Saturday, June 6, 2015

The John Carlos Story – A Review



John Carlos tells the story about why he raised his fist while being awarded a medal in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.

People from around the world have seen the photograph of Tommy Smith and John Carlos raising their fists with black gloves when they won medals in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.  In his book The John Carlos Story, written with Dave Zirin, Carlos explains why he made that stand and why he would do it again.

John Carlos’ early years

The story of John Carlos begins in Harlem, New York.  His father, Earl Vanderbilt Carlos, was a veteran of the first world war and worked twelve hour days in his shoe repair shop.  His mother Violis Carlos was born in Jamaica, lived in Cuba till the age of 17, and worked on the night shift as a nursing assistant. 

John Carlos felt that he was lucky to be raised by both parents.  Many of his friends only had one parent.  Some of these friends would visit the Carlos home so they might have enough food to eat. 

From an early age young John Carlos had a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong.  He understood that there were many in Harlem who did not have enough food to eat and he and his crew decided to do something about it. 

There was a rail yard near where he lived where large amounts of food were stored.  Carlos and his crew would each take containers of food, run from the police, and distribute that food to people who were in need.  This gave him the reputation of a modern-day Robin Hood.

John Carlos’ first sport was swimming.  He was a natural athlete and won the 200 meter freestyle New York City championship.  Carlos had dreams of going to the Olympics in the swimming competition and his father researched what he would have to do to achieve that goal.

Earl Carlos discovered that his son would not be allowed to properly train for the Olympics in swimming because he was Black.  When John Carlos began to understand the ramifications of what that would mean, this was one of the changing moments in his life.

Because of his background, John Carlos was inspired by Malcolm X who was well known in Harlem.  Young Carlos made it a habit of running with Malcolm X as Malcolm rapidly walked to all of his appointments.  By doing this Carlos was able to ask Malcolm questions on many issues and the two became acquaintances.

Because John Carlos had dyslexia, he never had very good academic grades.  Although he became an excellent track and field athlete, many of the better schools would not give him a scholarship because of his academic record.

Carlos received a scholarship in East Texas where he learned first hand what the realities of Jim Crow segregation were.  He also learned how he was not the only person on his track team who challenged that system.

The 1968 Olympics

After Carlos left East Texas he became involved in the movement to boycott the 1968 Olympics.  The reason for this boycott was the fact that Black people in the United States continued to be second-class citizens, even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Many celebrities, including Martin Luther King supported the idea of the boycott.  However, after the assassination of King many of the athletes abandoned the idea of the boycott.  For these reasons John Carlos and others decided that they would compete in the 1968 Olympics.

Before the Mexico City Olympic games, Mexican students protested the fact that resources were being used for the Olympics while poverty and a lack of educational opportunities existed for the people of that nation. 

The Mexican government decided to respond to these demonstrations with brutal repression.  The armed forces of Mexico murdered hundreds if not thousands of demonstrators.  It was in this atmosphere that the Mexico City Olympic games began.

Tommy Smith and John Carlos were the ones who protested the inhumanity of those times by raising their gloved fists in the air as they received medals for winning their event.  Their protest showed the world the other side to the history of Black people in the United States.  Their attire symbolized the lynchings, the humiliating jobs, and the poverty Black people endured.  However, their protest also demonstrated how defiance was the characteristic that gave black people their humanity.    

As The Star Spangled Banner played and the gloved fists were raised in the air, there was silence in the Olympic stadium.  This silence was followed by boos from spectators who were upset by this protest during the games.

The consequences of their protest

After the Olympics both Smith and Carlos had difficulty finding work.  This underscores the fact that freedom of speech, which is supposed to be guaranteed by the constitution, doesn’t exist when people are critical of the powerful forces in this country. 

Many people have the impression that John Carlos returned his medal to the International Olympic Committee.  In fact, Carlos refused to give back his medal and stated that the IOC could come to Harlem and see how far they would get if they tried to take the medal back. 

Carlos was able to eventually find work as a guidance counselor and he never regretted his protest in the Olympics.  To the contrary, a statue was built in Smith and Carlos’ honor and ESPN produced a documentary featuring their protest.

When we think about the current 2012 Olympics in London, we might also consider how two young men chose to risk their careers to protest some of the injustices in the world.  This is the kind of courage that young people will need in order to take on the powerful interests and make this planet a much better place to live.                   


    

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rebellion in Newark – Official violence and ghetto response




By Tom Hayden

Published with The New York Review of Books, Vintage Books, a division of Random House, 1967

A review

Recently, we have seen uprisings in Baltimore, Maryland, Ferguson, Missouri, and several other cities where Black men had been murdered by the police.  Only after the rebellion in Baltimore did a State Prosecutor issue indictments against six police officers involved in the murder of Freddie Gray.

Tom Hayden’s 1967, book Rebellion in Newark – Official violence and ghetto response demonstrates that both rebellions and police violence are nothing new in this country.  While this book continues to be well worth reading, in my opinion, there was one significant weakness.  Hayden’s book failed to place the rebellion in Newark in a historical context.  This review will attempt to correct that flaw.

The history of racist violence

An undeniable fact about the history of the United States is that thousands of Black people died as a result of lynchings.  Many if not most of these lynchings took place in rural areas in the south.  The film Rosewood documented how racists destroyed an entire Black community in 1923.  A similar event happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921.  Rarely, if ever, did the government of this country make any attempt to prosecute those who organized these lynchings.

Racist violence wasn’t limited to the United States.  Before the Second World War most Jewish people lived in Eastern Europe.  At that time there were a series of racist raids on Jewish communities where thousands lost their lives.  Jews used the Yiddish word pogrom to describe these racist attacks.  The Tsarist government of Russia had no problem with these pogroms and even encouraged the murderers. 

One of the definitions of the word pogrom is: A massacre or persecution instigated by the government or by the ruling class against a minority group, particularly Jews.     

However, when many Jews and other Europeans came to this country, something happened.  The writer James Baldwin argued that there was a price to be paid by Caucasians who came to this country.  He called this the Price of the Ticket.  This meant that many Caucasians forgot their experiences in Europe and viewed themselves as white. 

Becoming white meant they needed to forget some of the horrors of Europe so they could feel some sense of entitlement.  This so-called entitlement was about the illusion of an expectation of being treated better because they were not Black.

The civil rights movement erupted because Black people had been systematically denied citizenship rights in this country partly because of the Jim Crow laws.  In 1963 Martin Luther King was arrested in Birmingham, Alabama.  At that time, there were religious officials who criticized King for being arrested.  They argued that he needed to be patient and that change would come eventually.

King responded to this argument with his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  He wrote that his daughter asked King why she wasn’t allowed to play in a local park.  King didn’t like the fact that he had to tell his daughter that she wasn’t allowed to play in the park because of the color of her skin.  This was one reason why Martin Luther King decided he wasn’t going to be patient and took direct action.

Malcolm X lived most of his life in cities in the northern states that didn’t have Jim Crow laws.  Malcolm argued that it wasn’t sufficient to argue for civil rights.  He argued that the government routinely denied Black people human rights throughout this country.  For this reason Malcolm argued that the United States government needed to be put on trial in the World Court for its human rights violations against millions of Blacks living in this country.    

The Newark rebellion

The rebellion in Newark, as rebellions in many other cities, started with an incident of police brutality.  The police arrested a cab driver by the name of John Smith on July 12, 1967.  One of the charges against Smith was that he used “abusive language.”  This is what Smith had to say about his time in police custody:

“There was no resistance on my part.  That was a cover story by the police.  They caved in my ribs, busted a hernia, and put a hole in my head.”

The rebellion in Newark wasn’t about protesting this single incident.  In January of 1967 business officials issued a report where they argued that Newark’s problems were “more grave and pressing than those of perhaps any other American city.”  City officials applied for funds under the Model Cities Act using the following argument:

“Newark had the nation’s highest percentage of bad housing, the most crime per 100,000 people, the heaviest tax burden, the highest rates of venereal disease, maternal mortality, and new cases of tuberculosis.  The city was listed as second in infant mortality, second in birth rate, seventh in absolute number of drug addicts.  Its unemployment rate in the Black community was 15%.”

We might also think about the fact that rebellions had been erupting in Black communities all over the nation four years before 1967.  Some people were surprised, not that the rebellion happened in Newark, but that it didn’t erupt before 1967.

After John Smith’s arrest civil rights leaders demanded to see him.  After some resistance from the police, these leaders saw John Smith and demanded that he receive medical attention.  Smith was taken to Beth Israel Hospital.

John Smith had initially been taken to the Forth Precinct Police Station located on 17th avenue near what was then Belmont Avenue.  Today, the former Belmont Avenue is called Irving Turner Boulevard.    

Across the street from the Forth Precinct were the former Hayes Homes housing projects.  Tom Hayden reported that the Hayes Homes consisted of six buildings each housing about 1,000 people on twelve floors. 

Cab drivers throughout the city had been communicating to one another about the brutality John Smith experienced.  A demonstration took place at the Fourth Precinct that evening.  The anger of the 500 demonstrators turned into rage and missiles started flying at the police station.  These missiles would break 110 windows. 

The police came out of the station with helmets and clubs.  They were met with a torrent of bricks and bottles.  Afraid for their lives, the police retreated back into the station.

Tom Hayden gives this useful description of the thinking of Black people who participated in the rebellion:

“Fathers and mothers in the ghetto often complain that even they cannot understand the wildness of their kids.  Knowing that America denies opportunity to black young men, black parents still share with whites the sense that youth is heading in a radically new, incomprehensible, and frightening direction.  Refusal to obey authority—that of the parents, teachers and other adult ‘supervisors’—is a common charge against youngsters.  Yet when the riot broke out, the generations came together.  The parents understood and approved the defiance of their sons that night.”

The so-called “looting” of white owned stores started that evening.

James Baldwin spoke about the so-called “looting” that took place in the Black community during the rebellions.  He argued that when a young Black man takes a television from a store, he doesn’t really want that TV.  Baldwin argued that what that young Black man wants is for people to recognize that he exists and is in fact a human being.

We might also consider that the United States became a nation as a result of a political revolution.  The Declaration of Independence states clearly that when the people are subjected to a “long train of abuses” it is not only, “their right, but their duty” to throw off their oppressors and establish new guards for their security.

At the Boston Tea Party of 1773, insurgents boarded three ships in Boston Harbor.  It took them three hours to throw 342 chests of tea overboard.

The so-called “looting” of white owned stores was partly about the routine cheating these storeowners practiced in the Black community.  Well-dressed working people participated in the rebellion and felt entitled to get even for all the money these stores effectively stole from the community.  The insurgents left the Black owned stores alone.

While the Black community felt a sense of empowerment from the rebellion, the police took a different approach.  On Thursday, July 13, 250 people were treated at City Hospital.  At least fifteen had gunshot wounds.  The next morning there were 425 people in jail.

However, the brutal police response was incapable of stopping the rebellion.  Newark Mayor Hugh Addonizio asked Governor Richard J. Hughes for assistance.  Governor Hughes mobilized over 3,000 National Guardsmen to carry out, what was in effect, a pogrom against the Black residents of Newark.

Governor Hughes toured Newark on Friday morning July 15.  He called the uprising, “An obvious open rebellion.”  This description by Hughes differed descriptions by the press and the history books that have routinely called the Newark rebellions “riots.”  Hughes was open about his hatred for the tax-paying residents of Newark with his statement:

“The line between the jungle and the law might as well be drawn here as any place in America.”

A Committee of Concern that included the Episcopal Bishop, deans of Rutgers Newark campus as well as their law school, and the vice-presidents of Prudential Insurance Company disagreed with Governor Hughes statement.  They issued a statement arguing that a major cause of the rebellion was a belief held in the Black community that the police are, “the single continuously lawless element operating in the community.”

During the government-organized pogrom about 24 people lost their lives.  This number may be higher given that the hospitals were overwhelmed with residents who had been injured or murdered.

Friday evening July 15 was the time of most of the murders.  Among those who lost their lives was Detective Fred Toto and Fire Captain Michael Moran.  Tom Hayden reported that in all probability these men died as a result of gunfire coming from the police or national guardsmen.  Also on Friday evening ten Black people were killed, 100 suffered gunshot wounds, 500 were “treated” at City Hospital, and as many were arrested or held. 

One clear example of vandalism was the police organized destruction of Black owned stores.  As I mentioned before, those who participated in the rebellion didn’t damage any of the stores owned by Black people.  Those stores were marked “soul brother.”  Witnesses observed police destruction of 100 stores that had been marked soul brother.

Tom Hayden quoted a statement made by lawyers that included members of the American Civil Liberties Union.  They argued that the police were an instrument of a conspiracy, “to engage in a pattern of systematic violence, terror, abuse, intimidation, and humiliation.  They went on to say the police “seized on the initial disorders as an opportunity and pretext to perpetuate the most horrendous and widespread killing, violence, torture, and intimidation, not in response to any crime or civilian disorder, but in a violent demonstration of powerlessness of the plaintiffs and their class.  .  .”

In 1967 I happened to be fourteen years old and living in a section of the South Ward in Newark known as Weekquahic.  All I knew about the rebellions were the National Guardsmen stationed at the end of the street where I lived.  I also remember stories of how there were snipers who were firing at the guardsmen from rooftops.  In Hayden’s book I don’t recall anyone being convicted of being a sniper.

There were however three young people who died in the rebellion.  If I had a different skin color and lived a few miles from where I was living at the time, I could have been one of those young people.

One was ten-year old Eddie Moss of 240 Rose Street.  Eddie was sitting in his family car on the way to a White Castle for dinner.  Guardsmen shot at the car and Eddie lost his life.

Another was twelve-year old Michael Pugh of 340 Fifteenth Avenue.  Michael’s mother sent him to take out the garbage.  Guardsmen apparently heard someone say something derogatory.  They shot Michael Pugh dead.

Another was sixteen-year old James Sanders of 52 Beacon Street.  Police records indicate that James lost his life because of gunshot wounds.  The circumstances of his death are uncertain.  However, his father said he had never been in trouble before.

Governor Hughes dismissed the charges of police and National Guard brutality arguing that this was, “standard operating procedure.”  He went on to state that he was “thrilled” by the performance of the troops.     

The war against Vietnam

We might also consider that while the National Guardsmen invaded Newark, the U.S. military was at war against the people of Vietnam.  Le Ly Hayslip wrote her book titled, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places that describes what the war meant to her family.  Her book was made into a film titled Heaven and Earth. 

The story of Le Ly Hayslip's family shows concretely what this war was all about.  Ms Hayslip's oldest brother, Bon Nghe spent most of his adult life in the army that forced the U.S. out of his homeland.  Another brother, Sou Bon was reported to have been blown up by a land mine that was made in the U.S.A.  The death of this brother was never confirmed and to this day Sou Bon is what the newspapers refer to as "Missing In Action".  Because of the war a sister of Ms Hayslip (Lan) was forced off the family's farm and became a prostitute in order to survive.  Both Ms Hayslip and her mother were also forced off their land and experienced homelessness as a result.

Ms Hayslip was held in prison and tortured on three separate occasions.   Ms Hayslip's father, Phung Trong remained on his farm that was located in the middle of a war zone.  The separation of the father from his wife and six children, the fact that he was tortured in prison by the U.S. and its allies, and the fact that he had to endure the complete destruction of his way of life provoked Phung Trong to commit suicide.
 
In all, millions of people lost their lives in the U.S. war against the people of Southeast Asia.  While these stories are unimaginably horrendous, the Vietnamese people eventually forced the U.S. military out of their country.

The aftermath of the rebellions

Tom Hayden argued that the National Guardsmen left Newark just a few days after they arrived.  We might appreciate that there was seething hatred of the guardsmen by the people of in the city.  The government that gave orders to the guardsmen apparently were concerned about what might happen if this anger was mobilized.

Martin Luther King visited the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts after the rebellion in 1965.  King asked the question: “What did it profit the Negro to burn down the stores and factories in which he sought employment?”

Clearly, there was considerable destruction that took place during the rebellions.  I went to Arts High in the Central Ward of Newark.  Every day on the bus ride to school I saw block after block of burned out stores that hadn’t been torn down.

However, we might speculate that those who have power in this country understood that when cities erupt in rebellion, that this is bad for business.  We might also speculate that that this awareness prompted business and government officials to promote affirmative action programs in education and employment.

When I attended the 40th high school reunion of my graduating class, I learned that many of my former classmates had educational and employment opportunities their parents never had.  Most of my former classmates are Black.  Martin Luther King didn’t live to see this development.

We must also state that today the government has targeted Black people for prison.  The numbers of Black people in prison is grossly out of proportion to their percentage of the population.  Anyone living in this country has a better chance of going to prison than citizens of any other nation in the world.  Understanding these facts, my opinion is that we need to stop calling the prisons of this country, prisons.
A better description would be to call these institutions concentration camps.

So, what can we learn from the rebellions that have erupted all over this country?  My opinion is that we first need to think about the worlds in the Declaration of Independence.  That declaration argued that people don’t normally take up arms against a government.  But when there is a “long train of abuses,” it is not only “their right, but their duty,” to throw off the old regime and establish new guards for their security.

The rebellions demonstrate clearly that the people of this country are not apathetic.  When we are pushed to the point where they need to respond, we have responded.  The problem has been that we need an organized leadership that can transform the justifiable rage people feel into action that can make a profound difference.

This did happen in the nation of Cuba.  A nation that experienced routine police brutality and extreme poverty, was transformed into a nation that leads the world in health care and education.  While Cuba continues to have pressing problems, their example is inspiring for all those seeing human dignity for everyone in the world.     

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Free Tanya McDowell



I wrote the following blog three years ago.  Tanya McDowell has just been sentenced to three years in prison.  The article appeared in the Daily Mail that is published in Britain.  I don't know of any media source that has covered McDowell's recent sentence.


Tanya McDowell is a homeless mother who sent her son to a public Norwalk, Connecticut school while living in Bridgeport.  The authorities in Norwalk felt that this was a crime.  As a result, a Norwalk court sentenced McDowell to twelve years in prison and she has been fined $6,200.  McDowell happens to be Black.    

The idea of sending a mother to prison for sending her son to a public school appears to be incomprehensible.  However, the court decision sending McDowell to prison took place in a nation that claims to represent “liberty and justice for all.”  In order to understand the background to this case, we need to look at a bit of history.         

The history of the struggle against discrimination

The heroic struggle to free the people of the United States from Jim Crow segregation is known throughout the world.  The Civil Rights movement effectively forced the Supreme Court to make its decision of Brown vs. the Board of Education Topeka.  This decision ruled that the idea of separate but equal, or segregated education is illegal.  However, this decision only applied to students living in a particular school district.  Today, education continues to be segregated when we compare many inner cities to the suburban communities.  This is the problem that Tanya McDowell faces today.

The Census Bureau lists the Norwalk, Stamford, Bridgeport, Connecticut metropolitan area as the 13th most segregated metropolitan area in the nation.  Typically this means that educational facilities are funded at a much higher rate in the suburban areas than in the inner cities. 

Philadelphia is rated as the ninth most segregated metropolitan area in the nation.  Per student funding for education in Philadelphia is about $11,000 per year and about 90% of the school population is Black or Latino.  When we cross the Philadelphia border at City Line Avenue, we enter the Lower Merion School District where per student funding for education is about $22,000 and about eighty to ninety percent of the student population is Caucasian. 

Tanya McDowell and the struggle against discrimination

Tanya McDowell has a more consistent view of the educational system in this country than the Supreme Court.  McDowell understands that segregated educational facilities are not equal.  While the judicial system allows gross disparities in the funding of education, McDowell took a different approach.  She used the address of her babysitter, Ana Rebecca Marques, to register her son in a Norwalk school while she lived in Bridgeport. 

The authorities in Norwalk charged Tanya McDowell with stealing $15,000 in educational services from the district.  The housing authority in Norwalk evicted Ana Rebecca Marques from her so-called public housing for providing the documents that allowed McDowell’s son to go to school in the district.  Twenty-six other students have been thrown out of Norwalk’s so-called public schools for similar reasons.

When we consider the charge that Tanya McDowell stole money from the Norwalk School District, we might consider a few facts.  The historical facts are that huge amounts of money were effectively stolen from Black people during slavery, Jim Crow segregation, as well as the legalized discrimination we see today.  This theft was, and continues to be perfectly legal and, to the best of my knowledge, no one ever went to prison for stealing this money.  To the contrary, some of the most lucrative financial enterprises have reaped enormous profits from this discrimination.

The Mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut is Richard A. Moccia.  His daughter, Suzanne Vieux, is the District Attorney who prosecuted Tanya McDowell.  These politicians have a similar outlook as the top government officials, which include President Barack Obama.  These officials understand that there is blatant segregation in the educational system in this country and they have decided to do nothing about it.  To the contrary, they advocate for horrendous cutbacks that have made the disparity in educational funding even more dramatic.    

The Connecticut Parent’s Union, and the NAACP have given their support to Tanya McDowell.  There was also a petition with 15,600 signatures that also supported her fight to avoid incarceration.

Gwen Samuel, who heads the Connecticut Parent’s Union, had this to say as to why she supports Tanya McDowell:

“She [McDowell] understands something about the importance of education…I’m disappointed and I’m scared… I’m afraid of a system that would rather arrest me for being a good parent than help me raise my child to be a productive citizen.”


This is an election year.  Politicians routinely rant and rave about the importance of education.  All of these arguments will amount to nothing more than a lot of gibberish if these politicians refuse to say the words: Free Tanya McDowell.  



                           

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The World That Made New Orleans – From Spanish Silver to Congo Square



By Ned Sublette
Published by Lawrence Hill Books
2008

A Review

Before reading Ned Sublette’s history of New Orleans, I only knew some of the outlines to the history of this unique city.  As the title of this book states, in order to begin to understand the history of this city we need to look at a history of the world.  In looking at this history we can see how the history of New Orleans has collided with the history of Haiti and Cuba.

We can begin this narrative with the silver the Spanish royalty ordered to be taken from the Americas.  Gold and silver mined in Mexico, Peru, and Bolivia was shipped to Spain and then distributed throughout Europe.

The beginnings of New Orleans, Haiti, and Havana

On its way to Spain, Spanish vessels stopped in the port of Havana.  Cuba also became a center for Spanish ship building.  This meant that the Spanish cut down the native forests of Cuba to build and repair the ships used for this transport. 

The Spanish colonies were so vast they were difficult to control.  French buccaneers initially settled in the western part of the island of Hispaniola.  These buccaneers along with pirates of other nations preyed on the Spanish ships loaded with precious metals. 

After the Spanish took most of the gold and silver from their colonies, new commodities began to dominate international trade.  The cultivation of sugar along with tobacco and coffee became the new sources of wealth in the world.  The French colony of San Domingue became the most productive producer of sugar in the world.  At that time, the revenue France received from her Caribbean colonies amounted to about 40% of her total income.   

So, when the French established their colony in New Orleans in the early 1700s, both Havana and the French colony of San Domingue were thriving centers of commerce.        

The initial idea for a settlement in New Orleans came from a French gambler by the name of John Law.  Without any actual evidence, Law argued that there were vast quantities of precious metals in the area of New Orleans.  After the French made substantial investments to fulfill Law’s pipedream, this initial enterprise went bankrupt.

During these first years of New Orleans, the French monarchy was having severe financial problems.  This meant that the French didn’t see the development of New Orleans as a priority and the colonists needed to find ways of surviving on their own.

These colonists learned to grow rice from Africans they kidnapped and made into slaves.  They also learned basic medical procedures from the Indians who lived in this area for thousands of years.

The French didn’t see much future in their colony in New Orleans and gave it to the Spanish who ruled the city for about 33 years.  During this time New Orleans became a center for the trade of the United States because of its location at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  One of the most lucrative aspects to this trade was the selling of human beings.

The history we didn’t learn in school

Ned Sublette mentions in his book that the history he learned in school wasn’t very good.  He gives the following explanation as to one reason why the government of this country doesn’t want to teach children the real history of slavery in this part of the world.

“It’s embarrassing to have to explain what it consisted of.  It gets into things we would prefer children not know about—middle-aged men fornicating with adolescent girls, women used for breeding purposes, children sired and sold, black men dehumanized, and families routinely shattered.”

Clearly those of us who have endured the so-called “American History” classes in high school never learned this part of the history of this country.  In his history of New Orleans, Sublette gives us the facts informing us of this nation’s true history.

We can begin with the French colony of San Domingue.  We have already seen how important this colony was to France.  However, the wealth of this colony came directly from slaves who were virtually worked to death.  A slave who worked in the cane fields was only expected to live for ten years.

In the history of slavery, there were several women who distinguished themselves in the struggle to abolish this horrendous institution.  Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth were just two of these women.  However, there were other women who defended slavery and not all these women were Caucasian.

In the French colony of San Domingue, there were thousand of mixed race women who were not slaves and lived as concubines.  These women may have owned as many as 150,000 slaves in San Domingue.  Most of these women, in no way opposed slavery.

In New Orleans Sublette quoted an eyewitness who commented on how graciously he was treated by one of these concubines.  Then, he noticed how this concubine routinely carried whips.  This eyewitness reported how this supposedly gracious concubine viciously beat one of her slaves. 

Ned Sublette argued that one of the reasons why the confederate states waged war was to defend the fact that Caucasian men had the right to routinely rape Black women who were slaves.  Even President Jefferson apparently fathered children from a slave he owned named Sally Hemings.

The revolution that created Haiti and made New Orleans a part of the United States

These were the conditions that led to the revolution that transformed the French colony of San Domingue into the nation of Haiti.  This revolution was the only one in the history of the world where a government of slaves managed to maintain political power.

The initial response of the French to this revolution was one of horror.  Clearly many people died in the revolution and there may have been numerous horror stories.  However, The French who promoted the horror stories of the Haitian Revolution didn’t have a problem with the routine horror stories experienced by the slaves of their colony of San Domingue.

For this reason the revolutionary slave government initially supported the Spanish section of the island against the French.  Then came the French Revolution, and the new revolutionary government outlawed slavery.

The new government of former slaves in San Domingue appreciated this change in policy and joined with France to take over the Spanish half of the island of Hispaniola.  They also defeated an attempt by the British to take control of the island.

The new government in San Domingue then faced a civil war between the creoles in the south and the slave government led by Toussaint L’Ouverture in the north.  The creoles had been loyal to the slave owners and they in no way wanted to be ruled by a government of slaves.  For this reason they initially received support from France.

At that time the relatively new government of the United States was wary of the French presence in the area and President Adams gave support to the government of Toussaint L’Ouverture.  Then, Thomas Jefferson was elected President.  Ned Sublette argued that Jefferson was terrified of the slave rebellion in San Domingue.  After all, the totality of the enormous wealth Jefferson enjoyed came from the labor of human beings he owned.

In France Napoleon came to power and reversed the gains of the revolution.  Jefferson made a deal to aid Napoleon in an attempt to defeat the slave revolution.  Napoleon sent a huge force of about 43,000 soldiers to reestablish slavery in the French colony.  If he was successful he thought he could have used this force to overcome the government of the United States.

However, in his first decisive defeat, Napoleon lost the totality of his army to the army of former slaves.  During the course of this war literally hundreds of thousands of former slaves lost their lives.  This defeat caused Napoleon to sell his vast colony in North America to the government in Washington.  This is how New Orleans became a part of the United States.

Looking at this history, I thought of a basic question that might start with the words “What if.”  What if Napoleon, instead of going to war against the former slaves, had joined their cause?

We know that Toussaint L’Ouverture was thinking about establishing a movement that would attempt to do away with slavery throughout the hemisphere.  Former slaves from San Domingue could have fought with the French armed forces to free the slaves held in bondage in this country.  This armed force could also have formed an alliance with Indians who were in an active war aimed at preventing the theft of their homeland.

Had this path been advanced, clearly the history of the world might have been different.  The reason why Napoleon never considered this path was because he was about bringing back the old relations that existed before the French Revolution.  It was this act of sheer stupidity that led to his eventual downfall.

However, the Louisiana Purchase virtually doubled the size of the United States.  This acquisition was paid for in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of former slaves who established the government of Haiti.

The Louisiana Purchase, the slave trade, the Civil War, and today’s New Orleans

The Louisiana Purchase opened up vast areas that would be used to cultivate cotton, rice, sugar, and tobacco using slave labor.  The biggest business in New Orleans became the sale of human beings into slavery.  The production of cotton by slave labor marked the beginning of the industrial revolution that transformed the world.

These new vast areas of land were a bonanza for the slave trade.  In those days, the only way for much of this land to have value was in slave labor camps.  Therefore the price paid for slaves increased.  The price paid for women were higher because they could give birth to children.  Slave women continued to work during most of their pregnancy.  Even President Thomas Jefferson spoke about why the price for slave women was higher.              

As in all revolutions, the Haitian Revolution caused an exodus from the country.  Initially many French slave owners went with their slaves to the eastern section of Spanish Cuba known as Oriente.  Then, when Napoleon took control of Spain these French nationals were exiled from the island, and most went to New Orleans. 

We should keep in mind that many of these French nationals were familiar some of the advancements of French culture.  They were familiar with engineering, literature, as well as the arts.  The former slave owners were also adamantly opposed to the abolition of slavery.

On the other had the slaves that came from Haiti knew about revolution as well as the music that came from the Congo in Africa.  They joined with the slaves of New Orleans every Sunday in Congo Square and performed music that developed a unique sound.

When we think of the music of this country, from the blues, to jazz, to rock & roll, to rhythm & blues, and even country western, all this music has a connection to the Sunday gatherings at Congo Square that took place for over 100 years.

It took one of the most profound wars for the United States to abolish slavery.  About 600,000 soldiers of the Confederacy and the Union armies perished.  There might have been millions of casualties.  When the Union army marched through South Carolina they destroyed literally every building they saw.

While the government abolished slavery, after the year 1877 the Ku Klux Klan effectively took power in the former slave states.  The governments in those states took away citizenship rights of Black people with their Jim Crow laws.

Ned Sublette gives us a glimpse in his book of the Indian Clubs of present day New Orleans.  The members of these clubs come from working class neighborhoods in the Black community. 


They make elaborate costumes and march the streets in their neighborhoods playing the music that have been performed in the city for over a century.  They don’t ask the police for permits to march and believe that this is their city.  Looking at the history of New Orleans and the United States, it is clear that they have earned the right to march in the city that they and their ancestors created.