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Mark your Calendars: May, 2091

In December of 1865, the 13th Amendment was finally ratified by the requisite number of states to abolish slavery.

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In July of 1640, a Black indentured servant, John Punch, tried to escape his servitude in Virginia by running away to Maryland with two white indentured servants.  When they were caught, the white men were sentenced to longer indentures while John Punch’s sentence was a lifetime of servitude.  This was officially the first slave in what is now the United States and this is also the first time the distinction had been made legally between Blacks and whites in this country.

In December of 1865, the 13th Amendment was finally ratified by the requisite number of states to abolish slavery.

You could argue that slavery never officially ended, since the language of the 13th Amendment includes the stipulation that slavery is still legal as punishment of a crime, which is partly the basis of our penal system.  However, for Black people as a whole, we could no longer be enslaved for simply existing in our skin.

In December of this year, we will celebrate 150 years since the ratification of the 13th Amendment.  There were 225 years and 5 months between John Punch’s sentence of slavery and the end of slavery in 1865.  May of 2091 will finally bring us past the midpoint, where we have been “free” for as long as we were enslaved in this country.  We have a long way to go in the next 76 years, and  America needs to get it together quick.

 

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History

Take this Jim Crow era literacy test for Black people.

I have a master’s degree, and I failed on the first question.

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I know what a literacy test is, but sadly, I’d never looked one up to see what the questions were like. During Jim Crow, they were used to keep Black people from voting. Some poor and illiterate whites got caught in the net as well, and that makes sense for a country who, when founded, only gave voting rights to landowning whites, but the purpose was to keep Black people from being heard. Former congressional candidate Gary Chambers Jr. posted a literacy test today, and you can’t pass it. I can’t pass it. No one can pass it.

This particular test from Louisiana in 1964 was to be administered to anyone who could not prove they had finished 5th grade or higher, which would overwhelmingly apply to more Black people. We had less access to education and were more likely to quit school in order to work the land and help our parents keep a meager roof over the family’s head back when so many Black people were sharecroppers.

And there’s no uniform key for this test. The white registrar reads the answers and decides whether you answered correctly or not. I’m sure this test, on the rare occasion it was given to white people at all, was graded more leniently when the hand turning it in wasn’t colored.

So. Take it and see if you would be able to vote in Louisiana in 1964, less than 60 years ago.

Ten minutes to complete 30 questions is about twenty seconds per question, and you have to get every single one correct. If this was an actual literacy test, I would pass with flying colors, because I can read well enough to know that some of these questions are unanswerable, but it’s not about literacy. It’s about creating a standard that no one can meet and then applying it unfairly to Black people. It’s giving Black people additional burdens to be perfect that white people don’t have. It’s disparaging Michelle Obama for showing her arms in her White House portrait even though Melania has nude photoshoots online. It’s arresting Black people for marijuana at 3 times the rate of white people, even though the same percentage of Black people smoke weed as white people. (x) It’s Black college students being just as likely to find employment as white people who didn’t even finish high school. (x) It’s cops shooting unarmed Black people and taking a white mass shooter to Burger King. (x)

A lot of Black kids heard this refrain from our parents growing up: You have to be twice as good as the white folks to get half as far. However. When the judge and jury of your achievement is White America, you can still fail the test they never even have to take.

 

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Today I Learned: Gloria Richardson is still alive.

President John F. Kennedy told protestors in Dorchester County to stand down. Gloria Richardson told JFK he could go to hell.

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It goes viral anytime the country is protesting police brutality or having a conversation about political upheaval or urging people to use their voice at the polls because so many of our ancestors never had the opportunity. It’s a picture of a woman pushing her way past a law enforcement officer blocking her way with a bayonetted rife.

Today I learned that her name is Gloria Richardson and she is 98-years-old.

I have a job interview in a minute, but I wanted to dig around real quick and find out what I could about how this picture came to be, and now I’m annoyed that the woman Ebony magazine dubbed The Lady General of Civil Rights was never once mentioned in school.

In 1922, Gloria Richardson was born into a family of Black people that had been free since before the Civil War. They’d been able to amass property and assets (without having them stolen by whites), and by the early 20th century, they were a prominent, educated Black family in Cambridge (Dorchester County) Maryland who owned multiple businesses and rental properties. Gloria earned a BA in Sociology at Howard University and participated in a few pickets and sit-ins, but when she returned home to Cambridge, she mostly concerned herself with raising a family and local civic work.

The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was formed in 1960 and Gloria was initially resistant to the organization because she wasn’t onboard with their policy of peaceful and nonviolent protest. When SNCC came to Cambridge in 1961, Gloria’s daughter Donna went out to support the demonstrations and Gloria became involved. The first adult branch of SNCC was set up in Cambridge with Gloria as its head and she kept the pressure on Maryland officials for the next three years. Gloria and CNAC (Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee) organized freedom walks, protests, voter drives, and Gloria, as a woman from a prominent local family, was at the forefront in negotiations with local government. Typically the women on the front lines of the movement were less educated, less well-off, and had less to lose. Gloria used her visibility as a prominent Black woman to make inroads with politicians — and she was an uncompromising leader.

“We can’t deal with her; we can’t deal without her,” bemoaned a white Citizens’ Council spokesman during the height of protests in the Eastern Shore city. Ebony magazine dubbed her “The lady general of civil rights.”

(cont. SNCC Digital)

As protest continued to grow in 1963, local whites demanded assistance from elected officials, the governor imposed martial law, and the national guard was requested. President John F. Kennedy told protestors in Dorchester County to stand down. Gloria Richardson told JFK he could go to hell. (x)

Protesting continued and whites attacked demonstrators during sit-ins and freedom walks. Police and the national guard used guns and teargas to break up protests, including a freedom walk in July 1963 where Gloria urged protestors to keep moving through guards with bayonetted rifles as they made their way across the city.

That same month, Attorney General Robert Kennedy worked out a Treaty of Cambridge with local and state officials that would give equal access to public facilities. Gloria Richardson and CNAC boycotted the vote because, “A first-class citizen does not beg for freedom. A first-class citizen does not plead to the white power-structure to give him something that the whites have no power to give or take away. Human rights are human rights, not white rights.” (x)

A few weeks later in August at the March on Washington, Gloria and five other women were honored on stage, but no women were allowed to speak. Gloria took the mic and said “hello–” before it was taken away from her. Here’s an interview for the 50th anniversary of the March back in 2013 where Gloria talks about that day and how women were silenced.

(skip to 18:44 – transcript at Democracy Now)

Protesting continued through Autumn and Winter until LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act in July 1964, a little less than a year after Gloria stared down a bayonet in one of the most widely circulated photos of the movement featuring a hero we rarely speak of by name. She moved to Harlem the next month, largely retired from public life, and focused on local civic works in the community since then.

Let’s take this energy with us to the polls though. They can try to intimidate us, but they don’t have bayonets anymore, and, for what it’s worth, we do have the law on our side this time. Do it for Gloria Richardson. Tell this administration to go to hell.

 

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The 19th Amendment gave white women the right to vote.

It was another 40 years and change before Black women could vote.

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Need to see less “today is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote” and more “today is the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving WHITE women the right to vote.”

It was another 40 years and change before Black women could vote.

Also want to point out that Black women worked right alongside white women for equal suffrage, but they were working for women AND Black people. When Black men got the right to vote in 1870, Susan B Anthony was upset white women didn’t come first. The American Equal Rights Association was working for equal suffrage for all — including Black people — so Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton left because Black men got the right to vote before white women, and they started the National Woman Suffrage Association.

1694

So let’s recognize the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment but keep in context that the white women who benefited from it did so with the groundwork of Black women working alongside them that they subsequently abandoned in favor of whiteness.

(Oh and in case anyone needs clarity, the 15th Amendment gave Black men the right to vote, but the end of Reconstruction made it effectively null and void because states just threw up barriers to voting anyway. We had voting rights on paper, but not in practice.)

 

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