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FAITH, JUSTICE, AND RECONCILIATION

FAITH, JUSTICE, AND RECONCILIATION

by

MICHAEL FRAZIER, Ph.D.

In the wake of race rioting in the late 1990s and early 2000 in the city of Cincinnati the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, Christ Church Cathedral and the Christ Emmanuel Fellowship launched a faith­-based Racial Reconciliation initiative from October 28th­, 2004 at the Christ Cathedral. The Cathedral also initiated a Distinguished Reconciliation Scholar’s series. for which the author was chosen as an inaugural scholar. The following remarks were adapted from the author’s published keynote address.

The social history of Cincinnati began when it was founded as a village in Ohio near the river in 1788. One year after the United States Constitution was written, a military order named the village Cincinnati, in honor of an ancient Roman general of 300 BC, who, victorious in a just war, turned to the pursuits of peace. The Society of Cincinnati was organized for mutual aid and assistance following the end of the American Revolution and the establishment of this new nation.1

From the antebellum days to the present, race relations has presented Cincinnati just like the rest of America with a dilemma: the sin of black slavery, the greed in non-black privilege and the temptation to convert privilege to further racial oppression. Hence, when the depression of 1829 led to a re-definition of occupations in Cincinnati, black jobs–cutting, digging and hauling–were suddenly seen as good enough for unemployed Caucasians. Blacks were forced out of the city.2

When the nation split over the question of slavery, the black community of Cincinnati’s black community organized the Black Brigade to protect the city. The 50th U.S. Colored Troops (Infantry) was made up of men from Cincinnati and other parts of Ohio. They earned five medals of honor for their heroics in battle, the largest number of the 135 black brigades in the Civil war. As elsewhere, this distinguished service did not move the larger community any closer toward equality and justice.

Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the relationship between the two worlds of color have osculated between truce and trouble: truce when things were quiet but simply unsettled; trouble when things were unsettled. In this regard, what role has the Christian faith played in the mediating conflicts in periods of truce and trouble in America and by extension the religious community in Cincinnati?

Cincinnati across time, is a city with a dual personality–a northern city, a southern city, two cultures two unrecognized strivings, and two warring ideals. Racial conflict there had its origins in the late nineteenth century when free blacks and runaway slaves lived in a tense atmosphere.3 Recently, Cincinnati experienced social unrest and the tragic loss of human life. Yet, the vast majority of its citizenry, white and African Americans alike, are believers in Christianity. The central question facing Cincinnati and other communities is this: Is it possible for Christians to reconcile racial animosity while promoting justice, humility and love for their neighbors?

 

FAITH

Historically, race and religion have been defining elements throughout the American experience since the arrival of Columbus to the present. One of the reasons religion has been seen, as the critical element in society is because the Christian church is the transmitter of religion and comes from God and racial classification is derived from man. Therefore the intensity of these concerns showed up first in matters of religion and faith: God the creator, God savior, God the father. For example, the pilgrims promised and used as there religious motivations to come to the New World to sit the city of God upon the hill as a beacon to mankind. They saw the task as being larger than anything that they could do at the time so they sought to use the people that they met here and failed. Hence, they turned to Africans to use their intelligence not just muscles and they were brought here as fully human creatures ordered to do complicated things.4

Surveys have shone that 80 percent of Americans call themselves Christians and believe in the acts and sayings of Jesus of Nazareth as related by his followers and apostles. For believes Jesus was crucified by Roman authorities for his ministry among the poor and disposed. He set the standard in the United States for true meaning of faith, justice and reconciliation for all times. Unfortunately, many Christians have not follow Jesus teachings but rater they have supported slavery, discrimination, corruption, racism and greed.5

I concur with one of America’s leading public intellectuals, Cornel West, who argues Christian fundamentalism has distorted the true meaning of the Jesus’ message of love, justice, and mercy. He contends there are two forms of Christianity, Constantine and Prophetic, which have been battling each other since the first centuries of the Christian movements that emerged out of Judaism. Ironically, Jesus’ message of love and justice promoted a separation of his prophetic witness from Caesar’s authority – “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Christ said. Render is associate with the material world (money) and which is the acknowledgment and recognition of the secular magistrate and necessary support that is required to fund the public good in the form of taxes in order to pay for goods and services for citizens.

Nevertheless, when the Roman emperor Constantine realized he could not stop the growth of Christianity he decided to co-op it into the empire and legitimize the faith and provide it with respectability. Unfortunately, the faith lost its prophetic fervor of Jesus and the apocalyptic fire.6

The rich prophetic tradition in the United States has had many powerful voices against social injustices. In the 19th century the Social Gospel moment was influenced by the corruption and greed that were flourishing in American industry expansion and spoke out against its many injustices. Theologian Walter Rauschenbusch and others warned that Christians had a duty to combat the abuse of workers by management that was not constrained by morality or government regulation.7

During the national trauma of the Vietnam War, priests and other prophetic Christians led antiwar activities and established SANE/FREEZE, the largest peace and justice organization in the United States. Numerous black prophetic Christians worked tirelessly for the disinherited and the oppressed in the spirit of Jesus. Some of these include Martin Luther King, Jr., David Walker, Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, Benjamin E. Mays, Howard Thurman and many others.

Today, many of the communities of Christian are in crisis because they have been seduced by the market economy, which motivated by greed and the Christian faith is defined by creed. A balance must be struck between the two because, unfortunately for many, there is a deficiency of life necessities. Social naivety has resulted in a Christian finding themselves surprised when their fellow colleagues of color disturb the entire community in their quest for justice. For example, in April 2001, the intensity of anger in Cincinnati came as a shock to national and local authorities after rioting erupted in several minority neighborhoods. The instruments through which faith and justice worked during the Civil Rights era was the belief in faith in America’s ability to pursue justice with all of the risk that was entailed by that pursuit.

 

JUSTICE

The United States was founded on the proposition that justice in this world was possible and it needs not conflict with the idea of spiritual justice. We are of course, discussing social justice; justice within the beloved community. Social justice in this nation has been seen as both a goal and an experiment. The goal it appears to me was to maximize the presence of justice and minimizes the presence of injustice through self-government. This goal led our founding fathers to reject the injustice of kingly rule and the idea of titled aristocracy, and exalt the common man as reflected not in King George III, but Benjamin Franklin the citizen. The new America was seen as the new Eden based upon the doctrine of we the people but equally not only in the sight of God but the eyes of one another. Thus, justice and equality in their most basic sense have been the larger goal of this experiment we call the United States of America. The means by which this is obtained has to do with how we distribute the good things of this rich nation. The method to achieve such a vision is far beyond the power of the politicians and rest with the moral power of the committed Christian who which to close the gap between religious principles and social practice.

While all faiths have a gap between principle and practice, America’s failing in this regard has been enormous. For instance, the Civil War was the most violent on our soil based upon our failing to recognize human equality and natural rights of the none offending persons of color. Slavery was a sin so great that the experiment almost failed, and only through a combination of the inherent principle of this nation and its Christian character rightly understood does not justify the reduction of any of Gods children to the level of beast of the field.

The American people paid for this lapse in justice through the Civil War, which ended legal bondage but not the presumptions upon which this bondage rests. A failure to follow through in the rectification of our egregious moral error meant that we are still in the process of trying to comprehend the nature of this ongoing injustice as reflected in the gap between white and black in length of life, quality of health, level of income, volume of inherited goods, levels of education access and attainment—gaps so large that we have what the eminent historian, John Hope Franklin, called the worlds of race, or the 1967 Kerner Commission Report on Civil Disorders deemed, two nations under one flag.

For many of us the injustices cited above are seen as willful immoral situation that the most powerful and wealthiest nation on the globe tolerates, one wherein we presume to remove the mote from the eyes of other nations and ignore the beam in our own. Thus, we speak of nation building in places like Iraq and others areas around the globe. We speak of rebuilding nations and not rebuilding our own to enlarge the presence of justice for those damaged by our moral failings.

 

RECOCILLIATION

Reconciliation is the restoration of justice to our civil community. It is both a process and an end product. The process is what we do through instruments in which we act, and the concrete goals we pursue. The end state of reconciliation is a condition of justice, which no reasonable persons, however placed in life, can complain. Ideally, it is the kind of situation that restores our faith in the American dream and Martin Luther King’s up lifting version of it. It is a condition that restores Gods faith in us. The world has seen of many reconciliation experiences; Protestants and Catholics have reconciled to live in peace, the national combatants of World War II are now colleagues in economics and world trade; South Africa officially established a reconciliation structure known as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to implement that law. They recognized where they were and they are continuing to define their vision as to where they want to go. This nation has been involved in the reconciliation process but, our reconciliation needs to be based on a moral principle and social standard that we have develop in principle, but have yet to reach in practice.

It is not for me to construct the details of reconciliation devices and operations. Rather, it is for committed Christian on the ground in Cincinnati and other communities to develop an inventory of activities aimed at specific targets. The attainment of these goals represents a movement toward justice as reality and justice as righteousness.

 

Michael Frazier, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Political Science and the Executive Editor, Government & Politics Journal.

 

Notes

1 Leonard Curry, The Free Black in Urban America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, p. 245).

2 Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, Memorial of the Ohio Anti­Slavery Society to the General Assembly of the State of Ohio (Cincinnati: Pugh and Dodd Printers, 5th and Main, 1838, p. 18).

3 Beverly A. Bunch-Lyons, Contested Terrain: African­American Women Migrate from the South to Cincinnati, Ohio 1900 – 1950. New York: Routledge, 2002.

4 Ronald Takki, FromDistance Shores. New York: Little brown, 1989.

5 John W. Wright, ed. The 2004 New York Times Almanac (NY: Penguim Putman, Inc., p.487). The Episcopal Church in Southern Ohio, “What We Believe”, http://www.episcopal- dso.org/index.php?, 9/10/2004.

6 Cornell West, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism. NY: The Penguin Press, 2004, p. 65.

7 Ibid., p. 166.

 

References

Cornel West, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism. New York: The Penguin Press, 2004.

American Bible Society, Good News Bible: Today’s English Version, 1976.

Bernard R. Boxill, Blacks & Social Justice, Revised Edition. Lanham, MD: Rowman &

Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1992.

Cornel West, Race Matters. New York: Vintage Books, Inc., 2001.

Carl T. Rowan, The Coming Race War in America: A Wake­Up Call. Boston: Little, Brown and

Company, 1996.

Michael Eric Dyson, Open Mike: Reflections on Philosophy, Race, sex, Culture and Religion.

New York: Basic Civita Books, 2003.

Bob Briner & Ray Pritchard, The Leadership Lessons of Jesus: A Timeless Model for Today’s

Leaders. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1997.

Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited. Boston: Beacon Press, 1976.

Beverly A. Bunch-Lyon, Contested Terrain: African American Women Migrate from the South to

Cincinnati, Ohio, 1900 – 1950. New York: Routledge, 2002.

John Booty, The Episcopal Church in Crisis. Cambridge, Mass.: Cowley Publications, 1988. Rosemary Cowan, Cornel West: The Politics of Redemption. Polity Press, 2003.

A PLACE FOR THE CONFEDERACY?

 A PLACE FOR THE CONFEDERACY?

by

MICHAEL FRAZIER, Ph.D. and REX ELLIS, Ed.D.

For many, including these writers, the Confederacy is one of the most important markers of the black experience in the United States. The exclusion of African Americans as equal citizens in every aspect of American life, especially during the antebellum period of the 19th century, directly relates to the origins and activities surrounding the evolution of the Confederate States of America. The purpose of this essay is to discuss (1) the rationale for the Confederacy as articulated in its Constitution, (2) The Nature of the Black Confederates, and (3) the work of Paul Lawrence Dunbar an important social critic and literary artist of the period. In the essay terms, African America, black, Negro, and colored are used interchangeably and are referencing people of the Negro race and considered as decedents of Africa who were enslaved in the United States.

THE CONFEDERACY

Following the Civil War and subsequent emancipation and freedom for enslaved black Americans, the model of southern identity espoused by the Confederate’s example, continued to push true freedom away from the grasp of African Americans. When one thinks of the white supremacy mentality that led to the Confederacy, it is difficult to think of it in terms other than its mission to preserve as much as possible, ancient southern life and culture through the continued oppression and subjugation of African Americans. Alexander Hamilton Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy argued in 1881:

The founding fathers at Philadelphia in 1787, had erred in establishing the United States on the assumption of the equality of the races. The South’s new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; subordination to the superior race is his natural and moral condition.”1

The supporters of the Confederate Constitution of 1861 as well as the ideology of white supremacy in America, has led to the formation of political movements and organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, the White Citizens Councils formed after the Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954, as well as the rise of legal segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, disenfranchisement, and poll taxes. All of these mechanisms were designed to support the Confederacy’s idea of African American subordination and white supremacy. The Confederacy collapsed with the end of the Civil War in 1865 but its philosophy set a precedent that gave rise to a mentality of oppression that continues to exist today.

The nature of black life during the years of the Confederacy is best illustrated in the 1859 ordinances of its first capital, Richmond, Virginia. These ordinances were legal restrictions and modes of discrimination to control the behavior of blacks, free and enslaved. Sever punishments were imposed for violation of these ordinances and the word “Negro” was constructed to mean mulatto as well as Negro. For example, slaves absence from home without a pass may be punished by stripes; other offense which could lead to similar punishment or fines include:

1. riding in hack or carriage;

2. carrying canes at night; and

3. are not permitted to have slaves to remain on their lots, and if any Negro shall organize, or attempt to organize, or form any secret society, for any purpose whatsoever, or shall attend or be present at any such society, he shall be punished by stripes, not to exceeding thirty- nine at any one time.2

These examples of the legal ordinances enacted by the Confederacy to manage Black people demonstrate that they wanted to erect the first complete slave society in North America.

BLACK CONFEDERATES

In order to achieve a total slave society, the Confederacy would have had to recruit and arm slaves and free Negroes to fight against the Union forces. For Confederate leaders like Jefferson Davis as well as military officers, arming slaves and free Negroes was extremely controversial and considered dangerous. Just thirty days before the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, the Confederate Congress handed down legislation that allowed black troops to fight for their cause. The paradox of black men fighting on the side defending the institution of slavery and fighting alongside white soldiers, whose sole purpose was denying them their freedom, to this day, raises many questions relating to black motivation for putting themselves in such a position. Was it slavery that they were fighting to support? Did they believe in separation of the races and felt the only way to fight for it was alongside their white oppressors? Were they persuaded through promises of freedom or some type of reward once the battle was won? Were they being faithful to their masters? What separated them, for instance, from the eighteen thousand blacks who joined the Union standard of General William T. Sherman as he marched from Atlanta to Savannah? Alexander Stevens, vice president of the Confederacy, was very clear about the objectives of the Confederate cause: “Our new government’s foundations are laid; it’s cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.”3 Nevertheless, the evidence is clear. There were African American Confederates who fought alongside their masters and other white Confederates. The majority of slaves and free Negroes were assigned as servants, laborers, cooks, teamsters, musicians, and nurses. Many of these assignments were not voluntary but forced into the service of the Confederacy by their masters or Confederate forces.4 Apologists often boast of the loyalty of the slaves and their faithfulness to their masters. For instance, Thomas Nelson Page, Irvin Russell, and Joel Chandler Harris wrote in black dialect verses that were an apology for slavery. These works pictured the black man as docile and happy in servitude. Most white dialect writers presented the image of black people as objects of ridicule and served to document social notions about inferior and superior races.5

Regardless of what spurred their displays of loyalty, slaves may have had for their masters, it was also clear that the vast majority desired to be free. For slaves and free Negroes alike, the Civil War (1861-1865) was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy of the Israelites that were being held in bondage by Pharaoh. For white Confederates, meanwhile, the Civil War was fought to preserve chattel slavery and Negro subordination in the name of a constitution whose central government and territories were required to recognize and protect slavery. As a consequence, the rationale for black Confederates participation in the Civil War is open to numerous interpretations, the above, included. Further, it is clear that slaves and free blacks in the Confederacy had no input into the political decisions that shaped their behavior and aspirations during the antebellum and Civil War period because they had no legal rights, economic influence, or political power. Further, there was no commitment from Confederate authorities that blacks fighting against the Union army would be given their freedom after the war.

SOCIAL CRITIC AND WRITER: PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR

The slaves and the free Negroes in the Confederacy expressed their hopes, dreams and fears in the oral tradition because the written word was illegal for so many years. Music, oratory, informal education and religion became the channels through which African American leaders and their followers in various communities rebelled, debated and sermonized on every aspect of their lives. The poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906) represents an excellent example of this oral tradition. Born in Dayton, Ohio, to former slaves Dunbar got his rich background of Southern life from his mother, Matilda, and it would figure prominently in his works. A gifted poet, Dunbar wrote at a time when the country was but thirty years from the Civil War, a time in which many were looking back with much regret to that period. Not only was there general emphasis on the sentiment in American literature when Dunbar began his work, but there was also special emphasis on what were supposed to be the good times in the South before the war.6

Dunbar avoided direct attacks on American racism in his writing and from his knowledge of many dialects he was able to produce poems that could be read with ease and pleasure by northern whites. Though he wrote most of his poems in standard English, using conventional symbols, rhythms, and rhyming patterns, the popularity of his dialect poetry overwhelmed the appreciation of his skill with mainstream language and forms. Dunbar would become the first African American poet and writer to be able to earn a living with his writings. Presented below are three poems which illustrate the hopes, dreams, and fears of slaves and colored soldiers and offered a blunt critique of the Confederacy. The pieces speak to the power of the spoken word, the humanity of the speakers and their simple but palpable understanding of their perceived place in America.

Battery A, 2d U.s. Colored Light Artillery, Department of the Cumberland, Published in Free at Last, p. 429; Freedom solders, p.63.

 

An Ante-Bellum Sermon7 Paul Laurence Dunbar

We is gathahed hyeah, my brothahs, In dis howlin’ wildaness,

Fu’ to speak some words of comfo’t to each othah in distress.

An’ we chooses fu’ ouah subjic’ Dis—we’ll ‘splain it by an’ by; “An’ de Lawd said, ‘Moses, Moses,’ An’ de man said, ‘Hyeah am I.’

Now old Pher’oh, down in Egypt,

Was de wuss man evah bo’n,

An’ he had de Hebrew chillun

Down dah wukin’ in his co’n8

“Twell de Lawn got tiahed o’ his foolin’, An’ sez he: “I’ll let him know—

Look hyeah, Moses, go tell Pher’oh Fu’ to let dem chillun go.”

An’ ef he refuse to do it,

I will make him rue do houah,9

Fu’ I’ll empty down on Egypt All de vials of my powah.” Yes, he did–an’ Pher’oh’s ahmy Wasn’t wuth a ha’f a dime;

Fu’ de Lawd will he’p his chillun, You kin trust him evah time.

An’ yo’ enemies may ‘sail you

In do back an’ in de front;

But de Lawd is all aroun’ you,

Fu’to ba’ de battle’s grunt.

Dey kin fo’ge yo’ chains an’ shackles Fom do mountians to de sea;

But de Lawd will sen’ some Moses Fu’ to set his chillun free.

An’ de lan’ shall hyeah his thundah, Lak a blas’ f’om Gab’el’s10 ho’n, Fu’ do Lawd of hosts is mighty When he girds11 his ahmor on.

But fu’ feah some one mistakes me, I will pause right hyeah to say,

Dat I’m still a-preachin’ ancient,

I ain’t talkin’ ‘bout to-day.

But I tell you, fellah christuns, Things’ll happen mighty strange; Now, de Lawd done dis fu’ Isrul, An’ his ways don’t nevah change, An’ de love he showed to Isrul Wasn’t all on Isrul spent;

 

Painting by Rick Reeves, pg. 18 Black soldiers, published by Eastern National Park and Monument Association,

copyright 1996.

 

Now don’t run an’ tell yo’ mastahs Dat I’s preachin’ discontent.

‘Cause I isn’t; I’se a-judgin’

Bible people by deir ac’s;

I’se a-givin’ you de Scriptuah,

I’se a-handin’ you de fac’s.

Cose old Pher’oh b’lieved in slav’ry, But de Lawd he let him see,

Dat de people he put bref in,—

Evah mothah’s son was free.

An’ dahs othahs thinks lak Pher’oh, But dey calls de Scriptuah liar,

Fu’ de Bible says “a servant

Is a-worthy of his hire.”

An’ you cain’t git roun’ nor thoo dat, An’ you cain’t git ovah it,

Fu’ whatevah place you git in,

Dis hyeah Bible too’ll fit.

So you see do Lawd’s intention, Evah sence de worl’ began, Was dat His almighty freedom Should belong to evah man, But I think it would be bettah, Ef I’d pause agin to say,

Dat I’m talkin’ ‘bout ouah freedom In a Bibleistic way.

But de Moses is a-comin’,

An’ he’s comin’, suah and fas’

We kin hyeah his feet a–trompin’, We kin hyeah his trumpit blas’. But I want to wa’n you people, Don’t you git to Brigity;12

An’ don’t you git to braggin’

‘Bout dese things, you wait an’ see.

But when Moses wif his powah Comes an’ sets us chillun free,

We will praise de gracious Mastah13 Dat has gin us liberty;

An’ we’ll shout ouah halleluyahs, On dat mighty reck’nin’ day,

When we’se reco’nised ez citiz14 Huh uh! Chillun, let us pray!

Painting by Rick Reeves, pg. 18 Black soldiers, published by Eastern National Park and Monument Association,

copyright 1996.

 

placeforconfederacy01

COMPANY E, 4th UNITED STATES COLORED INFANTRY. Over 186,00 blacks fought under the Union Flag during the Civil war. Company E was one of the detachments assigned to guard the nation’s capital. (Library of Congress)

Aunt Janes’s Prayer

Paul Lawrence Dunbar15

Der Maussuh Jesus, we all uns beg Ooner (you) come make us a call dis yere day. We is nuttin’ but poor Etiopian women and people ain’t t’ink much ‘bout we.

We ain’t trust ask any of dem great high people for come to we church, but do’ you is de one great Maussuh, great too much dan Maussuh Linkum, you ain’t shame to care for we African people.

Come to we, dear Maussuh Jesus. De sun, he hot too much, de road am dat long and boggy (sandy) and we ain’t got no buggy, for send and fetch Ooner. But Maussuh, yo’ ‘member how yo’ walked dat hard walk up Calvary and ain’t weary but tink bout we all dat way. We know you ain’t weary for to come to we. We pick out de torns, de prickles, de brier, de backliding’ and de quarrel and de sin out of yo’ path so dey shan’t hur Ooner pierce feet no mo’.

Come to we, dear Maussuh Jesus. We all luns ain’t got no good cool water for give yo’ when yo’ t’irsty. You know, Maussuh, de drought so long, and

de well so low, ain’t nuttin’ but mud to drink. But we gine to take de ‘munion cup and fill it wid de tear ob repentance and love clean out ob we heart.

Dat all we hab to gib yo’, good Maussuh.

An’ Maussuh Jesus, you say you gwine stand to de door and knock. But

you ain’t gwine stand at we door, Maussuh, and knock. We sets do door plum open for yo’ and watch up de road for see you.

Sisters (turning to the other women in the church), what for you’all ain’t open de door so Maussuh know He welcome? (One woman rose quietly from her knees and set the church door wide.)

Come Maussuh Jesus come! We know you is near, we heart is all just tremble, tremble, we so glad for hab yo’ here. And Maussuh, we church ain’t good ‘nuff for yo’ to sit down in, but

stop by de door jes’ one minute, dear Maussuh Jesus, and whisper

one word to we heart—one good word—we do listen——Maussuh

 

The Colored Soldiers

Paul Lawrence Dunbar16

If the muse were mine to tempt it

And my feeble voice were strong If my tongue were trained to measure I would sing a stirring song

I would sing a song heroic

Of those noble sons of Ham17

Of the gallant colored soldiers Ho fought for Uncle Sam!

In the early days you scorned them And with many a flip and flout Said “These battles are the white man’s And the whites will fight them out.” Up the hills you fought and faltered’ In the vales you strove and bled. While your ears still heard the thunder Of the foes’ advancing tread.

The distress fell on the nation, And the flag was drooping low; Should the dust polute the banner? No! the nation shouted, No!

So when War, in savage triumph, Spread abroad his funeral pall – Then you called the colored soldiers, And they answered to your call.

And like hounds unleashed and eager For the life blood o

Ah, the rallied f the prey,

Spung they forth and bore them bravely In the thickest f the fray.

And where’er the fight was hottest, Where bullets faster fell,

There they pressed unblanched and fearless At the very mouth of hell.

Ah, they rallied to the standard To uphold it by their might: None were stronger in the labors, None Were braver in the fight.

 

CRITIQUE

Although Dunbar was not a Southerner by birth, poems are a reflection of slave life in the Civil War era. The first two, “An Ante-Bellum Sermon” and “Aunt Jane’s Prayer” are written in the black dialect of the period, a form of what would be called “Ebonics” today. These are civilian poems and implicitly talk about the Confederacy in biblical terms. The poems are religious in nature with the slaves mostly praying to God to deliver them from “Pharaoh.” The slaves obviously believed that God answers prayers because he had delivered the Israelites from bondage and he would do the same for them.

Both the sermon and the prayer reflect the oral tradition of transmitting values to black communities because the slaves were a bookless people. The dialect used in the poems is a reflection of how the slaves spoke during the ante-bellum period and therefore there is no shame for people denied opportunities to get an education. The Richmond and other Black Codes made sure that slaves would not become enlightened. Stated differently, there was a respect for the dialect used by the slaves. Dunbar’s poems reflect an understanding of the plantation and rural life and compassion for the people and their predicament as they tried to rear their families in an oppressive environment.

In contrast to the first two poems, the “Colored Solider,” reflect a transition from dialect to standard English in the discourse. When the former slave or freeman put on the military uniform of the United States, they became defacto citizens. The uniform meant these men were no longer slaves because it represented freedom and they now belong to a greater effort. In the words of the poem “…the colored soldiers answered your call…And like hounds unleashed and eager for the life blood of the prey.”

Clearly, the poems represent two distinctly different but interrelated communities: civilian and military. Both communities recognized that the common obstacle preventing them from being free was the Confederacy. The military poem represents the transition in language from the civilian dialect of the black community, which was common to all blacks in the Confederacy. After all, the orders of the white officers commanding color troops were not given in dialect but in Standard English.

When Dunbar wrote these poems, he was honoring the entire black community. Unfortunately, he was never applauded for his use of Standard English. Rather, the dialect poems allowed him to earn a living as the first African American to write in that form. It is important to point out that Dunbar’s poems were written at a time when a black person was being lynched every other day. The year 1892, was the high point in such atrocities with a black person murdered by lynching every 48 hours in the name of Confederate ideology.

The last decade of the 19th Century was a period of accommodation, apology and a desire to prove to whites that the black man was “somebody.” Booker T. Washington the founder of Tuskgee Institute (now Tuskgee University) grew up in this climate and so did Dunbar. Washington advised blacks to learn those occupational and social skills which would make them acceptable to white society. Diligence and acceptance of white guidance were prerequisites to this end. Washington’s approach was an effort to achieve social peace in an attempt to change the objective situation of the Negro in the North and the South. He believed that black progress economically would eventually lead to the death of racism. He was wrong.

In conclusion, there is no honorable place for a dishonorable Confederacy. Its leaders and supporters tried to destroy the United States based upon an ideology premised on protecting slavery from legislative enactment to end it. However, if slavery had not existed to begin with, there would have been no need to resort to arms to abolish the evil institution.20 Dunbar’s poems are written in both dialect and Standard English and served as answers and retorts to the mentality of the Confederacy, a mentality that helped to define the struggle for equality that African Americans continue to mount. An understanding of the history of the Confederacy therefore, is central to an understanding of the journey of African Americans in the United States and the world. Whereas the American flag represents hope for the future for us and most others, the Confederate flag simply serve as a reminder of evil and treachery and, ultimately, the deaths of over 620,000 Americans.

 

Michael Frazier, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Political Science at Howard University.

Rex M. Ellis, Ed.D is Vice President of the Historic Area at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

 

Endnotes

1. Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1989.

2. Maurice Duke and Daniel P. Jordan, A Richmond Reader 1733­1983, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina

Press, 1983), pp. 108-112.

3. James W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your History Textbook Got Wrong, (NY: Touchstone,

1995), p. 190.

4. Philip Thomas Tucker, From Auction Block to Glory (New York: Michael Friedman Publishing Group, 1998) pp

74-76.

5. Grossie Harold Tucker, “A Biography of Paul Laurence Dunbar” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Ohio State University,

1970), p. 200.

6. Ibid., p. 199.

7. Before the Civil War.

8. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Nellie Y. McKay, Eds. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (New

York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997) pp. 891-893.

9. Worst.

10. Hour.

11. In the Bible, Gabriel is the archangel of good news.

12. Prepare for the battle.

13. Biggety, self-important

14. Jesus Christ

15. Citizens.

16. Margaret Washington Creel, A Peculiar People: Slavery, Religion and Community – Culture Among the Gullahs

(New York: New York University Press, 1988) pp. 342-343.

17. Gates and McKay, The Norton Anthology of African Literature, p. 889.

18. In the Old Testament, the second of Noah’s three sons, traditionally labeled the father of the black race.

19. Margaret Washington Creel, A Peculiar People: Slavery, Religion and Community – Culture Among the Gullahs

(New York: New York University Press, 1988) pp. 342-343.

20. Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War, pp. xii-xiii.

Ralph Bunche – The Scholar and Diplomat

RALPH J. BUNCHE: THE SCHOLAR AND DIPLOMAT

MICHAEL FRAZIER, Ph.D.

The seventh edition of the Government & Politics Journal is dedicated to the centenary of the birth of Ralph J. Bunche who was instrumental in establishing the Department of Government at Howard in 1928. Bunche served as professor and chair from 1928 – 1944. It has since been renamed the Department of Political Science.

Additionally, the Journal celebrates the legacy of Bunche as a scholar and diplomat. To date, 202 Ph.D.s have graduated from the department, the names of which are on the cover. As Dr. Lorenzo Morris, Chairman of the department, puts it, these graduates are the founding chair’s intellectual offspring.”

The essays in this edition highlight the many contributions of the first of only two African Americans to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the second being Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Hanes Walton, professor at the University of Michigan and the first Ph.D. (1967) graduate of the Department of Political Science and colleague, Maxie Foster, Ph.D., for example, illustrate the diverse nature of Bunche in an essay about his service as a political consultant to the Republican National Committee (RNC) in 1939 at their behest. The commemoration section of the journal synthesizes related works and includes a photo essay of the centenary conference held at Howard on October 14, 2004 under the theme “Moral Dilemma: A Dialogue in Contemporary Issues in Domestic and International Affairs.”

The luncheon keynote speaker, Dr. Charles Henry, University of California reminded participants that Bunche’s A World View of Race “provides a unit of analysis; a description of how the world system operates and a set of proposed solutions. While one may disagree with his emphasis on class, it forces the critic to respond in kind. That is, one must provide a better, more comprehensive analysis than his. Despite his reliance on class analysis, his belief in democracy and his commitment to empiricism prevents Bunche from becoming rigid or doctrinaire. These qualities remain timeless.”

Bunche’s concern for the plight of Africa and the Middle East, is reflected in the work of Dr. Michael Asante’s, Ph.D., (1999) essay that addresses the Liberian Crisis, Raymond Muhula’s, Ph.D. (2005) insightful article explaining the genesis of Political Islam in the Middle East, and Professor Ben K. Fred-Mensah’s piece on the problems associated with regional security management and leadership issues in Africa. Beyond the concerns for Africa, professor Marilyn E. Lashley and Stacy-Ann Wilson, Ph.D. (2005) address multiethnic politics in the Republic of Fiji.

Perhaps the most far-reaching essay in the International Relations department is Dr. Nikolaos A. Stavrou’s “Illusions of World Order” commentary. His basic premise is that democracy cannot be cannot be dictated, exported, or imposed; it can only be emulated.

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It remains to be seen if Stavrou’s prophecy will be rebutted by events taking place daily in Iraq and the Middle East.

Domestically, Dr. Bunche advanced the study of American society through his contribution to Gunnar Myrdal’s American Dilemma and his own book, A World View of Race. The second series of essays speak to his tradition of scholarship.

Many of Dr. Bunche’s intellectual offspring and professors in the department continue to follow the legacy he begun by integrating academic and social concerns to promote progressive outcomes. The honor roll of 197 political science Ph.D.s since 1967 is a lasting record of the legacy he started 78 years ago.

The Editor

Dr. Michael Frazier, Executive Editor, Government and Politics Journal. Associate professor of Political Science, Howard University.