By YOUSEF DRUMMOND
CHRISTIAN civil-rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been 79 years old on January 15, 2008. There is no doubt in my mind that, had he been alive today, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham-Clinton would not have made such a silly comment. During a FOX News interview this past Monday, Hillary Clinton said that it “took a president” to finalize Dr. King’s dream of passing civil rights legislation. Many black leaders, including Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, were deeply offended by her remarks; it seemed that Hillary Clinton diminished King’s role and gave more credit to former president Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Clyburn warn : “We have to be very, very careful about how we speak about that era in American politics.” As a youth, Jim Clyburn grew up in an inhospitable social climate where American laws cemented racial segregation; his social experiences galvanized his entry into the civil rights movement.
Critical historical analysis brushes aside all conventional interpretations of history and sees it as a continuum. It exposes not only a nation’s triumphs but its inherent failures. History is not a series of dates to be celebrated annually.
I have tried to show in previous articles that the liberal state has built-in limits that severely restrict the possibility of a healthy, vibrant, democratic society. I have tried, at first, to focus on natural law philosophies, advocated by British empiricists during sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe that cemented political rights within the state of nature; or, that the “natural rights” of man emanates from observable features of human nature, among them his biological drive for self-preservation and the defense of property. In another article I tried to show that these laws fail to accommodate homogeneous populations that differ according to religion, sexual orientation and race. There is wide consensus that when Thomas Jefferson wrote the now famous (or infamous) phrase that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain “unalienable rights”, he was not referring to another race of mankind – enslaved Africans. Eric Williams, former prime minister of Trinidad, wrote that the driving motivation for severing British colonial servitude was that America was not profiting as much as Great Britian from slavery.
A casual reading of the legal term “inalienable rights” refers to the natural rights of life and liberty; just as the shape of your nose is inalienable to you, so are these “inalienable rights”. No government is able to institute these rights; it is a given, granted by God Himself. Therefore, government must enforce these rights. In contrast, your pen, for example, is alienable to you; you may sell your pen to someone else. Enslaved Africans, forcefully ripped from his ancestral homelands where communal bonds are paramount and shipped here to America, had no “inalienable rights” They were considered property to be bought and sold. According to writers Francis Adams and Barry Sanders, American slavery appeared never to have received approval from English law. American colonists managed, instead, to formulate their own brand of bondage. As time went on, black-white social relations were abnormal at best, even schizophrenic; and because of their daily interactions, “…whites could not avoid the reality of blacks as men and women who…needed to be restrained by a series of restrictive laws”.
If we take critical history as a guide, we side with Rep. Clyburn. The early history of this nation is replete with laws that reduced blacks to animals. Had it not been for those black leaders from Frederick Douglass, a former African slave-turned-abolitionist who penned searing speeches about this “peculiar institution” and its barbarism in the early nineteenth century right down to those blacks who fought for political equality during the 1960’s, there would have been no Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteeing legal sanction for equal protection under the laws, regardless of color. As history shows us, there was once a Civil Rights Act of 1866, but these legal provisions were nullified in 1877.
The American civil war, lasting four long years, - 1861 to 1865 -, witnessed a bloody confrontation between the United States of America (the “Union”) and the Southern slave states (the “Confederates”). So trenchant were racial hostilities at that time that no lawmaker today dare pledge loyalty to a Confederate flag. President Abraham Lincoln held the unusual task of re-uniting the Northern and Southern states after the war by instituting military rule over the Southern states to determine how these states should be governed, and debate raged on concerning how to punish the Southern states from seceding from the Union. President Lincoln, a Republican, signed the Emancipation Proclamation for purely economic reasons; it never ended slavery; he is assassinated. His vice-president, Andrew Johnson, becomes President. As President, Andrew Johnson continued the policies of his predecessor, that of Presidential Reconstruction. With the Radical Republicans, who wanted equal political and social rights for blacks, President Johnson oversaw the passage of the 13th Amendment, prohibiting slavery, in 1865, the 14th Amendment (1868), granting citizenship rights to enslaved Africans, and the 15th Amendment (1870), granting voting rights to black men. No Southern state would be admitted into the Union without ratifying these amendments. At that time, the Republicans were the liberals and the Democrats the conservatives. The Democrats, mainly from the southern states, wanted black reforms to cease. Prior to these Reconstruction Acts and amendments, there were 627,000 White southern voters and no Black voters. During the Reconstruction period, 22 black congressmen were elected to Congress.
The Democrats sought to regain control of the White House in 1876 by naming Samuel Tilden of Florida; the Republican named Rutherford Hayes. Senator Tilden won the popular vote while Hayes won the electoral vote. A special commission was designed to decide the election, as there was dispute on who received the most electoral votes. It is said that a “deal” was cut: candidate Hayes was given all disputed ballots in exchange for guaranteeing all federal troops to be removed from the southern states. Hayes was elected president by one electoral vote. Southern states, led by Democrats, nullified all civil rights gains guaranteed during the Reconstruction period. Jim Crow laws, sanctioning legal segregation for blacks and whites, were ratified throughout the nation. It took another half-century of struggle, by blacks, to dismantle racial segregation, strengthened by Jim Crow laws, through the courts.
Contrary to popular belief, black leaders took it upon themselves to lay down their lives for equal protection of the laws. The majority of Americans, those who held majority rule (whites) never supported the African-American drive for political equality.
Today, only one U.S. senator is black. His name: Barak Obama. Barak Obama is trying to transcend race as he battles for presidential contention. Hillary Clinton made one simple comment but it spoke volumes about the continued festering wound gnawing at America’s psyche, and now it has opened a debate among two Democratic contenders, whose task is to deflect America’s racial past for as long as they are able.
The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org