April 8 2019, 8:23 a.m.
As nationwide protests against police killings of black men began rolling across the country in 2014, federal and local law enforcement who were closely monitoring protesters’ online activities repeatedly expressed a bizarre concern: that the mostly black activists demanding an end to police violence in the U.S. might join with Islamic fundamentalist groups promoting violence abroad.
That concern was unequivocally baseless, and no evidence ever emerged to substantiate it. Still, documents obtained by the government transparency group Property of the People, which were shared exclusively with The Intercept, reveal that officials with the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence exaggerated the significance of isolated social media activity, mostly by foreign accounts, advocating for a connection between the domestic movement against police brutality and foreign terrorism.
In intelligence reports and internal communications circulated around the time of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and the 2015 Baltimore protests following the death in custody of Freddie Gray, DHS officials fretted that the Islamic State might attempt “to use the situation in Ferguson as a recruitment tool” or call on “Baltimore rioters to join them.” And in July 2016, during nationwide protests against the police killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a cabinet position, circulated a memo warning that a lone, foreign pro-Al Qaeda Facebook user sought to seize on the protests to urge “‘Black’ Americans to take up arms” and “start armed war against the US government.
A Fixation Born of Bias
These official warnings that U.S. activism against police violence might be exploited as a recruitment opportunity by violent foreign terrorist groups slightly preceded the FBI’s designation of a “Black Identity Extremist” domestic terrorism category, which essentially cast large numbers of the same black activists as potential homegrown violent extremists. As The Intercept has reported, the FBI’s “Black Identity Extremism” label, while first used in a 2017 threat assessment report, originated on the heels of the Ferguson protests, and the first individual the FBI designated as a “black identity extremist” was a young Ferguson protester the agency had entrapped. But just as there is no evidence that a “Black Identity Extremist” ideology actually exists, there is also no evidence that U.S. activists ever saw or in any way responded to sporadic social media calls to join foreign fundamentalist Islamic groups.
If anything, critics say, law enforcement’s fixation on that nonexistent connection is testimony to both their anti-black and anti-Muslim bias.
“They try to make it more scary, it’s like, ‘If we link Islam to it, and we link Muslims to it, then people will see this as a real threat, because nothing is scarier than Muslims,’” Umar Lee, a well-known St. Louis activist, who is Muslim, told The Intercept, referring to the movement for black lives that started in Ferguson. “Nothing is scarier than, ‘Hey, if the Muslims get together with these scary black dudes, then we got a real problem, so we need every resource available to stop this.’”
“They already have a massive amount of funding to do quote unquote counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, and all these other things that they do,” Lee noted, referring to well-funded domestic intelligence initiatives that have primarily targeted U.S. Muslims. “And they come up empty because the reality is that there are very few, hardly any people that are engaged in these activities.”
Civil rights advocates maintain the documents’ message is both baseless and dangerous.
“Blackness and Muslim identity have been cast as threatening since America’s founding,” said Omar Farah, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which sued the FBI and DHS to obtain more information about its surveillance of black activists. “No surprise, then, that these documents reveal near obsessive fear of their intersection.”
“It’s inflammatory,” echoed Nusrat Choudhury, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program. “Just because members of foreign organizations are calling on domestic protesters to join their movements, that does not show those people in the United States are posing any threat of violence.”
The ACLU, which together with the Center for Media Justice also sued the FBI to obtain more information about the secretive “Black Identity Extremism” label, warned that casting individuals who express legitimate grievances as “extremists” risks exposing them to police harassment and stifling a movement that is badly needed. “There are long-standing, deep, structural, racial injustices in America, and people are allowed to call on this country to do better,” Choudhury said. “They’re allowed to do it under our Constitution, and frankly we need them to do it, because that is what has always led to racial justice in America.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not respond to a request for comment from The Intercept. DHS declined to comment on the record.
Fictional Connections to International Terrorism
The documents obtained via public records requests by Property of the People supplement similar documents previously made public by CCR and the racial justice group Color of Change. The earlier set of documents includes Islamophobic press coverage shared by DHS officials during the Baltimore protests, such as a Fox News story claiming that “Muslim groups seek to co-opt Ferguson protests” and an op-ed warning that the Islamic State, “which has stunned the world for its filmed beheadings and abuse of non-Muslims, is looking to capitalize on growing racial tension in the American city by claiming there is ‘no difference between black and white’ in their society.” It also includes an FBI situation report, issued less than two weeks into the Ferguson protests, warning that “ISIS supporters are urging Ferguson protestors to embrace radical Islam and engage in further violence. They are also reportedly telling any ISIS supporters in the US to travel to Ferguson.”
“Senior federal law enforcement assessing hysterical tabloids about ISIS co-opting the Ferguson protests is foolish,” said CCR’s Farah. “It would be comical if there weren’t dangerous implications for people of color and Muslims who speak out for justice only to be met with militarized police responses.”
The new set of documents, a selection of which The Intercept is publishing with this story, includes more internal assessments and emails exchanged by federal and law enforcement officials between 2014 and 2016.
In a partially redacted document marked for “DHS internal use only,” circulated days after a grand jury in Missouri declined to indict officer Darren Wilson for Brown’s killing, officials warned that “a purported fighter with the Islamic state, posted two images earlier today regarding Ferguson calling for the protesters to swear loyalty to the Islamic State.” The document also noted that the images were “making their rounds on English-language support accounts for the Islamic State,” though it made no mention of whether anyone affiliated with the Ferguson protests actually saw or responded to them.
DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis Ferguson Protests November 20142 pages
In another redacted DHS intelligence document, released at the height of the 2015 Baltimore protests, officials warned that the account of a “presumed USPER,” a term used by intelligence officials to refer to U.S. citizens and residents, had called upon “‘indigenous peoples’ of the Americas and ‘Afro-Americans who are oppressed’ to attack ‘Anglo-American supremacists.’” The report continued: “There were multiple references to the riots in Ferguson, Missouri which was likely designed to resonate with an audience wider than [redacted name] has typically targeted. The messaging reflects
awareness of recent US media coverage of perceived racial and other issues in American society, which the group is trying to exploit.” As in the earlier case, this assessment, too, offers no indication that anyone involved with the protests actually saw the posts.
DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis Baltimore Protests May 20152 pages
In December 2015, in Minneapolis, following the police killing of Jamar Clark, DHS posted a report indicating that it was closely watching the social media accounts of a number of people, and noted that one user “expresses support for Islamic State” and another posted a photo revealing an “Islam Is Life” tattoo. DHS again reported that a “US person posted a call for Islamic State support” in July 2016, days after the police killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.
DHS Open Source Information Report December 20157 pages
DHS Open Source Information Report July 20162 pages
Shortly after that, as the deaths of Castile and Sterling were followed by deadly attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a warning based on the Facebook posts of a Bangladesh-based Al Qaeda supporter. The user called on black Americans to draw inspiration from Micah Johnson, who on July 7 had killed five police officers and injured several others at a protest against police brutality in Dallas. “Like the Dallas attacker in US, we appeal to the other negro Americans to jump into the agitation to realize their rights,” the user wrote, according to the intelligence memo. “Pick up arms, like this attacker, against the terrorist US Armed Forces. Fight for your rights.”
Office of the Director of National Intelligence July 20162 pages
The reports quickly trickled down to local law enforcement and fusion centers across the country. In a July 2016 assessment by the Greater Cincinnati Fusion Center, for instance, officials preparing for an upcoming NAACP convention in that city warned that “FTOs such as the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, have encouraged HVEs to conduct attacks within the Homeland,” the memo noted, using acronyms for Foreign Terrorist Organizations and Homegrown Violent Extremists. “These groups use social media to inspire and urge violent extremists to attack targets in the Homeland, including mass gatherings such as the NAACP convention.”
Greater Cincinnati Fusion Center Field Analysis Report July 20167 pages
That assessment listed a number of potential threats to the gathering and included references to a series of recent incidents of white supremacist violence specifically targeting African-Americans. But it also included much vaguer warnings that “ISIL” had recently “released an audio message urging its supporters to launch lone wolf attacks against military and civilian targets within the Homeland.” Theodore Sampson, a member of the fusion center and captain with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, wrote in a statement to The Intercept that the threat assessment, conducted in partnership with DHS, was “intended to support the security and public safety efforts of government agencies and private sector partners in identifying, deterring, preventing, and responding to potential threats during the convention” and that such “threat assessments are designed to look objectively at potential threats towards an event or venue without bias.”
“In 2016, foreign terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula had repeatedly called for homegrown violent extremists to conduct attack within the United States. This messaging was published in al-Qa’ida’s magazine Inspire and ISIL’s Dabiq publication and recordings sent our through the internet and radio. Additionally, these terrorist organizations and sympathizers utilized social media to encourage attacks within the Homeland,” Sampson wrote. “In this particular threat assessment, the reference to the audio message was to illustrate a recent example of the messaging encouraging lone wolf attacks towards mass gathering events and point out that homegrown violent extremist attacks were a persistent threat to mass gathering events.”
The NAACP, which last month requested that Congress hold hearings on domestic terrorism and “the ways in which Black activists are being tracked and monitored by government agencies,” could not immediately be reached for comment.
Absent from all these documents is any evidence that anyone associated with protests in the U.S. had responded to the exhortations of Islamic extremists — or that they had ever even seen those calls in the first place. Still, law enforcement’s close scrutiny of these isolated instances, even when none of them seem to have amounted to anything more substantial than social media posts, and the fact that these calls were prominently included in intelligence assessment reports, risked conflating, in the eyes of law enforcement, legitimate domestic protest with foreign terrorism.
Ryan Shapiro, Property of the People’s executive director, noted that government efforts to denigrate domestic critics by associating them with foreign enemies was an old and tested repressive tactic. “Since even before the FBI was named the FBI, U.S. intelligence agencies have preposterously targeted progressive dissent at home as tied to enemies abroad,” he told The Intercept. “Today’s obscene attempts to link Black Lives Matter to ISIS and Al Qaeda stand on the shoulders of a century of similar efforts to tar American dissent, especially in struggles for racial justice, as fronts for enemy agents.”
Shapiro also noted that the documents showed a propensity by federal law enforcement to base their “open source” intelligence-gathering on the conspiracy theories of conservative news outlets, which officials uncritically circulated during the protests. In addition to Islamophobic coverage, DHS officials shared during the Ferguson and Baltimore protests, for instance, in July 2016 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence circulated news stories, by Fox News and the U.K. tabloid Daily Mail, about a photo posted on Facebook in the aftermath of the Dallas killings that showed “a man dressed in black slashing a uniformed officer’s throat with a knife as blood spills out of the cop’s neck.” By contrast, earlier that summer, DHS officials monitoring protests in Minneapolis had also shared a story by the liberal publication AlterNet revealing that a local police union leader who had called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” had a history of racist attitudes and was connected to a “white power-linked” bike gang. In that case, however, the officer circulating the story added a comment: “This article sounds like a drummed up hit piece to me,” the officer wrote. “But it’s nonetheless interesting to see all the race-related drama in Minneapolis at the moment.”
Office of the Director of National Intelligence Press Clippings July 20167 pages
DHS Press Clippings June 20166 pages
“Homeland Security is basing terrorist intelligence assessments of Black Lives Matter on articles from Fox News and a British tabloid that literally warns of the great menace posed by Putin’s purported army of hypnotic, shapeshifting super squid,” said Shapiro, referring to DHS officials sharing a report about Islamic State members calling on black protesters to join them by the U.K.’s Daily Express, which also published a particularly outlandish story about the Russian president. “Meanwhile,” Shapiro added, “DHS and other U.S. agencies are contorting themselves to ignore clear evidence of the dire threat from the far right.”
Exposing Activists to Serious Risk
Federal officials weren’t the only ones seeking to associate domestic dissent to foreign terrorism. Starting in Ferguson, a number of elected and law enforcement officials across the country referred to protesters not only by using racist terms such as “thugs,” but also, increasingly, by calling them “terrorists,” a reference that the FBI’s “Black Identity Extremism” report only seemed to validate.
Indigenous and environmental rights activists involved in the Standing Rock protest movement were also repeatedly characterized as “terrorists.” As The Intercept reported, private security contractors hired by the oil company behind the Dakota Access pipeline referred to the peaceful protest movement born to oppose the pipeline as a “jihadist insurgency” — and routinely shared intelligence assessments with law enforcement that portrayed activists as dangerous threats.
At Standing Rock, as in Ferguson, those watching the growing protests also paid particular attention to displays of solidarity with Palestine, with private security in North Dakota, for instance, noting that “the presence of additional Palestinians in the camp, and the movement’s involvement with Islamic individuals is a dynamic that requires further examination.”
“To them, a Palestinian flag might as well be an ISIS flag,” said Lee, the Ferguson activist, referring to the baseless conflation of the Palestinian struggle with Islamic extremism.
“It wouldn’t shock me at all to see misinterpretation of symbols,
conflation of different groups, of different racial and ethnic and
political and religious backgrounds, under this vector of challenging a
Muslim boogeyman,” echoed Choudhury. “It’s absurd.”
A protester waves a Palestinian flag in solidarity with Gaza during a demonstration after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 16, 2014.
Photo: Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Choudhury, who for years has worked to expose an FBI “racial and ethnic mapping program,” noted that following the 9/11 attacks, the ACLU has obtained a number of intelligence documents that revealed the surveillance of Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian groups, premised on what she called a “totally unsubstantiated” recruitment threat from foreign Islamist groups. The ACLU, she added, also exposed intelligence training material filled with racial stereotypes about people of Arab descent and Muslims, showing the agency’s profound ignorance about the very people it was surveilling.
But while there was never any evidence that foreign extremists’ isolated appeals to U.S. activists had any effect, critics said the mere suggestion exposed those activists to serious risk.Join Our NewsletterOriginal reporting. Fearless journalism. Delivered to you.I’m in
“That is the inevitable result of the creation of such a flawed intelligence product, that it inspires fear, and that it is going to lead to federal and state and local law enforcement’s targeting of black activists based on nothing close to wrongdoing or violence,” said Choudhury. “It’s very dangerous, because it leads to this kind of targeting of human beings here in America, who are calling for equality and justice, just because there are other threats abroad.”
Lee, the St. Louis activist, said that during the Ferguson protests, online trolls and conservative commentators especially targeted him and a couple of other Muslim activists with smear campaigns and racist and Islamophobic attacks, calling them terrorists and suggesting they were affiliated with Al Qaeda. One such smear, picked up widely by right-wing blogs, accused Lee of “threatening to behead critics.”
“Some of those people were spreading rumors that I was in Ferguson recruiting for ISIS,” Lee told The Intercept, noting that even some fellow protesters, when he once joined a protest right after leaving his mosque and while still wearing a thobe, commented “Here comes ISIS.”
But Lee put the blame for smears and harassment campaigns squarely on government-sanctioned racism. He also pointed to the recent vilification of the black and Muslim Congressperson Ilhan Omar as another example of how ignorant and hate-filled campaigns are enabled by official discourse — whether by law enforcement and intelligence agencies or by lawmakers themselves. “It’s institutionalized Islamophobia,” Lee said. “It’s institutionalized crusader mentality.
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.
The research group took advantage of the tweets’ geo-codes, which is data showing where they originated from in the U.S. The team searched Twitter for racism-revealing terms and phrases that appeared in the context of tweets mentioning “Obama,” “re-elected,” or “won.”
They then sorted the tweets according to the state they were sent from, and compared the racist tweets to the total number of geocoded tweets coming from that state during the same time period, Nov. 1 to Nov. 7.
To normalize states across population levels, the team then used a location quotient-inspired measure or LQ score — an economic derivation used to analyze norms across geographical locations — to compare a state’s racist tweets to the national average of racist tweets.
So, per the team’s model, an LQ score of 1.0 indicates that the state’s proportion of racist tweets to non-racist tweets is the same as the overall national proportion. A score above 1.0 indicates that the proportion of racist tweets to non-racist tweets is higher than the national proportion. The results are seen in the map above.
The LQ score was added to the number of Ku Klux Klan organizations known to operate in the state, according to a list compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog organization that monitors hate groups. The states with the highest combined scores were considered the most racist states in the country. The process was not scientific nor can it be claimed that it gives the most accurate ranking of racism by state.
However, it offers some insight into where some of the most racist people in the United States reside.
To read more Click or Copy link below:
By Henry Louis Gates Jr. April 2, 2019
During an interview with Chris Rock for my PBS series African American Lives 2, we traced the ancestry of several well-known African Americans. When I told Rock that his great-great-grandfather Julius Caesar Tingman had served in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War — enrolling on March 7, 1865, a little more than a month after the Confederates evacuated from Charleston, S.C. — he was brought to tears. I explained that seven years later, while still a young man in his mid-20s, this same ancestor was elected to the South Carolina house of representatives as part of that state’s Reconstruction government. Rock was flabbergasted, his pride in his ancestor rivaled only by gratitude that Julius’ story had been revealed at last. “It’s sad that all this stuff was kind of buried and that I went through a whole childhood and most of my adulthood not knowing,” Rock said. “How in the world could I not know this?”
I realized then that even descendants of black heroes of Reconstruction had lost the memory of their ancestors’ heroic achievements. I have been interested in Reconstruction and its tragic aftermath since I was an undergraduate at Yale University, and I have been teaching works by black authors from the second half of the 19th century for decades. But the urgent need for a broader public conversation about the period first struck me only in that conversation with Rock.
Reconstruction, the period in American history that followed the Civil War, was an era filled with great hope and expectations, but it proved far too short to ensure a successful transition from bondage to free labor for the almost 4 million black human beings who’d been born into slavery in the U.S. During Reconstruction, the U.S. government maintained an active presence in the former Confederate states to protect the rights of the newly freed slaves and to help them, however incompletely, on the path to becoming full citizens. A little more than a decade later, the era came to an end when the contested presidential election of 1876 was resolved by trading the electoral votes of South Carolina, Louisiana and Florida for the removal of federal troops from the last Southern statehouses.
Today, many of us know precious little about what happened during those years. But, regardless of its brevity, Reconstruction remains one of the most pivotal eras in the history of race relations in American history — and probably the most misunderstood.
Reconstruction was fundamentally about who got to be an American citizen. It was in that period that the Constitution was amended to establish birthright citizenship through the 14th Amendment, which also guaranteed equality before the law regardless of race. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, barred racial discrimination in voting, thus securing the ballot for black men nationwide. As Eric Foner, the leading historian of the era, puts it, “The issues central to Reconstruction — citizenship, voting rights, terrorist violence, the relationship between economic and political democracy — continue to roil our society and politics today, making an understanding of Reconstruction even more vital.” A key lesson of Reconstruction, and of its violent, racist rollback, is, Foner continues, “that achievements thought permanent can be overturned and rights can never be taken for granted.”
Another lesson this era of our history teaches us is that, even when stripped of their rights by courts, legislatures and revised state constitutions, African Americans never surrendered to white supremacy. Resistance, too, is their legacy.
By 1877, in a climate of economic crisis, the “cost” of protecting the freedoms of African Americans became a price the American government was no longer willing to pay. The long rollback began in earnest: the period of retrenchment, voter suppression, Jim Crow segregation and quasi re-enslavement that was called by white Southerners, ironically, “Redemption.” As a worried Frederick Douglass, sensing the storm clouds gathering on the horizon, put it in a speech at the Republican National Convention on June 14, 1876: “You say you have emancipated us. You have; and I thank you for it. You say you have enfranchised us; and I thank you for it. But what is your emancipation? — What is your enfranchisement? What does it all amount to if the black man, after having been made free by the letter of your law, is unable to exercise that freedom, and, after having been freed from the slaveholder’s lash, he is to be subject to the slaveholder’s shotgun?”
What confounds me is how much longer the rollback of Reconstruction was than Reconstruction itself, how dogged was the determination of the “Redeemed South” to obliterate any trace of the gains made by freed people. In South Carolina, for example, the state university that had been integrated during Reconstruction (indeed, Harvard’s first black college graduate, Richard T. Greener, was a professor there) was swiftly shut down and reopened three years later for whites only. That color line remained in place there until 1963.
In addition to their moves to strip African Americans of their voting rights, “Redeemer” governments across the South slashed government investments in infrastructure and social programs across the board, including those for the region’s first state-funded public-school systems, a product of Reconstruction. In doing so, they re-empowered a private sphere dominated by the white planter class. A new wave of state constitutional conventions followed, starting with Mississippi in 1890. These effectively undermined the Reconstruction Amendments, especially the right of black men to vote, in each of the former Confederate states by 1908. To take just one example: whereas in Louisiana, 130,000 black men were registered to vote before the state instituted its new constitution in 1898, by 1904 that number had been reduced to 1,342.
And at what the historian Rayford W. Logan dubbed the “nadir” of American race relations—the time of political, economic, social and legal hardening around segregation — widespread violence, disenfranchisement and lynching coincided with a hardening of racist concepts of “race.”
This painfully long period following Reconstruction saw the explosion of white-supremacist ideology across an array of media and through an extraordinary variety of forms, all designed to warp the mind toward white-supremacist beliefs. Minstrelsy and racist visual imagery were weapons in the battle over the status of African Americans in postslavery America, and some continue to be manufactured to this day.
The process of dehumanization triggered a resistance movement. Among a rising generation of the black elite, this resistance was represented after 1895 through the concept of “The New Negro,” a counter to the avalanche of racist images of black people that proliferated throughout Gilded Age American society in advertisements, posters and postcards, helped along by technological innovations that enabled the cheap mass production of multicolored prints. Not surprisingly, racist images of black people — characterized by exaggerated physical features, the blackest of skin tones, the whitest of eyes and the reddest of lips — were a favorite subject of these multicolored prints during the rollback of Reconstruction and the birth of Jim Crow segregation in the 1890s
We can think of the New Negro as Black America’s first superhero, locked in combat against the white-supremacist fiction of African Americans as “Sambos,” by nature lazy, mentally inferior, licentious and, beneath the surface, lurking sexual predators. The New Negro would undergo several transformations within the race between the mid-1890s and the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, but, in its essence, it was a trope — summarized by one writer in 1928 as a continuously evolving “mythological figure” — that would be drawn upon and revised over three decades by black leaders in the country’s first social-media war: the New Negro vs. Sambo.
The concept would prove to be quite volatile. Supposedly New Negroes could be supplanted by even “newer” Negroes. For example, Booker T. Washington, the conservative, accommodationist educator, would be hailed as the first New Negro in 1895, only to be dethroned exactly a decade later on the cover of the Voice of the Negro magazine by his nemesis, W.E.B. Du Bois, the Harvard-trained historian. Du Bois had globalized his version of the New Negro in a landmark photography exhibition at the 1900 Paris Exposition and then, three years later, in his monumental work, The Souls of Black Folk, mounted a devastating attack on Washington’s philosophy of race relations as dangerously complicitous with Jim Crow segregation and, especially, black male disenfranchisement. Du Bois, a founder of the militant Niagara Movement in 1905, would co-found the NAACP in 1909. And while Douglass had already seen the potential of photography to present an authentic face of black America, and thus to counteract the onslaught of negative stereotypes pervading American society, the children of Reconstruction were the ones who picked up the torch after his death in 1895.
This new generation experimented with a range of artistic mediums to carve out a space for a New Negro who would lead the race — and the country — into the rising century, one whose racial attitudes would be more modern and cosmopolitan than those of the previous century, marred by slavery and Civil War. When D.W. Griffith released his racist Lost Cause fantasy film The Birth of a Nation in 1915, New Negro activists responded not only with protest but also with support for African American artists like the pioneering independent producer and director Oscar Micheaux, whose reels of silent films exposed the horrors of white supremacy while advancing a fuller, more humanistic take on black life.
Their pushback against Redemption took many forms. Denied the ballot box, African American women and men organized political associations, churches, schools and social clubs, both to nurture their own culture and to speak out as forcefully as they could against the suffocating oppression unfolding around them. Though brutalized by the shockingly extensive practices of lynching and rape, reinforced by terrorism and vigilante violence, they exposed the crimes and hypocrisy of white supremacy in their own newspapers and magazines, and in marches and political rallies. But no weapon was drawn upon more frequently than images of the New Negro and what the historian Evelyn Higginbotham calls “the politics of respectability.”
Assaulted by the degrading, mass-produced imagery of the Lost Cause, its romanticization of the Old South and stereotypes of “Sambo” and the “Old Negro,” they avidly counterpunched with their own images of modern women and men, which they widely disseminated in journalism, photography, literature and the arts. Drawing on the tradition of agitation epitomized by the black Reconstruction Congressmen, such as John Mercer Langston, and former abolitionists, such as the inimitable Douglass, the children of Reconstruction would lay the foundation for the civil rights revolution to come in the 20th century.
But what also seems clear to me today is that it was in that period that white-supremacist ideology, especially as it was transmuted into powerful new forms of media, poisoned the American imagination in ways that have long outlasted its origin. You might say that anti-black racism once helped fuel an economic system, and that black crude was pumped and freighted around the world. Now, more than a century and a half since the end of slavery in the U.S., it drifts like a toxic oil slick as the supertanker lists into the sea.
When Dylann Roof murdered the Reverend Clementa Pinckney and the eight other innocents in Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015, he didn’t need to have read any of this history; it had, unfortunately, long become part of our country’s cultural DNA and, it seems, imprinted on his own. It is important that we both celebrate the triumphs of African Americans following the Civil War and explain how the forces of white supremacy did their best to undermine those triumphs—then and in all the years since, through to the present.
READ MORE AT :http://time.com/5562869/reconstruction-history/
Sebastiane Ebatamehi Mon, Apr 1, 2019
The Pan-African struggle is not an individual one, it is collective, and Africa needs you.
The concept of Pan-Africanism is perhaps more popular now than it ever was. There are great Pan-African activists scattered on the continent of Africa but only a few like Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba and Kemi Seba can match the determination of the early pan-African heroes.
One thing that has contributed to this, however, is the fact that modern education and innovation has taken the minds of African youths off Pan-Africanism. So, even though it is something they have heard of, they do not believe it is a worthy cause. To them, slavery and colonialism were in the past and Africans should embrace the future.
It is even surprising that many Africans see Pan-Africanism as a cult or fraternity of some sort, how sad?
Africa is battling with unthinkable poverty and underdevelopment despite its wealth and natural resources. Our people are dying and terror is upon the land. We have a duty to fight for Africa because we do not have any other continent that we can call our own.
To achieve this, we must all put aside our individual agendas as countries in the African continent, and uphold the general agenda of African unity, development, and progress. It is only by this that we can truly succeed as individual nations and collectively as a continent.
All it takes to be pan-African is to decolonize one’s mind from western interference that tends to put us at war with ourselves and people. It is in a simple acceptance that Africa’s redemption lies in her unity and to preach this ideology to others.
The definition of Pan-Africanism is not a bogus one. Schools of thoughts are divided as to whether it is a movement or barely an idea. In all fairness, it is safe to say it is both.
Pan-Africanism is generally accepted to umbrella the ideas and policies that preach Africa as a single entity which must unite in order to experience any tangible progress. There is a fundamental similarity among people of African descent and we share the same history.
Africans everywhere all live with the horrid history of slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonialism. We have a common enemy as we have always had. In the past, it was slavery and colonialism, now it is neo-colonialism (or imperialism).
Also, the cultural and traditional similarities between African nations are proof that we share the same roots and belong together. This is perhaps the greatest credit of pan-Africanism in its proof that African peoples share a common destiny.
The struggle for Pan-Africanism is not one that involves arms or war. In fact, the intellectuals are needed more than the laborers if we are to succeed.
To be a Pan-African, you do not need to register anywhere or belong to a particular group. Although there are various political and civil Pan-African groups and movements structured for different purposes around Africa, membership in a group or movement is not needed to be a Pan –African.
What we all need to do individually is to decolonize our minds and eliminate the beliefs imprinted in us that we are different and lesser than the white man.
Africa is one and colonialism is in its worst stage than it ever was during the slave era. What we are experiencing today is neo-colonialism and as Kwame Nkrumah said in his book, this is the last stage of imperialism. Africans cannot remain slaves forever.
Where does Africa stand today? Where we created by a lesser God? Are we as they say that Africans were created to serve the white man as hewers of wood and drawers of water? Do we not have a right to own and control our resources? Are we created to be exploited? Is our continent a lab for European superpowers to test their assault and chemical weapons? Why is the West so interested in Africa’s disunity? Why can’t we be truly independent? Why must Europe and America control our economies and leaders?
In your sincere answers to the aforementioned questions, lie the true reasons why we must all be pan-Africans. Africa needs you!
What are your thoughts?
“Time For An Awakening” for Sunday 10/21/2018 at 7:00 PM (EST) our guest was Activist, Documentary Filmmaker, Jason Black. Mr. Black was back for part II of our discussion, on his third and latest project for Black Channel Films “Race War”.