Media clips aside, Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s standing in the African American community remains strong and steady. It’s not just simply because his sermon snippets were taken out of context; it has much to do with America’s historical treatment of blacks.
Slavery By Another Name, a new book by the Wall Street Journal’s Douglas Blackmon documents that. The book also illustrates why sermons in black churches don’t carry the same messages as sermons in white ones. Blackmon’s book reveals that the enslavement of African Americans continued in the Deep South until the dawn of World War II.
Here’s my ebonyjet.com commentary Rev. Wright, slavery and politics in America. It was posted on the website this morning. (The painting of a slavery survivor is by my wife, artist Joyce Owens.)
Slavery By Another Name
Monday, March 31, 2008
By Monroe Anderson
Rev. Jeremiah Wright emerged from his self-imposed public exile to make a surprise appearance Friday at a Catholic Church where its audience of 1,000 black Chicagoans gave him a rousing standing ovation.
White America may find the unapologetically warm welcome the former spiritual adviser to Barack Obama received at St. Sabina Catholic Church surprising. Black America will not.
Rev. Wright has been vilified by the radical right, chastised by one white TV talk show host after the next and caricatured by white TV comedians. To them, those snappy sermon snippets that played in an endless loop on cable and network television were the words of a racist, hate-filled madman. To many black Americans, what Wright said was nothing less, in spirit, if not in law, than the truth.
"It's my country, right or wrong," for most of white America. For most of black America, we know what's right, we are also painfully aware that what's wrong needs to be seriously addressed. We'd know it even if our nation's prisons weren't disproportionately overcrowded with African American men, our failing schools weren't still separate and unequal and our unemployment rates grotesquely greater than in white America.
But, should we choose to ignore today's reality, there's always yesterday's: slavery.
No fruitful discussion of race can take place in this nation without discussing that peculiar institution and its legacy which lingers to this day. The knee-jerk retort from many white Americans is that slavery was ended nearly a century and a half ago and that neither they nor their relatives had anything to do with it. African Americans, they argue, use it as an excuse for whatever ails them and that our anger is baseless.
"This new world order of the old South called for thousands of black men to be arrested, charged with whatever, jailed and then sold to plantations, mines, railroads, mills, lumber camps and factories in the deep South."
In his "A More Perfect Union" speech, Obama pointed out that the "anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots" won't work.
An examination of our nation's real history reveals that by an evil and coordinated design, slavery went on much longer than the Emancipation Proclamation or Juneteenth Day. An historical expose by Douglas A. Blackmon reveals that it didn't end until World War II, approximately five years after Rev. Wright was born.
In his book, "Slavery by Another Name," which hit the bookstores last week, Blackmon reports on the "Age of Neoslavery" that thrived in the South until "the greatest generation" went to World War II.
In the wake of its defeat in the Civil War, the South's plantation owners, industrialists and powerful white politicians began reinstituting slavery through laws designed "to criminalize black life," Blackmon, the Atlanta bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, writes.
This new world order of the old South called for thousands of black men to be arrested, charged with whatever, jailed and then sold to plantations, mines, railroads, mills, lumber camps and factories in the deep South. Countless thousands of African Americans were arbitrarily arrested, subjected to enormous fines and charged for the costs of their own arrests. Unable to pay the jacked up debts, they were sold as forced laborers.
In other cases, southern blacks were kidnaped by southern landowners and forced into years of involuntarily labor. Elected southern officials "leased" blacks who were convicted on trumped up charges to local farmers and entrepreneurs, and dozens of national corporations–including U.S. Steel–who preferred free and abundant labor over the other kind. Unlike in the days of legal slavery, the new masters had no financial incentive to attend to the health of their free laborers so these black men were literally worked to death.
Exploiting federal regs and legal loopholes that winked and nodded at the neoslavery system, southern states prospered off the free black labor. When WWII loomed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that the neoslavery come to a screeching halt out of fear that the Japanese propaganda machine would put it to great use against America.
In "Slavery By Another Name," Blackmon points out that, as a result of this and other insidious practices, African Americans were put at a great economic disadvantage, which explains why white wealth dwarfs that of blacks to this day.
So, in one of these sermon snippets, when Rev. Wright God damns America, most blacks understood that he was speaking in an historical context–not a religious one. And, if they were honest, those who have benefitted most from the racial injustice should understand it as well.
Monroe Anderson is an award-winning journalist who penned op-ed columns for both the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. He is a regular contributor to Ebonyjet.com. Follow his blog at monroeanderson.typepad.com