african american political history

I swear to the Lord
I still can’t see
Why Democracy means
Everybody but me.
—  Langston Hughes

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was an important civil rights leader and activist. She was the vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, fighting for better rights and especially voting privileges for the black community in the South.

She started life as a cotton picker on a plantation, and later became its record keeper when the owner discovered she was literate. She became involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, travelling all across the South to promote voting registration and literacy. She was arrested and even brutally beaten for her convictions, but she did not give up, and instead campaigned extensively for the cause. She was elected as a national Democrat party delegate in 1972.

4

The First National Black History Museum Is Here

There were plenty of powerful moments during Saturday’s dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

But one stood out: The first black president and the first black first lady helping Ruth Bonner, the 99-year-old daughter of a man born a slave in Mississippi, ring a bell to open the first national museum of black history. Read more on that here.

You can also read President Barack Obama’s dedication to the museum here.

(All photos by Getty Images)

“A clear-eyed and timely book, it traces the country’s cannibalistic prison industrial complex back to the social welfare programs created by Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. This history is heartbreaking, but it is one that affects an enormous percentage of the country… Read it and vote—especially for the state legislators, judges, and district attorneys who exert the greatest influence over the system.”

I don’t live in the USA and I was actually surprised to learn how racist people are over there, especially toward African American people. I was brought up learning that America was the “home of the free” and that it was a mecca for people from all corners of the globe to go and make their lives better.

I had never met an African American before going to America. I was kind of intimidated to talk to them because I was brought up seeing them as sporting champions and movie stars. African Americans seemed like such a unique group of people. I was used to people of colour being the original owners of the land, with a long history and a beautiful culture that was trampled all over by white folk. But most African Americans cannot trace their ancestry back to their tribe or country before slavery. Their culture and history had been stolen and replaced with broad terms like “African American” as if the continent of Africa is pretty much the same as far as nationalities, tribes and heritage go.

It is almost unfathomable to think that so many people were kidnapped and forced into slavery for so many generations. I kind of assumed that white Americans would feel some sort of residual shame or even a newfound admiration for black Americans, who have been proving themselves over and over as being equal to anyone else. I still cannot understand how the attitude toward black people has come about. Is the media really that powerful? I mean, it’s not like the history of slavery has been hidden. Or the KKK. Or the success of countless African Americans - including the president of the United States! What is wrong with those narrowminded racists who still somehow believe that white people are superior?? White people brought disease, rape, slavery and pollution to continents like the Americas! 

Uh. Sorry for the rant.

2

February 3rd 1870: Fifteenth Amendment ratified

On this day in 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. This measure came as the third and last of the so-called ‘Reconstruction amendments’, passed after the end of the Civil War by the Radical Republicans in Congress. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the country, expanding on President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves in the Confederacy. The second Reconstruction Amendment, the Fourteenth, provided citizenship and equal protection for freedmen. The Fifteenth granted African-American men the right to vote. It was passed by Congress in February 1869, and received ratification from the requisite number of states the following year, being formally adopted in March 1870. For many abolitionists, this was the most important measure of the Reconstruction effort. In the words of black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “slavery is not abolished until the black man has the ballot”. Black enfranchisement meant that for the first time in American history, African-Americans were elected to political office. These included first black Senator, Hiram Rhodes Revels, Representative Joseph Rainey, and Governor P.B.S. Pinchback of Louisiana (who until 1990 was the only black state governor in U.S. history). In states such as South Carolina, slaves made up a majority of the population, meaning that once enfranchised they dominated state politics. Despite being enshrined in constitutional law, African-Americans were prevented from voting through discriminatory measures like poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses, as well as by the violent intimidation of the recently formed Ku Klux Klan. The 1965 Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, finally provided for the full registration of black voters in the U.S. This measure came in the larger context of the Civil Rights Movement, which also targetted post-Reconstruction injustices such as Jim Crow segregation.

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement, and pray that our inner being may be sensitive to its guidance. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.