Saturday, October 04, 2014

African Americans, Crime, Guns And Race

When Regina Roundtree, the Chair of the Urban Affairs Coalition at Connecticut’s Republican Party, was assembling a roster of speakers and participants for Crime, Guns and Race: A discussion on today’s civil rights issues,” she settled upon former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, among others.

The event, sponsored by The Connecticut chapter of the Frederick Douglass Foundation and its parent organization, CT Black Republicans and Conservatives (CBRAC), will be held on Saturday, October 11 from 9AM to 12PM at the Mark Twain House in Hartford.

Other participants are Co-Founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation Dean Nelson; Chairman of the Network of Politically Active Christians (NPAC), former President of Prison Fellowship and former board member of the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles Garland Hunt, Esquire; Tea Party Activist, political commentator and inspirational national speaker Sonnie Johnson; and social media personality Wayne Dupree, the CEO & Founder of We Are America Radio (WAAR), an internet radio show.

Mr. Blackwell served as Mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio (1979 – 1980), Ohio State Treasurer (1994-1999) and Ohio Secretary of State (1999-2007). He was the first African American major party candidate for Governor of Ohio (2006) and garnered 37% of the vote against Democratic Governor Ted Strickland (2007-2011), who was succeeded by Republican Governor John Kasich.

A stalwart conservative, Mr. Blackwell has been around the horn politically and is no stranger to Mark Twain, who was no stranger to African Americans. A book published in 1994 written by Shelly Fisher Fishkin, Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices, advances the thesis, entirely plausible, that the vernacular authorial voice in Huck Finn was derived from a slave named Jerry, characterized by Mr. Twain as an “impudent and satirical and delightful young black man" who taught the author of “Huck Finn” how to “satirize in an African American mode” when Mr. Twain was yet a raw youth. Much later, Mr. Twain wrote that he thought Jerry “the greatest man in the United States" at the time. Dante had his Beatrice; Twain had his Jerry.

Among Connecticut Democratic politicians, a rather amorphous fear of the National Rifle Association (NRA) has become the hobgoblin of little minds. Mr. Blackwell, thoroughly familiar with African American history, fears neither guns nor the NRA nor the Second Amendment to the Constitution nor the Constitution itself nor limited government, within the protective ramparts of which all of us enjoy such liberties as remain after progressive piranhas have taken bites out of them.

Mr. Twain, by the way, was no admirer of piranhas either. If Huck was black, is it not possible that Mr. Twain was a closet conservative? Listen up. “There is no distinctly Native American criminal class save Congress,” Mr. Twain wrote, and he was rather more severe with politicians – in an African American satirical way --than are many modern conservative commentators: “Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself." And “There are no native American criminals except for Congress.” And “No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.” And “Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first." 

Connecticut is both the bluest and the highest taxed state in the nation. The panel participants will be addressing crime, guns and race -- a full plate.

Plummeting crime statistics have been much in the news now that elections are upon us. Nationally, crime is down everywhere. In the midst of a national drop in crime, Governor Dannel Malloy has taken credit for a proportional drop here in Connecticut -- which is the kind of brash boast that prompted Mr. Twain to say that congressmen, not to mention governors, are idiots. Among urban African Americans, the statistics are not encouraging. Chicago, which has gun laws at least as restrictive as Connecticut, is a shooting gallery. In attempting to reduce crime in urban areas through ever more restrictive gun legislation, Connecticut may be missing the larger target.

Every so often, racial animosity in America flares up, catches the attention of the nation and, as quickly, dissipates. Mr. Blackwell has spoken eloquently on the history of the Republican Party as a vanguard of African American liberation. The history of the Republican Party from the post-Civil War period through the 1964 Civil Rights Act is one that both Fredrick Douglas and Martin Luther King praised highly.

We all know what followed Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation:  Jim Crow, and a concerted effort to maintain the pre-Civil War status of African Americans.

Jim Crow was an attempt to re-shackle newly liberated slaves by denying them education, the vote and guns, an effort manfully resisted by the Republican Party, enlightened newspaper editors and some members of the clergy. Among newspaper reporters in the vanguard of liberation was Ida B. Wells, born one year after Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Declaration.

A little more than seventy years before Rosa Park refused to obey an order to surrender her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama, Ms. Wells similarly refused to surrender her seat on a train in Memphis, Tennessee. She was dragged off the train, wrote up the encounter in an African American church weekly, The Living Way, and almost instantly became famous – or infamous, depending upon which side of the racial divide one occupied . When Ms. Wells discovered that her lawyer had been paid off by the railroad, she hired a white lawyer -- shades of To Kill A Mockingbird – and won her case. Alas, the lower court decision was overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court, which concluded,  “We think it is evident that the purpose of the defendant in error was to harass with a view to this suit, and that her persistence was not in good faith to obtain a comfortable seat for the short ride." Ms. Wells was ordered to pay court costs.

But Ms. Wells had hardly exhausted her resources, and her adamantine will, reinforced by her faith, led her ever onward to the beat of Christian soldiers.

Thomas Moss, a friend of Ms. Wells, had opened a grocery store – People’s Grocery – outside Memphis City limits that had been competing vigorously with a white owned store across the street. When a white mob attacked the store, three white men were shot and injured. Mr. Moss and two others were arrested and put in jail. They were sprung by a lynch mob that hanged Mr. Moss and his two associates.

Ms. Wells urged African Americans to leave Memphis, writing in Free Speech and Headlight, “There is, therefore, only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.”

More than 6,000 African Americans left Memphis. Boycotts of white businesses were organized, and Ms. Wells’ life was threatened;

The threats went with the territory. Far from retreating, Ms. Wells bought a pistol. “They had made me an exile,” she wrote, “and threatened my life for hinting at the truth.”

There were to be no more hints. Ms. Wells became one of the most important investigative journalists of her day. Almost alone, she was responsible for hanging lynching in America. Her meticulous research demonstrated that African Americans were routinely lynched for failing to pay debts, competing with whites economically, public drunkenness and refusing to give way to whites.

Wells published her findings in a pamphlet entitled Southern Horrors: Lynch Laws in All Its Phases. The article suggested that, contrary to the myth that white women were sexually at risk of attacks by black men, most liaisons between black men and white women were consentual. On May 27, 1892, while she was away in Philadelphia, a retaliatory mob destroyed the offices of the Free Speech and Headlight.

Beating a retreat to Chicago, Ms. Wells began writing for The New York Age. In 1983, she organized, along with Fredrick Douglas, a black boycott of the World's Columbian Exposition, which had declined to collaborate with the black community concerning exhibits representing African American life. She produced a pamphlet, very widely distributed, "Reasons Why the Colored American Is Not in the World's Columbian Exposition," that detailed both the progress of African Americans from their earliest arrival in the country and the lynching of African Americans in the South.

Writing in 1892, a blood-soaked year, Ms. Wells thundered that “the Winchester rifle deserved a place of honor in every Black home.” In the absence of legal justice, the rifle alone had kept the Klan wolf from the doors of free men and their families.

When Mr.  Blackwell appears in Connecticut, his message concerning African Americans and the Second Amendment should be well received among journalists familiar with the life and times of Ida B. Wells. Those unfamiliar with the history of crime, guns and race in the post-Civil War period through modern times may have a little historical research to do.
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