Getting American History Right or Keeping it White?

At Segregated Drinking Fountain, Mobile, Alabama, 1956 | Photograph by Gordon Parks. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation

10 Historical Truths All Black People Should Know from Juneteenth to Tulsa

Black people were already legally free before Juneteenth. In the city of Galveston, the 1860 Census reported two freed people

The reading of General Order №3 in Galveston was a formal reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. The general order was read in other cities in Texas in the same manner to inform enslaved Africans that they were free and had been free since January 1, 1863. One of the most troubling parts of the general order advised freed people to “remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

Black people did not have full (birthright) citizenship until 1868

Do the math. Three years after the passage of the 13th Amendment, which legally put an end to American slavery, the 14th Amendment was ratified to extend birthright citizenship to all Black people. Until that time, the formerly enslaved had provisional citizenship and were not fully “American.”

Black men did not receive the right to vote until 1870

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution gave birthright citizens the right to vote. The protections included the right to vote without regard to “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” It did not stop, however, Southern municipalities from legislating obstacles and processes of elimination in the form of literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses. Black women would not receive the right to vote until the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920.

Black people were never promised 40 acres and a mule

Well at least not all Black people were promised 40 acres and a mule, especially not that mule. General Sherman’s Field Order №15 called for land confiscated by the Union Army from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John’s River in Florida, including Georgia’s Sea Islands to be redistributed to newly freed Black people in forty-acre segments.The loan of mules would come later in a separate field order. When Andrew Johnson took office the field order was revoked.

Black people were not the only ones to benefit from the Freedmen’s Bureau Acts

There were two Freedmen’s Bureau Acts: 1865 and 1866. The first act was passed by Congress to “establish a Bureau for the Relief of Freedmen and Refugees” to provide everything from food and shelter to medical services to advocacy in labor and other disputes to Southerners displaced by war, including Southern whites. The second act in 1866 extended services to freedmen and white refugees in all states. It also extended the work of the Bureau for two additional years. In some cases, the former overseer was collecting benefits with those they harmed.

Black people as free labor did not end with emancipation

Black folk as free labor driving an international and national economy continued with systems such as sharecropping and prison labor took up where slavery ended. Sharecropping was an enticing proposition for newly freed people who wanted to provide for themselves and their families. These arrangements involved working for a low wage with living and land expenses deducted. If that was not enough, the criminalization of Black people for the oddest of infractions from disturbing the peace to unpaid debt sent many to prison, where they would be put in labor camps building railroads, farming crops and more…for free and at the cost of their personal freedom. Both are 2021 realities.

Blacks flourished and were failed during Reconstruction

The Reconstruction Era produced over 2,000 Black elected officials nationwide, including 16 in Congress and two in the Senate. Black people received a record number of patents at this time. And Black-governed towns founded by Black people for Black people sprung up all around the country. At the same time these accomplishments were being met, the formation of white vigilante groups and the Klan threatened the very existence of Black people throughout the South. The blur between federal law and states sovereignty offered minimal protections in the areas of voting rights and segregation in the Jim Crow South. Whatever strides had been made were often subverted by law.

Blacks faced Jim Crow era land laws governing where they would live

In the early 20th century three states vowed to the federal government as a condition of admission to the Union that they would not practice discrimination against Black residents. All three states enacted Jim Crow land and public accommodations laws before the ink was dry. Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona used such legislation to limit where Blacks could live, love and spend money. This would mark the end of Reconstruction and usher in another era proving to be the costliest to Black lives.

Blacks served during World War I only to return to another war

Red Summer was a period in 1919 when extreme terrorism and warfare was waged against Blacks in over three dozen — documented — cities and small towns in the United States. Black soldiers and military men returning from serving in the world war were both targets of the violence as well as defenders against white terrorists of their communities. Not one documented case could be described as a riot. They were massacres. And the violence and destruction would not end in 1919.

Blacks suffered loss that has yet to be repaid or repaired

Think Tulsa’s Greenwood District, 1921, when the police and National Guard did nothing more than assist white mobs in the destruction of over 35 blocks of Black-owned businesses and residences, and Black veterans did everything they could to stop them. No one has received reparation or compensation for the loss to this day.

This new “patriotic education” threatens to limit the use of facts in teaching the nation’s history and it also grossly distorts the many truths related to this country’s history as it relates to Black people and systemic racism. It appears unreasonable to think this erasure will make the evidence disappear. It will not disappear as long as Black people fight to preserve our truths, and we hold them to be self-evident.

Postscript: By week’s end or day’s end (June 17, 2021) Juneteenth will be a federal holiday. Treat it and teach it right, please. ~ Robin

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