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What Would Dred Scott Do?

“How long has this pressure been building between the police and the people of Ferguson?”

That was the question Reverend Al Sharpton on Politics Nation asked on Tuesday August 12th, 2014 to Mr. Joseph Anderson, President of 100 Black Men of Metropolitan St. Louis (watch the segment called “Ferguson, MO, a history of racial profiling?).

Joseph Anderson responded:

“Well Reverend Sharpton, I would say it’s been building for years.”

How about 158 years.

A photo I took on January 29th, 2012.

A photo I took on January 29th, 2012.

Since March 6th, 1857 Blacks have been trying to find a legitimate right to exist in the state of Missouri as freedmen and women rather than as the “imported” property of slave holders.  In the landmark 1854 Dred Scott vs. Sanford Supreme Court case (I really enjoy teaching it to my students) the powerful pioneer, Dred Scott, sued John Sanford for his freedom. And, it took careful planning and courage on Dred Scott’s behalf.

Dred Scott’s efforts for his own freedom was so powerful that his case led to the Supreme Court declaring that the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the legislation that declared states North of the 36 30’ parallel line (the Mason-Dixon Line) were “free” and all states beneath it would be “slave” states, was an act of Congress that was unconstitutional.

Oh yes! Dred Scott was that brother.

Through all of the legal proceedings, all but two of the justices of the case consented that Dred Scott, due to his status as property, had no legal claims to sue for his freedom.  Chief Justice Roger B. Taney offered that since Blacks had already been considered an inferior race, and because we had been subjects of importation due to the slave trade, we were a different group of people, even more different from the Native Americans—to Taney, we were an “unfortunate” race without any claims to independence and therefore, “had no rights the white man was bound to respect.”

Ultimately, Dred Scott did not win his freedom through the Supreme Court–he was purchased by the son of the first owner he sued in 1847, Peter Blow, after the 1857 decision.  Dred Scott made a strong statement about asserting our rights to stand on principles of freedom, justice and equality.  He knew what it would mean to have them heard by the highest authorities, even when those authorities did not want to listen.  And, he made a profound statement about the love he had for us.


Ferguson has not happened in a vacuum.  The tensions between the people and the authorities in St. Louis and the surrounding municipalities have always existed.  According to the Los Angeles Times, the demographics of the Ferguson city officials have little or no Black representation; Ferguson’s city council has sixteen percent (16%) Black representation, its police department only boasts of a whopping six percent (6%) Black representation—of its fifty-three (53) commissioned officers, three (3) are Black and its school board has zero percent (0%). However, sixty-seven percent (67%) of Ferguson’s population is Black according the US Census!

The statistics from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office show that Blacks are far more likely to be pulled over in “routine” traffic stops than whites— in 2013 for whites, it was a mere thirteen percent (13%), whereas for Blacks, it was an astonishing eighty-six percent (86%)!

Finally, according to Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post, the residents have relayed to him that “these tensions have been simmering to the surface for years.”

Sometimes old issues lay dormant until something—a change in the times or the looming feeling that something and/or someone has been lost, comes along and helps whatever lies dormant to resurface again.  In the case of Ferguson, it is the killing of Michael Brown.

The energy of the people in Ferguson is telling me that the people are conjuring the conviction of St. Louis’ greatest democracy bearer, Mr. Dred Scott.  Michael Brown’s life, while prematurely taken, serves a greater purpose and he now joins the ranks of the ancestors.  None of us are happy that this beautiful 18 year-old teenager is no long living a physical experience with us. None of us are happy that 158 year-old tensions still exist in Missouri and around our nation. But, we have the power to change all of this madness by continuing the fight for what our ancestors started, improve our quality of life by electing the policymakers at the helm of that quality through our votes, and by declaring our rights to be. Unapologetically.

We can do this Dred Scott’s way and give 158 years an expiration date of now.

Race: Medium, Rare or Well-Done, Still Hard to Digest, Pt. 1 

“This assumption that of all the hues of God, whiteness alone is inherently and obviously better than brownness or tan leads to curious acts…” Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, “The Souls of White Folk,” from Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (1920)

Toure's BookIn 2012, MSNBC’s The Cycle co-host, Toure, explored the issue of race right on the heels of President Obama’s reelection in his book, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What it Means to be Black Now.

In the midst of the latest rash of race-induced headlining stories, two more questions come to mind:

1). What does it mean to be racist in America?

2). Why is race still so hard to digest?


We have not even begun to make that journey.

On April 22nd, 2014 the Supreme Court supported the voters of Michigan by upholding a ban on affirmativesupreme court justices action in the state, specifically as race is used as a factor for admitting students to the University of Michigan. Justice Sotomayor, appointed by President Obama, was one of two justices (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg joined her) who voted against the Supreme Court decision.  In her now much referred to 58-page dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor pointed out that white graduates of public Michigan institutions could still exercise the privilege of lobbying the admissions board to garner acceptance for other relatives into the school; thus, they can use a “legacy” policy of admissions.  Black students, especially ones never having any relatives who have ever attended college before, will not be so fortunate.

And so I began thinking about what would happen to students whose race was “detectable” by their names.  And, would these same students also be denied entry because an admissions counselor had these special “race discerning” powers just by reading the name on the application?

Out of my own curiosity, I presented my students with a role play / scenario to see if they could determine the race of a person based on the person’s name.  In a hypothetical, in-class assignment, I had my students pretend to be a panel of admissions counselors with the sole responsibility of admitting students to our make-believe school, but they could not consider the student’s race.

Hmmm…But, would they?

They were charged with developing our made-up Freshman class from the applicants presented.  While I didn’t disclose any of the racial demographics with my students, they did as I assumed they would–associated the names they considered Black and/ or “ghetto” with a Black person, gave a ‘white’ designation to names that they argued a white person would have, and assigned “other” to names that appeared to be of Arabic, Asian and/or Hispanic descent.

College ApplicationSurprisingly however, my students naturally capped the number of perceived Blacks they admitted despite the applicants’ qualifications.  And, they were far more lenient with the spaces given to white and Other students arguing their attempt to create a “diverse environment.”

This is what racism does.  It forces those that have been disenfranchised to self-impose limitations.  It makes the targets of its practice justify why racism may not be happening when clearly the effects of the actions imposed by the dominant, ruling class suggest that racism is the only plausible explanation.

While watching my students continue with this assignment, it was clear to me that Professor Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Constitutional Law Professor at John Jay College, was right to coin the Supreme Court’s Schuette vs. Coalition of Defend the Affirmative Action ruling a ‘Supreme Flaw.’ in the New York Amsterdam News, Vol. 105, No.17.

Our world has evolved in ways I am certain earlier Neolithic people never imagined. The idea of race is already a baffling enough construct. Add to that the notion that we still have not reached a place where it can be discussed genuinely and meaningfully there is no wonder it appears we are all suffering from indigestion.

We could all use a little bit of relief.

Student Activism? CONGRATULATIONS Dream Defenders!

Exactly one week and a day ago, I asked the question, Why have our students become so silent?

I attributed some of our students’ silence to the fear of being wrongfully targeted and killed, but I also suggested that our students are silent because they also fear success.  

Two students specifically referenced, however, that are certainly not afraid of activism are UCLA Bruin Sy Stokes and Brooke Kimbrough, a young activist rejected from the University of Michigan (See my post: Life and Death: The National Guard and Student Activism here: http://wp.me/p1uzq3-qs).

I was reminded by my good friend Elizabeth Bishop (@BishopDigital) that student activism is still very much alive and well as I ran the post on my twitter (@polidayreport / @DoItGurl) accounts.  

During commencement season, some campuses’ students have used their voices to protest their school’s selection of commencement speakers: Rutgers students denied former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the honor because of her position on the War in Iraq while serving under 43rd president, George W. Bush.  Students at Smith College recently protested International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde as its speaker leading to her cancellation, and Somali-born women’s rights activist and author of Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was disinvited as a result of student protests at Brandeis University. See Students Protest Commencement Speakers! for more information.

And then there are The Dream Defenders, a young group of activists and students in the state of Florida. They have risen to prominence under the leadership of the very young and astute Executive Director Phillip Agnew in protest of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law and the killing of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of the self-appointed Neighborhood Watch captain, George Zimmerman in 2012.  The Dream Defenders have altered what student activism looks like, but they have remained true to the guiding principles of non-violence demonstrated by students of the 1960’s such as The Greensboro Four  of North Carolina A & T University.  They have attracted a new wave of listeners and activists through the calculated use of technology and social media–we like them!

While covering the The National Action Network’s August 2013 March on Washington in Washington, DC, I had the distinct pleasure of engaging in a very meaningful conversation with Mr. Phillip Agnew (phillip@dreamdefenders.org) and the Dream Defender’s Co-Director of Communications Steven Pargett (pargett@dreamdefenders.org). And of course, I snapped a pic.

The Dream Defenders

The Dream Defenders

Today I am very proud to announce their victory as they have shared it with the thousands of us that subscribe to and support their efforts.

Check out their victory below!


Freedom Summer is coming …
It’s a wild world out there in the Florida legislature. But amidst NRA bills to arm schoolteachers; a “Marissa Alexander” bill that expanded Stand Your Ground without freeing Marissa; and a “Zombie Apocalypse” bill (yes, it was real), Dream Defenders defied the odds.

Dream Defenders made a major stride this Spring in our fight against private prison operators in the state of Florida, with passage of an amendment to the Florida budget increasing regulation of private prison operators!
This winter, Dream Defenders visited legislators across the state demanding answers about Youth Services International (YSI), a private prison corporation that holds millions in contracts with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, despite a long history of terrible juvenile abuse at its facilities.  That history of violence began long before they came to Florida; we would have known…if Florida’s lawmakers cared to ask! Over the last few months, thanks to our ongoing work with partners and to the leadership of Senator Clemens and Senator Soto on this issue, an amendment was added to the state budget and passed by the Florida Legislature, putting in place more checks & precautions before any private prison corporation can be granted a state contract. Serious incidents of abuse or mistreatment of youth will also be reported periodically.

We are happy to take a step towards justice. But the fact remains that Florida’s entire juvenile detention system is privatized.


Sign UCF Dream Defenders’ Pledge Demanding that University of Central Florida DIVEST Student Tuition Dollars From Billionaire Private Prison Corporations GEO Group & CCA  at bit.ly/ucfdivest


Life and Death: The National Guard and [Student] Activism

Update: For the past 10 days, the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri have been at odds with local Ferguson Police Department after a six-year officer, Darren Wilson, shot and killed 18 year-old Michael Brown in a barrage of at least six bullets on Saturday August 9th, 2014.  In the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown, the citizens–many of them students– have taken to the street to mostly peaceful protest against police brutality, and the local police has been anything but understanding of the citizens’ frustrations. The police has not been forthcoming with information, it has launched an excessive use of force  and intimidation on the people to include the use of military tanks, assault rifles, and tear gas in the midst of claims of citizens throwing molovtov cocktails, shooting, and looting.   Missouri’s Governor Jay Nixon has had to intervene by first, holding a press conference national guardto announce his appointment of Missouri Highway Patrol Captain, Ron Johnson, and now he had deployed the use of the National Guard. In America’s most volatile times, the National Guard has been sought as the solution.  Some times it has worked and other times, it has further exacerbated the problems.

On May 4th, 2014, we remember the horrendous killing of four students and the wounding of nine by the bullets of the National Guard on the campus of Kent State University on May 4th, 1970.

Students at Kent State protested President Nixon’s announcement that the United States would invade Cambodia in the midst of America’s already unfavorable Vietnam War. In an attempt to stop the students from protesting and rallying, Kent State University’s administrators decided to cancel the students’ rally so they began passing out flyers saying that the rally was canceled. To no avail students showed up anyway.  Some of Kent State’s faculty appealed to the students to abandon the rally upon realizing the Ohio National Guard had been called to disband the student assembly and knowing that eventually these students could become victims of the National Guard’s aggression.  As the National Guard began closing in, the students maintained their position and continued rallying. Before anyone knew what happened, one of the officers opened fire which resulted in other National Guard officers opening fire on unarmed students.

We remember the students of Kent State that lost their lives.  We also reflect on the role the National Guard has served in protecting and escorting our most vulnerable groups for the past 378 years.   Lastly, we are called to question the price of student activism or lack thereof in America’s schools today.

Check out CNN’s photo slide show here: Kent State Shooting in Photos

In the 1950s and 1960s, the National Guard was used by President Eisenhower in 1957 to help admit nine African American students into Little Rock Arkansas’ Central High School–The Little Rock Nine. When the state of Arkansas refused to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling to integrate schools “with all deliberate speed,” the final resort for President Eisenhower was to enforce the ruling through the use of the Arkansas National Guard, a symbol of protection and an escort for nine young people attempting to be educated and bravely walking into the pit of racism’s hell for it to happen.

Check out the Eyes on the Prize segment here: 

In 1963 President John F. Kennedy also used the National Guard to escort and protect two students into the University of Alabama, Vivian Malone Jones and James Hood, when the notoriously defiant and racist Alabama Governor George Wallace denied them entry into the school.

Click on this 2003 NPR link to hear Vivian Jones’ words about this time period here:

NPR and the University of Alabama, 1963

As the decade of the 60s progressed, the National Guard intervened in even more campus conflicts, but they no longer appeared to serve, protect, and escort maligned groups in our nation.  As America changed presidents and became embroiled in more international conflicts such as the Vietnam War and Cambodia invasions, a commitment to Civil Rights became a thorn in the side of our nation, and the National Guard seemingly became the escort of the nation’s resentment.  And, its purpose became riddled in contradictory aggression and death.

On the campus of the renowned HBCU North Carolina A & T University, the National Guard, in reaction to the idea of Black Power, used deadly force to quell student protests in May of 1969.  The students of the local James B. Dudley High School turned to the college students of NC A & T to assist them in the issues they faced in electing the student of their choice to represent their student body.  As a result of the students of Dudley High School not feeling their demands were being met, and as a result of the superintendent’s decision to remove the Black principal and replace him with a white one, the students protested and picketed. During the student protest, the police used tear gas to stop it.  The police presence and actions exacerbated the students’ behavior resulting in nine student arrests and rioting.  Dudley High School students further enlisted the help of North Carolina A & T’s Student Organization for Black Unity, a group feared to be operating under the Black Power Movement.  Some of the student activists organized a march to support the students of Dudley High School, but in the midst of the march, a group of young white youth orchestrated a drive-by shooting into the crowd of the A & T students; and, in response, the A & T students began defending themselves.  How they defended themselves has long been a source of debate.  The National Guard was called in to suppress the reactions, and once again the situation was exacerbated.  As result of the National Guard’s presence, student Willie Grimes, 22, was shot and killed. The campus erupted and what ensued was the declaration of a state of emergency,

Willie Grimes

Willie Grimes

the raiding of Scott Hall, a male dormitory, approximately 300 students were held in prison for the day, more than 60 rounds of ammunition were shot into the dorm’s walls by the National Guard, a campus-wide curfew was put into effect, and ultimately 3 operable firearms were located.

In the aftermath of the Dudley High School / A & T fiasco, students lost their lives, had their college experiences marred, and came face to face with the brutality of the National Guard, an entity that 12 years prior had served to extend civil rights to vulnerable African American students looking to be educated in a racist, forced-integration system in Arkansas.

The National Guard’s motto is “Always there, Always ready.”  There are countless men and women that serve in the National Guard every day, assisting America in its time of need and we appreciate them.  In America’s most volatile, racist times the National Guard has been there, and in the most tumultuous decade of the 20th Century, the 60s, the National Guard was there, but we have to live with the record of knowing that it also executed some very poor and deadly decisions.  The lives of the students in the schools mentioned in this post have forever been changed–some for the good and some in the worst ways imaginable.

Today, we live in a time where very little activism takes place on our college campuses and within our schools; students’ rights are violated on a continual basis, their voices are silenced in almost every regard, and yet we persistently wonder why younger people are so silent. There is a history not too far into the past that has frowned on students’ activism more than it has protected their rights. There has been no real major sustainable movement of young people protesting injustices on college campuses in recent years.  Perhaps the greatest amount of noise in recent years has come from African American students like Sy Stokes on UCLA’s campus upset about the school’s lack of diversity, the seeming abandonment of affirmative action, and feelings that Black Male student athletes are only regarded because of their athleticism.

Check out his video here:

And, we cannot forget Brooke Kimbrough and her rally against the University of Michigan for not being accepted and the subsequent US Supreme Court ban on affirmative in Schuette vs. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action.

Maybe our students are worried that their First Amendment right to assemble will be compromised by the National Guard if it is called to suppress their protests; or, maybe our students are afraid to chance that the National Guard’s motto will actually work in their favor like it did with the Little Rock Nine. So, students remain silent.

Either way, student activism in our institutions will always come down to a matter of life and death.

American History is Black History

“No man knows what he can do until he tries.” –Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

It’s officially Black History Month! This month we celebrate, in greater concentration, rbg flagthe phenomenal acknowledgement and representation of Black People in America.

I especially love this time of year because I get to experience potent lectures, panels, movie screenings, plays, performances, etc. with the common thread of showcasing Black excellence.

This is also the time of year in which I get to read commentaries on how Black History Month is racist and unnecessary since Blacks have not been the only contributors to America’s prominence, and because America has moved beyond slavery. Some of these arguments make me laugh and others just lead me to shake my head; none of these arguments ever get to the core of understanding how America gained the leverage to attract others’ continual immigration and pursuit of opportunity in America in the first place.

Black people have evolved the human race and some still insist on resisting this evolution.

“The bondage of the Negro brought captive from Africa is one of the greatest dramas in history, and the writer who merely sees in that ordeal something to approve or condemn fails to understand the evolution of the human race.” –Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

I support that other races and ethnicities have contributed greatly to our America; Marcus Garvey’s work influenced one of America’s greatest, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X), many Chinese workers constructed the trans-continental Railroad, and Hispanics like Cesar Chavez worked tirelessly for the advancement of Hispanics as they continue to come to America. But like historian and Black History Month Founder Carter G. Woodson, I also support that Black Americans have been terribly misrepresented, underrepresented, and ignored as contributors in the greater American success story.

Carter G. WoodsonIn 1926, the Virginia historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History which he founded, began Negro History Week to coincide with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.  By 1976 (such a great year), Negro History Week had become federally recognized as Black History Month.

Carter G. Woodson was an academic who found it imperative for Black American history to serve a greater role within school curricula.

“As another has well said, to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.” –Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro

He was a self-proclaimed radical; and, Woodson was a fearless man who was relentless in his pursuit to honor the contributions of Black America using the expertise he had gained from his education in Berea College, the University of Chicago, and Harvard University.  Mr. Woodson eventually wrote his acclaimed, The Mis-Education of the Negro in 1933 which has sold over a million copies and has been in print for 81 years.

He had numerous teaching stints in places like the Philippines and the prestigious Howard University. His greatest influencers, besides the history of his own parents’ enslavement and perseverance, were the relationships he developed with other self-determined Blacks like W.E.B DuBois, Arturo Schomburg, and what he felt he had not been learned properly about Black Americans.

There are institutions andWilder Building organizations worldwide that celebrate and continue his work; my very own alma mater, Virginia State University, has a Carter G. Woodson Avenue on which sits our United States Department of Agriculture supported building, named in honor of the first Black governor of Virginia and any state since Reconstruction, Mr. Douglas Wilder.

American economics and politics were created as a result of the presence and citizenship of Black Americans, since colonial times. In the midst of the state’s rights argument was the issue of how states would be represented in Congress–that argument was fixed through the passing of the Three-Fifths Compromise. From Jamestown to the Constitution, from the Black Farmers to the Prison Pipeline conundrum plaguing urban communities to President Obama, there is more to learn about Black Americans than the untruths foreigners learn and bring with them to America. There’s more to learn about Black Americans than the scornful, resentful sentiment other Americas cast in our direction.

To love America is to acknowledge Black Americans.

Through Carter G. Woodson’s efforts, he has left an enduring and persistent legacy in how I define Black Americans.

Black Americans:

  1. An elite and small group of descendants of indigenous Africans (mostly of Western Africa); native people BORN in the United States of America due to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade;
  2. NOT immigrants; Citizens.
  3. Architects and maintainers of America’s infrastructure; preservers of America’s food bank;  innovators of American culture; creators of America’s multitudinous opportunities.
  4. Inheritors of racism, discrimination, prejudice, black codes, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, the Prison Industrial Complex, mandatory sentencing drug laws, and all other disparate American behaviors; Stalwarts.
  5. Reflectors of why America is NOT a “more perfect Union.”
  6. Human;
  7. Americans; Survivors;
  8. Special;
  9. Rare;
  10. Royal.

Kwanzaa: Nia / Purpose

It’s Day 5 of Kwanzaa! Today’s principle is the Swahili word for purpose, Nia.

“Love you with a sense of purpose.”

When I was growing up, my momma (ma) and aunt (auntie) exposed my sisters / sister-cousins/ brother-cousin, and I to the best music. One group in heavy rotation in our household was the Jamaican reggae band, Third World. In 1990, they released an album called Sense of Purpose and featured a song by the same name. I thought this song was just perfect: the beat was nice, the vocals and harmonies were great, and the vibe of the song made me feel happy whenever I heard it. I could sing and dance along to the song, but then there were the lyrics.  I knew “Sense of Purpose” was a love song (he repeatedly told the object of his affection that he loved her), and I also could tell it was a kind of requited love that had grown from some kind of adversity (he talked about backstabbers and gossip-mongers, too!). But what reeled me in was the fact that he was declaring that his loving this woman came with some obligation. That song said to love someone with a “Sense of Purpose” was to love through our actions, too. I thought it was amazing!

About a year prior, one of my favorite songwriters of all times, Babyface, released a song from his Tender Lover album called, “Soon as I Get Home.”  This love song was also about action.  He promised to buy clothes, cook food, etc.  It was certainly unlike any song I had ever heard any man sing to any woman, ever!  And, after following Babyface’s career, listening to his catalog of music as well as the songs he had and has written for others, it is clear he has pursued the purpose of his life by bringing so much joy to others through song; his feelings have not been mere thoughts trapped within the confines of his mind. He has written the best songs and shared them with us all.

Purpose.  It requires deliberate action. It does not mean that one has to have the architect’s plan, but it does mean we must have the baby’s effort—each of us has the right to take the first step in fulfilling our purpose. Purpose is giving voice to silence or adding color to a blank canvas. It is providing moisture to an arid space or crowded pandemonium to a lonely calm.

The pioneers in our communities have loved us better than unconditionally—they have loved us with an insatiable sense of purpose, and created “love songs” in the process.

John Mercer Langston, born in 1829, was a very accomplished Black man from Louisa County, Virginia. Through education he defined his purpose and helped thousands of others find theirs as well. Throughout the course of his life he received a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, in theology, from Oberlin College.  Eventually he wound up practicing law in Ohio after initiallyJohn Mercer Langston being denied admission to law schools in New York and Ohio.  John Mercer Langston’s purpose led him to become the first African American to serve in the Virginia State Assembly, and a closer look at his life shows that his purpose on this Earth was always to serve. He recruited African Americans to serve in the Union Army. He served as an inspector for the Freedman’s Bureau, participated in suffrage efforts, and served as the President of the National Equal Rights League.  In addition, he served as the founding dean of the Howard University Law School, drafted the Civil Rights Bill of 1875, served as a United States Minister to Haiti, a diplomat to the Dominican Republic, became a United States Congressman, and sat on the Board of Trustees at St. Paul’s University.  Most importantly to me is that he served as the very First President of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Virginia State UniversityInstitute, better known to the world as Virginia State University, my alma mater.  All throughout his adult life he worked to serve and elevate others; and, the rewards were and continue to be great.  Thousands of students have graduated from Virginia State University. Scores of students have clerked for and served as judges in our courts as a result of the law degrees they obtained from Howard University’s Law School.  Each of the current members of the Congressional Black Caucus owes his and her seats to John Mercer Langston and his colleagues.  His purpose-driven life was rooted in the service to others and is the kind of love song many of us will sing forever.

I am certain John Mercer Langston did not accomplish all of his goals; there were moments in which he lamented on one accomplishment a little too long or he may have felt that he had done everything he possibly could until he accomplished his next feat or produced something better. He did not always have a plan on how to navigate the racist and prejudicial world in which he navigated, but he journeyed through.  In every effort, Mr. Langston continued to grow and believe in his purpose, for he never stopped until he was able to leave the legacy that I have been able to share in this post. Indeed, John Mercer Langston loved us all with a “Sense of Purpose.”

Political Lingo: Voting…

Good Morning / Good Afternoon PoliDayReport Readers!plessy

I spoke with some of my peers and friends and you would not believe how many of them told me they had not voted in Tuesday’s elections. While the outcomes that many anticipated for some of the most high-stakes elections were successful, those outcomes still do not excuse those of us that did not vote.

Did you know Black Codes, laws designed to indirectly enslave Black people once the 13th Amendment abolished slavery,  were enforced and directly tied to voting in an act of defiance by Whites against the passing of the 15th Amendment (1870)–the amendment that made it possible for Black males to vote? Did you also know that Black Codes, and the remix, Pig Laws, changed the face and meaning of criminalization in America, a form of criminalization that appears to be tattooed in our penal system today (if you do not own Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, you must go out and purchase it)?  In this video below Dr. Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, explains the laws better here:

Slavery By Another Name

In modern acts of defiance, we witnessed the shutting down of our government by a small faction of elected officials with a heavy impact on our political and economic outcomes, and even then some people still had the nerve to not invest an insignificant amount of time to commit the significant act of voting.

obamatoddThis morning while getting dressed for work, NBC’s Today Show featured an interview of President Obama by Chief White House Correspondent for NBC News, Chuck Todd, in which President Obama was asked, around the 2:21 mark, regarding Obamacare: “Do you feel like you owe these folks an apology–for misleading them…?” here:

President Obama’s Interview by Chuck Todd

From an effort to provide America’s people with adequate and suitable health care, President Obama now has to answer questions about how he can absolve the skepticism people will have of him and his administration on this issue and on future promises.  And, as a responsible leader President Obama apologizes.

Perhaps the real people who should be sitting on the “hot seat” are those defiant pseudo-citizens that believe they are the only “citizens” entitled to government programs.  I have yet to hear any of the smaller faction offer up an apology for shutting down our government, unnecessarily burdening the people, and not working as hard as advocates to provide for the American people as they have been in stroking their defiant egos and stoking their agendas.

votingPeople, it is time to trim the fat weighing our government down. You have to vote, and you have to vote responsibly. Defiance only ostracizes and leads to the unfair treatment of people.  While some of these Tea Party members and people who identify with the politics of the Tea Party feel that they should have all of the entitlements, there can never be a time in which perceived minority groups take a perimeter approach to the operations of this country.

Let’s vote people.

12 Years…How to Showcase Slavery

“If you don’t see 12 years a slave, then you don’t deserve eyes. Incredible.” Chris Rock (@chrisrock)12 Years

If you express any iota of despair about there being a non-comedic, true story (12 Years is directed by a Black man and the script is written by another Black man, from a primary source—a real life survivor) about the institution of slavery occupying the main stage in Hollywood, perhaps YOU don’t deserve the freedoms you enjoy.

Recently, 12 Years A Slave has set the pages and computer screens of writers ablaze; every person with an opinion about Steve McQueen’s latest effort has either applauded him or vilified him by saying he “lacks the passion to connect his affections to the spirit 12 years steve mcqueenof the human struggle (Slant Magazine).”  Even magazines considered reputable, like Time Magazine, have taken it upon themselves to permit their writers to “fact-check” how close 12 Years remained true to Solomon Northup’s account of his life, but in the most nuanced ways. I want to take Eliana Dockterman’s “fact-check” to task. In her commentary, she used ratings like, “Fact”, “Mostly Fact” and “Fiction” to make distinctions about the authenticity of the truest account of slavery Hollywood has seen to date. Here are some “Absolute Facts” that Ms. Dockterman should consider, too.

Absolute Fact: Slavery was an internationally, constitutionally-sanctioned, chattel institution that operated all over the globe and Black people like me will NOT “get over it” anytime soon.

Absolute Fact: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the ship ride over did not provide cruise ship luxuries for the countless men, women and children that were chained, often times on wooden planks that splintered their backs as the boat swayed, in the bottoms of these sailing, commissioned coffins filled with live people. So what if in the movie a contentious enslaved man was knifed to death as opposed to meeting his death perhaps from the disease-infested ships enslaved Blacks had to endure or the mental illness that12 years slave ship developed from the brutal conditions that caused them to jump overboard in suicide. The method of death wasn’t the point of the scene.  The experienced horrors, subjugation, and attempts to be one another’s “keepers” on the ship was.

Absolute Fact: Slavery was brutal—mentally, physically, emotionally, and politically. Eliana, you are right! To hold someone against their will, to reduce human life to that of “property”, to attribute the European concept of chattel slavery to heredity, to become obscenely wealthy from the hard work and abuse of others, to not acknowledge how abjectly wrong slavery was, WITHOUT any justification, is BRUTAL. Accept it. This movie had to show the brutality for everybody living in denial about slavery. Be thankful Steve McQueen was modest in his use of slavery’s brutality.

Absolute Fact: White women on plantations were referred to as “Mistresses”. How ironic is it that in post slavery days, the “other woman” is the mistress?  Slave owners took preference in raping, being with and even marrying beautiful, desirable enslaved women to the chagrin 12 Years mary and patseyof their wives and other White women. This anger most certainly led to the resentment and abuse the “Mistresses” inflicted on these enslaved women.  When Mistress Mary (Sarah Paulson) threw an object into the face of Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) in the movie, Ms. Dockterman labeled this scene in the movie “Fiction” because Solomon Northup did not write about it per se. He didn’t have to. Other formerly enslaved women spoke and wrote about their experiences from like circumstances in other narratives. Most compelling, we know it happened because very few women are comfortable “sharing” their husbands with the “other woman”. Imagine sharing your husband with a person you never recognized as human?  It would not happen without dire consequences.

For the record, Lupita Nyong’o makes us feel slavery and empathize for the first time and in a way that has seldom been captured. This is why 12 Years… is a must see!

Non-fiction movies about slavery should be made and told every single time an opportunity presents itself.  I have read, to my dismay, bloggers expressing their sentiment about not wanting to see any more movies about “slaves and servants” and stating that “Black audiences need more than slave narratives (Demetria Lucas on www.thegrio.com).”  Taking Ms. Lucas to task, I would ask, when and how will we ever learn to be the resilient people our ancestors were if we never listen to and share their words—lessons—on how to navigate the world of brutal injustices we have inherited by virtue of survival?   The reality of the Black experience in America is expressed wonderfully by none other than one of America’s greatest servants, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said:

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Yes. We served. We were enslaved. Those facts have been a part of our journey that we must dignify not mock, understand not denounce, and celebrate not cower to in shame.   Even if Black people never experienced chattel slavery in America, prior to our acquaintance with America, history has recounted and recorded our greatness. We have not become great because we served or were enslaved, we have been able to serve and endure slavery because our souls have been generated by love and the likeness of the Creator. We are great! 

The real culprit to the sentiment of being tired of “slavery and servant” films is the fictionalized romanticism and White-person-heroism that always seems to infiltrate most slavery and servant movies—the depiction of the perceptions of happy endings to centuries of brutalization and dehumanization.  From viewing audiences, there has been an allowance for any and everybody to have license in discussing the suffering of Blacks in America without authenticating or even relying on the use of the voices that lived the suffering—the narratives.  In the name of art, the story of slavery has been codified as an aside that happened in this country that we must now learn to laugh about because at least Black people have arrived; after all, the 21st Century boasts the largest Middle Class America has ever seen for Black America.

Absolute Fact: Slavery nearly crippled this country economically and politically through the Civil War. Over 700,000 lives were lost! Socially, America is still paralyzed from the systemic effects of slavery—an institution designed to empower one group and subjugate another—in reality America is still fighting a Civil War.  The recent government shut down? The discontent and constant feuding between political 12 years Roger Ebertparties? Denying people we don’t feel deserve to eat access to the government’s food stamp program, SNAP? 

In my opinion, one of the kindest, humanizing offerings of dignity paid to the suffering of a mass group of people came from the media by the late movie critic Roger Ebert’s website (www.rogerebert.com) about Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.  On June 24th, 2001, he wrote:

“The Holocaust is a subject too vast and tragic to be encompassed in any reasonable way by fiction.”

He also goes on to refer to the Holocaust as “the saddest story of the century.”

Roger Ebert wrote:

“The terror of the Holocaust comes not because a monster like Goeth could murder, but because thousands of people snatched from their everyday lives became…Hitler’s willing executioners.”

Replace “the Holocaust” with slavery (which was a holocaust as well), replace Goeth (a Nazi soldier) with slavers, and substitute Hitler with international executioners for capital gain, and we begin to understand the far-reaching hands and impacts of slavery on everybody that lived during and after the confines of slavery.

Please go to see this movie and celebrate the painstaking work of Steve McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley in finally telling the story.John Ridley There is no comic relief to break up the pain and suffering of slavery’s horror. There is no happy ending even though Solomon Northup is able to return to his family.  There is no great white hope to save the day.  Although Northup’s letter is delivered by Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt’s character), Northup is not saved from the stain slavery will have on his life for the remainder of it which is possibly the reason he disappeared into obscurity.  Go see this movie because it is the best way to convey to Hollywood that although people like the fantasies, what will heal America is reality that can only be reached by telling true, honest, stories of the past…even when they are brutal.

“If you don’t see 12 years a slave, then you don’t deserve eyes. Incredible.” Chris Rock

Political Lingo: Repealed!

Obamacare, really known as the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 and constitutionally upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012. The Republicans have made numerous attempts to repeal (to remove or reverse a law) this legislation to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. These are the same elected officials that claim our government is squandering money and whining about making our government smaller. They claim to be fiscally conservative, but only when it comes to fighting for special interests.

The important things you need to know about Obamacare are explained to you in a video created by, of course, The White House!

Lastly, did you know that the Eighteenth (18) Amendment was ratified in 1919 and repealed in 1933 by the Twenty First (21) Amendment?

prohibitionAlcohol became a horrible evil in America during the Progressive Era, a period of social activism and political reform. Women claimed their lives and families were being destroyed due to the drunkenness that caused their husbands to be physically abusive and financially irresponsible. Organizations like the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement were major leaders in lobbying for a Prohibition Law.  John D. Rockefeller pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars to support Prohibition as well.

In 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment was passed to ban the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcoholic beverages in the United States and it territories. It did NOT, however, prohibit the purchase or consumption of alcohol.  Since businesses couldn’t sell it, people started making it.  All hail to the bootleggers and moonshine lived to shine even brighter during this time!

By 1933, industries had enough of the [pseudo]sober life, wanted to get in on some of the booze profits, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the sale of beer and wine because of their low alcohol content.  States convened and the Twenty First Amendment was ratified.

I’m sure the alcohol and beverage industries were raising their glasses to drink to that!

Political Lingo: The Filibuster…UPDATED!

It seems lately, every person has something to say about the state of our government. We have not been happy about the shut down, the Affordable Healthcare website has had obvious computer glitches, and tongues are wagging that perhaps Obamacare’s implementation needs to be delayed. Either way, we’ve all voiced our feelings in support of or against Obamcare, we just haven’t spoken about them for a continuous 21 hours!

Say what? On September 24th, 2013 Texas Republican Senator, Ted Cruz, spoke out against Obamacare for a whopping 21 hours! He used his speaking time to obstruct the legislative process and share all of his concerns, dislikes and to deliver a rallying cry to defund and repeal Obamacare. This was a filibuster. Although the Senate may not have been voting on anything at the moment, his actions were those characteristic of a filibuster.

Filibustering is a process deliberately used to sabotage the proceedings of Congress and it derived from a Dutch term meaning “pirate.”

In government, they are used to block votes and to ultimately persuade congressional colleagues’ views on issues. On the flip side, they help to bring attention to the issue of debate. Since 1842, this unlimited debate has been used in our government.

The next time our Congressional members have something to say about particular legislation, let’s just hope they can just get to the point.

UPDATE: Today, November 21, 2013, a major development in our Congress happened in regards to the filibuster! According to www. whitehouse.gov, there is a new filibuster change that has gone into effect that says every person that is nominated to a judicial position, with the exception of the Supreme Court Justices, “can be CONFIRMED with a simple up-or-down vote rather than the 60-vote supermajority that had been required for more than 200 years (www.whitehouse.gov).”  Instead of all of the blocks that President has experienced for all of his nominations due to the old filibuster rule, it looks like more of his selections will finally beging to walk through the doors of government rather than being whisked away by the Congressional sink hole which was the old use of the filibuster.

Finally, did you know there has been 86 filibusters of all of our other presidents combined and for President Obama, a 2-term president that has only served approximately 5 of his years, there have been 82 filibusters!!??  We know his choices have not been blocked due to scandal or qualifications…in the words of President Obama to Congress today, “Enough is enough.”  I agree!

Head on over to www.whitehouse.gov to read more about the importance of this filibuster-rule change.