The Heritage of Slavery (1968)
w/ Fannie Lou Hamer & Lerone Bennett, Jr.
News documentary from 1968 hosted by George Foster, exploring the legacy of oppression that remains over 100 years after the abolition of that peculiar institution. In Part 1, Foster visits Charleston, SC and speaks with both descendants of slaves and slave owners. The cameras capture a sermon by Rev. Henry Butler of the Mother Emmanuel AME Church (where Denmark Vesey planned an unsuccessful slave revolt in 1822 and Dylan Roof would later kill 9 church members in 2015). In Part 2, the cameras go to Mississippi to speak with former sharecroppers and political activist FANNIE LOU HAMER. In the final segment, we travel to Chicago, where Prof. JAMES TURNER and activist CALVIN LOCKRIDGE educate young people about revolution. Ebony Magazine editor and historian LERONE BENNETT offers a poignant analogy to describe the times we are in today. From http://www.archive.org Assumed to be in the Public Domain.
Charleston, South Carolina has a beautiful harbor, and an historic one. The Civil War began here with the shelling of Fort Sumter, and even before his fleet was beaten back at the harbor entrance by American revolutionary troops. But there is another history here, and it has its own kind of troops, two boatloads of them once starved themselves to death at this harbor rather than enter Charleston. Another 40,000 of them were rushed through this port in one three-year period, so they could go to work in America, for nothing.
They were Africans. But, in this country, they were taught to look at themselves another way, as slaves. Charleston is one of America’s oldest cities. Much of the city is lovely, and much of its loveliness is the product of slave labor. But Charleston, like the rest of America, learned very early that, if it was going to have slaves, it had better sleep with a gun under its pillow.
Like other immigrants to America, the slaves were huddled masses. But, unlike the others, what Blacks were huddled against was America itself. Often they rebelled . Quite often.
Partly in order to deal with inside agitators, Charleston put walls and fences all over the place. It turned out, that if you bought a slave, you may have bought yourself an insurrectionist.
Today, all over America, there are still echoes of the noises made when one race tries to subjugate another. We will explore the heritage of slavery and the roots of Black rebellion.
Twenty Africans were landed in America in 1619, one year before the Mayflower. By 1860, there were four million Black men, women and children, the private property of White America. The New World meant possession to the White man. It meant dispossession to the Black man. Slavery was an attitude as much as a condition, and attitudes, like land, can be inherited
On the plantation outside Charleston where his family has lived for eight generations, since 1672, Norwood Hasty was asked if he thinks slavery was immoral.
No, no. I don’t, because when a slave came from Africa, he couldn’t speak the language, he was totally untrained to do any any job at all that would fit in with the civilization. Someone had to take care of him, someone had to take care of him 24 hours a day, and it’s pretty hard to do that unless you owned a person. So I think slavery just had to be in those early days.
Mr. Hasty, what was life like in those early days?
As far as the Colored people were concerned, I feel that they were a good bit happier than they are now. They had less in the way of material things. but I can remember back in the twenties, when I was a small boy, they were always singing at their work, had a great sense of humor. Now today they just don’t seem to care much about that as they used to. And I think they have lost their sense of it somewhat, which I deplore.
What do you think are the differences between the races?
I think there’s a refusal to accept responsibility. I think there’s a lack of motivation. I’ve tried here to promote people to foreman, superintendents, but they just refused to do it. They just don’t want the responsibility. They don’t worry likely the White man. If they have troubles, they go to sleep and wake up the next morning, that trouble is over.
Is it possible that White people have something to do with the lack of ability for Blacks to assimilate into this culture?
Absolutely. White man has certainly been prejudiced and, to quite an extent, unfair. But customs die awful hard. it takes takes a long time. and everyone knew years ago that the nigger would have to be given equality. but in the South, knowing Nigras as we think we do, we realized it would take time. it has been compared to straightening teeth, you can’t do it with a hammer. White people’s attitudes will change in time. I’m a lot more liberal than I was five years ago, and I know I’ll be a lot more liberal five years from now. And I think almost everyone else is in that category.
What has tended to make you more liberal?
The realization that the Negra is a human being like anyone else.
Mr. Hasty, what did you think we were before you began to think of us as human beings?
Well, in a way, we thought of ya’ll mostly as a very superior pet, something, or rather, someone we had to take care of. Because we had to do so much of their thinking for them. We had to do almost everything for them, except living their own lives. Anything outside, we had to do for them.
If masters did the thinking for slaves, it is not recorded who did the thinking for masters. Most Southerners didn’t even own slaves, but they became victims of the glamour surrounding big plantations. Today there is talk of equality in the future. But it is the romance of the unequal past that still infatuates and torments much of Charleston. For Blacks, that past is a little thin on romance.
It is true that in a home like this one, Scarlett O’Hara might have lived. And, a home like this might have contained an overseer like Simon Legree. But it is an absolute certainty that ,if I had been around in those days, I would have lived right here. And that, for an increasing number of Black Americans today, is what American history is all about.
The process of slavery began in Africa. The slave trade was very rewarding. New Englanders made quick fortunes and African profiteers, who were not exactly soul brothers, sometimes helped them. A Black captive was marched overland to the west coast of Africa where a molten branding iron gave him a new instant identity. It was found that if you strip a man of his culture, prevent him from learning a new one, and separate him from his family, it does not take him too long to start feeling like a commodity.
The West’s naval architects competed to design slave ships where more men could be packed into less space. Gustavus Vassa was a slave who later bought his freedom. A reading from his diary recalls his abduction in 1756:
The sight of the ship filled me with terror when I was carried on board. I was put down into the decks. and there, with the loathsomeness of the stench and crying together, I became so sick and loathe that I was not able to eat. Two of the White men offered me eatables, and on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, while the other flogged me severely. The closeness of the place and the heat added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us . The air soon became unfit for respiration from a variety of loathsome smells and brought on a sickness among the slaves of which many died. The shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying rendered a scene of horror almost unbelievable.
When they reached America, slaves found auction blocks waiting for them. Any slave could be sold at anytime. Slave markets were very effective socially. They broke up the Black family. But even if you were a commodity, you remembered the last time you saw your mother. A slave described his own sale in 1858:
My brothers and sisters were bid off first, while my mother, paralyzed by grief, held me by the hand. Her turn came and she was bought by Isaac Riley. Then I was offered to the assembly of purchases. My mother pushed through the crowd to the spot where Riley was standing. She fell at his feet, entreating him to buy her baby as well as herself and spare her one child at least. Will it, can it be believed, that this man was capable of disengaging himself from her with such violent blows and kicks as to reduce her to creeping out of his reach? I was then five years old.
Slaves were sold at several markets in Charleston, and one of them has been meticulously preserved for visitors. Recently, a bi-racial committee was formed, and it has worked hard to build a new link between Whites and Blacks. Very little of what American cities have come to think of as racial turmoil has occurred in Charleston. But underneath the graciousness, old relationships are often found intact. Descendants of slaves work for descendants of slave owners.
Mrs. Lionel Leg retains the tone of a past she cherishes.
Mrs. Lionel Leg:
So Daisy was my little playmate, my maid, my friend, and the daughter of old Catherine, who was a cook that we adored. So all those years we played together and everyone was happy. We never heard of all these things we hear about today. And there were nearly a hundred, enormous rice plantation with many animals around, and a beautiful old house and about a hundred Colored people there. But we loved them. They were our friends, and then it’s no disgrace to say they’re like children. When we say they are like children, it’s because they are like happy children, some of them, because they like to sit in the sun rather than work hard, and they’d rather play than work.
If you could, would you paint a picture for us of what it was like on the plantation in your early days.
Mrs. Lionel Leg:
It was a lovely happy time, living in open spaces with many lovely Colored people and animals and flowers and fields. My father had everything thoroughbred, from the pigs, horses, the dogs and the people had to be thoroughbred.
And we would get into a buggy with him and drive to the plantation from what we call the pine land, where we lived. And we would spend, every Saturday this was, we would spend the day, and old Fortune, I can see him now, he would give us dinner. And we would have a heavenly time. And old April, he was the dairyman, that’s all he did, all he did was to skim the cream off of these great big boards of clabber and put them in the wooden churn and churn this marvelous fresh butter. That was April’s job. He didn’t do anything else, but love us and and skim the cream.
Mrs. Ruby Cornwell: (Retired Charleston School Teacher)
The Southern White man just loves to say that ,”Oh our Negros are happy. They like it, they like the way things are. If other people would just leave them alone, there wouldn’t be any problem”. And, some, I think, really believe it. And I think that’s one thing, perhaps, has sort of thrown them off balance, when all of a sudden their Negros just weren’t behaving the way they thought they ought to behave. You were just a doormat, and that’s where the good relations came in. As long as you’re a doormat, we have wonderful relations.
They just felt that, until recently, relations between Negroes and White were just so very good, just wonderful relations. It’s outside agitators. And, yet, it never occurs to them that they were good on whose terms, on their terms.
Those terms have been dictated by a White aristocracy that has ruled the South for almost 300 years. The aristocrats said slavery was one of mankind’s noblest inventions. But, it was a nobility often maintained by violence. If a slave got beaten enough, some of the milk of human kindness was likely to drain out of him.
The master got mad at me, and he buckled me down across a barrel, and whipped me until he cut the blood out of me. It felt like I would die, but he owned us, body and soul, and there wasn’t anything we could do about it. When the master died, we were called in to look at his coffin. We all marched by him slowly, and I just happened to look up and caught my sister’s eye, and we both just naturally laughed. Why not? We were glad he was dead.
Slaves began running away in the sixteen-hundreds, but the principal method of escape wasn’t formed until the eighteen-hundreds. It was called the Underground Railroad, though the journey was usually on foot. Harriet Tubman, the railroad’s outstanding conductor, would walk innocently past a plantation singing “Steal away to Jesus”, and the slaves would literally steal away, to Philadelphia or Boston.
Wherever there was slavery, there was also resistance. The revolutionary movement among Blacks began long before the “Spirit of ’76”. Until 1800, slavery was legal in the North. New York City had a massive slave insurrection in 1712. There were at least 250 recorded slave revolts in America. The most effective insurrection was led by Nat Turner in Virginia in 1831. Turner and his fellow revolutionaries killed 60 White people before they themselves were captured and executed by state and federal troops. The South was terrified. Owners decided they had better be protected from their property. Slave laws became more severe.
In 1850, Congress lent the South a hand by passing the Fugitive Slave Law, allowing Southerners to come North to reclaim their Runaways. But resistance had its own momentum too. It was articulated fiercely and with finality in the famous appeal by David Walker, a free Black man living in the North.
I ask one question here. Can our condition be any worse? Had you not rather be killed than to be a slave to a tyrant who takes the life of your mother, wife and dear little children? I speak Americans for your own good. We must and shall be free in spite of you! You may do your best to keep us in wretchedness and misery, but God will deliver us from under you. And woe, woe will it be unto you, if we have to obtain our freedom by fighting. Throw away your fears and prejudices, and we will love you more than we do now hate you. What a happy country this will be if the Whites will only listen.
On the site of an old church in Charleston, the most daring of all slave revolts was planned by a freed slave named Denmark Vesey. With nine-thousand supporters, Vesey intended to capture the entire city of Charleston. But. he was betrayed by a house slave.
The Reverend Henry Butler inspires his congregation to be proud that slavery was met by insurrection.
Rev. Henry Butler:
So Denmark Vesey, an anti-slavery leader, 1767, 1822. He was an insurrectionist, so they tell me. He organized an unsuccessful slave revolt here in Charleston, South Carolina. He and 34 other Negro conspirators, so they call them, were hanged. But it was here, on this spot, in a little old wooden structure downstairs that Denmark Vesey planned his insurrection. And then, as now, some of the people could not keep a secret. And I can sympathize because our forefathers were taught not to keep anything secret from the master, and there was a servant who told the master of Denmark Vesey’s insurrection and of his plan. And, of course the plan was broken up, and then South Carolina passed a law closing all (our) schools and daring Negroes to be caught reading. And this place was closed.
When we think of those that were hanged, those that were persecuted, those that were killed, those that have had hoses and water poured on them, those who have had bloodhounds on their trails, those that have been mistreated and, in the midst of of it all, somehow they stood up, because they had a spiritual backbone that called them to look beyond the temporary things of life. If we are to move in this new day, we cannot have backbones like a jellyfish. What is man? Man is a part of God! Each man is a thought of God. Each man is entitled to be recognized. And, we trust that in the future we do not have to do what our fathers had to do, but if necessary, we have to do what has to be done!
Doing what he thinks must be done in Charleston is what Bill Saunders, a Black activist, worries about. He finds the past too close for comfort. Although it is more than 100 years since the end of legal slavery in America, Saunders believes too many Whites act like masters, and too many Blacks feel like slaves.
Old slave master and slave conditions that existed, hundred, 200 years ago, are still here in Charleston. We as Black people were brought into this country for slave labor, and we have worked as slaves from the time that were brought into this country until the present time. I’m fighting so hard for Black survival, because I believe that this country is getting to the place that they don’t need that labor anymore. And, since they don’t need that labor anymore, they don’t need Black people anymore.
The has past taught me that I got to do something to survive here, and I feel like a lot of us will have to start adjusting exactly how we feel about the situation. We really got nothing to lose, really. We ain’t got no jobs to lose, we ain’t got no business to lose. The only thing we have got to lose are our lives, and the man been taking that any time he want it.
The thing that I am saying, that I’m preaching, that instead of going to jail for the man all the time, for nothing, if you gonna go to jail, go to jail for something. Have yourself a plan and make something, when you do go to jail. this is the just the type of program, you’ve got to, you got to. The thing that we don’t have, we don’t have no program to go to the man and say “”This is what we want”.
I did a lot of things in my past that I’m guilty of . First, my parents were Black and then I was born Black. You’re not guilty you know of no crime at all except for being Black. The White man is my oppressor. He’s the one that
controls the jail. He controls the hospital. He controls the army, he controls the Navy, controls everything, and he’s the man and I have to fight. White America got to wake up and realize and listen and understand that not only Black folk got to make sacrifices, but White folks gonna have to start making sacrifices, some sacrifices to make this country what it’s supposed to be. Other than that, there’s not gon’ be no country.
Every man, woman and child in Mississippi can rationalize how they have always been friends to the Colored man. All of a sudden, they wake up here one morning and are told that what the way they’ve operated for the last hundred years is wrong. This is a hard thing to just tell a man that he’s spent his life doing something wrong. He doesn’t have to believe it. And, then all of a sudden, we’re some kind of demon. If you if you live in Mississippi and run a cotton plantation, you”re supposed to be some kind of demon. This is the national image of cotton plantation operator in the Mississippi Delta.
Humphreys McGee owns a 25-hundred acre plantation in the Mississippi Delta. His mother’s family has been in the state for seven generations. And, on his father’s side, the McGees moved the Delta from South Carolina. Charleston was the elegant capital of Southern culture in the 19th century. Mississippi was the frontier. Attitudes hardened early. The old way of life has endured in Mississippi longer than anywhere else. Whites and Blacks in the Delta look at he past from different angles, but it is a shared past.
See the Civil War’s over, and regardless of the evils of slavery, these people understood each other. It was not some sort of medieval torture for a person to be a tenant farmer on a plantation. And, I don’t know anybody that is ashamed of the system the way it worked. It’s an impossible system to return to. With that mechanical cotton-picker, one man can do what 150 men had been doing. This was the crown and blow to this system. Everything is geared to machinery. And where I used to have 83 families on the plantation, I have 15 boys working machine operators. But I will say, that the system we had was a system that, on the surface, developed a very outgoing happy group of people. They’re old people now, but these are the people that that I grew up thinking I knew.
Mr. and Mrs. Haywood Jenkins:
I work hard and she work hard. (Show’l did.)
Mrs. Haywood Jenkins:
I work hard, hard, hard. I get out, get up at four-clock and get my breakfast done., just at the dawn of day, I go to the field and be pick cotton.
Mr. and Mrs. Haywood Jenkins of Sharkey County Mississippi have, between them, picked cotton for over a century.
Mrs. Haywood Jenkins:
The boss man came along and he says, “Mary Jane”, and I say, “Suh?”, and he says, “I say, when you wash?” I say, “I washed last night”. And he say, “I don’t want you to do that no mo’. That’s my agent, you know.” He says, “Every Friday morning or Friday evening, you wash. And let all the children stay there with you ’til you get through. And, when you get through, then ya’ll can go back to the field and work” Now the agents was mean, some of ’em, some of ’em was mean. They wanted to whoop the Colored people. And that kind of White man come along and he says “Haywood, you ain’t in the field, yet!” Hay just had started the plowing, he said, “Yeah, I just now got to eat my dinner.” He say, “Gotdamnit, you ain’t doing a gotdamn thing! Gotdamnit, I oughta take this damn stick at frail the hell outcha.” Hay say “If you frail the hell outta me, gotdamnit ,I’m gone flail the hell outta you.!”
It make me feel bad, if we was under him, how mean he was to treat us like that.
In the frontier days, slaves begged not to be sent to Mississippi, where the work was almost as harsh as the overseers. Resistance was often subtle, but seldom absent. A runaway slave said that each so-called happy song was a testimony against slavery and a prayer for deliverance.
This system in its best sense was based on noblesse oblige by the land owner. But I don’t have 83 families anymore that I feel like I’m the daddy of. I do not expect to ever have this relationship with the younger generation, the children of these men. They are oriented entirely differently. They grew up in the Fifties. They’re a conscious of the change in the status quo. They’re fairly confused about what their position is. They don’t want to be subservient.
Young Black Man in Mississippi:
From what I saw my mother and father and my brothers do, while I was growing up, I feel that I don’t want my kids growing up in a world like this. Because I know some days I saw my mother slaving from six in the morning in a hot sun, hundred-degree weather, from pulling a hoe in a field from six until night, with about a hour’s break between all this time. My father doing labor that machines wouldn’t be made to do, hardly. The labor was that bad. And, I feel that if we’ve been working this long and we can’t even own the shirts on our backs, I feel that we have to take some drastic steps, some drastic steps, to make something happen, to make a change come about. Because Mississippi is going to either have to change or there can be no more Mississippi. And we have to do this by any means possible. Through our parents, we’ve earned Mississippi. It’s no question about it, brother. I mean, if my mother got out there and sweated from morning until night and you tell me I don’t own anything she sweated on! How can that be! How can it be?!
The White man does not want to give over his institutions. And that’s what people fear will happen. Give up control, who wants to give up control? You just don’t want to turn over the reins of everything, and give up control. Who wants to give up control?
(Okay guys get in the car . Let’s go.)
So White supremacy is, undoubtedly, a feeling that White people have all over the world. Of course, how the Black man and the White man would live together has been the paramount concern of people ever since the Mississippi Valley was settled, especially when the greatest number was the Black people. The problem is that I don’t need the men I used to need.
Humphreys McGee can run his plantation with machines now, and the government takes care of surplus cotton. That leaves surplus people and no one does anything about them. They cluster in shanty towns like this one in Cleveland, Mississippi, and they wait for something, almost anything, to happen.
First as slaves and then as tenants and sharecroppers, Black Mississippians turned the Delta swamps into the richest plantation soil in the world. Now the soil and the crops no longer need the people. the mechanical cotton-picker, an instrument of agricultural efficiency, became also an instrument of history.
In many Mississippi counties, Blacks have always been in the majority, which means Whites have had a problem. If you’ve got the land and the money but not the numbers ,its natural, as Humphreys McGee says, to want control.
In Mississippi, White control has made the past hard to distinguish from the present. More than anyone else, the spirit of resistance to this control has been Fannie Lou Hamer. At the 1964 Democratic convention, Mrs. Hamer was a leader of the attempt to unseat the regular Democratic delegation from Mississippi.
Fannie Lou Hamer:
Mississippi is still a very rough place. No, people is not just walking up like they used to do in the past, walking out and you know shooting a man down, or getting, maybe, two or three-hundred, people carrying ya out and lynchin’ ya, but it’s in a more subtle way. You know, they let you starve to death, not give you jobs. These are some of the things that’s happening right now in Mississippi.
You see Mississippi is not actually Mississippi’s problem. Mississippi is America’s problem. Because if America wanted to do something about what has been going on in Mississippi, it could have stopped by now. It wouldn’t have been, in the past few years, 40, between 40 and 50 churches bombed and burned. You see, this lead me to say, you know, all of the burning and bombing that was done to us and the houses, nobody never said too much about that, and nothing was done, but let something be burned, you know, by a Black man, and then my God! You see the flag is its drenched with our blood. Because, you see, so many of our Ancestors was killed because we have never accepted slavery. We’ve had to live under it, but we’ve never wanted it!
So we know that this flag is drenched with our blood, so what the young people are saying now “Give us a chance to be young men, respected as a man, as we know this country was built on the Black backs of Black people across this country. And, if we don’t have it, you ain’t gonna have it either, cause we gone tear it up,” that’s what they’re saying, and people ought to understand that. I don’t see why they don’t understand it. They know what they’ve done to us. All across this country, they know what they’ve done to us. This country is desperately sick and man is on the critical list. I really don’t know where we go from here.
Where many Black Mississippians are going is North. Over 400,000 since 1950. What is finally
breaking up the old relationships in Mississippi is not enlightenment nor revolt nor the Civil Rights Movement. It’s just machines, and when the machines came, many of the Blacks had to go.
What the past all adds up to, is the present. Chicago is the present for as many as 1,000 Black immigrants each month. The railroad isn’t underground anymore, but the objective is still the same. Nobody seems to migrate anywhere without some combination of hope and bewilderment. After 300 years, the huddled masses are still looking for what eluded them in the South, jobs, freedom, a different way of life.
But the migration itself has created tensions and the polarization of attitudes.
White Chicago Man:
Well bigotry means that you believe in the creator cultural stem of life, a way of life. And this I do believe in. I believe that we have communities here, that we’ve developed in our country, that we have to protect. And I believe a community way of life has been developed for 75 years, and I don’t believe it should be broken up. And, I think that this is the way we’ll have to fight for it, from now on in. It’s going to be a community life versus those that want to come into it. And that’s gonna be rough. And, if this means racism, its going to practiced on both sides.
You’re a practicing bigot, then?
Middle-aged White Man in Chicago:
I’m practicing bigot. I believe in my way of life.
Young Black Man in Chicago:
As far as I’m concerned, things are getting worse in America. I haven’t seen where America have did anything for Black people. What have American did ? You give a few Negros with a higher position a higher job. That’s still not helping the grassroot. I’m in the grassroots. My lil’ brothers ,around here, are in the grassroots. My sister is living in the grassroots. She still living in the grassroots. As a young Black man, I feel that I have a obligation to my race of people, not to no other race, no other nationality, just to Black people.
The South Side of Chicago is not a nice place to visit and it isn’t easy to live there either. The situation is not new. Over 100 years ago, a brilliant Black abolitionist, Frederick Douglas, escaped from slavery to come North. Douglas found that Black people were already being crowded into large urban slums. Today, eighty-five percent of Chicago’s Black population live in ghettos.
What the Black man who leaves the South faces when he comes to Chicago is described by the Midwest Director for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, John McKnight.
In the South, he knows who the “man” is. The “man” is up there on a hill, in the the big white house. When he comes to a city like Chicago, its’ much harder to determine who that “man” is, such a complex society. It’s a different man who controls the house, from the man who controls the job, from the man who controls the welfare, from the man who controls the hospital, from the man who controls the school, I think what’s happening is that he quickly comes to the conclusion that the man is all the White men. Not being able to discern his specific captor, he decides that all people with White faces are his captors. And, to the degree that all White people are engaged in supporting the systems of separation and racist institutions that we have in the North, that judgment is basically accurate.
How do these institutions function in a racial way?
When we develop any kind of a system that, by definition, excludes people who are poor, inner-city, limited- education people, we are saying “Black” on them. We might as well put the sign back up, because it’s the same thing. Same bag.
The problem that we have in White America is that most White people when they hear about White racism almost most White people say, “ Man, that’s not me. I never discriminate against anybody, never did.” And in their
sense of what discrimination means, or what racism is, they may be right. But, they sit residing in a system from which they take full benefit, a system that defines them in, and and defines Black people out.
We are going to have to face the fact that we are not a community. A community is where a lot of people develop mutually beneficial relationships with each other. And, our racist institutions and the political boundaries of our cities define Black people out of the community.
White people who sit in their suburban homes and watch a television programs and hear about all of these laws that are being passed. Many of them are beginning to wonder, “What is it with those Colored people on there? Why are they so upset, all this wonderful stuff we’re doing for them.” But, we aren’t focusing on the Black man living on the block. He lives in a in a in a two-flat on that block ,and he knows what the circumstance on that block was 10 years ago. And, he knows what it is today. And, he, too, has heard about all of those programs and laws being passed. But the hard fact of the matter is that things are not changing for him.
It’s no wonder that the White population and the Black population are pitted against each other, when the Black man knows that the change is not coming, and the White man thinks that major efforts are being undertaken, when they are not. So I don’t think anybody should be surprised when one sees the Black people in open attack on the system. Because, I suspect that they don’t see that there is any other realistic alternative.
James Turner, an instructor in Political Sociology at Northwestern University, also teaches a summer study group, What Black Patriotism Means to Him. Denmark Vesey, the insurrectionist of Charleston, is Turner’s lesson for the
What Denmark Vesey did in Charleston, South Carolina is very much related to Detroit and to Watts and to Newark. It is very much related to Black men saying, “Tanks be damned! I’ll have my freedom!” The price of freedom is not cheap. Denmark Vesey was very mindful of this. So, it’s very important for us, the lessons of Denmark Vesey. A lot of us like to think that the effective thing is to whop the man, to get up and blow our whole game to him. That somehow the revolution will come through oratory. The unique thing about Vesey is that he was a quiet man, which is oft the mark of determination.
Study Group Participant: (How come this was’t taught in our schools? )
I think that this is a very good question. Why it is that Denmark Vesey doesn’t stand beside Patrick Henry. Because they’ve never wanted us to come to the kind of position and the state of mind that those of us, who have gathered around this table, have come. Because Denmark Vesey released in his time, as he has done for us now, a whole force of Black resistance and struggle. We have not been able to talk about, because they’re nameless and faceless, the thousands of Black people who fought in a more quiet way.
Those Black women, who, consigned to cook in the kitchens of the slave master, who ground-up glass to very fine bits, and put it in the master’s soup. And, then asked the master, “What’s the matter, boss? You seem like you’re not well.” And, the White man was tricked by his own notion that our people were just silly as he bled internally to death.
As well as the brothers in the field who set fire to the cotton. The brothers who set fire to the cotton when the master came with his whip and said, “Boy what’s going on?”
“I don’t know master. Somethings a’taken place strange”. And brother went on to burn more cotton. Black people have resisted. We have determined here today that we are going to free our people.
Denmark Vesey is alive. Denmark Vesey is alive and among the brothers today in Oakland, California with the Black Panthers. Denmark Vesey’s a young Black man named Eldridge Cleaver and Huey Newton in Oakland, California. Denmark Vesey is personified by another courageous Black brother named H. Rap Brown. Denmark Vesey is the guiding life that inspires and gives incentive to brother Stokely Carmichael. Denmark, Denmark Vesey was the father of brother Malcolm X. Denmark Vesey walks the streets of the Black community today. He is in the minds and the bosoms of young Black men, who stride now with pride and dignity in the Black community, who say that they will no longer reside in the hell of the ghetto, but will struggle to transform their plight to a community. They will do it, or die trying.
Calvin Lockridge :
There is a fever of revolution in America. And it’s a Black revolution. The only thing that is hanging us up, that we must clear, we must sit down and continue to analyze and discuss what our particular role will be in the revolution.
Calvin Lockridge, a young ghetto leader, moves his training group toward confrontation with a system he
finds oppressive. For Lockridge, the heritage of slavery is insurrection.
Calvin Lockridge :
We talk about it all revolutions are lead by a hard-core disciplined group. I think this is where we have to start. We have to start organizing that hard-core disciplined group of people. And, then we pyramid ourselves. Then we move, we move the masses of people, around an issue, when we’re ready to move.
Masculine Group member (speaker 1):
You have to have your own communications.
Calvin Lockridge :
Well this is how the rebellions during slavery was able to move to action. It’s because of the fact that we have members of the revolution, or the rebellion, who would move and communicate through the Black grapevine, because you never knew how many people were actually involved, because it meant death if you were ever found out.
Feminine Group Member:
A lot of Negros, they might have thought they were given a chance but they weren’t. There is going to have to be some bloodshed in the revolution somewhere.
Masculine Group Member (speaker 1) :
I think that Black people have always had justification for insurrection, rebellion, revolution, whatever word you want to call it. You’re talking about guerrilla warfare.
You’re saying we should start the preparing to guerrilla warfare?
Masculine Group Member (speaker 2):
Guerrilla warfare is extreme, and I don’t I don’t know of any Black person around who has done any type training
to prepare himself for guerrilla warfare.
Masculine Group Member (speaker 3):
If one prepares himself for guerrilla warfare, that you wouldn’t know. I would hope no one would know. Guerrilla warfare is not the training in the use of weapons. It’s a training in the use of the mind.
It’s a revolution going on. Anyone who doesn’t join in, who is in the way, you treat him as a traitor or a spy. If he doesn’t sympathize with you, can’t help you. You have to treat him like a traitor or a spy and that means you kill him.
It’s an American Revolution. It’s happening here on the American soil. And a Black and White are caught up in the revolution, but Blacks the spearhead of the revolution.
Neither James Turner nor Calvin Lockridge could win any elections today. So far, they represent only a minority of a minority. Yet their potential constituency can be found on any sidewalk, in any slum. Among youth and among Black opinion-makers, even a minority is many thousands. The question posed by increasing Black activism is will White America respond before the few become the many.
Chicago is 30% Black, but less than 1% of the city’s businesses are owned by Black people. This is hardly a revelation that economic bondage produces social revolutionaries. The future may not work, but if you’re Black, neither did the past .
The pressures that bring about rebellion are defined by the Senior Editor of Ebony magazine, historian, Lerone Bennett.
Men fight when they reach the wall, not because victory is sure, but because their manhood demands that they
that they act in this way. And, therefore, I’m not at all sure what is the proper measure of success when you’re talking about a rebellion of an oppressed people. one might almost say that it is normal for an oppressed people to revolt, and is abnormal, really, for them to accept the oppression which is forced upon them. Any oppressed people, when they revolt, revolt really in the ultimate sense, even in the name of their oppressors. Because they’ are re-establishing a reciprocity between man and man, and re-establishing the bonds of humanity which must govern men if they are to live together in a the common climate.
I just ask you to visualize a room, you know where all the goodies of the world, all the material goodies of the world. And there are people in that room, and all of those people are White. And the door to that room is locked. And, that room is in a building with a hall. And, in that hall, are people. and all those people are Black. Black people have been standing in that hall more than 200 years knocking on that door and they’ve been saying, “please let us in. you know we want to be with you. we want to be like you. we love you.” And that door is never opened.
One of the men in the hall say you know what I think I’ll do so I think I will go outside get me a brick
throw it through the window and take some of my things out of that window, because he’s never going to open the front door. And, another man in the hall says that “No , I tell you what I’m going to do. What I’m going to do, I’m going outside and going under the house and I’m taking a match and burning the whole house up and everything in it, including me. And a third man says, “Wait brothers, you know, it might become necessary to do that, but it
has not become necessary, yet. See, the problem is we’ve been standing here for 200 years knocking on that door and he hasn’t opened the door because we haven’t been speaking his language. His mother tongue is power. And, that perhaps, if we take all of toothpicks of power and put them together and create a whole huge battering ram, then the door will open one way or another. I think history has arranged it that ,eventually, America would have to face itself through Black people, or go under. And I deeply believe that this is the point we occupy now in time.
A suburb of Chicago, July fourth, this year. If you’re White, try to think Black. For 200 years, Black’s have watched White parades roll by. For most Americans, the past itself has been White. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are the champions of American independence, but they were also slaveholders. Patrick Henry wanted liberty or death, just like Denmark Vesey and the young men in the ghettos today, but Patrick Henry was also a slaveholder.
Freedom, like history, is not supposed to have a color, but when America institutionalizes freedom and history, all of the symbols are White. Black America is still waiting for the parade to open its ranks and let in Frederick Douglass, Denmark Vesey, Malcolm X and other heroes of a Black fight for freedom.
Frederick Douglass, escaped slave, was once invited to celebrate July fourth with White people. He told them, “This fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice. I must mourn.”
When White people celebrate Black heroes as Black people have celebrated Washington and Jefferson the battle for the past will be over. And when the past belongs to everyone, so will the present. Most Black people still don’t want to wreck this parade. They want to join it.
In the heritage of slavery, there are plenty of heroes, just like in any other tragedy. Deep in the wasteland of Chicago’s Southside, embedded like an emerald in an ashcan, is an immaculate wonder called the Wall of Respect. Black artists painted Black heroes. On this wall, men and women willing to liberate themselves, in Malcolm X’s words, “by any means necessary.” They are individuals who will either have respect or will die trying to get it, and some of them have.
It’s a long way and a lot of years from the slave market in Charleston to the Wall of Respect in Chicago, but neither distance nor time has yet entirely separated the Black man from bondage. No one needs to inflame the Black race against these realities. The fire of rebellion started burning a long time ago. but these travels in Black America
have shown is that White racism created the need for Black power, just as slavery bred insurrection.
If a country can be a collective, now in America is mad at each other right now. We Blacks and Whites are
plotting separate courses with great skill and cunning. You can’t have oppression without rebellion, and you can’t have either in a country that belongs to all its people.
But Black Americans are telling White Americans today is that this land is ours too. plaintiff question the slaves used to ask am I not a man and a brother has been replaced by an affirmation that a challenge I am a man and a brother. Black men are saying and if you don’t think so then this country isn’t big enough for both of us.
This is George Foster at the Wall of Respect.