All Articles Tagged "slavery"

Harvard & Princeton Do Away With Titling Head Professors As “Master”

December 5th, 2015 - By Ashley Monaé
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Marcio Jose Bastos Silva /

Marcio Jose Bastos Silva /

After decades of using the title “master” to refer to leaders of residential colleges, some Ivy League universities are doing away with it, as many have complaints regarding its connection to slavery. With the racial climate and numerous tragic incidents occurring on campuses nationwide, the push for this change has been strong.

The title, whose roots can be traced back to universities of medieval Europe, are given to university faculty members who oversee social and academic programs and serve as advisers.

According to the New York Daily News, both Harvard and Princeton have eliminated the title, and Yale is in talks of whether or not they should do the same.

Princeton, whose administrators announced last month that the masters at its six colleges decided to drop title , described it as “anachronistic and historically vexed.”

“We believe that calling them ‘head of college’ better captures the spirit of their work and their contributions to campus residential life,” Dean Jill Dolan said.

Harvard, who also is breaking away from the title, announced just last week it’s plans for changing “house master” to one that has yet to be determined.
“The desire to change this title has taken place over time and has been a thoughtful one, rooted in a broad effort to ensure that the college’s rhetoric, expectations, and practices around our historically unique roles reflects and serves the 21st century needs of residential student life,” Harvard Dean Rakesh Khurana wrote to students.“The house masters feel confident that a change in title at this point in time makes sense on very many levels.”
Yale’s Stephen Davis, a head professor of Pierson College, also agrees on rejecting the title. Back in August, he wrote to the college: “I think there should be no context in our society or in our university in which an African-American student, professor or staff member — or any person, for that matter — should be asked to call anyone ‘master,”’ according to Yale Daily News.
Yale President Peter Salovey has  yet ot make a decision on the future of the term “master” at their prestigious university, but is expecting to share the decision on the pressing matter before the summer.
In the meantime, Yale has made several changes that may promote their pending decision including building a new center devoted to race and ethnicity and new faculty positions dedicated to the histories, lives and cultures of under-represented communities.

Why Patti LaBelle’s Pie Is The Blackest Moment This Year

November 17th, 2015 - By Charing Ball
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Patti Labelle's Pie

The next time someone tries to tell you that Black people in America have no culture, give them four dollars, point them to the nearest Walmart and tell them to get one of Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pies.

Because seriously, what is more Black American than the weekend we had debating the authenticity of Patti’s sweet potato pie?

Patti’s pies are blacker than the “Black Jesus” Ned the Wino episode on Good Times. Patti’s pies are blacker than the first Black president of the United States of America. Patti’s pies are even blacker than Colored People Time. And you don’t get no blacker than showing up late to things. Heck, even this essay is late…

The point is, Patti’s pies are pretty Black.

And ever since YouTube sensation James Wright promised that eating a slice of her pie would turn you into the legendary diva, many Black folks ran to Walmart just to see if the review measured up to the hype. But don’t get it twisted: this wasn’t about wanting to sing like Patti. And it wasn’t even about seeing if Patti, who brags religiously about her ability to burn in the kitchen, could really bake.

I guarantee you that had this pie been apple, key lime or even peach pie, folks would not have given Wright’s video a second view. I mean, what self-respecting Black person would stand for 45 minutes in the only open checkout lane in Walmart out of 75 unopened checkout lanes for a damn cherry pie?

Nobody I know.

Instead, this was about the sweet potato pie. And honor.

After all, nobody makes sweet potato pies like a Black grandma. And everybody swears that their Black grandmas make the best pie. Not to mention, there is no greater symbol of Black people’s ability to turn our tragedy into triumph than the sweet potato pie.

In fact, sweet potato pie is almost the antihero to the villainous pumpkin pie. As we all know that pie is a symbol of conquest. As some questionable history of the sweet potato pie suggests, it was the Europeans who first brought pumpkin pie to West Africa. Because that’s what Europeans did back then. They would show up on indigenous shores, waving around a welcoming pumpkin pie. And while the native people were gagging because of how awful it tasted, they stole our land.

That’s why you’re not supposed to touch the stuff (that includes the pumpkin spice). It is a trap. Don’t believe me? Ask the Native Americans.

Anyway, after our conquest and kidnapping to the Americas, Black people took the pumpkin pie, threw it in the trash and used the pie tins to invent a whole new kind of pie made out of local potatoes and spices that White people stole from all the colored people in the world.

And that’s the story of how the sweet potato pie helped us survive all these years.

While I certainly can’t prove this, I am almost certain there was sweet potato pie around when General Granger read aloud the special decree that ordered the freeing of the last enslaved Blacks in Texas. And I am also certain that the kitchen ministry evil-eyed and slapped the hands of anybody daring to touch that sweet potato pie they made special for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was still in the pulpit giving his “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech. And I am also certain that long after civilization ceases to exist, the only Black person left in the New World Order will be trading and bartering her possessions for some nutmeg and a pound of North Carolina premium sweet spuds.

Of course, those New Negro weirdos who say they don’t like sweet potato pie do not count. Obviously, there is something wrong with them. Obviously, they’re trying too hard to be “different.” These are the same folks who use words like “classy” and “professional” (Bougie black people love calling things “unprofessional”) and who won’t eat watermelon and fried chicken in front of White people out of fear of being called the n-word. And these are the same folks who then act shocked when those same White people they have been hiding their proclivities from, still treat them like the n-words even without the chicken and watermelon.

I’m telling you, those people are just jealous. They are jealous because they spent most of their lives suffering through the nasty taste of conquest pies while depriving themselves of everything Black. Meanwhile, there you are: acting both blackly and proudly as you enjoy your chicken and sweet potato pie in front of whomever while wishing somebody would have something to say…

Also not to be counted are the folks who have used our celebration of the sweet potato pie as an opportunity to rail against Black people for supporting the White man’s capitalism. Those folks are just jealous too. And despite their proclamations of saving us from ourselves, they’re the reason we can’t have nice things.

According to Jenice Armstrong of the Philadelphia Daily News, Patti’s pies were selling at one pie per second during the weekend blitz. As a result of the hype, Walmart is unable to meet demand. As Kerry Robinson, vice president of bakery and deli for Walmart said to Armstrong, “We need probably two million pounds of sweet potatoes.”

What that means is that not only did Black people help to put money into a Black woman’s pocket (to the tune of $2.3 million in a single weekend), but we achieved what no recent boycott could ever do: We shut it down!

That’s right Walmart: You are not getting our pie money during this holiday season.

But seriously, what’s really special about the Patti’s pies hype is that it was a true testament of our love for one another. It shows that we support each other, despite what most believe. And that we do want to see one another prosper.

It also showed that we do value our culture. There is no doubt in my mind that if those sweet potato pies had tasted like oppression, Patti would have been “On Her Own.”

Why We Need To Stop Comparing Things To Slavery

November 3rd, 2015 - By Charing Ball
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(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

If real slaves thought they had it bad, wait until they hear what Steve Williams had to endure.

Who is Steve Williams, you ask?

A slave.

More specifically, Tiger Woods’s slave.

According to The Guardian UK, Williams is courageously sharing his 13 years in forced servitude in a slave narrative called Out of the Rough, which was released in his native New Zealand yesterday. The book focuses on the period of his life when he was horrifically stolen from his native land, thrown into chains, beaten every day and forced to work as Woods’s personal caddie.

No, I’m just kidding.

Actually, he applied for the job, got hired, and then was paid handsomely for it (specifically, $8.8 million in 12 years with Woods as reported by the Business Insider).

Still, Williams alleges there was plenty of oppression.

In particular, the time in 2010 when he had to endure “questions” about what he knew of Woods’s extramarital affairs. Granted, no one came into his house, tore his wife and children from his arms and sold them down the river. But his wife and children were extremely bothered by the inquiries.

He also said that massa Woods had a bad temper. As Williams noted in his narrative: “One thing that really pissed me off was how he would flippantly toss a club in the general direction of the bag, expecting me to go over and pick it up. I felt uneasy about bending down to pick up his discarded club, it was like I was his slave. The other thing that disgusted me was his habit of spitting at the hole if he missed a putt.”

Oh, the humanity!

Imagine the indignities of Woods expecting his fellow human being, whom he paid, to actually walk across the green, bend over and pick up a golf club like some common overcompensated caddy?

Thank God he was able to escape with Tubman and ’em to freedom using the North Star – or more accurately, get fired, get into his car and freely drive home.

Clearly this guy has deep-seeded issues. And I imagine most of those issues have less to do with some perceived captivity forced upon him and more to do with Woods being partially Black. I don’t know. Call it intuition…

Of course, this is not the first time that Williams had made questionable remarks about Woods. More specifically, he told reporters back in 2011 that he wanted to take a mock award he had just won and “shove it right up that black arsehole.” So let’s just call it common sense.

Nevertheless, what is most bothersome about Williams’s comments is how quickly he tried to co-opt the pain and the actual history of a member of the group for whom he was trying to vilify. And he is not the only White man who has done this. Over the last few years, mostly whiny White people have compared the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to a number of personal discomforts including a woman’s right to have an abortion, funding welfare, paying income taxes, and illegal immigration.

After centuries of cultural, political and economic dominance, the audacity of White men claiming oppression, particularly by the hands of the oppressed, is not only ill-informed but laughable. Moreover, claiming these indignities as their own while still denying the descendants of those atrocities equal protections, access and respect in society is just flat-out disrespectful.

If Williams feels like a slave because Woods made him do his damn job then perhaps he should suffer the same repercussions our ancestors (and their descendants) had to go through for speaking maliciously against their masters. Let’s see how he feels about the comparison then.

But the deflated White male-privileged egos of Williams and others aside, there are some of us who too use the term as a slur. And truthfully, that bothers me just as much as when White people use it. We use terms like “mental slave” and accuse other Blacks of “acting like a slave” as if there is some connection between the behavior and attitudes of the enslaved and why our ancestors were held in bondage.

There isn’t.

Our people were forcefully kidnapped and transported to a new land. They had their names, religions, languages, cultures and identities stripped from them. Although many of them were adults, they had to get permission and be told when they could marry, what they could call themselves and when they could leave the plantation. They were dehumanized, turned into property and denied even the most basic of protections under the law. And yet, many of our folks, the descendants of those held in bondage, have grown accustomed to using the word to suggest that many of us don’t truly respect our ancestors. Like we see them as “lesser people” rather than people who were treated less than.

The casual use of the word “slavery” is either proof of how poor our education system is in this country, or just how flippant we have become at remembering such a pivotal period in our global history.

I personally believe it is a combination of the two.

Now, folks who regularly read my stuff here know I am not down for the whole racial envy thing we tend to do with Jewish people and the Holocaust. But I do think their community has the right idea about how to organize against anti-Semitism. In particular, the work that anti-defamation leagues have done in many countries around the world, including Romania, France, Sweden, Mexico and Germany (to name a few), to pass laws that either define anti-Semitism or make it punishable to deny the atrocities of the Holocaust.

I know we have freedom of speech, but that speech is not absolute. And while discussing slavery so erroneously would not likely be a punishable offense here in the land of the free, we can certainly make it a social faux pas.

After all, it is not just about remembering and honoring the past. But it is also about getting us to realize the seriousness of slavery so that we can ensure it never happens again and actually help the millions who are still being held in bondage (be it children on cacao farms, in the sex industry, or in some rich person’s house) today.

White Guilt: McGraw-Hill Calls Africans In The Atlantic Slave Trade, Immigrant Workers

October 5th, 2015 - By Veronica Wells
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Source: Shutterstock

There are those who argue that we don’t need any more “slave movies.” And while I agree that there is a need for a diversity of Black roles, movies accurately depicting the brutal and inhumane institution of American slavery is still absolutely necessary, particularly when there are people trying to sanitize it.

Roni Dean-Burren, a mother in Texas, recently published a YouTube video showing the fallacies in her son’s “World Geography” textbook, published by McGraw-Hill.

In the book, on a page entitled “Patterns of Immigration,” the textbook insinuates that the non-consensual stripping of Africans from their native lands to work as lifetime slaves, was immigration.

In a blurb, the text reads:

The Atlantic Slave trade between the 1500s-1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.  

You can watch the full video below.

I hope you see the problem here. The textbook makes it seem like Africans willingly left their countries and their customs to come and volunteer their free labor to help White people become rich for generations to come.

When we know that is far from the truth.

Furthermore, insult was added to injury when European immigrants were listed as indentured servants.

White guilt is real. So real in fact that a slew of historians, educators and consultants, many of them with Ph.Ds behind their name, cosigned this gross factual error. For what? I can only assume to diminish the physical and psychological damage the institution of slavery did to Black people particularly and to rationalize the wealth many White families still enjoy based on that unethical system that existed for centuries.

Thankfully, after this mother brought this error to light, McGraw-Hill issued a statement, via their Facebook page, explaining that they were going to rectify the situation.

mcgraw hill

Source: Facebook

Glad that they’re making this right. But this is a lesson to all of us, stay woke and be involved with what the schools are teaching your children.

African American Records From Slavery To Be Released For Free

June 25th, 2015 - By Veronica Wells
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Source: Shutterstock

If you’ve ever watched Henry Louis Gates find celebrity roots, only to try to duplicate his success in your own personal search, you’ve probably found yourself discouraged after hitting the inevitable wall that exists for many African Americans in this country.

It’s not long before you start to realize that it takes money to find your roots.

But next year all of that might change.

The Guardian reports that in 2016 many African Americans will be able to trace their families through slavery and back to some of the countries where their ancestors originated.

Handwritten records featuring information about newly freed slaves were collected just after the Civil War and will be available for easy searches through a new website,

The records belong to the Freedmen’s Bureau, an administrative organization created by Congress in 1865 to former slaves transition into the fullness of free American citizenship, a feat we’re still trying to accomplish in many regards.

The project, run by several organizations is beginning to digitize 1.5 million handwritten records from the Bureau which include more than four million names.

The records will be released online to coincide with the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Holis Gentry, a genealogy specialist at the Smithsonian, told The Guardian, “The records serve as a bridge to slavery and freedom. You can look at some of the original documents that were created at the time when these people were living. They are the earliest records detailing people who were formerly enslaved. We get a sense of their voice, their dreams.”

Records from the Bureau include marriages, church and financial details, dates of birth and histories of slave ownership.

This information will serve as a huge resource not only to African American families but the country as a whole.

Sharon Leslie Morgan, founder of Our Black Ancestry Foundation, told USA Today, “In order for us to deal with contemporary issues that we have today – racism, black boys being shot down in the streets – you have to confront the past. The land was stolen from the Native Americans. The labour was provided for free by African slaves. The entire foundation of American capitalism is based on slavery, on a free labour market. People don’t want to deal with that, and you have to.”

Cannot wait!

Serious Question: Should President Barack Obama Issue An Apology For Slavery?

June 25th, 2015 - By Charing Ball
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"President Obama attack on Syria pf"

In a controversial editorial for the New York Times, columnist Timothy Egan shares an interesting theory about how President Barack Obama could help resolve race relations in this country. He thinks President Obama should apologize for slavery.

Yes, you read that right: Egan believes President Obama – America’s first Black president – should issue an apologize for slavery.

After you are done rolling your eyes into the back of your heads, check out this passage from his essay in the Times:

The first black man to live in the White House, long hesitant about doing anything bold on the color divide, could make one of the most simple and dramatic moves of his presidency: apologize for the land of the free being, at one time, the largest slaveholding nation on earth.

The Confederate flag that still flies on the grounds of the Statehouse in South Carolina, cradle of the Civil War, is a reminder that the hatred behind the proclaimed right to own another human being has never left our shores. An apology would not kill that hatred, but it would ripple, positively, in ways that may be felt for years.

As the son of a Kenyan father and a white mother who died more than a century after slavery ended, Barack Obama has little ancestral baggage on this issue. Yet no man could make a stronger statement about America’s original sin than the first African-American president.

Um, I think there are stronger statements he could make. He could actually call White people out on their current shit (the Charleston terrorist attacks for example), or reclassify hate crimes, particularly murders, as terrorist acts, or sign some laws that would offer harsh penalties for cops found guilty of police brutality. Those “statements” could actually evoke change. Still, Egan has a point. Although Congress apologized back in 2009 for the enslavement of Black people, the apology was a bit half-hearted. You see, it also came with a stipulation that their admittance could not be used as “legal rationale for reparations.”

Egan also has a point when it comes to elevating conversations on race:

For this year’s Juneteenth — commemorating the day in 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, when a Union general landed in Galveston, Tex., and told the last of the dead-enders in Texas that “all slaves are free” — President Obama could close a loop in a terrible history. He could also elevate the current discussion on race, which swirled earlier this week around the serial liar Rachel Dolezal, and the race-baiting billionaire vanity blimp of Donald Trump.

For some (okay, for most), suggesting a Black man apologize to the country for what happened to our ancestors is likely the most egregiously hilarious bit of post-racial victim-blaming nonsense ever heard. While we’re at it, why don’t we ask the Chinese workers making Jordans and iProducts to apologize for slave labor and being locked inside of sweatshops all day. Or better yet, let’s make a pig apologize to a slaughterhouse for becoming a fried pork chop.

But what is particularly absurd about the essay is the part where he states that President Obama wasn’t burdened by slavery like most African Americans because his father is Kenyan. For one, colonization happened in just about every country in Africa. Hell, it happened in much of the brown world even. So what that means is that there is no Black or brown land or person who hasn’t felt the burden of White supremacy. Likewise, the fact that President Obama’s African father is not native to America, and that Obama was raised apart from the American Black community, has not deterred those within Congress, as well as the conservative right, from attacking him because of his race. Therefore, it is naive to suggest that President Obama has somehow been spared the experience of what our ancestors and their descendants have and continue to go through in America.

I also reject Egan’s notion that an apology for slavery is just about sending a strong statement about the historic wrongs committed against African Americans. He seems to believe that a government-issued apology would address what are largely systematic problems. While it is true that it would be a statement, the reality is that we don’t need anymore symbolic gestures. Instead, what we need are tangible assets. A real apology for slavery – one that does not include caveats – should lay the groundwork for a much more substantive legal action. Yes, I am talking about reparations. And not only do I want my 40 acres, preferably the land right under Wall Street, but I will also take the damn mule.

After all, an apology comes with regret. It is meant to show the victim, or victims, that the apologist not only empathizes with how they have been wronged, but it also shows the victim, or victims, that the apologist has every intention to make amends and offer restitution. What an apology does not do is shield a person or even an institution from culpability, which is exactly what another symbolic apology for slavery would mean. What good would an apology do if schools in largely Black communities continue to be underfunded or when cops are still getting passes from the government for killing and maiming Black people? Or better yet, how will an apology help Black redlined communities or reduce the Black unemployment rate, which is usually double that of whites?

Listen, I am all in favor of President Obama issuing a real and substantive apology for slavery. But what Egan has in mind sounds like more political manipulation meant to give the appearance that we are in a post-racial society. And if a symbolic gesture is the only reason for an apology, well Egan and the United States government can keep it.

“I Was Embarrassed” Ben Affleck Apologizes For Hiding Slave-Owning Ancestor

April 22nd, 2015 - By Veronica Wells
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Ben Affleck Apologizes For Hiding Slave-Owning Ancestor


Earlier this week, we told you about Ben Affleck requesting that his slave-owning ancestor be left out of his “Finding Your Roots” special with Henry Louis Gates Jr. The information became public knowledge when e-mails between Gates and Sony executives leaked out and eventually gained national attention.

Affleck’s desire to hide this bit of his history, to many, represented an ongoing problem in this country: The propensity to disregard and dismiss the role slavery and racism played, and still play, in America.

After all the attention, Affleck addressed the situation and apologized for his decision on his Faebook page.

Here’s what he wrote:

I’m sure the decision to apologize probably made him a bit uncomfortable but this was certainly the right move. Kudos to Ben!

How Former Slave Biddy Mason Died A Wealthy Real Estate Investor And Philanthropist

February 24th, 2015 - By Veronica Wells
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Black History is so important to me personally because any time I get ready to complain about something…virtually anything, I can think back on the people, Black men and women in this country who had far less resources and material means than I do today, but somehow managed to accomplish great feats.

Today, we’re highlighting and honoring Bridget “Biddy” Mason.

Biddy was born into slavery in Hancock County, Georgia on August 15, 1818. (Some sources cite Mississippi.) She had both African American and Native American ancestry but she was separated from her parents and sold several times, so no one ever recorded her last name. She worked on plantations in Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. She spent most of childhood on John Smithson’s plantation in South Carolina where she worked as a midwife to the other house servants.

In 1836, when Mason was 18, Smithson gifted Biddy to his cousins Robert and Rebecca Smith as a wedding present.

With the Smiths, she continued working as a midwife, birthing six of the Smith children. She also worked outdoors in the cotton fields and with livestock.

Biddy had three daughters. Historians believe all three children were Robert’s.

Around the time Biddy’s second daughter was born, Robert became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. A few years later, they left Mississippi for what is now Salt Lake City, Utah. The group was made up of 56 Whites and 34 Black slaves, including Mason and her three daughters, the youngest of which was still an infant.  The slaves, on the 2,000 mile, 7 month journey, were required to walk behind the wagons and livestock. After walking all day, the slaves were responsible for cooking, cleaning and tending to the animals. Biddy, specifically, was responsible for setting up camp and packing it up in the morning. During the trip several children were born to both Blacks and Whites. Biddy helped to deliver them.

When a group of Mormon pioneers decided to leave for San Bernardino, California, Robert Smith decided to go with them. His decision would eventually lead to Biddy’s liberation.

In 1849, California forbid slavery and entered the Union in 1850 as a free state. Slave owners who had arrived before 1850 were allowed to keep their slaves as indentured servants. Smith, Biddy, her daughters and the rest of the slaves in the party arrived in 1851.

Smith likely did not know California was a free state.

Once they’d reached San Bernardino, several free Blacks told Biddy that she could live as a free woman here. One person in particular, Charles Owens, took a particular interest in Biddy and her daughters’ freedom because he had been dating Biddy’s eldest daughter Ellen.

Once Smith learned that California was not only a free state, but the anti-slavery sentiment was growing, he decided to travel to Texas, in order to settle there and sell his slaves for a profit. The trip was delayed because another woman owned by Smith was about to give birth to another one of his children.

While they waited for her give birth, Charles Owens’ parents persuaded the county sheriff to prevent Smith from taking his slaves out of the state.  The sheriff kept the slaves in the county jail for protection. Meanwhile Owens filed a petition stating that Smith was holding his slaves illegally in a free state. Smith tried to assert that they weren’t slaves but members of his family.

Los Angeles County District Judge Benjamin Hayes granted the petition and set all of Smith’s slaves free on January 21,1856.

The Owens family invited Mason and her family to live with them in Los Angeles. Charles and Biddy’s first daughter married soon after that. In L.A. she continued her work as a midwife and nurse for a doctor. She became known for her herbal remedies and delivered babies for families of all races and social classes. She earned $2.50 a day, which was considered a good wage for a Black woman at the time. She offered her services for free to those who were unable to pay. After working as a midwife for ten years, she’d saved $250.

With her savings she bought two plots of land on the outskirts of the city near Spring, Fort, Third and Fourth  Streets.

She was one of the first African American women to buy property in America.

Initially, she used the land for gardening and built small, wooden houses to rent for additional income. She did this for the next 18 years. She moved to her own land in 1884, sold the initial piece for $1,500 and built a commercial building on another part. She rented out storerooms on the first floor and lived with her family on the second.

The neighborhood developed quickly. And by the late 1800’s Biddy was the wealthiest African American woman in L.A.

But what is most admirable about Biddy is that she didn’t just sit on her money and influence. She used it to help uplift others. She founded a travel’s aid center and an elementary school for Black children. In 1872, she was instrumental in founding the city’s First African Methodist Episcopal church, the first Black church in L.A. She donated the land where the church was built.

When she died on January 15, 1891, she spoke fluent Spanish, had dined with the mayor and had amassed a fortune of $300,000.

She was buried in an unmarked grave but in 1988, during a ceremony attended by the mayor of Los Angeles and members of the church she founded, the tombstone was located and marked.

Her great granddaughter, Gladys Owens Smith quoted Mason as saying, “If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives.”

Thank you Ms. Biddy Mason!

How This Black Woman Passed And Escaped From Slavery With Her Husband

January 13th, 2015 - By Veronica Wells
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How This Black Woman Passed And Escaped From Slavery With Her Husband

Source: The Liberator Newspaper

Being Black in America often means not knowing enough about your history, your contributions, your triumphs and subsequently yourself. And we know that the pattern of pushing our stories to the wayside, altering them or disregarding them entirely is not some type of coincidence. It’s a very calculated and psychologically damaging tactic. And while it would be relatively easy for me to slip into a understandable funk about the centuries long campaign to erase Black people, I’ll chose a more productive course of action in my decision to tell, or in this case, share the stories about ourselves.

Yesterday, I stumbled across a story–a very old story, particularly in the context of newsworthiness, that Jezebel published. Ellen Craft, the Slave Who Posed as a Master and Made Herself Free. Naturally, I was hooked from the title. Jezebel has this series, written by New York-based writer and historian, Angela Serratore, that details the lives of extraordinary women from the past. And Ellen certainly seemed to fit the bill.

Here’s the story of how she and and her husband led themselves to freedom.

From Jezebel:

A few days before Christmas, 1848, a man named William Craft gave his wife Ellen a haircut—in fact, he cut it to the nape of her neck, far shorter than any other woman in Macon, Georgia, where the Crafts lived. They picked out her clothes—a cravat, a top hat, a fine coat—and went over the plan for what felt like the hundredth time.

Ellen was scared. “I think it is almost too much for us to undertake; however, I feel that God is on our side,” she would later write, “and with his assistance, notwithstanding all the difficulties, we shall be able to succeed.”

Ellen and William were Black, and they were enslaved. The morning after the haircut they would leave Macon forever, disguised—William as a slave, Ellen as his white master.

If it worked, they would be free.

Ellen Craft was born in 1826 in Clinton, Georgia. Ellen’s status in the world was the perfect example of the ways in which the “one drop rule” operated in this country. She was the biological daughter of Maria, a mulatto slave born to a plantation owner, and James Smith a White slave master. By all accounts, Ellen was far more White than Black. (Three-fourths White.) But since her mother was a slave–and partially Black, Ellen was too.

Ellen’s lighter complexion made her life as a slave much different than that of other slaves. She worked as a house slave and, with her lighter complexion and genetic makeup, she was often “confused” for a member of her master’s family. James Smith’s wife was so troubled by Ellen’s presence in her home, a constant reminder of his affair, that at 11-years-old, she gave Ellen to her daughter Eliza and her husband in Macon, Georgia, as a wedding gift. (It’s almost too strange to comprehend; but if Eliza was James’ daughter, Mrs. Smith would have essentially been sending her daughter “a sister slave” as a gift.)

Ellen continued to work as a house slave for Eliza. When she turned 20, she met William Craft. Craft, was partially owned by Ellen’s master, Dr. Robert Collins and partly by another businessman in Macon who had been given partial ownership to cover a gambling debt. William also was loaned out to a town carpenter, who taught him and used his labor start a successful business.

In 1846, William and Ellen married. Their masters allowed the union but didn’t allow them to live together. At the time, both William and Ellen knew that any children they produced would be relegated to a life of slavery. WIth both Ellen and William  watched their own families be separated at a whim, Ellen was afraid to give birth to children who might suffer the same fate. After two years of marriage, the two decided that rather than succumb to the rules of the injustice institution, they would escape it.

#EpicFail X 2: Devonte Hart Cries and Eric Garner Madness

December 4th, 2014 - By Rich
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Nothing like good old fashioned propaganda.

When I first saw the image of Devonte Hart, a 12 year old Black boy, tearfully hugging white policeman Brett Barnum, I just looked at it curiously. I didn’t know quite what to think, but it just didn’t seem quite right.

A picture and tell a thousand words, but there is far more beneath the surface of this now-famous jpeg. First of all, young Devonte attended a Ferguson protest rally in Portland, Oregon when the image was taken. So, he clearly was “aware” of the climate in the mid-west with Darren Wilson and was an opponent to police brutality. He was also wearing a “Free Hugs” sign. By the time officer Barnum came through, Devonte was already crying, because he was already terrified of the police, some charge.

This certainly jibes with the reality I’ve seen firsthand.

The young kids I know of similar ages to Devonte don’t have favorable sentiments about the law enforcement these days and the range of the emotion is wide. One pair of twin boys I know are absolutely scared to leave their New York home now, because they fear Darren Wilsons lurk around every corner. (Nevermind what mental baggage they may have over previous cases of police brutality in New York City.) My daughter is very aware of what is going on across American and my family had a lengthy conversation over dinner Thanksgiving day. Other kids are innocently oblivious. None of them, however, are tearfully hugging police for any reason.

We are being terrorized, physically and mentally. This includes our children.

When I was a child, I had little reason to fear the police. I hardly ever saw them growing up in in the boondocks of Newark, Delaware. We had other menaces like the KKK in nearby Elkton, Maryland to contend with. However, by the time I became a teenager, everything changed. I was acutely aware of the threat of police and even would memorize their headlines in case they tried to sneak up to pull us over for no reason. In hindsight, their activities were often illegal and, by today’s standard, could have gotten any of my friends killed. Police are just on it like that.

Take Eric Garner of Staten Island for example. His soul weeps.

There are 7 kids that will never see their dad again and now they will never see justice either. The police officer that illegally choked their dad Eric Garner will not be indicted for any offense whatsoever. They aren’t going to be giving free hugs to any police anytime soon.

Devonte Hart cries.

We won’t know why until we hear from him, but there is reason for him to weep if you look at the state of affairs.

American police, self-appointed vigilante and other scumbags have declared it open season on Black men and Black people and know with much certainty that they will not be punished. It is probably setting in Devonte’s mind that is life is probably valued less than his White female guardian, who encouraged him to huge the police in amid the bevy of cameras. Perhaps Devonte knows about Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old that was murdered by Cleveland police in under 2-seconds of them arriving on the scene of…no crime being committed. He had a toy gun. And now, the cops are lying in that case, refuting evidence in video footage. I don’t know Devonte, but he may be crying, because he sees a future where he can be slayed at any stage of his life and 1) police will walk unpunished 2) the masses will be largely apathetic and 3) he’ll never get to reach the vast potential that his guardian bragged about before the infamous hug.

This is war – mental and physical.

Seeds are being planted in children. They are being taught the value of their lives through the eyes of the media and actions of the system (police, prison, courts). We MUST stand up. Seeds are being planted. Children are being told to play weak and passive in order to survive. We MUST stand up. Seeds are being planted. Children are being told that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want and there isn’t anything we can do to combat such injustice. Real change transcends viral, trending pseudo photo-op that gives comfort to those that don’t truly want to address the discomfort in having real conversations about race, inequity, domestic terrorism and cold-blooded murder.

Don’t let these devilish seeds flourish. Kill them dead.

I pray that whatever dreams, hopes and happiness live in Devonte Hart, Eric Garner’s children and millions of kids like them are allowed to thrive in these divided states of ours.

Image source: Johnny Nguyen, Instagram