The Patriotism of the 1619 Project

On August 20, 1619, a ship carrying about 20 enslaved Africans arrived in Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. 

If you have somehow missed the rollout of the New York Times 1619 project, I hope you will find time to get a printed copy, listen to the podcasts, or find  another way to catch up. This project – groundbreaking, truth-telling, and comprehensive – is a tremendously collaborative endeavor, created and led by brilliant journalist Nikole-Hannah Jones that offers a wide base of knowledge about America’s entanglement with enslavement, and how our systems have been designed to subjugate people, using the construct of race. The other great point made across the essays, the photos, the podcasts, and more is how deeply felt the patriotism is among black Americans who continue to patiently reach out to their fellow compatriots to try to explain what must be fixed.

Excerpts from Nikole-Hannah Jones’ August 14, 2019 NYT essay that introduced her 1619 Project:

They say our people were born on the water.

When it occurred, no one can say for certain. Perhaps it was in the second week, or the third, but surely by the fourth, when they had not seen their land or any land for so many days that they lost count. It was after fear had turned to despair, and despair to resignation, and resignation to an abiding understanding. The teal eternity of the Atlantic Ocean had severed them so completely from what had once been their home that it was as if nothing had ever existed before, as if everything and everyone they cherished had simply vanished from the earth. They were no longer Mbundu or Akan or Fulani. These men and women from many different nations, all shackled together in the suffocating hull of the ship, they were one people now.

What if America understood, finally, in this 400th year, that we have never been the problem but the solution?

..At 43, I am part of the first generation of black Americans in the history of the United States to be born into a society in which black people had full rights of citizenship. Black people suffered under slavery for 250 years; we have been legally “free” for just 50. Yet in that briefest of spans, despite continuing to face rampant discrimination, and despite there never having been a genuine effort to redress the wrongs of slavery and the century of racial apartheid that followed, black Americans have made astounding progress, not only for ourselves but also for all Americans.


 

 

Sept 6 interview w/ Nikole-Hannah Jones:

…what I’m arguing is that our founding ideals were great and powerful. Had we in fact built a country based on those founding ideals, then we would have the most amazing country the earth has ever seen.  But black people took those ideals very literally, and have fought to make those ideals real. And because of that, I say that we are — as much as the white founders whom we recognize — that we are the founding fathers of this country. So yes, it is patriotism, but not that type of blind, performative patriotism that is simply about trying to camouflage the nation’s sins and not trying to fight for the true ideals. But the type of patriotism, I think, that says: If you love your country, you have to fight to make your country the country that it should be.

Does any particular piece of criticism or praise stick out to you?

The criticism has been all about the framing, because people can’t actually criticize the facts.There was some critique that I was centering black people and not spending time on Native and Indigenous people, and I understand it to a degree. I did not want to render Native people invisible, but this was a story about chattel slavery. But I think it also speaks to how little good, comprehensive, smart, empathetic coverage we have of the two most marginalized groups in America, which are Native people and black people.

 

The 1619 Project at the New York Times

Advertisements

A Closer Walk

See what happens when good people get together over music? They come up with something like this, a site dedicated to listing the musical history of our city, place by place.

Jazz, big band, gospel, soul, brass bands, funk, blues, second-lines, hip-hop, bounce, r&b, pop, zydeco, rock, classical all have substantial roots here in the Crescent City. This site will do more than just set tourists to a wandering around; as a visual map, it can help save some of these places and to connect the dots about the development of some of America’s greatest art forms.

The A Closer Walk (ACW) project and site is presented by WWOZ New Orleans and produced by five partners: Bent Media, e/Prime Media, the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation, Randy Fertel and WWOZ.

https://acloserwalknola.com/

Interview with editor of N.O Lit: 200 years of New Orleans Literature

Listen to The Anthology of Louisiana Literature‘s 2-part interview with Dr. Nancy Dixon, editor of one of the necessary books for any New Orleans scholar or armchair historian: N.O. Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature. Even if this brilliant woman wasn’t my pal, I’d still be urging you to get a copy. I open it up again and again to read her selections from different authors.

The 560 pages includes a well-curated set of short fiction and plays that reflect the city’s literary history, from Paul Louis LeBlanc de Villeneuve’s 18th-century play The Festival of the Young Corn, or The Heroism of Poucha-Houmma to Fatima Shaik’s 1987 short story “Climbing Monkey Hill.”

Dixon provides informative introductions to each author’s section, placing the works and their creators within the context of the city’s history and the history of its literature, making the anthology both an enjoyable artful artifact and an important academic resource.

Part 1

Part 2

Anniversary of Battle of New Orleans

The story around this battle is one of the better U.S. examples of reframing history to create a more valiant narrative (see the lyrics to the 1950s Johnny Horton song below).It is true that Jackson did decimate the British troops present on that battleground, but it is also true that that the the treaty had been signed by this point, although not yet ratified by Congress; that happened a little over a month later.  Of course protracted battles even after treaties were not an uncommon occurrence in the days before communication advances like the telegraph could let field troops know what was going on. And this battle – no matter its significance to the war of 1812 –  proved how important the port of New Orleans has always been to the world.

The reenactment crowd has a great time with this day and many New Orleanians go down to Chalmette to view the battle.  Current historians consider the battle a stalemate, but  at the time it was seen as a glorious day for Andrew Jackson and led to his prominence and later election as President. Unfortunately, he may have been one of the most autocratic Presidents of all time and in terms of his treatment of native Americans and of enslaved Americans, he deserves much scorn. He did found the Democratic party, although it’s resemblance to its present platform is slight; in his time, it was the party of slaveholders and state’s rights and helped to create the conditions that led to the Civil War. It wasn’t the party of big government and champion to the downtrodden until the 20th century beginning with William Jennings Bryan’s strategy to draw the Western states to the party, and finally culminating in FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s.

 

In December 1814, as diplomats met in Europe to hammer out a truce in the War of 1812, British forces mobilized for what they hoped would be the campaign’s finishing blow. After defeating Napoleon in Europe earlier that year, Great Britain had redoubled its efforts against its former colonies and launched a three-pronged invasion of the United States. American forces had managed to check two of the incursions at the Battles of Baltimore and Plattsburgh, but now the British planned to invade New Orleans—a vital seaport considered the gateway to the United States’ newly purchased territory in the West. If it could seize the Crescent City, the British Empire would gain dominion over the Mississippi River and hold the trade of the entire American South under its thumb….

…The two sides first came to blows on December 23, when Jackson launched a daring nighttime attack on British forces bivouacked nine miles south of New Orleans. Jackson then fell back to Rodriguez Canal, a ten-foot-wide millrace located near Chalmette Plantation off the Mississippi River. Using local slave labor, he widened the canal into a defensive trench and used the excess dirt to build a seven-foot-tall earthen rampart buttressed with timber. When complete, this “Line Jackson” stretched nearly a mile from the east bank of the Mississippi to a nearly impassable marsh. “Here we shall plant our stakes,” Jackson told his men, “and not abandon them until we drive these red-coat rascals into the river, or the swamp.”

Pakenham put his plan to action at daybreak on January 8.

…The assault on Jackson’s fortifications was a fiasco, costing the British some 2,000 casualties including three generals and seven colonels—all of it in the span of only 30 minutes. Amazingly, Jackson’s ragtag outfit had lost less than 100 men.

…When Congress ratified the agreement on February 16, 1815, the War of 1812 came to an official end. The conflict is now considered to have concluded in a stalemate, but at the time, the victory at New Orleans had elevated national pride to such a level that many Americans chalked it up as a win.

In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississippi
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We looked down the river and we seed the British come
And there must have been a hundred of ’em beatin’ on the drum
They stepped so high and they made their bugles ring
We stood behind our cotton bales and didn’t say a thing

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Old Hickory said we could take ’em by surprise
If we didn’t fire our muskets ’till we looked ’em in the eyes
We held our fire ’till we seed their faces well
Then we opened up our squirrel guns and gave ’em
Well, we

Fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

We fired our cannon ’till the barrel melted down
So we grabbed an alligator and we fought another round
We filled his head with cannonballs ‘n’ powdered his behind
And when we touched the powder off, the gator lost his mind

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn’t nigh as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Yeah they ran through the briers and they ran through the brambles
And they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn’t go
They ran so fast that the hounds couldn’t catch ’em
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Hut, hut, three, four
Sound off, three, four
Hut, hut, three, four
Sound off, three, four
Hut, hut, three, four

SONGWRITER: JAMES MORRIS

Second Line For Equal Justice by John Calhoun – GoFundMe

My name is John Calhoun, and I am working with over a dozen Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs and the Orleans Public Defenders Office to plan a Second Line For Equal Justice to raise awareness about the crisis our public defenders office is facing and to encourage our city and state governments to adequately fund indigent defense.

Source: GoFundMe

Weighing In On A Confederate Past

It’s amazing to be alive at the moment of the tipping point for a social movement: For my lifetime, they already include the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid in South Africa, Arab Spring, the extension of legal rights for women and for same-sex unions among many others.
What all of these have in common is that they happened well before the formal governing entity signaled that it was ready for the change or even in some cases, before the solid majority had decided to back the change.
All were hard-fought and seemed destined to fail at many points in their campaign. All had active opposition.

The removal of statues of Confederate leaders from public space is another tipping point in a country that is heading toward a time when whites will be a minority (by 2043).
The affronted use mockery (“Why don’t we remove all traces of Washington? HE owned slaves! Where will this end?”) or condescending treatises on what they view as “the real history”, as understood through a lifetime of racist schoolbooks and likeminded family members (“The war was about states rights and not about slavery, duh.”)
To me, the arguments stated above mask the bigger truth: The public lionization of the Confederate past of the South is a barrier to working together for the future and signals to people of color that whiteness is a privilege earned, when it is not. I don’t care what version or scope of history you subscribe to, although I may pity you; have a statue of Lee in your backyard, but holding on the “Lost Cause” narrative in public places is a recipe for the continuing disintegration of our region. It also masks the true vibrancy of the South: that it is based on a multi-cultural, multi-generational belief in place, extreme socialization and culture handed down from person to person.
I wish we had the ability and forethought as a people to have created realistic evidence of the world of slavery and the brutality of the Civil War as Eisenhower ordered to be done with the concentration camps after WW2, but we did not. Instead we have inherited this soft and “heroic” narrative that does not truly represent the history of that ugly time.

Statues of those who brought a civil war to defend a system that allowed people to be sold as chattel should not be kept in public spaces.
Keep all of the statues and throw some Mardi Gras beads on em if you’d like, but put them in the Custom House or another place to properly frame their history as those who ignored the opportunity to expand human rights for their neighbors, along with information on when the statues were commissioned and by whom.

And thank you to Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “The Warmth Of Other Suns:The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration” for writing this piece in the NYT about how symbols do help to define their time:

With the lowering of the Confederate flag in the state that was the first to secede and where the first shots were fired, could we now be at the start of a true and more meaningful reconstruction? It would require courage to relinquish the false comfort of embedded racial mythologies and to open our minds to a more complete history of how we got here. It would require a generosity of spirit to see ourselves in the continued suffering of a people stigmatized since their arrival on these shores and to recognize how the unspoken hierarchies we have inherited play out in the current day and hold us back as a country.

“Any time, any time while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it—just to stand one minute on God’s airth [sic] a free woman— I would.” — Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman secured her freedom in a precedent setting court case on 8/22/1781.

Where did the oil go?

Monday was the 5-year anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The loss of wildlife and nesting habitats is incalculable and will never be recovered.

This was from the local news on the anniversary:

Beshel’s Marina in East Pointe ala Hache on the east bank of lower Plaquemines Parish resembled a ghost town on Monday. Owner Don Beshel said before the BP spill, more than 100 boats would normally tie up to his docks. Now there are only about a dozen boats left, and most of them haven’t left the marina in months….

Barisich said BP has an obligation to clean up the fisheries and rebuild the oyster reefs.
“The oysters are like the canary in the coal mine,” he said. “Until we get our oyster reefs back, which would purify the water and make the environment better, we’re going to be at a standstill.”

This is from the National Resources Defense Council: