“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
— George Wallace
Upon reviewing the annals of U.S. history it is interesting to note that the demise of the age old practice of racial segregation in the Old South, in the post-antebellum period, and the emergence of the fight towards racial integration through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s reached an inflection point, ostensibly, over the fight against segregation in the education system. It is also interesting to note that the current governor of the State of Florida appears to be pushing for the reemergence of racial segregation in the state, and perhaps, with diabolical intent, to have it spread across the entire nation, using the education system once again as its nexus.
All his current political manoeuvers, no doubt, are geared towards his presidential ambition, whether towards running in 2024 or four years after that, and also to fuel his patently obvious racist intrigues. But, his approach to Afro-Americans and of what he views as their appropriate place in society is more flagrant than the veiled racism of the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Melville Fuller, that touted the jurisprudential doctrine of “separate but equal”, in its infamous Plessy ruling in 1896, which it used to justify racial segregation in the South.
In the governor’s case, he has invoked and he has re-casted that decision of the court, which was overturned in 1954 in the case of Brown versus Board of Education, tweaking it to read, “separate and not equal” instead of “separate but equal”.
The governor does not seem to be concerned with the idea of, physically, separating blacks from whites in the classroom setting at the moment, as was the case in the old days, but he is now trying to separate Afro-American history, completely, from the so-called “main stream” U.S. history. In doing so he has asserted that it is erroneous and that it is detrimental to American patriotism and civic values, even if that aspect of U.S. history had managed to debunk traditions that were clearly mythical, anecdotal and propagandistic. He has also made it clear that Afro-American history is a course of study or a body of knowledge which has no value whatsoever for the American people nor for the world at large.
What the governor is trying to do is so adverse and so sinister that it backpedals pass the Plessy versus Ferguson Supreme Court ruling, which occurred after slavery, by taking Afro-Americans back down an all too familiar treacherous route into the dank dungeons of ignorance and despair when slaves were not permitted to read and write, and when the law prevented anyone from teaching them to do so. It is a threadbare attempt to aid and abet the total eradication of the history and culture of those who were kidnapped from the African continent in order to create anew or to maintain a false impression that they were a people with no past — having no place in world civilization or in the great pantheon of nations. Their centuries old mores and folkways were callously, methodically and meticulously displaced outside of their collective psyche’; their God-given honour was unceremoniously dethroned and denigrated; they were shackled and branded by oppression; and then given strange names which belied their human dignity and their pedigree. The governor is attempting to use a time machine of sorts, one that came down to him by his ancestors, unpacked from the musty odour and filthy grime of bigotry, on yet another hateful and quixotic journey towards segregation, by yet another who was not weaned off the curdled milk of its breast, taking many unsuspecting whites with him, and even some misguided people of color who managed to drink his Kool-Aid, as his passengers.
The governor, by his misuse and abuse of the law, continues along in his nefarious machinations, guided by the same delusions which led such Dixiecrats as Richard Brevard Russell, Jr., and J. Strom Thurmond to deny the rights of Afro-Americans enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and to vigorously resist all efforts to enforce them by the federal courts so as to maintain and to safeguard racial segregation in the South. But as long and as hard as they fought, despite their Southern Manifesto and their traitorous, recalcitrant, intractable and intransigent legal doctrines of “interposition” and “nullification” — they all failed. As the slave owners and the plantocracy before them tried, might and main, to prevent the slaves from experiencing the sunrise and the apogee of education — they failed. And, so will he.
Perhaps, instead of trying to prevent access to, or to deny, or to attempt to destroy Afro-American history the governor, who is reputed to have been a teacher of history, should, to the converse, try to study it as much as possible. By so doing he would not likely continue on this path of contempt that he is currently on, underestimating the intellect and the ability of Black people. They have had hundreds of years to study the hearts of those in white society. The governor was in the U.S. Navy, therefore, he ought to know that one of the crucial weapons in the arsenal of any army, which is often used to defeat the enemy, is intelligence. What are they thinking? Why do they think and act the way that they do? What are their strengths and their weaknesses? Why do they keep on singing “We shall overcome” each time they go into battle? What is it about the words of that song that gives them courage to stand up, strength to advance, the patience to persevere and the wisdom to succeed?
Mr. Governor, it is unwise to underestimate Black people. Just read of the slaves who, literally, dug large holes in the ground and covered them and who, after a long and an arduous day in the fields, hid themselves therein in order to teach each other how to read, in defiance of the law. Just read of what Frederick Douglass did when he was a lad, one who became a great American statesman and orator, by befriending young white boys on their way home from the privilege of learning at school, in order to have them help him out of dour ignorance into the buoyancy of literacy — also in defiance of the law. Just read of the ex-slave, Ms. Sojourner Truth, who could not read, but who gained an uncanny grasp of the Holy Bible by having different people read it to her, so much so that she was able to, powerfully, preach from it to both blacks and whites.
Just read Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up From Slavery to learn of the sacrifices that he made, not only to obtain an education for himself, but also expertise to be used towards the empowerment of former slaves so that they could fend for themselves in the world of industry and commerce through the auspices of the Tuskegee Institute that was founded right there in Alabama in 1881. Don’t despise Afro-American history, Mr. Governor, learn it.
It is narrow and shortsighted, indeed, to view Afro-American history as only a record of what has been done to people of colour, and not also to recognize that it is an essay written on what has been done by people of colour. An obtuse perspective of history also robs us of an appreciation of the fact that the record of any people is fluid and is never static. It is being written every day. Therefore, one can deny human achievements of hundreds or thousands of years ago, but to erase what is transpiring right in front of us today, as history has testified so cogently and repeatedly on its own behalf, is an absolute impossibility.
History is dynamic — it is always being written. History is ever moving and is ever evolving — sometimes backward and sometimes forward. As such racists as Eugene “Bull” Conner and Governor George Wallace are dead, they are alive, in some respects, in the governors of Texas and Florida today. And, as such champions of justice and equality as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis are gone, they live on in spirit in the likes of the Reverend Al Sharpton and Benjamin Crump today. We cannot destroy history, no, sir, we cannot. But we can decide upon which side of its banks we choose to stand on, in our moment in time, as it separates some people from other people, either on its right side or on its wrong side, as its unstoppable currents flow onwards to the future.
There is still time, Mr. Governor, to do the right thing, there is still time to unlock within you the kernel of hope, though dormant, and also the potential to be a great statesman. Dick Gregory graphically, accurately and succinctly uttered words which can be used to describe the circular movements of the trade-winds of history when he said: “When you shoot right and truth and justice down, the more right and truth and justice will rise up.”
Please heed those words, Mr. Governor — mark them well.