The Black Man in America

by Paul R. Hollrah
August 28, 2020

The history of African Americans in the United States spans a period of 401 years, from August 1619, when the first slave ship arrived at Jamestown, until May 25, 2020, when a black man named George Floyd was murdered by white police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  That 401-year period can be divided into three distinct phases:

1)  The Bondage era: The 243-year period between the arrival of the first slave ship in 1619 and
      the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862;
2)  The Jim Crow era: The 92-year period between emancipation and the 1954 Brown v. Board
     of Education
decision, a period when black men were legally emancipated but brutally
     oppressed by Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, and Democratic lynch mobs; and
3)  The Wasted years: The 66-year period between the Brown v. Board of Education decision
      and the pointless death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020. 

So, the question arises, how will historians describe the next phase of the black man’s life in America?  How will we get beyond the lost opportunities of the wasted years when African Americans in great numbers turned their backs on their shot at the American Dream, choosing instead to trade their votes and their political allegiance for a vast array of social welfare programs that proved to be so destructive of the family unit and so poisonous to the human spirit?  Can we get beyond the damage that has been done to our culture and to our future destiny during the wasted years… especially during the months of June, July, and August 2020?   

It is hard to imagine today, in the year 2020, the total absence of human compassion that allowed otherwise decent, self-professed Christians to believe that it was okay to purchase black slaves and to use the threat of the lash to force them to do the menial housework and the backbreaking farm chores that they, themselves, refused to do.  It was a time when slave-masters found no moral impediment to such inhumane practices as the sexual domination of female slaves and the dissolution of entire families, when the children of slaves were literally torn from the arms of their anguished mothers and sold at auction in the town square.

The Democratic Party, dominated by pro-slavery advocates, was founded in 1792, just four years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.  During the ratification process, as a means of gaining equity in congressional representation with the more populous states of the Northeast, Democrats callously used their new-found political power to force the adoption of a clause giving slave states the inhumane legal authority to count slaves as just three-fifths of a person. 

In 1833, as the opposition to slavery grew among citizens of the Northeast and the Midwest, local anti-slavery groups began to organize.  Finally, in July 1854, anti-slavery groups met in Jackson, Michigan, for the purpose of forming a new political party, the Republican Party, founded out of mutual opposition to the expansion of slavery to states on the Western frontier.  The Republican Party’s first official platform contained a plank proclaiming: “Congress did not have the right to recognize slavery, but should have an obligation and a right to abolish it.”

With the two sides of the issue clearly defined, the American people fell into a tense and sometimes bloody coexistence.  For example, on May 21, 1856, a large contingent of pro-slavery Missouri Democrats, heavily armed and towing a cannon, attacked and ransacked Lawrence, Kansas, a town founded by abolitionist settlers who hoped to achieve statehood as a free state.  Two abolitionist newspapers were destroyed and a number of other buildings, including the Free State Hotel, were burned to the ground.

Before the flames were fully extinguished in Kansas, Republican Senator Charles Sumner delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor, condemning slavery and the Kansas invasion.  As he spoke, South Carolina Democrat Preston Brooks crept up behind him and struck him violently over the head with a cane, knocking him unconscious.  When Republican senators came to his aid, they were attacked by other Democrats and a major fist fight ensued.  When we see evil men such as Lyndon Johnson, Robert Byrd, George Mitchell, Harry Reid, and Chuck Schumer on the senate floor, how can we not recall that they stand in the footsteps of Preston Brooks? 

As the years passed, the divide between Democrats and Republicans widened.  Finally, on December 17, 1860, South Carolina became the first majority Democratic state to secede from the Union over the issue of slavery.  And just months later, on April 12, 1861, pro-Democratic forces launched an attack on federal troops at Fort Sumter.  The attack on Fort Sumter marked the official beginning of a civil war between Democrats and Republicans, a four-year war that produced nearly 650,000 casualties.  However, as battles raged across the South, President Lincoln took steps to put an end to the issue of slavery.  On September 22, 1862, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, bringing an end to the Bondage era of the black man in America and, unknowingly, launching the Jim Crow era. 

As the Jim Crow era began, Republicans wasted no time in amending the U.S. Constitution and adopting the statutes necessary to fully implement the Proclamation.  During the closing years of the 19th century, Republicans authored and enacted the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery (1864); the Civil Rights Act of 1866; the 14th Amendment, granting citizenship to the freed slaves (1866); the Reconstruction Act of 1867; the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing voting rights for freed slaves (1869); the Force Act of 1871, enforcing voting rights for freed slaves; the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, outlawing Democratic terror groups; and the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

But Democrats were also busy.  In the Democrat-controlled legislatures of the South, they enacted the Black Codes, establishing for whom African Americans could or could not work, the type of work they could do, as well as evening curfews and travel restrictions.  As a means of intimidating the freed slaves and forcing them to vote for Democratic candidates, they founded the Ku Klux Klan (1866) and other terror groups.  In the years between 1882 and 1951, the Democrats lynched some 3,437 blacks and 1,293 whites, nearly all Republicans.  Beginning in 1875, Democrat-controlled legislatures enacted the Jim Crow laws, dictating where blacks could live, where they could eat and sleep, which restrooms and drinking fountains they could use, and where they could sit in movie theaters and on buses and trains.  Finally, in 1894, Democrats enacted the Repeal Act of 1894, which sought to repeal all of the civil rights legislation enacted by Republican in the previous thirty years.

Such was the relationship between blacks and the Democrat Party between 1792, when the party was founded, and 1954, the beginning of the Wasted years, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its Brown v. Board of Education decision, outlawing the concept of “separate but equal” in public accommodations.  It was then that Democrats came to the cynical conclusion that, if they could no longer oppress blacks by force and violence, as they had throughout the Jim Crow era, they would proceed to purchase their allegiance with funds from the public treasury.

The immediate result was the Kennedy-Johnson War on Poverty.  And while young blacks had access to the stories of giants such as George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass, and Booker T. Washington, white Democrats found that it was not in the best interest of their party for young blacks to see such men as role models.  Instead, at the behest of self-appointed race hustlers such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, blacks offered themselves as an all-but-unified voting bloc with 90-95% of their votes going to the Democrats who bought and paid for them.

The relationship between blacks and liberals during the wasted years has not been a beneficial one for blacks.  And while white liberals and Democrats have benefitted immensely from the captive black vote, blacks have received only crumbs from the Democratic table.  One does not have to be a psychologist to understand that the recent violence in Ferguson, Chicago, Kenosha, Minneapolis, New York, Portland, and St. Louis; as well as the countless black-on-black killings  and drive-by shootings in black neighborhoods, is evidence that frustration and hopelessness among blacks is fast approaching critical mass… especially among young black males.    

When an entire racial minority comes to the sudden realization that they’ve been played for fools for nearly sixty years, the only result can be crushing disappointment and a deep seething anger.  After raising the expectations of black Americans to the skies, Democrats have failed miserably on their promise to deliver social and economic parity with whites. 

So, now that the wasted years have come to a bitter end and the rule of law has been reduced to nothing more than a useless concept of a bygone era among young blacks, and since it is unlikely that white entrepreneurs will now be willing to establish businesses and provide jobs in minority neighborhoods, where do we go from here?  

Even if young black males were willing and able to make an almost instantaneous transition from their tough street personae to something akin to a Wally Cleaver stereotype, would whites trust and accept the transition?  Not likely.  It would take generations of young black men being on their best behavior for whites to accept them as they were when the close of the Jim Crow era brought with it the promise of a bright future for all.

When author Gary Wills published a book titled The Second Civil War: Arming for Armageddon in 1968, I purchased a hardback copy for my library.  Now, with the rioting, looting, and arson following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, I thought it was finally time to read it.  On the cover, Wills added a quotation, which reads, “Our crime is not that America is white, but that we do not even know it is.  The Negro does.  He knows it every time a policeman passes… this is two countries… war could arise between the two.”   How do we avoid it?  Can we?

Paul R. Hollrah is a retired government relations executive and a two-time member of the U.S. Electoral College.  He currently lives and writes among the hills and lakes of northeast Oklahoma’s Green Country.

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