I recently read “Beloved,” a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by American Nobel Prize winning writer Toni Morrison. Published in 1987, ”Beloved” is a true story about African-American slave Margaret Garner. Set just after the American Civil War, Margaret temporarily escaped slavery in Kentucky by fleeing to Ohio, a free state. Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which gave slave owners the right to pursue slaves across state borders, a posse was dispatched to bring her and her children back to her owners. Margaret killed her two-year-old daughter rather than allow her to live as a slave.
It’s impossible to understand the depth of dehumanizing experienced by African-American slaves. And, reading about the inhumane conditions of Black Americans under slavery, it’s unbelievable that their status, which was prolonged by government action like the Fugitive Slave Act, was kept in place for two hundred and fifty years (circa 1613-1863).
After 250 years, about a dozen generations, slavery was a way of life. In fact, it was older than the nation!
It wasn’t until January 1, 1863, that President Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order, an Emancipation Proclamation, proclaiming the freedom of slaves. The proclamation was directed at the eleven “slave-states” which were rebelling against the Federal government. (In alphabetical order: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.) Two years later, in January, 1865, the 13th Amendment, which made slavery illegal everywhere in the nation, took effect. In all, 4 million slaves were freed by the Proclamation, the Union Army and the 13th Amendment. (January 1, 2013 will mark the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.)
President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. The Civil War was drawing to a close. With its end, America’s Second Civil War, Reconstruction, began. Reconstruction officially came to an end 12 years later and white supremacy began its rise throughout the former slave-states.
More generations passed.
In 1948, President Harry Truman issued an executive order ending discrimination and segregation in the military. During the 1948 presidential election, disaffected Southern Democrats split from the national party over Truman’s racial policies and nominated the Governor of South Carolina J. Strom Thurmond as the presidential nominee of their new Dixiecrat Party. Their party platform read, “We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race; the constitutional right to choose one’s associates; to accept private employment without governmental interference, and to earn one’s living in any lawful way. We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program. We favor home-rule, local self-government and a minimum interference with individual rights.” (Republicans, did they miss anything?)
Truman won the election without the traditional Solid South. Thurmond carried only four states: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.
In June, 1963, a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation, President John Kennedy called for a new Civil Rights bill. The bill would outlaw major forms of discrimination against African Americans, including racial segregation in the schools, workplace and public facilities while establishing voter registration requirements. A few months later, in September, 1963, the President got a response from one of the former slave-states when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Attending Sunday School were four young girls – all were killed.
Then, tragically, on November 22, 1963 Kennedy was assassinated. Five days later, newly inaugurated President Lyndon Johnson, in his first address to Congress, told the legislators, “No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the Civil Rights bill for which he fought so long.”
On June 19, 1964, on a Senate vote of 71-29, the Civil Rights Act (CRA) moved through Congress. Two days later racists responded. Three anti-racism and social justice activists were lynched near Philadelphia in Neshoba County, Mississippi. However, the CRA went forward and, on July 2, 1964, it was signed into law by President Johnson. Barack Obama was almost two-years old.
With the passage of the CRA, America’s Race War entered it’s current phase: the American Civil Rights movement.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. emerged as the leader of the Civil Rights movement. He spoke to all Americans about a better place with an inclusive, non-violent vision which is now an important part of American history. Tragically, less than four years after the passage of the CRA, on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was assassinated.
Then in 2008, history was made, Barack Obama was elected our nation’s first black president. But the race war was not over. From his very first day in office, open-season on the essence of our President was declared. Even now, hateful race-fueled attacks on President Obama continue from the sleazy uttering of “The Donald” supporting birtherism to the constant questioning of the President’s religion. “He’s not really an American, not one of us,” they say. For them, the Dixiecrat platfrom must sound perfect.
2012 is the Year of Wars. Not the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the War on Women (courtesy of the GOP) and on Obesity (Michelle Obama’s plea for good nutrition plus Mayor Bloomberg’s championing of 16 oz. sodas). The War on Voters via registration hurdles and voter suppression. And, let’s not forget the specious War on Religion (a religious-right induced fake-war on the Catholic Church over contraception).
But, what about the 800-pound Mother of All Wars? Let’s not forget the war that is still being waged during the 2012 election: America’s 400-Year Race War.
Carl Matthes is a native of Los Angeles and has lived in Eagle Rock for over 40 years. He is a former president and a current Board member of Uptown Gay and Lesbian Alliance. He is a former columnist and a current advisor to the Lesbian News, the oldest lesbian publication in America. He was editor of the GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) newsletter and a former GLAAD National Board member. He has also been a Board member of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
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