The Civil War and Civil Rights. The unintended consequences

Civil Rights

 

A good old Negro in the slums of the town

Preached at a sister for her velvet gown

Howled at a brother for his low-down ways,

His prowling, guzzling, sneak-thief days.

Beat on the Bible till he wore it out

Starting the jubilee revival shout

(Vachel Lindsay)

 

 

John F. Kennedy’s assassination provided this country with the impetus to pass Civil Rights Legislation.

It is it an interesting historical footnote that to this point in time the legislation had been hopelessly stalled in Congress. Another equally interesting fact is that one of the most notorious Southern bigots in U. S. history; Lyndon B. Johnson, finally pushed the Bill through in the wake of the maudlin sentimentality evoked by Kennedy’s death.

Why did it take something like that to spur the conscience of this country into acting on a plan that was plain and simply the right thing to do in the first place?

Even more interesting is the fact that more than one of my relatives in Texas would swear on the Bible that LBJ’s first congressional victory was made possible by just the right number of his already deceased constituency casting votes from their graves.

The finally irony here is that the ultimate political prize was finally garnered for Johnson when a solitary dead man, Kennedy, whose own victory was secured when Richard Daly stuffed the ballot boxes of Cook County, Illinois, then cast one involuntary, solitary vote for President from the morgue of the Parkland Hospital.

I have my own rather simplistic opinion on the rather tragically pathetic saga of the plight of the black man in America. The key point is that Black Americans are the only group of people who came to this country against their will.

In fact many of them were sold into bondage by other Africans after being captured in tribal warfare, or even intentionally captured by other Africans to collect slave trader’s bounties. Brother against brother so to speak and just a subset of the conflicts that still go on in Africa today. Taking a hard look at the genocidal politics of the Sudan and Darfur will make one never again believe the myth that all black men are truly “brothers.”

The experience of the black American was never close to being rooted in the same optimistic dream that either of my bloodlines may have experienced. At the same time that these future slaves were being rounded up, put into chains and thrown into the holds of galley ships, almost every other immigrant group was trying to beg borrow or steal a voluntary ride over on similar vessels.

Once here, these blacks became the only group of foreign immigrants who were without the hope of a franchise as they were put into involuntary forced labor on Southern plantations or farm fields.They were purposely kept illiterate and were forced into a local culture of communal maternal socialism. Families were split apart, black men were forced to forego their manhood and black women were forced into domestic labor, involuntary sexual servitude, or made to wet-nurse plantation owner’s babies. Ironically, some of these same men who may have been suckled at the black nipple would occasionally be the ones to grow up and lynch the sons of the women who had nurtured them.

After about two hundred years of this insanity, the cultural divide between the North and the South finally erupted in a war that was predicated more on a differential way of life than anything rooted simply in the North’s gracious and magnanimous desire to free the black man.

It was, as in most wars, more about culture, economics, tax revenues and centralized Federal power than anything else. It was also a conflict the rural South could never hope to win from the outset, because it could never remotely match or mobilize the resources generated in the industrialized North. One small example of a minor technological advance that made a huge difference in the long run, or the long march to be more literal, was the Frye Company boot being better than any shoe produced in the South. While southern boys were eventually forced to fight in bare feet and moccasins, northern troops were marching through Georgia in fine leather footwear.

The Grey clad soldier, trained to hunt since childhood, could probably shoot better, but there were just too many better equipped and well fed men in the Blue uniforms for them to overcome these stacked odds.

As Generals Grant and Sherman cut their respective swaths through the South, the aftermath was the destruction of an entire cultural infrastructure which had been supported by slavery, only to then be followed up by the so-called emancipation of a group of people who suddenly found themselves with no place to go. While they were being liberated as a group, the unanswered questions were that they were “free” to go where and “free” to do what?

  • Greetings to all you slaves. We have fought long and hard to preserve our Union. And now that we have won the war, we are here to let you know you are free to leave this prison plantation, where forced against your free will you have had to call it “home.”
  • But free to go where boss? Free to do what? Where do I go? What am I supposed to do?
  • I’m not exactly sure, but I hear they plan to give all of you forty acres and a mule somewhere down Alabama way.
  • Yeah boss. But I still need some way to get down there, I can’t eat dirt; I’ll still have to feed the mule and what about a house?
  • Well, I don’t think I can help you with that part. And because our work here is done, perhaps you should just run along, get the hell out of here, and move on up to Detroit.

The Blacks, originally cast into the shadows as Union Army camp followers principally to be protected from vigilante Whites or in order to simply be fed, suddenly found themselves left behind as a residual group of people who were no better off than the ancient tribes of Israel fated to wander aimlessly through the desert. After the Northern army subsequently disbanded, they were literally left hung out on a limb; caught between greedy Carpetbaggers and vengeful whites who themselves had now been cast into abject poverty and share cropping subsistence living.

In this American Diaspora there was no trek to a promised land. The only open choices were migrate to the great cities in the North; where because they were less than welcomed by their great liberators, they soon aggregated into urban slums; or alternatively, to remain impoverished, suppressed and harassed by White supremacists and the KKK in the newly created shantytowns of the south.

Basically they were simply forgotten as the North complacently patted itself on the back as it perpetuated the great myth of having been the salvation of the Southern slave. American Civil War history always comes with the propaganda that it was only about slavery. It wasn’t. Slavery was a side issue. The American Civil War was a cultural clash about sovereignty, inappropriate taxation, maintaining a way of life, State’s rights and ultimately about preserving centralized Federal economic dominance.

A parallel view was offered by a Polish freedom fighter after the Nazis were defeated and he was asked if he felt guilty about the concentration camps and why he hadn’t helped to liberate them:

  • To us the Jews were an irrelevant side issue, a mere footnote. We didn’t even think about them. For us that was not what the war was all about. For us it was only about one thing: getting our country back.

Many Union soldiers felt the same way and almost laid down their arms when told they were fighting only to free the slaves.

Concurrently in 1865, the Federal Government had seriously failed to realize that forty acres and a mule was not going to cut it in an environment that was trying to force both the southern as well as the northern White man to suddenly love, cherish and live harmoniously side by side with his newly liberated Black neighbor and brother. One cannot destroy an entire culture and then passively hope that enlightenment will spontaneously appear upon its heels, when it is far more likely that the evil head of hatred will rise out of the ashes like a like a Phoenix. Chaos or anarchy then prevails; until there is a new revolution or a new social hierarchy appears.

It happened here, it happened in Germany after World War I, it happened in post Saddam Hussein Iraq, and it will happen again anywhere there is a vacuum of hatred left behind in the wake of a great yet unwillingly forced social upheaval.

Perhaps however the most egregious mistake at the Federal level was to never make any attempt whatsoever to educate the newly liberated slave population, leaving them then for the most part as functional illiterates who could neither read nor write.

There are some historians who believe before he was shot that Lincoln’s original plan was to send the blacks back to Africa. There are others who believe that the blacks would have been better off if the former slaves had been offered a free state in America. That however, would have implied the forced dislocation of local whites in Alabama and Mississippi, setting the stage for a plight similar to that of modern Palestinian.

One compromise came with the creation of the African State of Sierra Leone, but few Blacks bought into the opportunity to emigrate. And for those who stayed behind, the ball game was pretty much lost in the first inning. In truth, how many of these blacks had the resources to emigrate anyway or how many of them then being two generations removed from their original roots would have wanted to make that trip. They didn’t even speak the language anymore.

The game was lost because for those blacks that did stay behind; the offer never came for a decent franchise and more importantly, a decent education. Today’s inner city ghettos are nothing better than segregated concentration camps without barbed wire fences while most ghetto schools are the last place a slum dwelling child can hope to learn elocution, science, math and literacy.

It is truly ironic that these are the same issues debated in Congress to this very day and because of the strange reason they never seem to get resolved, continue to serve as the nidus that keeps the flames of racial hatred and bigotry alive and well. America swallowed a bitter pill when it first imported slaves, kept them ignorant and oppressed, then ignoring any specific needs they may have had as a second-class minority group, suddenly decided to let them go free.

Having never really been integrated; the result is now societal dis-integration.

Perhaps the only bright spot on the horizon for the Black man in America in 1865 was that in at least being relegated to ‘second class citizenry’ they were actually doing better than the Red man, who was relegated to no class of citizenship at all; other than the meaningless euphemistic classification of being called “sovereign citizens.”

Big deal. All this really means is that on the small parsed out reservations left for them to live on; they are not required to pay Federal taxes, can sell tax free cigarettes, or if they are lucky enough, to be granted permission to open a casino. But then again anyone else living below the poverty defined income level doesn’t have to pay taxes either.

The leg up for the American freed slave was that they at least were not targeted for genocide. With the Civil War having drawn to a successful conclusion, the U.S. military then turned an expansive eye toward the vast open territories of the West, where the dangerously fearsome Red man roamed.

In a great post war propaganda campaign likening these “Red” people to renegade wild animals, they soon became an easy target for sanctioned mass extinction and the sub Rosa agendas of eminent domain that secretly but savagely originated in the White House. The U.S. President and the Congress wanted the western Indians out of the way, while the U. S. cavalry, well trained and fresh on the heels of a civil victory was sent to secure the land for white settlers. Mass murder was condoned and encouraged at the highest levels of power.

At the 1870s stage of weapons sophistication, with the invention of the Colts 45 revolver and the Winchester repeating rifle, Smallpox was no longer necessary for effecting genocide. The bullet was infinitely more predictable in its effectiveness than germ warfare, was also a great deal safer to handle and certainly gave the white soldier an efficient advantage over the paltry effectiveness of the bow, the arrow or the hand spear. The guns were so accurate they could kill a man from over a mile away. The American Indian “problem” was eliminated when the population became so small that both it and its principle food source, the concurrently decimated Buffalo, could never recover. In so doing they were also eliminated as a legitimate political force.

What a great country. We killed off our indigenous population and then freed a new population that had been imported as slaves from another continent.

Hitler would have been proud of us. The American Lebensraum was in full bloom. The Red man was soon to be virtually eliminated, while the ignorant illiterate Black man was left to lurk quietly in the background, and soon to fall underneath the national radar screen; or at least temporarily. It was only until their increasing numbers made them a legitimate political force that required more diligent attention be paid to their collective voices.

Free at last; free at last, completely ignored; yet one day in the not too distant future about to become fully resurrected with a vengeance and a new means to power: Voter Registration.

 

Wounded knee 2

And look before you ere you leap;

For, as you sow, you are like to reap. 

(Samuel Butler)

 

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