Wednesday, November 26, 2014

When Freedom Visited Mississippi

“I’m going down to Mississippi
I’m going down a Southern road
And if you never see me again
Remember that I had to go”

From the PBS American Experience series on Freedom Summer, the Introduction  --  In 1964, less than 7% of Mississippi’s African Americans were registered to vote, compared to between 50 and 70% in other southern states. In many rural counties, African Americans made up the majority of the population and the segregationist white establishment was prepared to use any means necessary to keep them away from the polls and out of elected office. As Mississippian William Winter recalls, “A lot of white people thought that African Americans in the South would literally take over and white people would have to move, would have to get out of the state.”

For years, local civil rights workers had tried unsuccessfully to increase voter registration amongst African Americans. Those who wished to vote had to face the local registrar, an all-powerful white functionary who would often publish their names in the paper and pass the word on to their employers and bankers. And if loss of jobs and the threat of violence wasn’t enough to dissuade them, the complex and arcane testing policies were certain to keep them off the rolls.

In 1964, a new plan was hatched by Bob Moses, a local secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). For 10 weeks, white students from the North would join activists on the ground for a massive effort that would do what had been impossible so far: force the media and the country to take notice of the shocking violence and massive injustice taking place in Mississippi.

Word of the coming influx spread and Mississippi officials geared up for the newcomers by increasing police forces, passing new ordinances, and purchasing riot gear and weapons. Meanwhile, Mississippi Summer Project (later known as Freedom Summer) students gathered on the campus of Western College for Women in Oxford, Ohio to meet with SNCC leaders for training. After the first week, the volunteers learned that three members of their group -- Mickey Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney -- had gone missing in Mississippi. As the days passed and the young men were not heard from, people began to fear the worst -- that they had been murdered by the Klan.

Undaunted, Freedom Summer volunteers went down to Mississippi, fanning out across the state, embedding themselves with local families, and setting up Freedom Schools for children where African American history and culture were taught -- subjects forbidden in their regular public schools.

On August 4, 1964, the bodies of the three missing men were finally found, buried beneath an earthen dam. But despite the brutal murders, volunteers and locals were more committed to their cause than ever; they focused their attention on signing people up for the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which planned to challenge the all-white Mississippi delegation at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. Delegates included Fannie Lou Hamer, a former sharecropper who had been beaten while trying to register to vote and who had emerged as an authentic and passionate spokeswoman. At the convention, Hamer’s speech moved the crowd but proved no match for the Johnson machine, which feared the upheaval would threaten his candidacy.

As activist Charles McLaurin remarks in the film, “I felt really bad that we had not unseated the Mississippi delegation. But Fannie Lou and I came home with the feeling that our mission had not ended. We were coming home to continue to fight for the right to vote. We were charged because we had stuff back here to do.” A year later, Congress finally passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  (source: American Experience, PBS)

Freedom Summer part 1

Freedom Summer part 2

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

George Peabody and Southern Educational Philanthropy,_George_MSA,_MD.jpg

1867 Peabody’s Reconstruction Schools

From the Philanthropy Roundtable  ---  After the Civil War, the American South was badly battered, and improving its economic and social prospects became a central part of repairing our national union. Religious groups were the first to offer aid, including schooling for children. Then philanthropists outside of church structures took up the cause of boosting educational opportunities for young Southerners of all stripes.

Baltimore banker George Peabody took the lead. Barely a year and a half after the bullets had stopped flying, in early 1867, Peabody established America’s very first formal foundation, the Peabody Education Fund, with a gift of $2.1 million and a charge to raise the standard of schooling throughout the South without racial considerations. The fund ultimately distributed about $4 million across the region, building schools, training teachers, offering scholarships for higher education. One of its lasting achievements was in creating a high-quality college for teachers at Vanderbilt University, which sprinkled instructors throughout the southern states for generations, right up to the present. The Peabody Fund was also important for inspiring numerous other endowments to take up the cause of upgrading the schooling available to everyday southerners. A half dozen very active endowments, often working in close collaboration, showered money, buildings, expertise, and encouragement on southern education for several decades, strengthening and creating institutions at the primary, secondary, and college levels alike. (See 1907 entry.)

In addition to helping heal egregious regional sores, the Peabody Fund was a leader in what education historian John Thelin calls “long-distance philanthropy”—moving dollars out of the donor’s home area to locations of special need. The fund was also the first U.S. philanthropy to focus on one social problem. And it was a pioneer in relying heavily on trustees to guide its giving, and in other operational aspects that later became common in modern philanthropy. George Peabody was thus a powerful influence not only on other givers in his place and time, like Enoch Pratt and Johns Hopkins, but also on later American philanthropists like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Gates, all of whom have cited the generous and thoughtful Baltimorean as a model and inspiration, causing historians to refer to him as “the father of modern philanthropy.” (source: Philanthropy Roundtable)

Louisiana Education During Reconstruction, 1870

From History Engine, "Louisiana Education During Reconstruction, on 29 December 1870, Jefferson, Louisiana."  -- In 1870 the state of Louisiana's school Superintendent Thomas Conway found an outlet in which to place the blame for his suffering school system. Conway identified the Northern Peabody Education Fund as the root of many problems public Louisiana schools were facing; in particular, Conway cited the Fund as responsible for having created the growing trend of white parents taking their children out of public schools. Because the Peabody Fund's money explicitly provided assistance for free schools open to both black and white children, Conway could easily trace his problems back to the Fund's policy. White parents in Louisiana increasingly refused to send their children to public schools that now allowed black children to attend. Many white parents would rather remove their children from education altogether, or send them to private schools than have them attend classes with former slaves. Because so many white parents would not allow their children to learn with African Americans, it seemed that African Americans were receiving a greater proportion of educational funding. Feeling cheated, whites, with Conway leading them, attacked the Peabody Fund.

Therefore in December 1870, Dr. Barnas Sears, the general agent and administrator of the Peabody Fund, wrote a letter in response to Conway's complaints. The Farmer's Cabinet reported on December 29, 1870 that Sears wrote to Conway: 'We [the Peabody Fund] ourselves raise no question about mixed schools. We simply take the fact that the white children do not attend them without passing on the propriety or impropriety of their course. We wish to promote universal education - to the whole community if possible.' Sears was carrying out the mandate that the Peabody Fund had been established upon, that education for all children was the most essential aspect of trying to rebuild the war-torn South.

During Reconstruction in the South, black children were finally allowed to attend public schools. The new Louisiana constitution, written by both white and black elected delegates, not only outlawed segregation in public schools but also required that every parish establish at least one school within its jurisdiction. As Tunnell includes in his Crucible for Reconstruction, a free African American delegate from Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, who helped to write the new constitution, believed that these new provisions for education would elevate and enrich a Louisiana which had previously been ridden with both black and white ignorance and illiteracy. However, in Louisiana, with a large African American population, this created major problems within the school system. Since racism still afflicted Louisiana and the greater South, white parents often refused to send their children to school with African American children. The years of Reconstruction saw the rise of a great number of private schools across the South, as whites searched for alternatives to sending their children to school with African American children.

The complex tensions found within Southern society during Reconstruction are clearly shown in education. The Northern money flowing into the devastated South was both needed and resented. The disruption of the Southern social order as evidenced in changes within its system of education was a source of great conflict and attention during the Reconstruction era.  (source: History Engine)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

How Slavery Helped Universities Grow 
Author Craig Steven Wilder

From the New York Times, "Dirty Antebellum Secrets in Ivory Towers: ‘Ebony and Ivy,’ About How Slavery Helped Universities Grow," by Jennifer Sshuessler, on 18 October 2013 -- When Craig Steven Wilder first began digging around in university archives in 2002 for material linking universities to slavery, he recalled recently, he was “a little bashful” about what he was looking for.
“I would say, ‘I’m interested in 18th-century education,’ or something general like that,” Mr. Wilder said.

But as he told the archivists more, they would bring out ledgers, letters and other documents.

“They’d push them across the table and say, ‘You might want to take a peek at this,’ ” he said. “It was often really great material that was cataloged in ways that was hard to find.”

Now, more than a decade later, Mr. Wilder, a history professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a new book, “Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities,” which argues provocatively that the nation’s early colleges, alongside church and state, were “the third pillar of a civilization based on bondage.”

He also has a lot more company in the archives. Since 2003, when Ruth Simmons, then the president of Brown University, announced a headline-grabbing initiative to investigate that university’s ties to slavery, scholars at William and Mary, Harvard, Emory, the University of Maryland, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and elsewhere have completed their own studies.

And that tide is far from over. Last spring, a historian at Princeton began an undergraduate research seminar on the little-explored connections between that university and slavery. In September, the president of the University of Virginia announced a 27-member commission charged with recommending ways to commemorate the university’s “historical relationship with slavery and enslaved people,” in advance of its bicentennial, beginning in 2017.

But Mr. Wilder, scholars say, seems to be the first to look beyond particular campuses to take a broader look at the role of slavery in the growth of America’s earliest universities, which, he argues, were more than just “innocent or passive beneficiaries” of wealth derived from the slave trade.

“Craig shows that what happened at one institution wasn’t simply incidental or idiosyncratic,” said James Wright, a former president of Dartmouth College, which is discussed in the book. “Slavery was deeply embedded in all our institutions, which found ways to explain and rationalize slavery, even after the formation of the American republic.”

“Ebony and Ivy,” published by Bloomsbury, documents connections between slavery and various universities’ founding moments, whether it is the bringing of eight black slaves to campus by Dartmouth’s first president, Eleazar Wheelock, or the announcement by Columbia University (then named King’s College) of the swearing in of its first trustees on a broadside paid for with a single advertisement: for a slave auction near Beekman’s Slip in Lower Manhattan.

Mr. Wilder also ventures into more unexpected territory, including the rise of 19th-century “race science” and the evolution of university fund-raising. Harvard, he notes, emphasized its mission to convert “heathen” Indians in its early appeals for donations; by the late 18th century, its leaders were competing vigorously with those of other institutions for the tuition dollars and patronage of ascendant slave-owning West Indian planters.

“Sometimes I chuckled at how contemporary some of these colonial administrators were,” Mr. Wilder said.

“Ebony and Ivy,” with its cover image of a tendril of ivy wrapped around a chain, may not find a home on many alumni-office coffee tables. But Mr. Wilder, a graduate of Fordham and Columbia who has also taught at Dartmouth and Williams, says that some people are too quick to see political motives behind work like his.

A 2001 report on Yale University’s connections with slavery, he notes, was dismissed by some as a partisan hit job, written by graduate students with connections to labor unions that were then battling with the Yale administration. And the Brown report was begun at a moment when northern universities, along with banks and insurance companies, were threatened with class-action lawsuits demanding financial reparations for their connections with the 18th-century slave trade.

“There has been a fear that there’s something lurking in the archives that will be devastating to these institutions, and that people doing this work are motivated by hostility,” Mr. Wilder said. “But history is a poor medium for seeking revenge.”

The reparations debate has faded, along with much of the controversy surrounding research into universities and slavery. “This movement, once edgy and interesting, has been taken to the vet and defanged and declawed,” said Alfred Brophy, a legal historian who spearheaded a 2004 resolution at the University of Alabama apologizing for the antebellum faculty’s mistreatment of slaves on campus.

Still, universities may not be eager to embrace the research wholeheartedly. At Harvard, a student-generated report on the university’s connections with slavery released in 2011 received personal support and financing from Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, but no institutional response, according to Sven Beckert, the professor who led the project.

“The university itself has not reacted in any way, shape or form,” Mr. Beckert said. “There has been no effort to make this into a broader discussion.”

At other campuses, the basic fact-finding is only beginning. When Martha Sandweiss joined Princeton’s history department four years ago, she was surprised that no one had done a report like Harvard’s or Brown’s. A 2008 undergraduate thesis had established that Princeton’s first eight presidents seem to have owned slaves, but little else was known.

This semester, Ms. Sandweiss’s undergraduate research seminar, which she said received informal support from the administration, is investigating the university’s 18th-century financing and the slaveholding practices of particular Princeton classes, with the goal of answering deeper questions about Princeton’s reputation as the most culturally Southern of the Ivies.

“Before the Civil War, about half of the student body came from the South,” Ms. Sandweiss said. “What was it about this place that made people feel like it was a good place to send their sons?”

Lurking behind such historical questions, scholars say, is a more contentious contemporary one: What should universities do today to make African-Americans feel as if they fully belong?

Mr. Wilder, a first-generation college graduate raised by a single mother in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, said that his own research had only increased his “sense of ownership” of his own elite education.

He cited the story of Betsey Stockton, an enslaved woman belonging to an early-19th-century president of Princeton, who used her master’s library to study biblical literature and eventually became a missionary in Hawaii.

“Something like that changes the way you think about these institutions,” Mr. Wilder said. “You realize, people of color have always been here.” (source: New York Times)

Brown University's Slavery Memorial
Brown University’s Slavery Memorial, a work by Martin Puryear. Photo: Providence Journal by Bob Thayer

From The Providence Journal,"In iron and stone, Brown University acknowledges slave ties," by Bill Van Siclen, on 20 September 2014 -- PROVIDENCE — For nearly a year, Brown University has been celebrating its 250th anniversary with everything from concerts and art exhibits to a 600-pound birthday cake.

But some events connected to the anniversary are more solemn than celebratory. On Saturday, for example, the university will dedicate a new stone-and-iron memorial designed to highlight its past ties to the transatlantic slave trade.

Created by noted African-American sculptor Martin Puryear, the so-called Slavery Memorial has two parts.

The largest and more visible is a 4.5-ton cast-iron sculpture that suggests a giant, half-submerged ball and chain. In a symbolically charged detail, the last of the chain’s three massive links is broken in half, as if forcibly torn apart.

A second element — a cylindrical granite plaque — sits nearby, inscribed with information about the slave trade and the role the university and its namesake family, the Browns, played in it. In part, the inscription reads:

“This memorial recognizes Brown University’s connection to the trans-Atlantic slave trade …. In the eighteenth century slavery permeated every aspect of social and economic life in Rhode Island. Rhode Islanders dominated the North American share of the African slave trade, launching over a thousand slaving voyages in the century before the abolition of the trade in 1808, and scores of illegal voyages thereafter. Brown University was a beneficiary of this trade.”

The site, too, is symbolic. Located in a grassy area near the school’s landmark clock tower, the memorial is also close to University Hall, built in 1770 and the oldest structure on Brown’s campus. In the mid-2000s, when the university first began researching its ties to the slave trade, it discovered that at least three slaves were involved in the building’s construction.
“We looked at several locations, and this seemed to work on a number of levels,” says Jo-Ann Conklin, a member of Brown’s Public Art Committee. “It’s part of the main campus, but it’s also relatively quiet. And it’s near University Hall, which we know was built at least in part by slaves.”

Conklin also notes that the memorial is near the path that Brown students and faculty take during the school’s annual graduation procession. “We liked the idea that the memorial would be part of events like commencement,” she says.

Planning for the memorial began in 2006, when the university issued a report detailing its long-hidden ties to the New England slave trade.

Among the report’s findings: Rhode Island’s Colonial-era economy was heavily dependent on slave trading; a handful of wealthy Rhode Islanders, including members of the Brown family, dominated the so-called “Triangle Trade” in rum, slaves and molasses; slave-owning was widespread in Rhode Island and other New England states during the 18th and early 19th centuries; and several of the university’s early supporters, including its founder, the Rev. James Manning, and its first treasurer, John Brown, were slave owners. (On the other hand, the Brown for whom the university is named, Nicholas Brown Jr., was a fervent abolitionist.)

Spearheaded by Brown’s then-president, Ruth Simmons, the report also made a series of recommendations designed to acknowledge the school’s slavery-tainted past.

According to Brown officials, many of these proposals have since been adopted, including the memorial and making the report publicly available. (Copies can be downloaded at

Another of the report’s recommendations — that the university establish an academic center for the study of slavery and its impact — will be fulfilled when Brown formally opens its new Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, on Oct. 25.

Due to a scheduling conflict, Simmons, who led Brown from 2001 to 2012 as the first African-American president of an Ivy League university, will not attend Saturday’s dedication, although she is expected to attend the opening of the center in October.

Instead, the Slavery Memorial’s dedication ceremony will be led by Brown’s current president, Christina H. Paxson.

Puryear, who lives in upstate New York and is considered one of America’s most accomplished contemporary sculptors, and Edwidge Danticat, a Haitian-American writer and 1993 graduate of Brown’s creative writing program, are also expected to speak.

In an email interview, Puryear spoke of the rewards and challenges involved in the memorial project.

“Initially I felt honored when I was asked to create a slavery memorial for Brown, but it quickly became one of the most challenging projects I’d ever undertaken,” he said. “After all, how do you use art to memorialize such a shameful episode from our nation’s past?”

Puryear said he overcame his initial doubts by treating the memorial as an “industrial artifact” — at once half-forgotten, yet too large to avoid.

“After a lot of deliberation, I had the idea of creating something like a kind of industrial artifact — something obsolete, rusting, largely buried, but neither completely disappeared nor forgotten. For this reason I chose to use ductile cast iron for the sculpture rather than bronze, although the broken links of the chain terminate in facets of mirror-polished stainless steel.”

Still, it’s a part of the memorial that he had nothing to do with — the inscription on the granite plaque — that Puryear feels is most important.

“The truth, conveyed by the carefully worded historical text inscribed in granite, is for me the most important part of the whole work,” he wrote.

Though it only arrived on campus a few weeks ago, the memorial is already getting positive reviews from local arts and cultural leaders.

“I pass it every day on my way to work,” says former state Rep. Ray Rickman. “I think it’s fantastic. From an educational and artistic standpoint, they get an A-plus.”

Providence NAACP President James Vincent hasn’t seen the memorial. Nevertheless, he praised Brown for its willingness to explore slavery’s legacy at the university and in Rhode Island generally.

“Even now, there are a lot of people who think slavery was something that happened somewhere else,” he says. “I commend Brown for reminding us that it happened here, too.”  (source: The Providence Journal)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

California Native American Indians in 1863

From the New York Times Opinionator Disunion, "Freedom for California’s Indians," by Stacey L. Smith, on 29 April 2013 -- On April 27, 1863, nearly five months after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, California abolished its system of forced apprenticeship for American Indians. Under the apprenticeship provisions of the state’s Act for the Government and Protection of Indians, several thousand California Indians, mostly children, had suffered kidnapping, sale and involuntary servitude for over a decade.

Newly elected California Republicans, eager to bring California in line with the national march toward emancipation, agitated for two years in the early 1860s to repeal Indian apprenticeship. And yet those Republicans’ limited vision of Indian freedom — one in which Indians would be free to reap the fruits of their labor, but not free from the duty to labor altogether — made for an incomplete Indian Emancipation Proclamation. Although California was distant from the battlefields of the Civil War, the state endured its own struggle over freedom that paralleled that of the North and the South.

The Republican campaign to abolish Indian servitude ran up against nearly a century of coerced Indian labor in California. Under Spanish and Mexican rule, thousands of California Indians worked on missions and ranches, bound to their employment through a combination of economic necessity, captivity, physical compulsion and debt.

With the United States’ conquest of California in 1847, the discovery of gold in 1848 and the formation of a state government in 1849, new American lawmakers expanded and formalized Indian servitude to meet growing demands for labor. The 1850 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians authorized whites to hold Indian children as wards until they reached adulthood. Indian adults convicted of vagrancy or other crimes could be forced to work for whites who paid their bail.

Skyrocketing demand for farmworkers and domestic servants, combined with violence between Indians and invading whites in the northwestern part of the state, left Democrats in war-torn counties clamoring for the expansion of the 1850 Indian act. A “general system of peonage or apprenticeship” was the only way to quell Indian wars, one Democrat argued. A stint of involuntary labor would civilize Indians, establish them in “permanent and comfortable homes,” and provide white settlers with “profitable and convenient servants.” In 1860, Democrats proposed new amendments to the Act for the Government and Protection of Indians that allowed whites to bind Indian children as apprentices until they reached their mid-20s. Indian adults accused of being vagrants without steady employment, or taken as captives of war, could be apprenticed for 10-year terms. The amendments passed with little debate.

As the nation hurtled toward a war over slavery, Californians watched as their own state became a battleground over the future of human bondage. Apprenticeship laws aimed at “civilizing” the state’s Indians encouraged a robust and horrific slave trade in the northwestern counties. Frontier whites eagerly paid from $50 to $100 for Indian children to apprentice. Groups of kidnappers, dubbed “baby hunters” in the California press, supplied this market by attacking isolated Indian villages and snatching up children in the chaos of battle. Some assailants murdered Indian parents who refused to give up their children.

Once deposited in white homes, captive apprentices often suffered abuse and neglect. The death of Rosa, a 10-year-old apprentice from either the Yuki or Pomo tribes, provides a grim case in point. Just two weeks before the repeal of Indian apprenticeship, the Mendocino County coroner found the dead girl “nearly naked, lying in a box out of doors” next to the home of her mistress, a Mrs. Bassett of Ukiah. Neighbors testified that the child was sick and restless and that Basset shut her out of the house in the middle of a raging snowstorm. Huge bruises on Rosa’s abdomen suggested that Bassett had mercilessly beaten the ill child before tossing her out into the blizzard. Mendocino officials never brought charges in the case.

The horrors of kidnapping and apprenticeship filled the state’s newspapers just as antislavery California Republicans swept into power in 1861-2. Republicans assailed the apprentice system and blamed Democrats for the “abominable system of Indian apprenticeship, which has been used as a means of introducing actual slavery into our free State.” George Hanson, an Illinois Republican whose close relationship with Abraham Lincoln earned him an appointment as Northern California’s superintendent of Indian affairs, vowed to eliminate the state’s “unholy traffic in human blood and souls.” He tracked down and prosecuted kidnappers in the northwestern counties (with mixed success) and petitioned the State Legislature to abolish the apprenticeship system.

In 1862, Republican legislators proposed two new measures to overturn the 1860 apprenticeship amendments. Democrats blocked these bills and insisted that apprenticeship “embodied one of the most important measures” for Indians’ “improvement and civilization.” Indian servitude lived on.

By the time the legislature met again in the spring of 1863, however, all signs pointed to the destruction of the apprenticeship system. Republicans won firm majorities in both houses of the State Legislature, and in January California became the first state to endorse Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Republicans again proposed to repeal the apprenticeship amendments, and this time they achieved their goal with no debate or dissent. Involuntary labor for American Indians died quietly.

Or did it? Republicans had eliminated all the 1860 amendments authorizing the forced apprenticeship of American Indians. But they had left intact sections of the original 1850 act that mandated the forcible binding out of Indian convicts and vagrants. Moreover, repeal only prevented future apprenticeships; Republican legislation did not liberate Indians already legally apprenticed. After repeal, as many as 6,000 Indian children remained servants in white homes.

The incomplete nature of Indian emancipation in California reflected Republicans’ own ambivalence toward Indian freedom. Most Republicans opposed the kidnapping and enslavement of Indians. They believed that Indians, like former African-American slaves, should be entitled to reap the economic rewards of their own work. On the other hand, they asserted that the key to “civilizing” Indians was to force them to participate in the California labor market. They could not be free to support themselves through traditional mobile hunting and gathering practices that removed their labor from white supervision and tied up valuable natural resources. Such a lifestyle was, in Republicans’ minds, little more than idle vagrancy. Just as their Republican colleagues on the East Coast argued that ex-slaves should be schooled to labor by being bound to plantation wage work through long-term contracts, California Republicans began to advocate compulsory labor as the only way to cure Indian vagrancy. 
A Pomo woman weaving a basket.

The Republican vision for Indian freedom quickly took shape after the Civil War. Republican appointees who oversaw California’s Indian reservations compelled all able-bodied Indians to work on the reservation farms. Those who refused, or who pursued native food-gathering practices, forfeited the meager federal rations allotted to reservation Indians. By 1867, one Republican agent declared that “the hoe and the broadaxe will sooner civilize and Christianize than the spelling book and the Bible.” He advocated forcing Indians to work until they had been “humanized by systematic labor.” These policies persisted long after the war. At Round Valley Reservation, one critic observed in 1874 that “compulsion is used to keep the Indians and to drive them to work.” Indian workers received no payment for “labor and no opportunity to accumulate individual property.”

The ambiguous postwar liberty of California Indians reveals that the Civil War was a transcontinental conflict that reached west to the Pacific. The freedoms won in wartime, and the unfulfilled promises of emancipation, encompassed not only black and white, free and slave, but also American Indian peoples who suffered from distinctly Western systems of unfree labor. The Civil War and Reconstruction are best understood as truly national struggles over the meaning and limits of freedom, north, south and west. (source: The New York Times)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ota Benga: The Man In The Bronx Zoo
Ota Benga in the Bronx Zoo

From the Washington Post, "Basest Instinct: Case of the Zoo Pygmy Exhibited a Familiar Face of Human Nature," by Ann Hornaday, a Washington Post Staff Writer, on 3 January 2009  -- It's not unusual for a minor, obscure historical figure suddenly to bubble up into the zeitgeist. (Remember the year of two Truman Capote movies?) But the inspiration for what might be the most arcane cultural reference of 2008 turned out to have particular, grievous resonance for me. His name is Ota Benga.

If you saw the wildly imaginative movie "The Fall" in the spring, you might recognize the name. The film, directed by Tarsem Singh, featured a former slave named Otta Benga as one of its larger-than-life fictional heroes. Then, in September, Texas venture capitalist Bill Perkins took out an ad in the New York Times criticizing the financial bailout; the full-page illustration was designed by a Houston-based art collective called Otabenga Jones. Ota Benga has inspired musicians, including the Brooklyn experimental band Piñataland. Someone has set up a MySpace page in his name.

But nowhere has Ota Benga been more obviously referenced than in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," in which an African Pygmy befriends the title character, a young man in an old man's body. While the two explore the racier pleasures that New Orleans has to offer, the Pygmy -- in the film he's called Ngunda Oti -- cheerfully tells Benjamin of his various adventures, which happen to include being put in a zoo and exhibited in the monkey house.

It's that scene that set my stomach churning. Because it was Ota Benga who, in 1906, was actually put on display in the Bronx Zoo. And it was my great-great-great-uncle who put him there.

Ota Benga's story began at the turn of the last century, in the forests of the Congo Free State, where he and his fellow tribesmen hunted elephant and antelope for subsistence, fending off hostile tribes and the murderous forces of Belgian King Leopold's Force Publique. In 1904, Benga was brought to the United States by the missionary, explorer and entrepreneur Samuel Phillips Verner, who had been hired by the St. Louis World's Fair to bring back Pygmies for an ethnographic exhibit. (Verner's story was recounted by his grandson Phillips Verner Bradford in the book "Ota Benga: The Pygmy in the Zoo," from which much of this account was taken.) Verner purchased Benga, whose wife and children had been killed in a massacre, from African slave traders, most likely saving his life. Later he brought Benga, seven other Pygmies and a young Congolese man to St. Louis, having promised to return the eight Pygmies when the fair ended.

The nine Africans proved to be one of the most popular attractions at the fair, where the crowds gawked, jeered and at one point threw mud pies at the human exhibit. From St. Louis, the group traveled to New Orleans just in time for Mardi Gras, and finally back to Africa, where eventually Benga -- expressing a desire to learn to read -- asked Verner to take him along when the explorer returned home. They arrived in New York in August 1906, when Benga's second and even more bizarre American odyssey began.

For generations, William Temple Hornaday has been the most storied and illustrious member of the Hornaday family tree, which has its roots in 18th-century Quaker settlements of North Carolina. A famous naturalist, he was a contemporary of Theodore Roosevelt's, a zealous ecological evangelist and preserver of wildlife who is credited with saving the American bison, among other species. A mountain peak in Yellowstone and an entire range in Mexico are named after William Temple Hornaday, as well as parks, a street in New York and a special Boy Scout medal for distinguished service in conservation. To most environmentalists, wildlife biologists and lovers of the outdoors, Hornaday is a hero.

My father never met "Temple," as he called his great-great-uncle. But he often related stories passed down from his own father, who recalled him as an eccentric man -- a teetotaler, for example, known to make an exception for a glass or two of champagne. Another favorite family tale was how during his stint as the first director of the New York Zoological Park (more commonly known as the Bronx Zoo), Temple invited my grandfather, then a medical student, to come to New York and oversee the monkey house. (Before running the Bronx Zoo, Temple spent eight years at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, where he helped plan the National Zoo.) 
The Bronx Zoo Monkey House, 1910

That would have been the same monkey house where Temple displayed Ota Benga, but I'd never heard his name until several years ago, when I heard his story on the radio. I was sipping coffee and reading the paper, wondering with half an ear how anyone could put a fellow human being in a zoo, when the name "William Temple Hornaday" rang out. I put the coffee down, mortified, and listened more closely. In 1906, Verner, looking for a place for Benga to live, finally brought him to the Bronx Zoo, where Temple welcomed him and, at first, simply let him walk the grounds, helping the workers, befriending the animals and keeping a relatively low profile. But one early September weekend, Temple decided to move Benga's hammock into an orangutan's cage, where he encouraged Benga to engage in such "picturesque" activities as playing with his simian companion, weaving caps out of straw and shooting his bow and arrow.

Outside the enclosure, Temple installed the following sign: "The African Pygmy, 'Ota Benga.' Age, 28 years. Height, 4 feet 11 inches. Weight 103 pounds. . . . Exhibited each afternoon during September."

It's tempting to see Temple's behavior as the random, racist act of an unusually insensitive outlier. But the more unsettling truth is that he was probably a typical, if exceptionally blinkered, product of his era. This was a time in which sideshows and arcades featured lurid burlesques on primitive themes and "authentic" Americana, in which the hucksterism and hustle of P.T. Barnum meshed commerce and mass culture, in which Jim Crow was at its height, lynchings were preserved for posterity on postcards, eugenics was gaining popularity and Darwin's theory of evolution was making inroads against encroaching notions of creationism. Putting human beings on display was nothing new: Nearly a hundred years earlier, Saartjie Baartman, from what is now South Africa, was exhibited in Britain as the "Hottentot Venus." Along with Ota Benga, Geronimo was a popular attraction at the St. Louis World's Fair, the Apache warrior and U.S. prisoner of war by then relegated to a booth selling souvenirs and autographs. 
Saartjie Baartman

It was most likely in the spirit of both Barnum and Darwin that Temple hit on the disastrous idea of putting Benga in the cage. The display, marketed with the right mix of sensationalism and pseudoscientific pretense, would have the double benefit of bringing in throngs of visitors to the zoo and advancing Darwin's theories, with Benga cast as the missing link. Ironically, it was on both those counts that black church leaders expressed outrage upon hearing of Benga's captivity. "Our race, we think, is depressed enough without exhibiting one of us with the apes," one minister wrote to New York's mayor, George McClellan (son of the Civil War general). Furthermore, he added, "the Darwinian theory is absolutely opposed to Christianity, and a public demonstration in its favor should not be permitted."

Reportedly, it didn't take long for Temple to cancel the monkey house exhibit, his otherwise impenetrable shell of hubris, condescension and naivete unequal to the controversy that he had unleashed. Benga stayed at the zoo for several more days before he went to live in a home for African American orphans in Brooklyn, eventually settling in Lynchburg, Va., where he befriended the poet Anne Spencer. He died in 1916, after shooting himself in the heart.

Hornaday retired from the zoo in 1926 and continued to lobby on behalf of the environment as a director of the Permanent Wildlife Protection Fund. He died in 1937 and was buried in Stamford, Conn., with 16 Boy Scouts serving as an honor guard. In "The Hornadays, Root and Branch," a family tree published in 1979, Temple is called "an original, unusual man" and "a major figure among early giants of conservation."

The name Ota Benga is never mentioned.

When I first heard about Ota Benga, I asked my father whether he knew about him. He responded immediately and un-self-consciously. "Oh yes," he said, his voice trailing off, an ellipsis that served as an apt metaphor for America's ongoing conversation about race, in which so much has gone unspoken, misremembered and distorted over hundreds of years. It's the same silence that explains why it's common to meet descendants of slaves, but far more rare to meet descendants of slave owners. It's the same silence that lets so many white Americans think of race as someone else's story. 
St. Louis World's Fair, 1904

How are sins of the fathers -- or the great-great-great-uncles -- properly accounted for by their successors? The moment I heard Temple's sordid story on the radio, my first impulse was to gain as much distance as possible. "He's not my relative," I remember thinking for an addled moment. "I'm adopted!" Although it's true I'd been adopted as an infant, issues of blood and biology had never been major preoccupations. But for a brief instant I succumbed to the very genetic determinism that Temple himself might have endorsed.

Upon reflection, of course, I was right and wrong. Temple's descendants, biological or otherwise, obviously bear no direct responsibility for what he did. Our only responsibility, to the degree that we take pride in the family name, is to tell the story it represents fully, even when it doesn't follow a straight line of worthy accomplishment and moral rectitude.

For the past decade or so, I've taken to compulsively telling people about Temple and Ota Benga, especially when I meet someone familiar with the more heroic version of my distant uncle's story. Generally, the conversation begins with someone recognizing an uncommon last name. "Do you happen to be related to . . . ?" they'll ask.

With pleasantries about bison and Boy Scouts exchanged, I'll inevitably feel compelled to complete the record. "Did you know he put a Pygmy in a zoo?" I always blurt out a little too loudly. The full light of history often casts contradictory shadows, where a teetotaler drinks champagne and the better angels of a man's nature bumptiously coexist with his demons. (source: Washington Post)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870

 John Thornton reviewed The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440-1870 by Hugh Thomas, in the New York Times article entitled, "The Business of Slavery Why did a practice that was widely considered despicable last so long?" on 30 November 1997  --  The history of the Atlantic slave trade seems to call out for a moral treatment, especially when viewed from its bleakest instant, the ''Middle Passage'' from Africa to the Americas. Hundreds of naked people were crammed into an impossibly small space on a tiny sailing ship for a voyage of one or two months of terrible hardship. When abolitionists wished to stir up outrage against the trade, they published pictures of the cramped quarters of the slave ship Brookes, its unwilling passengers lying ''spoonwise,'' as the tight-packing captains referred to it. Alternatively, they told of the dead being unceremoniously consigned to the sharks.

From the hold of a slave ship, the slave trade has a clear-cut set of victims, and of victimizers in the captains and owners of the ships. The victims are all black, the victimizers mostly white. Amid the racialized debates in the United States now, one can buy a T-shirt with an engraving of the Brookes cargo hold and the motto ''Never Forgive, Never Forget.'' Conditions on slave ships were so bad, as Hugh Thomas demonstrates in this book on the trade, that even in the 16th and 17th centuries, when moral sensibilities were blunted by atrocities at home and abroad, slave trading found a good number of moral critics in Europe and America. 
 The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870. By Hugh Thomas.

But as anyone who studies the slave trade in depth quickly learns, the larger picture is much more complex, and more morally ambiguous, than such gruesome imagery suggests. Apparently good and moral people had their hands in it, and its collaborators were legion -- of all colors, religions and nationalities. Moreover, since the slave trade carried some 15 million people, touched four continents and lasted better than 400 years, one can find anecdotes of just about every sort of event and attitude imaginable to illustrate it.

Lord Thomas is well aware of this, and ''The Slave Trade'' avoids the sensationalism and moral outrage that have accompanied so many popular accounts. He achieves this by focusing on the development of the trade as a branch of European and, later, American commerce. He locates its origins in the ancient Mediterranean and medieval Islam, and then covers the beginning, growth and apogee (in the late 1700's) of the Atlantic trade. The emphasis is on the spread of the trade from the European perspective -- the international rivalries, the contacts with Africa and the colonization of the Americas.

Thomas then pauses to look at the trade as a business, with chapters devoted to the nautical details of ships, the kinds of people who were traders, the commodities brought to Africa and a thorough examination of the histories and locations of trading posts. He studies the means by which people were enslaved in Africa, and conducts a careful survey of the business practices of the trade on the coast, where European buyers met African sellers face to face. Only one chapter is devoted to the Middle Passage and the sale of slaves on the auction block, a sensitive but relatively bloodless account of the moral core of the trade. Throughout, Thomas treads carefully on touchy issues involving the role of African wars in generating slaves, the relationship between those wars and the demands of the slave traders, and the overall profitability of the trade to ship owners and captains.

The remainder of the book covers the continuation of the slave trade well into the 19th century and its final demise in an era when the last slaves crossed the Atlantic in steamships after having received smallpox vaccinations. This section is particularly devoted to the slow growth of the moral sentiments in popular religion that linked the abolitionist movement and evangelical Christianity, and is especially strong on showing the growth of abolitionist sentiment (or the lack of it) on the Continent, specifically in countries with overseas possessions.
The great strength of this book is its remarkably thorough treatment of the topics that Thomas chooses to take on. It is well researched, and Thomas is comfortable in several languages. Thanks to his earlier work on the 16th-century Spanish conquistadors, the recent history of Cuba and the history of the Atlantic, his chapters on the 16th and 17th centuries are as detailed and faithful to the record as are those on the better-known heyday of slaving in the 18th century. Thomas also pays careful attention to all the European players; Spain and Portugal, Denmark and the Netherlands get their share of space, along with France and England, in the story of the trade and its abolition. This balance is free of the national partisanship that many scholars who are less well read sometimes unwittingly indulge in.

In this engaging account, the personalities of the trade emerge as complex and confusing human beings. There are few heroic characters and many people whom most of us would consider villains. But as he presents this morally questionable group of people, Thomas avoids stereotypes, challenging us to understand why a business widely considered despicable lasted so long. He has a keen nose for the telling anecdote.

Yet ''The Slave Trade'' is a curious book in the context of the last 20 years of academic study of the slave trade. It is not surprising that Thomas has eschewed an extensive discussion of the ''numbers game,'' the multidisciplinary search for quantifying the number of slaves transported across the Atlantic. The technical statistical approach does not readily lend itself to the human dimension of a narrative. Thomas covers this material adequately in an appendix, where he reviews the recent estimates of the numbers and makes his own assessment.

It is harder to explain why he has also avoided more urgent academic debate. He says this book had its origins 30 years ago, when he met Eric Williams, then Prime Minister of Trinidad and the author of a hugely influential study of the slave trade and its impact on the development of capitalism. Williams upbraided Thomas for not having read his book, ''Capitalism and Slavery,'' and sent him a copy. ''The Slave Trade'' never deals in depth with the central issues of that book, what these days is called ''the Williams thesis,'' which holds that the profitability of the slave trade financed the Industrial Revolution in Europe, and that the growth of industry eventually ended slavery and the slave trade. Debate on the Williams thesis is the cutting edge of slave trade research in academic circles.

The impact of slave trading on Africa has also been a battleground among academics, and although Thomas does deal with Africa, he is less sure-handed here than in his coverage of the European end of the trade. He takes Africa seriously enough to realize that Africans were not primitives raided at will by Europeans, but the sections about how African institutions and history might have shaped African participation are riddled with errors of fact and unusual (but poorly documented) interpretations of events. Consequently, we never really understand what drove African leaders to tolerate the slave trade, or why they could not or did not stop it. In contrast to his fine command of the complexities of the European rivalries and practices, Thomas is unsure of the political geography of Africa, confusing, for example, the Songhai empire with the empire of Mali at times. His evident unfamiliarity with some specifics of African history is puzzling, given the substantial scholarship done on that history in the last 30 years.

This lapse also leads to a serious imbalance in his treatment of opposition to slavery. He carefully outlines European antislavery writing, but gives little attention to Muslim sentiment. He makes only a passing mention of the 17th-century holy war waged by the Senegambian Muslim Nasr al-Din, which had ending the export of slaves as one of its aims, and no mention of a similar movement led by Abd al-Kadir in the 18th century.

''The Slave Trade'' is, for all this, a fine narrative history, long on detail and striking anecdote, short on analysis and statistics. Where he is at his best, dealing with the European mercantile community and its supporters in government who made the trade possible, Thomas is very good indeed. (source: The New York Times)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

World War I: Jazz Music

From PBS, World War I:excerpted from Jazz: A History of America's Music  -- On April 16, 1917, America entered World War I, and on New Year's Day of the following year, the 2,000 men of the 15th New Work Regiment landed at Brest on the coast of Britanny. The French soldiers and sailors and civilians who turned out to greet them had never seen or heard anything like these Americans. The officers were white, as had been all of the American combat soldiers who had trooped ashore in France since the previous June. But these enlisted men were all black. So were all the members of the big regimental band, and as it swung into its distinctive version of the Marsellaise, the onlookers on shore were still more puzzled. These Americans played with such spirit and rhythmic drive that it took the French eight or 10 bars to recognize their own national anthem. Then, one of the musicians in the band remembered, "there came over their faces an astonished look" followed instantly by "alert snap-to-it attention and [a] salute by every French soldier or sailor present."

Marching at the head of the band was its director, Lieutenant James Reese Europe, who had been the most eagerly sought-after society dance bandleader in New York before America entered the war; the man who, as musical director for the dancers Vernon and Irene Castle, had introduced the country to the fox-trot. He had joined the army in 1915, he told a friend, not out of any special sense of patriotism or because he was especially fond of martial music, but because he thought a National Guard unit for Harlem would "bring together all classes of men who stand for something in the community" and he would have felt remiss if he were not part of it.

A Red Flag in the Face of a Bull

The regiment had first been sent south for training, to Spartanburg, South Carolina, over the strenuous objections of the city's mayor. "I was sorry to learn that the 15th Regiment has been ordered here," he told the press, "for, with their northern ideas about race equality, they will probably expect to be treated like white men. I can say right here that they will not be treated as anything except Negroes ... This thing is like waving a red flag in the face of a bull, something that can't be done without trouble."

On the first Saturday after the regiment's arrival, Europe's band played a concert in downtown Spartanburg. A big muttering crowd of local whites gathered. The next day, however, members of the Spartanburg chamber of commerce came calling. Would the band be available to play to dancing the following Saturday at the country club?

Europe's music may have mollified some white citizens of Spartanburg, but others continued to be angered by the presence of black troops. In the interest of keeping the peace, the men pledged to follow Jim Crow practice whenever they went into town and to do their best to look the other way when insulted. But white troops from other New York units training nearby had made no such promises. They berated shop owners who wouldn't serve their fellow soldiers, whatever their color, and when a black doughboy was assaulted for failing to leave the sidewalk fast enough to suit several lounging whites, white New Yorkers beat his attackers to the ground. Then, when the proprietor of a downtown hotel knocked a black private down for having failed to doff his hat before buying a newspaper in the lobby, officers had to restrain angry white troops from burning the place down. Finally, it was thought best to have the regiment's training completed in France, where, their commander assured his men, there was "no color line."
The Jazz Germ Hits France

Not long after the Europe band came ashore in France, Army brass saw that its brand of martial ragtime would be good for morale, providing "the feel of home" for bored or battered doughboys, while winning new friends among the French. The songwriter Noble Sissle, who served as the band's vocalist, remembered its first appearance before French civilians, a Lincoln's Birthday concert at the Nantes opera house. The men played French marches, The Stars and Stripes Forever, plantation melodies, and ragtime pieces, which the French had never heard before. Then came "the fireworks," Sissle wrote, W. C. Handy's Memphis Blues; it began with a "soul-rousing crash" of cymbals by the drummers, their shoulders shaking in time, then "both director and musicians seemed to forget their surroundings ... The audience could stand it no longer, the 'jazz germ' hit them and it seemed to find the vital spot, loosening all muscles and causing what is known in American as an 'eagle rocking it.'"

The music Europe's men played was still orchestrated ragtime meant for marching, not jazz, and no one was allowed to improvise. But it was filled with jazz elements — breaks, riffs, trombones smears, and rhythmic excitement no other marching band could come close to matching. The British and French and Italian bandmasters were impressed, too, and asked to examine the instruments Europe's men had used; they couldn't believe that such sounds could be made through ordinary horns. It was not the instruments his men played, Europe patiently explained, but the way they played them that made the difference.

On the night of April 20, 1918, Europe became the first African-American officer to face combat during the war, accompanying a French night patrol across no-man's-land under heavy enemy fire. Six weeks later, he survived a German poison gas attack that left his lungs too weak for further fighting but failed to dim his creativity. Lying on a hospital cot he wrote a new song, On Patrol in No Man's Land, then arranged it for the regimental band with special effects — sirens and alarm bells, artillery explosions, and rattling bursts of machine-gun fire, all to be produced by the band's two drummers.

The Hellfighters

Meanwhile, the men of the 15th New York — its name now changed to the 369th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army — endured 191 unbroken days of combat, won 171 decorations for bravery, more than any other American unit, and took special pride in the name the French gave them — the Hellfighters. After the fighting was finally over, they came home to New York on February 17, 1919, to a victory parade up 5th Avenue to Harlem. Thousands of New Yorkers, white as well as black, poured into the streets to cheer them. "Never in the history of Father Knickerbocker," one newspaperman wrote, "has such a rousing royal welcome been given returning heroes ... Not for many a day it is likely that thousands of white and colored citizens will participate in such a tumultuous and enthusiastic demonstration."

World War I proved one of the bloodiest and most brutal wars in history, with 10 million people killed, and some 20 million wounded from 1914-1918. The carnage was unspeakable. As historian Bernd Huppauf explained, soldiers suffered "horrific wounds that were inflicted by modern ammunition. There were soldiers who returned who had suffered psychological shock ... They were not even capable of functioning in the society at the end of the war." The world had entered a new, mechanized age, one in which the frailty of life was clearer than ever before. The slaughter forced inhabitants of every nation to question their philosophical and spiritual beliefs, and altered their perspective of the world.

In America, the war paved the way for what would one day be caricatured as "the Roaring Twenties," a period of fast living characterized by organized crime, corrupt politicians, speakeasies, and the wild, vibrant beats of a new music known as jazz.  []

James Reese Europe the Hellfighters

World War I: Harlem Hellfighters
The Harlem Hell-fighters: 369th Infantry Regiment (United States)

From The United States Government National Archives:  While the Great War raged in Europe for three long years, America steadfastly clung to neutrality. It was not until April 2, 1917, that President Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. "The world," he said, "must be made safe for democracy." Quickly, Americans swung into action to raise, equip, and ship the American Expeditionary Force to the trenches of Europe. Under the powers granted to it by the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8) "to raise and support Armies," Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917. Among the first regiments to arrive in France, and among the most highly decorated when it returned, was the 369th Infantry (formerly the 15th Regiment New York Guard), more gallantly known as the "Harlem Hellfighters." The 369th was an all-black regiment under the command of mostly white officers including their commander, Colonel William Hayward.

Participation in the war effort was problematic for African Americans. While America was on a crusade to make the world safe for democracy abroad, it was neglecting the fight for equality at home. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) established that the 14th Amendment allowed for separate but equal treatment under the law. In 1913 President Wilson, in a bow to Southern pressure, even ordered the segregation of federal office workers. The U.S. Army at this time drafted both black and white men, but they served in segregated units. After the black community organized protests, the Army finally agreed to train African American officers but it never put them in command of white troops.

Leaders of the African American community differed in their responses to this crisis. A. Philip Randolph was pessimistic about what the war would mean for black Americans -- he pointed out that Negroes had sacrificed their blood on the battlefields of every American war since the Revolution, but it still had not brought them full citizenship. W.E.B. DuBois argued that "while the war lasts [we should] forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our white fellow citizens and allied nations that are fighting for democracy." And in full force, America's black population "closed ranks."

During World War I 380,000 African Americans served in the wartime Army. Approximately 200,000 of these were sent to Europe. More than half of those sent abroad were assigned to labor and stevedore battalions, but they performed essential duties nonetheless, building roads, bridges, and trenches in support of the front-line battles. Roughly 42,000 saw combat.

American troops arrived in Europe at a crucial moment in the war. Russia had just signed an armistice with Germany in December 1917 freeing Germany to concentrate her troops on the Western Front. If Germany could stage a huge offensive before Americans came to the aid of her war-weary allies, Germany could win the war.

The 369th Infantry helped to repel the German offensive and to launch a counteroffensive. General John J. Pershing assigned the 369th to the 16th Division ofthe French Army. With the French, the Harlem Hellfighters fought at Chateau-Thierry and Belleau Wood. All told they spent 191 days in combat, longer than any other American unit in the war. "My men never retire, they go forward or they die," said Colonel Hayward. Indeed, the 369th was the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine.
The extraordinary valor of the 369th earned them fame in Europe and America. Newspapers headlined the feats of Corporal Henry Johnson and Private Needham Roberts. In May 1918 they were defending an isolated lookout post on the Western Front, when they were attacked by a German unit. Though wounded, they refused to surrender, fighting on with whatever weapons were at hand. They were the first Americans awarded the Croix de Guerre, and they were not the only Harlem Hellfighters to win awards; 171 of its officers and men received individual medals and the unit received a Croix de Guerre for taking Sechault.

In December 1917, when Colonel Hayward's men had departed from New York City, they had not been permitted to participate in the farewell parade of New York's National Guard, the so-called Rainbow division. The reason Hayward was given was that "black is not a color in the Rainbow." Now Colonel Hayward pulled every political string he could to assure his men would be rewarded with a victory parade when they came home in February 1919. Crowds thronged New York City's Fifth Avenue as the 369th marched to the music of their now- famous regimental jazz band leader, James Reese Europe. After the parade, city officials honored the troops at a special dinner. What kind of America had they come home to?

World War I initiated changes on the home front that permanently affected the lives of Americans, black and white. While defense production was up, the war had cut off the flow of immigrant labor. Workers were needed in the North, and African Americans seized the opportunity. Eagerly they left behind a rural South of Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and oppressive economic conditions. The Great Migration -- the most massive internal migration in American history -- brought several million African Americans North before the Depression stemmed its flow. With the migrants, black culture entered the American mainstream, changing it forever. Musical styles never heard before outside the South became "hot." The Jazz Age had begun. The Harlem Renaissance blossomed in one of the nation's greatest artistic outpourings, bringing to the fore a great poet, Langston Hughes.

On the political front, participation in World War I did little to directly advance the equal rights of African Americans. But for many Americans both black and white, it did heighten awareness of the gulf that existed between American rhetoric and reality. After the war A. Philip Randolph was fond of saying to his audiences "I want to congratulate you for doing your bit to make the world safe for democracy . . . and unsafe for hypocrisy." (source: The United States Government National Archives)


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