Saturday, February 9, 2008


(A family picking peas in their garden, Flint River Farms, near Montezuma, GA. May 1939; historical photo from Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund)

Ding over at Bitch Ph.D. has an extraordinarily good post up, Black History Month: A Case for Voting Black that is also a result of her watching Henry Gates' African American Lives. She relates some of the research in the documentary to her own family stories of how crucial land ownership became to African-American trying to undo the effects of slavery, and all the ways their land was eventually stolen from them (a process going on at this moment). Her comment about having land sums it up: "It acts like a bracket around early black families: you were property and now you have property."

She also ties the struggle to own land and develop economic security to the history of lynching, which lasted as a strong form of terrorist activity in this country until the 1960s and whose enduring symbol -- the noose -- has not died one iota (The Jena 6; Professor Madonna Constantine).

Regarding lynching, Wikipedia cites a number of good sources:

'In The Strange Career of Jim Crow, the historian C. Vann Woodward wrote of the post- World War I period: "The war-bred hopes of the Negro for first-class citizenship were quickly smashed in a reaction of violence that was probably unprecedented. Some twenty-five race riots were touched off in American cities during the first six months of 1919, months that John Hope Franklin called 'the greatest period of interracial strife the nation had ever witnessed.' Mobs took over cities for days at a time, flogging, burning, shooting, and torturing at will. When the Negroes showed a new disposition to fight and defend themselves, violence increased. Some of these atrocities occurred in the South — at Longview, Texas, for example, or at Tulsa, Oklahoma, at Elaine, Arkansas or Knoxville, Tennessee. But they were limited to no one section of the country. Many of them occurred in the North and the worst of all was in Chicago. During the first year following the war more than seventy Negroes were lynched, several of them veterans still in uniform."

'The executions of 4,743 people who were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968 were not often publicized. It is likely that many more unrecorded lynchings occurred in this period. Lynching statistics were kept only for the 86 years between 1882 and 1968, and were based primarily on newspaper accounts. Yet the socio-political impact of lynchings could be significant. In 1901 the state of Colorado restored capital punishment, in response to an outbreak of lynchings in 1900. The state had abolished capital punishment only in 1897.

'Most lynchings were inspired by unsolved crime, racism, and innuendo. 3,500 of its victims were African Americans. Lynchings took place in every state except four, but were concentrated in the Cotton Belt (Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana).

'Members of mobs that participated in these public murders often took photographs of what they had done. Those photographs, distributed on postcards, were collected by James Allen, who has published them in book form and online, with written words and video to accompany the images.

'Retaining incriminating evidence is not uncommon for sadistic criminals and in a study conducted by Robert R. Hazelwood, M.S. it was reported that of the sadistic criminals studied: "Forty percent of the men took and kept personal items belonging to their victims... which included... photographs... and some of the offenders referred to them as 'trophies'."

In her post, Ding links to James Allen's exhibit biography page for her at their website states:

'In 2003, Mark co-directed with Alferdteen Harrison the Unsettling Memories Conference, for which she and Harrison received the Public Humanities Achievement Award from the Mississippi Humanities Council. The conference, which Mark describes as an “exciting and terribly sad five days,” brought together artists, civil rights activists, and historians to address through art three of the most devastating moments in southern culture: the Cherokee removal, slavery, and lynching. “It was as if humanity and what we see as our souls and our ability to love and perceive each other as human beings was taken into question,” she says. “When you have slavery, when you have lynching, when you have the Cherokee removal – how can we even be America? The notion of democracy is potentially devastated by that.” She compares these moments in American history to the war in Iraq, the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib, and FEMA’s response to Katrina. “It’s those exact kind of moments, when our democracy tilts on its side and becomes something we can’t even recognize,” she says. “People will be writing about Katrina for the next 300 years. We can’t even look ourselves in the face.”'

(Rebecca Mark beside Dean's Cottage, Newcomb Institute, Tulane, New Orleans)

Dave Neiwert at Orcinus, which should be your number one online source for information about the Klan and other hate groups, published a ten-part series on Eliminationism in America. In an earlier essay, The Elimination Game, Dave defined eliminationism as "a kind of politics and culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas for the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through complete suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination."

Part Six of his series, Strange Fruit, talks about lynching, in particular drawing the line between lynching as a form of terror control vs. lynching as a form of eradication. The latter led to "sundown" towns. In a later essay, How to Out a Sundown Town, Sara Robinson at Orcinus explains this as "American towns that once had small African-American communities -- which, at some point, simply up and vanished. The historical fact is that if you're a middle-class white American living in the north or west of the country, the odds are overwhelmingly good that the town you live in, right now, is a sundown town -- or was one at some point in the not-so-distant past."

How, then, do we find our way beyond this legacy? In her post, Ding speaks eloquently about the idea of reparations, and you should go read it because she says what I think and feel. But, with your promise that you won't settle for anything less than her complete essay, I'll excerpt some of her beautiful language here:

"What I want is a deeper, more public acknowledgment of how slavery impacted and drove our capitalist system, and how our nation's participation in the slave trade laid a foundation for practices, industries and institutions that not only continue to have an adverse affect on communities of color today but still provide the elite in this country with wealth and prosperity. That's not too much to ask, is it?"

African-American Land Ownership statement by the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund

Website for Homecoming, a PBS special about African-American land loss and chronicle of black farmers from the Civil War to the present ("In 1920 there were nearly one million black farmers in America. In 1999 there are less than 18,000.")

The African-American Mosaic, Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Black History & Culture

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