The Black Man: Did It

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[Election 2008]

While Voltaire said, “Crush the Accursed thing,” regarding Friday the 13th, such an admonition ought to be applied to the notion of the “Bradley Effect;” because Barak Obama has worked tremendously and untiring, in a unifying campaign with a powerful message, to make this an issue of the past!  His aura and its attraction of diverse people, as evident from his recent rallies makes one feel confident “Bradley,” is no more.  What has been bothersome, however, is people like the “blond-headed woman,” hopefully in the minority, at one of Senator McCain’s rallies who described Senator Barack Obama as “an unaccomplished black man,” who aspires to be President of the United States of America.  Clearly such an ignoramus would not know an accomplished “black man,” if, as E.F. Hutton’s spokesman used to say, “He showed up, slap you on the bottom, and said I’m here.”  Even more important, across this great nation, untold numbers of intellectual “black men” are doing wonderful things to assist the Barak Obama presidential campaign, despite the fact, much of this is not known; which could also be a good thing! That poor, misguided soul would weep, if she really knew how empty her assertion really is!


Barack Obama is a Columbia University graduate; a Harvard University law graduate; and he was President of the Harvard University Law Review.  Everyone knows he was a Community Organizer in Chicago.  Subsequently he became an Illinois State Senator and later became a Federal Senator from Illinois. He authored two books! As the son of a single mother who died early, whose father abandoned him, he was raised by his grandmother, and where he is today is clearly a significant accomplishment!  For Obama to be competing with John McCain for the Presidency, against a man born with “a gold spoon” in his mouth, Obama’s “silver spoon” sure looks polished today!  His eloquence, intellectual fortitude, cool demeanor, social adjustment and attractiveness outdistances his opponent, the “Admiral’s son.”  And Senator McCain is wrong, Senator Obama is not just measuring the drapes, he’s picking a cabinet, checking the guest list and planning the celebration party! Unfortunately such individuals as the “blond lady,” thank God they’re in the minority, could never understand, the accomplished “black man” is often times more accomplished than his white counterpart. For as the saying goes, “the black man cannot be on the same level as his white counterpart to get the job, he has to be better.”  Nevertheless, it may be helpful to historically sketch an example of the path the black man has had to travel in this country on the road to becoming accomplished! And, considering the organization of Senator Obama’s presidential campaign is reflective of his success in this respect; one can say gained from his experience of being in the trenches as a Community Organizer.


Some commentators believe the “black man” is an endangered species, but an even more daunting specter surrounds the “black man,” for whether he is Senator Barack Obama or the man in the street, it can equally apply.  Interesting, if a United States Senator, a distinguished individual, could be subject to invidious name calling, threats, innuendos, false accusations, etc., imagine what type of victimization the average “black man” is susceptible to.  Nevertheless, lest we forget, Philip Forde, a “black man” stands atop the Capital dome in D.C. Therefore, to understand this phenomenal predicament across the American historical and political landscape, one has to look at the history of how Americans have treated the “black man” for much of his time in this country.  However, today, the world is now looking on as this election unfolds, and it’s even more important the wrong impression is not conveyed through the actions of many who exhibit racist behaviors.  This notwithstanding, it’s important that we sketch the “evolution of the black man” to civil tendencies and financial and social accomplishment, despite the many hurdles he has to scale on his way to the top!


First of all, as Malcolm X has pointed out, all peoples who came to America, viz., Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, German, Swede, Englishman, Irish, etc., upon their arrival here remained Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, German, Swede, Englishman, Irish, etc. All, except the African who was kidnapped, brought across the Atlantic Ocean, chained in the most dreadful manner, subjected to unspeakable trans-Atlantic horrors, denied his manhood, dehumanized and disrespected over the centuries of slavery, until he was finally freed by Abraham Lincoln.  This magnanimous act became legal under the Civil War Amendments, wherein the thirteenth legalized his freedom, the fourteenth make him a citizen and the fifteenth gave him the right to vote.  Thereafter, the freedman struggled to regain his manhood, acquire a sense of human decency, and reflect and demonstrate social civility and citizenship within the strictures accorded him in the society he helped to build, generation after generation, laboring for free. 


As all of this transpired, as Kenneth Stampp has written about slavery, in The Peculiar Institution, a chapter entitled: “To Make Them Stand in Fear;” while amazingly, the freedman metamorphosed through being an African, then slave, freedman, ex-slave, Negro, colored, black and today African American, with a whole host of disgusting epithets also applied to him in the most demeaning manner. Complementing this state of affairs, the “black man” remained black in the minds and actions of many persons who sought to demean and accuse him, to cover their misgivings, or to further their own aims.  At the end of all this, he was asked to forgive his slave master and his descendants, and to overlook the wealth they accumulated as they perpetrated, at his expense, unspeakable horrors through the duration of the slavery experience, and then deny his 40 acres and  a mule.                                                     . 


While Chief Justice Taney’s Dred Scott Decision of 1857 and Plessy v. Ferguson of 1896, generally defined the status and position of the “black man,” during the period of Reconstruction and in the age of Jim Crow, terror groups as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), Knights of the White Camellia, as well as several stratagems were employed to terrorize, intimidate and keep the “black man” “in his place.” In the South, to keep the “black man” from expressing his right to vote under  the Fifteenth Amendment, literacy tests, poll tax, property tax, grandfather clause and particularly election site shenanigans were effectively employed to nullify the “black man’s” vote.  Whippings, tar and feather, killings, lynchings, burnings, destruction of house and homes, and all forms of odious behaviors were resorted to in order to halt the “back man’s” forward progress in those dark days  of the “Birth of the Nation.”


While only a dozen cases need suffice, Ralph Ginsburg’s 100 Years of Lynching, Baltimore, MD., Black Classics Press (1962) 1988, chronicles untold numbers of the most hideous forms of “white behavior” towards the “black man.”  Most, particularly those chosen were committed against innocent “black men,’ and importantly it shows the uncontrollable rage of the mob fueled by the belief in white supremacy.



1.      “New York Truth Seeker. April 17, 1880.  “First Negro at West Point Knifed by Fellow Cadets.” West Point, N.Y. Apr. 15. – James Webster Smith, the first colored cadet in the history of West Point, was recently taken from his bed, gagged, bound, and severely beaten, and then his ears were slit.  He says that he cannot identify his assailants.  The other cadets claim that he did it himself.” (p. 9) This is difficult to understand how he could raise himself from his bed, gag and bound himself, then severely whip himself and finally cut his own ear. One has to wonder, Who was the Commanding Officer who believed this story?                                                      


2.      “Chicago Tribune. November 22, 1895.  “Texans Lynch Wrong Negro.” Madisonville, Tex, Nov. 21 – News has been received here of the lynching of a Negro in this part of Madison County on Tuesday night.  He was accused of riding his horse over a little white girl and injuring her. On Wednesday it was discovered that the wrong Negro had been gotten hold of by the mob.  The guilty one made his escape.” (p. 21) Question is, how many Negroes had horses to ride around, that such a mistake could be made.


3.      “New York Times. June 11, 1900. “An Innocent Man Lynched.”  New Orleans, June 10 – A mob willfully and knowingly handled and burned an innocent man, as well as another who was probably innocent, near Mississippi City, Miss., between midnight and 1 o’clock this morning.  The lynching was the result of impatience on the part of the people of Biloxi, a nearby town, over the failure of the officers of the law to produce the man who a week ago murdered Christina Winterstein, a schoolgirl who was returning  to her home near Biloxi after attending the commencement exercises at her school.” (p. 31) So they go about grabbing whoever they find. The gall of these people



4.      “Houston Post. June 11, 1900. “Two Blacks Strung Up; Grave Doubt of Their Guilt.” Biloxi, Miss., June 10 – Lynch law ran rampant in this section last night.  Two Negro men were lynched, possibly for one man’s crime, early this morning at Mississippi City, and it is not absolutely certain that either victim of mob law was guilty.  Henry Askew and Ed Russ, held as suspects, were taken out and strung up to a tree in a thicket, just behind the railway station at Mississippi City.”  (p. 32) Where was the Governor, Mayor, Police Commissioner, Sheriff or Marshal when the mob ruled?


5.      Chicago Record-Herald may 12, 1901.  “Believes Wrong Man Lynched.”  Birmingham, Ala., May 11 – A Negro supposed to be James Brown, accused of assaulting Miss Della Garrett of Springsville, was shot and killed by a number of white men near Leeds, near her, to-day.  The coroner is of the opinion that the wrong man has been killed.” (p. 39) Who investigated this incident and what action was taken?  For an assault you kill a man as if his life had no value.


6.      Chicago Record-Herald, July 27, 1903.  “Wrong Man Lynched as Rapist.” Savannah, Ga., July 26 – Several days ago a Negro supposed to be Ed Claus, was lynched near Eastman, Ga., for assaulting Miss Susie Johnson, a young school teacher.  The Negro protested he was not Claus and asked for time to prove his statement. But the mob was merciless.  It now transpires that the Negro was not Claus and had never seen Miss Johnson. Claus, who assaulted the girl, has been located near Narien, Ga., and officers passed through here tonight to secure him.  It is believed Claus will be taken from the officers and lynched.”  (p. 60) They never gave him a chance to present his ID.  One has to wonder what these people felt and did when it was realized they had killed an innocent man.  Not satisfied with one life for an assault, they took another!


7.      New York Press. March 26, 1904.  “9 Lynchings in One Week.”  Little Rock, Ark., March 25 – A special from Dewitt says five Negroes have been taken from the guards at St. Charles, this county, and shot to death by a mob.  This makes nine negroes who have been killed in the last week in the vicinity of St. Charles on account of race troubles.” (p. 69) What does history say of these men? The victims and those who perpetrated this heinous crime.


8.      Montgomery Advertiser. September 12, 1912.  “Lynched ‘For Being Black.’” United States District Attorney O.D. Street, of Birmingham, today made public a letter which he is forwarding to Governor O’Neil.  The letter is from C.P. Lunsford of Hackleburg, and reads as follows: “On last Wednesday there was a Negro man chased and hounded down and murdered while going peacefully along the railroad.  There was not anything against him, but a party of men got after him because his skin was black and murdered him. The grand jury was in session at the time, and has not paid any attention to the murder, not even so much as to put the parties under arrest.  The Negro who was murdered was Willie Perkins of Sheffield, and I am reliably informed that he was of an excellent character.” (p. 77) So, “walking while black” is an old act of racial vindictiveness.  One thing is certain; some men have no respect for the law!


9.      Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Advocate Verdict. September 13, 1912.  “Wrong Man Believed Lynched.” Princeton, W.VA., Sept. 7 – That a mistake was made in lynching Walter Johnston, a colored man last night, is now believed by the authorities.  A statement was issued by Mayor Bennington, Sheriff Ellison, Judge Maynard and Prosecuting Attorney J.O. Pendleton stating that there is plenty of evidence that Walter Johnson did not commit the crime for which he was lynched.  A mob lynched Johnson last night, allegedly for attacking Nite White, 14-year old daughter of a railroad man.  Today’s statement said that Johnson fell far short in dress and physical appearance of the man described by the girl.” (p. 78) Question is, what did these public officials do to and for the victim’s family?


10.  Chicago Tribune. December 31, 1914.  “1914 Lynchings Show Rise.” The number of lynchings in 1914 shows a small increase over that of 1913, being 54, as compared with 48 in 1913 and 64 in 1912.  The following table showing the annual number during the last thirty years may be of general interest.


1865 ……………………….   184     1900……………………..      115                             

1866 ……………………….   138     1901 …………………….      130

1887 ………………………   122      1902 ……………………..       96

1888 ………………………   142      1903 …………………….      104

1899 ………………………   176      1904 …………………….        87

1890 ………………………   127      1905 …………………….        60

1891 ………………………   193      1906 …………………….        60

1892   ……………………..    205     1907   ………………….          65

1893   ……………………..    200     1908 …………………           100

1894   ……………………...   170     1909   …………………           87

1895   ……………………… 171      1910   ………………….          74

1896   ……………………… 181      1911   …………………..         71

1897   ……………………… 106      1912   …………………           64

1898   ……………………… 127      1913 ………………….            48

1899   ……………………… 107      1914 ………………….           54


These numbers are mind-boggling and one has to wonder, How many were not recorded and also how many people were arrested, charged, convicted, and executed for their lawless terrorism.


11.  Atlanta Constitution. February 23, 1916.  “All Five Lynched Negroes Were Guiltless, Says Keith.”  Tefton, Ga., Feb. 22 – Jim Keith, sentenced to a life term in prison for complicity in the killing of Sheriff Moreland of Lee county, talked freely of the crime today as he was carried to Richmond County to begin serving his term.  He declared that Rodius Seamore and old man Lake and his three sons, who were lynched last month for Sheriff Moreland’s death, were entirely guiltless. The fact is now generally believed.” (pp. 99-100)


12.  New York Times. May 27, 1961.  “Attorney General Foresees a Negro as U.S. President.”  Washington, May 26 – Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, in a broadcast to the world over the Voice of America, today acknowledged the  United States’ imperfections in the areas of equal rights for Negroes.  He said, however, that progress was being made in that area so rapidly that “There’s no question that in the next thirty or forty years a Negro can achieve the position … of President of the United States. “ (pp. 251-2520  


We are all told Audie Murphy was the most decorated World War II veteran.  Not so as Harry Belafonte told it.  The most decorated World War II veteran was a “black man,” who, returning to the South, in full uniform with his medals, rode in the front of a segregated bus.  When the driver asked him to sit in the back, he refused.  The driver called the police to remove the “black man” in uniform.   The brutes killed him on the spot.  Harry says this is what led him to become an activist.  In more modern times, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis was the 1988 Democratic standard-bearer and in that election for President, the Republicans waded into him, using the sinister “black man” smear and fear tactic.  Apparently, as Governor, Dukakis issued some form of release to a convict named Willie Horton, who, upon gaining his freedom, attacked and killed a woman.  The Republican candidate, the first George Bush, pounced on this and made a fuss about the weakness or softness of Dukakis on crime, while playing up the notion of the sinister “black man.” Naturally, Dukakis lost the election as his opponents proclaimed the brilliance of their strategy.  In fact, what they had done is, reinforce the specter that the “black man” is bad and this rationalizes the attacks, charges, claims, insinuations, etc. that generates fear in the minds of whites.  This fear is probably even more widespread, as it even allows law enforcement officers to stop the “black man,” in “stop and frisk” and most often “driving while black!”


Not so long ago, the “Smith woman,” involved in a love affair of some sort, rolled her car with two children in the back seat, into a pond.  Then she confused the investigation by claiming a “black man” attacked her, high-jacked her car, and kidnapped her two children.  In time, the lie was bared, and as she broke down, she confessed her story was a hoax; and then showed where she had disposed of the car and kids.  She was considered mentally disturbed and that was that.


In Jasper, Texas, within recent memory, a “black man,” I think, Brandon McClelland, who was chained to a pick-up truck and dragged to his death.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.


A man in Massachusetts killed his wife and children then claimed a “black man” invaded their home and did the beastly act.  This gristly crime helped fan the hysteria against the “black man.” Naturally he confessed to the wrongdoing, for which he blamed the “black man.”
Only recently, Ashley claimed a “black man” robbed her at an ATM, and noticing she had a McCain/Palin sticker on her bumper, carved a “B” on her cheek.  The bank’s cameras did not even pick up her presence there nor did it record any assault nearby.  Turns out the story was false, but the nut was later admitted to a program.



The above are only a sample of instances where the “black man” was innocently harassed, victimized, killed and falsely accused, and all because of his race.  Notwithstanding, sometimes symbolism means more than substance, and for the descendants of those who traversed the incendiary strewn, social minefield, of American society, the Obama candidacy, while substantive, is also more symbolic for the millions of African Americans in this country, and so many “black men” worldwide.  The significance of the Obama candidacy is, internally it demonstrates a coming of age of America particularly in view of its emerging multi-ethnicity; and externally to the world it signaled a radical change in America’s personality and image, for which its true nature as the world leader will manifest.



Well Mr. Kennedy, having said all of that, it actually took 47 years in a long and arduous walk to the White House.  But, most important, “the Black man” did it, despite the distractions, odds, and it shows while this significant milestone has been reached, there is still more work to be done to achieve Dr. King’s color-blind society, that judges a person based on intellect and integrity rather than rage and race.

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