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The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song: Gates Jr., Henry  Louis: 9781984880338: Amazon.com: BooksEl pasado 2 de junio el gran historiador afroamericano Henry Louis Gates Jr. conversó sobre su más reciente libro  con Jim Basker, presidente del Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Titulado The Black Church: This is our This is Our Song, el libro de Gates explora los 400 años de historia de la iglesia negra en Estados Unidos, y el papel que ésta ha jugado en la historia de la comunidad afroamericana. Este libro acompaña a una serie de televisón del mismo título.

El Dr. Gates es profesor en la Universidad Alphonse Fletcher y director del Hutchins Center for African and African American Research en Harvard Univeristy. Con una carrera de más de cuarenta años, Gates es uno de los estudiosos de la historia y la literatura afroamericana  más destacados y mediáticos. Entre sus libros destacan In Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars (1992), Speaking of Race, Speaking of Sex: Hate Speech, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties (1994), Colored People: A Memoir (1994), The Future of the Race (1996), Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man (1997), The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers (2003), America Behind the Color Line: Dialogues with African Americans (2004), In Search of Our Roots (2009) y Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (2019).

Gates también ha participado en varios documentales de televisión  emitidos por el Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Fue presentador de las series African American Lives (2006-08), Faces of America (2010) y Finding Your Roots (2012-). Otros de sus trabajos teleivisivos incluyen  la miniserie documental Wonders of the African World (1999), Black in Latin America (2011), The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013) y Reconstruction: America After the Civil War (2019).

Quienes estén interesados en esta conversación pueden ir aquí.

A Conversation with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. - June 2nd, 2021 on Vimeo

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El pasado 31 de mayo conmemoramos 100 años de la masacre de Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Ese día una turba de supremacistas blancos atacaron a la vigorosa y existosa comunidad afromericana de dicha ciudad, matando a por lo menos 300 personas. Durante unas 18 horas los blancos mataron, quemaron y saquearon. Ese día fue destruida toda una sección de la ciudad, 35 cuadras donde ubicaban residencias, teatros, consultorios médicos, escuelas, hospitales, salas de cine, floristerías, etc. Toda una comunidad fue destruida.

El centenario de este acto de terrorismo racial generó toda una serie de actividades y publicaciones de todo tipo. Curiosamente, uno de los escritos conmemorativos que más me impresionó no fue producto del trabajo de un historiador, sino de un actor de cine. En este artículo de Tom Hanks publicado en el New York Times, se subraya la necesidad de sociedad estadounidense de un conocimiento más crítico de su historia y, en especial, de la violencia racial que la ha caracterizado.


Deben saber la verdad sobre la masacre racial de Tulsa

Tom Hanks

New York Times   7 de junio de 2021

Me considero un historiador aficionado que habla demasiado en las cenas con amistades, en las que inicio conversaciones con preguntas como: “¿Sabías que el canal de Erie es la razón por la que Manhattan se convirtió en el centro económico de Estados Unidos?”. Algunos de los proyectos en los que trabajo son obras de entretenimiento basadas en hechos históricos. ¿Sabían que el segundo presidente estadounidense alguna vez defendió en un tribunal a los soldados británicos que les dispararon a muerte a los bostonianos coloniales y que logró que la mayoría quedara libre de castigo?

Según recuerdo, cuatro años de mi educación incluyeron estudios de historia estadounidense. Los grados quinto y octavo, dos semestres en el bachillerato, tres cuartas partes del programa que cursé en una universidad comunitaria. Desde entonces, he leído textos de historia por placer y he visto documentales como primera opción. Muchas de esas obras y esos libros académicos narraban las vivencias de gente blanca y la historia blanca. Las pocas figuras negras —Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, el reverendo Martin Luther King Jr.— eran aquellas que habían logrado mucho a pesar de la esclavitud, la segregación y las injusticias institucionales en la sociedad estadounidense.

Sin embargo, pese a todo lo que he estudiado, jamás leí una sola página en ningún libro escolar de historia sobre cómo, en 1921, una muchedumbre de personas blancas incendió un lugar conocido como el Black Wall Street, asesinó a 300 de sus ciudadanos negros y desplazó a miles de afroestadounidenses que vivían en Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Lo mismo le ha ocurrido a mucha gente: en su mayoría, la historia la escribían personas blancas que se basaban en personas blancas, como yo, mientras que la historia de las personas de color —incluidos los horrendos disturbios de Tulsa— se excluía muy a menudo. Hasta hace relativamente poco tiempo, la industria del entretenimiento, que ayuda a determinar qué forma parte de la historia y qué queda en el olvido, hacía lo mismo. Eso incluye proyectos en los que yo participé. Yo sabía sobre el ataque al Fuerte Sumter, la batalla de Little Bighorn y el ataque a Pearl Harbor, pero no supe nada sobre la masacre de Tulsa sino hasta el año pasado, gracias a un artículo de The New York Times.

Tulsa 1921, la masacre racista de la que nos enteramos por Watchmen —  Agente Provocador

En vez de enterarme de eso, en mis clases de historia aprendí que la Ley del Sello en el Reino Unido contribuyó al motín del té, que “nosotros” éramos un pueblo libre porque la Declaración de Independencia decía que “todos los hombres son creados iguales”. Que la rebelión del whiskey comenzó por un impuesto al whiskey. Que los Artículos de la Confederación y las Leyes de Extranjería y Sedición fueron esfuerzos absurdos. Con justa razón, mis clases dedicaron tiempo a Sacco y Vanzetti, al Partido Progresista de Teddy Roosevelt y a los hermanos Wright. Nuestros libros de texto contaban la historia de la compra de Luisiana, de la inundación de Johnstown, Pensilvania, del gran terremoto de San Francisco y de George Washington Carver y los cientos de productos que desarrolló a partir del cacahuate.

Pero Tulsa jamás figuró más que como una ciudad en la pradera. En uno de esos años escolares, se le dedicaron unos párrafos a la primera marcha para colonizar las tierras no asignadas, conocida como Oklahoma Land Rush, pero la quema en 1921 de la población negra que vivía ahí nunca se mencionó. Desde entonces, me he percatado de que tampoco hubo mención de la violencia, tanto a pequeña como a gran escala, contra las comunidades negras, sobre todo entre el final de la Reconstrucción y las victorias del movimiento por los derechos civiles; no se contaba nada de la matanza de residentes negros en Slocum, Texas, a manos de una turba de personas blancas en 1910 ni del Verano Rojo de terrorismo supremacista blanco en 1919. A muchos estudiantes como yo se nos decía que el linchamiento de estadounidenses negros era una tragedia, pero no que estos asesinatos públicos eran comunes y que a menudo eran elogiados por los periódicos y las fuerzas de seguridad locales.

Red Summer of 1919 Flashcards | Quizlet

Para un niño blanco que vivió en vecindarios blancos de Oakland, California, mi ciudad en los años sesenta y setenta parecía un lugar diverso e integrado, aunque a veces se sentía tenso y polarizado, algo que quedaba claro en muchos autobuses del transporte público. La división entre el Estados Unidos blanco y el negro se veía tan sólida como cualquier frontera internacional, incluso en una de las ciudades más integradas de la nación. Las escuelas Bret Harte Junior High y Skyline High School tenían estudiantes asiáticos, latinos y negros, pero la mayoría del alumnado de esos institutos era blanco. Ese no parecía ser el caso en otros bachilleratos públicos de la ciudad.

Nos dieron clases sobre la Proclamación de Emancipación, el Ku Klux Klan, el audaz heroísmo y los buenos modales de Rosa Parks, e incluso sobre la muerte de Crispus Attucks en la masacre de Boston. Partes de ciudades estadounidenses habían ardido en llamas en distintos momentos desde los disturbios de Watts en 1965, y Oakland era la sede del Partido Pantera Negra y del centro de inducción de reclutas de la era de la guerra de Vietnam, así que la historia se desarrollaba justo frente a nuestros ojos, en nuestra propia ciudad. Los problemas eran innumerables, las soluciones teóricas, las lecciones escasas y los titulares incesantes.

La verdad sobre Tulsa y la reiterada violencia de algunos estadounidenses blancos contra estadounidenses negros se ignoraba de manera sistemática, tal vez porque se consideraba una lección demasiado honesta y dolorosa para nuestros jóvenes oídos blancos. Por lo tanto, las escuelas predominantemente blancas no la incluían en sus temarios, las obras de ficción histórica dirigidas a las masas no la revelaban y la industria en la que elegí trabajar no abordó esos temas en películas ni en series sino hasta hace poco. Al parecer, los profesores y los directivos escolares blancos omitían el tema incendiario por el bien del statu quo —si acaso sabían sobre la masacre de Tulsa, porque algunos seguramente no estaban enterados de ella—, con lo que pusieron los sentimientos blancos por encima de la experiencia negra y, en este caso, literalmente por encima de las vidas negras.

KGOU Readers Club - Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre | KGOU

¿Cómo habría cambiado nuestra perspectiva si a todos nos hubieran hablado de lo ocurrido en Tulsa en 1921 desde el quinto grado? Hoy en día, esta omisión me parece trágica, una oportunidad desperdiciada, un momento valioso de enseñanza malgastado. Cuando las personas escuchan sobre el racismo sistémico en Estados Unidos, el mero uso de esas palabras suscita la ira de aquellas personas blancas que insisten en que desde el 4 de julio de 1776 todos hemos sido libres, que todos fuimos creados de la misma manera, que cualquier estadounidense puede volverse presidente y tomar un taxi en el centro de Manhattan sin importar el color de su piel, que, en efecto, el progreso estadounidense hacia la justicia para todos quizá sea lento pero es persistente. Díganles eso a los sobrevivientes de Tulsa, que ahora tienen 100 años de edad, y a su descendencia. Y cuenten la verdad a los descendientes blancos de aquellos que estuvieron en la multitud que destruyó Black Wall Street.

Actualmente, pienso que las obras de ficción basadas en hechos históricos con fines de entretenimiento deben retratar el yugo del racismo en nuestra nación por el bien de las pretensiones de verosimilitud y autenticidad de esta forma de arte. Hasta hace poco, la masacre racial de Tulsa no se veía en películas ni programas de televisión. Gracias a varios proyectos que ahora están en plataformas de emisión en continuo, como Watchmen y Lovecraft Country, este ya no es el caso. Tal como otros documentos históricos que mapean nuestro ADN cultural, estas obras reflejarán quiénes somos realmente y ayudarán a determinar cuál es nuestra historia completa y qué es lo que debemos recordar.

Hollywood Is Finally Shining a Light on the Tulsa Race Massacre -- Right  When We Need It Most | Entertainment Tonight

¿Acaso nuestras escuelas deben enseñar lo que de verdad pasó en Tulsa? Sí, y también deben frenar la lucha para diseñar los planes de estudio de manera que se omitan injusticias raciales históricas con el argumento de evitar la incomodidad de los estudiantes. La historia de Estados Unidos es complicada, pero el conocimiento nos hace personas más sabias y fuertes. Lo sucedido en 1921 es una verdad, un portal hacia nuestra paradójica historia compartida. No se permitió la existencia de un Wall Street afroestadounidense; se redujo a cenizas. Más de 20 años después, ganamos la Segunda Guerra Mundial a pesar de la segregación racial institucionalizada. Más de 20 años después de eso, las misiones del programa Apolo pusieron a 12 hombres en la Luna mientras que otros luchaban para poder votar, y la publicación de los papeles del Pentágono demostró hasta qué grado están dispuestos a mentirnos sistemáticamente nuestros funcionarios electos. Cada una de estas lecciones es una crónica de nuestra búsqueda de estar a la altura de la promesa de nuestra tierra, de nuestro intento de contar verdades que, en Estados Unidos, deben considerarse más que evidentes.

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En términos generales, la segunda guerra mundial debilitó las barreras que limitaban a los grupos minoritarios y a las mujeres en los Estados Unidos. La demanda de soldados y trabajadores,   unida a la movilidad que provocó la guerra, posibilitaron un relajamiento de las limitaciones raciales y de género. Sin embargo, esto no significó el fin del racismo ni del machismo. De ahí que una vez finalizada la guerra se fortalecieran algunas de las barreras debilitadas por ésta. Es necesario concluir que, para las mujeres y las minorías étnicas, la guerra fue un periodo de considerable progreso no sólo económico, sino también social. Sólo para los japoneses-americanos la guerra fue un periodo trágico.

La demanda de mano de obra provocó un aumento en la emigración de afro-americanos de las áreas sureñas a las ciudades industriales.  Este proceso mejoró las condiciones de vida de miles de afro-americanos, pero también generó tensiones raciales, en ocasiones violentas. Por ejemplo, en 1943 se registraron motines raciales en Detroit que costaron la vida de 35 personas, 24 de ellas negras. Las organizaciones afro-americanas redoblaron sus esfuerzos en sus lucha contra la segregación racial. La segregación en las  fuerzas armadas fue tema muy delicado. A los afro-americanos se les cerró el acceso a la fuerza aérea y la marina de guerra, y se les asignó a unidades exclusivamente de negros. Para finales de la guerra, algunos campos de entrenamiento habían sido integrados  parcialmente y a los afro-americanos se les permitía servir en barcos de guerra junto a marinos blancos. Estos cambios no fueron fáciles, pero sí significativos.

Comparto un artículo de Carlos Hernández-Echevarría analizando las experiencias de los afroestadounidenses, peleando por la “libertad” y la “democracia” en un ejército segregado.


Miembros del escuadrón Tuskegee en Ramitelli, Italia, marzo de 1945.
 Dominio público

Segregados: soldados afroamericanos en la II Guerra Mundial

CARLOS HERNÁNDEZ-ECHEVARRÍA

La Vanguardia   6 de agosto de 2020

En la célebre imagen de los seis soldados estadounidenses plantando su bandera en Iwo Jima no hay ningún negro. Tampoco entre las famosas once fotos que tomó Robert Capa durante la primera oleada del desembarco de Normandía. Y no es que no hubiera ningún afroamericano en la lucha: más de un millón sirvieron en el ejército de EE.UU. durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial, pero lo hicieron en un ejército en el que la segregación por razas era tan estricta como en el sur del país.

A la inmensa mayoría de los negros se les destinó a labores esenciales, pero menores: enterraban cadáveres, conducían camiones, reparaban tanques, cocinaban, limpiaban… y los pocos que sí tuvieron la oportunidad de entrar en combate, lo hicieron en unidades donde solo había negros. Del puñado de afroamericanos que alcanzó el grado de oficial, a ninguno se le permitió mandar sobre un blanco, aunque fuera un simple recluta.

Soldados negros almacenando munición en una isla de las Vanuatu, en el Pacífico sur, c. 1941-45.

Soldados negros almacenando munición en una isla de las Vanuatu, en el Pacífico sur, c. 1941-45.
 Dominio público

EE.UU. luchó una guerra contra los peores regímenes racistas con unas fuerzas armadas en las que el racismo era rampante, y, cuando vencieron, los victoriosos soldados negros que habían devuelto a medio mundo la libertad, regresaron a un país donde seguían siendo ciudadanos de segunda. Y fueron ellos, los veteranos negros de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, los que en buena parte levantaron el movimiento por los derechos civiles que puso fin a la segregación un par de décadas más tarde.

Un ejército blanco antes de Pearl Harbor

Empezando por la misma guerra de Independencia, los afroamericanos han luchado en todas las contiendas en las que ha participado EE.UU. Sin embargo, cuando estalló el conflicto en Europa en 1939, las fuerzas armadas del país eran casi enteramente blancas: apenas el 1% de los militares, unos 4.000, eran negros y solamente 12 habían alcanzado el rango de oficial. El Ejército solo los aceptaba en cuatro de sus unidades, la Armada solo les permitía trabajar en las cocinas y los Marines no tenían un solo soldado negro.

Todo esto empezó a cambiar, como casi siempre, por una mezcla de presión y necesidad. Un año antes del ataque japonés en Pearl Harbor, el gobierno de EE.UU. empezó a organizar un sistema nacional de reclutamiento ante el temor a una guerra. Aunque su propio ministro de Defensa había dicho que “el alistamiento de negros desmoralizará a las unidades y debilitará su efectividad mezclando a blancos y negros”, la presión de las organizaciones a favor de los derechos civiles obligó al presidente Roosevelt a llegar a una solución de compromiso.

A principios de 1940 decidió eliminar los límites al número de militares negros y, ante la amenaza de una manifestación masiva en Washington, prohibió por decreto la discriminación racial en la industria de defensa. Sin embargo, las desigualdades más profundas persistían: la segregación se mantenía intacta, con negros y blancos sirviendo en unidades separadas, y los oficiales afroamericanos no podían mandar salvo a otros negros. Cuando se anunció la medida, se especificó que los cambios no pretendían en ningún caso “que se entremezclen reclutas negros y blancos en los mismos regimientos”.

Un policía militar en moto ante la entrada para negros de este cuerpo en Columbus, EE.UU., 1942.

Un policía militar en moto ante la entrada para negros de este cuerpo en Columbus, EE.UU., 1942.
 Dominio público

Como ha sucedido siempre en la historia de la segregación racial, “separados” es en realidad un eufemismo para decir “discriminados”. La gran mayoría de los centros militares de entrenamiento estaban en el Sur, donde se exigía a los reclutas que cumplieran las leyes segregacionistas, pero la discriminación estaba también muy presente en el interior de las propias bases.

Por poner un ejemplo, el sargento afroamericano Henry Jones denunciaba en 1943 que, de las mil butacas del teatro de su base, se permitía a los negros ocupar 20 en la última fila. Tampoco podían usar otros espacios segregados y apenas podían sentarse en un puñado de asientos en el autobús, lo que les obligaba a ir caminando a todos sitios.

Ese racismo tan asentado tenía consecuencias mucho más allá del entrenamiento. Un estudio de la Escuela de Guerra del Ejército de EE. UU. había declarado en 1925 que los soldados afroamericanos eran “descuidados, inestables, irresponsables” y también “inmorales y mentirosos”. Con ese pretexto, se les destinaba en la inmensa mayoría de los casos no a unidades de combate, sino a tareas manuales. El mismo informe defendía que los negros “se consideran de forma natural inferiores”, y, por tanto, ni siquiera los que alcanzaran el rango de oficial podrían mandar a blancos.

Los héroes negros de la Segunda Guerra Mundial

La realidad se iba a encargar de desmentir todas esas falsedades. Incluso esa gran mayoría que servía en unidades de mucho trabajo y poco prestigio demostró su valía. Los conductores negros de los camiones que formaban el llamado “Expreso de la bola roja” fueron fundamentales para mantener en lucha a los tanques del general Patton a través de Europa. Durante más de ochenta días y en viajes de ida y vuelta de más de cincuenta horas, cruzaron Francia una y otra vez, conduciendo sin faros durante la noche para no dar pistas a los aviones nazis y sorteando las minas como podían.

Los pocos que sí pudieron servir en unidades de combate 100% negras también mostraron lo equivocados que estaban los expertos de la Escuela de Guerra. Los aviadores de Tuskegee, el primer “experimento” militar en que los militares permitieron la formación de pilotos negros, volaron en más de 15.000 misiones escoltando bombarderos y su pericia les valió más de 150 condecoraciones.

Lo mismo se puede decir del Batallón de Tanques 161, que liberó más de treinta ciudades europeas, o del Batallón de Globos Antiaéreos 320, que no salió en las fotos de Robert Capa, pero que sí desembarcó en Normandía y salvó muchas vidas protegiendo de los aviones nazis a las unidades blancas.

Instantánea del escuadrón Tuskegee después de la II Guerra Mundial.

Instantánea del escuadrón Tuskegee después de la II Guerra Mundial.
 Denisevosburgh1 / CC BY-SA 4.0

A pesar de la férrea segregación que vivieron las Fuerzas Armadas de EE.UU. durante toda la guerra, el alto mando no tuvo más remedio que hacer una pequeña excepción durante unas semanas en 1944. Era un helador 16 de diciembre cuando las tropas nazis aparecieron donde no se las esperaba, en el bosque de las Ardenas, y solo en los primeros 17 días de batalla provocaron más de 40.000 bajas estadounidenses. Ante esa situación de extrema necesidad, Eisenhower y los otros generales decidieron que negros y blancos podían luchar mano a mano.

La “desmoralización” que pronosticaba el ministro de Defensa cuatro años antes no se dio, más bien lo contrario. Los refuerzos afroamericanos fueron fundamentales para alcanzar la victoria, y cuando el alto mando solicitó voluntarios negros para aceptar misiones en combate, más de 4.500 se ofrecieron.

Aunque la famosa serie Hermanos de sangre se centra en la gesta de la 101 Aerotransportada en las Ardenas, fue el general en jefe de esa división el que recomendó que se condecorara al batallón negro 969, que se convirtió en la primera unidad afroamericana de combate en recibir una distinción.

La posguerra y el amargo regreso

Tras la victoria, muchas unidades negras participaron en la ocupación de Alemania. Era toda una ironía que esos soldados tuvieran que ayudar a eliminar los restos del nazismo cuando ellos mismos eran víctimas del racismo institucional tanto fuera como dentro del Ejército. Las autoridades militares estadounidenses las situaron lejos de las grandes ciudades y, según algunos autores, desconfiaban de situarlos en posiciones de poder frente a alemanes, que a fin de cuentas eran blancos.

Esos soldados, sin embargo, estaban objetivamente a gusto en Alemania, o tal vez más a gusto que de vuelta en EE.UU. Un año después de la victoria ante los nazis, los militares negros elegían reengancharse y seguir en el Ejército el triple que los blancos, y el 85% de los reclutas negros solicitaba servir en Europa, la mayoría en Alemania. Los testimonios de muchos de ellos hablan de su buena relación con la población local y del enfado de sus compañeros blancos ante ello.

Soldados blancos y negros asisten a una actuación del músico Lionel Hampton en Francfort, Alemania, 1946.

Soldados blancos y negros asisten a una actuación del músico Lionel Hampton en Francfort, Alemania, 1946.
 Bettmann / Getty Images

La realidad es que cuando regresaron, algunos convertidos en auténticos héroes de guerra, se encontraron la misma situación de discriminación que tenían antes de marchar. Muchos de ellos sufrieron palizas y humillaciones incluso llevando el uniforme. La “doble victoria” que propugnaban las organizaciones de derechos civiles, vencer al fascismo en el extranjero y al racismo en EE.UU., solo se había logrado a medias. Los elevados ideales que había prometido Roosevelt para el mundo no se habían hecho realidad en su propia casa.

Fue el presidente Truman quien decidió en 1948 desegregar las Fuerzas Armadas estadounidenses, iniciando un proceso que tardaría varios años en completarse. Sin embargo, para muchos de los soldados negros que habían contribuido decisivamente a la victoria en la Segunda Guerra Mundial, el mundo no podía seguir igual. Muchos abandonaron el Sur gracias las ayudas educativas para veteranos de guerra o con los oficios que había aprendido durante su servicio militar. Otros dieron un impulso decisivo al movimiento por los derechos civiles que acabó con la segregación en los años sesenta. Después de lo vivido, no podían seguir siendo ciudadanos de segunda.

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The Atlantic es una de las revistas más antiguas en Estados Unidos, pues se viene publicando desde 1857. A lo largo de los últimos 165 años, The Atlantic le ha dedicado sus páginas a temas que podríamos considerar liberales como la abolición de la esclavitud y la lucha por los derechos civiles, así como también a temas literarios. En sus páginas han han publicado escritores como James Russell Lowell, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Julia Ward Howe y Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Siguiendo su tradición de enfocar criticamente a la sociedad estadounidense, The Atlantic acaba de lanzar un proyecto “sobre la historia estadounidense, la vida de los afroamericanos y la resiliencia de la memoria”  llamado Inheritance. Su obejtivo es rescatar el conocimiento, las historias y los personajes olvidados del pasado estadounidense y, en especial, de los afroestadounidenses. Sus creadores quieren enfatizar en el papel que la capacidad de sobrevivir de los afroamericanos ha jugado en en la historia estadounidense.

Este proyecto consiste de una serie de artículos muy bien diagramados e ilustrados, escritos por periodistas y colaboradores del Atlantic. Quienes estén interesados pueden ir a aquí.

Captura de Pantalla 2021-05-13 a la(s) 23.06.05

 

 

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En Estados Unidos se dedica el mes de febrero a conmemorar y celebrar la historia de los afroamericanos, tema que no es ajeno a esta bitacora. ¿Qué mejor manera de comenzar este mes que con un artículo que busca rescatar la profundidad de uno de los íconos del movimiento de los derechos civiles? En este escrito que comparto con mis lectores, la politóloga estadounidense Jeanne Theoharis nos recuerda que la labor y el legado de  Rosa Parks no se limitan a su desafío a la segregación racial de la transportación pública en la Alabama de los años 1950. La figura de Parks es mucho más grande que eso. Según la Dra. Theoharis, la Sra. Parks dedicó muchos años de su vida a luchar contra el racismo en  los estados del norte. También resalta sus simpatías con los Black Panthers y su admiración por Malcolm X. 

En otras palabras, Rosa Parks -como tambien el Dr. King- es un personaje mucho más complejo  del que los medios, los libros textos y los políticos usualmente proyectan en un esfuerzo de apropiación que busca diluir su mensaje y su ejemplo, y hacerlos así aceptables.


A  booking photo of Rosa Parks taken on Feb. 22, 1956, at the county sheriff’s office in Montgomery, Ala.

Credit…Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, via Associated Press

The Real Rosa Parks Story Is Better Than the Fairy Tale

The New York Times   February 1, 2021 

 

Mug shot No. 7053 is one of the most iconic images of Rosa Parks. But the photo, often seen in museums and textbooks and on T-shirts and websites, isn’t what it seems. Though it’s regularly misattributed as such, it is not the mug shot taken at the time of Mrs. Parks’s arrest in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1955, after she famously refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. It was, in fact, taken when she was arrested in February 1956 after she and 88 other “boycott leaders” were indicted by the city in an attempt to end the boycott. The confusion around the image reveals Americans’ overconfidence in what we think we know about Mrs. Parks and about the civil rights movement.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks dominate the Civil Rights Movement chapters of elementary and high school textbooks and Black History Month celebrations. And yet much of what people learn about Mrs. Parks is narrow, distorted, or just plain wrong. In our collective understanding, she’s trapped in a single moment on a long-ago Montgomery bus, too often cast as meek, tired, quiet and middle class. The boycott is seen as a natural outgrowth of her bus stand. It’s inevitable, respectable and not disruptive.

But that’s not who she was, and it’s not how change actually works. “Over the years, I have been rebelling against second-class citizenship. It didn’t begin when I was arrested,” Mrs. Parks reminded interviewers time and again.

Rosa Parks papers give insight into the civil rights icon

Born Feb. 4, 1913, she had been an activist for two decades before her bus stand — beginning with her work alongside Raymond Parks in 1931, whom she married the following year, to organize in defense of the “Scottsboro Boys” (nine Black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women). Indeed, one of the issues that animated her six decades of activism was the injustice of the criminal justice system — wrongful accusations against Black men, disregard for Black women who had been sexually assaulted, and police brutality. With a small group of other activists, including E.D. Nixon, who would become branch president, she spent the decade before her well-known bus stand working to transform the Montgomery NAACP into a more activist chapter that focused on voter registration, criminal justice and desegregation. This was dangerous, tiring work and Mrs. Parks said it was “very difficult to keep going when all our work seemed to be in vain.” But she persevered.

Dispirited by the lack of change and what she called the “complacency” of many peers, she reformed the NAACP Youth Council in 1954 and urged her young charges to take greater stands against segregation. When 15-year-old Claudette Colvin was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus in March 1955, many Black Montgomerians were outraged by Mrs. Colvin’s arrest, but some came to decide that the teenager was too feisty and emotional, and not the right test case. Mrs. Parks encouraged the young woman’s membership in the Youth Council and was the only adult leader, according to Ms. Colvin, to stay in touch with her the summer after her arrest. Mrs. Parks put her hope in the spirit and militancy of young people.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (Young Readers Edition) by Jeanne  Theoharis: 9780807067574 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: BooksThat evening on the bus, Mrs. Parks challenged the police officers arresting her: “Why do you push us around?” There are no photos from the arrest — no sense this would be a history-changing moment. But networks that had been built over years sprang into action late that night when Mrs. Parks decided to pursue her legal case and called Fred Gray, a young lawyer and fellow NAACP member, to represent her. Mr. Gray called the head of the Women’s Political Council, Jo Ann Robinson, who decided to call for a one-day boycott on Monday, the day Mrs. Parks would be arraigned in court.

Braving danger, Ms. Robinson left her home in the middle of the night to run off 50,000 leaflets with the help of a colleague and two trusted students. In the early-morning hours, the women of the W.P.C. fanned out across the city, leaving the leaflets in churches, barbershops and schools. Mr. Nixon began calling the more political ministers to get them on board. Buoyed by the boycott’s success that first day, the community decided to continue. The boycott succeeded in part because the Black community organized a massive car pool system, setting up some 40 pickup stations across town, serving about 30,000 riders a day, and in part because of a federal legal case challenging Montgomery’s bus segregation that Mr. Gray filed in February with courageous teenagers, Ms. Colvin and Mary Louise Smith, serving as two of the four plaintiffs.

The boycott seriously disrupted city life and bus company revenues. Police harassed the car pools mercilessly, giving out hundreds of tickets — and then, when that didn’t work, the city dredged up an old anti-syndicalism law and indicted 89 boycott leaders. Refusing to be cowed or to wait to be arrested, Mrs. Parks, along with others, presented herself to the police while scores of community members gathered outside. Mug shot No. 7053.

The Rosa Parks fable also erases the tremendous cost of her bus stand and the decade of suffering that ensued for the Parks family. They weren’t well-off. The Parkses lived in the Cleveland Court projects, Mrs. Parks’s husband, Raymond, working as a barber at Maxwell Air Force Base and Mrs. Parks spending her days in a stuffy back room at Montgomery Fair department store altering white men’s suits. Five weeks after her bus stand, she lost her job; then Raymond lost his. Receiving regular death threats, they never found steady work in Montgomery again. Eight months after the boycott’s successful end, the Parks family was forced to leave Montgomery for Detroit, where her brother and cousins lived. They continued to struggle to find work, and she was hospitalized to treat ulcers in 1959, which led to a bill she couldn’t pay. It was not until 1966, 11 years after her bus arrest, after she was hired to work in U.S. Representative John Conyers’s new Detroit office, that the Parks family registered an income comparable to what they’d made in 1955. (Mrs. Parks had supported Mr. Conyers’s long-shot bid for Congress in 1964.)

 

Mrs. Parks spent the next several decades of her life fighting the racism of the North — “the Northern promised land that wasn’t,” she called it — marching and organizing against housing discrimination, school segregation, employment discrimination and police brutality. In July 1967, on the fourth day of the Detroit uprising, police killed three Black teenagers at the Algiers Motel. Justice against the officers proved elusive (ultimately none of them were punished for murder or conspiracy) and Detroit’s newspapers grew reluctant to press the issue. At the request of young Black Power activists who refused to let these deaths go unmarked and the police misconduct be swept under the rug, Mrs. Parks agreed to serve as a juror on the “People’s Tribunal” to make the facts of the case known.

Credit…Michael J. Samojeden/Associated Press

“I don’t believe in gradualism,” she made clear, “or that whatever is to be done for the better should take forever to do.” In the 1960s and ’70s, she was part of a growing Black Power movement in the city and across the country. Describing Malcolm X as her personal hero, she attended the 1968 Black Power convention in Philadelphia in 1968 and the 1972 Gary Convention, worked for reparations and against the war in Vietnam, served on prisoner defense committees, and visited the Black Panthers’ school in 1980. “Freedom fighters never retire,” she observed at a testimonial for a friend — and she never did.

But this Rosa Parks is not the one most of us learned about in school or hear about during Black History Month commemorations. Instead, we partake in an American myth, as President George W. Bush put it after her death in 2005, that “one candle can light the darkness.” A simple seamstress changes the course of history with a single act, decent people did the right thing and the nation inexorably moved toward justice. Mrs. Parks’s decades of work challenging the racial injustice puts the lie to this narrative. The nation didn’t move naturally toward justice. It had to be pushed.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks – Race, Politics, Justice

The boycott was a tremendous feat of organization that drew on networks built over years. Understanding the demonization, death threats and economic hardship Mrs. Parks endured for more than a decade underscores the costs of such heroism. Most Americans did not support the civil rights movement when it was happening; in a Gallup poll right before the March on Washington in 1963, only 23 percent of Americans who were familiar with the proposed march felt favorably toward it.

Reckoning with the fact that Mrs. Parks spent the second half of her life fighting the racism of the North demonstrates that racism was not some regional anachronism but a national cancer. And seeing how she placed her greatest hope in the militant spirit of young people (finding many adults “complacent”) gives the lie to the ways commentators today have used the civil rights movement to chastise Black Lives Matter for not going about change the right way. Learning about the real Rosa Parks reveals how false those distinctions are, how criminal justice was key to her freedom dreams, how disruptive and persevering the movement, and where she would be standing today — an essential lesson young people, and indeed all Americans, need to understand to grapple honestly with this country’s history and see the road forward.

Jeanne Theoharis is a professor of political science and the author of eleven books on the civil rights and Black Power movements including “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” and “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks Young Readers’ Edition,” co-adapted with Brandy Colbert.

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A la hora de explicar el arraigo y popularidad de Donald J. Trump entre millones de estadounidense imperan dos factores: el económico y el racial. El primero hace alusión a los efectos de más de trienta años de neoliberalismo “reaganiano”  sobre las clases media y baja blanca estadounidenses. Su empobrecimiento y abandono por parte de los principales partidos políticos -y en especial los Democratas- las hizo muy receptivas a la demagogia de Trump.  Las fabricas se fueron a China o a México, los estadounidense de baja nivel educativo vieron sus opciones económicas reducirse, los ricos se hicieron más ricos y  los pobres cayeron víctimas de opiáceos y de la avariacia de ciertas compañías farmaceuticas.  El esperado goteo (trickle-down) de la riqueza no llegó.

En cuanto al tema racial, es necesario reconocer que, contrario a lo que muchos pensaron, la victoria de Obama en 2008 no marcó el fin de los conflictos raciales en Estados Unidos. Por el contrario, la presencia de un negro en la Casa Blanca exacerbó los ánimos raciales y preparó el camino para el éxito del discurso racista de Trump.  Sitiéndose amenazados y preocupados por perder sus privilegios ante el crecimiento y avance de las minorías raciales, millones de estadounidense vieron en Trump el líder necesario para hacer a Estados Unidos blanco de nuevo. Con Trump en la presidencia, supremacistas blancos y otros grupos extremistas se sintieron el libertad de expresar abiertamente lo que pensaba o sentían en privado.

¿Cuál de estas explicaciones es la correcta? No creo en explicaciones simples, por lo que veo necesario recurrir a ambas para entender cómo llegamos a la toma del Capitolio el 6 de enero de 2021. Ese día, miles de estadounidenses, en su inmensa mayoría  blancos, llegaron a Washington D.C. convocados por el Presidente para cuestionar la certificación congresional de la victoria de Joe Biden. En lo que los medios identificaron erróneamente como algo inédito en la historia de Estados Unidos, los seguidores de Trump marcharon sobre el Congreso y con una facilidad pasmosa lo tomaron por la fuerza. Luego vino un despliegue de lo peor de la sociedad estadounidense.

Quienes participaron en el ataque al Congreso se hicieron parte de una tradición estadounidense, la de cuestionar los resultados electorales cuando no favorecen a un sector social o racial.

En este escrito, el periodista británico Toby Luckhurst reseña los eventos que ocurrieron en Wilmington, Carolina del Norte, cuando en 1898 una turba de hombres blancos derrocaron a una coalición racialmente mixta, que democráticamente habían ganado el control de la ciudad.


Wilmington 1898: When white supremacists overthrew a US government

Toby Luckhurst

BBC News

A mob stands outside the burnt offices of the Wilmington Daily Record

The mob burned down the offices of the Wilmington Daily Record a caption

Following state elections in 1898, white supremacists moved into the US port of Wilmington, North Carolina, then the largest city in the state. They destroyed black-owned businesses, murdered black residents, and forced the elected local government – a coalition of white and black politicians – to resign en masse.

Historians have described it as the only coup in US history. Its ringleaders took power the same day as the insurrection and swiftly brought in laws to strip voting and civil rights from the state’s black population. They faced no consequences.

Wilmington’s story has been thrust into the spotlight after a violent mob assaulted the US Capitol on 6 January, seeking to stop the certification of November’s presidential election result. More than 120 years after its insurrection, the city is still grappling with its violent past.

Short presentational grey line

After the end of the US Civil War in 1865 – which pitted the northern Unionist states against the southern Confederacy – slavery was abolished throughout the newly-reunified country. Politicians in Washington DC passed a number of constitutional amendments granting freedom and rights to former slaves, and sent the army to enforce their policies.

But many southerners resented these changes. In the decades that followed the civil war there were growing efforts to reverse many of the efforts aimed at integrating the freed black population into society.

Wilmington in 1898 was a large and prosperous port, with a growing and successful black middle class. Undoubtedly, African Americans still faced daily prejudice and discrimination – banks for instance would refuse to lend to black people or would impose punishing interest rates. But in the 30 years after the civil war, African Americans in former Confederate states like North Carolina were slowly setting up businesses, buying homes, and exercising their freedom. Wilmington was even home to what was thought to be the only black daily newspaper in the country at that time, the Wilmington Daily Record.

300+ Unfair politics ideas | african american history, black history,  history facts“African Americans were becoming quite successful,” Yale University history professor Glenda Gilmore told the BBC. “They were going to universities, had rising literacy rates, and had rising property ownership.”

This growing success was true across the state of North Carolina, not just socially but politically. In the 1890s a black and white political coalition known as the Fusionists – which sought free education, debt relief, and equal rights for African Americans – won every state-wide office in 1896, including the governorship. By 1898 a mix of black and white Fusionist politicians had been elected to lead the local city government in Wilmington.

But this sparked a huge backlash, including from the Democratic Party. In the 1890s the Democrats and Republicans were very different to what they are today. Republicans – the party of President Abraham Lincoln – favoured racial integration after the US Civil War, and strong government from Washington DC to unify the states.

But Democrats were against many of the changes to the US. They openly demanded racial segregation and stronger rights for individual states. “Think of the Democratic party of 1898 as the party of white supremacy,” LeRae Umfleet, state archivist and author of A Day of Blood, a book about the Wilmington insurrection, told the BBC.

Democratic politicians feared that the Fusionists – which included black Republicans as well as poor white farmers – would dominate the elections of 1898. Party leaders decided to launch an election campaign based explicitly on white supremacy, and to use everything in their power to defeat the Fusionists. “It was a concerted, co-ordinated effort to use the newspapers, speechmakers and intimidation tactics to make sure the white supremacy platform won election in November 1898,” Ms Umfleet said.

White militias – including a group known as the Red Shirts, so named for their un

iforms – rode around on horseback attacking black people and intimidating would-be voters. When black people in Wilmington tried to buy guns to protect their property, they were refused by white shopkeepers, who then kept a list of those who sought weapons and ammo.

Red Shirts pose at the polls in North Carolina

Enter a captioThe Red Shirts militia intimidated and attacked blacn

Newspapers meanwhile spread claims that African Americans wanted political power so they could sleep with white women, and made up lies about a rape epidemic. When Alexander Manly, owner and editor of the Wilmington Daily Record, published an editorial questioning the rape allegations and suggesting that white women slept with black men of their own free will, it enraged the Democratic party and made him the target of a hate campaign.

The day before the state-wide election in 1898, Democratic politician Alfred Moore Waddell gave a speech demanding that white men “do your duty” and look for black people voting.

And if you find one, he said, “tell him to leave the polls and if he refuses kill, shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns.”

The Democratic party swept to victory in the state elections. Many voters were forced away from polling stations at gunpoint or refused to even try to vote, for fear of violence.

But the Fusionist politicians remained in power in Wilmington, with the municipal election not due until the next year. Two days after the state election Waddell and hundreds of white men, armed with rifles and a Gatling gun, rode into the town and set the Wilmington Daily Record building alight. They then spread through the town killing black people and destroying their businesses. The mob swelled with more white people as the day went on.

Wilmington Coup 1898 | Downtown Wilmington, NC

As black residents fled into the woods outside the town, Waddell and his band marched to the city hall and forced the resignation of the local government at gunpoint. Waddell was declared mayor that same afternoon.

“It [was] a full-blown rebellion, a full-blown insurrection against the state government and the local government,” Prof Gilmore said.

Within two years, white supremacists in North Carolina imposed new segregation laws and effectively stripped black people of the vote through a combination of literacy tests and poll taxes. The number of registered African American voters reportedly dropped from 125,000 in 1896 to about 6,000 in 1902.

“Black people in Wilmington didn’t think that something like this would ever happen,” Prof Gilmore said. “There was a Republican governor in the state, their congressman was a black man. They thought that things were actually getting better. But part of the lesson about it was as things got better, white people fought harder.”

Deborah Dicks Maxwell is president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP] in Wilmington. Born and raised in the town, she didn’t learn about the attack until she was in her thirties.

“It was something that those who are here [in Wilmington] knew but it was not widely talked about,” she told the BBC. “It’s not in the school curriculum like it should be – no one wants to admit this happened.”

It was not until the 1990s that the city began to discuss its past. In 1998 local authorities commemorated the 100th anniversary of the attack, and two years later set up a commission to establish the facts. Since then the city has erected plaques at key points to commemorate the events, and has created the 1898 Monument and Memorial Park – something Ms Dicks Maxwell described as “small but significant”.

Given what the city has gone through, it’s no surprise that its residents and historians who have covered its past drew parallels between the 1898 insurrection and the attack on the US Capitol this month. Ms Dicks Maxwell and her NAACP branch had for months after the US election been highlighting what they saw as the similarities between what happened in Wilmington and how politicians today in the US were trying to undermine the election results.

“Earlier that day we had a press conference denouncing our local congressman for supporting Trump, [saying] that there would be a possible coup and that we did not want another coup to ever occur in this country,” she said. Just hours later the mob marched on the US Capitol.

Christopher Everett is a documentary maker who made a film about the 1898 insurrection, Wilmington on Fire. When Mr Everett saw the attack on the Capitol he thought of Wilmington.

“No one was held accountable for the 1898 insurrection. Therefore it opened up the floodgates, especially in the south, for them to… strip African Americans’ civil rights,” he told the BBC. “That’s the first thing that came to my mind after the DC insurrection – you’re opening the door for something else to happen, or even worse.”

The 1898 attack was not covered up. University buildings, schools and public buildings throughout the state were all named after the instigators of the insurrection. Men would later claim to have taken part in the attack to boost their stature in the Democratic Party. As the decades passed, history books started to claim the attack was in fact a race riot started by the black population and put down by white citizens.

“Even after the massacre, a lot of these folks who participated in and orchestrated the insurrection became immortalised – statues, buildings named after them, throughout the country, especially in North Carolina,” Mr Everett said.

CWilmington insurrection of 1898 - Wikiwandharles Aycock – one of the organisers of the white supremacy electoral campaign – became governor of North Carolina in 1901. His statue now stands in the US Capitol, which rioters entered on 6 January.

Mr Everett is now filming a sequel to his documentary to examine how Wilmington is grappling with its past. He said many local leaders are working to “bring the city of Wilmington back to the spirit of 1897, when you had this Fusion movement of white folks and black folks working together and making Wilmington an example of what the new south could have been after the civil war.”

“Wilmington was a model for the white supremacy movement with the insurrection,” he said. “But now Wilmington could also be a model to show how we can work together and overcome the stain of white supremacy as well.”

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Tráiler de 'Da 5 Bloods', la película de Spike Lee para Netflix ...Que recuerde, no he reseñado películas en esta bitácora, pero acabo de ver una que lo amerita. Se trata del largometraje de Spike Lee  Da 5 Bloods. A través de la historia de cuatro veteranos negros que regresan a Vietnam en búsqueda de un tesoro y de los restos de un camarada, Lee enfoca de forma genial la inmoralidad de la intervención estadounidense en Indochina. Claramente enmarcada en el contexto actual de conflicto racial en Estados Unidos, esta película nos muestra, como bien señala unos de sus personajes, el impacto en cuatro veteranos -y sus allegados y familiares- de una guerra en la que pelearon en “defensa” de derechos que como afroamericanos, ellos no tenían.

Norberto Barreto Velázquez,PhD

Lima 5 de agosto de 2020

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Comparto este interesante ensayo del  profesor Juan F. Correa Luna, miembro de la Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, comentando la participación de los famosos Harlem Hellfighters en la primera guerra mundial. Desconocía  que una tercera parte de los músicos de la banda de este regimiento de soldaldos negros, dirigida por  James Reese Europe, eran puertorriqueños. Entre ellos, Rafael Hernández, quien se convirtirá en uno de los más grandes compositores de la música latinoamericana.


James Reese Europe, Rafael Hernández Marín y los “Harlem Hellfighters”

Una de las unidades de combate más valerosas durante la primera guerra mundial se conoció como el Regimiento de Infantería 369 de la guardia nacional de Nueva York, mejor conocida como los “Harlem Hellfighters”. Para la primera guerra mundial el ejército de los Estados Unidos se encontraba segregado racialmente. Por ello el Regimiento 369 estaba compuesto exclusivamente por soldados afroamericanos y puertorriqueños. También contaba con una banda musical dirigida por el teniente James Reese Europe uno de los más famosos y brillantes músicos de Jazz. Reese Europe desempeñó un papel protagónico durante la época conocida como el Harlem Renacentista en Nueva York a principios del siglo pasado. A James Reese Europe se le llegó a conocer como la versión de Martin Luther King en el campo de la música. Fue el primer compositor que ofreció un concierto de música negra en el Carnegie Hall en 1912. El concierto llevó por título en inglés “A Symphony of Negro Music”. Todas las composiciones musicales fueron compuestas por músicos negros. Reese Europe respetaba la calidad musical de los compositores blancos, pero consideraba que los músicos negros no tenían que imitar a los blancos ya que tenían su propia música la cual gozaba de méritos propios y personas de todas las razas debían también tener la oportunidad de escuchar y disfrutarla. Seleccionó a cada uno de los miembros de la banda musical del regimiento 369 de infantería. Por ello no escatimó esfuerzos para allegar a los mejores músicos para su banda.

Lo que muchos no conocen es que una tercera parte de esos músicos eran puertorriqueños. Uno de ellos fue nuestro querido y reconocido compositor, a nivel mundial, Rafael Hernández Marín. Rafael Hernández fue reclutado junto a su hermano Jesús Hernández y otros 16 músicos puertorriqueños por el propio Reese Europe. Ya para ese entonces se conocía de la excelencia, talento, capacidad y profesionalismo de los músicos puertorriqueños y muy en particular la de Rafael Hernández Marín quien ya a la edad de 26 años componía música y dominaba a la perfección seis instrumentos musicales. Entre ellos: trombón, tuba, bombardino, piano, guitarra y clarinete. Rafael Hernández recibió rango de Sargento y fue asistente de Reese Europe en la banda del Regimiento 369.

Al igual que los soldados afroamericanos que le precedieron en la guerra civil y los soldados afroamericanos que le sucedieron hasta el presente, los soldados afroamericanos y puertorriqueños en la primera guerra mundial pelearon en guerras por un país y un gobierno que rehusó y todavía rehúsa reconocerles como iguales en dignidad y derechos. La oficialidad del ejército norteamericano no quería reconocer la capacidad de los afroamericanos y puertorriqueños para pelear en el frente de guerra durante la primera guerra mundial y tampoco favorecía que se mezclaran con los soldados blancos. De ahí que fueran segregados y relegados a tareas de servicios de apoyo. La unidad 369 de Nueva York fue enviada al estado de Carolina del Sur, uno de los estados más racistas para la época y donde los soldados recibirían un adiestramiento deficiente ya que no contaban con el equipo ni los recursos necesarios para el adiestramiento militar. Durante su entrenamiento fueron víctimas de muchos ataques físicos y abusos verbales raciales. Muchos soldados afroamericanos al igual que Reese Europe consideraban que era importante que se les diera la oportunidad para participar en la guerra a fin de demostrarles a los blancos y al gobierno que los soldados negros eran igualmente capaces de defender a su país con valentía y heroísmo. Veían su participación como una oportunidad para educar a los blancos y en el proceso lograr que se les reconocieran a plenitud sus derechos como ciudadanos. A pesar de sus esfuerzos se les negó su participación junto al ejercito norteamericano en el frente de guerra.

La oficialidad militar prefirió enviarle el regimiento 369 a Francia para que estuviera bajo la dirección del gobierno y el cuerpo militar francés no sin antes advertirle que no debían confiar en estos soldados ya que no los consideraban capaces de combatir y de realizar otras tareas importantes durante la guerra. Una carta del Coronel Linard de la Fuerza Expedicionaria Estadounidense (AEF) al cuartel militar francés resume las tensiones raciales entre negros y blancos en el momento en que Estados Unidos entró en la guerra:

“… Los aproximadamente 15 millones de negros en los Estados Unidos presentan una amenaza de mestizaje racial a menos que se mantenga a negros y blancos estrictamente separados [Por lo tanto,] los franceses no deberían comer con ellos, ni estrecharles la mano, ni visitarlos ni conversar, excepto cuando sea requerido por asuntos militares.”

Se dice que a los franceses les consternó las advertencias racistas de los norteamericanos y aunque ellos también tenían su cuota de abusos raciales en sus colonias como lo fue el caso de Argelia, necesitaban desesperadamente soldados para combatir en el frente de guerra, así que aceptaron al regimiento 369 y decidieron no hacerle caso a la oficialidad militar norteamericana. De inmediato incorporaron a sus unidades de combate a los soldados afroamericanos y puertorriqueños. El gobierno norteamericano solo les proveyó uniformes a los soldados del regimiento 369. Los franceses les tuvieron que suplir las armas que utilizaron durante la guerra, municiones, cascos, cinturones y alimentos.

Reese Europe quien además de ser el director de la banda ocupo el rango de teniente llegaría a decir un poco en broma, pero consiente de la posibilidad de que ocurriese, lo siguiente:

“He estado pensando que si capturan a uno de mis puertorriqueños con el uniforme de un regimiento francés de Normandía y este hombre negro les dice en español que es un soldado estadounidense en Nueva York del Regimiento de la Guardia Nacional, el dolor de cabeza que le provocara al departamento de inteligencia alemán tratar de entender esa realidad”.

Antes de ser embarcadas los regimientos militares estadounidenses a Europa, se decidió realizar un festival y una marcha de despedida a los soldados. La división militar denominada el Rainbow Division o Division Arcoiris en español, estaba compuesta por varias unidades de la guardia nacional provenientes de unos 24 de estados. Las unidades marcharían por toda la 5ta avenida de la ciudad de Nueva York. Sin embargo, le fue denegada la participación a la banda musical dirigida por Reese Europe y a todos los demás soldados del Regimiento 369. Los oficiales militares a cargo del evento expresaron los motivos de su rechazo diciendo que “el color negro no se encontraba entre los colores del arcoíris”. Aunque no les permitieron tocar ni participar en el evento de Nueva York a su llegada al muelle francés, los soldados de la banda musical del Regimiento 369 sorprendieron y deleitaron a los soldados y civiles franceses con una versión impecable de la Marsellesa en Jazz.

La valentía y heroísmo desplegado en el frente de combate durante la primera guerra mundial por todos los miembros del Regimiento de infantería 369 a quienes se dice que los propios alemanes le dieron el nombre de los “Harlem Hellfighters” o Luchadores Infernales de Harlem y los franceses le llamaran “Los Hombres de Bronce” por su valor y heroísmo, le mereció a cada uno, el más alto honor otorgado por el gobierno francés y su presidente, la medalla de la Cruz de Guerra. Estuvieron destacados en el frente de guerra por más de 191 días, más que ninguna a otra unidad militar americana. Nunca retrocedieron en sus incursiones en terreno enemigo y nunca permitieron que los alemanes tomaran como prisionero a uno de sus soldados.

Las proezas, el valor y la disciplina demostrada en el frente de guerra no fue el único legado de importancia que dejo el Regimiento 369 durante la primera guerra mundial, algunos historiadores han expresado, que la destreza en el campo de batalla del regimiento 369 fue casi eclipsada por su contribución a la música, ya que a la banda musical del Regimiento 369 de los “Harlem Hellfighters” compuesta por una selección de los mejores músicos de jazz de Harlem y Puerto Rico, también se le atribuyó la singular proeza de haber exportado por vez primera, la música jazz, por toda Europa. Sus presentaciones en teatros, calles, plazas, muelles y otros espacios públicos no solo levantó la moral de los soldados, expuso además a la población civil y las clases trabajadoras a una experiencia musical memorable.

Finalizada la guerra, la ciudad de Nueva York les recibió con un gran desfile a lo largo de la 5ta Avenida. Un honor que les fue denegado, por motivos raciales, cuando partieron hacia Europa. A pesar de ello la celebración no duró mucho ya que como muy bien expresara el escritor norteamericano Max Brooks: “Regresaron a casa en los momentos de mayor violencia racial en la historia de los Estados Unidos, el verano rojo de 1919”. Lo que se conoció como el verano rojo fue el periodo comprendido entre fines del invierno y principios del otoño de 1919 durante el cual grupos supremacistas blancos desataron una de las peores oleadas de asesinatos, linchamientos, violencia y ataques terroristas contra los afroamericanos en más de tres docenas de ciudades de los Estados Unidos.

Rafael Hernández Marín al igual que su hermano Jesús y los demás soldados puertorriqueños recibieron los reconocimientos otorgados por el gobierno francés y la Cruz de Guerra por su alto heroísmo y valor durante la guerra. Rafael fue dado de baja honorablemente como soldado y desempeñó un rol destacado en la banda musical del Regimiento 369 como Trombonista y asistente del propio Reese Europe. A su regreso a Nueva York participó de las grabaciones de Jazz con la orquesta de Reese Europe. Se ha dicho que muchas de sus composiciones y arreglos musicales como El Cumbanchero y Cachita reflejan cómo fue influenciado por el sonido del “big band” que era típico de las bandas de jazz. Rafael Hernández ha sido y es considerado uno de los más grandes compositores a nivel mundial superando en composiciones musicales, con más de 2000, a otros gigantes compositores latinoamericanos de su época, como lo fueron Agustín Lara de Méjico y Ernesto Lecuona de Cuba.

El discrimen racial que observó y vivió como puertorriqueño y negro en los Estados Unidos y como soldado durante la primera guerra mundial lo llevaron también, al igual que a Don Pedro Albizu Campos a denunciar y criticar el gobierno norteamericano y al estado de sujeción y control colonial de la isla por parte de los Estados Unidos. En 1932 escribió y compuso “Mi Patria Tiembla”. La canción interpretada por Davilita y el trío Borinquen dice que Puerto Rico tiembla porque los nobles patriotas que yacen en sus tumbas al serles imposible salir de su morada para defender la isla de las infamias y tiranías que se cometen contra ella, se rebelan y se agitan en sus tumbas provocando que la Patria tiemble. La letra finaliza expresando que es preferible que Puerto Rico se hunda y se la trague el mar antes de verla esclava.

En 1937 en una de sus más reconocidas y famosas composiciones musicales, “Preciosa”, describe a los Estados Unidos como un tirano que trata a Puerto Rico con negra maldad. Rafael estaba muy claro de que esa maldad siempre provino del blanco americano. Unos años después se dice que Muñoz Marín, le llegaría a pedir que bajara el tono antiamericano en ‘Preciosa’. Sugiriéndosele incluso cambiar la frase “no importa el tirano te trate” por la frase “no importa el destino te trate”. Al final Rafael no cedió ante las presiones que se le hicieron y el tirano americano se quedó como lo que es y ha sido siempre un Tirano. No fue casual que Rafael Hernández decidiera inmortalizar el final de la canción con la frase que más emociona y agita los corazones a todo puertorriqueño y puertorriqueña que la escucha y canta: “Preciosa te llaman los hijos de la libertad”.

Referencias:

Martínez , E (Spring – Summer 2014). Rafael Hernández and the Harlem HellfightersVoices; The Journal of New York Folklore, Volume 40: 1–2: https://nyfolklore.org/wp-content/uploads/Voices-2014a.pdf

 Trickey, E (May 2018): One Hundred Years Ago, the Harlem Hellfighters Bravely Led the U.S. Into WWI; , Smithsonian Magazine https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/one-hundred-years-ago-harlem-hellfighters-bravely-led-us-wwi-180968977/

Brooks M: Harlem Hellfifhters Broadway Books (2014)

Basilio, S. (April 2019) Boricua Pioneer, Rafael Hernández Revista Digital Jazz DeLa:https://jazzdelapena.com/puerto-rico-project/boricua-pioneer-rafael-hernandez/

Moskowitz, D.(June 2020) Jazzman James Reese Europe Taught White America How to SwingHistory net.com : https://www.historynet.com/jazzman-james-reese-europe-taught-white-america-how-to-swing.htm

Hernández R. (1932) Mi Patria Tiembla,, Interpretada por Trio Borinquen; Davilita /Mario Hernandez : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEwh_Rqg5-s


 

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La Editorial de la Universidad de Valencia acaba de publicar el libro de la colega Valeria L. Carbone, Una historia del movimiento negro estadounidense en la era post derechos civiles. La Dr. Carbone  (@Val_Carbone) es profesora en la Universidad de Buenos Aires y editora de la revista Huellas de Estados Unidos.

Comparto la descripción del libro que aparece en el portal de la editorial y felicito a su autora, pues su obra ayuda a llenar el vacio existente de trabajos monográficos en castellano sobre temas de historia estadounidense.


Una historia del movimiento negro estadounidense en la era post derechos civiles (1968-1988)La presente obra analiza la evolución de la lucha y la resistencia de los afro-norteamericanos a lo largo de las décadas de 1970 y 1980 desde una perspectiva que incorpora las categorías de racismo, raza y clase. Desde la centralidad de las elaboraciones discursivas e institucionales de las nociones de raza y racismo, así como desde el papel fundamental que ha adquirido la ideología de la supremacía de la raza blanca en el devenir histórico estadounidense, la población negra ha entendido su lucha desde la noción de raza como lugar de resistencia, lo que ha delimitado sus acciones a la hora de perfilar estrategias de lucha colectiva. El estudio de determinados movimientos significativos de cada región del territorio (centro-oeste, el sur profundo, noreste, este) evidencia cómo estos permiten establecer conexiones y continuidades en cuanto a problemas, tácticas y estrategias, formas de organización, retóricas discursivas y tipos de participación, que dieron forma a un complejo, heterogéneo y versátil proceso de incesante movilización nacional mediante el cual la comunidad negra desafió al racismo institucional estadounidense bajo las consignas de raza y clase.

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Eric Foner es uno de los más importantes historiadores estadounidenses. Profesor de Columbia University y ganador de premios tan prestigiosos como el Lincoln, Bancroft y  Pulitzer, Foner ha dedicado su  carrera al estudio del Partido Republicano,  la esclavitud, la guerra civil y, sobre todo, la Reconstrucción. Es a este periodo posterior a la guerra civil que Foner dedica su último libro, Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution (Norton, 2019). Enfocado en el significado de las tres enmiendas constitucionales aprobadas entre 1865 y 1870 (XIII, XIV y XV), Foner plantea que la Reconstrucción cambió radicalmente el ordenamiento político estadounidense. Al acabar con la esclavitud, definir la ciudadanía y garantizar el derecho al voto, tales enmiendas, propone Foner, conllevaron un renacer de la nación estadounidense.

Comparto con mis lectores la transcripción de una entrevista que el  historiador Ed Ayers, del podcasts Backstory, le hiciera a Foner sobre su último libro y otros temas. La entrevista se puede escuchar aquí

February 18, 1865 Harper’s Weekly cartoon depicting celebration in the House of Representatives after adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment. Source: Internet Archive.

HOW RECONSTRUCTION TRANSFORMED THE CONSTITUTION

A FEATURE CONVERSATION WITH PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING HISTORIAN ERIC FONER

If you turn on the news, you’re likely to find a heated debate about big issues, from citizenship to voting rights. For Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner, these issues are at the heart of what are often called the “Reconstruction Amendments”: the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution. They were passed in 1865, 1868 and 1870, respectively. And if you ask Eric, they’ve been misinterpreted and overlooked for generations.

On this episode, Ed sits down with Eric Foner, a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, to talk about public perceptions of Reconstruction, the landmark amendments to the Constitution and how they have the power to change the country today. Foner’s new book is The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution.

 

TRANSCRIPT

Download a pdf of the full transcript here.

Speaker 1: Major funding for Backstory is provided by an anonymous donor, the National Endowment for The Humanities and the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial foundation.

Ed Ayers: From Virginia Humanities, this is Backstory. This is Backstory, the show that explains the history behind today’s headlines. I’m Ed Ayers. If you’re new to the podcast, my colleagues, Joanne Freeman, Brian Balogh, Nathan Connolly, and myself are all historians and each week we explore the history of one topic that’s been in the news.

Speaker 3: Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for a crime shall exist within the United States or any place subject to [crosstalk 00:00:48]-

Speaker 4: All persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein [crosstalk 00:00:58]-

Ed Ayers: What you’re hearing are portions of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US constitution.

Speaker 4: Which shall outweigh the privileges or [crosstalk 00:01:02]-

Speaker 3: No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.

Speaker 5: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Ed Ayers: They’re known as the Reconstruction Amendments passed in 1865, 1868 and 1870 respectively. And if you ask Pulitzer Prize winning historian Eric Foner, they make up a second founding of the United States of America. The amendments are so important, Eric has made them the subject of his brand new book, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution. He says they have the power to bring progressive change on deep seated issues from citizenship to voting rights if only we’d give them their due. So today on Backstory, we’re bringing you a feature interview I did with Eric about his new book. It joins a host of others he’s written including Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, and The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery. We talked about many things from public perceptions of Reconstruction to what Eric and I learned about the period when we were in elementary school. But I started our conversation by asking Eric why he felt we needed a book about the Reconstruction Amendments right now.

Foner

Eric Foner

Eric Foner: Two things; one the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, I argue and I think many scholars would agree, really transformed the constitution and are essential to understanding the Civil War era and indeed our current situation today, and yet they are not widely known or understood. Even though they really are central documents of American history, they don’t occupy the same place in our historical imagination as other key documents such as the Declaration of Independence or the Emancipation Proclamation. Your man or woman in the street has probably never heard of the people who wrote these amendments, people like John Bingham and James Ashley and Henry Wilson. They’re not part of the Pantheon of key figures in American history. I just wanted to draw attention to why they’re important, why those people are important, why the amendments are important.

Eric Foner: But secondly, as I said, I lecture a lot, as you do, to all sorts of audiences within the university, outside, or people who are just interested in history and I’ve found that there’s very little understanding of what these amendments were attempting to accomplish. Even in law schools, I hate to say it, I’m not a lawyer or a law scholar, I find that there’s a lot of misconception and even, dare I say it, on the halls of the Supreme Court. One of my arguments is that there’s a long history of what I can think of as misconceived Supreme Court decisions that are still embedded in our jurisprudence. If my book can help nudge the nine members of the Supreme Court toward a more expansive vision of these amendments, then I think that would be all to the good.

Ed Ayers: Yeah, that would be quite a return on your investment here. So you talk about being out in the world talking about Reconstruction, and I find that people don’t even claim to know anything about Reconstruction. My joke is that Reconstruction happens over the winter break and between volume one and volume two, and that it-

Eric Foner: They don’t reach it in the first semester if you’re teaching the survey of American history or if it’s the beginning of the second. They scoot right through it because there’s a heck of a lot of history coming along afterwards, but that’s a step forward Ed. You and I know that not that long ago when you mentioned Reconstruction, people knew “about it.” What they knew was that it was a period of misgovernment, corruption, the lowest point in the saga of American democracy. And that the reason for that was one, vindictive Northern radicals who wanted to fasten their power on the South, but also the former slaves who were just incapable of exercising democratic rights. They were manipulated by whites. They were childlike, and that giving them the right to vote was a disastrous mistake.

71DfIQ9brpL._SY741_Eric Foner: That played an important part in the ideological edifice of the Jim Crow era. The supposed horrors of Reconstruction were part of the justification for taking the right to vote away from black men in the late 19th, early 20th Century. That people no longer generally hold that view and actually know little is better. That at least now if people are interested, they can go at it with a fresh, a clean slate rather than having to disabuse themselves of a lot of mythologies.

Ed Ayers: That’s a very optimistic interpretation. I like that. Now it’s my sense that a lot of people still take their general idea about Reconstruction from Gone with the Wind, in which we have this great saga of that in which the victim is a slave holding white woman from the South. We’re sympathetic with her and it creates the impression that Reconstruction began immediately after the end of the war and the devastation there. Is this your experience? Do you think that people are still filtering this through … What do they think they know about Reconstruction? Where does it come from?

Eric Foner: Yeah. Well certainly Gone with the Wind or if you want to push back further Birth of a Nation, which of course is even much more pernicious because it’s a direct defense and glorification of the Ku Klux Klan, Gone with the Wind is probably the most popular American movie ever made and it’s constantly being shown on Turner movie channels. Look, people don’t watch Gone with the Wind for a history lesson on Reconstruction. They watch so they can trace out Scarlet O’Hara’s ups and downs. But yes, the Klan is in there, the whole idea that black people were just ignorant and incapable of taking part of democracy is in there. Whether it’s that or just what you learned in school.

Eric Foner: I’m old enough to have learned in high school, and this was in Long Island, the suburbs of New York. I learned the old Dunning School view that Reconstruction was the worst period in all of American history. I think today most scholars see Reconstruction, or at least I’ve tried to argue, as a important moment in the history of democracy, the first effort to really make the United States an interracial democracy, which it had never been before the Civil War and then would not be again that until our own era. The tragedy of Reconstruction is not that it was attempted, but that it failed, and that left to subsequent generations, including our own, this question of racial justice in America.

Ed Ayers: Yeah. I should say in full disclosure, you learned about Reconstruction on Long Island in New York. I learned about it at Andrew Johnson Elementary School in East Tennessee, and I’m not kidding. There’s only two in the United States, and I was at one of them, but I had my students and for a class here at the University of Richmond go online and say, “What do we think about Reconstruction? What’s the general sense that you get?” And they came back with one word; failure. That’s a word that you used, a description right now. And so what’s the consequences of thinking of Reconstruction as failure? It’s been a great continuity, as you’re saying that people who hated Reconstruction defined it as a failure and people who admire it defined it as a failure. Does that have any cost?

9781912128228Eric Foner: I think that’s a great question and I will withdraw my word failure. You’re absolutely right. It is so embedded. That idea is so embedded that it’s just impossible to avoid. The problem with declaring Reconstruction a failure is that then it makes the question at hand why did it fail, rather than what it seek to accomplish and how much of that was accomplished? If you define Reconstruction as the effort to create a utopian society, it failed. We haven’t had one yet, and certainly if you go a little less expansive than that and just say the effort to put into the laws and constitution and to enforce them, the basic rights of citizens for all Americans, including African-Americans, well it’s not exactly that it failed, but it didn’t become secure enough that later on these rights couldn’t be taken away.

Eric Foner: But of course Reconstruction was many, many things and not all of them were a failure. Reconstruction saw the creation of the black church as really a major, major institution throughout the country. That’s still here and as you well know, the black church has been the springboard for all sorts of activism among African Americans. Schooling, which was denied to almost all black people before the Civil War, this is when the public school systems of the South were created. This was when the black colleges were created. Those survived and so the black family, which had been it really disrupted in many ways by slavery now is consolidated and becomes the foundation of black communities. That didn’t go away when Reconstruction ended.

Eric Foner: So yeah, we should amend failure at least to say, well, in what realms did it fail and in what realms did it succeed? Because my definition of Reconstruction is not a specific time period, let’s say 1865 to 1877 or other people have other dates, but as a historical process. How does the United States deal with the end of slavery?

Ed Ayers: As we’re thinking really about the place of Reconstruction in the current American imagination, we have seen signs of awakened acknowledgement and interest in it. You and I both were fortunate to be in the Henry Louis Gates series on the Reconstruction on PBS, and people seem to really engage with that. So where do you think this interest is coming from?

Eric Foner: Well, I, like your students, I look around and say, “Well, how is …” I look particularly at how Reconstruction is referred to in the press by journalists almost offhandedly. It’s not that long ago. I remember in the 1990s, a distinguished, I’m not going to name any names, but a pretty distinguished journalist for the New York Times wrote a little article about the Bosnian Civil War. And he said, “Well, I hope that after the Bosnian Civil War is over that the victorious side just doesn’t wreak vengeance on the losers as happened in the United States in Reconstruction.” And I, as a complainer, I send him a note. And I said, “You’re not writing about Reconstruction really, but I think it’s important to know that that’s not how historians view it anymore. You’re reinforcing the idea that giving rights to black people is an act of vengeance against white people, which is a really dangerous idea.”

920x920Eric Foner: He wrote back and said, “You’re absolutely right. I shouldn’t have said that, but my wife is from South Carolina,” and I’ve heard this all the time. And I said to myself, “That’s a funny way of running journalism.” You put in your article what your wife told you over breakfast. But be that as it may, you don’t see that anymore. I think what now, if Reconstruction pops up is Tim Scott is the first black Senator from South Carolina and the first ones were in Reconstruction. I think Reconstruction is being seen as a time when positive things happened even though negative things happened as well. So I think it’s good. And of course the Gates series was very important as you well know, that there’s now a national park site being developed in Beaufort, South Carolina to highlight the history of Reconstruction. So I think Reconstruction is, people are encountering it in all sorts of venues and I think in a more modern form than the old what we call Dunning School approach.

Ed Ayers: Well you were modest before in walking away from the word failure, but in many ways you came up with the right word back in 1988 with your great book on Reconstruction; unfinished revolution. Are you willing to stand by that phrase still?

Eric Foner: Yeah, I am. That was the very last words of the Gates series, if you may remember. Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw got the very last word in Reconstruction was an Unfinished Revolution. So I said, “Oh, look at that. That’s nice. My phrase still reverberating out there.” The funny thing is that that wasn’t the title of the book. The title of book was just Reconstruction, and the day before it finally went to the printer, my editor called me and said, “People here don’t think anyone’s going to buy that book. It needs a good subtitle. By tomorrow morning, give us a subtitle.” And I thought, “Gee whiz.” And I thought and thought and thought and suddenly this popped into my head, The Unfinished Revolution and I told it to him. So it wasn’t something that had shaped the way I wrote the book or anything like that.

Eric Foner: But anyway, yeah, it’s unfinished, and particularly, when you talk about the legal and constitutional aspects, yes. The Reconstruction put forward a whole set of ideals, a whole set of principles for our society and they weren’t fully accomplished, certainly. I want to give the impression of something that’s still ongoing, that Reconstruction is not just the dead past. It’s still happening in the sense that the issues of Reconstruction; who should be a citizen? Who should have the right to vote? How do we deal with terrorism and others? These are on our agenda today. So that debate is still unfinished.

Ed Ayers: Your new book, let’s talk about the title of it. The Second Founding. So why did United States need a second founding? What was it about the first founding that was inadequate?

Eric Foner: Well, as you well know, there’s a lot of debate among historians about exactly what the relationship between the constitution and slavery was. I don’t want to get into that right here. The abolitionist movement debated that forever, but I think we would all have to say that slavery in some form was embedded in the original constitution. We had the Fugitive Slave Clause, which required the return of those who managed to escape to freedom. We had the Three-Fifths Clause, which gave the slave South added representation in the House of Representatives by counting part of their slave population. So we needed a second founding to cleanse the constitution of slavery and to clarify issues which the constitution had left undecided.

Eric Foner: Number one, who is a citizen of the United States? One of the funny things is the constitution refers to citizens all over the place, but it never defines who is a citizen. What do you need to be to be a citizen? My view of Reconstruction, I use this phrase, a modern phrase, I didn’t use it back then, is this is regime change that’s going on. A pro-slavery regime is being replaced with what? With some kind of antislavery regime and you’ve got to rewrite the constitution in order to cleanse it of the remnants of the pro-slavery regime.

Ed Ayers: And that regime wasn’t just in the South. The whole nation was a regime based on slavery.

Eric Foner: Absolutely. That’s why Lincoln in his second inaugural address referred to it as American slavery, not Southern slavery. Lincoln always said that, that we are complicitous in the North. We don’t own slaves right now, but we are complicitous. We profit from slavery.

Ed Ayers: So as you know from out giving talks, people think that the Civil War itself ended slavery and that the 13th Amendment was just a codification of something that had already happened with the Emancipation Proclamation and so forth. So I thought that was one thing that was interesting about the Lincoln movie focusing on the 13th Amendment. So why did we need the 13th Amendment if the Civil War ended slavery?

GatewayEric Foner: Well there were still slaves on the ground when the Civil War ended, quite a few of them. People who had gotten to Union lines or where the Union Army had come and established control, yeah. Part of their job, part of the Union Army’s job once the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, was to protect the freedom that Lincoln had announced. But legally speaking, emancipation and abolition are not quite the same thing. Slavery is created by state law, not federal law, state law. States can abolish slavery as the Northern states did soon after the American Revolution, but freeing individuals does not abrogate the state laws that create slavery. That’s why Lincoln’s, even though you wouldn’t quite see this in the movie. That’s fine. It’s not a historical treatise. Lincoln’s preferred route to the end of slavery during the war was state by state abolition.

Eric Foner: Even after he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, he was pressing Southern states. If any of them wanted to come back in the union, they would have to abolish slavery. That’s how you get rid of slavery on the ground, by having the state laws abrogated. But that couldn’t really happen in the Civil War very much, and so by 1864, many people particularly abolitionists are saying the simpler way is just to have this constitutional amendment. That will completely abrogate slavery everywhere in the country. We won’t have to go state by state and let’s do it that way. Lincoln got onboard of course, and as the movie shows, twisted a lot of arms in January, 1865 to get some people in the House of Representatives to vote for the 13th Amendment, so to completely get rid of slavery. It’s certainly true. The war disrupted slavery. Many people fled. Some states like Maryland, a border state and Louisiana where Lincoln was trying to push a Reconstruction plan, they abolished slavery on the state level, but there were plenty of places slavery was still existing when the Civil War ended.

Ed Ayers: Well, why would Lincoln have to twist so many arms if the United States awakened to the great injustice of slavery during the war and mobilized 200000 African American men to be soldiers and sailors? Why was there still resistance to it as late as 1864 and early 1865?

Eric Foner: Yeah, well, of course the first time they tried, the 13th Amendment failed in the House of Representatives. Remember, it needs two-thirds vote in the Congress, which is often not that easy to get. The Democratic Party was still there. It was still, if not pro-slavery, it was still resistant to abolition. The border slave states, the people there were quite adamant that they didn’t, Kentucky, Maryland said they didn’t want this constitutional amendment. They were still in the union, but it took arm twisting because the 13th Amendment gets lost in the shuffle in a way. We talk about the 14th and 15th much more for complicated reasons, but the 13th Amendment was really a constitutional revolution in and of itself.

Eric Foner: Never before had the constitution been written or amended to just abrogate a whole type of property. Some of the people in Congress said, “Wait a minute. If we’re going to say this kind of property is gone, next year there’ll be demanding that we confiscate the factories of New England.” It also completely reversed the position and that was traditional, but from the constitution arm, with the ratification of the constitution arm, that this was a state matter. Now it’s a, “Forget it. I don’t care what the states want. No slavery anymore in this country, do supersede.” That is a fundamental shift of power from the states to the federal government. And then the second clause. The first clause, abolition of slavery. The second clause, Congress shall have the power to enforce this amendment. A lot of southerners, once the war is over and Andrew Johnson’s Reconstruction plan is moving along, a lot of white Southerners say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. Yeah, slavery is dead. We understand that. We’re not going to have slavery back, but this second clause seems to give Congress the right to legislate about anything they want.”

Eric Foner: How do you enforce the abolition of slavery? Do you give black people the right to vote? Yeah. People said that’s what they need if they’re going to be free. Do you give them land? That’s what African Americans wanted. In other words, it’s very open-ended. Enforcing the abolition of slavery is a very complicated idea. Unfortunately, for very complex legal reasons, it has never really been implemented. The Supreme court has barely ever used the 13th Amendment as a weapon against the racial inequality that is, of course, tied up in slavery.

Ed Ayers: Yeah, so the 13th Amendment, it’s a breakthrough in thinking about what the nation is as well as ending slavery right?

Eric Foner: Right.

Ed Ayers: Does that help explain why the 14th Amendment comes so quickly after the 13th after there have been decades, really, without constitutional change?

WhoEric Foner: Yeah. The 14th Amendment, I would say, is working out the consequences of the 13th Amendment as well as the consequences of the Civil War. I see the 14th Amendment as putting the Northern Republicans understanding of what they had achieved in the Civil War into the constitution. Some of it has something to do with race or slavery, for example, that Confederate bonds are never going to be repaid. If you patriotically loaned money to the Confederacy, forget it. You’re never getting that back. It has to do with various other things related to the war. But the first section, which is the key one, is really henceforth because of the abolition of slavery, everybody born in the United States is a citizen of the United States.

Eric Foner: You needed that because the status of citizenship was still very uncertain and then more important, all those citizens are going to enjoy the equal protection of the law. The original constitution said nothing about equality among Americans, nothing. It’s the 14th Amendment that makes the constitution as it has been in our own time, a vehicle through which all sorts of people can claim greater equality. The gay marriage decision a few years ago was a 14th Amendment decision. They weren’t thinking of gay marriage when they were writing the 14th Amendment, but they were thinking of how do you make people equal before the law?

Ed Ayers: The last amendment you talk about of course, is the 15th, which I think often tends to be seen as a footnote to the 14th but was that also a hard fought battle to create that?

Eric Foner: That was very hard fought because the principle that the states controlled the right to vote was deeply embedded North and South. There were plenty of Northern states that were nervous. In Congress, they were those who said, “We want an amendment that just says every male citizen age 21 has the right to vote.” If they had gotten that through, just think of all the trouble that would have been avoided. Even today when we’re debating voter IDs and all that, a positive statement. Now they weren’t willing to give women the right to vote and the women’s movement was very outraged by that. But Northern states, the Chinese couldn’t vote in California. Immigrants couldn’t vote on the same basis as a native born in Rhode Island. Massachusetts had a literacy test for voting. They didn’t want to give up their control of the rights. So instead of a positive amendment, it’s what you might call a negative amendment; that no state can deny anyone the right to vote because of race.

Ed Ayers: Well, it’s a work-around in a way, right? It’s-

Eric Foner: It’s a work-around and it has a serious flaw, which is any other limit on the right to vote is not prohibited right? You can have a literacy test. You can have a poll tax. When the Southern states, as you well know, took away the right to vote, they didn’t do it by saying, “Hey, black people can’t vote anymore,” because that would’ve violated the 15th Amendment. What they did was put all these other qualifications and then understanding clauses. You’ve got to prove to the registrar that you understand the state constitution, but the Supreme Court allowed this to happen. They said, “Well, look, they’re not talking about race actually. This law says nothing about race so it doesn’t violate the 15th Amendment.”

Ed Ayers: Well and there’s other parts of these amendments that have come back to haunt us in some ways. Perhaps you could talk a little bit about the clause about involuntary servitude and the 13th Amendment?

Eric Foner: That’s been highlighted a few years ago by the documentary of, the Hollywood documentary, 13th. 13th Amendment, the language is taken just about directly from the Northwest Ordinance of Thomas Jefferson, and it says, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude except as a punishment for crime, can exist in the United States.” That criminal exemption. Now this is not a conspiracy as some people think, “Oh look. They were looking ahead to mass incarceration, to convict labor, to the exploitation of the labor.” They were hardly any prisons in 1865. There was a little bit of a history of convict labor to help pay the cost of prisons, but it wasn’t a mass system. But this little, this exemption, which was not even debated in Congress, nobody even mentioned it except Charles Sumner, the abolitionist Senator from Massachusetts. It wasn’t debated in the press. I looked through the newspapers. Nobody mentions it.

Eric Foner: It’s just boilerplate language really. But nonetheless, inadvertently, it created this loophole through which the Southern states particularly drove this Mack truck in the late 19th century of massive convict labor, either within prisons or leasing out of convicts to work in mines and plantations and on roadwork and stuff like this, under terribly oppressive conditions. The courts have persistently ruled that the 13th Amendment allows the requirement, the involuntary labor of people convicted of a crime. And then after Reconstruction, Southern states began making almost anything a felony. You steal a chicken, it’s a felony, and you’re eight years in jail and you are sent out pretty soon to labor on some guy’s plantation who has rented the labor of the prisoners from the federal government. So it’s disastrous really in Southern history later on, but it was inadvertent almost. What it shows you is people talk a lot about the original intention. Sometimes unintended consequences can be just as important as the intended consequences of an amendment.

Ed Ayers: You talked before, Eric, about the way that even though women played such a crucial role in bringing about these amendments; petitioning Congress during the war and afterwards, that they were excluded from this. How about the place of American Indians in all this? Who’s been born in this country more than American Indians? So why is that a blind spot in these laws of the post Civil War era?

Eric Foner: The legal status of Native Americans was murky, to say the least. You still had the remnants of the idea that they were not Americans. They were members of their own tribal sovereignties. People talked about the Cherokee Nation, the Choctaw Nation. You are not a citizen of the United States. You were a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Now, of course, by this time, the power of the Indian nations in most places had been broken, and it wasn’t as if you had the United States government dealing with equal nations on the other side. But the people who wrote the [inaudible 00:29:15] did not, their aim was not to make Native Americans citizens. The exemption in the 14th Amendment says, “Anybody born in the United States or naturalized coming from abroad except and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.” And the idea, well Native Americans are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. They’re subject to the laws of their own national sovereignties.

ForeverEric Foner: So Indians were not citizens and it’s not until 1924 that Congress enacts a law making all Native Americans, regardless of where they are living, regardless of what tribe they in, citizens of the United States. So yeah. These amendments had exemptions, they had loopholes, they had serious flaws. Women, as you said, certainly objected to the 15th Amendment, which didn’t give them the right to vote, and the second clause of the 14th Amendment, which introduces the word male for the first time into the constitution. These measures were compromises. They were worked out after long debate and amendments and ups and downs in Congress. There’s no single mind behind the 13th, 14th or 15th Amendments. They were the result of all sorts of negotiation and controversy. Nonetheless, the basic principles are pretty clear. The abolition of slavery, the establishment of a universal notion of citizenship, despite without the native Americans and of equality among those citizens and the vast expansion of the right to vote.

Ed Ayers: And they are alive in today’s political and legal culture. What do you see as the issues that are most salient right now on either being contested or helping drive forward some kind of change?

Eric Foner: Well, sadly, yeah. Many of these issues are still unresolved and I’d have to say sadly, our Supreme Court has adopted an increasingly narrow definition of the implications of these amendments. The most notable was a few years ago in the Shelby County decision, which overturned a very important part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That’s a law passed under the 15th Amendment. It was passed with virtual unanimity in Congress, forcing jurisdictions in the South that had a long history of discrimination and voting to get prior approval from the federal government before they changed the voting rules. Supreme Court a few years ago said, “Well that’s a violation of federalism. It treats some states more harshly than other states.” Well, these are states that had slavery and not every state did. And also these are states that had consciously removed the right to vote over many years.

Eric Foner: But anyway, so their narrowing the 15th Amendment. Who should have the right to vote is a hot issue in our politics as you well know, with gerrymandering, with various ID and other voter suppression laws. Citizenship, how relevant can you be on our border today? This is being debated all the time. Who has the right to be an American citizen? For example, does the child born in the United States of a undocumented immigrant, is that child automatically an American citizen? Well, language of the 14th Amendment is pretty clear. Yes. Any person born in the United States. Your parents can be bank robbers. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be a citizen of the United States. But President Trump, among other things, has said that he feels he has the right as president to abrogate the first sentence of the 14th Amendment, the birthright citizenship sentence for the children of undocumented immigrants.

Eric Foner: I don’t personally think the president can all by himself eradicate part of the constitution, but some people have tried to do that. So these issues are certainly on our political agenda today and I think an understanding of how the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were enacted, what they were intended to accomplish, can help us think through the implications of that today.

Ed Ayers: Eric Foner is professor emeritus of history at Columbia University. His latest book is The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution. That’s going to do it for us today, but you can keep the conversation going online. Let us know what you thought of the episode or ask us your questions about history. You’ll find this at backstoryradio.org or send an email to backstory@Virginia.edu. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter at Backstory Radio. Special thanks this week to Jerry [inaudible 00:34:10] and Katie Gary.

Ed Ayers: Backstory is produced at Virginia Humanities. Major support is provided by an anonymous donor, the Joseph and Robert Cornell Memorial foundation, the Johns Hopkins University and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this podcast do not necessarily represent those that the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support is provided by the Tomato Fund, cultivating fresh ideas in the arts, the humanities, and the environment.

Speaker 6: Brian Balogh is professor of history at the University of Virginia. Ed Ayers is professor of the humanities and president emeritus of the University of Richmond. Joanne Freeman is professor of history and American studies at Yale University. Nathan Connolly is the Herbert Baxter Adams associate professor of history at the Johns Hopkins University. Backstory was created by Andrew Wyndham for Virginia Humanities.

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