Starting in July, and scheduled to run eight weeks, Resistance & Resilience: A Memoir Workshop of the Jim Crow Era, sponsored by 7CWP, has been meeting at the Colored Community Library Museum in Portsmouth.
We are now in our tenth week.
It quickly became quite clear there were too many stories to tell.
We’re going to have to take a break at twelve weeks for me to edit the anthology we’re building, one heartbreaking story at a time.
Meanwhile, Charlottesville happened, and I had to ask my writers to respond.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA 2017
What’s shocking to me concerning the Charlottesville racial uprising of early August weekend, 2017, is to see young, white men – late twenties to late thirties – dressed in well-tailored clothing, pressed shirts, khaki pants, and expensive sneakers for their feet.
They had gathered in a public square and in the streets of Mr. Jefferson’s city — he, of the presidency, writer of the Declaration, and finally the owner of six hundred or so slaves — to demonstrate their presence as a Neo-Nationalist American variety.
They told reporters they were there to protest anyone thinking of removing their beloved Southern general’s statue of Robert E. Lee.
(Touch me, Citizen, I thought the South lost the American Civil War.)
They gathered in the darkness with tiki torches – yes, those torches you bought at the hardware store to surround the back porch, and perhaps keep the mosquitoes away, so friends and relatives could chitchat and drink a little and do a broad grin.
These white men, along with a smattering of bemused white women, had the tight-lipped expressions of men at war, waiting to take the well-defended hill of the enemy.
These men gathered five or six abreast, while marching in the darkness of this August evening with the serpentine movement in long columns through the small, bucolic college town of Charlottesville – Mr. Jefferson’s town. Small Town, USA.
I wondered at the look of these squeaky-clean men. No thick-soled booted men pounding, high-stomping hatred in the streets (as Hitler’s men did) were they. No. These 21st Century adult and perverse children of Hitler carried signs of hatred for Jews while walking in high tech shoes, which felt feather-like.
Someone said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” It all comes out the same, doesn’t it? Whether it is the deep, guttural intonation of the German language, or the lighter inflected tones of Americanized English of these white, Neo-Nazi Americans spewing hatred for the Jews. It is cosmically the same. It must be condemned. It must be condemned.
There is a small truck which speeds through Norfolk streets at random times. It catches your breath at first seeing it. It is one of those small trucks with seating for two at front and an open bay at the back. The open bay is sturdy enough to carry small lumber or not very heavy machinery. But the merchandise I saw carried that day in the bay of the truck were two six-foot poles extended into the air and at the top of each pole were unfurled flags. One, the American flag. The other, a Confederate flag. Both flags are a little bit wider and a little bit taller than you would see in a school yard. Both flags blowing in the breeze of that day. That sighting was on Tidewater Drive in Norfolk. The truck rushing to the corridors of mostly black neighborhoods of Huntersville and Church Street. I last saw the truck speeding down Military Highway.
We, who are elders, observers, participants, along with the teacher of this Seven Cities Writers Project have observed many racial tragedies in our lives. We commune each Friday in an historic black public library museum to share narratives that witness American life. Our witness to our families; our witness to our communities; our witness to ourselves; and lastly, our witness to the other.
In this room, I have heard the great and great-great grandchildren of slaves speak of their encounters with racism in this American loved by us all. With it came grief and resilience. We are still here as the sons and daughters of disinherited slave people. I understood what integration meant upon hearing one of our writers speak of an unintegrated lunchroom. The black city workers felt uncomfortable walking into a lunchroom where their white counterparts ate. It was a matter of integration, our witness said. Our brave, black female witness to the truth boldly walked through the front door of the lunchroom, showing these men that integration is spelled a-c-t-i-o-n.
There is a black woman here who saw a black man dangling from a tree. I hear in her narrative the small, breathed prayer of a six-year-old from a time so long ago.
Both these, and all the other witnesses here, and the teacher, too, still carry that burden, but still they remain alive to life. This is resilience. This is my joy that I hear in each one of our narratives, and the teacher’s, too. This is what I have learned in this class. Our lives are works in progress, as our narratives are works in progress, never to be completed. The others to take the next breath in their new world. This is the legacy of brokenness and mending. Use our narratives to heal this divided country. This is the legacy we leave for the next generation.
Jim Crow Replay
Charlottesville, Virginia, the home of Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia, is no longer the quaint, sleepy, college town, replete with rolling hills and grassy knolls. On August 12 and 13, the old , repugnant south, brandishing tiki torches and battle type gear, rose again to claim its own, General Robert E. Lee. For me, all the old images of Jim Crow America and its horrors, many of them learned through my parents’ sharing, suddenly resurfaced. All the attempts to convince myself that we had moved past the ignominy of that era, that we had somehow learned how to live peacefully among our captors, disintegrated.
The white sheets of the KKK were the only things missing. It took me back to the long tamped-down fears of early years when we avoided certain street and communities and sparsely settled rural areas. The memory of crosses, homes and church burnings resurfaced. I again fear for my children and grandchildren. When will it end? Are we destined to replay the worst of the Jim Crow era?
The South is so bound and bowed over.
The South is a black woman. She is panting and sweating, she is groaning.
She is birthing. The south is a black woman. She nurtured the soil of this land with her hands, sweat and blood. She coaxed the harvest to come forth. She spoke to it with Yoruba words and it grew cotton. Cotton she picked with her baby strapped to her back. A back that we all stand on, a beaten back, a worn back from carrying the weight of America. An American load. Geographically the South is the southernmost state territories. She is the lower, the bottom. The foundation on which the other states rest. America first lived life in the south. This country nursed from her black breasts. The South is a black woman where the heat is oppressive. It boils the skin. It draws out sweat from all crevices and parts of the body. Your whole body sweats here. The heat here generated from her fury it drains you, you have to slash through like thick bush in Congo jungles. It’s heat you can touch. Southern heat hot and wet, sticky and suffocating. It’s hot down here from the fire in her eyes.
A Charge to Keep I Have
In spite of unifying efforts of man on every front to promote a spirit of dignity and pride for one culture or another, we have missed the mark. God created the earth and everything therein. He made man out of the dust of the Earth and blew into him the breath of life.
It was God who gave man duty, purpose, and direction for his life. We are all created to do great works in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Self-centeredness of pride and arrogance has made us to ignore our charge, as well as our creator.
While the monumental statues that have been erected in our country, our prideful erections of man’s confidence in man, they do represent dynamic events during the special periods in the history of our country. We cannot erase history, nor can we erase the sins of the past. We must learn from the mistakes of the past in such a way that all of the glory goes to creator God, who is the beginning and end of all things.
Of a certainty, the satanic impulse that was responsible for the hatred, bigotry, and racism that this country witnessed in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, 2017, was on the part of both those who initiated the movement, as well as those misguided defenders who purposefully prepared themselves for battle against the invader, both fell victim to Satan’s plan to amplify his victory over righteousness in our land.
In spite of all the faith-based preaching, teaching, and training of God’s church on Earth, we yet lack the evidence of an embracing faith that produces a working righteousness in the fabric of America’s moral consciousness. Only a loving, living, laboring relationship with Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior, will produce the degree of righteousness that will exalt a nation.
I challenge the body of called-out believers to take up their cross and except the charge that God has given us, and directed in his word: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins, and will heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14
If our nation, then, is to be healed, our faith-based community must come together in unity and purpose to develop a movement to mandate the prominence of prayer for the healing of our nation. God has given us the power, the authority, and the responsibility for victory in the land. He himself will hear from heaven to transform the evil heart of man into redeeming vision of light and he will give man a shepherd to propel him in all of the work to which he has called him.
Katie C. Davis
On Charlottesville, VIRGINIA
The United States is STILL IN A CIVIL WAR!
A WAR WHICH NEVER ENDED,
PHYSICAL SHACKLES WERE REMOVED
BUT BRAIN SHACKLES REMAINED ON ALL
WE ARE STILL MARRED AND SCARRED.
WILL THE RESIDUE EVER BE ERASED?
CAN PROPER PERSPECTIVE REPLACE THE DEGRADATION OF A RACE?
CAN THIS COUNTRY OF OURS SAVE ITS FACE?
NATIONALISTS FLUNG THEIR THOUGHTS OF SUPERIORITY,
KLANSMEN FLUNG THEIR HATE,
PATRIOTS CAME IN BROTHERHOOD AND SISTERHOOD, UNITY,
AND WERE DISGRACED.
LAW ENFORCEMENT STAND, POISED FOR BATTLE,
WHILE MY PEOPLE AND THE WORLD…CONTINUE TO WATCH, WAIT AND DEBATE.
WHAT HAS COME TO LIGHT HAS ALWAYS BEEN KNOWN TO US.
The hate that underlines our country’s interior despite its outward appearance.
IT’S been a known WAY OF LIFE, JUST MORE SUBTLE NOW, TILL NOW!
VIRGINIA DURING THE CIVIL WAR WAS UNION BEFORE SECEDING.
And later some parts sided with the CONFEDERATE; dropping what we know now as West Virginia.
AS PLAYED OUT IN CHARLOTTESVILLE:
VIRGINIA IS STILL DIVIDED IN HER VIEWS.
THAT’S BEEN OUR HISTORY. JUST LEARN FROM OUR HISTORY:
THE DEAD STATUES CAN’T HURT US; IT IS THE LIVING PERPETRATORS, VIRGINIA, ET AL.
Yvette Johnson Simmons
IT MAY HAVE BEEN THE REVEREND MARTIN LUTHER KING WHO SAID:
“When you diminish the rights of one person, you diminish the rights of all.”
Therefore, it is insane for those groups who profess and practice bigotry to think the tables will not, cannot be turned on them in the time it takes to complete one hateful act.
We all know what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the subsequent news conferences, protests, funeral, and social indignation which followed.
We can easily recall the many black women and men who have been killed on the streets of the United States of America.
It was not too long ago that we experienced Black Lives Matter marches against the attempts to minimize the significance of the killings of people of color.
Now we have the Charlottesville, Virginia, protest, and the killing of one white female.
This killing garnered national and international news coverage. We saw new protests from many sides, many sides.
Again, the president of the United States used this occasion to demonstrate his total ignorance, incompetence, and unworthiness to occupy the White House.
Many of this nation’s national, state and local elected officials demonstrated that they are no more capable of carrying out the public trust than the president.
DOMESTIC TERRORISTS ATTACK ON CHARLOTTESVILLE
Home grown terrorists gave Americans a rude awakening when they struck Charlottesville with violence on Saturday, August 12, 2017. White nationalists, Ku Klux Klan (KKK) members and Neo-Nazis came to Charlottesville well-armed for battle, wearing helmets and military clothing with protective shields. They wore guns, including semi-automatic rifles. They marched with torches, carrying pepper spray and tear gas. Numerous marchers displayed Confederate and Nazi flags. They came under the pretense of demonstrating against the removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who fought in the Civil War opposing the abolishment of slavery.
According to media resources, the KKK came into being in the year 1865, soon after the Civil War and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Lincoln. The purpose of the KKK was to instill fear in black people so whites could maintain their superiority over them. The Neo-Nazis came into being in the year 1959. Their purpose was to harass and intimidate Jews and blacks, and to keep Hitler’s name alive. These organized groups and other white nationalists are domestic terrorists who work against the moral fiber of our nation. Many in these racist groups are thugs who evidently came to make trouble. Their acts in Charlottesville revealed that racism is alive and well, and that racist groups are becoming more brazen.
The demonstrating groups were so emboldened to show their white supremacist beliefs that many of them did not hide in the white robes and cone-shaped, white hoods that were traditional for the KKK to carry out their hateful tactics. In the past, they wore white robes and hoods to hide their identity, and to frighten black people. With the support of President Donald Trump and his administration, they no longer feel they need to hide their identity. There was little police control of their hateful behavior. The resultant conflicts with anti-racist protesters caused the death of a 32-year-old woman and two police officers, as well as numerous injuries.
A recovering racist who had been an active member of the KKK said that many of the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville didn’t even know the history of Lee, and were marching because of the hatred they were harboring in their hearts for black and Jewish people. According to media reports, many of the marchers were “misfits,” who are unemployed, and feel that blacks and Jews had taken or were going to take something away from them. The idle ones had little to do but wait and look for an opportunity to vent their frustrations and spew their hatred as they did in Charlottesville. They have been taught to fear and hate black and Jewish people. They say they march and demonstrate to preserve their heritage. If they were concerned about heritage only, they would have no problem accepting proposals to dismantle those racist statues, and move them to a museum.
With the support of a narcissistic president who took the side of the KKK and Neo-Nazis against protester who came to oppose the ideas of the white supremacists, the door to more violence was opened. Instead of degrading the violence spewed by the KKK and Neo-Nazis, the President stated that responsibility for the violence, “was on both sides.” Equally shared by both sides — the white nationalists and the protesters.
Any American president who takes sides with racist groups against other American citizens should not be the leader of our nation. Supporting those groups is not who we are.
How can the President and white nationalists end their hatred of black and Jewish people? Hatred is so embedded in a white nationalist’s heart it is not an easy undertaking to get rid of it. One of the first steps white nationalists can take to get rid of their hatred is to have an inner-self spectrum. They need to look inward and analyze why they hate. Don’t use the “Heritage not hate” slogan as a pretense for their love of the Rebel flag and Civil War statues. That’s a false narrative. If that was true, white nationalists would not be demonstrating against the removal of Civil War statues and Rebel flags from state grounds to museums. Once they realize why they hate they must fight with all the energy they can muster to rid themselves of hateful beliefs.
White nationalist groups who engage in violent and racist tactics are indeed terrorists and should be treated as such! There have been some nationalists who have changed. Mature and objective analysis and judgment will allow these individuals to move from learned, hateful beliefs to respect and love for all other humans.
May it be so!
Helen Bessent Byrd & Shedrick Byrd
In Response to the Recent Violent Protest that Occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia
I say racism is alive and well.
Racism deals in politics and power, not emotions.
About twenty years ago, I met a historian who said to me in a very serious tone: “Sistah, you have to understand white supremacy, and when you do, you will understand just about everything that goes on around you.”
I never forgot that. Understanding white supremacy does not mean you hate white people. You just understand their plight.
White supremacy groups are committed to staying in control and protecting white privilege. They do not share power with people of African descent.
We are spiritual people. Most of us of African descent have been taught that religion is color-blind. We are taught to love everybody, turn the other cheek, love your enemies and pray for those who, despite this, use you and persecute you.
It’s interesting that the protesters in support of the Confederate monument were carrying rifles and stick, and wearing bulletproof vests while the counter-protesters were carrying signs.
Mr. President, Remove Those Confederate Monuments
There are 718 Confederate monuments throughout the United States, and they all should be removed. Slavery was the nation’s original sin. The monuments are a testament to Confederate generals who believed in and fought a war to keep black folk in bondage.
Slavery was evil. Women were sold away from their children. Men were branded, beaten and hung in trees. Slavery left an unforgettable scar on black folks. If you have ever seen a “slave collar,” which was worn by a slave to identify him for sale, you think of a dog wearing such a collar. Slaves were advertised along with household goods for sale.
These Confederate memorials have been placed in Old Townes, downtowns, and on the main streets of American cities so that we will never forget.
A few memorials and monuments celebrating black folks have been placed near railroad tracks, beside interstates, in neglected African-American cemeteries, or removed to the segregated sections of cities.
I say again and again, over and over, we must move forward toward a truly diverse society where all the people and all the ancestors are treated equally.
Remove the Confederate monuments from the hearts of our cities to a memorial park in a cemetery, where they belong.