwise.
So, here is where the idea of the "American Liberation Struggle" finally comes into full focus. What has essentially been shown here is that there is a division here between those who have been able to make their way into the system and those that are still fighting the long struggle to be included in that system. What this can essentially be broken down into is a massive class war between those that possess wealth and those that do not. In other words, we are in the midst of a war between the Working Class and the Capitalist Ruling Elite. It is the standard Marxian struggle that we find ourselves trapped in. It is a powerful struggle and one in which the Capitalist ruling elite have the advantage because they have the resources needed to ensure that their control is constantly secure. They also know how to use powerful tactics against the various segments of the working class to keep them apart from one another, for fear that a unified working class would be able to relieve them of their position. This American Liberation Struggle is a perfect example. The Capitalist Ruling Elite does not want us to know that we are fighting the same fight, so they use their propaganda to divide our struggles from one another. African Americans had the Civil Rights Movement, Latin Americans had the Chicano Movement, the Irish, the Germans, and the Italians became white, the Labor Movement had its day, Children got their rights, the LGBTQ movement, almost fifty years after Stonewall, has finally gotten Marriage Equality, and the list goes on. Here is the one key point for each of these groups; though, after all the years that they have been struggling, they have still not been able to achieve fullness of equality. All they really get, from time to time, is a token member of their group that is brought into the elite circles, and that is supposed to make us all happy. Oh, look, they made it! Everything must be fine now. Let's go along with the system now and be happy with what we've got, and we do so all with the hope that our day will come next.
Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, that is precisely what we cannot allow to happen. It has already been shown here that the struggle is far from over, and there is not a single group of people that is not feeling the pinch in some form or another. Things like the Civil Rights Movement, the Labor Movement, the Women's Suffrage Movement, the Disability Movement, and the Gay Rights Movement are important to remember for what they did for those Americans, but we have to start considering the fact that fighting our fights alone is not getting us where we want to be. We want to live in a society where all people, no matter the conditions of their birth, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, or whatever other condition, have the fair and equal opportunity to succeed in this country and make a name for themselves using the natural talents that they were born with. Here is the problem with that. As long as we live in a society that is ruled by the few, where the many are subjugated with fear, violence, and threats of death, we can never do that. It is possible, now, to live in a society of abundance, where no one has worry that their basic needs will not be met, but we are ruled by an elite class that wants to continue to use finite resources that allows them to create a false sense of scarcity that they can then use to control us. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. We have to unite, in this true "American Liberation Struggle," to regain control of the means of production that keep us stuck under the elite's boots. We then have to make use of the limitless sources of power, which are already available to us, and create a society where deprivation and competition for the means of survival are no longer necessary. Our struggle is one of economics not racism, liberalism, religion, conservatism, or whatever else. To play on the words of Benjamin Franklin, this is an American struggle and one in which we must all fight together, or in the end, it can be assured that we will all hang separately.