We Were Slave Myth-Busting: Blacks Have Been Here for a Long Time, Why Haven't They Progressed?

Updated on May 19, 2018
Slaves picking cotton
Slaves picking cotton | Source

Slavery never ended

I had a great conversation with a colleague over a beer a few days ago. I was telling him a story about a conversation with a history teacher. I asked that teacher if he knew about the Red Summer of 1919. He said no. My colleague that I was having a beer with has a PhD. He is one of the most brilliant people that I know. But the look on his face as I continued was puzzling. I knew immediately that he did not know what I was talking about, either.

Slavery has been over for about 50 years. I will say that again. Slavery has been over for about 50 years. The Red Summer of 1919 is not taught in history books. It is a part of white America's collective amnesia. It is the a part of the 100 years in America where it was legal to kill and rape black people. Written and, later, unwritten codes kept blacks from achieving the American Dream. From 1865-1965 it was legal to kill a black man in America with no consequences. The 13th Amendment did not free slaves. It left an out. It says that except for "punishment for a crime".

Whites arrested blacks for vagrancy and forced them to work on chain gangs. These gangs did not get paid and local business could call them to work for a price to the prison.

Earl Little and Malcolm X
Earl Little and Malcolm X | Source

Malcolm’s Story

From 1865 to 1965, it was legal in the South, in most of the North. Malcolm X's family's story illustrates how families were destroyed. Earl Little was a self-proclaimed Baptist preacher. He also taught the philosophies of Marcus Garvey. He taught that America would never accept 'the negro'. Blacks should leave he said, and start their own country in Africa.

According to Malcolm's autobiography, his father was a tall man. He was not afraid of white people. When Louise Little was pregnant with Malcolm, the Omaha, NE KKK came to their house. They broke every window and warned her to leave. Earl Little relocated his family to Milwaukee, WI and then to Lansing, MI.

The Little Family is recorded on lines 59-66.
The Little Family is recorded on lines 59-66. | Source

Challenging the status quo

He BOUGHT a house in a white neighborhood and continued preaching. They called him 'uppity' and the land company sued him. He lost the case. He could own the house in the white neighborhood, but not live there. Someone burned the house before they the eviction. He moved his family to East Lansing.

A street car hit him and he died not long after. The coroner ruled his death an accident and the newspapers reported it as an accident. In his autobiography, Malcolm says the Black Legion burned their house and killed his father. He claims there was evidence of assault. "How could my father bash his head in and then climb under a train."

Little had two insurance policies. Only the smaller one paid his family. The larger policy owner claimed Little committed suicide. He had 10 children and Louise started losing control. She went on welfare but that was not enough. Her kids, especially Malcolm, started getting into trouble. Louise Little went insane. They placed her in an insane asylum. The Welfare Department split up her kids. They sent Malcolm to a temporary home before sending him to a boy's reformatory.

Malcolm X mugshot.
Malcolm X mugshot. | Source

Malcolm quits school

The family that he lived with refused to send him. Instead, they enrolled him in a private school. He suffered racism but thrived. They liked him so much, they voted him Class President.

Malcolm writes, that around this time, they asked him what profession he wanted. He said he wanted to be a lawyer. His favorite English teacher pulled him to the side. He told him that being a lawyer was not going to happen for a 'colored'. He said that Malcolm should choose carpentry. He was good at wood shop and well-liked in the community.

Malcolm quit school and moved to Boston. West Indian Archie almost killed him. They put him in prison for burglary. He converted to the Nation of Islam in prison.

100 killed in East St. Louis.
100 killed in East St. Louis. | Source

The Riots

I tell that story to illustrate what racism did to black families from 1865-1965. We will talk about after 1965 in a later article. For 100 years racists terrorized black families in America. Here are some facts:

In the Summer of 1919 there were countless riots in American cities. Whites burned through black neighborhoods for:

There were 33 riots in 1919. But they continued with Black Wall Street in 1921 and Rosewood in 1923.

A memorial for Black Wall Street
A memorial for Black Wall Street | Source

Black Wall Street

Black Wall Street had everything. It was the richest black community in America. Tulsa had one restroom that blacks could use downtown. According to Dick Rowland, he got on that elevator and fell into. Sarah Page. Page reported Rowland assaulted her.

They arrested him. A white mob came to lynch Rowland and a group of blacks came to defend him. The outnumbered blacks retreated to their Greenwood neighborhood. Whites burned 35 square blocks. They left 7000 families homeless and killed countless people. The official number is 36. Rioters used airplanes to throw molotov cocktails.

 A home burns in Rosewood.
A home burns in Rosewood. | Source

Rosewood

In Rosewood, Fanny Taylor had an affair. Her lover beat her up. She could not tell her husband it was her lover. She made up a story that it was a black man. The Sheriff was searching for an escaped convict named Jesse Hunter. The white culprit was a Mason. He approached two black Masons in Rosewood to help him get out of Sumner. They gave him a ride to a creek.

They used dogs to follow his initial trail and it led to Aaron Carriers home. They arrested Carrier, who was WWI veteran. He led them to Sam Carter, whom they lynched. They believed that Sylvester Carrier was hiding the fugitive. His family gathered at his home for protection. They shot his mother, Sara Carrier, in the head. Sylvester killed two men who came in and tried to drag him out.

That was the justification needed to burn down Rosewood and kill its citizens. The official death toll is six. 70 years later the commission on the riot heard about a mass grave that was not discovered. Witnesses reported more deaths. John Wright and the Bryce brothers, who owned a train, rescued more than 50 women and children. They hid in the swamps for days.

Biddy Mason Park in downtown Los Angeles.
Biddy Mason Park in downtown Los Angeles. | Source

Biddy Mason

So, when you say to me, "Blacks have been here longer, why haven't they progressed?" My answer is because we were not allowed to. Whites destroyed black property and wealth.

One more story to illustrate my point. Bridgett 'Biddy' Mason was born a slave. She was a midwife. Her owner was Mormon and walked Mason and other slaves to Utah. He, later, walked them to San Bernardino, CA. Mason became a midwife and became friends with prominent blacks.

Her owner decided to take his slaves back to Mississippi and sell them. Mason got an attorney and won her freedom. She set up a midwifery business at what is now 3rd and Grand in Los Angeles. She became rich. She started the First AME Church of Los Angeles in her home. Her net worth when she died was $300,000. Mason's grandson was the richest Black Man Los Angeles.

A family pauses for a photo on their way North.
A family pauses for a photo on their way North. | Source

Conclusion

We pass down wealth from generation-to-generation. President 45 is a perfect example of this. Black people were not lazy for 100 years after the Emancipation proclamation. We worked. We built wealth. Whites destroyed most of it without suffering consequences. Whites bought most of that property dirt cheap.

A big part of the Great Migration was black people running for their lives. This is American history, yet my history teaching friend knew nothing about it. It is not taught. We have collective amnesia about this part of our history. We want to say it is over. I am told to get over it. How can we get over it, if America refuses to acknowledge it.

That rioting ended a little over 50 years ago. I will say it again, slavery did not end in 1865. It ended about 50 years ago. America needs to deal with this issue or it will tear her apart.

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