Black Bodies & The Criminal Justice System — Part I
Monticello is the plantation home of Thomas Jefferson, pills located near Charlottesville, treat VA, and The Whitney Plantation is located just outside of New Orleans, LA. Both have passed through several generations of owners and are now historic landmarks, and regularly receive thousands of visitors throughout the year. Although the Whitney just opened to the public last October 2014 and has yet to celebrate its first anniversary, Monticello has been receiving visitors for almost 90 years now. Both plantations tell a story that is central to the American story, in the first case the narrative of the story told glorifies the stature of a man that was one of the Founding Fathers, an author of the Declaration of Independence, the third President of the United States and a slaveholder, among other things. While the other narrative of the “American” story told, comes from the perspective of the enslaved, powerless and voiceless people who actually lived through being held as human chattel and survived. The experience one has when visiting both plantations is distinctly and qualitatively different because the stories they tell and the history they teach are dichotomously oppositional to one another. That too is the American story that we are living today.
Gaining a recognition of, and an appreciation for, how differently we see our collective history, and the legacy left to us by that history, will begin to give us an understanding as to why we live in a country that has the deepest most penetrating wounds, festering sores, and present day scars that will not begin to heal until they are confronted, acknowledged, addressed and grieved. There is a collective mourning that must take place when we consider the United States of America. The human costs in blood, sweat, pain and suffering that built this nation are immeasurable. Until we are brave enough to face our past, we cannot build a future together and will continue to be plagued by the injustice, inequity and inequality that have created our stratified and race conscious society. We will continue to have blood in the streets and disproportionate numbers of black bodies incarcerated, instead of educated, if we do not stop and truly look at our historic legacy and how it frames the society in which we live today.
The new south is littered throughout with vestiges of the old south in its battlefields, museums, monuments, parks, placards, bridges and plantations. It reminds us all of the history we, as Americans, have lived on this land called the United States of America. There are streets and buildings named after the great generals and even the battles both won and lost. The great battle we fought to save the Union is still referred to by two different names, the Civil War fought under the banner of the stars & stripes and the War of Northern Aggression fought under the battle flag of the Confederacy, the “stars & bars.” The Union Army won the war after more than 620,000 soldiers died in combat, more than any other war or military engagement that the United States or its armed forces have ever fought. And it is believed by many historians that 620,000 is an underestimation of the lives lost.
South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union upon the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana followed four months later and Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee joined them. The Confederate states formed their own government with President Jefferson Davis as their leader, in 1861, and the war began with the Confederate soldiers firing on Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
Many revisionists want to claim that the Civil War was, in fact, not fought over the institution of slavery at all, but rather “states rights.” Spinning the rationale for the Civil War in that manner is like the folks who want to claim that, “guns don’t kill people, people do,” when in point of fact, PEOPLE with guns DO kill people. The fact that the Confederate states wanted the right to own slaves, and continue the practice of chattel slavery as a part of its economy, was the major contention of the Civil War. Yes, it was “states rights”; indeed, the right to own human beings as chattel and hold them in bondage with absolute power over their lives and the lives of their offspring into perpetuity, building generational wealth for the white slave holders, and institutionalized generational poverty and disenfranchisement for the enslaved blacks.
The outcome of Civil War offered a measure of freedom to this nation’s black citizens, without education, without full rights of property ownership in land or goods, without employment. All of this was after generations of enslavement, terrorism, rape and torture. What kind of freedom was really being extended in that offering? After slavery came Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Segregation and State Sanctioned Terrorism of blacks throughout both the south and the north. Legalized discrimination in every aspect of social and political life with the Civil Rights Act not being passed until 1964. The offering of Freedom was, in fact, a blank check.
Up Next Week: Black Bodies & The Criminal Justice System- Part II