For years, decades now, folks have celebrated Black History Month with a plethora of events. There will be movies, book readings, poetry events, concerts and the like. Coming, as it does, on the heels of the nation’s celebration of the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., much of what will be heard will no doubt echo that event.
But Black History is far richer, and far deeper, than King.
Rev. Dr. King, who has been edited into a safe, sweet, nonviolent modern-day Christlike figure and icon of peace, forgiveness and forbearance, has himself been transformed into a one-dimensional figure which ignores his fullness as a growing, thinking, developing man. He was far more radical than many of those who now call his name are ready to admit.
There will be little, if any, remembrance of the men and women who fought for freedom in far more aggressive and militant ways. While some may hear the occasional names, usually they, too, are softened and sweetened with time to make them safe historical morsels for white, and corporate consumption.
It’s doubtful that the name William Parker will be shouted out, even though, over a century and a half ago, he led the Christiana Revolt in Pennsylvania which, because of its nature, sent shock waves across the country, so much so that historians of that era, like James McPherson and Phillip Foner, considered Christiana to be harbingers of the Civil War to come. Parker, his wife Eliza and other members of “The Special Secret Committee” (a black self-defense group) fought against slave owners and U.S. marshals who wanted to send people back into slavery. The Parkers and their neighbors fought with guns, machetes and sticks. Parker and his clan of freedom fighters had to flee the US to find freedom.
The Christiana Revolt of 1851 should be on millions of lips during Black History month. But there will be no movies, no special notices in the corporate press and few scattered references to this signal event in the history of the struggle for freedom.
The great Frederick Douglass later wrote of Christiana, that it “more than all else” destroyed the fugitive slave law. Douglass wrote: “It became almost a dead letter, for slaveholders found that not only did it fail to put them in possession of their slaves, but that the attempt to enforce it brought odium upon themselves and weakened the slave system.” [Cited in: Forbes, Ella. ‘But We Have No Country: The 1851 Christiana Pennsylvania Resistance’. (Cherry Hill, NJ: Africana Homestead Legacy, 1998) , p. 114.]
And while we may know the name of the famous rebel, Nat Turner, how many of us actually celebrate his memory? His fight for freedom echoed around the world, for it showed that the violence of slavery would be answered by the violence of the oppressed. For what was slavery but violence, and resistance against that violence but self-defense?
I doubt that the name Charles Deslondes will elicit the least flicker of recognition, but he was the leader of a slave revolt that rocked New Orleans in 1811.
The revolt aboard the Amistad is known to many (due in part to movies).
But the Amistad wasn’t the only one. Ships like the Little George were seized over a century before the Amistad, but today, who knows its name? Here in 1730, some 96 captives seized the craft, and in 9 days, successfully sailed back to Africa. Two years thereafter, Africans aboard the William did the same thing, set the crew adrift and sailed back home.
The late, great Herbert Aptheker, in his classic *American Negro Slave Revolts*, recounted over 250 such rebellions against the vile slave system.
Coming closer to our time, how many of us will look back, not centuries, but mere months, to the horrors and hypocrisies of Hurricane Katrina? For Black History didn’t end centuries ago; and didn’t begin with the Civil Rights Act.
It’s an ancient history, and also as present as yesterday.
Katrina – the ravages, not of weather, but of government, as Black Arts Movement poet, playwright and essayist Marvin X put it so eloquently in his recent *Beyond Religion – Toward Spirituality: Essays on Consciousness* (Cherokee, CA: Black Bird Press, 2006):
“We have tried their sham democratic elections to no avail, as we saw in the 2000 General Election when our votes were discounted. Between our treatment in the 2000 election and Katrina, what else do we need to know about American Democracy? What part of no don’t you understand? Both events revealed America to be nothing more than a banana republic with respect to us: we were treated worse than dogs in both respects.” [p. 192]
Another poet, Palestinian-American Suheir Hammad, used her art to pose a potent question raised by Katrina: “Who do we pledge our allegiance to? A government that leaves its old to die of thirst surrounded by water is a foreign government.” [Fr.: *What Lies Beneath: Katrina, Race and the State of the Nation*, ed. South End Press Collective (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007), p. 187]
Black History Month – a time to remember that which the corporate culture wishes is forgotten. A time to remember rebellion, resistance and what it means to be Black in the White Nation – today.
Copyright 2007 Mumia Abu-Jamal
[Mr. Jamal’s recent book features a chapter on the remarkable women who helped build and defend the Black Panther Party: *WE WANT FREEDOM: A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South End Press ( http://www.southendpress.org); Ph.
“Abu-Jamal is an award-winning Pennsylvania journalist who exposed police violence against minority communities. On death row since 1982, he was wrongfully sentenced for the shooting of a police officer. New evidence, including the recantation of a key eyewitness, new ballistic and forensic evidence and a confession from Arnold Beverly (one of the two killers of Officer Faulkner) points to his innocence! Mumia had no criminal record.
For the last 25 years, Abu-Jamal has been locked up 23 hours a day, denied contact visits with his family, had his confidential legal mail illegally opened by prison authorities, and put into punitive detention for writing his first of three books while in prison, Live From Death Row.”
Abu-Jamal’s is an unconquerable spirit, wielding his sword through prison walls, and this column comes to you “Live From Death Row.”
“When a cause comes along and you know in your bones that it is just, yet refuse to defend it-at that moment you begin to die. And I have never seen so many corpses walking around talking about justice.” – Mumia Abu-JamalMumia