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By Elliot Booker — 2 years ago
By Gregory S. Schneider June 1
The first thing white people did after Nat Turner’s violent slave insurrection in 1831 was round up more than 120 black people and kill them.
But the next thing white people did was surprising.
Hundreds of them sent petitions to the Virginia General Assembly calling for an end to slavery.
Richmond’s newspapers argued fiercely in favor of abolition. President Thomas Jefferson’s grandson pushed a plan to free slaves and help them settle in the new African nation of Liberia. Even a leader of the militia that put down Turner’s rebellion called for a gradual end to slavery.
In other words, the insurrection almost worked. More than 50 white men, women and children had died in the bloodiest slave revolt on U.S. soil. It forced Virginians to confront the evil that was at the root of their society, and it just plain scared a lot of people. Thanks to public pressure, the General Assembly considered taking radical action.
But the votes fell short. Instead, lawmakers passed harsher laws that made African Americans’ lives even worse. They also aggravated divisions that erupted, 30 years later, in the Civil War.
This year, Virginia marks the origins of slavery in the English colonies. The first captured Africans arrived at Virginia’s Point Comfort in August 1619. The debates prompted by Turner’s insurrection were “the most public, focused, and sustained discussion of slavery and emancipation that ever occurred in . . . any . . . southern state,” historian Eva Sheppard Wolf wrote.
The sword that is believed to have been carried by Nat Turner during his insurrection. (Matt Mcclain/The Washington Post)
The process laid bare how deeply conflicted white Southerners were about the topic. There were slave owners who favored abolition and abolitionists who just wanted to get rid of black people. Petitions poured out from every corner of the state — about 40, signed by more than 2,000 people
In Charles City County, between Williamsburg and Richmond, a group of Quakers sent an eloquent plea for Virginia to remember the ideals that sparked the Revolution.
Slavery was “a system repugnant to the laws of God, and subversive of the rights, and destructive of the happiness of man,” the Quakers wrote. “We, therefore, solemnly believe that some efficient system for the abolition of slavery in the Commonwealth and restoration of the African race to the inalienable rights of man is imperiously demanded by the laws of God, and inseparably connected with the best interests of the Commonwealth at large.”
In Loudoun County, a group of women wrote that they were afraid for their safety. They called for a gradual end to slavery but also the removal of all blacks from Virginia, free and enslaved. A group in Buckingham County wanted an end to slavery out of fear that blacks would soon outnumber whites.
About 30 of the petitions aimed to get all people of color out of Virginia, Root found as he researched his dissertation on the subject. But not all of them wanted to end slavery; several called for purging the state of free blacks so that enslaved workers wouldn’t be influenced by them. Root found most of the petitions in newspaper coverage and compiled them in a book titled “Sons of the Fathers.”
The sentiments were so strong and so numerous that the General Assembly appointed a select committee to consider them. Proslavery legislators fought to keep the committee from taking up the issue of abolition and, in particular, tried to stop the Quaker petition from getting a hearing.
But the House of Delegates voted 93 to 27 to refer the Quaker petition to the committee. And for two weeks in January 1832, the Virginia legislature toyed with the idea of abolishing slavery and emancipating people of African descent.
Thomas Jefferson Randolph, a delegate from Albemarle County, invoked his famous grandfather in calling for a plan to resettle freed slaves in Liberia. The third president, of course, had been shamefully contradictory on the subject. His first act as a young Virginia delegate had been to seek an end to slavery, but he later wrote in his “Notes on the State of Virginia” that blacks were an inferior race. Jefferson also wrote that blacks had been degraded by their treatment by whites. While he maintained in letters that slavery was wrong, he deferred action to future generations.
Randolph proposed letting the people of Virginia (well, the white males) vote on whether to consider abolition. His plan called for a gradual emancipation; the first slaves wouldn’t go free until 1858. But as Wolf noted in her book “Race and Liberty in the New Nation,” the emancipation would begin on July 4, a proposal that “unmistakably recalled Virginians’ attachment to the ideal of universal liberty and the glowing words of Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.
One Jeffersonian sentiment that carried power during the 1832 debates was the idea that bondage corrupted master and slave alike. Many of the calls to end slavery argued that it had weakened the work ethic among whites and that it hamstrung Virginia’s economy.
William Brodnax, a delegate from Dinwiddie County who led the militia that put down Turner’s rebellion, owned more than 100 slaves but argued to the Assembly that the institution had caused “the decay of our prosperity, and the retrograde movement of this once flourishing Commonwealth.”
Brodnax submitted a detailed plan for abolition and resettlement. He would have charged a tax of 30 cents per white person and used the proceeds to relocate 6,000 free and formerly enslaved black people from Virginia every year. He calculated that “in less than 80 years there would not be left a single slave or free negro in all Virginia.”
As racist as the Randolph and Brodnax plans were, they were benign compared with the rhetoric that flowed from the other side. The revolutionary ideals of freedom and equality that flowered in Virginia had become twisted and gnarled.
William Roane, a delegate from Hanover County and the grandson of Patrick Henry, argued that slavery was an inescapable fact of human society. “I think slavery [is] as much a correlative of liberty as cold is of heat,” he said. Or if that’s not stark enough for you: “The torch of liberty has ever burnt brightest when surrounded by the dark and filthy, yet nutritious atmosphere of slavery.”
Root said that kind of sentiment was what drew him to study the Virginia debates. “I was looking at the drift from the American founders, the drift from the Declaration,” he said. “And, in Virginia in this one moment, you had a prime chance to do something that may have staved off the Civil War.”
But this was not the founding generation of Virginia leaders. Slave owners from Tidewater held most of the power in the legislature. West of the Blue Ridge Mountains, whites were much more indifferent toward or even opposed to slavery — leading to the eventual separation of West Virginia during the Civil War.
Instead of rising to the founding principles of freedom for all, Virginia’s lawmakers stooped to a new idea of slavery as a positive good. Thomas Dew, who at the time was a professor at the College of William & Mary, wrote an essay called “Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature,” arguing that blacks and whites could never live together, that slavery was just part of human existence and that everyone was better off because of it.
Over the next 30 years, his essay became a major underpinning of the case for secession.
Ultimately, the General Assembly passed a resolution that was impotent with compromise. While it acknowledged “the great evils arising from the condition of the coloured population of this commonwealth,” it concluded that it was “inexpedient for the present, to make any legislative enactments for the abolition of slavery.”
Having come so close and failed, the legislature followed up by passing a slate of harsh restrictions on people of color, free and enslaved. They cracked down, for example, against preaching, gathering to worship and learning to read.
The outcome managed to “put Revolutionary-era dreams of a free Virginia firmly in the past,” Wolf wrote.
With that passing, of course, the way was cleared for Virginia’s role as the capital of the Confederacy.
In Southampton County, where Nat Turner carried out his rebellion, generations of residents have struggled with how to regard the bloody chapter of their history. Rick Francis, who is white and who lost several ancestors to Turner’s men, said it’s important to remember the impact of the rebellion. That gives him a sense of pride mixed with tragedy.
“Insurrection got it close, got it tight, but nobody could carry it across the finish line and end slavery,” Francis said. “We became in tune with the hardcore slave states from that point on. And we lost our opportunity to end slavery. But the insurrection got us to a point closer than we’d ever been before.”Post Views: 1,215
By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
Once numbering more than 50, 13 historically black towns in Oklahoma are struggling to survive.
African-American women wait outside a rural church while other members of their families attend a church business meeting in McIntosh County, Oklahoma, in 1939. (Smith Collection, New York Public Library/Gado/Getty Images)
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — His baby brother, barely a year old, came down with pneumonia in September 1948, when Lonnie Cato’s family still lived in the historically black community of Vernon, 70 miles south of Tulsa. The streets, even in the middle of town, were still gravel back then, but Vernon seemed to be thriving with 2,500 residents, two or three general stores and a couple of cafes, where blacks, whites and Native Americans all mingled without seeming to notice skin color. Or, at least, not caring much about it.
Everybody, including Cato’s family, was poor. But they didn’t seem to notice that, either.
“Vernon was a happy-going, barefooted, sand-between-your-toes kind of place,” Cato remembers. “Shoes was a luxury. We only wore them on Sundays when we went to church.”
The town didn’t have a doctor. And by the time Cato’s family got his little brother to a hospital in Tulsa, it was too late. The baby died. And for Cato’s father, that was the end of Vernon.
“I’m not going to raise my kids where there’s no doctor care,” he told the family. And they moved to Tulsa.
Cato was too young to notice, of course. But his family was part of a much larger trend that started after World War II and continued for several decades, a mass exodus away from small towns in general and historically black towns in particular, leaving their populations gutted. The general stores closed. The cafes vanished. Houses fell into disrepair and entire neighborhoods turned into vacant lots, old foundations overgrown by weeds.
“We have to do something or these historically black towns will die,” said Cato, now 77 years old. “And I think there’s too much history to just stand back and let that happen.”
In hindsight, World War II was the turning point, Cato said. An entire generation of young men went off to fight and even the survivors never came back to Vernon, where they would’ve spent their lives behind a plow on a cotton farm.
“I didn’t want to look a mule in the butt anymore,” an uncle told Cato after settling in Kansas City after the war.
While growing up in Tulsa, where he graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in 1959, Cato often went back to Vernon, taking a two-hour bus ride to visit grandparents and cousins. The town shrunk smaller with each visit. And by the time he came home from Vietnam, where he served in the Air Force during the early 1960s, Vernon seemed barely recognizable.
“Young people kept leaving until only the old folks were left,” he said. “And as they died off, the town was dying, too.”
With no local businesses left to collect sales taxes, one of Cato’s uncles launched the Vernon Charitable Foundation in 1973 to collect donations from people who had moved away, helping to pay for the town’s upkeep. But that source of funding dwindled as former residents died off and their children, who had no memories of town, saw no reason to contribute.
By 2005, the Vernon Charitable Foundation decided to change tactics and, instead of going after donations, go after grant money. But for that, the town needed an elected mayor, an office that had never been filled, even during the community’s heyday.
Cato had just retired from American Airlines, where he was a mechanic.
“I guess I’m going to have some time on my hands,” he told the foundation, agreeing to be a candidate. In fact, the only candidate.
He has since been re-elected three times, with McIntosh County allowing him to continue living on six acres near Skiatook as long as he owns property in Vernon and is registered to vote there, Tulsa World reported. And he can point to several accomplishments, including preservation work on the old Vernon School, which is now a community center, and the town’s first-ever paved road.
Vernon, if not exactly revitalizing under Cato’s leadership, has survived. And that’s all Cato really hoped for.
“But I’m not going to be around forever,” he said. “Somebody will have to take over.”
Getting ready for bed one night last September, Cato noticed blood on his toothbrush.
“I must have damaged my gums while brushing,” he thought, and shrugged it off. But he woke up later to find blood soaking into his pillow.
A visit to the emergency room at 2 a.m. led to surgery on his mouth, which led to a diagnosis of head and neck cancer, leading eventually to surgery at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Now in remission, he still has trouble chewing and swallowing, while he has lost nearly all sense of taste.
“I’ll trade taste for life any day,” he said with a laugh. “So it’s OK. I’m doing fine.”
But the health scare has convinced him not to run for re-election again in 2020, leaving Vernon – with a current population of exactly 37 people – to look for a new mayor.
Oklahoma used to have more than 50 all-black towns, established largely by freedman families who had come to Indian Territory with tribal slave owners in the early 19th century. All but 13 of those towns have vanished, and now they’re struggling to survive.
“It would be a travesty to let them die,” said Jessilyn Head, part of a husband-wife team from Oklahoma City who head up The Coltrane Group, an organization devoted to saving Oklahoma’s remaining historic black towns. “There’s too much history and heritage that would be lost forever.”
Too small and under-funded to thrive individually, the 13 towns need to work together to promote awareness and tourism, Head said. Most of the towns have at least one annual event that could attract crowds – Vernon, for example, has a Memorial Day celebration that serves as a kind of town reunion, drawing former residents from all over the country. Anyone with an interest in black history should pay a visit, too, Head said.
“But people don’t know about these towns,” she said. “That’s one thing we have to fix.”
The Coltrane Group is working with state officials to post highway signs to help travelers find historic black towns, and the group is building a new website that will promote tourism to the towns, she said.
“Slowly but surely we’re seeing interest start to grow,” she said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, maybe not even in our lifetimes, but these towns can be rebuilt and revitalized.”
Cato doesn’t have much hope for Vernon to grow. In fact, he doesn’t have any hope for that.
“It will never be any bigger,” he said. “That’s for sure.”
He’d be satisfied with mere survival.
“What’s left of this town,” he said, “should be held together so people will know how things used to be.”
By Elliot Booker — 3 years ago
The #BankBlack revolution has already began. Thousands of African Americans across the country are transferring their money to Black-owned banks that invest in urban communities and businesses. Initiated by several celebrities like Solange and rapper Killer Mike, the initiative is in response to years of police brutality, discrimination, and other racial problems that have long existed in America.
African Americans collectively have an annual buying power of almost $1 trillion dollars, and so the idea is to circulate and re-circulate Black dollars within Black communities.
If you are interested in opening an account at a Black-owned, FDIC-insured bank, here’s the complete list below according to FederalReserve.gov:
#1 – Alamerica Bank: This bank in Birmingham, Alabama provides a unique banking experience for underserved communities. Their staff of experienced bankers is committed to providing quality and personalized service, offering a full array of banking services, from deposit accounts to loans.
#2 – Commonwealth National Bank: At this bank in Mobile, Alabama, they believe that your business is unique and so your bank should be too. They offer free online banking with no minimum daily balance required, and a variety of business accounts designed to help you maximize your banking experience.
(Also see #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in Tuskegee and Montgomery, AL.)
#3 – Broadway Federal Bank: Based in Los Angeles, California, this Black-owned bank aims to serve the real estate business and financial needs in underserved urban communities. They especially aim to meet the needs of minority consumers who want to take out conventional loans.
(Also see #13 – One United Bank, which has branch locations in Compton and Los Angeles, CA.)
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (WASHINGTON, DC)
#4 – Industrial Bank: Headquarted in Washington, DC with branch locations in Oxon Hill and Forestville, MD, this bank has delivered essential banking and financial services since 1934 that have contributed greatly to the growth and development of the local Black community.
#5 – Axiom Bank: Headquartered in Central Florida with branches throughout the Jacksonville, Orlando, and Tampa areas, this federally-chartered community bank serves the financial needs of its customers through a wide range of financial products. They provide retail banking services, including checking, deposit, and money market accounts, through 20 branch locations, 19 of which are inside select Walmart Supercenters. (Note: This bank was Black-owned for many years as Urban Trust Bank, and even earlier as Metro Savings Bank. Although they are no longer Black-owned, they are a solid, growing community bank that supports urban communities.)
(Also see #13 – One United Bank, which has branch locations in Miami, FL.)
#6 – Carver State Bank: Established in 1927 in Savannah, Georgia, this Black-owned bank has has remained a financial services leader for all sectors of the Savannah community throughout its 85 years and is the only bank in the area with an outstanding Community Reinvestment Act Rating.
#7 – Citizens Trust Bank: Since their beginning in 1921, this Atlanta, GA-based bank has responded to market shifts by expanding their electronic platform while still providing the personal touch service that makes them unique to their customers. Thanks to an online #BankBlack social media campaign in July 2016, more than 8,000 new accounts were opened at their branch in just one week.
#8 – Illinois Service Federal Bank: Based in Chicago, this bank aims to be a viable, growing, community development financial services institution responding innovatively to their primarily underserved and minority constituency with superb customer service.
#9 – Seaway Bank & Trust Company: This Chicago-based community bank serves families, non-profits and businesses in diverse neighborhoods. It was established in 1965 to counter discriminatory lending practices and is now recognized as one of the nation’s largest minority-owned banks, with more than $400 million in assets and 240 employees.
(Also, see #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in Chicago, IL.)
(See #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in Kansas City, KS.)
#10 – Metro Bank: Based in Louisville, Kentucky, this Black-owned bank works to provide opportunity where before there was none – whether it is their involvement in a multi-million dollar New Markets Tax Credit project, or a start-up business loan to an entrepreneur providing a much-needed service in an underserved neighborhood.
#11 – Liberty Bank: Primarily based in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this bank has a sincere focus on service, integrity and a sincere interest in community and business development. Over the past four decades, they have also expanded to more than 18 branches in six states – including Kansas, Mississippi, Michigan, Missouri, Alabama, and Illinois.
#12 – Harbor Bank of Maryland: Opening its doors in 1982, this bank primarily serves the Baltimore metropolitan area, and offers checking, savings, time deposits, credit cards, debit card, commercial real estate, personal, home improvement, automobile, and other installment and term loans. They also have a branch in Riverdale, MD, PG County.
(Also, see #4 – Industrial Bank, which has branch locations in Oxon Hill and Forestville, MD.)
#13 – One United Bank: The first Black internet bank and the largest Black-owned bank in the country, with offices in Los Angeles, Boston and Miami. They were awarded the highest Bank Enterprise Award by the U.S. Department of Treasury for their community development lending ten times, and they are a designated Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).
#14 – First Independence Bank: Based in Detroit, this bank was established in the 1970’s to serve the financial needs of the urban community, its businesses, and its citizens. They say that no line of financial services is beyond their charter as long as they are serving the financial needs of businesses and families in the Black community.
(Also, see #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in Detroit, MI.)
(See #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in Jackson, MS.)
(See #11 – Liberty Bank, which has branch locations in St. Louis, MO.)
#15 – City National Bank: Primarily based in Newark, NJ with branch locations in Harlem and Brooklyn, NYC, this Black-owned bank plays a pivotal role in strengthening urban communities. They call themselves a forward-thinking financial institution whose mission is to build economic strength and improve the quality of life within urban communities by providing the highest quality financial services, including low-cost business loans.
(See #15 – City National Bank, which has branch locations in Harlem and Brooklyn, NY.)
#16 – Mechanics & Farmers Bank: Founded in 1907, this bank is the 2nd oldest minority-owned bank in the United States. They have branches in Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh, Greensboro, and Charlotte, and most of their deposits are recycled back into urban communities.
#17 – United Bank of Philadelphia: Based in the city of Philadelphia, this Black-owned bank says that all deposits stay right in the community in a cycle of community, inclusivity, and opportunity. They offer affordable banking services to individuals, families, small businesses, and non-profit organizations.
#18 – South Carolina Community Bank: Based in Columbia, SC, this Black-controlled bank offers a select range of high priority personalized products and services to traditionally underserved communities, including small to medium sized businesses,
#19 – Citizens Savings Bank and Trust Company: With branch locations in Nashville and Memphis, TN, this community bank provides friendly and personal service to both individuals and small businesses. They are an equal opportunity employer with 32 full-time employees, 3 convenient offices and approximately $100 million in total assets.
#20 – Tri-State Bank of Memphis: With three branch locations throughout the Memphis area, this a community bank has proudly served the urban community for over 65 years and have a history of leadership, concern and commitment.
#21 – Unity National Bank: Based in Houston, Texas, with a branch also in Missouri City, this Black-owned bank creates opportunities to help people and businesses grow and enhance the quality of life. They do that through service and services that respect their time, make banking easier and keep them financially competitive.
#22 – First State Bank: Chartered in 1919 in Danville, VA, this locally-owned and operated bank provides the personal touch to banking services. From checking and savings products to loans and other financial investments, they offer a variety of options to fit your needs.
#23 – Columbia Savings & Loan Association: Based in Milwaukee, WI, this is the oldest Black-owned financial institution in the state, and they have been serving commercial and individual accounts to urban customers since 1924. They offer checking accounts, and consumer and business loans.Post Views: 22,031