Frederick Douglass on the Need for Violent Insurrection against Slavery

This is from Black Agenda Report.

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SPEECH: Frederick Douglass on John Brown, 1860

In an 1860 speech commemorating radical abolitionist John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Frederick Douglass argued that slavery would only end if the slave owner feared the violent retribution of the enslaved.

On December 3rd, 1860, Frederick Douglass was set to address an anti-slavery rally at Boston’s Tremont Temple Baptist Church, held to commemorate the death of the radical abolitionist John Brown and to mark the one-year anniversary of his ill-fated raid on the federal arsenal at Harper’s Ferry Virgina. Boston being Boston, the gathering was attacked by what Frederick Douglass’ Paper described as a “gentlemen’s mob.” The mob was not composed of “practiced ruffians.” Instead, as the paper wrote, its “rank and file, not less than its leaders, claim position with the upper classes of Boston society.  They were gentlemen of the ‘DOLLAR STAMP,’ well dressed, well conditioned, well looking, and doubtless, on occasions, pass very well for gentlemen.” Joined by the the city’s mayor and supported by the Boston police, they were determined “to preserve the union of Boston pockets with Southern money” by shutting down any anti-slavery activities.

After a series of intense melees that saw Douglass fighting “like a trained pugilist” to get to the rostrum, only to be torn from the podium by the police and thrown down the stairs of the Tremont Temple, it was decided to move the meeting to the Joy Street Baptist Church, even though its trustees tried to lock their doors on their pastor. If the aim of the attack was to stop Douglass and other abolitionists from speaking, the attacks had the opposite effect, adding fuel and focus to the anti-slavery efforts embodied by Brown.

Douglass’ speech that night, reproduced below, was a strident endorsement of what he called the “John Brown way.” Abolition, declared Douglass, would never occur if society appealed to the morality of the slave owner. Slavery would only end if the slave owner feared the violent retribution of the enslaved. “We must make him [the slave owner] feel that there is death in the air about him,” Douglass declared, “that there is death in the pot before him, that there is death all around him.”

Frederick Douglass was often as ambivalent about John Brown as a person as he was about his abolitionist strategy. He did not participate in Brown’s Chatham, Ontario convention to raise money and recruit personnel for the raid on Harper’s Ferry. He refused to join the raid itself.  Yet as the slavocracy became more entrenched and militant in their defense of their evil institution, Douglass also understood that radical abolitionism was the only way forward to freedom.

Speech on John Brown, at Joy Street Baptist Church, Boston, December 3, 1860

SPEECH: Frederick Douglass on John Brown, 1860

Frederick Douglass

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen: – I occupied considerable attention this morning, and I do not feel called upon to take up much of the time this evening. There are other gentlemen here from whom I desire to hear, and to whom, I doubt not, you wish to listen.

This is a meeting to discuss the best method of abolishing slavery, and each speaker is expected to present what he regards as the best way of prosecuting the anti-slavery movement. From my heart of hearts I endorse the sentiment expressed by Mr. Phillips, of approval of all methods of proceeding against slavery, politics, religion, peace, war, Bible, Constitution, disunion, Union – (laughter) – every possible way known in opposition to slavery is my way. But the moral and social means of opposing slavery have had a greater prominence, during the last twenty-five years, than the way indicated by the celebration of this day — I mean the John Brown way. This is a recent way of opposing slavery; and I think, since it is in consequence of this peculiar mode of advocating the overthrow of slavery that we have had a mob in Boston today, it may be well for me to occupy the few moments I have in advocating John Brown’s way of accomplishing our object. (Applause.)

Sir, we have seen the number of slaves increase from half a million to four millions.  We have seen, for the last sixty years, more or less of resistance to slavery in the U.S. As early as the beginning of the U. S. Government, there were abolition societies in the land. There were abolition societies in Virginia, abolition societies in Maryland, abolition societies in South Carolina, abolition societies in Pennsylvania. These societies appealed to the sense of justice, appealed to humanity, in behalf of the slave. They appealed to the magnanimity of the slaveholders and the nation; they appealed to the Christianity of the South and of the nation, in behalf of the slave. Pictures of slavery were presented. The ten thousand enormities daily occurring in the Southern States were held up – men sold on the auction-block – women scourged with a heavy lash – men tied to the stake and deliberately burned, the blood gushing from their nose and eyes, asking rather to be shot than to be murdered by such slow torture.

The facts of these charges have been flung before the public by ten thousand eloquent lips, and by more than ten thousand eloquent pens.  The humanity, the common human nature of the country has been again and again appealed to. Four millions have bowed before this nation, and with uplifted hands to Heaven and to you, have asked, in the name of God, and in the name of humanity, to break our chains! To this hour, however, the nation is dumb and indifferent to these cries for deliverance, coming up from the South; and instead of the slaveholders becoming softened, becoming more disposed to listen to the claims of justice and humanity–instead of being more and more disposed to listen to the suggestions of reason, they have become madder and madder, and with every attempt to rescue the bondman from the clutch of his enslaver, his grip has become tighter and tighter, his conscience more and more callous. 

He has become harder and harder, with every appeal made to his sense of justice, with every appeal made to his humanity, until at length he has come even to confront the world with the pretension that to rob a man of his liberty, to pocket his wages, or to pocket the fruits of his labor without giving him compensation for his work, is not only right according to the law of nature and the laws of the land, but that it is  right and just in the sight of the living God.  Doctors of Divinity — the Stuarts and the Lords, the Springs, the Blagdens, the Adamses and ten thousand others all over the country — have come out in open defense of the slave system.  Not only is this the case, but the very submission of the slave to his chains is held as evidence of his fitness to be a slave; it is regarded as one of the strongest proofs of the divinity of slavery, that the negro tamely submits to his fetters.  His very non-resistance — what would be here regarded a Christian virtue — is quoted in proof of his cowardice, and his unwillingness to suffer and to sacrifice for his liberty.

Now what remains? What remains? Sir, it is possible for men to trample on justice and liberty so long as to become entirely oblivious of the principles of justice and liberty.  It is possible for men so far to transgress the laws of justice as to cease to have any sense of justice.  What is to be done in that case?  You meet a man on the sidewalk, in the morning, and you give him the way.  He thanks you for it.  You meet him again, and you give him the way, and he may thank you for it, but with a little less emphasis than at first.  Meet him again and give him the way, and he almost forgets to thank you for it.  Meet him again, and give the way, and he comes to think that you are conscious either of your inferiority or of his superiority; and he begins to claim the inside of the walk as his right. This is human nature; this is the nature of the slaveholders. 

Now, something must be done to make these slaveholders feel the injustice of their course. 

We must, as John Brown, Jr. — thank God that he lives and is with us to-night! (applause) — we must, as John Brown Jr., has taught us this evening, reach the slaveholder’s conscience through his fear of personal danger.  We must make him feel that there is death in the air about him, that there is death in the pot before him, that there is death all around him.  We must do this in some way.  It can be done.  When you have a good horse, a kind and gentle horse, a horse that your wife can drive, you are disposed to keep him — you wouldn’t take any money for that horse.  But when you have one that at the first pull of the reins takes the bit in his teeth, kicks up behind, and knocks off the dasher-board, you generally want to get rid of that horse. (Laughter.) The negroes of the South must do this; they must make these slaveholders feel that there is something uncomfortable about slavery — must make them feel that it is not so pleasant, after all, to go to bed with bowie-knives, and revolvers, and pistols, as they must.  This can be done, and will be done — (cheers) — yes, I say will be done.  Let not, however, these suggestions of mine be construed into the slightest disparagement of the various other efforts, political and moral.

I believe in agitation; and it was largely this belief which brought me five hundred miles from my home to attend this meeting.  I am sorry — not for the part I humbly took in the meeting this morning — but I am sorry that Mr. Phillips was not there to look that Fay in the face (‘Hear!’).  I believe that he, and a few Abolitionists like him in the city of Boston, well-known, honorable men, esteemed among their fellow-citizens- had they been there to help us take the initiatory steps in the organization of that meeting, we might, perhaps, have been broken up, but it would have been a greater struggle, certainly, than that which it cost to break up the meeting this morning. (Applause.)

I say, sir, that I want the slaveholders to be made uncomfortable.  Every slave that escapes helps to add to their discomfort.  I rejoice in every uprising at the South.  Although the men may be shot down, they may be butchered upon the spot, the blow tells, notwithstanding, and cannot but tell.  Slaveholders sleep more uneasily than they used to.  They are more careful to know that the doors are locked than they formerly were.  They are more careful to know that their bowie-knives are sharp; they are more careful to know that their pistols are loaded.  This element will play its part in the abolition of slavery.  I know that all hope of a general insurrection is vain.  We do not need a general insurrection to bring about this result.  We only need the fact to be known in the Southern States generally, that there is liberty in yonder mountains, planted by John Brown. (Cheers.)

The slaveholders have but to know, and they do now know, but will be made to know it even more certainly before long- that from the Alleghanies, from the State of Pennsylvania, there is a vast broken country extending clear down into the heart of Alabama — mountains where there are rocks, and ravines, and fastnesses, dens and caves, ten thousand Sebastopols piled up by the hand of the living God, where one man for defense will be as good as a hundred for attack.  There let them learn that there are men hid in those fastnesses, who will sally out upon them and conduct their slaves from the chains and fetters in which they are now bound, to breathe the free air of liberty upon those mountains.  Let, I say, only a thousand men be scattered in those hills, and slavery is dead.  It cannot live in the presence of such a danger.  Such a state of things would put an end to planting cotton; it would put an end not only to planting cotton, but to planting anything in that region.

Something is said about the dissolution of the Union under Mr. Lincoln or under Mr. Buchanan.  I am for dissolution of the Union – decidedly for dissolution of the Union! Under an abolition President, who would wield the army and the navy of the Government for the abolition of slavery, I should be for the union of these States.  If this Union is dissolved, I see many ways in which slavery may be attacked by force, but very few in which it could be attacked by moral means.  I see that the moment you dissolve the union between the South and the North, the slave part going by itself, and doing so peaceably — as the cry is from the Tribune and the Albany Evening Journal, and other such papers, that it shall do — establishing an independent government — that very moment the feeling of responsibility for slavery in the North is at an end.  But men will tell us to mind our own business.  We shall care no more for slavery in the Carolinas or in Georgia than we care for kingcraft or priestcraft in Canada, or slavery in the Brazils or in Cuba. 

My opinion is that if we only had an abolition President to hold these men in the Union and execute the declared provisions of the Constitution, execute that part of the Constitution which is in favor of liberty, as well as put upon those passages which have been construed in favor of slavery, a construction different from that and more in harmony with the principles of eternal justice that lie at the foundation of the government — if we could have such a government, a government that would force the South to behave herself, under those circumstances I should be for the continuance of the Union.    If, on the contrary — no if about it — we have what we have, I shall be glad of the news, come when it will, that the slave States are an independent government, and that you are no longer called upon to deliver fugitive slaves to their masters, and that you are no longer called upon to shoulder your arms and guard with your swords those States — no longer called to go into them to put down John Brown, or anybody else who may strike for liberty there. (Applause.)  In case of such a dissolution, I believe that men could be found at least as brave as Walker, and more skillful than any other fillibuster, who would venture into those States and raise the standard of liberty there, and have ten thousand and more hearts at the North beating in sympathy with them.  I believe a Garibaldi would arise who would march into those States with a thousand men, and summon to his standard sixty thousand, if necessary, to accomplish the freedom of the slave. (Cheers.)

We need not only to appeal to the moral sense of these slaveholders; we have need, and a right, to appeal to their fears.  Sir, moral means are good, but we need something else.  Moral means were very little to poor John Thomas on the banks of the Wilkesbarre river, in Pennsylvania, when the slave-catchers called upon him to provide them with a breakfast at the hotel, that while in the act of serving them with their beef-steak they might fall upon him and return him to slavery. They did fall upon him; they struck him down; but, recovering himself, he ran and plunged into the Wilkesbarre.  There he stood, up to his shoulders, and the slave-catchers gathered on the banks- and the moral suasion people of that vicinity gathered also on the banks — they looked indignantly on the slave-catchers.  But the slave-catchers did not heed the cries of indignation and shame; they fired their revolvers until the river about that man was red with his blood, and no hand was lifted to strike down those assassins.  They went off, indeed, without their victim,  but they supposed he was dead. 

Sir, what was wanted at that time was just what John Brown, Jr., has told us to night — a few resolute men, determined to be free, and to free others, resolved, when men were being shot, to shoot again.  Had a few balls there whistled, as at Christiana, about the heads of the slave-catchers, it would have been the end of this slave-catching business there.  There is no necessity of permitting it.  The only way to make the Fugitive Slave Law a dead letter, is to make a few dead slave-catchers. (Laughter and applause.)  There is no need to kill them either — shoot them in the legs, and send them to the South living epistles of the free gospel preached here at the North. (Renewed laughter.)

But, Sir, I am occupying too much time.- (‘Go on!’ ‘Go on!’) I see a friend on my right, whose voice tonight I have not heard for many years.  These troublous times in which we live, and have been living for a few years past, make that voice doubly dear to me on this occasion; and I seize this occasion, as the first that has happened to me in at least six to eight years, to say that I rejoice, most heartily rejoice, in the privilege — for a privilege I esteem it — not only of hearing Mr. Phillips’s voice, but of standing on a platform with him in vindication of free speech.  (Applause.)  But I hope to speak in Boston on Friday.  I, therefore, will not prolong my remarks further.  I thank you for this hearing. (Applause.)

Originally published in Douglass’ Monthly 3 No. 8 (January 1861). Reprinted as “Speech on John Brown, delivered in Tremont Temple, December 3, 1860,” in Frederick Douglass: Selected Speeches and Writings, edited by Philip Sheldon Foner and Yuval Taylor (Chicago: Chicago Review Press , 2000)

The Book We Need Now

by nflanagan
Had I known when I was younger what these students were sharing, I would have been liberated from a social and emotional paralysis–a paralysis that arose from never knowing enough of my own history to identify the lies I was being old: lies about what slavery was and what it did to people; lies about what came after our supposed emancipation; lies about why our country looks the way it does today. (Clint Smith)

In this shocking era, when states are passing ill-advised, deceptive laws to prohibit K-12 students from knowing about the sickening, wounding realities of their own history, we truly need a book like Clint Smith’s How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America.

The students Smith is referencing, above, are performing as part of a rich Juneteenth celebration on Galveston Island, TX. They were part of a six-week summer program sponsored by the Children’s Defense Fund, designed to teach children the real story about where they live and what happened there.

Don’t all children need to know about the place they come from? Its triumphs and failures? In the book, Smith—then a doctoral student at Harvard—visits a number of historical sites around the country that chronicle the record of slavery and its impact on every aspect of American life.

He begins at Monticello, sharing his conversations with two white women in his tour group who had no idea who Sally Hemings was– the enslaved woman who gave birth to four surviving children by Thomas Jefferson. These older women, interested in ‘seeing history,’ are astonished to hear about the 600 human beings owned by the great statesman.

Each of the chapters is distinct, featuring plantations, graveyards and annual memorials.

The chapter on Angola Prison, in Louisiana, is grim, beginning with its original purpose, in the Reconstruction era: to round up, then house, a low-cost workforce for plantation owners who can no longer rely on the enslaved.

The chapter on New York City makes clear that nobody north of the Mason-Dixon line can claim that slavery only existed in the South.

The chapter on Goree’ Island takes us to coastal West Africa, where captured Africans were sent off to their new lives (or deaths) as enslaved workers, and includes this quote from the curator of the House of Slaves, a museum on the Island: After the discovery of America, because of the development of sugarcane plantations, cotton, coffee, rice cultivation, they forced the [Native Americans] to work for them. And it was because the Natives died in great number that they turned to Africa, to replace the Natives with Africans.

And there it is—this is and always has been about gross economic development. How to make money off exploitive and unpaid labor of others, and the ugly rationalizations used to defend such ugly practices. And how far back this goes—long before the Middle Passage.

In a time when employers are begging for workers after a deadly pandemic (that some employers denied or downplayed), this is a particularly resonant message. This is, indeed, the book we need now.

Smith tells us, in an Afterword, that he went to many more places than the seven he describes in great detail in this volume. That suggests that there are always places nearby—places where students have been, places they are familiar with—that can serve as testimony and memory of our local history.

As educators, it is up to us to teach that history.

This is what all the anti-‘CRT’ protestors fear: the truth.

Smith illustrates that learning the truth is never divisive. It may be painful, and may produce rage—but knowing how this country was built, whose backs and hands produced the wealth and power only some of us enjoy is the cornerstone of building a more equitable society. The truth can unite us, over time. But we have to listen to each other.

Clint Smith is a published poet, and he writes like a poet and storyteller–there is lots of detail and description. Once you get past an expectation of fact-based academic writing, you begin to appreciate his nuanced depictions of people and places, the colorful, palm-strewn islands and damp, gray prison cells.

Smith adds only enough data and dry content to enrich, not drown, the narration. The book is easy to read. I read it one chapter at a time (which I recommend), pausing between to absorb and think, because each segment shares a unique perspective. Smith reiterates, in a dozen ways, that slavery didn’t start in Africa, and African-American history didn’t begin with the capture and selling of human beings. It was a global wickedness, economically driven, but it still impacts America–the idea and the reality of America–deeply.

We can’t get past it until we know the history.

Read this book.

Disturbing Racist Clauses Found in Early NCA Constitutions & Bylaws

By Guy Brandenburg

Recently, while preparing to give a talk at this year’s Stellafane telescope-makers’ convention, I was disappointed to discover that the National Capital Astronomers (NCA), which I’ve belonged to for about 30 years, specifically excluded Black members for nearly 3 decades: from about 1940 all the way up to1969.

But NCA didn’t start out being overtly racist. Our original 1937 founding document has no such language. It reads, in part,

“The particular business and objects of [the NCA] shall be the education and mutual improvement of its members in the science of Astronomy and the encouragement of an interest in this science among others. (…) The activities of this Association are designed for the enjoyment and cultural profit of all interested in astronomy, whether the member be a beginner, an advanced student, or one whose pursuit of the science is necessarily desultory.”

And today’s NCA home page reads, “All are welcome to join. Everyone who looks up to the sky with wonder is an astronomer and welcomed by NCA. You do not have to own a telescope, but if you do own one that is fine, too. You do not have to be deeply knowledgeable in astronomy, but if you are knowledgeable in astronomy that is fine, too. You do not have to have a degree, but if you do that is fine, too. WE ARE THE MOST DIVERSE local ASTRONOMY CLUB anywhere. Come to our meetings and you will find this out. WE REALLY MEAN THIS!”

But in the 1940’s, the original open-minded and scientific NCA membership policy changed. The January 1946 Star Dust listed a number of changes to be voted on by the membership in the club’s founding documents. (See https://capitalastronomers.org/SD_year/1946/StarDust_1946_01.pdf ) The organization voted to change article III of its constitution as follows:

From:

“only Caucasians over 16 years old are eligible for membership.

To this:

“to include all ages (see by-laws), exclude only the Black race.”

While it may be shocking that a scientific organization like NCA had such a policy, people often forget how racist a nation the USA used to be, and for how long. If you look up actual pages of DC area newspapers from the 1950s, you will note that the classified advertisements were largely segregated both by race and by gender – want ads would very often specify male or female, single or married, White-only or Colored-only jobs, apartments, and so on.

Schools in DC, MD, and Virginia were mostly segregated, either by law or in practice, up until the late 1960s or early 1970s. The 1954 Brown v Board decision had very little real impact in most areas until much, much later. Queens (NYC), PG County (MD) and Boston (MA) had violent movements against integrating schools in the 1970s. I know because I attended demonstrations against those racists and have some scars to prove it.

While the Federal and DC governments offices were integrated immediately after the Civil War, that changed for the worse when Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1912.

Many scientists in the USA and in Europe believed the pseudo-scientific ideas of racial superiority and eugenics that arose around 1900 and were still widespread 50 years ago – and even today, as recent events have sadly shown.

In The War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, Edwin Black explains how august scientific institutions like the Carnegie Institution of Washington (CIW), the American Natural History Museum in New York, and a number of eminent statisticians and biologists for many decades supported the Eugenics Records Office (ERO) at Cold Spring Harbor. So did the fabulously wealthy Rockefeller and Harriman Foundations.

The ERO pushed the concept of the genetic superiority of the ‘Nordic’ race and helped to pass State laws sterilizing the ‘weak’ and forbidding interracial marriage. They were also successful in passing the 1924 Federal immigration law that severely cut back immigration from parts of the world where supposedly ‘inferior’ people lived – e.g. Eastern and Southern Europe. As a result, many Jews who would have loved to escape Hitler’s ovens by crossing the Atlantic never made it.  

Hitler and his acolytes always acknowledged their ideological and procedural debt to American eugenical laws, literature, and propaganda. As we all know, Germany’s Nazis put those ideas to work murdering millions of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and others.

It took more than three decades for the CIW to withdraw their support of the ERO. A CIW committee concluded in 1935 “that the Eugenics Record Office was a worthless endeavor from top to bottom, yielding no real data, and that eugenics itself was not a science but rather a social propaganda campaign with no discernable value to the science of either genetics or human heredity.” (Black, p. 390) The members pointedly compared the work of the ERO to the excesses of Nazi Germany. However, it took four more years for CIW to cut all their ties – shortly after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, starting World War Two.

I don’t know exactly when the ‘Caucasian’-only policy became part of the NCA rules, but it seems to have been between the club founding in 1937, and October 1943 when volume 1, number 1 of Star Dust was printed. At one point, perhaps around 1940, NCA decided that only ‘Caucasians’ over 16 could join. But as indicated above, in 1946, the racial exclusion policy was narrowed to only exclude Black people. Apparently Jews, Italians, young people, Latin Americans, and Asians were eligible to join NCA from 1946 to 1969. But not African-Americans.

While researching my talk, I found that the NCA held amateur telescope-making classes at a number of all-white DC, MD, and VA high schools, from the 1940s through about 1970, both during the days of de jure segregation and the merely de-facto type: McKinley, Roosevelt, Central, Bladensburg, Falls Church, and McLean high schools are listed. While Star Dust mentions a telescope-making course at (the largely-Black) Howard University in 1946, there is no mention of any assistance for that course from NCA.

I also found no evidence in any issue of Star Dust from that era that anybody at the time raised any vocal objections to racial exclusion. Not in 1946, nor 23 years later when the rule prohibiting Black members was quietly dropped (in 1969) when a new constitution was adopted.

A few current or past NCA members confirmed to me that at some point, they noticed that racist language and privately wondered about it. One person told me that they definitely recalled some now-deceased NCA members who were openly racist and not shy about expressing those views. Others told me that they had never heard any discussion of the subject at all.

 (As one who grew up in DC and Montgomery County, and attended essentially-segregated public schools there, I am sorry that neither I nor my family actively spoke up at the time, even though a farm adjacent to ours in Clarksburg was owned by a Black family [with no school-age children at the time]. Amazing how blind one can be! The racists of those days were not shy about committing violence to achieve their ends. Fear might be one reason for silence.)

One possibility is that some of the early NCA meetings might have been held at private residences; perhaps some of the racist members insisted in preventing non-‘Caucasian’ or ‘Black’ people from attending. It is too bad the other NCA members didn’t take the other route and stay true to the original ideas of the club, and tell the racist members to get lost.

Very ironic: the late George Carruthers, a celebrated Naval Research Labs and NASA scientist, and an instrument-maker for numerous astronomical probes and satellites, gave a talk to the NCA in September of 1970 – not too long after the NCA apparently dropped its racist membership rules (April, 1969). So, a mere year and a half before he gave his talk, he could not have legally joined the organization. Nor could he have done so when he was making his own telescopes from scratch as a teenager in the 1940s. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Robert_Carruthers on the life and work of this great African-American scientist and inventor.

To NCA’s credit, we have done better in the past few decades at encouraging participation in telescope viewing parties, telescope making, and lectures by members of all races and ethnic groups. However, I often find that not very many NCA members bring telescopes to viewing events, or show up to judge science fairs, in mostly-minority neighborhoods. Often, it’s just me. That needs to change. We need to encourage an interest in science, astronomy, and the universe in children and the public no matter their skin color or national origin, and we need to combat the racist twaddle that passes for eugenics.

I anticipate that NCA will have a formal vote repudiating the club’s former unscientific and racist policies and behavior. I hope we will redouble our efforts to promote the study of astronomy to members of all ethnic groups, especially those historically under-represented in science.

We could do well to note the words that Albert Einstein wrote in 1946, after he had been living in the US for a decade, and the same year that NCA confirmed that Black people could not join:

“a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the “Whites” toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes.

The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.

Many a sincere person will answer: “Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability.”

I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers from a fatal misconception. Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

The ancient Greeks also had slaves. They were not Negroes but white men who had been taken captive in war. There could be no talk of racial differences. And yet Aristotle, one of the great Greek philosophers, declared slaves inferior beings who were justly subdued and deprived of their liberty. It is clear that he was enmeshed in a traditional prejudice from which, despite his extraordinary intellect, he could not free himself.

What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.”

Source: http://www.kganu.net/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/alberteinsteinonthenegroquestion-1946.pdf

I am indebted to Morgan Aronson, Nancy Byrd, Richard Byrd, Geoff Chester, Jeff Guerber, Jay Miller, Jeffrey Norman, Rachel Poe, Todd Supple, Wayne Warren, Elizabeth Warner, and Harold Williams for documents, memories, and/or technical support.

The covered-up history of emancipationist* Robert Carter III

I bet you never heard of him.

At great risk to his personal safety, this Robert-Carter-the-third freed HUNDREDS of the slaves he had inherited from his grandfather, the famous Robert “King” Carter.

In Virginia. Starting in 1791.

Up until then it was ILLEGAL to give any slave their freedom, except upon death of their owner (if so specified in their will).

RCIII was one of George Washington’s neighbors, and a friend of Thomas Jefferson, but unlike his wealthy neighbors, RCIII not only freed his slaves while he was alive, but hired them as workers and gave them land.

He even helped found early local Baptist churches that had black and white members as equals.

So, not every single White American plantation owner took the same path of continuing to buy and sell people and exploiting them.

There were other choices that the Founding Fathers could have taken, had they actually meant the words of the Declaration… you know, the ones proclaiming that “all men are created equal.” If they hadn’t been so concerned about their own luxurious lifestyles enabled by unremitting exploitation of the hard labor of so many hundreds of thousands of enslaved people, they could have chosen justice.

This fellow did.

But I never had heard of Robert Carter III, before today.

Had you?

He’s in Wikipedia. Thank goodness.

And apparently CNN actually just did a feature on him, today. Kudos!

Go look him up. I’ll wait.

For his day, he was a very honorable person.

Even though I was a History major at Dartmouth College, and had helped my father on a multi-volume translation of the travel diaries of a French nobleman in the United States from 1792-1795, I don’t recall him being mentioned. I’ll go look him up in the still-unpublished MS down in my basement after I’m done posting this.

Even though I had read about the Liberation of the people of Haiti, and about Nat Turner and John Brown and the 54th Massachusetts, I never heard of the ‘good’ Robert Carter.

I lived through a good bit of the Civil Rights Movement. Even though I had worked against racism and South Afrrican apartheid. And even though I prided myself on learning about the history of anti-racist, anti-slavery, and pro-working class struggles, I had never heard of the guy. I knew about Tulsa (1921) and Wilmington (1898). I had read Foner on Reconstruction and gave reports on Benjamin Banneker’s mathematics and geometry using Bedini as a source.

Amazing. There were people willing to kill or beat RCIII for his opposition to slavery.

Here is part of his deed of manumission. Can you read it? It’s slower going that ordinary text, but interesting nonetheless.

The CNN article reads, in part,

“To grasp the oddness of his erasure, it’s necessary to understand his lofty station among the Virginia gentry of his day. He counted Washington’s half-brother, Lawrence, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson as friends; he regularly dined with and loaned money to the latter. Washington himself was a neighbor, and Robert E. Lee’s mother was the great granddaughter of his grandfather, Robert “King” Carter.

The book The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter is unfortunately not in print any more. I will need to get it on Nook or something like that, I guess.

EDIT: I changed the title to “Emancipationist” rather than ‘Abolitionist’.

I found Levey’s book on him at an online used-book store and have ordered a copy.

I have just looked through my parents’ notes for their book on Larochefoucauld-Liancourt‘s (LRL) travels in America but have not yet found any mention of Robert Carter III, but certainly quite a few mentions of slavery and such. (LRL pulled quite a few punches regarding Jefferson’s treatment of his slaves, because he wanted Jefferson to write him some letters of recommendation so that he (LRL) could return to France, from which he had to flee during the most radical period of the French Revolution.

About the Civil War …

I’m copying and pasting this from Quora:

 

Scott Johnson
Published in: on November 29, 2019 at 9:19 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Why Does Jeff Bezos Get to ‘Earn’ in One Year Twice as Much as All of His 560,000 Employees, Combined?

I’ve done blue-collar and white-collar labor of all sorts in factories, farms, offices, and roads before, but honestly, no job I ever had in my 60+ years compares with the exhausting pace of work that I hear about going on at Amazon “fulfillment centers” today.

According to this review, there is an entire YouTube genre of videos where people describe what their first, exhausting and dehumanizing day of work was like at an Amazon warehouse, often followed up by a later video describing why they quit. (The workers are not permitted to bring their cell phones to work, so we can’t see actual pix or videos of the work being carried out.)

The scientific precision of Amazon’s success at speeding up the process, and the constant surveillance reminds me* of how American slaveowners were able to use scales, math, and ledgers to manage to squeeze three times more cotton-picking labor out of every single enslaved worker in 1860 than they had been able to do in 1820. Former slaves described how incredibly dehumanizing the pace of work was, and how each of them was forced to reduce themselves to a pair of hands and fingers picking cotton boll after boll, filling the bag over their shoulder with today’s and this week’s quota, lest they be physically tortured by savage whippings with rawhide …. knowing that next week’s quota would be a bit higher still… This process is described by Edward Baptist inThe Half Has Never Been Told (using the slaveowners’ own documents) and is also featured in 12 Years a Slave (both the movie and the original book from the 1850’s).

One positive thing I took from this article is that Amazon warehouse workers do seem to be organizing themselves. But it’s a tough fight!! Bezos being by far the richest human in the history of the entire planet.

To give you some idea of his wealth: in the past year, despite the massive drops in the stock market last month (Dec 2018), I calculate that Bezos’ wealth increased by an amount greater than DOUBLE THE EARNINGS OF ALL HIS WORKERS, PUT TOGETHER.

Can anybody with a straight face claim that Jeff Bezos’ contribution to getting your packaged orders, last year, was equal to twice the contribution of ALL AMAZON WORKERS COMBINED?

Perhaps Bezos’ contribution is really amazing, and is equivalent to the work output of twenty, or 200 workers. (Not sure how you’d measure that, but still, dollars are the usual criterion). And he should definitely be rewarded for having bet correctly on the Amazon delivery system and model. But his contribution to the system is NOTHING LIKE THE contribution of all of those other folks all put together!!!!

Here are the computations:

An article in Time magazine says that Amazon reports having about 560,000 workers world-wide and that their median total compensation (including overtime, stock options, etc) is about $28,000 per worker per year. Multiplying those two numbers gives us $15,680,000,000 in total worker earnings at Amazon per year, according to the company’s figures (that is, 15.7 billion dollars)

Bloomberg has data on rich folks’ estimated wealth, and they say Bezos is worth about $140 billion as of last Friday, January the 17th, 2018, mostly thanks to his ownership of his company’s stock, which is $31 billion more than it was one year earlier ($109B on 1/21/2018).

Notice that $15.7 Billion, the amount earned by ALL of the employees at Amazon combined, is almost exactly HALF of the wealth gained (you can’t say “earned” with a straight face here) by their boss, Jeff Bezos.

Or in other words:

If he were to be truly magnanimous and donate to his workers his entire gain in wealth for the year, THEN EACH ONE WOULD SEE HIS/HER EARNINGS 💥💥💥TRIPLE💥💥💥.

(He could afford it, I think. Do you think that such an act of capitalist generosity have any chance at all of happening? Personally, I doubt it. But anything that the workers could do to reduce Bezos’ share should be applauded!)

Or, you could say that one individual, Jeff Bezos, earned two-thirds of all the income generated by his company. The half-million or so other Amazon employees split up the rest.

Meanwhile the workers, who earn basically a pittance, are instead sped up and dehumanized for the benefit of one Jeffrey Bezos.

Has Such a level of extreme wealth disparity ever occurred in history? Did kings or emperors or 1890’s Robber Barons have, individually, more wealth and income than all their subjects or employees, combined?

Is this new?

It’s certainly shocking.

I wonder if maybe the Amazon workers could wage a sit-down strike where they occupy the warehouses to improve their wages and working conditions, as did the brave GM workers led by left-wingers in the United Auto Workers union in 1937 in Flint, Michigan? There are real advantages in waging an effective sit-down strike, taking over the warehouse etc, as opposed to picketing peacefully (and often vainly) outside while scabs are escorted past the picket lines by police.

 

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* it is MLK’s birthday, after all …

“And forgive our debts, as we forgive those who owe us!”

The title of this post might remind you of part of the so-called Lord’s Prayer, which in English is usually rendered “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”

This sounds like forgiving sins, but in Latin, which I studied for about six years, the prayer is really about forgiving debts:

“et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris”

I don’t know enough Greek to be able to comment on the original meaning of the words as apparently written down in the New Testament in that language, but it is generally accepted that Jesus (if he really existed) spoke Aramaic – but only a few of his (alleged) words were recorded in that language, since the entire NT was written in Greek, not in Hebrew or Latin, and definitely not in English!

The following book makes the argument that forgiving debts, wholesale, was essential if you wanted to avoid stratification of society into a class of oligarchs and a class of everybody else, who were essentially little better than slaves. They make the point that compounded interest grows exponentially and without limit, but economic growth does NOT: it follows a logistic curve at best, which means that there are certain limits.

For example, while bacteria growing in a petri dish appear to grow exponentially for some hours, perhaps for a few days, eventually, there is no more uncontaminated agar for the bacteria to eat, and they start drowning in their own waste products. So despite what one learns in most Algebra classes (including my own), bacterial growth is in actually logistic, not exponential. However, unless debt is periodically forgiven – which seldom if ever happens these days – the debtors end up drowning in debt, as you might be able to discern from this little graph I made:

logistic versus exponential growth

I haven’t read the book, but the review is most interesting. Here is a quote:

Nowhere, Hudson shows, is it more evident that we are blinded by a deracinated, by a decontextualizedunderstanding of our history than in our ignorance of the career of Jesus. Hence the title of the book: And Forgive Them Their Debts and the cover illustration of Jesus flogging the moneylenders — the creditors who do not forgive debts — in the Temple. For centuries English-speakers have recited the Lord’s Prayer with the assumption that they were merely asking for the forgiveness of their trespasses, their theological sins: “… and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us….” is the translation presented in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. What is lost in translation is the fact that Jesus came “to preach the gospel to the poor … to preach the acceptable Year of the Lord”: He came, that is, to proclaim a Jubilee Year, a restoration of deror for debtors: He came to institute a Clean Slate Amnesty (which is what Hebrew דְּרוֹר connotes in this context).

So consider the passage from the Lord’s Prayer literally: … καὶ ἄφες ἡμῖν τὰ ὀφειλήματα ἡμῶν: “… and send away (ἄφες) for us our debts (ὀφειλήματα).” The Latin translation is not only grammatically identical to the Greek, but also shows the Greek word ὀφειλήματα revealingly translated as debita: … et dimitte nobis debita nostra: “… and discharge (dimitte) for us our debts (debita).” There was consequently, on the part of the creditor class, a most pressing and practical reason to have Jesus put to death: He was demanding that they restore the property they had rapaciously taken from their debtors. And after His death there was likewise a most pressing and practical reason to have His Jubilee proclamation of a Clean Slate Amnesty made toothless, that is to say, made merely theological: So the rich could continue to oppress the poor, forever and ever. Amen.

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