In the News #bigisms #headlines
Born a slave, John Hunter lived to be 112. Then a NC historian found his family.
Josh Shaffer, February 5. 2020, The News & Observer
An 1870 census report showing John Hunter, age 101, as a blacksmith.
In 1876, a writer for the Raleigh Sentinel sat down to interview an old, old man — a Raleigh native so aged he recalled clearing the forest to build Fayetteville Street, frightening deer and dodging bears.
He said he’d seen British troops in Raleigh before the city had a name. He’d seen burning buildings in the War of 1812. And after a century, he’d seen a lifetime of slavery abruptly end, offering him a short taste of freedom.
John Hunter lived to be 112 by history’s best guess, and until a few months ago, his name had almost totally vanished from Raleigh’s memory.
With luck and the internet, City of Raleigh Museum Director Ernest Dollar rescued him from wills buried in the state archive, articles printed in newspapers that no longer exist and a single line from the 1870 census.
Who Really Killed Malcolm X?
John Leland, February 6, 2020, The New York Times
For more than half a century, scholars have maintained that prosecutors convicted the wrong men in the assassination of Malcolm X.
Now, 55 years after that bloody afternoon in February 1965, the Manhattan district attorney’s office is reviewing whether to reinvestigate the murder.
Some new evidence comes from a six-part documentary called “Who Killed Malcolm X?,” streaming on Netflix Feb. 7, which posits that two of the men convicted could not have been at the scene that day.
Instead it points the finger at four members of a Nation of Islam mosque in Newark, N.J., depicting their involvement as an open secret in their city. One even appeared in a 2010 campaign ad for then-Newark mayor Cory Booker.
“What got us hooked,” said Rachel Dretzin, a director of the documentary along with Phil Bertelsen, “was the notion that the likely shotgun assassin of Malcolm X was living in plain sight in Newark, and that many people knew of his involvement, and he was uninvestigated, unprosecuted, unquestioned.”
Re-Animating the 1619 Project: Teachable Moments Not Turf Wars
James Brewer Stewart, February 9, 2020, History News Network
Who wins when distinguished historians, all white, pick fights over the history of slavery with prominent New York Times journalists, all black, who developed the newspaper’s 1619 Project? Beginning last year, a stream of well known scholars have been objecting publicly to the journalists’ contention that slavery, white racism and African American resistance so fundamentally define the American past that it acts as our history’s (so to speak) prime mover. The historian/ critics’ basic reply: Wrong. It’s more complicated!
One of these scholars, Sean Wilentz, quite recently detailed his objections in the January 20, 2020 issue of The Atlantic. At about the same time a dozen additional dissidents published their critiques (to which the 1619 Editors responded) in the History News Network. Meanwhile, out-front bigots like Newt Gingrich, Tucker Carlson, Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh hijacked the controversy. They have captured the headlines, dominated the news cycle and-- as they would have it-- taken home the trophy and delivered it to Donald Trump. The New York Times journalists have emerged with collateral damage and the historians as unmitigated losers in the court of public opinion. Lost as well was a rare opportunity for a substantial evaluation of slavery’s role in shaping our shared American experience.
But here’s what’s most important. Those of us who value the 1619 Project can reclaim our “teachable moment” by excavating beneath the heated rhetoric. There we will discover that the journalists and the historians embrace conflicting but equally valuable historical truths regarding slavery’s power to shape our nations past and present. I will soon articulate why this is so and what we can learn as a result.
When White Women Wanted a Monument to Black ‘Mammies’
Alison M. Parker, February 6, 2020, The New York Times
In 1923, a group of white women wanted to build what they called a “monument to the faithful colored mammies” in Washington. These women, members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, pressed lawmakers in Congress to introduce a bill. The Senate passed it, but the bill stalled in the House after fierce opposition from black women, including Mary Church Terrell and Hallie Quinn Brown, members of the National Association of Colored Women.
The fight over a proposed monument to black “mammies” exposes the lie of those who describe Confederate monuments as innocuous celebrations of Southern heritage. Lost Cause memorials are hurtful public symbols of white supremacy. Consider that most Confederate monuments were not erected by grieving widows or relatives immediately after the Civil War. A majority were put up in the 1890s and early 1900s by Southern whites hoping to justify the spread of Jim Crow while erasing the legacy of Reconstruction, a time when African-Americans had gained citizenship and voting rights.
There are now more than 1,740 Confederate monuments, statues, flags, place names and other symbols in public spaces across the country, not counting more than 2,600 markers, battlefields, museums and cemeteries that commemorate the Confederate dead or the many hundreds of statues of staunch segregationists. To date, only about 115 have been removed. In stark contrast, fewer than 100 monuments pay tribute to the civil rights movement.
What Do We Want History to Do to Us?
Zadie Smith, February 27, 2020, The New York Review
Two women are bound at the waist, tied to each other. One is a slim, white woman, in antebellum underskirt and corset. A Scarlett O’Hara type. She is having the air squeezed out of her by a larger, bare-breasted black woman, who wears a kerchief around her head. To an American audience, I imagine, this black woman could easily read as “Mammy.” To a viewer from the wider diaspora—to a black Briton, say—she is perhaps less likely to invoke the stereotypical placidity of “Mammy,” hewing closer to the fury of her mythological opposite, the legendary Nanny of the Maroons: escaped slave, leader of peoples. Her hand is held up forcefully, indicating the direction in which she is determined to go, but the rope between her and the white woman is pulled taut: both struggle under its constriction. And in this drama of opposing forces, through this brutal dialectic, aspects of each woman’s anatomy are grotesquely eroticized by her adversary: buttocks for the black woman, breasts for her white counterpart. Which raises the question: Who tied this constricting rope? A third party? And, if the struggle continues, will the white woman eventually be extinguished? Will the black woman be free? That is, if the white woman is on the verge of extinguishment at all. Maybe she’s on the verge of something else entirely: definition. That’s why we cinch waists, isn’t it? To achieve definition?
The two women are traced in Kara Walker’s familiar, cartoonish line, which seems to combine in a single gesture the comic brevity of Charles Schulz, the polemical pamphleteering of William Hogarth, and the oneiric revelations of Francisco Goya and Otto Dix. The drawing was made, according to Walker, in “1994ish…when I was 24ish,” which is to say at the very beginning of her career, when her drawings were still largely unknown, and few people knew or could guess at the busy chalk portraits that lurked on the other side of the newly famous—and soon-to-be notorious—paper cutouts. The sentence underneath the image reads: what I want history to do to me. Its meaning is unsettling and unsettled, existing in a gray zone between artist’s statement, perverse confession, and ambivalent desire. The sentence pulls in two directions, giving no slack, tense like the rope. And just as the eye finds no comfortable place to rest in the image—passing from figure to figure seeking resolution, desiring a satisfying end to a story so strikingly begun—so the sentence is partial and in unresolved motion, referring upward to the image, which only then refers us back down to the words, in endless, discomfiting cycle.
Bayard Rustin, a gay civil rights leader arrested for having sex with men, is pardoned 67 years later
Harmeet Kaur, February 5, 2020, CNN
As a civil rights leader and an advocate for justice, Bayard Rustin was no stranger to being behind bars.
He was arrested for his anti-war efforts in opposition to World War II. He was arrested for protesting segregation laws in the Jim Crow-era South. But in 1953, he was arrested for reasons outside his activism — for having sex with men.
Rustin was jailed on a "morals charge." He was eventually convicted of misdemeanor vagrancy and was sentenced to 60 days in jail. The offense landed him on the sex offender list, cost him jobs and was used to delegitimize the civil rights movement by people like segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, who read Rustin's arrest record on the Senate floor.
On Tuesday, 67 years after that arrest and 33 years after his death, Rustin received a pardon from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
"Mr. Rustin was criminalized because of stigma, bias, and ignorance," Newsom said in the pardon. "With this act of executive clemency, I acknowledge the inherent injustice of this conviction, an injustice that was compounded by his political opponents' use of the record of this case to try to undermine him, his associates, and the civil rights movement."
Tulsa plans to dig for suspected mass graves from a 1921 race massacre
DeNeen L. Brown, February 4, 2020, The Washington Post
TULSA — Nearly a century after a race massacre left as many as 300 people dead, the city plans to dig for suspected mass graves that may have been used to dispose of African American bodies.
Archaeologists searching for mass graves connected to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre agreed Monday night that Tulsa will conduct “limited excavations” in a city-owned cemetery to determine whether a “large anomaly” detected by ground-penetrating radar contains human remains.
“We do not propose to exhume any human remains during this phase of the investigation,” the committee of archaeologists and forensic anthropologists said. “However, any human remains that are uncovered during the excavation will be treated respectfully and with reverence.”
The excavation is set to begin in April.
The decision comes two months after a team of forensic archaeologists, led by the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey at the University of Oklahoma, revealed that they had found “possible common graves” at two sites in Tulsa. They identified the sites as the Canes, located on a bluff along the Arkansas River near Highway 75, and the Sexton area of Oaklawn Cemetery, which is a few blocks from Greenwood, the black community that was destroyed during one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history.