Tag Archives: prejudice

Midshipman On USS Cyane Explains 1860 American Prejudice

uss cyaneIn an effort to understand the underpinnings of racism that would impact America going forward after the Civil war and that might eventually lead to the failings in America’s inner cities, I sat down in 1860 for an interview with a midshipman who had served on the USS Cyane:

Thank you for taking this interview with me. As you know, there is talk in the U.S. of secession of the southern states.

“Yes, I am concerned if this occurs, there will be a war of rebellion. The North will surely win and many think that Lincoln will then free the slaves. That might end the pressure for freedmen to immigrate north, which would be a good thing.”

Why do you say that immigrating north is not a good thing?

“It is just that freedmen are not warmly welcomed as citizens in the north even now, and are barely tolerated in many cases.”

What do you mean?

“Well, in most northern states, they do not have the rights of most citizens to vote, to file law suits, to intermarry, or to sit on juries. In most, they cannot run for office. And in the states that do legally allow these things, in practice, they are heavily discouraged. In some states, they cannot use public transportation such as ferries, and in others, they cannot even own livestock.

Working conditions are deplorable. Freedmen hardly have the chance to rise above the status of laborer and they are relegated to the ghettos to live. Some states have passed laws discouraging freedmen from living there to protect working class citizens’ jobs from being sought by freedmen that would take less pay.

And can you believe this? Some states have passed laws that can have a freedman thrown back into slavery for such petty offenses as laziness! No sir, prejudices run deep in North, and there seems no place other than the harsh frontier where tolerance is gentler.”

Why is it that you think intolerance runs so deep?

“Seems there are many reasons. But for one, we have dehumanized the African race for centuries to the point that we are fearful and repulsed at the thought of integration. Why, do you know when Virginia’s John Randolph emancipated his 518 slaves and intended to have them relocate to Ohio, that Ohio’s Congressman replied that the community would line up at the river with muskets aimed at any who tried to cross the river? In Ohio, the courts even struck down integrated schools suggesting that communion had an invincible repugnance. Indiana, Illinois and Michigan required Freedmen to post a $1,000 bond for good behavior before entering the state. Who in those parts even has a $1,000 to post?”

So if immigration to the north seems intolerable, do you think that the solution to freeing the slaves will be a brokered peace in the South?

“I don’t suspect the once freed, ex slaves will have it any better in the South. While only a few thousand are free now, their lives have been very difficult. They have lived under even stricter laws than up North. For example, if they are caught without their certificates of freedom, they could be sold back into slavery. If they are found outside their town, they can be arrested unless they carried proof of employment. Mississippi even requires free blacks to confine their activities to urban areas. Virginia passed a law that may just banish them to Liberia.”

Speaking of Liberia, you have some experience there, do you not?

“Yes sir. I was a midshipman on the USS Cyane, which was involved in repatriation of freed slaves back to Liberia.”

What were your duties on the Cyane, sir?

“I sailed off the coast of Liberia defending the rights of all men to be free. We were protecting the Liberian colony from re-enslavement and suppressing piracy and the slave trade, and were working with the England’s West Africa Squadron in that effort. The West Africa Squadron was fairly successful in slowing trafficking, stopping over 1,600 ships and saving 150,000 Africans from slavery.”

I understand you escorted the first shipment of freed slaves for the American Colonization Society to Liberia.

“That’s right, without our protection, they would certainly be prone to re-enslavement. Unfortunately, a quarter of the first shipment of Freedmen died in the process of repatriation and the locals kept warring with them afterwards. But perhaps repatriation is still the best solution.”

With such issues as loss of life during transport and wars with locals, why do you believe repatriation to be the best solution?

“Well, the American Colonization Society believes it’s best that they are repatriated. The organization is supported not only by those that feel Liberia will offer freedoms away from the prejudices of American society but also by those that are highly prejudiced and hopeful of a segregated solution. With such conflict, this could be a possible solution for the four million slaves if the war commences and the slaves are freed.”

It seems highly unlikely that if in 40 years, the society has only been able to transport 13,000 freedmen to Liberia, with all the incumbent problems of cost, dangers of transport, and warring factions in Liberia against immigration that this is a viable solution. Do you not think a better solution is to find a way for those of European descent to learn to live in peace and equality with those of African descent here in America?

“Well, I don’t think we will be able to overcome our culture of racial superiority either. Africans have been integrated in the colonies for the past two hundred years, and we have been conditioned to think of them as property. Our ancestors thought little of owning slaves, even if only the wealthiest could afford to own them. We are convinced that because they came from cultures we think of as less advanced and void of the Christian religion, that we had a right to ownership.”

Yes, but the abolitionist movement has begun to enlighten the country of the atrocity of that way of thinking now, and we are at the precipice of war as a result. Slavery is so inhumane, isn’t it time for the entire nation to reject it?

“Inhumane is good description. Slaves’ average age at death is half that of others because of their harsh life. About a half million have died just on the transatlantic crossing over to the Americas. And even though the Cyane sailed the Atlantic trying to save them, if we got close to slaver ships, many slavers just dumped their human cargo overboard to avoid being captured and fined by us.

Our country has been desensitized to this inhumanity and is intolerant to reform because of slavery’s importance to commerce. But our conditioning follows centuries of slavery and warring. Our ships sail throughout Europe and practice war today. As a result of centuries of such war in which slaves were part of the booty, slavery became ingrained as a practice of war. In fact, after years of such wars and a plague that left Europe with too few serfs, 300 years ago the Pope himself was believed by Portugal to bless the slave trade, stating that it was acceptable to enslave all non-Christians. That decree was the start of Portugal’s African slave trade that eventually found its way to America.

It seems that in response to several hundred years of wars between the Islam and Christian worlds that intersected in Spain and Portugal, both religions carted off slaves back to their homelands as war contraband. And after the great plague, Europe needed slaves to replace a great loss of serfs so somehow Christianity got mixed in with commerce, and the corrupted mix was later used as rationale for this evil we have now.”

This has been a productive conversation. With 500 years of slavery ingrained in the culture, it does beg the question, “How are we going to fix the cultural divide that will imminently be thrust upon us?” Certainly, we will have a war. Tens of thousands will die. The slaves will be freed. And then our nation will be asked to find our way across this great bigoted chasm.

With problems of war reparations, forestalling vengeance for the dead, and recovering from an economy in shambles, will the country be capable of rising above such emotions to find a solution? The future of our country depends on resolving racism and truly healing the nation of its scars when this war comes to an end.

If we fail to solve our issues of race here, could we imagine another 100 years of repression leading ultimately to our greatest cities falling into ruin? Thank you for your time today and your earnest responses.

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If America Will Stop Running from Our Past, Our Inner Cities Can Provide a Path Toward Prosperity.

Detroit – What Way Out?

Of America’s cities, none seems to have risen to such dizzying heights to then be hollowed out in shambles as the city of Detroit. A symbol of America’s might during WWII and of America’s engineering marvels in the muscle car, glory years afterwards, Detroit now has the distinction of having lost half its citizens through exodus, of having the largest unemployment rate of America’s large cities, and of having been deemed America’s most dangerous city for the past four years.

While no one expects Detroit to return to its heydays, why do most Americans believe it only a dream that Detroit and other’s inner cities could ever return to a prosperity where jobs are plentiful, neighborhoods flourish, and families are safe in their homes? China showed the world in dramatic fashion how cities can rise from poverty to abundance. Why is it that America cannot show how Detroit can be transformed to a similar path toward prosperity?

Certainly Detroit is no Shenzhen, its citizens having experienced an entirely different historical path. Yet, is Detroit’s history so damaged that no path to revitalization exists? Is America so defeated that it is willing to give up on the investment we made in Detroit? And if we are, can we really expect to survive as a nation while choosing to let our inner cities languish?

America seems blinded by our history. We may be incapable of seeing our inner cities’ potential as vital resources to America’s recovery. Having been prejudiced by our ambivalent past, our leaders may not be capable of inspiring America to chart a path forward. Yet, once again, China may offer lessons.

China’s leaders rose from an earlier regime that had devastated tens of millions of its own citizens. From the midst of this tyrannical regime, leaders finally emerged to reverse China’s economy through what is now deemed a miraculous “four modernizations” strategy. Yet their vision was created and then executed with discipline through four decades to achieve this miracle.

A strategy does exist to reverse even Detroit’s trajectory. Following China’s example, where is America’s future leadership within its political ranks that is prepared to break through our nation’s historical prejudice to establish a unique, thriving path forward for America’s inner cities and our nation?

The Constitution – a Brilliant Document Unable to Shake the Shackles of Prejudice

China’s path was to create order out of disorder through development of an educated workforce and infrastructures of law, industry, and finance. America also created wealth from order. Upon the foundation of a land blessed with natural resources, European colonists adopted centuries old laws, religion and financial structures that were the cornerstones of our new industries. America’s commitment to investing in order created the most powerful hegemony in history.

Yet, if investing in order can bring wealth to a nation, can divesting of order lead to its impoverishment? America’s founding ideals were the beacon of the highest aspirations of order. The Constitution created a means to provide sharing of power between the elites and the masses, between the majorities and minorities, between factions and between states. It created protections for property and asserted a financial system. Through the Constitution, America agreed to a system of governance of growth.

Why then in founding our country through the establishment of such rational compromise as the Constitution did our ancestors capitulate to a reality that fell far short of our ideals. In agreeing to establish our nation’s wealth on the backs of slaves and to force them to cultivate land that the colonists forced from natives, they set the stage for a period of America’s rise, but could they have also planted the seeds of disordered demise?

Slavery – Upheld the Walls of Prejudice that Separate Mankind

What if all of humanity is a connected organism? And if we choose to nourish some of the organism, but isolate the wholes in the swiss cheese from any nourishment, what then?

Why in America are we at least beginning to understand the Nazi Holocaust as a human condition, as the Jewish nation stirs us to try to understand, but how is it that no such understanding has been able to penetrate the American psyche of the American holocausts? How was it that colonists accepted the extermination of Native American races and absorption of their land? How was it that colonists accepted subjugation of African races?

And when colonists overtook the Native Americans as the holders of land and began the domination of slaves to cultivate the land, culminating in an economic expansion that engulfed America, how did a new paradigm of anti-slavery emerge? And as this abolitionist movement took hold, how did the destruction of Native Americans continue unabated? As late as the Civil War, genocide of Indians in the West was acceptable. Forced integration and domination of Native Americans could not be achieved so removal and isolation became the solution.

As today with Latin American immigrants (illegal aliens), as abolitionism advanced prior to the Civil War, a debate began over what to do with Africans that had become forcibly integrated in the Americas now occupied by European settlers. Reservations had become the answer for Native Americans. Now Liberia seemed the potential solution to achieve abolition while separating freed slaves from others.

In 1860, the Republican platform stated that the African slave trade was a crime against humanity. A crime….against…..humanity…..

Yet Lincoln himself was for repatriation to Liberia. To many in America, deporting people whose ancestors had been captured from multiple parts of the African continent, colonized as slaves in the Americas, produced offspring who only knew an oppressed life in the States, deporting these offspring to a single country in Africa, Liberia, to start a harsh new life where most died within twenty years of landing, was a solution to freeing slaves without having to accept integration of those that had been freed.

An American concept emerged that one group of people, whose forefathers chose to occupy America, belonged to America’s interconnected mass of humanity, but other people, whose ancestors were forced to immigrate to America, should not become interconnected. Additionally and simultaneously, some agreed that Catholic immigrants should not be able to join the interconnected mass of humanity in America as well. The “know Nothings” as they were called, suspected that Catholics were invading America in zombie like fashion to follow the Pope in subjugating American humanity in religious tyranny.

So the time leading up to the Civil War influenced a mass prejudice in American society. Even as we wrestled with the inhumanity of human subjugation, Americans were not ready to accept the interconnectedness of the human race. How did this struggle contribute to the inner city collapse we are experiencing now?

Prejudice – Cements America’s Horrid Path Forward

What is this prejudice, this seeming innate compulsion of disdain for others that are different?

To this day, it drives public sentiment against reason, the quiet mob that feigns decency, hides behind the shield of family, stands firm in defense of civilization, yet underneath usurps power through prejudice.

It turns us on one another, nation against nation, in the pursuit of wealth at the cost of the fallen.

Peace…All that we obtain in its absence is wrought with prejudice, bigotry, racism, hatred…how are these qualities born in men?

Today, we turn a blind eye as thousands of immigrants break a fragile law each day to brave the desert and cross into America. Our law is liquid, seemingly amorphous, as it is held up in some locales while ignored in others. It is pulled like taffy and stretched to suit our prejudices.

Our business leaders, civic leaders all, bring newly huddled masses inside their factory doors as objects to ease American business’s labor load against a competitive world. Our government leaders shake their fists at the porousness of our borders, yet they carefully measure their words to balance public sentiment. The public instinctively knows that undocumented workers ease our daily burdens, but American workers’ disdain for this modern offshoot of slavery is escalating, if only as a measure of citizen joblessness.

Yet joblessness sways votes and, therefore, quiet economic prejudice of business owners can be overrun by workers’ mob prejudice. Surely, public prejudice will direct upcoming Congressional debates, but they will be collegiately draped in reasoning, finding balance between justice and bigotry.

As the civil war finished its bloodletting, there was no draping of unfettered prejudice abounding at war’s end. Two centuries of bigotry had melded the country into violent stalemate and reasoning had been replaced by bayonets. Now freed slaves had to endure the hardships of Reconstruction in the South that had been burnt to the ground by Sherman.

In the southern economy that had rested on the backs of slaves, now devastated by war, most white men were barely economically any better off than slaves. They now had to engage a new paradigm of equality. What chance did freed men have in their new world to escape the great evil of prejudice? How would this step change in America impact their economic decisions? How would it forever shape the destiny of our inner cities?

150 years would pass before the economic implosion of 2008 would lay barren our inner cities in the midst of the hidden depression that would shape America’s direction for the remainder of the 21st century. As America’s recovers from this economic disaster, will we seize the opportunity that our inner cities present. Will we correct our past by defining our inner cities as paths toward economic prosperity? A vision awaits to be painted.

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