American History: From Civil War to Civil Rights

This weekend I put my phone down.  It was what I needed after what feels like a lifetime of fighting just to be treated like a human being. If and when I did pick up my phone I made the decision to not react or respond. If a story caught my eye I would save it to read or research later.  That was until I watched this video of Kimberly Jones which has now gone viral.  It sent me down a rabbit hole of massacres, lynchings, and race riots. It also made me acknowledge all of the things I don’t know about American History. 

Like Trevor Noah and John Oliver I was moved by Kimberly’s words so much that I wanted to reshare them. I also felt pangs of shame and embarrassment because I wasn’t fully aware of the two events she mentions, Greenwood and Rosewood. In America we’re not really taught American History in school. We’re fed propaganda. This weekend I worked on learning more about Black American History. Starting with information others have shared on social media.  Which were the things that initially piqued my interest. I’m sharing my process to show that we all have to first acknowledge that we don’t know enough. Then we have to actively seek to learn more. 

I want to share some of the things that I’ve learned this week with you. I think that putting  them in chronological order with some of the more well known civil rights events will help create some context. In essence this is a timeline of racial unrest in America before the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. My goal is to express that we ALL have a lot to learn. Not only about the inadequacies and injustices of today but to examine how they’ve been perpetuated throughout American History. This exercise for me has revealed how deeply rooted white supremacy is in American culture. Not that I question my own lived experiences. But to listen to these stories from 100 to 50 years ago and hear just how similar they are to what’s going on today. 

I started this post with the intention of sharing bullet points for those who didn’t want to watch the video. Along with a short video explaining each event. But I’m working on unlearning my perfectionism. This information needs to be shared now. And the more I read I learn about another one of these horrific events. So I will continue to read and learn. Sharing what I can, how I can and as always, encouraging you to learn more, to dig deeper, and to do the work. 

Things I Never Learned In School 

A video I watched a few years ago enlightened me on things like “Sundown Towns” and “Redlining” and the fact the white supremacy was and remains a national issue. This is not something that just happens in the southern states. This is not something that can be fixed without changing the entire structure. 

Jim Crow and Jim Crow Laws

I think this short video about Jim Crow and Jim Crow Laws will also help give you some context on race relations in America after the the American Civil War. 

After watching Kimberly’s video over the weekend my initial response was to learn more about Greenwood and Rosewood. I’ve been feeling a bit burnt out on reading, so I decided to look for videos from reputable sources to learn from. Which quickly led me to the “Red Summer of 1919”.

Here’s an overview of  the “Red Summer of 1919”, get more detailed information from here

Red Summer of 1919

  • 1919 approximately 380,000 Black veterans returned to the U.S. from the first World War. 
  • Some of those soldiers returned more willing to stand up against segregation and brutality. 
  • A federal agent reported, “One of the principal elements causing concern is the returned negro soldier who is not readily fitting back into his prior status of pre-war times.”
  • This is during the time of the “Great Migration”. By the end of 1919, about 1 million African Americans had traded segregation in the south for northern cities.
  • Between April and November of 1919, there were approximately 25 riots and instances of mob violence and 97 recorded lynchings.
  • Along with the three day long massacre in Elaine, Arkansas during which over 200 black men, women, and children were killed after black sharecroppers tried to organize for better working conditions.

1919 Elaine Massacre: 

237 Black men, women, and children were hunted down and killed because Black sharecroppers tried to unionize. 

Ocoee Massacre:

I learned about the Ocoee Massacre after I’d already hit my wall of breaking these events down into bite-sized digestible chunks. However, it’s monumental to the timeline and shows that Black voter suppression has happened since the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870.  The 15th Amendment stated that voting rights could not be “denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

On November 2, 1920, the day of the U.S. presidential election a white mob attacked the African-American residents in Ocoee, Florida, a town near Orlando. As many as 70 Black people were murdered, and most African-American-owned buildings and residences in northern Ocoee were burned to the ground. All of the Black citizens living in Ocoee were killed or driven out. Ocoee essentially became an all-white town until the 1970’s. The Ocoee Massacre is remembered as the “single bloodiest day in modern American political history”.

“By 1920, African-Americans, despite Jim Crow, were beginning to accumulate property, send their kids to high school and maybe college, and gain the rudiments of success. This was disturbing the status quo. If black people can be successful, get a degree and start their own business, this destroys the whole premise of Jim Crow and the idea of black inferiority. American history teaches us that whenever African-Americans make advances, there’s backlash from whites. On every occasion.” – Paul Ortiz a professor of African-American history at the University of Florida and a social activist

Greenwood

Now that I’ve broken that down, we can dig into Greenwood. One of the events Kimberly mentioned in her video that I had known as “Black Wall Street” I’d heard of the Black Wall Street Attacks but hadn’t done much investigation so hearing her say Greenwood or Tulsa didn’t connect the story for me. Here’s an overview of what happened in Greenwood. Learn more here

  • May 30, 1921, a Black teenager named Dick Rowland entered an elevator at the Drexel Building operated by young white Sarah Page. 
  • Sarah Page screamed, the elevator door opened and Rowland ran out. The police were called, and the next morning Rowland was arrested.
  • A front-page story in the Tulsa Tribune that afternoon reported that police had arrested Rowland for sexually assaulting Page.
  • By evening an angry white mob gathered outside the courthouse, demanding the sheriff hand over Rowland to be lynched. 
  • Around 9 p.m. about 25 armed black men (including veterans) went to the courthouse to offer help guarding Rowland. The sheriff turned them away.
  • Just after 10 p.m. around 75 armed Black men returned to the courthouse after hearing more rumors of a lynching.  They were met by 1,500 white men, some of whom also carried weapons.
  • After a struggle a white man was shot and chaos ensued. The Black men retreated to Greenwood followed by a mob of angry white men. 

1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: 

For 18 hours groups of white Tulsans looted and burned down the homes and businesses over an area of 35 city blocks. Between 100 and 300 Black people were killed and more than 8,000 people made homeless. The incident has only been included in Oklahoma history books since 2009.

Rosewood

I was beginning to feel a pattern developing. Here is an overview on what led to the Rosewood Massacre. Please learn more about this event here

  • In the 1920’s in the segregated south, Rosewood Florida had a population of about 200 Black Citizens.

  • White citizens lived in the nearby town of Sumner.
  • January 1, 1923, in Sumner, 22-year-old Fannie Taylor was heard screaming by a neighbor and was found covered in bruises. Taylor claimed a black man had entered the house and assaulted her.
  • The incident was reported to Sheriff Robert Elias Walker and Taylor specified that she had not been raped.
  • Fannie’s husband, James Taylor gathered an angry mob of white citizens to hunt down the culprit. 
  • The white mobs prowled the area woods searching for any black man they might find.

1923 Rosewood Massacre: 

The predominantly Black town of Rosewood, Florida was entirely destroyed by a white mob. The violence ended with at least 8 deaths and the residents being driven out permanently. This story was “forgotten” until the 1980’s. 

Race & Rape

The last two events made me want to learn more about how race and rape played a major role in demonizing Black men. One of the cases during that time that made this glaringly obvious is the The Scottsboro Boys case. Here is an overview but learn more about the case here

  • In the 1930’s during the Great Depression, many unemployed Americans would search for work by hitching rides aboard freight trains.
  • On March 25, 1931 a fight broke out on a Southern Railroad freight train in Jackson County, Alabama and the police arrested nine Black teens ages 13 to 19, on a minor charge.
  • When deputies questioned two white women, Ruby Bates and Victoria Price, they accused the boys of raping them while onboard the train.
  • All nine teens were arrested and as news spread of the alleged rape an angry white mob surrounded the jail. 
  • The local sheriff called in the Alabama National Guard to prevent a lynching.
  • In the first set of trials an all-white, all-male jury quickly convicted the Scottsboro Boys and sentenced eight of them to death.
  • In November 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Powell v. Alabama that the Scottsboro defendants had been denied the right to counsel, which violated their right to due process under the 14th Amendment.
  • During the second round of trials one of the accusers, Ruby Bates, recanted her initial testimony and agreed to testify for the defense.
  • Another all-white jury convicted the first defendant, Haywood Patterson, and recommended the death penalty.
  • The sitting Judge Horton suspended the death sentence and granted Patterson a new trial. 
  • The new trial ended with a conviction and death sentence in late 1933.
  • Believe it or not this back and forth continues for years. 

1931 The Scottsboro Boys: 

Nine Black teenagers were falsely accused of raping two white women on a train near Scottsboro, Alabama.  They were tried and convicted repeatedly and given death sentences which were all overturned by the Supreme Court. But didn’t lead to them being released from prison for over a decade. 

1946 Columbia Tennessee Race Riot

The origins of this riot perfectly expose the injustices of that time. Including how Jim Crow laws, segregation and the return of Black veterans changed everything for Black Americans. 

1949 Groveland 4

The story of the Groveland Four mirrors many modern day tales of police brutality and systematic racism. Not only do the Central Park Five (Exonerated Five) come to mind, but so does George Floyd and so many others. 

1955 Emmett Till

Watching this video of the story of Emmett Till makes me think about the use of the press and media during these tragic events. Like the recent explosion of cell phone video and body cam footage being released. Emmett Till’s mother utilized the press and media to spread information about the horrors done to her son. This was the first event that activated and educated our nation about the impact of segregation. Four month later Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott gained national attention and introduced the world to the Civil Rights Movement. 

 

Lynching in America

This video about the origins of lynching culture in the United States was difficult to watch but so educational. Not only did it make me aware of the fact that photos of swinging Black bodies were used as postcards. I also learned that fingers, ears, and the genitals of lynched Black citizens were saved as souvenirs and passed on as family heirlooms.

After watching this video I questioned if the death videos and body cam footage that’s been playing on a loop at most news stations is the modern day equivalent to those postcards and souvenirs. Not only that, it explains why lynching is still not a federal crime in the United States. Just last week Kentucky Senator Rand Paul blocked the bill that would make lynching a federal crime.  Which just goes to show, history is not behind us. 

1956- 1971 COINTELPRO

I hadn’t heard of COINTELPRO until I saw the tweet below. After doing some research I found out they they were a government sanctioned version of Antifa for nearly twenty years. 

Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed after ten long years of the Civil Rights Movement. The objective of the Civil Rights Act was to make racism illegal. 

Systemic Racism

Systemic racism is a term we’re hearing a lot more of. While for some of us living our lives in these Black bodies is proof enough that it exists. For others data, stats, and examples are needed as proof. If nothing more creating this timeline of racial injustice has shown me how ingrained this behavior is within American culture. 

Some of the words that have stuck with me during my research have been; “Injustice plus time doesn’t equal justice.” “Perfection is a form of oppression.” and “Put others needs above your own fears.”

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