Find Anti-Racism Awareness Resources compiled by Hallie Q. Brown Community Center’s Executive Director, Jonathan Palmer, by clicking the link above or clicking here. This compilation is a living document, is by no means a comprehensive list, and will be continually updated. Do you have suggestions for articles or books to add? Use our contact form to send us your ideas.
Martha Yates Jones (left) and Pinkie Yates (right), daughters of
Rev. Jack Yates, in a decorated carriage for Juneteenth in front of a house, 1908
March 21, 2023
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown,
Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to the Dominican Republic (DR) for vacation. Unbeknownst to many people, the DR is where the Transatlantic Slave Trade started. In 1502, the first Africans imported to the Americas for enslavement were brought there. Today it is one of the most sought-after vacation destinations with thousands of visitors each year. Yet, the legacy of systemic racism can still be seen in some most initially unexpected, but actually quite obvious once thought about places in the country, along with their history and practices…just like in the United States.
While visiting, my friends and I toured one of the most popular rum distilleries in the DR as part of a larger group of visitors. It was one of the few instances my vacation was interrupted. During the tour, a film played, giving the history of the distillery and a glimpse that almost no one caught, besides myself and a couple of my friends out of all the people in the group. A glimpse of the colonialism and systemic racism that lay at the heart of the distillery’s, and the industry’s, beginnings.
I rapidly took pictures to capture the moment that interrupted my serenity on the first vacation I’d taken in 10 years. I looked around the room at the multitude of primarily white faces to see if anyone else had noticed the differences in the people in the slides. Had anyone else noticed that all of the Black men within the slides were wearing slave clothing, performing all the manual labor, were barefoot; or that all the white men were in fine outfits indicating upper class, sophistication…ownership.
Not a single acknowledgement was made by the film of the enslaved people onscreen. Sure, Slavery isn’t the most upbeat of topics, but not even a disclaimer?! Not a single soul seemed aware as they laughed and joked on their way to the next room of the tour; oblivious to the unacknowledged scenes we had just witnessed. I walked along, compartmentalizing the images I’d witnessed for later examination, not wanting to disrupt the fun of the tour. I was, after all, one of only three Black people in the tour group. A knowing eye raise and head tilt between us let me know they had seen it as well, and the blissfulness of the white tour members was not shared by all.
I have often tried to imagine what it must be like to be “blissfully white.”
To be so inured to racism that you do not notice its prevalence in every part of our daily lives; around us, by us, flung at us…to be able to detach the idealistic notion white people have of our world from the stark reality faced by those of the BIPOC communities.
What must it be like to look at urban low income communities, and see that they are primarily BIPOC communities, and not wonder why that is or how that came to be?
What must it be like to not think that any of these scenarios are relevant and to think this article is simply making a big deal out of nothing?
What must it be like to be blissfully white?
For the past several years, ever since the murder of George Floyd by (former) Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 bill, our country has been facing a racial reckoning. This means that one part of our country woke up to the realization that racism still existed and had not dissipated with the election of a Black president. More to the point was their realizing that they had unintentionally contributed to the problem or been complicit by not making themselves aware or holding their communities accountable. They set out to learn and to make earnest efforts to address the problem. These are Allies.
Yet another part of the country took offense at this notion and instead doubled down and dug in with fictional concepts such as “reverse racism,” “I don’t see color” and “All/Blue Lives Matter.” To clear up this misconception of “reverse racism,” let me clarify. Racism requires a power component that allows one group to systemically impact the lives of another, absent that component, it is just garden variety prejudice. Reverse racism, therefore, cannot exist, and is merely an attempt by those afflicted with white fragility to equate their temporary inconvenience with the generational trauma experienced by BIPOC communities.
And if you don’t see color, then you fail to recognize the historical inequities in our society that are brought on because of color. To not see color is to not see racism and turn a blind eye to injustice.
To be blissfully white is to not see the causal relationship between the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the development of the global economy.
To be blissfully white is to not see the connection between stolen land, stolen people and 264 years of unpaid forced labor and the Fortune 500 companies and multitude of wealthy white people who exist today.
To be blissfully white is to not understand that there are no white people in the Bible.
A blissfully white life is one free from self-examination and exploration of the world around. It is to have the luxury of not worrying about generational trauma brought on by 400+ years of oppression.
To be blissfully white is to not have to worry about your place in the world, because it is reflected in every aspect of the world around you.
To be blissfully white is to not worry about your hairstyle, your speech pattern, or your name because you know they will be uniformly, universally, accepted.
Our national dialogue has devoted a lot of time addressing three of the pillars of systemic racism: white fragility, white pride, and white privilege and all of the pitfalls that come with each of those. Now we must turn our attention to a fourth pillar: blissful whiteness.
Blissful whiteness carries with it the soft bigotry of obliviousness that facilitates the ignorance of systemic racism’s impact. Blissful whiteness remains such a threat because it allows false narratives to thrive. It is the quiet, unassuming racism that sneaks up and overtakes you because it is so casual. It is the racism of low resistance which allows biased systems to perpetuate and entrenched prejudice to be overlooked, becoming further ingrained into our society and national psyche.
It is the world that has been pulled over our eyes to blind us from the truth–that racism is everywhere.
Blissful whiteness is what happens when books are allowed to be banned for political gain because they teach about truth that makes people uncomfortable.
Blissful whiteness is teaching Slavery as the history of Black people, and not as the history of white people.
How, then, do we address this? How do we undo blissful whiteness? How do we undo 400+ years of systemic racism and oppression? How do we open the eyes of those unaware or casually ignorant? Can it even be done, or is this just wishful thinking?
The good news is that it can be done, and it starts with three simple things that we can all do fairly easily.
First and foremost, as a nation we need to stop hiding from it and actually accept history, fully acknowledging who was here before and what landed on these shores in 1619; thus setting in motion a system of power manipulation, marginalization and prejudice that would steal the land and relegate entire groups of people to second class citizenship (once they were allowed to be citizens). So much of the pain and anguish of the Black community comes from the intrinsic gaslighting inherent in the statement of “all men are created equal” in a country that has never embraced this. It creates a false narrative such that any failure to succeed is seen as the fault of Black people rather than the system that was never set up for their success.
Secondly, we need to honestly explore the concept of reparations and how that might be addressed versus the typical kneejerk reaction of automatic rejection. Too often, the response is “well, my family didn’t own slaves” or “we had it difficult too,” or “why should living Black people get a free handout for something that happened a long time ago.” The reality of reparations is not as simple as a “handout for Slavery,” but rather examining the wealth that would have been accumulated and passed down from generation to generation if Black people had been able to earn for the work they performed, attend schools or own property. Generational wealth is something that has allowed white families to have measures of success far beyond their Black and brown counterparts.
Lastly, and most importantly, we can undo blissful whiteness by not shying away from the truth and by rejecting the false narratives that are continually arising for political campaigns and advancement. There is no need to ban books anywhere, critical race theory has never and can never be taught in schools below the graduate level, and learning about cultures other than your own only enriches our lives and our connection to each other.
Blissful whiteness is what happens when we ignore these things. We must let go of the old systemically inequitable ways that no longer work and start embracing new systems that are more open-ended and honest. We must cast off the fabricated fairytales and fractured history we’ve been taught and instead learn the underlying truth that was buried. The moment we do this, the scales will drop from our eyes and we will begin the journey towards truly helping heal this nation and creating a world where ALL lives DO matter.
February 2, 2023
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown,
I am supposed to be writing about Black history.
I am supposed to be writing about Black History Month and Carter G. Woodson and sharing the story about how all of this got started…
But I can’t.
We are taught that those who don’t know their history are destined to repeat it. But we KNOW our history. We have known it from the moment those first 20-30 enslaved Africans stepped onto the shores of Virginia in 1619 to the moment that Tyre Nichols passed on to the next life in a hospital bed in Tennessee, the victim of a savage and unconscionable beating that resulted in his murder. We know it from even before setting foot on these shores, back to the lush and open lands of Africa up and down the Ivory Coast and across the Serengeti. We know it further back into antiquity and the first civilization in the heart of Egypt. But it has only been since we landed on these shores, brought over in bondage, subjugated in Slavery, oppressed by Jim Crow and maligned and marginalized by systemic racism for over 400 years; that though we know our history, we are being forced to repeat it.
Or rather, it is being repeated on us.
Carter G. Woodson created the concept of Negro History Week, because he felt that amidst the era of Jim Crow, there was so much oppression, so many stereotypes and misinformation being put forth to justify the segregation and malignment being visited upon Black people, that he believed that telling the truth would make a difference. He believed that sharing the accomplishments, the significance, the fortitude of Black people would not only empower us, but allow the white establishment, the white community to see how wrong they were to marginalize us.
And yet, here we sit, as “the darker brother,” still being sent to eat in the kitchen, still being beaten down for breathing, still being killed…for being Black.
100 years ago, this past month, the town of Rosewood, Florida was erased from the map as white men from all around the area took it upon themselves to administer their own brand of “law” and “justice” based on the false accusation of a white woman that a Black drifter, instead of the white man she was having an affair with, had beaten her. The “investigation” was vicious, racist white men, scouring through the community looking for this nonexistent drifter by beating and murdering, especially through lynching, any Black person who did not give them the answer they sought-the location of this fictitious assailant. No one could direct them to someone who didn’t exist; and so, not for lying or misleading, but for telling the truth that the racist white men didn’t want to hear, those Black men were murdered…lynched in the backwoods of Florida.
This was not the story that Woodson sought to tell.
Woodson had devoted his life to research, and had collected thousands of artifacts, documents, and items of cultural significance to illustrate the story of African Americans. He felt that the accomplishments and contributions of African Americans “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by the writers of history textbooks and the teachers who use them;” and racism was the natural progression of this phenomenon left unchecked. Woodson believed that knowledge and awareness were the key to combatting racial prejudice.
In 1915, Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) “‘to treat the records scientifically and to publish the findings of the world’ in order to avoid ‘the awful fate of becoming a negligible factor in the thought of the world.'” In other words, to be more than an afterthought; to be recognized, even prominent, in history. In 1916, Woodson began publication of the scholarly Journal of Negro History, renamed in 2002 to the Journal of African American History. It has never missed an issue, despite the Great Depression, loss of support from foundations, two World Wars and the rash of racial violence in the early part of the 20th century.
The summer of 1919, designated Red Summer by James Weldon Johnson, Field Secretary for the NAACP and author of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” was a particularly brutal period in which approximately 1000 people, nearly all Black, were killed in race riots instigated by white people, in over 36 cities across the United States, and one rural county in Arkansas, between May and September of that year. White supremacists, from the Klu Klux Klan members to law enforcement officers to average racist white people, attacked Black people in these cities across America. In major cities such as Chicago and Washington D.C., Black people fought back and suffered losses of life and property; however, it was the rural county around Elaine, Arkansas which saw the greatest number of casualties. As many as 856 Black people and 5 white people died in perhaps the bloodiest example of union busting and racial violence in American history, the Elaine Massacre.
The Elaine Massacre occurred because a group of about 100 Black sharecroppers were holding a union meeting to discuss securing a fair settlement from the planters for the annual cotton crop. Though they were members of an official union (Progressive Household Union), union organizing by Black people was seen as a direct challenge to the Jim Crow system and as such was often shut down through violence, if not outright murder. In this case, the local planters had spread rumors that the sharecropper’s union meeting was actually a planning meeting for a revolt whereby the union members were going to kill white people and take their land. Nevermind the fact that they were in the height of Jim Crow where looking a white person in the eye could get you killed, we are expected to believe that 100 African Americans were going to kill white landowners and somehow, successfully, take over and retain their land. Whether they believed it or not, it gave white people the justification to amass as many as a thousand armed white persons to proceed in the massacre. When the Governor sent in US troops to settle things down, many of them joined in the killing.
In the end, as things “settled down”, 285 Black men were arrested for what was termed a “revolt by the Black community”, which was put down by US troops. 122 of those Black men were charged with crimes from murder to nightriding, 12 of those men were sentenced to death by electric chair. This frightened 65 others into taking plea “bargains” of 21 years for second degree murder (despite the fact that they were merely defending themselves from union busting, murdering racists) if they were even involved in the violence at all, which many were not. Arkansas swept it under the rug, and the official account and numbers were drastically different.
It was events like these which moved Woodson to act. Two years later, in 1921, the Tulsa Race Massacre would occur, marking one of the single worst incidents of racial violence in America and the first time that bombs were dropped on American soil. Two years later would bring Rosewood. But while the 1920s were steeped with racial violence, it was also a very significant time of racial awakening and Black consciousness with the Harlem Renaissance and the founding of the Universal Negro Improvement Association led by Marcus Garvey, among other events. Pivotal movements like these, combined with the atrocities of racial violence, pushed Woodson to push even further into the community to create a lasting impact that would accomplish his goals of recognition and inspiration. And thus, in 1926, the idea was made real with the advent of “Negro History Week” designated for the second week in February, so that it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.
“Negro History Week” was a success with celebrations arising all across the country featuring parades, breakfasts, lectures and more. It continued to grow over the years and in 1970, The Black United Students and Black educators of Kent State University expanded the celebration to the whole month we celebrate now. Beginning with President Gerald Ford recognizing Black History Month in 1976, during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial, every US President since has recognized February as Black History Month. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” Following that, it has remained a fixture in American culture and society.
Carter G. Woodson envisioned a world where knowing the contributions, the accomplishments, and the endeavors of African Americans would engender our acceptance, acknowledgement and advancement. He felt that if the world could only see what we could do, that equality would win out and racial prejudice would become a thing of the past.
But what Woodson didn’t know, what I don’t think any of our great scholars knew, was just how pervasive systemic racism is and how woven into our society it has become. It is not something that just affects white people, it affects ALL people. No, I’m not talking about the silly notion of “reverse racism,” which does not exist, but rather the ignorance and misinformation, or rather “mis-education,” that has seeped into our laws, our practices, our literature, our social media, etc. It has melded in with every aspect of our society such that 5 Black officers can beat Tyre Nichols near to death and not realize how much a part of this entrenched system of oppression they are.
“The oppressor has always indoctrinated the weak with his interpretation of the crimes of the strong.”
-Carter G. Woodson, “The Mis-Education of the Negro”
I am supposed to be writing about Black History, and I guess in a sense I am. Since the advent of police as Slave Patrols in 1704, there has been a fundamental part of law enforcement devoted to the systematic oppression of Black, Indigenous and other People of Color. And it is our failure to recognize and acknowledge this that has done a disservice to good law enforcement officers working to try to change the system from within, to communities which deserve the same protection and relationship with law enforcement that affluent white communities have, to our children whom we teach to seek out law enforcement in an emergency, and most especially, to the Black and brown people who continue to get murdered by racist and indoctrinated officers who cannot tell right from wrong-the “few bad apples” who continue to “spoil the bunch” because this excuse continues to be accepted.
All law enforcement officers are not bad and/or racist. But there IS systemic racism intrinsic to our system of law enforcement and justice. If we don’t recognize that, if we don’t call it out and address it, then we are complicit in the racism that occurs and the death that it deals. We become the bad apples.
We know our history, and our history is repeating itself. We must take this time to act, not turn our back on it, not hide from it, not allow our leaders to “politic” it away lest we allow the orchard of our community to be overrun with rotten fruit. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to stand by and do nothing.
We cannot stand by.
We must not do nothing.
We must recognize that America has a long history, not just recently, but since its inception, of killing unarmed Black people, and we are well past the deadline for that to stop.
We must make a choice, together, as a nation, that justice can and must prevail; that our priority and our value has to be, that Black lives really DO matter.
Happy Black History Month!
January 16, 2023
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown,
“We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have A Dream” Aug. 28, 1963
Sixty years ago this August, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke these words on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as part of his world renowned I Have A Dream speech. We focus so often on other lines of his speech such as “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners [being] able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood”; or “not [being] judged by the color of
[our] skin but by the content of [our] character”; or most often “[singing] in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.” But I was struck by these lines particularly this year because of where we stand in the achievement of Dr. King’s Dream and the embracing of the concept of “the fierce urgency of now.”
Dr. King was always so precise with his words, framing where we had come from, calling out the truth of the moment, while laying the groundwork for the future. In this speech, he goes from talking about the Emancipation Proclamation, and the commitment it made to African Americans for justice and hope, to the Dream that he envisioned of freedom and fulfillment. But in between these parts, he spoke of the promissory note that America had written to all its people–that ALL Americans would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–but had defaulted on as far as its citizens of color were concerned (the middle is always the best part). More importantly, he expressed the need to address the situation now, not later; to not wait for things to cool down or eventually change, but rather the critical need for timely action. It was firmly and directly a call to action as well as a call to account to all Americans, but most especially to white Americans and those decision makers in positions of power. “It would be fatal,” he said, “for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
And yet sixty years later, we are still trying to cash that check that was marked “insufficient funds.” We are still crying out for freedom and justice from a system which has given us neither. We are still searching for the sunlit path of racial justice and the solid rock of brotherhood. We are still trying to realize the Dream.
It is hard, so often, to look upon this country with hopeful eyes. While progress has been made, we are still fighting many of the same battles, still dealing with so many of the same struggles, and so often falling victim to the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. A small amount of progress is made and America asks if it’s enough. A solitary victory is won, and America asks if we’re done now. A few steps are climbed and America asks if we’re there yet, not realizing that the emphasis has been placed on the wrong part. The “fierce urgency of now” is about the speed at which to take action, not the speed at which to wrap things up.
More importantly, you cannot derive the solution if you don’t actually accept that you have a problem.
This, right here, is where America fails the most. Our country pretends that racial injustice is merely men in white sheets, and not being allowed to live in a neighborhood or drink from the same water fountain, and since we’ve largely, though not entirely, overcome all of those, America asks the question of how much more of this it’s going to have to deal with because it has things to do and places to go…
Ironically enough, that is the same question that the BIPOC community has been asking since well before this speech. But the problem remains. It’s not that America doesn’t know the problem, it’s that America refuses to acknowledge the problem. To admit, openly and completely, that systemic racism is a part of its founding, development and present day.
Racism is not merely a collection of things, it is a way of thinking and acting. It is a process of marginalization and indoctrination that impacts both the oppressor and the oppressed. It is a system of disenfranchisement that is self-perpetuating, and it is woven so deeply into the fabric of American life and society that when you protest racism, people think you’re protesting America…
And in a sense, we are.
All of this goes back to the core pieces of not acknowledging what racism is, and not engaging in the “fierce urgency of now.” Racism took root in America in 1492. It dug in deeper in 1619. It was flourishing by 1776. It was indistinguishable from American culture by 1861. African Americans have been enslaved longer in the history of this nation than they have been free. I used to think that racism was a virus that has spread through the host, but that implies a lack of causality and choice. Racism is an addiction; one that some are afflicted by unintentionally, even unknowingly, but that others relish and embrace. Regardless of which, it is destroying America and casually treating it at a gradual pace will never cure the problem. This is why “the fierce urgency of now,” because we are always racing to be ahead of it, before someone justifies it, dismisses it, normalizes it, allowing it to take further root.
And so, sixty years later, we still stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. But today, we are better equipped, more informed, and more committed than ever before. The time for casual approaches and gradual changes has past and America is in for a rude awakening if it thinks that any of us will be content to return to the “way things were.”
America, it is time for an intervention.
It is time to honestly and openly admit that we have not just a problem, but an addiction to racism. There have been so many opportunities to let it go, to move beyond it, to heal from it, and it is still here. It is still here because a part of America wants it, and a part doesn’t know how to give it up.
So, we must be done with half measures and the soft bigotry of complacency. We must stop the sugar coating and false equivalencies and come to terms with our addiction, recognizing the actions of the past and how they have carried forward to the present. We have to stop avoiding the truth because it “might make someone feel bad” and recognize the impact that avoidance has had the lives of BIPOC people. We have to stop ignoring the policies, practices and even laws that have made BIPOC communities by and large resource and wealth deficient; and recognize that this country, its corporations and its institutions were built upon the backs and the suffering and exploitation of Black and brown folks. We have to recognize that there is a significant problem in our justice system and its roots in the persecution and oppression of BIPOC communities. We have to stop gaslighting people of color…
In short, we have to recognize that white supremacy IS a real problem, racism is an addiction and we need a dose of the Narcan of justice to make things right.
And then we must take action. We need to have a full and fair acknowledgment of American Slavery and its impact on our country and its citizens. We must do the same with the colonization of America, the westward expansion, the annexation of land and the import labor in our history. We must recognize that at the core of each of these is white supremacy and the myth of entitlement. We must educate our young people so they understand the mistakes of the past, the addiction, so that they will learn never to repeat them. We must make our country clean and sober and insulate against it ever falling prey to that every again.
We must stop turning away from the dark cycles of our past, or we will never make it to bright phases of our future.
We must do it now.
November 23, 2022
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown,
Every year, on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans gather at homes of family, related or intentional, make holiday food favorites and settle in to an afternoon of football or games or shopping and other activities; coming together to give thanks in the tradition of our forefathers…
Well, most “Americans…”
When I was in grad school in the late 90s, I took a trip during the Thanksgiving break to Columbus, MS to enjoy the holiday with my Grandmother and Uncle Brian who lived down there, accompanied by my girlfriend at the time. My uncle had to work at the last minute and so just his girlfriend attended along with my girlfriend, myself and my grandmother.
The meal was good and there was a quaint sense of Norman Rockwell-esque spirit as we settled down for dinner and into the evening. What broke that serenity up, however, was my uncle’s girlfriend. She complained about how the local elementary school (in which her niece was enrolled) was teaching about Thanksgiving. I paused and listened intently and wondered what controversial and revelatory thing the school might have been imparting on her niece. Was the Bible Belt not as conservative as I’d been taught? She continued on, almost shaking, as she relayed her anger that the school had been teaching that the “settlers” had barely made it through the winter and that the Native Americans had saved them by teaching them to farm and by sharing a feast from the harvest with them.
I was confused. This was the same story I had learned growing up. It didn’t seem like much had changed in 20 years, even though this was the South. Then it became clear what had changed as my uncle’s girlfriend continued on to relay that she was outraged that they weren’t teaching “the truth,” which (in her mind) was “that God had provided a bounty to the Pilgrims and they had been kind enough to share it with the noble savages…”
I was at a loss for words but still tried to explain that the school’s version was correct and how it seemed unusual that the Native Americans, who had been there for centuries were unable to provide for themselves all of a sudden? But she could not hear it. So centered was she in her belief that it was unshakable no matter how many facts were put in front of her. I decided to allow the matter to lie since we would not see each other again for the foreseeable future and did not want to ruin my grandmother’s evening.
In reality, we were both wrong.
“Days of Thanksgiving” have roots going back to the early 16th century in England in both the Protestant Reformation and fall harvest. Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving were originally proposed by the Puritans to replace the remaining 27 church holidays (reduced from 95 by the 1536 reforms), including Christmas and Easter. These were days brought on by divine providence, with Days of Fasting being in response to unexpected disasters such as plagues, droughts and floods; and Days of Thanksgiving in response to special blessings such as military victories, royal births or protection of the monarch. When English colonizers landed in Virginia in 1619, it was in their charter that they were to have annual Thanksgiving prayers. What is acknowledged (though debated) as the first Thanksgiving is when Plymouth colonists shared an autumn harvest feast with the Wampanoag Indians in 1621. The feast represented the Wampanoag sharing food, which was scarce for the Pilgrims, in exchange for protection from a rival tribe. The second one was held in 1623 after a long drought that threatened the harvest. The drought was so bad that the Governor had called for a day of fasting before the celebration, which quickly became something joined with the holiday.
Prior to the American Revolution, Days of Thanksgiving were proclaimed by church (primarily up to the 1680s) and government leaders. During the Revolution, it became a tool of both sides with Royal Governors and Revolutionary Leaders both making proclamations to commemorate things their side had done. In 1789, George Washington issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation of the United States. Days of Thanksgiving were proclaimed by other presidents as well, sometimes several in a year. While the colonies would have several Thanksgiving feast over the two centuries following the first, it wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War, and thanks to a 36-year campaign by Sarah Josepha Hale, that President Lincoln would make it a permanent holiday and affix it to the final Thursday in November. President Roosevelt was actually the one who signed the bill into law in 1941 making it the 4th Thursday in November annually.
When you view the history of thanksgivings in America, it can seem not only unsettled, but fairly innocuous, almost mundane, and no explanation why this would be such an issue for Native Americans or anyone else. Ironically, this is the same battle that proponents of Critical Race Theory are having today, as they try to get people to understand how much of what we know about history is shaped by political and white supremacist agendas meant to cover over the narrative and hide the truth of what really transpired throughout our history because the reality makes white people look bad…REALLY bad.
Looking back at the events SURROUNDING the first Thanksgiving, however, presents a clearer picture of what happened and why many indigenous people take issue with the “holiday”. When the Pilgrims first arrived, the chief of the Wampanoags agreed to an informal alliance for protection from the Narragansett. An alliance that the Pilgrims were constantly testing the boundaries of over the next 50 years with Colonial land expansion, the spread of disease and the exploitation of resources on their land. Essentially, the colonizers kept pushing and pushing within the alliance until matters erupted into King Philip’s War which devastated the Wampanoag. Thanksgiving is regarded by many Native Americans as a day of mourning because it represents the incursion of English colonizers onto American soil. It is the start of what would become the genocide of the Indigenous people. Because of its originally flexible nature, it would often accompany victories over Native communities and the associated atrocities committed. It is very real and very painful.
So perhaps it is time to redefine Thanksgiving, not as a Pilgrim/Puritan holiday, not as something associated with the arrival of colonizers to this country, not as a religious proclamation, but perhaps, quite simply, as a day to just be thankful and reflect. A day in which we, as a country, are thankful for the good people and things in our lives, but also stop and reflect on those who are less fortunate and do not have the means to have the Norman Rockwell-esque Thanksgiving. A day to reflect upon the harm done by this country in the name of progress or advancement, especially against our Native brothers and sisters–NOT so that we can feel bad or regret, but to recognize our responsibility to address and correct as much as possible because we enjoy the results of those earliest transgressions.
Thanksgiving has a deep and muddled history. But it is also “low hanging fruit” when you understand the flexible nature of the original celebration and therein, the ability to change it. We can “reboot” Thanksgiving as a day that everyone can celebrate, not by focusing on the arrival of English colonizers, but by teaching schoolchildren about the importance of reflecting on blessings instead of telling tales of skewed histories that omit injustice. We can use it as a day to reflect on what our Native brothers and sisters have sacrificed in the name of establishing this country. But most of all we can use it as a day to reflect on the tragedies visited on the Native people and use it as a day to acknowledge them and the struggles they endured.
And maybe, I don’t know, just maybe, take a step towards healing in our nation.
It is right.
It is just.
And Lord knows, it is time.
November 7, 2022
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown,
Unless you have been hiding under a rock or living on a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away, you know that tomorrow is Election Day, a day devoted to citizenship and civic duty where we exercise our right, as Americans, to elect our various officials and representatives. And if you are to believe the ads, it is the MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION OF ALL TIME!!!!
That’s four exclamation points, so you know this is serious. And while much of what is said in campaign ads is hyperbole, it doesn’t mean this isn’t true.
Now, as a nonprofit organization, we must remain nonpartisan, we cannot support a specific political party or candidate. What we can do is advocate on behalf of issues, values and platforms when they are centered around the common good, and the needs of our society.
Admittedly, it can be difficult to see that nonpartisan expression when any one particular group is so in opposition to the basic needs and rights of people, but I will leave that to you, the reader, to judge.
What I can say is that in the last six years, I have seen more energy put into defending the undefendable and excusing the inexcusable than empowering the unempowered and representing the underrepresented.
That’s not right.
Now, I am not so naive as to believe that politics is simple or that a group of wealthy white men in a room writing “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” while owning people, and marginalizing women were paragons of virtue and truth; but they did have the right core ideas, they did believe in representative government, separation of church and state, individual liberty and so forth. They just hadn’t taken things far enough to include everyone.
Yet today, we have fallen behind those first Founding Fathers because instead of just leaving groups out as they did, we have active efforts to exclude those who are the most marginalized in our society by those who are supposed to be leading our country; and people on both sides of the aisle voting from a place of fear, not choice.
Fear of losing “their country.”
Fear of election fraud.
Fear of crime.
Fear of losing their rights.
Fear of Black and brown people…
Now fear, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, it can engender caution when necessary and your flight or fight response when needed. But it’s what you do with that fear that makes a difference; how you reflect on it or harness it, or in the worst case scenario, how you manipulate it.
And that’s what many of our elected officials have been doing of late, manipulating it because of their greatest fear: fear of losing power.
That, in and of itself, is the greatest failure of democracy on either side of the aisle: when the desire, or worse still, the need to retain power overrides the necessity to wield power responsibly and appropriately.
That is where we are today.
And when that happens, people get tired, they get disillusioned, they get lost. So lost they forget what it is they stand for, what they believe in, what’s right.
They forget what it means to vote.
A vote is the singular most powerful tool afforded to every citizen in this country. It holds the power to change laws, elected officials and society as a whole. It has power in both numbers and on the individual level. But with this great power, comes great responsibility.
As we have been entrusted with this power, we are charged to use it responsibly; to not vote out of fear, but out of intention and belief. Democracy isn’t about running AWAY from something, it’s about running TO something: a better world.
That is why so many people fought for the right to vote, why women were willing to sacrifice so much for the Suffrage movement, why it was a center point of the Civil Rights movement, why some people even died in the name of it. Democracy isn’t easy, it’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard; that’s what makes it great. If it was easy, every country would do it.
But more than that, democracy is advanced citizenship, it is about working toward the common good, empowering everyone, and being able to agree to disagree. It is about making room for someone with beliefs so opposite of yours that you can acknowledge them, even if you don’t accept or agree with them without having to resort to violence.
The people who attempted the insurrection on January 6th forgot that part.
They forgot that democracy isn’t Burger King, it’s not about having it “your way,” but rather it’s about being fair, it’s about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few…or the one. It’s about the power of your voice to exercise your voice.
So when you get up in the morning tomorrow and you’re considering whether to “waste your time going to vote,” I want you to remember what you’re fighting for, what hangs in the balance, and why your voice is crucial. Until ALL of our elected officials do the job they are entrusted to do, it is up to you, the citizenry, to ensure there are enough of the right people in office and at the decision-making levels to ensure that a misguided mob or a narcissistic politician don’t destroy our country.
The power rests in your hands, Minnesota. Tomorrow, go out and use it to make a difference.
So that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth.”
June 19-20, 2022
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown,
This holiday weekend marks Juneteenth, a pivotal day in history that has been celebrated for 157 years. Beginning with the earliest celebrations centering around the Black church, Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day and more, has historically been observed to mark the day in which African Americans in Galveston, TX were informed of their freedom via General Order No. 3, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and approximately two and a half months after the end of the Civil War. The day is often marked by music, food, dance and other festive traditions of Black culture.
While it has been celebrated for a long time, just like the idea of African Americans being free, it has taken a little while to “catch on” or be celebrated outside of the Black community, especially on official levels. Case in point, it wasn’t until this very year that all of the states in America recognized it as a holiday. Texas was the first to do so back in 1980; then it was slow going such that by 2002, the count was only up to eight states recognizing it; but by 2006 an additional seven states had joined and by 2008, approximately half the states recognized it officially. By 2021, 47 states had recognized Juneteenth formally with several of them designating it as a paid holiday. North Dakota and Hawaii did so in April and June respectively. South Dakota, which had failed (twice) to pass legislatation to this effect, finally did so this past February becoming the last state to officially recognize the holiday.
There’s a difference, however, in being “recognized” and being validated. And unfortunately, in America validation often comes with a price tag. Despite it being recognized in all 50 states, it is a legal holiday in only 18 of them. While the bill signed into law affects the federal designation, each state has to individually pass legislation to recognize it and fund it for it to be considered a legal paid holiday. To date, only 18 have done so (Minnesota, however, is not one of those states), allowing the local government as well as companies and organizations in the remaining 32 to decide at their discretion, whether this holiday is important enough to merit financial investment.
The devil, as always, is in the details.
Here in Minnesota, in the House of Representatives, legislation was introduced in March this year and has had its second reading with no action beyond that. Its companion bill in the Senate has been referred to the Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee. The Minnesota State Legislature adjourned on May 22nd without further action, leaving the future uncertain. Five companies–Target, Ameriprise Financial, Best Buy, Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank–observe Juneteenth as a paid holiday; several other companies such as Thrivent, Medtronic, UNFI and Land O’Lakes don’t offer it as a paid day off, but allow employees to use floating holidays or PTO to take the time off; and some companies like General Mills and Life Time Fitness who don’t provide the day off, have events to recognize the day. Hallie Q. Brown Community Center recognized it as an official holiday in 2020, one year before it was signed into law.
While the Emancipation Proclamation declared freedom for enslaved African Americans, it did not mean that Black people were actually free, as is illustrated by the very origin of Juneteenth. But even beyond that two and a half year delay in the message of freedom, some of this country still actively opposed this notion of rights and freedom for all of its citizens. After the Civil War, nine southern states modified their vagrancy laws to specifically target freed African Americans and enacted the Black Codes, establishing a series of laws and measures meant to restrict the freedoms of Black people and maintain as close a system to Slavery as possible.
Consider the insidiousness of the practices put in place. The modifications to the vagrancy laws in Southern states, said that the freed African Americans, who had no property, resources or means; who it had been illegal to educate including teaching them to read, must now find a job and housing immediately or face consequences such as fines or imprisonment. (Note, with no money to pay the fines, they would also end up incarcerated) What makes this so significant is that eight of the nine states allowed convict leasing, a practice by which the state prisons could rent out incarcerated persons for labor; and five of the states allowed them to be used for public works projects. This means that due to these laws enacted in reaction to their freedom, African Americans would often end up back at the same pre-emancipation work but with someone else being paid and the inability to escape to freedom because of imprisonment.
So now you have the former Slave owners, angry at the idea that African Americans were no longer their property, essentially holding the power to put African Americans right back into a Slavery-like system by virtue of the face that they were often the ones deciding if an African American could get a job. Former Slave owners knew that by refusing to hire them, they would often end up in prison and be rented back out to them, often at lower costs than the wages they would have had to pay and the money wouldn’t be going to African Americans which made it even better. As if that was not enough, African Americans had to sign year long employment contracts, which if they didn’t fulfill, or rather, the former Slave owner said they didn’t fulfill, they could again end up in prison and rented back out.
The Black Codes were far reaching, restricting Black persons’ right to vote, buy and lease land, own property and businesses, work in professions other than servant or farmer, move about in public, even own guns. While the Second Amendment has been radically misinterpreted by enthusiasts to justify excessive gun ownership, Black people were not amongst those enjoying this freedom. Not only did specific states enact laws to take away their guns, Mississippi and Alabama created volunteer militias specifically tasked with disarming Black people which they often did brutally. Consider that in the context of today’s debate.
So the freedom that had been granted, really wasn’t. The notion of African Americans being free, much less equal, was so appalling, so antithetical to their belief system that white Southerners were willing to do anything they could to not acknowledge it and even destroy it. What followed was the proliferation of white supremacy and domestic terrorism, both legally and when illegal, ignored, in the form of Jim Crow, lynchings, segregation, etc. The response to this was the Civil Rights movement and years of activism and legislative action to actually realize this elusive dream of freedom that has been a long time deferred. The recognition of Juneteenth as an official holiday is one of the first steps on the path to an actual acknowledgement and full and fair accounting for Slavery and its impact in America.
And so, it is with little surprise, that there is objection by white lawmakers on the most frivilous of basises to furthering this cause, citing everything from the cost of adding another state holiday to the lack of awareness of Juneteenth and its purpose. For example, in Connecticut, which did pass it as a paid holiday, only two legislators voted against it. Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco (R), and Sen. Rob Sampson (R). Mastrofrancesco, said in an interview:
“My only objection is, it’s another paid holiday.” She added that state workers now can accrue 46 paid days off a year—15 vacation days, 15 sick days, three personal days and now 13 holidays. “Nine weeks! I don’t see anyone in the private sector getting that much time off with pay,”
In another example, Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee (R), put money in his budget proposal for the holiday, but it died in the house because Sen. Joey Hensley (R) said in committee that he had asked 100 people in his district and only two of them knew what the holiday was, stating:
“I just think it’s putting the cart before the horse to make a holiday people don’t know about. We need to educate people first and then make a holiday if we need to.”
It’s hard to take Mastrofrancesco’s objection legitimately when Connecticut’s state holidays include Columbus Day, which many people are finally realizing why they shouldn’t be celebrating that, and Good Friday which is a Christian observance and a little hard to reconcile with the whole “separation of church and State” provision. It’s also interesting to note that Mastrofrancesco did not suggest replacing one of these with Juneteenth or start action to remove them from the list of holidays. With regard to Hensley, leaving aside the fact that it’s hard to believe that those 100 don’t have at least some knowledge given all the focus and attention around the signing into law last year; according to a Gallup Poll in 2021 year, most Americans DO know about Juneteenth, especially outside of political echo chambers: 72% have at least some knowledge and the more in favor of making it an official holiday than against it with the exception of white adults and seniors (55+).
Yet, there’s a simple reason for the lack of knowledge or interest that exists in certain specific sectors, communities and demographics around Juneteenth: In this country we teach about Slavery, Jim Crow and systemic racism as the history of Black people instead of the history of White people.
Let’s pause for a moment and let that sink in.
We largely learn about history involving members of BIPOC communities as an “add on”, often during select months of the year, when specialized books are pulled from shelves, dusted off and used for 30 days before being ignored for another 11 months. We talk about Slavery and Jim Crow as the experience that Black people had and not as the choices that white people made. We look at the scars, injuries and murders as the things that Black people endured instead of analzing the brutality that white people inflicted. We look at the actions of Harriet Tubman, John Brown and members of the Underground Railroad as acts of bravery, but not at the racism and corruption of the white people making the laws, knowing they were immoral, unethical and inhuman.
America looks at history, both domestically and abroad, subjectively wherein we can condemn other nations like Germany, South Africa and Russia for the actions, but see our own failings through the lens of “Oops“, “We didn’t mean to” and “That was the past.” And that lack of ability to look objectively at our country, to fully acknowledge the wrongs of the past and their continuing impact in the future, to fix as a part of our history, our failure to live up to our ideals and continue that with taking the lessons from them and committing to do better is why we remain stuck in debates about whether or not a holiday should be celebrated, much less if a people shold be free.
Juneteenth isn’t just a Black holiday and isn’t merely about Black people celebrating their freedom, Juneteenth is about the ending of an unjust institution, sanctified by our government that brutalized, demoralized and marginalized a segment of our citizenry; it is about our country taking a huge leap forward in the acknowledgement of the inhumane practices and denial of inalienable rights to a part of our country. It is a celebration of America learning to be our better selves.
And it should be celebrated, by everybody, and made into a legal holiday in all 50 states. It represents an opportunity to come together as one country and heal from the past. Celebrate this moment in time where America stood up, as a country, for what’s right and said in a single voice (or at least in a majority one) that we would no longer languish in the quick sands of racial injustice but rather would lift ourselves up onto the solid rock of brotherhood, that we would shake the foundations of our nation until “until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.“
Juneteenth is an AMERICAN holiday that should be celebrated by every American because it signifies our recognition, as a country, as the UNITED States, that American Slavery was wrong and unjust and as a people, we will never allow that to happen, and we will make right the wrong that has been done to our BIPOC communities so that we can move forward, together, as these UNITED States of America.
May 25, 2022
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown,
Two years ago, a Black man was murdered on the streets of Minneapolis. Murdered by a person who had sworn a sacred duty to protect him, a person he shouldn’t have had to fear in a place he should have been safe, his community. The issue that led to his murder at the knees of a white police officer? Buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill—and we still do not know if George Floyd was even aware it was fake.A year ago, in the midst of the trial for the man who murdered George Floyd, just 11 miles away from where he died, another Black man was murdered at the hands of another white police officer. The issue that led to his murder at the gun of a white police officer? A traffic stop, for an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. A traffic stop where a seasoned veteran allegedly mistook her gun for her Taser; a stop she would not have made had she not been training new officers…consider what she taught them. Eleven days ago, an 18 year old white man walked into a predominately Black neighborhood grocery store he had surveilled three hours from his home and intentionally opened fire while livestreaming his murderous rampage. He had picked the store because of its local Black population and his white supremacist belief in the conspiracy theory of white replacement. Even as I write this, the news is streaming in about another 18 year old man who drove an hour and a half from where he lived, after shooting his grandmother, to commit the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook, 19 children and 2 adults. It is unclear at this point whether race or racism is a factor in this latest tragedy, but the victims are still primarily children of color. I want to say our world has gone crazy. I want to say we’re living in a nightmare and it’s time to wake up. I want to say that this is not America…but I can’t. The reality is, this IS America. This is what America has become as we have continued to allow zealots, extremists and terrorists to go unchecked and run rampant while we attempt to be reasonable, to come to the table to negotiate, to continue to give the benefit of the doubt while the other side snaps the ball away at the last minute—like Lucy in the Peanuts cartoon. Hope is never a bad thing. Hope motivates us to strive harder, to reach higher and to do our very best…but it also must be tempered by reason and, when necessary, caution. We live in a country whose very foundation is built upon the massacre and colonization of Indigenous persons and their lands, along with the abduction, enslavement, r*pe, mutilation and murder of Black persons and the overall oppression of people of color and poor people. These facts are not in doubt, yet we are only just now, over 400 years later, beginning to acknowledge them. We live in a country that thinks a zygote is a fully realized and sentient human being with rights, but has yet to decide if a Black person is. We live in a country where people will fight to regulate a person’s body as a measure of being “pro-life” and then fight with the same fervor against the regulation of guns that are killing our children because their right to bear arms is more important than the right to life—after the child’s born that is… We live in a country where the notion that a theory that holds there’s a countrywide conspiracy to replace white people with Black and brown people and immigrants is considered more legitimate than the theoretical framework that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. And so it is no wonder that where we find ourselves IS America; an America built upon privilege, oppression and marginalization but held as a shining example because the dominant narrative of white people is allowed to perpetuate and proliferate. From top to bottom, our country has no sense of itself, propagating myths and fables of white victimhood in favor of retention of power and control whereas the real victims are the least among us; the brown babies in the classroom, the predominantly Black community in a grocery story; Breonna, Sandra, Daunte, George…Philando. We cannot change the past. The systemic racism which permeates our society arrived with the first foreign shoes to set foot on this soil, and led right to the murders of Breonna, Sandra, Daunte, George and Philando. Nothing we do can bring them back. But we can forge a new future, learning from their untimely deaths and not letting them die in vain. We can forge a new future by building on the legacy of George Floyd, by challenging the systems that allow these tragic events to unfold, by standing fast and unyielding and demanding the equality that is already ours by right and by truth. We can build a new legacy in this country filled with unity and the love that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us so well. We can finally realize a truly new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that ALL people are created equal.
“I do not go back to America to sit still, remain quiet, and enjoy ease and comfort. . . . I glory in the conflict, that I may hereafter exult in the victory. I know that victory is certain. I go, turning my back upon the ease, comfort, and respectability which I might maintain even here. . . Still, I will go back, for the sake of my brethren. I go to suffer with them; to toil with them; to endure insult with them; to undergo outrage with them; to lift up my voice in their behalf; to speak and write in their vindication; and struggle in their ranks for the emancipation which shall yet be achieved.”
–Frederick Douglass, Farewell To The British People, March 30, 1847
Sincerely,Jonathan Palmer Executive Director
100 Years Later: Tulsa and the History of America | Originally published June 1, 2021
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown,
It has been 100 years and we are only now, as a country, beginning to learn the truth of one of the most horrific events of racial violence in America’s history, the Tulsa Massacre.
On May 30, 1921, a 19 year-old Black shoe shiner, took a break from his stand inside a local pool hall to use the restroom. He walked from the hall to the Drexel Building which housed the only “Colored” public restroom in the segregated city of Tulsa. He tripped as he entered the open wire-caged elevator operated by Sarah Page, a 17 year-old White person, and instinctively grabbed for anything to catch himself, which happened to be Ms. Page’s arm (in some accounts he stepped on her foot). Ms. Page was startled and screamed. When the elevator opened, Mr. Rowland ran out and a clerk in a department store in the building called the police. But it was the store clerk, not Ms. Page, who assumed that Mr. Rowland tried to assault her and reported this to the police. Ms. Page refused to press charges against Mr. Rowland, and there are some sources that say they knew each other and were even involved. The clerk’s false claim, plus an inflammatory article, “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator“, and an editorial in the Tulsa Tribune are what set things in motion. The editorial, “To Lynch Negro Tonight” according to witnesses, appeared in the city version of the same edition and reported on plans of White residents to lynch Rowland that night. However, all copies of this edition have either gone missing or have the editorial section torn out.
What followed is as unprecedented as it is unknown. A half hour after the Tribune hit the streets, talk of lynching circulated the White community. Three hours after, a lynch mob of hundreds of White men headed to the courthouse where Rowland was being held. They were met by 25 Black armed WWI veterans who set up at the courthouse to protect Rowland. A group of an additional 75 veterans soon joined them, which enraged the White mob. A shot was fired, and that is when “all hell broke loose,” resulting in a firefight that left ten White men and two Black men dead, which then exploded into throngs of White men moving through the Greenwood district, setting fire to every building, shooting everyone, pillaging businesses. It was the first time that bombs were dropped on American soil as the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) dropped them from the air. As many as 300 Black residents were killed, 35 square blocks were burned to the ground, 10,000 people were left homeless, 191 businesses were destroyed, and the equivalent in today’s dollars of approximately $32M in personal and business damages were done. This was a truly major event in American history.
And yet an overwhelming number of people in our country learned about this tragedy not from history books or classes, but rather the opening scene of HBO’s acclaimed superhero drama, Watchmen last year. This scene was so intense and so incredible that the internet blew up with people searching for information and asking the question, was it real. Stop and consider that for a moment. That one of the most significant events of this country has been so buried and minimized, that a fantasy television show did more to enlighten this country in 4 minutes than history text books over the past 4 decades. Were this only the sin of omission that people refer to it as, you could simply incorporate it in lessons and highlight the necessary change. But unfortunately, it is a much more purposeful act of revisionism and suppression done intentionally to both marginalize the Black community and avoid culpability for the actions of the Tulsa Massacre. It lays precedent for other incidents and instances.
While they may have reveled in the fervor of the destruction, the Chamber of Commerce, elected officials and Sheriff very quickly realized how much of a public relations issue this was…not how horrific an act it was, but how much it would affect the city’s reputation and the impact on being considered a cosmopolitan city and the oil capitol in the US. Actions took place rather quickly, the editorial page being ripped out before the Tribune could be transferred to microfiche, the Police Chief sending officers to White photography studios to collect photos and negatives or images of the riot (they were being used to create postcards among other things), and articles report on this incident as a “riot” by the Black residents. The city and state promptly buried it, literally. In October 2020, the first mass grave was uncovered, and is set to begin examination. In addition, in 2001, the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 released its final report, revealing that the city had conspired with the White mob and recommended reparations, among other things. In 2010, a park to commemorate the victims opened and in 2020, the massacre was added to the Oklahoma school curriculum.
It took 99 years to add one of the most significant historical events in their state to their curriculum! This is more than a sin of omission: it is the absence of knowledge that places our Black and brown communities out of context in our country. The myths and the stereotypes that have fostered racial hatred and violence could largely be avoided if we had an accurate reflection of our country’s history and culpability. Black people have been stereotyped as lazy and freeloading…ever since Slavery ended and we stopped “working for free.” We have been told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and if we don’t like our neighborhood, to move, ignoring the impact that redlining has had on opportunity for homeownership and generating wealth — especially when you consider between 1934 and 1962, when the federal government issued $120B in resources for home ownership and less than 2% went to non-Whites. We have been characterized as criminals because we are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, but with no eye towards the inequitable enforcement of that law and the discrimination, maltreatment and even death we face at a disproportional rate, many times ending in fatality like George Floyd.
The solution here is really rather easy and presents minimal financial cost: record and teach history accurately. Remember and relate the experiences of Black Wall Street, Rosewood, Rondo Neighborhood and so many more across our country. Tell the stories of the people who had impact and moving our country forward from Phyllis Wheatley to Katherine Johnson to Hallie Quinn Brown, and so many others. The absence of these elements, of a full and fair accounting of Slavery and its impact has a direct causal relationship to the racial injustice of today. The White community, by and large, is unaware of how much these experiences have shaped the world and their perceptions. Truly understanding how much of this country was built on the backs of and at the expense of the lives of Black and brown people changes the dynamic and understanding of how we arrived here. Knowing this can change the conversation from adversarial to empathetic and help this country honestly begin to heal.
And in my opinion, that is one of the best things we can do.
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE TULSA MASSACRE:
One Year Later | Originally published May 25, 2021
We Must Do Better: Statement from Executive Director Jonathan Palmer | Originally published April 30, 2021
I wrote this poem on Tuesday night, 4/19/20, not knowing the verdict would come out the next day. Like most everyone, I was thrilled at the outcome, one I never expected to see in my lifetime. Our country has a long history of allowing White people in positions of power and authority to abuse, marginalize and even killed Black people and other persons of color without retribution or consequence. That has been the practice. That has been the procedure. That has been the law.
So while so many of us held hope, we’d been down this road before and the expectation of receiving some measure of justice, was not in keeping with the patterns of the past. So to receive the result we did, to see the law upheld, was incredible. We took another step closer in changing the world for the better.
And changing the world is what we now have to do. It is the charge left to us by George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Daunte Wright…I could continue on, but then that list is all this letter would be, there would be no space left to talk about the future. And the future is where we need to be because we have too many people who are stuck in the past.
Now this is not the same as knowing the past, understanding our history and how it has laid the foundation for what we’re experiencing today. We have too much of the past that has been ignored, covered or overlooked, which is a major factor in why the world is where it is today: overwhelmed with systemic racism, imbued with disparity and injustice, and chocked full of entitlement and privilege masquerading as “freedom”. Being stuck in the past is to not grow and change as you mature, to not evolve your thinking as you are presented with new information or old is proven wrong.
Derek Chauvin is a reflection of this. A person, entrusted with the authority, the public trust and the responsibility to protect and serve, but being stuck in the past, he failed this city, its residents and himself by betraying that duty and murdering a defenseless Black man. He had a fair trial and was found guilty. The system worked in this instance and anyone who cares about right, safety or truth should be elated that justice was serve –“should” being the operative word there because there are still scores of people who think he should not have been held accountable, worst still that what he did was justified. Scores of people stuck in the past.
Stop and consider that for a moment, because the issue runs deeper than the unjustified murder. Consider the preparation for the trial: barbed wire, concrete blocks, National Guard and law enforcement brought in from other states all in anticipation of the reaction to the verdict. This tells you two things: 1. The public expected Chauvin to be found not guilty; and 2. The public expected the community to riot, largely because the majority of people involved were Black and brown. This is where we find ourselves, the notion of justice is so far beyond conception that we expect the guilty to be proclaimed innocent and the innocent to be guilty. And unfortunately this is not a new thing.
It is perhaps ironic that 29 years ago today, a mostly-White Jury acquitted the 4 officers that savagely beat Rodney King, the first recognized time that the kind of abuse Black and brown people face from law enforcement was captured on video. It has taken nearly 30 years to secure a conviction of this magnitude also caught on video. Back then, I was at Morehouse College, and we marched that night in protest. A day and a half later, the police had cordoned off the Atlanta University Center, where Morehouse, Spelman and other HBCUs are located, at 8am. I was there as police stormed the campuses in full riot gear, and dropped tear gas from helicopters and shot it into dorms all as a pre-emptive measure against any “uprising” or protests”. Two very similar situations, separated by nearly three decades, with the same negative expectation on communities of color.
Yet when there was a credible threat on January 6th in the Nation’s Capitol, which they had been forewarned about, law enforcement erected the same amount of defensive measures that you find at a Taylor Swift concert.
But these incidents are merely endemic of the culture of our country. A country steeped in the notion of freedom and justice, yet denying it for people whose skin is darker than the majority. There is one recurring theme that arises through these situations, one notion that has been taught, infused and trained into our mindset: America should be afraid of Black people.
America has been taught a contradictory and dichotomous view of Black people, to fear us while simultaneously to depend on and use us. This is not because of any power we hold or any measure of action we have taken, but because we have been subjugated for over 400 years and throughout that time, the injustice inherent in our treatment, breeds a fear of retribution. The White community has been lied to and told it was necessary or else we would murder, rape and abuse them—all the things that were being done to us—in order foster this notion and prejudice. We have been the bogeymen in the story of this country, while simultaneously building and maintaining it.
Nowhere is this more clear than the relationship the Black community has with law enforcement. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than White people, yet we are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed than White people when this happens. We also make up 13% of the US population as compared to White people at 76%. But it is not restricted to law enforcement. The median net worth of White households is ten times the median net worth of Black households, the median income of Black households is less than 60% of the median income of White households. Approximately 20% of Black households live in poverty in comparison to approximately 8% of White households.
Consider that for a moment. The disparity exists in all factors across the United States, systemic racism permeates our community making a fair opportunity rarely achievable, and failure and disparity an almost certainty. It makes the American Dream a dream deferred. We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to or submissively accept the conditions and the injustices this country visits on Black and brown communities and people. Systemic racism is woven into the fabric of our society and incorporated into every aspect of our policies and laws, policies and laws designed to maintain the disparity that continues to plague our world.
We must do better.
We have to step up and do better, refuse to turn away from the awful truth that has been our hidden shame for so long. We are a racist country. But we don’t have to be. We can change and the first step on that long road is actually acknowledging the truth. Not covering it up, not spinning it, not withholding it to create a plausible narrative, but facing it head on, with humility and the recognition that our country must be held to account before it can heal.
If we do this. If we unify on this. If we refuse to compromise on truth, it will be the beginning of a better world. If we drag all of the tragic lies and covered up truths out into the open, acknowledge them and face them head on, we will be operating in an honest and open manner and a different world. A world where we choose honor, where we chose life, where we choose justice.
Together we can create a better world.
Statement on Daunte Wright and Systemic Racism | Originally published April 12, 2021
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown:
Yesterday, another Black man was killed by law enforcement officers during an encounter over a minor offense. I say another, because we haven’t even gotten halfway through the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, we haven’t arrested the killer of Breonna Taylor, we’re still recovering from the death of Philando Castile. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than White people and even though we were only 13% of the population, we accounted for 28% of the people killed by police in 2020.
I want to tell you that it’s going to be okay, that justice is coming, that the world has changed and we just need to have faith and hold on, but I can’t. I can’t do this because there is an epidemic in this country, a sickness, an addiction to killing Black people and nothing we have done so far has been able to change that. We’ve marched, we’ve protested, there’s been civil unrest, we’ve brought people across the world together, in unity, under the banner that Black lives matter, and still a Black person is shot and killed because of expired tabs.
There are many good people in law enforcement: people who care about justice, who believe in protecting and serving the community. They get up every day and put their lives at risk in order to protect and serve. I work with and respect these people, but even they know that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system where selling illegal cigarettes, passing a counterfeit $20 bill, or having expired tabs ends in a death sentence handed down by someone charged with enforcing the law, not determining it.
Daunte Wright was 20 years old and he had his whole life ahead of him. I don’t seek to canonize or vilify him, just to raise the point that regardless of anything else in his life, he did not need to die. And whether this was an accident or anger, it is still another Black man killed in the street by someone we are expected to respect, to place our trust in, to believe has our safety and wellbeing in mind. A belief that we have paid dearly for, time after time after time as the trust has been continually betrayed.
There is something profoundly wrong within our system of law enforcement and justice, and at its core is the same age-old issue that sits at the base of all our major crises, systemic racism. The same systemic racism that gave birth to the police as runaway slave catchers, that formed the Klu Klux Klan to protect White people, that developed the homeownership disparity and poverty inequities, that has led to a city where police killed Black people at 22 times the rate of White people (Minneapolis 2013-2020).
We have to end this. We have to change this. We need an intervention.
We need law enforcement to recognize this as a law enforcement problem that they need to fix rather than a community problem we need to address. We need White people to recognize systemic racism as an issue they need to own and address instead of expecting Black people to adjust and endure. We need elected officials and government to stop ratifying racist legislation and start empowering efforts that truly embody a government by the people, for the people and of the people.
And Black and brown people? We need you to stay alive while all this happens.
I am tired of marching, of waiting, or hoping for change. I’m tired of having the same old conversation. I’m tired of having to constantly prove that this really is an issue. But most of all, I’m tired of Black people getting killed by the police and White supremacists.
If Black lives really do matter, if we do believe in justice, then we’re past the time for rhetoric and well into the time for action. Now, right now, is when the world has to change. And it is up to us to make that happen.
Watch: Jonathan Palmer Joins Departments of Health, Agriculture, and Commerce | Black History Month 2021 Discussion
Watch the virtual panel here: The Black Family — Representation, Identity, & Diversity Panel Presentation.
Find a list of suggested reading on this topic here: Black History Month Observance 2021 Resources.
Hallie Q. Brown Statement on the Death of George Floyd | Originally published June 1, 2020
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown:
A week ago, our world changed. Our country witnessed the death of George Floyd. He just an average person; he wasn’t an elected official or a sports star, he wasn’t wealthy or famous, he was simply an ordinary man…a Black man. And yet, it is because he was a regular person, not a celebrity, not a multibillion dollar CEO that his death is so significant that it has led to protests and demonstrations across the country. It is because he was this average man, that his death means so much, because it shines a light on the systemic racism that permeates every facet of our society affecting anyone.
What you’re seeing in America right now is not the “rise of racism”, it is the revelation of racism. We are peeling back the bandage to reveal the gaping wound that has been covered over, but never healed nor been tended to these past 400 years. A wound seeping with the gangrene of white supremacy, infecting any healthy part of our community it comes in contact with, eroding the fabric of our society. It has pushed us towards this cataclysmic confrontation that has finally erupted, and which threatens to decimate our country as no war before has—and make no mistake, we are at war. We’re at war with white supremacy and cultivated hate; we’re at war with the soft bigotry of complacency and excuses; we’re at war with racism in its many forms as the world stands witness…and no one can afford to stand on the sidelines.
It is perhaps fitting that today marks the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, when white supremacists used the cover of a false accusation to take license to maraud through the streets of the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, more commonly known as Black Wall Street. It was the first time bombs were dropped on American soil as the Klu Klux Klan decimated the businesses and houses, leaving 10,000 people homeless and nearly 200 businesses destroyed along with the only hospital in the district. Many of those residents left Tulsa for other parts of the country including here to Saint Paul and into Hallie Q. Brown. Consider that for a moment, families fleeing the destruction of Black Wall Street found safety, security and support in the halls of Hallie Q.
That is our purpose. For 91 years, Hallie Q. Brown has served as the Lighthouse of the Community, guiding those in need to the resources, programs and services we provide to improve the quality of life in our community. As you read this, we are distributing food and emergency supplies out to families, churches and organizations across the Twin Cities metro. We are working with partners and local institutions to serve as a hub for collection and distribution of resources. If you, or someone you know, needs food or emergency supplies, connect with us and we will help you. If you would like to support this effort, connect with us to find out what is most needed, and how to donate or volunteer.
However, our effort does not, cannot, stop there. That edge of anxiety we are all feeling right now, the trepidation around what’s going to happen and will you be safe tonight, that is what much of the African American community feels all the time. That’s the legacy of systemic racism and unchecked white supremacy, and that can no longer be the status quo. It is time for our systems to change, and we are launching out next effort to do this. We will be convening a task force around policy and systems changes that have to happen, and working together with elected officials, community leaders and key stakeholders to address the injustice that is woven into our society and create lasting change.
We welcome you to join us in this effort, to be a part of making a change for all of our community that ensures justice will prevail and that we will not have any more Philando Castiles, Ahmaud Arberys or George Floyds.
It is right, it is just and Lord knows, it is time.
History Is Now: Anti-Racist Uprising | An Initiative in Partnership with Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, Minnesota Historical Society, and Minnesota African Heritage Museum and Gallery
Learn about the initiative here. Created in partnership with with Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, Minnesota Historical Society, and Minnesota African Heritage Museum and Gallery.