I was only a pre-school Negro boy growing up in Jim Crow-segregated St. Louis, Mo., when my sainted mother, Rosetta, gathered me close and reported, “The best school for Negroes in St. Louis is Vashon High School.” So it didn’t mean much to me.
I would not learn of the greatness of the Vashon name in ensuing decades until nearly 10 years after my arrival in Pittsburgh in 1999 — by way of St. Louis, New York City and Syracuse.
All the same, 2017 marks the 225th anniversary of the 1792 birth of seaman, veteran, war hero, prisoner of war, abolitionist, businessman and, very significantly, Pittsburgher John Bathan Vashon. Active in Pittsburgh from 1829 until the early 1850s, Mr. Vashon was one of the most accomplished Western Pennsylvanians of his day or, for that matter, any day. That he carried the status of African-American renders his achievements all the more astonishing.
Moreover, Mr. Vashon was a hero long before his arrival in Pittsburgh from Carlisle, Pa., and even before his arrival in Carlisle from the War of 1812 and from his native Norfolk, Va.
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How black Americans defy religious stereotypes—and navigate race relations in historically white, European spaces.
In the wake of this summer’s white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to create a new, ad hoc committee against racism. According to Anthea Butler, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, it is the U.S. Church’s first major effort to deal with race since 1979.
This is an appropriate moment for the Church to confront this issue. In August, The Washington Post reported that an Arlington, Virginia, priest named William Aitcheson had been arrested in the ’70s for burning crosses and threatening African American and Jewish families as a member of the Ku Klux Klan—and he never paid restitution or apologized to the victims. More broadly, the Church is increasingly experiencing divisions over politics along racial lines: In the 2016 election, 56 percent of white Catholics voted for Trump, compared to only 19 percent of Hispanic Catholics, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.
But racial struggles in the Catholic Church are not just about white versus black or white versus Hispanic. Many black Catholics have struggled over their identity in the Church, writes Matthew Cressler, an assistant professor of religious studies at the College of Charleston, in his new book, Authentically Black and Truly Catholic. In the mid-20th century, the big question was how to reconcile the universal message of a Church that claims to transcend race with evidence that it is a “white racist institution,” as activists put it.
This struggle to be “authentically black and truly Catholic” took many forms, Cressler writes. Some African Americans were attracted to the quiet formality of a traditional mass. Others found ways to incorporate African iconography into church spaces: At one “Black Unity Mass” in 1969, Chicago priests stood before an altar draped in a tiger skin and decorated with an African shield.
Cressler’s goal, he said, is to show the diversity of black religious experience in America—including upending stereotypes about what it means to be Catholic, and what it means to be black. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Emma Green: You write that Americans tend to see Catholicism as a historically white religion. How did that come to be?Matthew Cressler: When I tell people that I study black Catholics, most kind of blink their eyes and go, “What?” We assume Catholicism is European in its essence, and that black people are Protestants. But the majority of black Christians in the Western hemisphere are actually Catholic, and the majority of Catholics in the Western hemisphere and the Americas are not white.
The first black Catholics came to the Americas when the first Catholics came, in the 16th century. But you also have this explosion of black Catholic conversions as African Americans encounter white European Catholics during the Great Migration.
Green: I’m interested in the power dynamics of this encounter. What were race relations among Catholics like during and after the Great Migration?
Cressler: “Tension” is a good word. “Conflict” is a good word. African Americans come to Chicago and other dominantly Catholic cities in large numbers. Neighborhoods that were once white and Catholic become largely black and non-Catholic fairly quickly. White Catholic priests, sisters, and laypeople could leave these big churches behind. They can try to keep black migrants out of their churches—and there’s a movement to do that, where white priests are at the forefront of resistance to black migration.
But the people I focus on are these white missionaries who say, “We have to convert these non-Catholics to Catholicism and save our parishes by filling the pews with black converts.”
“What you’ve been doing is training us to be Irish Catholics and German Catholics.”
Green: After this first wave of conversions, there’s a backlash—a movement to recognize the Catholic Church as a “white, racist institution” and create authentically black communities. You almost describe it as a bid to take ownership of traditionally white spaces.
What’s behind this?
Cressler: When white missionaries are introducing Catholicism to migrants, they don’t think they’re introducing them to white Catholicism or Irish Catholicism. They think they’re introducing the one, true, universal Church that transcends race. And the majority of black converts to Catholicism—that’s how they understand it as well.
Over the course of the 1960s, with the rise of the Black Power movement, a small but growing group of black Catholic activists start to look critically at this history and say, “Well, actually, you’ve been telling us that the Catholic Church is universal. But what you’ve been doing is training us to be Irish Catholics and German Catholics.”
Green: This sets up a key identity struggle between a universalistic notion of the Catholic Church and a yearning for a distinctive black identity. How did that play out?
Cressler: This split the black Catholic community down the middle. You have a generation of African Americans who converted to Catholicism because they’re drawn to that claim to universality. And then you have a movement saying, “As black people in America, we can’t be truly Catholic unless we can be our true selves.” There’s a whole range of what that means: integrating African practices and symbols and iconography into Catholic life, or including Afro-Protestant practices like gospel music and liturgical dance.
It’s a tension that is going on in the Catholic community across racial groups in the ’60s as a result of the Second Vatican Council.
“The notion of the Black Church … has largely become equivalent to what it means to be black and religious.”
Green: I was surprised by this connection you draw between the Second Vatican Council and the rise of the Black Power movement. Explain that to me?
Cressler: During the first half of the 20th century, you get a rise in the black Catholic population by over 200 percent, and you also have a shift in the center of black Catholic populations from the coastal South to the urban North, where the seeds of the Black Power movement are planted.
Catholics, at the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, are beginning to get more leeway in terms of experimentation in ritual practice. That’s happening at the same time that ideas about what it means to be black are coming to fruition in the Black Power movemen, with people saying, “We are connected to African-descended people from across the world. What it means to be black is to be rooted in this Afro-Protestant, black-church tradition. What it means to be black is to have this distinctively black spirituality.” In the context of the Second Vatican Council, what it means to be Catholic is to integrate those things into Catholic life.
Green: You write that there are 3 million African American Catholics in the U.S., which means there are more black Catholics than members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which would probably surprise a lot of people.
I think this underscores your point that a lot of people make incorrect assumptions about what it means to be religious and black in America. Why do people tend to associate black, American Christianity with a certain type of charismatic Protestant worship?
Cressler: The majority of black people in the U.S. who are religious are, in fact, Protestant Christians. And at least in the 20th century, a majority of Catholics in the U.S. were the descendants of European immigrants, although that’s increasingly not the case in the 21st century. So the assumption has some demographic backing behind it.
But in the American popular imagination, the notion of the Black Church—capital B, capital C—has largely become equivalent to what it means to be black and religious. I’m trying to show the dynamism and diversity of black religious life, beyond the boundaries of the traditional black church.
The conflict in this is that, come the 1960s and ’70s, when black Catholics become inspired by the Black Power movement, some black Catholics actually say, “Well, to be authentically black means to be part of the black church.” Black Catholics, over the 20th century, both challenge this notion of the black church as the only way that black people are religious and also ironically reinforce the notion.
“‘Why am I going to leave? This is my Church, not yours.’”
Green: Given all of these identity struggles, why would black people stay in the Catholic Church?
Cressler: That’s the question, isn’t it? One of the people I talk about a lot in the book is Father George Clements, who was one of many black Catholic activists who was constantly asked this question. There are black sisters, black priests, and black laypeople in the ’60s and ’70s who are these rabble-rousers, trying to transform what it means to be Catholic. And they’re constantly having this thrown at them by people who object to their expression of Catholicism: “If you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?”
Clements says, “Why am I going to leave? This is my Church, not yours.”
The book is entitled Authentically Black and Truly Catholic, but the notion of authenticity is really operating on both sides of that equation—black and Catholic. What black Catholics like Father Clements would argue is that they are expressing a true and authentic mode of Catholicism. Since Augustine of Hippo, black and Catholic people have always been members of the Church, and the notion that Catholicism is a white religion is a perversion.
Their work is really a work of redemption and salvation, where they’re trying to save an institution that they see as theirs. And they see themselves as having no greater or lesser a claim on it than any other member of the Catholic community.Post Views: 555
The fundamental program and strategy of Cooperation Jackson is anchored in the vision and macro-strategy of the Jackson-Kush Plan. The Jackson-Kush Plan, as you will read later in this book, was formulated by the New Afrikan People’s Organization (NAPO) and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (MXGM) between 2004 and 2010, to advance the development of the New Afrikan Independence Movement and hasten the socialist transformation of the territories currently claimed by the United States settler-colonial state. And as noted in several articles throughout the book, Cooperation Jackson is a vehicle specifically created to advance a key component of the Jackson-Kush Plan, namely the development of the solidarity economy in Jackson, Mississippi to advance the struggle for economic democracy as a prelude towards the democratic transition to eco-socialism.
Although Cooperation Jackson is rooted in an ideological framework, vision and macro-strategy, it is not a static organization. Like any dynamic organization we do our best to center our practice on addressing the concrete conditions of our space, time and conditions and to align our theory with our practice. As such, our program and strategy are constantly adapting and evolving to address new challenges and seize new opportunities. And it will continue to do so.
The fundamental program and strategy of Cooperation Jackson is intended to accomplish four fundamental ends: 1) to place the ownership and control over the primary means of production directly in the hands of the Black working class of Jackson, 2) to build and advance the development of the ecologically regenerative forces of production in Jackson, Mississippi, 3) to democratically transform the political economy of the city of Jackson, the state of Mississippi, and the southeastern region, and 4) to advance the aims and objectives of the Jackson-Kush Plan, which are to attain self-determination for people of African descent and the radical, democratic transformation of the state of Mississippi (which we see as a prelude to the radical decolonization and transformation of the United States itself).
We define the means of production as the physical, non-human inputs that enable humans to transform the natural world to provide sustenance for themselves. The inputs in question are arable land, access to water, natural resources (wood, metals, minerals, etc.), and the tools and facilities that enable the cultivation of food and the transformation of raw materials into consumable goods and services, and the production or capturing of energy to power the tools and facilities. We also add control over processes of material exchange and energy transfer to our definition to give it greater clarity and force of meaning in line with our commitment to sustainability and environmental justice. The processes we feel are therefore necessary to control are the processes of distribution, consumption, and recycling and/or reuse. Without assuming some responsibility for these processes, we merely perpetuate the dynamics of externalization, particularly the production of pollution and the stimulation of waste from overproduction, that are inherent in the capitalist mode of production.
A population or people that does not have access to and control over these means and processes cannot be said to possess or exercise self-determination. The Black working class majority in Jackson does not have control or unquestionable ownership over any of these means or processes. Our mission is to aid the Black working class in Jackson, and the working class overall, attain them.
On the question of building the productive forces in Jackson, it should be noted that while Jackson is the largest city in the state of Mississippi, and arguably the most industrialized city in the state, it is not and never has been a major center or hub of industrial production. Like most of the Deep South, Mississippi’s development as a settler-colonial state has fundamentally been contingent upon the extraction of natural resources, such as timber for colonial and antebellum era ship building, and cash crop agriculture, such as cotton, tobacco, sugarcane, and rice, which were primarily sold as international commodities (see “Exploiting Contradictions” section below). Mississippi, like most of the South (North Carolina, Florida, and Texas being unique exceptions each in their own right), has not been able to break out of its historic position within the U.S. and world capitalist system of being a site of resource extraction and the super-exploitation of labor. One of our primary tasks is to break this structural relationship by playing a leading role in industrializing Jackson, first and foremost, then the Kush district, and eventually the entirety of Mississippi.
In many respects, we are positioning ourselves to act as a “developer”, which is normally a role that is exclusively played by the bourgeoisie, i.e. the capitalist class, or the state. We are aiming to upend this paradigm on many levels and in several strategic ways. One, we are seeking to negate the role of capital being the primary determinate of the social development of Jackson (see point below about exploiting the dynamic of uneven development within the capitalist system below), by situating this role in the hands of the working class through the agency of its own autonomous organizations and its control over the municipal state apparatus. But, we are not seeking to replicate the dynamics of “development” in the standard capitalist sense. The central dynamic in our quest to upend the old aims, norms, processes and relationships of capitalist development, which have little to no regard for the preservation of the environment and ecology, and replace them with new norms that are fixed first and foremost on repairing the damage done to our environment and ecosystems, and creating new systems that will ultimately regenerate the bounty of life on our planet, in all its diversity. This will be possible by strategically incorporating, utilizing, and innovating upon the technologies of the third and (emerging) forth waves of the industrial revolution, which enable the elimination of scarcity, but within ecological limits (see more on this point below). What we aim to do is make Jackson a hub of community production, which is anchored by 3D print manufacturing for community consumption, i.e. direct use-value consumption, and commodity production, to exchange value in consumer markets. How we plan to advance this initiative will be discussed in more detail below.
In order to democratically transform the capitalist world-economy, we have to transform the agent central to this process, the working class, into a democratic subject. This transformation starts with the self-organization of the working class itself. Although not foreign to the working class historically by any means, particularly to the Black working class in the United States (which was often left solely to its own ends for self-defense and survival), worker self-organization is not a common feature of the class at present. This is a dynamic that we must change in Jackson (and beyond).
Now, to be clear on terms, self-organization means first and foremost workers directly organizing themselves through various participatory means (unions, assemblies, etc.) primarily at their places of work or points of production, but also where they live, play, pray, and study. The point of this self-organization is for workers to make collective, democratic decisions about how, when, and to what ends their labor serves, and about how to take action collectively to determine the course of their own lives and the animus of their own actions.
We will not and cannot accomplish any of the core ends described above without stimulating the self-organization of the Black working class in Jackson on a mass scale. While Cooperation Jackson, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the broad forces aligned with the Jackson-Kush Plan have made some significant social and political advances and demonstrated our capacity to reach the masses, particularly in the electoral arena, we still haven’t stimulated the self-organization of the Black working class on a mass scale. More work, profoundly more, must be done to accomplish the main tasks in this regard, which are to elevate and strengthen the class-consciousness of the community, foster and cultivate new relationships of social solidarity amongst the working class, and co-construct and advance new social norms and values rooted in radical ecological and humanitarian principles. In effect, what we are aiming to do is develop a new transformative culture.
In order to reinforce the development of this new culture within the present confines of Mississippi and the overall capitalist world-system, we have to harness the power of the Black working class and utilize it politically to eliminate the structural barriers blocking the “legal” development of the solidarity economy within the state. One of the main things we have to eliminate are the Mississippi legal statutes that presently restrict cooperatives to farming businesses, utilities, and credit unions. We have to create a new legal framework and paradigm that will enable any form of productive endeavor to become a cooperative or solidarity enterprise.
In the Jackson context it is only through the mass self-organization of the working class, the construction of a new democratic culture, and the development of a movement from below to transform the social structures that shape and define our relations, particularly the state (i.e. government), that we can conceive of serving as a counter-hegemonic force with the capacity to democratically transform the economy. Again, we have taken some baby steps in this direction with the Mayoral election of Chokwe Lumumba in 2013 and the founding of Cooperation Jackson in 2014. But, we have a long way to get where we desire and need to be.
“Politics without economics is symbol without substance”. This old Black Nationalist adage summarizes and defines Cooperation Jackson’s relationship to the Jackson-Kush Plan and the political aims and objectives of the New Afrikan People’s Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in putting it forward. Without a sound economic program and foundation the Jackson-Kush Plan is nothing more than a decent exposition of revolutionary nationalist politics. Cooperation Jackson is the vehicle we have collectively created to insure that we do more than just espouse good rhetoric, but engage in a concrete struggle to create a democratic economy that will enable Black and other colonized, oppressed and exploited people to exercise self-determination in Mississippi (and beyond).
We have to be clear, crystal clear, that self-determination is unattainable without an economic base. And not just your standard economic base, meaning a capitalist oriented one, but a democratic one. Self-determination is not possible within the capitalist social framework, because the endless pursuit of profits that drives this system only empowers private ownership and the individual appropriation of wealth by design. The end result of this system is massive inequality and inequity. We know this from the brutality of our present experience and the nightmares of history demonstrated to us time and time again over the course of the last 500 years.
We strive to build a democratic economy because it is the surest route to equity, equality, and ecological balance. Reproducing capitalism, either in its market oriented or state-dictated forms, will only replicate the inequities and inequalities that have plagued humanity since the dawn of the agricultural revolution. We believe that the participatory, bottom-up democratic route to economic democracy and eco-socialist transformation will be best secured through the anchor of worker self-organization, the guiding structures of cooperatives and systems of mutual aid and communal solidarity, and the democratic ownership, control, and deployment of the ecologically friendly and labor liberating technologies of the forth industrial revolution.
As students of history, we have done our best to try and assimilate the hard lessons from the 19th and 20th century national liberation and socialist movements. We are clear that self-determination expressed as national sovereignty is a trap if the nation-state does not dislodge itself from the dictates of the capitalist system. Remaining within the capitalist world-system means that you have to submit to the domination and rule of capital, which will only empower the national bourgeoisie against the rest of the population contained with the nation-state edifice. However, we are just as clear that trying to impose economic democracy or socialism from above is not only very problematic as an anti-democratic endeavor, but it doesn’t dislodge capitalist social relations, it only shifts the issues of labor control and capital accumulation away from the bourgeoisie and places it in the hands of the state or party bureaucrats. We are clear that economic democracy and the transition to eco-socialism have to come from below, not from above. That workers and communities have to drive the social transformation process through their self-organization and self-management, not be subject to it. This does not mean that individuals, organizations, and political forces shouldn’t try to intervene or influence the development of the working class and our communities. We believe that we should openly and aggressively present our best ideas, programs, strategies, tactics, plans, etc. to the working class and to our communities in open forums, discussions, town halls, assemblies, etc., and debate them out in a principled democratic fashion to allow the working class and our communities to decide for themselves whether they make sense and are worth implementing and pursuing.
The following was an excerpt from the forthcoming book Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Self-Determination in Jackson, Mississippi. Jackson Rising is a chronicle of one of the most dynamic, but under-documented experiments in radical social transformation taking place in the United States. The book documents the ongoing organizing and institution building of the political forces concentrated in Jackson, Mississippi dedicated to advancing the “Jackson-Kush Plan”. These forces include the Jackson People’s Assembly, the New Afrikan People’s Organization, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Jackson Human Rights Institute and Cooperation Jackson.
The “Jackson-Kush Plan” is a strategy written by Kali Akuno and collectively developed by activists in the New Afrikan People’s Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in the mid-2000’s to advance the struggle for socialism in the United States and self-determination for people of Afrikan descent in Mississippi and the US South.
To read more Click or Copy link: http://atlantablackstar.com/2017/05/21/build-fight-program-strategy-cooperation-jackson/Post Views: 532
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