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Opinion
Charlottesville Repeats Ugly U.S. History
Events will make a new day in America


By John Wesley Boyd Jr.
 
The United States proudly claims a long history of advising and haranguing other countries on human and civil rights. But this past week’s public show of racist behavior, endorsed by our president’s words, starkly reveals that we need to start at home and clean up our own flawed country.
 
Nature brought a bit of distraction from the Charlottesville horrors, with the rare spectacle of a solar eclipse. Then the president’s confusing speech on American involvement in that endless war in Afghanistan also drew attention away from the spreading racial confrontations.
 
But the Charlottesville story is not over. In fact it’s spreading, to Austin and Baltimore and our nation’s capital. Sure as the moon shaded the sun then moved on, these outrages will keep coming back. But resistance will grow—till we get right with ourselves.
 
Our national disgrace, acted out last week in Charlottesville, put on display the hatred by White Supremacists, Nazis, Skin Heads, Alt Right and Ku Klux Klan activists toward fellow Americans. It was a slug fest that left three people dead—all played out on national television for the world to see.
 
Heather Heyer’s death by a crazed driver who mowed down a crowd of counter demonstrators, along with injuries of other counter demonstrators, was tragic beyond measure. The loss of two state police officers was no less hurtful, although they were on duty and keeping their sworn commitment to protect the public
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As I watched along with most of America, and most likely the world, my mind went back to an earlier post of two years ago about our nation’s failed racial policies and practices.
 
“Our chief executive of 100 years ago was a white supremacist in the good old American way, as Scott Berg detailed in his biography titled Wilson on the 28th U.S. president, who used his powers to segregate government jobs and insulted black leaders when they protested.”
 
Of course this embarrassing racial nightmare did not begin with Woodrow Wilson, or even with the birth of our nation. I have written often about America’s failed race policies. It dates from 1619, when the first Africans brought to colonial America were traded to English settlers for provisions by Dutch sailors at Jamestown, Virginia. Before long they became valuable commodities, exploited and degraded for centuries as they labored in tobacco, cotton, sugar cane and other cash-making crops.

For nearly 400 years, America’s great shame has been deeply embedded in our culture through slavery, the exploitation of freed black people in times of sharecropping, Jim Crow segregation, and other common contradictions of our stated values. For Americans who think that racism is just a lost ball in high weeds, your misunderstanding of history is deep and disturbing.

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White Americans and our government have willingly worn blinders as black people were denied everything from voting rights to access to federal government support programs. The Ku Klux Klan and their like have used many tactics of fear, torture and lynching to “keep blacks in their place.”

It is impossible to calculate what such cruel actions have cost African Americas by denial of equality in education, health care, housing, farm loans, job opportunities and federal government protection. Such denials have kept African Americans down for centuries.

Over decades of pursuing justice for black farmers in federal programs I have developed a personal expertise that is today’s most direct link to slavery. For so long we worked the land and built prosperity that served owners and masters. Africans were brought to this country in chains and shackles, packed in slave ships so cruelly that only the strongest survived. We worked the fields for free. We cleared farms for free. We made tobacco gold and cotton king, all as forced laborers on land we were forbidden to own. We owned no acres, nor even our own bodies.

This weeks “hate” events in Charlottesville are merely a reflection of the old southern way which helped endorse racism across the nation. The barely disguised racist movement to “Make America White Again” will only spotlight how strong we are. Even the weakest thinkers, if they are honest, have to recognize that the horrors black people endured and survived served to make them stronger.

Every time we take down one of those Confederate statues, put up to reinforce honor false white superiority, a hundred spirits of slave descendants will rise up stronger. Every demonstration aimed at making us feel low will inspire our rise above their hatred. As esteemed former first lady Michelle Obama put it, “When they go low, we go high.” Love is greater than hate and it always wins, beginning with self-love.

We know our value and we embrace our long history of overcoming adversity. We are the ones who will lead our country to do the right thing. Not every soul will get to the Promised Land, as Dr. King prophesied. But we as a people will get there because there is simply no rightful place on God’s green earth for hatred and bigotry to last always.

More than ever, the time is now to organize and point this country in a new direction. Let us begin by readying our communities for November 6, 2018. We can organize to vote our government to a new level.

We can elect right-thinking members to the Senate, to the House of Representatives and to every open governorship. We can organize to elect fair-minded men and women with strong enough spines to know what’s right—and do it. Then we will all rise together.


John Wesley Boyd Jr. chairs the National Association of Black Farmers