By Chigger Stokes
Special to the Forks Forum
On Monday, Jan. 18, the United States celebrated the birth of a great American — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. King led a hundred thousand person march on Washington calling for equal employment and equal rights for every American, black or white. I was one of those hundred thousand. I stood amid a sea of black people with tears streaming down my white face.
On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King faced the United States Capitol and threw away his written speech. Under the roof of our capitol, black Americans could not drink from public water fountains or use the restrooms.
From his heart, without benefit of his discarded notes, Dr. King delivered one of the most impactive American orations of all time. “I have a DREAM!” uttered Dr. King. And I pledged to keep that dream in my heart for as long as I should live.
In less than a year the water fountains and restrooms of the nation’s capitol, and every other public facility in the land, would legally belong to black Americans. But racism did not end there.
Not long ago, a young self-acclaimed racist from South Carolina, talked his way into a black church and opened fire on the congregation which had welcomed him. The shooter had posted pictures of himself on the Internet with a Confederate flag in the background.
The cry went out to take down the Confederate flag in front of South Carolina’s capitol. Our President joined the noise, calling for the flag to be pulled down. With Dr. King’s message still burning in my heart, I felt no victory when the flag was retired.
Let me explain. I was a terrible student. My parents and even my teachers couldn’t believe that I was as stupid as my grades indicated.
When I got to high school, as an experiment, I was put in a two-year, advanced placement history course, that departed radically from the “history” taught to other students.
The course was taught by iconoclastic teachers that looked hard for skeletons in the closet and examined the “why” as much as the what, when, where and who.
If we don’t always believe our President, we do tend to believe what we were taught in school, whether it is fact or fiction. If you doubt this, try this on: On Nov. 19, 1863, as the dirt settled on 50,000 graves from one battle at Gettysburg, President Lincoln, began another great American oration. “Four score and seven years ago,” spoke the President, “our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal …” Subtract 87 from the year 1863 and you arrive at 1776.
Who was the first President of that emerging nation? We are taught in school to answer George Washington. But the Continental Congress was the federal body that bound the 13 seceding colonies to their one fate. The President of that body which drafted the Declaration of Independence was John Hancock, which is why his is the first signature on the document.
But before him was the first president of the seceding nation who was Peyton Randolf. This new nation had half a dozen presidents before George Washington took office in 1789.
In my alternative class, I was taught that war is almost always based on economic issues and that moral and ethical issues are ornaments adorning The Beast. I was taught that HISTORY is written by the victors. It seems to be the case in the War Between the States.
Most of us believe, as President Obama seemed to be saying, that the Confederate flag is intrinsically linked to the slavery and oppression of Afro-Americans. But slavery existed on this continent even before the arrival of European Americans.
Shortly after arriving in the New World, we European Americans experimented with making slaves out of the indigenous people already here and, at the time, in abundant supply. But the Indians proved incorrigibly free spirited.
While we were still colonies, Boston became the hub of the slave trade. In terms of stilling the human spirit, there’s nothing like a boat ride, chained to the floor in your own excrement, with people dying next to you, hungry and thirsty, longing for your home and family.
Negroes arriving from Africa were better slave material than the recalcitrant Indians, who, as you will remember, ended up in concentration camps euphemistically called “reservations.”
By 1776, Boston, Mass., was where to go to get you a slave. The “new Nation” that was brought forth upon this continent, led the world in the slave trade. WE, THE PEOPLE, were not women, were not First Americans, were not Afro Americans and were not indentured servants. “Our fathers” (at least the ones drafting our Constitution) were land and slave owners.
What war was based on the slavery issue? Most of us answer, the Civil War. But I was taught that our war for independence from England was based on resistance to the Intolerable Acts, among which were royal fiat prohibiting slavery in the New World and forbidding settlement east of the Appalachian crest (which was the Crown’s attempt to spare Native America from exactly what happened.)
Every soldier in the Continental Army was promised “two healthy Negroes” and 160 acres in Ohio (Indian Country). Without using the word “slave,” the U.S. Constitution says that if a human property runs from his owner, he is still a slave wherever he turns.
The U.S. Constitution says that every five Negros equals three WE THE PEOPLE for representation in Congress (but the right for blacks to vote would not be won until 1870 with the 15th Amendment.)
The war with Mexico was about slavery. American ranchers moved into Texas, (Mexico) in spite of a treaty prohibiting such. Interloping ranchers came with their slaves.
Mexico, and the rest of the world, found slavery repugnant decades before we “in the land of the free.” We provoked a war with Mexico and walked away with the whole of the Southwestern Continent, which we opened to slavery.
Books have been written on the subject of what caused the War Between the States. Some very smart people believe that slavery was the underlying issue.
But I was taught by very smart people that it was the Confederacy wanting to sell cotton, whiskey and tobacco directly to Europe without a tariff being imposed by a U.S. Congress that was dominated by the populated North — even with the 5/3 rule allowing them to count slaves as populace.
In March of 1861, to preserve the Union, President Lincoln supported Congressman Corwin’s amendment which would protect the institution of slavery in all states at issue. Though Abraham Lincoln loathed slavery, his own wife, Mary Todd, was from a slave-owning family and he doubted his own ability to end it. As the Civil War raged, President Lincoln wrote Horace Greeley, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.”
About the same time, President Lincoln issued The Emancipation Proclamation which only liberated slaves in the Confederacy, continuing to allow slavery in three states in the Union. The 13th Amendment, disallowing slavery in the United States, did not occur until after the assassination of “the Great Emancipator.”
I think it is an ethical mistake to vilify the Confederacy for a skeleton that is in the closet of every white American. If we are going to tear down the Confederate flag, then why not throw the flag of Massachusetts onto the heap and climb onto it ourselves?
And for all the moral outrage we seem to feel about how Afro-Americans were treated, let’s look closer to home. Chinese were brought to the Olympic Peninsula at the dawn of the 20th century to build Fort Worden, a job at least as cruel as picking cotton.
The fort was built and the Chinese let go to starve. They established gardens to feed themselves and were successful enough to sell a little produce. Local farmers rallied to beat up the Chinese and burn their homes and gardens.
Name an ethnic group immigrating to the U.S. and you have corresponding derogatory names to dehumanize them. For a melting pot of immigrants with only a smattering of red blood left on the continent, we sure do a great job of distrusting and stiff-arming refugees. AND WE’RE DOING IT AGAIN RIGHT NOW!
On Aug. 28, 1963, when I was 13 years old, I made a vow that I intended to keep for life. What business of mine is it what flag flies on the grounds of South Carolina’s capitol?
The flag that I vowed to protect flutters from my heart. It is the dream of which Dr. King spoke. It is the American Dream.
It’s easier to blame others for racism than to deal with it in ourselves. But, it is my personal responsibility to keep my heart free of prejudice and hatred. I still struggle with this. I look forward to a day when I, and the country I love and call home, are free of these moral encumbrances. A day when I am … “Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty I am free at last!”
Thank you, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Reprinted from the Forks Forum January 2016