On the 400th Anniversary of the U.S. Slave Trade, How Far Have We Come?

"To be [Black] in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time." —James BaldwinLast August, deep in the East Texas woods, I sat at a table with my wife's great Aunt Cleo who had traveled hundreds of miles from the Bay area for our family's 50th reunion. A sharp, spry and still strikingly beautiful woman of 88, the former baby of the family now sat in her full glory as our matriarch. I am still not sure what triggered her sudden recollection, but there, while seated at that table, Aunt Cleo began to tell me about the last time her great-grandmother Mittie's mother, her great-great-grandmother, saw her own mother alive. Great-great-grandmother's last recollection of her mother was seeing her seated on a tree stump weeping hysterically as she was being sold to another slave owner.A few years ago, Mittie's mother's story, though painful, could have been received with some emotional and psychological distance, void of any present-day emotional touchpoints for most Americans. This is no longer the case. The tears of Mississippi children whose parents were suddenly taken away from them in an ICE round-up prove otherwise. Today, other children lay in cages, wrapped in foil blankets soiled by their own waste, placed there by a U.S. government that has admitted it cannot guarantee that these children will ever see their own parents again.August 2019 marks 400 years since 20 West Africans arrived upon these shores after being stolen from their families, never to see them again. Summer 2019 marks the 100th year since the Red Summer of 1919, a reign of white supremacist terror that actually extended from late winter to early autumn. Racial violence raged in more than three dozen American cities and one rural county resulting in hundreds of deaths. Among the more brutal was the death of Will Brown, a Black man lynched and whose corpse was fired upon hundreds of times before being cut down, tied and dragged behind an automobile before ultimately being doused with oil and set ablaze. Afterwards, bits of Brown's charred body were taken as souvenirs on the streets of Omaha, Nebraska.  Continue reading...

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