Category Archives: African Americans

The South and the Death Penalty

by KurtFF8

The recent execution of Troy Davis has caused many to again discuss the merits of the death penalty in the United States.  (It also sparked a mass march in New York City that was met with a heavy handed police response). According to the Daily Beast, the South has the highest execution rate in the country, as well as the highest murder rate.  On top of that, the incarceration capital of the world is a southern city: New Orleans.

These renewed debates not only bring into question broad topics like the death penalty itself, but they should also let us contextualize them in a regional sense.  We should begin asking why is the South the home to so many problems still (to throw yet another one in there: the South is “bearing the brunt” of the US’s raising poverty rate).  There are plenty of answers to the question of why the South faces these problems.  But one thing should be quite clear, it is something often repeated on this site: the South remains an important part of the country to organize progressive forces.

Amongst the many lessons we learned from the Troy Davis incident (to steal the ANSWER coalition’s article title), we should also add the lesson that the world pays attention to the South, not only to the injustices that happen there but to the folks that organize against those injustices.

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Filed under African Americans, ANSWER Coalition, Atlanta, Georgia, inmates, Leftists in the U.S. South, National Oppression, New Orleans, Prisoners, prisons, racism, Southern Identity, Southern Strategy, Southern United States, United States

Tell President Obama to take action to save the life of Troy Davis

Taken from the ANSWER Coalition’s website

The Obama/Holder Justice Department should launch a federal civil rights investigation right now into the case of Troy Davis and seek a stay of his execution that is scheduled for tonight at 7pm.

President Obama, who routinely lectures sovereign governments abroad about civil rights and human rights issues within their countries, has until now said nothing to the state government of Georgia that allowed racist police forces to intimidate and coerce witnesses in the effort to execute an innocent Black man.

It’s not too late to act. The clock is ticking before an innocent man is put to death.

Send a letter right this second to President Obama and Attorney General Holder insisting that he speak up and use the authority of the Presidency to prevent this outrage. Tell President Obama to order a Federal Civil Rights investigation into the case of Troy Davis.

You can also call the White House switchboard and tell them that you want President Obama to initiate a federal civil rights investigation and seek a stay of execution. Call the White House at 202-456-1414.

Background to the case of Troy Davis

More than 1 million people have signed a petition in support of Troy Davis. Demonstrations have taken place around the country and the world. Even the former director of the FBI has said that this execution is an injustice and should not go forward.

Of the nine witnesses, seven have recanted or altered their version of events. Five have signed statements saying they were coerced by police to testify against Davis, a common element of many racist “legal lynchings” targeting Black people. Three witnesses said that another man confessed to them that he killed the police officer.

The execution of Troy Davis shows with full clarity the true character of the racist legal system in the United States—its complete failing as any arbiter of justice.  Davis has accessed all allowed avenues of appeal in the U.S. justice system in his quest not be put to death, an innocent man.

The members of the politically appointed Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles, impervious to any accountability to the people, have decided that they wish for Troy Davis to die. With their announcement today that they have denied clemency to Troy Davis, he is on course to be executed this Wednesday, Sept. 21 at 7pm Eastern, in the state of Georgia.

Absolutely no physical evidence has been found that implicates Davis in the killing. No murder weapon has ever been found, exposing yet another major gap in the prosecution’s case. This is the fourth time the state of Georgia has set an execution date for Davis, who was wrongly convicted of killing a police officer in 1989.

The ANSWER Coalition has been joining with hundreds of other organizations in demonstrations throughout the country in recent days and weeks.

There is worldwide opposition to Troy Davis’s execution. On Sept. 16, coordinated protests took place in cities all over the United States and the world.

Over 650,000 signatures in support of Troy Davis were delivered to the parole board. Now, over 1 million people have signed petitions in his support. Prominent signers include South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former President Jimmy Carter, more than four dozen members of Congress, and many celebrities.

The decision to deny clemency to Davis reaffirms the unabashed racism and bankruptcy of the justice system. We are staying in the streets to demand justice! Stop the execution of Troy Davis! End the racist death penalty!

Send a letter to President Obama and Attorney General Holder right now demanding that the Justice department order a Federal Civil Rights investigation into the case of Troy Davis. Prevent the the state sponsored murder of an innocent man.

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Filed under African Americans, ANSWER Coalition, Georgia, Human Rights, Race, racism

Confederate Flag Debate Continues

By KurtFF8

Recently, the city of Lexington, Virginia passed an ordinance to prohibit Confederate Flags on city-owned poles.  The debate the emerged during the proposed rule brought up the fact that the debate on the flying of the flag is far from over.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans held a demonstration prior to the vote and, according to the article linked to above, vowed to “challenge the ordinance in court.”

Why is it that over 150 years after the start of the US Civil War that the debate over the Confederate flag is still relevant?  There are a few factors involved.

First and foremost: while the nature of the Confederacy itself is often cited in these debates, the usage of the flag since the end of the war is what drives these “cultural” conflicts.  Most importantly in recent history is the usage in the political movement against desegregation in the South.  The Flag became a symbol of resistance to the move to resist integration and stop “northern dominance” over the South.  This association is difficult to delink from the racist elements and motivations of the flag, considering the most recent historical widespread use of it was this political battle and the racist side that the flag symbolized.

As I have argued elsewhere, the States’ Rights argument that is often appealed to in these cases has historically been an excuse to actually prevent rights from expanding.  In the case of the Civil War: it was the right of states to continue to have the slave system.  In the civil rights era: it was the right of states to continue to segregate.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans argues that the Civil War was a war about freedom for the South.  They conveniently ignore or cease to elaborate for whom in the South that freedom was for.  Considering that the South explicitly seceded to preserve the institution of slavery, it is quite clear that the freedom was a very limited notion of the term.  The fact that the Sons of Confederate Veterans does not quite address this issue is quite telling of the nature of their organization and motivations for promoting symbols like the Confederate flag.

Each era that the flag was widely used (particularly the Civil War itself and the Civil Rights eras), it was a symbol of the oppression of black folks.  It would be a difficult case to make that it has been anything but this without getting into abstract debates about freedom of speech.  That’s not to say that the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or other groups are necessarily trying to promote a specific racist political goal in these cases.  But one thing that is undeniable is that they are attempting to promote the use of a symbol that has been used almost exclusively in history to promote racist political and social policy.

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Filed under African Americans, confederacy, National Oppression, Race, racism, slavery, Southern United States, State's rights, U.S. Civil War, Virginia

Stetson Kennedy dies at 94 in Fla.

From Forbes.com:

MIAMI — Author and folklorist Stetson Kennedy, who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan six decades ago and exposed its secrets to authorities and the public but was also criticized for possibly exaggerating his exploits, died Saturday. He was 94.

Kennedy died at Baptist Medical Center South near St. Augustine, where he had been receiving hospice care.

In the 1940s, Kennedy used the “Superman” radio show to expose and ridicule the Klan’s rituals. In the 1950s he wrote “I Rode with the Ku Klux Klan,” which was later renamed “The Klan Unmasked,” and “The Jim Crow Guide.”

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Filed under African Americans, Florida, Race, racism

Workers at Virginia Ikea factory wage union struggle

An article in the May issue of the Monthly Review claimed that the South is “now the center of U.S. political economy.”  The following article serves as an excellent example of how this claim is accurate by highlighting the struggles of union representation and racism that continue in places like Virginia.

-KurtFF8

[This article originally appeared on the Liberation News website]

June 30, 2011

Workers such as these at Ikea’s factory in Danville, Virginia have filed for a union election.

Ikea may be known in Sweden for giving decent pay and benefits to its employees, but workers at the company’s first factory in the United States are feeling left out. Employees at an Ikea subsidiary in Danville, Va., are facing low pay, long hours and even discrimination. Deciding to fight back, the workers have filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board and have chosen the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers as their union.

Taxpayers sacrificed $12 million to lure the giant furniture maker to Danville, but the main attraction seems to be Virginia’s low minimum wage and “right-to-work” laws that make unionization difficult. Starting pay has been cut, and scheduled pay raises have been stopped. African-American employees have faced racial discrimination, leading six to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. These workers were assigned to the lowest-paying departments in the plant and forced to work the hated 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift.

“If we put in for a better job, we wouldn’t get it—it would always go to a white person,” said former employee Jackie Maubin. (LA Times, April 10)

Swedwood, the Ikea subsidiary that runs the Danville plant, has fired many of its employees and replaced them with lower-paid temporary workers who receive no benefits.

In May, under pressure from labor activists, Swedwood cut down on its use of temp workers and Ikea hired an auditing firm to speak to its workers about their conditions. But many were afraid to tell the auditors how they really felt because they were worried about being fired.

The auditors discovered that the company was forcing its employees to work overtime, a policy which stopped after the audit but has recently been restarted. Many workers have said that it is common for management to inform workers on Friday evening that they will have to pull a weekend shift or face punishment.

“It’s the most strict place I have ever worked,” said former plant employee Janis Wilborne. (LA Times, April 10)

The exploitation at the Danville factory has gotten so bad that the International Trade Union Confederation has released a statement saying it would use its resources to ensure the company treats its American workers respectfully.

The IAMAW and the company were originally holding discussions and working towards a cooperative election, but in the past month talks between the two sides fell apart. Swedwood has stated that it would accept the results of a secret ballot election, which is hard to believe given that they hired the union-busting firm of Jackson Lewis to intimidate the workers.

Despite all of the tireless work a company may do to give itself a progressive image, its main goal is to make profits. Profits are made by paying workers less than the full value their labor contributes to the goods or services they produce, which is exactly what Ikea/Swedwood is doing in Virginia.

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, labor movement, labor unions, Race, racism, Southern United States, State's rights, Virginia, workers

Untold story of U.S. slave rebellion retold centuries later

[This article originally appeared on thestar.com]

By Mitch Potter Washington Bureau

DESTREHAN PLANTATION, LA.—A long-lost chapter in American history is being written anew today, as southerners begin to come to terms with the previously untold story of the continent’s largest slave revolt.

And while historians today debate the details, a consensus is forming around just how close New Orleans came to becoming a free black colony precisely 200 years ago when a makeshift army of some 500 slaves, some just a few years out of Africa, rose up in carefully calculated unison with epic consequences.

Here at the pastoral Destrehan Plantation, the aftermath of the January 1811, insurrection was especially brutal — newly unearthed colonial records show the estate was the epicentre for a judicial reckoning, with the white slaveholders ordering as many as 100 ringleaders shot or hanged.

They black rebel leaders then were decapitated, with their heads mounted on stakes in a horrific necklace of retribution stretching 70 kms down the Mississippi, all the way to the gates of what was then America’s most crucial frontier city.“It is one of the most striking moments of amnesia in our national history. What you had in the end were plantation owners sitting down to sumptuous five-course meals as they looked out the window at their own beheaded slaves,” said historian Daniel Rasmussen, who began his investigation as an undergraduate student at Harvard.

“The planters were outnumbered and terrified. They thought of their slaves as sub-human they saw ritual beheading as a prime way to get their message across.

“And what followed this gruesome display was a concerted attempt to write it out of the history books. The southern newspapers suppressed the story, either refusing to publish or delaying for months. Only a few papers much further north published small paragraphs condemning the savagery of the planters.”

Tulane University, the African American Museum in Treme and Destrehan Plantation all are filling in the blanks with the launch of a yearlong look at the 1811 uprising.

But it is Rasmussen’s riveting new book, American Uprising: The Untold Story of America’s Largest Slave Revolt, that is turning the most heads, in academia and beyond.

Collating clues from dust-encrusted plantation ledgers, colonial court records, obscure snippets of antebellum correspondence and the oral memory of slave descendents, Rasmussen’s study recreates the intense planning and careful timing that underpinned the audacious bid for freedom involving slaves from a dozen plantations along the river.

Two Asante warriors, Kook and Quamana, likely battle-hardened from wars in Africa, conspired with Charles Deslondes, a mulatto slave-driver of mixed parentage, who Rasmussen describes as “the ultimate sleeper cell.”

All had, in one way or another, been “sold down the river” — a cliché that first conceived to describe the especially horrific nature of slavery at southernmost end of the Mississippi, where extreme violence underpinned the extreme wealth of the lucrative French sugar plantations.

Spiked collars were the norm for the uncooperative — the spikes pointing inward to prevent sleep. Deslondes, working on behalf of his plantation owner, was responsible for administering punishment, including the lash for those who would dare refuse the backbreaking labours of harvesting, beating, boiling and refining the sugar cane.

Haiti was also a factor. The slave revolution of 1791 was, in its own way, a shot heard round the slave world, as French colonial refugees and their slaves washed into New Orleans. It remains unclear whether Deslondes came from Haiti.

Louisiana was vital American territory 200 years ago, but just barely — Napoleon had sold France’s claim to the vast Mississippi watershed to the United States a few years earlier for a paltry $15 million, a gift that would ultimately open the drive to the Pacific. But Louisiana’s French colonial class had nothing but contempt for its new American overseers, who were in January 1811, preoccupied in battles with the Spanish to secure a tract of west Florida. New Orleans was nearly defenceless.

“The attack came at just the right moment — the Americans were fighting the Spanish and with the harvest completed, the French planters were focused on the month-long series of lavish carnival balls and all-night parties leading up to Mardi Gras. And several days of steady rains had turned the road to mud, impeding any counterattack. Their guard was down,” Rasmussen said in an interview with the Toronto Star.

“Scarcely a resident in New Orleans had a musket. The city had a weak detachment of 68 troops.”

The rebels rose first at André Plantation after sunset on Jan. 8, 1811. And within hours, they were on the march to New Orleans. A ragtag army, perhaps, but one that marched in uniform, having seized militia clothing and weapons from plantation armories. Their numbers grew as the march advanced and as rumor of the uprising swept down the river road, the ruling class fled for the safety of the city.

“The planters couldn’t understand it — the idea that the slaves were not just savages, but that this was something planned. You had an army marching in military formation, wearing military uniforms, carrying flags and banners and chanting, “Freedom or death,” said Rasmussen.

New Orleans was on the edge of chaos — not least because its own population was 75 per cent black, awakening the fears of a second front rising up within the town itself. The city would order its taverns closed, imposed a curfew on all black males and summoned able-bodied whites to arms. Simultaneously, fleeing French planters regrouped on the West Bank of the Miscopy upstream from the city.

The two forces, American regulars and French planter militia, ultimately were able to confront the freedom fighters from both sides in a series of pitched battles beyond the city gates in the days that followed. Surviving slaves fled to the swamps and manhunts ensued, with dozens rounded up for the rough justice to come.

In the end, 21 slaves were interviewed by their colonial overseers in a bid to piece together the roots of the conspiracy and assign criminal blame. Elements of the story, says Rasmussen, survive in the oral histories of slave descendents, passed down and told “even to the present day at family reunions.” But the main snippets are to be found, refracted through the writings of the white ruling class, which show extent of fears never before told.

“They were sitting on a powder keg and when it exploded and was put down, everything changed. Instead of a mini-Haiti, Louisiana society became militarized. The revolt pushed this old aristocratic society into the hands of the American government,” said Rasmussen.

“What you see is that the foundations of American power in this part of the deep South were built upon the commitment to restore and uphold slavery. Essentially, the French planters decided to cling to the United States as an ark of safety.”

As for Kook, Quamana, and Charles Deslondes, only now are historians weighing how to elevate them alongside the likes of far better known revolutionaries like Nat Turner and John Brown as major figures in the American struggle for emancipation.

“None of this has ever been taught in American schools and the hope now is that these men who were executed for the strongest ideals will take their rightful place in history,” said Rasmussen.

“They were political revolutionaries, they deserve a place in the national memory and there is a sense now that they are getting it. We need to wrestle with this history if we are ever to truly understand it.”

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, Gulf States, Louisiana, New Orleans, Race, racism, slavery, workers

City unveils Foot Soldiers monument

This originally appeared on the St. Augustine Record’s site

Record Staff Writer

Freedom Rider Hank Thomas remembers thinking he was going to die on a bus that was fire bombed by a mob in Alabama 50 years ago.

Thomas, one of the original Freedom Riders and a St. Augustine native, recounted the details of his civil rights protesting days as a young adult in the 1960s at the unveiling of the St. Augustine Foot Soldiers monument in the Plaza de la Constitucion on Saturday evening.

“Today is the anniversary of that bus burning,” Thomas said to a group of hundreds that gathered under the Old Market pavilion in downtown St. Augustine. “I thought I was going to die at 19 years old.”

Freedom Riders traveled through Southern cities by bus to fight for the right of African-Americans to travel across state lines on trains and buses while using the same seats, bathrooms, water fountains and other facilities as whites.

Thomas and several others were trapped inside a bus while a mob fire bombed the bus and held the doors closed. That event in May 1961 is one of many violent acts Thomas saw or was apart of as a protester.

Civil rights protesters like Thomas and Dr. Robert Hayling, who alongside Martin Luther King Jr., played a major role in helping young African-Americans rally against segregation in St. Augustine, spoke at the unveiling ceremony.

Longtime Lincolnville resident, 88-year-old Barbara Vickers sparked an interest in 2004 of creating a memorial for civil rights activists in St. Augustine. A board of directors was formed, which included Cathy Brown, the executive director at the Council on Aging, and former city of St. Augustine mayor George Gardner. From that, the St. Augustine Foot Soldiers Remembrance Project was born.

City and county officials, among many others, watched as Vickers and others pulled down a black sheet the hung over the new bronze sculpture in the Plaza. Four head busts represent the many Foot Soldiers who were arrested, threatened and just fought for equal rights in St. Augustine.

Carolyn Fisher led the audience, packed tightly under the cover of the market to keep out of the rain, in song. Together they sang “the Freedom Song,” “This little light of Mine,” and many others.

Ms. Carrie Johnson, known as the “Voice of Lincolnville,” led the group in song as she rode up to the Plaza on her well-known purple tricycle, her straw hat with a purple sash tucked underneath a bright yellow raincoat.

“In the words of Errol Jones, ‘Let the healing continue,'” said St. Augustine Mayor Joe Boles.

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Filed under African Americans, class struggle, Florida