In the News #bigisms
Trump Reveals the Truth About Voter Suppression
David W. Blight, April 11, 2020, The New York Times
On March 30, the Republican id burst forth when President Trump said that the latest congressional stimulus bill “had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” Two days later, the Republican House speaker in Georgia, David Ralston, admitted that an expansion of absentee voting would be “extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia.”
And on April 6, the U.S. Supreme Court refused, in a 5-to-4 ruling, to allow additional days for absentee voting in the Wisconsin primary. For years, Wisconsin Republicans have demonstrated that they will do anything to gerrymander and restrict access to voting to stay in power, including now asking citizens to risk their health to vote. Someone should ask Mr. Ralston and the conservative legislators and judges in Wisconsin what they are conserving.
Petitions are now flying around the internet, calling for mail-in voting as has long been practiced in Oregon and other states. Democrats are using Mr. Trump’s stumble into truth-telling as a fund-raiser. Republicans are trying to avoid the subject entirely or repeating worn-out claims of voter “fraud.”
In 1918 and 2020, race colors America’s response to epidemics
Soraya Nadia McDonald, April 1, 2020, The Undefeated
In American epidemics, race is a preexisting condition.
Whether it’s the influenza pandemic of 1918 or COVID-19 over a century later, race and ethnicity have been, and continue to be, enormous factors in determining whether people will receive medical attention when they become ill, and the sort of attention they will receive.
In “The 1919 Influenza Blues,” Essie Jenkins documented the toll the flu took on the country, noting that viruses don’t discriminate when it comes to their victims. She sang:
“People died everywhere
death went creepin’ through the air
and the groans of the rich
sure were sad
But it was God’s own mighty plan
He’s judging this old land
North and South, East and West
can be seen
He killed rich and poor
and he’s going to
kill some more …”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, the 1918 flu infected 500 million people worldwide and resulted in 50 million deaths around the globe, 675,000 of which were American. But while viruses don’t discriminate, people do. In cities across the nation, black people struck by the flu were often left to fend for themselves. They received substandard care in segregated hospitals, where they could be relegated to close quarters in basements, or they were only allowed admittance to black-only hospitals. Even in death, black bodies were neglected by white public infrastructure. In Baltimore that year, white sanitation department employees refused to dig graves for black flu victims after the city’s only black cemetery, Mount Auburn, could not accommodate any more graves.
‘We Were Always Men’
Henry Louis Gates Jr., April 10, 2020, The New York Times
Writing in The New York Times 150 years ago this April 11, Frederick Douglass celebrated the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which at long last banned racial discrimination in voting nationwide. He hailed the extension of the franchise to all eligible African-American men as a “revolution.”
“We were always men,” he wrote. “Now we are citizens and men among men.”
What did Douglass mean? Perhaps the most persistent political debate of his lifetime had been about what exactly the founders meant when they wrote that “all men are created equal.” After all, by the start of the Civil War, free African-American men were, with few exceptions, excluded from the most fundamental element of democratic life: the right to vote.
US v. Sineneng-Smith Echoes the Fugitive Slave Act
Alan J. Singer, April 5, 2020, History News Network
The rightwing majority on the United States Supreme Court will soon decide an immigration case, United States v. Sineneng-Smith, where their decision could threaten fundamental American freedoms.
In 2015, Evelyn Sineneng-Smith, an immigration consultant based in California, was convicted of tax and mail fraud and of violating a 1997 law against encouraging undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States. Sineneng-Smith’s conviction was just argued before the Supreme Court and a decision is expected this session. A U.S. Court of Appeals decision invalidated parts of the “encouraging” law in December 2018. Judge A. Wallace Tashima argued, “criminalizing expression like this threatens almost anyone willing to weigh in on the debate.” The Trump administration argues the law only applies to individuals who provide “substantial assistance” to undocumented immigrants, but that is not how the law reads.
African princess and Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880)
Amy Zamarripa Solis, April 6, 2020, Royal Pavilion and Museum, Brighton and Hove
There is a deep sadness and hidden trauma in the eyes of Sarah Forbes Bonetta in every photo I have seen of her. Omoba Aina, as she was born, or Sally, as Queen Victoria nicknamed her. She was named after her rescuers ship, HMS Bonetta.
Sarah was born in 1843, a West African Egbado princess of the Yoruba people. At age five her village was attacked and her parents killed. Shortly before she was due to be sacrificed in the court of King Ghezo, she was saved by a British Captain, Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy who suggested she be offered as a present to Queen Victoria.
Transported to England, Sarah lived at first with Captain Forbes’s family. On 9 November, she was taken to Windsor Castle and received by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The Queen was so impressed with Sarah that she paid for her education and met with her on several occasions, even writing about her in her journal.
How the Civil War Changed the Way Americans Thought About Economic Inequality
Daniel R. Mandell, April 7, 2020, Time
In the run-up to the 2020 election, some Americans are increasingly worried about the immense power that wealth plays in the country’s democracy. Those concerns would not have surprised Americans in 1776 — they assumed that property and political power were intertwined. Indeed, one had to own property to vote, although in America (unlike England) landholding was widespread and therefore most free men could vote. But even as Americans praised their new republic as uniquely egalitarian, they worried that a future aristocracy of wealth would corrupt its politics. Some even called for legal limits on property ownership. After 1800 the country changed markedly, as individual property rights became increasingly sacred, wage labor became increasingly common, and the gap between rich and poor widened. States gave voting rights to all white men, making race instead of property the foundation of politics. But the tradition of American economic equality persisted in the Workingmen’s parties of the 1820s and the communitarian movement of the 1840s.
That egalitarian tradition surged during the Civil War. As the war became a campaign to end slavery, some leading Republicans envisioned using confiscation to reshape the aristocratic South into a more equal society in terms of property ownership and power. As growing numbers of black people fled slavery, Union officers offered those refugees land on abandoned plantations. Egalitarian land reform became official policy in the wake of the Emancipation Proclamation, as President Lincoln issued an order allowing freedmen to claim up to 40 acres of abandoned or confiscated land for $1.25/acre.
Confederacy in the ’hood
Deirdre Mask, April 2, 2020, 1843 Magazine (The Economist)
For two-and-a-half years, Benjamin Israel, an African-American Orthodox Jew, attended every meeting of the city council in Hollywood, Florida, to talk about street names. (Every meeting, he corrected me, apart from when he was too “laid low” by lung cancer treatments to make it.)
Israel had grown up on Amsterdam Avenue in Harlem during the terrible years of New York’s drug epidemics. His father, who was Jewish, had fled religious persecution in Ethiopia. Eventually he made it to New York on a merchant ship and met Israel’s mother, who worked as a maid. After school, Israel had to clean up after the addicts who used the foyer of his building as a toilet. Still, he loved Manhattan, but when his bronchitis got worse, his uncle took him to Florida for a week’s vacation. He could breathe and he never left.
Now Hollywood, a medium-size city between Fort Lauderdale and Miami, is his home. At every city commission meeting, Israel, his hair growing white under his yarmulke, made the same point. The town’s Confederate street names had to change. Three names in particular: Lee Street, after Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate army and leader of the South’s fight for secession; Forrest Street, after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a confederate general, slave trader and later the Ku Klux Klan’s first Grand Wizard; and Hood Street, after John Bell Hood, a Confederate general known for his aggression during the civil war. All three streets ran through Liberia, the historically black district of Hollywood. The city commission gave Israel three minutes to speak each time. His passionate speeches were often sandwiched between residents complaining about slow traffic or Airbnb regulations.
Lessons from Haiti on Living and Dying
Marlene L. Daut, April 7, 2020, Public Books
When the topic of the Haitian Revolution comes up, most people probably think of Toussaint Louverture, the formerly enslaved man who led one of the largest slave rebellions in the world, one that forcefully abolished slavery in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Though he was already an international figure in his day, Louverture owes his enduring fame in the English-speaking world, at least in part, to the late West Indian writer C. L. R. James. In his famous 1938 book, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, James cemented the revolutionary hero’s place in the legend of Haiti’s uprising as “the first and greatest of West Indians.”
Yet James eventually came to regret stating that the Haitian Revolution was “almost entirely the work of a single man —Toussaint L’Ouverture.” In a 1971 speech called “How I would Rewrite The Black Jacobins,” James confessed that he “would only give Toussaint a walk-on part if he were to rewrite it from scratch.” In her new monograph, Making the Black Jacobins: C. L. R. James and the Drama of History, Rachel Douglas carefully compares the first edition of James’s text, published in 1938, and the second edition, from 1963. Douglas notes that while in the later edition James did not alter his previous assertion, he did try to decenter Louverture. This was not because James sought to disavow the importance of one of Haiti’s most storied revolutionary heroes. It was, rather, because James hoped instead to reveal the role played by the Revolution’s masses and less visible leaders, those whom he would come to call the “black sansculottes.” “If I were writing this book again,” James said in the speech, “I would have something to say about those two thousand leaders.”