It is difficult to watch the events transpiring in Ferguson, Missouri without experiencing a sense of déjà vu. And while many of the youth depicted on the news with their arms held high in surrender mode were not around for the major urban rebellions of the 60s, it would behoove them to know that Black people have been down this road many times before with the hope that such a sojourn would free Black people from political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation.
Such was not the case then, and judging by the events in Ferguson, Missouri, such is not a reality today.
It was also not a reality when 1,300 Black sanitation workers went on strike in Memphis, Tennessee in February of 1968. They protested low wages and malfunctioning trucks that resulted in the crushing death of two Black workers. Of the many pictures taken to capture the essence of that protest was one showing hundreds of striking Black sanitation workers carrying sandwich board placards that read in big bold letters four words that spoke volumes, “I Am A Man.” This status, on the surface, should have been obvious but in reality was not acknowledged by Memphis decision makers. This failure to see Black humanity was by no means unprecedented in history.
Dred Scott was an enslaved Black man who had lived with his master in the free state of Illinois and the free territory of Wisconsin before moving back to the slave state of Missouri. He appealed to the United States Supreme Court in hopes of being granted his freedom. Such was not to be the case. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney said that because Scott was black, he was not a citizen and therefore had no right to sue. Taney failed to stop there, he went on to say that Blacks “…had no rights which the white man was bound to respect…” The 1857, Supreme Court decision ignited a tension across the nation that would contribute heartily to the start of the Civil War, which would bring an end to slavery (or what Afrikan nationalist refer to as the “Maafa,” a period of great destruction).
It should be noted that when the enslaved began exiting the plantations with the implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, the stereotypes that many whites embraced left the plantations also and became part of the nation’s body politic. In a real sense, the negative views and opinions held dear by many whites today had their origin during the period of enslavement. The chipping away of 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments by whites feeling threatened by free blacks resulted in a new kind of slavery that was further ushered in with the Plessy v Ferguson case of 1896 that ruled separate but equal was the law of the land and Apartheid became a way of life in the USA well into the middle of the next century.
This is the history that continues to color how blacks and whites see each other. It is also the history whose residuals taint the minds of many blacks and whites today. With large numbers of whites, according to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., having a false sense of superiority and many blacks possessing a false sense of inferiority. While this way of seeing the world is not that bad on an individual/personal level, it becomes extremely lethal when the institutions that control our everyday life are led by whites who, deep in their heart and psyche, see blacks as a threat to their safety in particular and to humanity in general.
It was novelist William Faulkner who reminded us that “The past is never dead, it isn’t even past.”
So, what is next? Share your thoughts in the comments below on how we move past this history and the recent events to a
To your journey!
Ahmad Daniels, M.Ed.
Ahmad Daniels is a transformation facilitator and life coach with over twenty years experience in community outreach programs, diversity training and African American History. He is the founder of Creative Interchange, an organization whose mission is to enhance personal and community social capital through changed philosophies, personal empowerment and self-actualization. He is also the founder of To Your Journey Self-Empowerment Workshops that create an environment where participants are encouraged and self-compelled to engage in heartfelt conversations that lead to more meaningful relationships.