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Three Afrikan Skeletons Found in Mexico Show Horrors of Early Slavery in the New World

A skull analyzed in the new study, along with tubes for genetic and isotope testing.
A skull analyzed in the new study, along with tubes for genetic and isotope testing.
Image: Rodrigo Barquera

Three skeletons belonging to African individuals have been uncovered at a mass grave in Mexico City. They represent some of the first African people to arrive into slavery in the New World. An interdisciplinary analysis of these remains is shedding new light on this grim period of history and the harsh conditions endured by the first wave of enslaved Africans in the Americas.

“To the best of our knowledge, they are the earliest genetically identified first-generation Africans in the Americas,” according to the authors of a new paper, published today in Current Biology.

Found in Mexico City, the three skeletons were buried in a mass grave near the former site of the Hospital Real de San José de los Naturales. This early hospital dates back to the early colonial period of New Spain and was primarily used to treat indigenous peoples. All three skeletons date back to this early colonial period in the 16th century, which means these individuals were among the first wave of Africans to be kidnapped and brought to the Americas via the transatlantic slave trade.

An interdisciplinary analysis of these remains paints a bleak picture of their lives, showing evidence of forged migration, physical abuse, and exposure to infectious diseases.

“By investigating the origin and disease experience of these individuals through molecular methods and evaluating the skeleton[s] for signs of life experience and cultural affinity, we illuminate, in some measure, the identity, culture, and life of these people whose history has largely been lost,” wrote the authors in the new study, co-authored by Johannes Krause from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

The origin of this story goes back to 1518, when Charles I of Spain authorized the transfer of enslaved Africans to the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which at the time included most of what is now Mexico, the Caribbean, and parts of the U.S. and Canada. By 1779, an estimated 130,000 to 150,000 Africans had been forcibly relocated to the Viceroyalty, according to the researchers. Of these, some 70,000 arrived between 1600 and 1640. Writing in the new paper, the authors explained the sudden increase in relocation of enslaved individuals:

…in part due to a reduction in the indigenous labor force that resulted from both casualties in the many conflicts during the European conquest and from diseases (among them, small-pox, measles, and typhoid fever) that devastated nearly 90% of the native population. Creoles, Africans, mulattoes, and other African-descended groups were thought to have higher resistance to these diseases compared to Indigenous Americans and Europeans making them desirable assets. Further to this, Las Leyes Nuevas (The New Laws) of 1542 prohibited the use of Native American labor as slaves in New Spain.

To analyze the three skeletons, the authors combined genetic and isotopic evidence, along with physical evidence gleaned from the remains.

Proof that these people came from Africa came from multiple sources. First, their upper teeth showed evidence of decorative filing, a known cultural practice of some African tribes. Second, these three individuals shared a Y-chromosome lineage that is strongly correlated to people from sub-Saharan Africa and is now the most common genetic lineage among living African Americans. And thirdly, dental isotopes extracted from their teeth showed that the individuals were born outside of Mexico, having spent their entire youth in Africa, according to the research.

Skulls and dental decoration patterns observed on the skeletal remains.
Skulls and dental decoration patterns observed on the skeletal remains.
Image: Collection of San José de los Naturales, Osteology Laboratory, (ENAH), Mexico City, Mexico. Photo: R. Barquera & N. Bernal

Analysis of the skeletons suggests these people were subjected to physical abuse and intense manual labor, such as muscle-derived patterns on bones and signs of hernia on vertebrae. Other evidence pointed to “nutritionally inadequate diets, anemia, parasitic infectious diseases, and blood loss,” wrote the authors.

These enslaved Africans were also victims of extreme violence. One skeleton had five copper buckshots fired from a gun, while another showed signs of skull and leg fractures. None of these injuries resulted in their deaths, but all three died prematurely.

“And since they were found in this mass burial site, these individuals likely died in one of the first epidemic events in Mexico City,” explained Rodrigo Barquera, the first author of the study and a graduate student at MPI SHH, in a press release. “[We] can tell they survived the maltreatment that they received. Their story is one of difficulty but also strength, because although they suffered a lot, they persevered and were resistant to the changes forced upon them.”

The analysis also resulted in the detection of two known pathogens, namely the virus responsible for Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and the bacterium responsible for yaws (Treponema pallidum pertenue), which causes symptoms similar to syphilis. Importantly, this is the earliest evidence of HBV and yaws in the Americas.

Joint and bone damage found on the skeletal remains: (A) extensive bone wear, (B) signs of hernia on a vertebrae, (C and D) greenish coloration as evidence of a copper bullet.
Joint and bone damage found on the skeletal remains: (A) extensive bone wear, (B) signs of hernia on a vertebrae, (C and D) greenish coloration as evidence of a copper bullet.
Image: Collection of San José de los Naturales, Osteology Laboratory, (ENAH), Mexico City, Mexico. Photo: R. Barquera & N. Bernal

“Although we have no indication that the HBV lineage we found established itself in Mexico, this is the first direct evidence of HBV introduction as the result of the transatlantic slave trade,” said Denise Kühnert, a co-author of the study and an expert in infectious diseases at MPI SHH. “This provides novel insight into the… history of the pathogen.”

The same could hold true for yaws, which was common in the Americas during the colonial period. Prior to the new study, however, the oldest genetic evidence of yaws came from a 17th-century European colonist.

“It is plausible that yaws was not only brought into the Americas through the transatlantic slave trade but may subsequently have had a considerable impact on the disease dynamics in Latin America,” added Kühnert.

Needless to say, this is among the trickier aspects of the new study; linking the presence of HBV and yaws in these individuals to the spread of diseases from Africa to the Americas is a precarious proposition at best. Future research is needed.

The new paper presents a devastating snapshot of life during the early colonial period and the tremendous hardships endured by the tens of thousands of people abducted from Africa.


Affirmative Action for White People

Affirmative Action for White People
Affirmative Action for White People

Most whites have been able to live out their lives completely unaware of the long term, institutional factors that have kept people of color down – and themselves up.

“Logic and reason will not penetrate the hard shell of white denial.”

Part One

Question: What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy?
Answer: I don’t know, and I don’t care!

From the very beginning, the essential core of the white American psyche was formed in opposition to the imagined Others of the world: those who threatened the innocent community from the outside (Native Americans) and those whose presence on the inside (African slaves) who, by their very existence, constantly called that sense of innocence into question.

Because of its innate contradictions, white identity was and always has been highly unstable, and it required the construction of an entire mythology to hold it together. Very early on, the notion of privilege became one of the prime ways in which this was accomplished.

One of the most fundamental aspects of privilege – the privilege to ignore, the privilege to remain innocent in the mind – still retains its durability among far too many, perhaps especially among liberals. Although it is constantly obvious to almost all people of color, privilege is utterly invisible to most whites. It provides them with a place in the social hierarchy, a belief in the possibilities of upward mobility and, most importantly, a sense of identity – they can know who they are because they are not “the Other.”

America established that privilege – in law – from the very beginning, indeed, from before the beginning. In other words, I’m talking about America’s long history of Affirmative Action for white people.

“White identity was and always has been highly unstable.”

In a previous article on privilege, I write :

“Privilege allows whites to patronize minorities, to disagree with perspectives that challenge their worldviews, when in fact they don’t understand those perspectives. Since half of all whites believe that blacks enjoy economic parity with them, 61% say that blacks and whites have equal access to health care, and 85% say that blacks have equal chances to get any housing they can afford – despite the contrary views held by the great majority of black people, they are privileged to say to blacks, in effect, “I know your reality better than you do.”

The privilege to remain innocent shows up strikingly in the idea of affirmative action. Other than abortion, no domestic issue has been as controversial and divisive over the past fifty years. Opportunistic politicians have used it to create a wedge between working class whites and blacks. Well versed in the imagery of American myth, they have repeatedly posed the question (in soft terms, careful to not appear overtly racist) of whether it is just for hardworking people to be taxed so as to support people who are too lazy and irresponsible to better themselves. As I write in Chapter Seven of my book Madness at the Gates of the City : The Myth of American Innocence,

“Reactionaries invoke (the myth of) equality by claiming that legal equality is sufficient and calling affirmative action “reverse discrimination” and ethnic liberals “reverse racists.” Some even argue that since prejudice no longer exists, minorities should require no assistance (which only encourages the sin of laziness). This false argument has potency because it contains some truth; since individuals have occasionally “pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps,” then conservatives claim that everyone should. If they can’t, says the myth, Puritan at its core, then failure is their own fault.”

In doing so, these politicians, and many religious leaders, have duped three generations of misinformed whites into perceiving themselves as victims of people whom they once regarded as natural allies. And (when we discuss the New Deal and the G.I. Bill) we should note that the demographic most opposed to taxes for welfare – those over the age of 65 – are themselves the beneficiaries of the greatest welfare programs in world history.

But this is hardly the first time this has happened. In Chapter Ten  I write:

“The narrative veils the issues of corporate welfare, financial corruption and deindustrialization and the fact that most white males vote Republican, partially because they fear affirmative action. Few admit the racial dimensions of the issue and the degree to which even poor whites have privilege. Actually, the generosity of state welfare reform varies according to demography: those with overwhelmingly white populations have stronger safety nets and impose softer sanctions.

“So whites need to learn how the federal government has instituted affirmative action for them many times, and that this reality is a fundamental aspect of the Myth of American Innocence. Indeed, it began long before the creation of the federal government itself. For a much more detailed version of this timeline, see my essay “Who Is An American?”

We have to begin with the foundational factor, that a series of American Presidents and Supreme Court Justices, most of whom were themselves slaveholders, did nothing to change the condition of literally millions of black people (four million in 1860 alone) who were legally enslaved and deprived of almost any possibility of legal economic or personal improvement for 245 years. These were the people whose unpaid labor, brutal treatment and family separation were the foundations for the creation not only of most personal American fortunes, but as many academics argue, of the world-wide industrial revolution  itself.

“Whites need to learn how the federal government has instituted affirmative action for them many times.”

A just society would at least begin the conversation of how to compensate their descendants for the condition of entering civil society as free people, but with none of the accumulated equity that generations of whites were already enjoying, or into a social environment of extreme terrorism. Estimates of those murdered by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists run into the tens of thousands. At least 4,000 of these deaths occurred as lynchings. And, as Orlando Patterson has written in Rituals Of Blood: The Consequences Of Slavery In Two American Centuries , a significant number of these murders happened as large, public spectacles – rituals – that served to re-confirm white identity in times of social change.

Perhaps one day we will quantify such reparation payments in economic terms. But it will be even harder to understand the accumulated emotional scars on those 25 generations of people, or of the five generations who then endured institutionalized Jim Crow segregation. The result is what Dr. Joy DeGruy has termed Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome , with its multi-generational patterns of low self-esteem, internalized abuse, depression, propensities for anger and violence and physical symptoms such as heart disease and diabetes.

So we actually have to begin nearly a century before the American Revolution.

1620-1710: Although African slaves first arrived in Virginia in 1619, and the colonists did attempt to enslave Native Americans, we have little evidence of a white/black racial hierarchy until around 1680. Large numbers of Irish and Scots had arrived as indentured servants and worked alongside blacks under terrible conditions. But neither “blackness” nor “whiteness” firmly established themselves in the American mind until the defeat of Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, when the oppressed challenged the oppressors, attempting to overthrow the system of indentured servitude. This was a watershed moment. Historian Theodore Allen writes :

“…laboring-class African-Americans and European-Americans fought side by side for the abolition of slavery…If the plan had succeeded, the history of…America might have taken a much different path.”

The state of Virginia eventually suppressed the rebellion, but its implications of class warfare were terrifying to the propertied classes. To make certain that nothing like it could ever occur again, they resorted to the ancient technique of “divide-and-conquer.” Virginia soon codified its bondage and legal systems. It replaced the terms “Christian” or “free” with “white,” gave new privileges to Caucasians, removed certain rights from free blacks and banned interracial marriage. Other laws contributed to what Allen calls the “absolutely unique American form of male supremacism” – the right of any Euro-American to rape any African-American without fear of reprisal. As most of the colonies soon copied his system, it became more or less universal for decades.

“Virginia replaced the terms ‘Christian’ or ‘free’ with ‘white,’ gave new privileges to Caucasians, removed certain rights from free blacks and banned interracial marriage.”

This early white privilege – the privilege to hunt down and punish another human being – became the genesis of policing throughout America. In 1704 South Carolina, responding both to the fear of insurrection as well as to concern for lost property, established the first slave patrols, which soon

spread throughout all thirteen colonies. The patrols discouraged any large gathering of blacks and generally perpetuated the atmosphere of fear that kept the slaves in line. In some areas, killing a slave was not considered a crime by the courts or community, although property considerations limited extreme violence.

Some states required every white man to arrest any slave found away from their home without proper verification and return them to their masters. Many were happy to serve on the patrols, since the benefits included exemption from taxes. Others who may have been reluctant on moral grounds faced severe taxes for not participating, so universal white participation became institutionalized. By 1860, few Southerners could remember times when such conditions had not applied.

All white Americans subscribed to a narrative that rejected old European class hierarchies. Instead of social class, however, their model of group conflict became relations between white planters and black slaves, rather than between rich and poor. The new system, writes Allen, insisted on “the social distinction between the poorest member of the oppressor group and any member, however propertied, of the oppressed group.”

Over three centuries after Bacon’s Rebellion, scholars still wonder why a strong socialist movement never developed in America, as it did almost everywhere else. Characteristically, they rarely consider the overwhelming presence of the Other: no other nation combined irresistible myths of opportunity with rigid legal systems deliberately intended to divide natural allies. Whiteness implies both purity (which demands removal of impurities) and privilege. No matter how impoverished a white, male American feels, he hears hundreds of subtle messages every day that divide him from the impure. Without racial privilege the concept of whiteness is meaningless. Often, Americans have had nothing to call their own except white privilege, yet they cling to it and support those whose coded rhetoric promises to maintain it.

“This early white privilege – the privilege to hunt down and punish another human being – became the genesis of policing throughout America.”

So affirmative action for white people was well established by the end of the 17th century, well before the westward migration began. It meant that every single white person was indoctrinated to believe that their condition, no matter how limited, was by nature better than that of practically any black person and that they were privileged to enjoy a range of opportunities (in theory, at least) that even a well-educated black or Native American could not aspire to. The poorest of whites, home-grown or immigrant, started life assuming the most fundamental American value – this was the land of opportunity – and even if they failed utterly, their children started out with the same assumption. It would take some 330 years before blacks could also say Yes We Can. 

1790s: In the second example of affirmative action for white people, the “Three-fifths Compromise” in the new Constitution counted three out of every five slaves as people. Its effect was to give the Southern states a third more seats in Congress  and a third more electoral votes than if slaves had been ignored, but fewer than if slaves and free people had been counted equally. As a result, Southern states had disproportionate influence on the presidency , the speakership of the House , and the Supreme Court  all the way up to the Civil War. The clause remained in force until the post-war 13th Amendment  freed all enslaved people. However, as Louis Menand writes,

“…one of the reasons the South was able to exercise a stranglehold on race relations in national politics was the supervention of the famous three-fifths clause, once the focus of abolitionist attacks on the Constitution. When the former slaves were counted as full persons, the former slave states gained twenty congressional seats, a twenty-five-per-cent bump. They also gained votes in the Electoral College. They suppressed the votes of their African-American residents, then got full representational credit for them.”

The Naturalization Act of 1790 was one of the first foreign policy measures of the fledgling government, and its racist implications set the tone for 200 years of restrictive definitions of what it means to be an American and who is allowed to enjoy the benefits of citizenship. This was the third case of affirmative action for whites, since it allowed virtually any European immigrant to become a citizen, while expressly denying that privilege to Asians. Two hundred and thirty years later, we wonder what Congress was so afraid of. Over the next 120 years, it would pass many other definitions of who was “us” and who wasn’t – especially concerning black people – which served as models for the almost entirely invisible white privilege that would bolster the Reagan, Bush and Trump “revolutions” many decades later. By then, structures of oppression would be so effective precisely because they seemed so natural.

Part Two

1830s:  Historians consider “Jacksonian Democracy” the period when the government increased political freedoms. But it did so for only for white men, while removing those freedoms from Native Americans. Race, rather than civilized behavior or Christian belief (both held in abundance by the Cherokees, one of the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes”), now determined citizenship. The tribes lost their land and were forced to endure the murderous Trail of Tears. As thousands of Native Americans died, thousands of whites bought up their already developed land, including entire towns, for pennies on the dollar. This was the fourth example of affirmative action for white people.

1850-1890: Prior to the Civil War, in the Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that no person of African ancestry, including free blacks, could claim citizenship. Therefore, they had no legal standing to bring suit in a federal court and were powerless against whites who were exploiting them.

After the war, the definition of who was an American was turned on its head. For 175 years, with few exceptions, the notion of “freedom” had been synonymous with whiteness. Emancipation of the slaves ended this consensus and contributed to a great uneasiness about identity among whites, as well as a financial crisis among capitalists. This same uneasiness would reoccur after each of America’s major wars (see below) and would result in significant violence each time. “Freedom” was no longer one of the concepts that defined whiteness.

The postwar Southern economy required a legal system that kept blacks under de facto slave conditions, and it required compliant white working-class people who knew who they were – downtrodden, but superior to blacks and confidant that their relative status and prosperity would remain. For another 150 years they would be privileged to engage in all kinds of marginal behaviors without fearing the police. On the other hand, writes Nadra Kareem Nittle , “It’s hard to understand why African-Americans are incarcerated at higher rates than other groups without knowing what the black codes were.”

In 1864 the 13th Amendment to the Constitution formally abolished slavery, but with this extraordinary qualification: “except as a punishment for crime.” In response, all the Southern states passed the Black Codes, the primary purpose of which was to restrict blacks’ labor and activity. The codes were enforced by all-white police and state militia forces which had descended from the earlier slave patrols and the more recent Confederate Army.

The codes included strict vagrancy and labor contract laws, as well as so-called “anti-enticement” measures designed to punish anyone who offered higher wages to a black laborer already under contract. Mississippi required blacks to have written evidence of employment for the coming year; if they left before the end of the contract, they would be forced to forfeit earlier wages and were subject to arrest. South Carolina prohibited blacks from holding any occupation other than farmer or servant unless they paid an annual tax.

Violation required offenders to pay fines. Inability to pay meant that county courts could hire them out to employers until they worked off their balances, usually in slavery-like environments and with high fatality rates. Because licenses were required for offenders to perform skilled labor, few did. With these restrictions, blacks had little chance to learn a trade and move up the economic ladder once their fines were settled. And they could not simply refuse to work off their debts, as that would lead to a vagrancy charge, resulting in more fees and forced labor. All African Americans, convicts 

or not, were subject to curfews set by their local governments and their day-to-day movements were heavily restricted. Black farm workers were required to carry passes from their employers, and local officials oversaw all meetings blacks took part in, even in church. Any blacks who wanted to live in town required white sponsors.

“South Carolina prohibited blacks from holding any occupation other than farmer or servant unless they paid an annual tax.”

Several states determined that there were certain crimes for which only blacks could be “duly convicted.” Therefore, the argument that the criminal justice system works differently for whites and blacks can be traced back to the 1860s, if not all the way back to the introduction of slave patrols. Most of the codes were repealed during Reconstruction and then re-instated with different language after it ended. From 1874 to 1877, Alabama’s prison population tripled. Ninety percent of new convicts were African American.

Even those blacks with the means to escape this repression found their options limited. Southern states passed laws that prevented most blacks from acquiring western land and kept them as de facto slaves in the South. Homesteading – the ability to acquire free land – became a privilege of whiteness. In the southwest, similar systems targeted Latinos. No wonder our picture of the hardy “pioneers” is lily-white.

During this period (1882) Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was not to be fully repealed until 1965. Although anti-Asian sentiment had little direct impact on black people, I note it here to remind us that in the zero-sum world of capitalism, limitation of the rights or freedoms of any ethnic or sexual minorities always implied a corresponding expansion of white privileges and freedoms.

1890s: The phrase “Separate but Equal” had been a customary way to reject complaints about segregation for decades, even though in the 1857 Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney had said that black people were “a subordinate and inferior class of beings,” with “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Now the Supreme Court itself asserted that segregation was not per se discrimination. If the statute did not prescribe unequal conditions, then, legally, conditions were not unequal. In reality, of course, this ruling institutionalized segregation in housing and transportation and poor schooling for Blacks and residential privilege for whites.

During that decade, Southern mobs lynched at least a thousand black men and terrorized the rest of the black population into submission. By the end of the century, the work of disenfranchisement was complete. There were 130,000 blacks registered to vote in Louisiana in 1896; in 1904, there were 1,342. In Virginia that year, the estimated black turnout in the Presidential election was zero. Soon, almost all Southern blacks lost their right to vote and were unable to prevent the establishment of the legal foundation for a public education system that, for the next 65 years, would discriminate against blacks and provide educational access and jobs for whites.

And even after that, white flight and de facto segregation would perpetuate those conditions. A significant contemporary version of this unequal world is the fact that the United States, practically unique among nations, still funds its schools primarily through property taxes, giving wealthy suburbs massive advantages over inner city neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, a private education system modeled on that of Britain’s used legacy admissions to channel the sons of the upper classes, regardless of intelligence, talents or effort, through the prep school system, on to top-level universities and graduate schools and eventually to management positions in industry, politics, finance, diplomacy and espionage.

1910s: President Woodrow Wilson segregated federal jobs, once again giving whites privileged access to well-paid government work. Throughout these years, every time a person of color (in government or not) was denied a decent-paying job or educational position – and the long-term opportunities they might have provided – a white person almost certainly received it. We have to emphasize this point. Liberals are comfortable acknowledging the history of discrimination. But it takes a further leap of logic to realize something that is patently obvious to people of color. Discrimination is not a single-lane road. Each time a black or brown person is pushed to the back of the line, a white person steps to the front. This is the essence of privilege.

It’s a particularly outrageous irony of American history that, as Michael Kazin writes ,

…every major piece of legislation that…Wilson signed to regulate big business—from a major anti-trust act to an eight-hour day for railroad workers—was crafted by a Democrat from one of the states that barred most African Americans from voting.

World War One and the 1920s: We should also acknowledge at this point the vast but unquantifiable loss of equity sustained by every generation of black Americans due to white-on-black race riots, 25 of which occurred during after the “Red Summer” of 1919. The terror continued for several years in places such as Tulsa, Oklahoma, Elaine, Arkansas and Rosewood, Florida.

There can be no more obvious or gruesome example of how very significant numbers of black families that had struggled to acquire property and create middle-class businesses were thrown back in a single day into utter poverty – and how what was left of their assets was confiscated by the state and redistributed to whites. This category would also include property held in common, such as the hundreds of black churches burned down by white racists. All of these events – when they don’t happen to whites or white communities – contribute to the enrichment of whites relative to blacks.

The same situation has persisted in education. Wherever they lived, North or South, throughout the entire twentieth century, black children were channeled into substandard and segregated schools that prepared most of them only for agricultural or domestic work (see below), and later, for the military and the factories. Meanwhile, a minority of white children received educations that gave them the opportunity to rise into the middle class and thus to manage the millions who could not. Indeed, large numbers of whites-only American colleges had been built and serviced for generations by slaves and later by poor blacks. For a more detailed discussion of the intentions of the American education system relative to traditional concepts of initiation, see Chapter Five of my book, or read Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling , by John Taylor Gatto.

Large numbers of whites-only American colleges had been built and serviced for generations by slaves and later by poor blacks.”

Part Three

1930s: Franklin Roosevelt ‘s New Deal  prohibited hiring discrimination in the Public Works Administration  and the defense industry. And, as the Founding Fathers had done in 1776, it united northern liberals and southern conservatives. However, like them, Roosevelt had to maintain silence on the question of race, fearing that his coalition would disintegrate. Southern politicians, who defeated over 200 anti-lynching bills, supported Social Security only if it excluded agricultural laborers and domestic servants. This compromise deliberately kept some 65% of blacks outside of the protections of the welfare state, including minimum wages. In certain states, that number approached 80%.

In a decade when even large numbers of whites faced starvation, people of color received far less assistance from government than did white people. Far more white farmers than black were able to keep their farms. In addition, Black industrial workers in the North eventually discovered that Social Security itself was unfair, because it used money they contributed to pay benefits disproportionately to whites, who lived longer than most blacks. Ira Katznelson writes, “…each of the old age, social assistance, and unemployment provisions advanced by the Social Security Act was shaped to racist contours.”

His book When Affirmative Action Was White  is an excellent book-length treatment of this topic. For much of the twentieth century,

“The federal government, though seemingly race-neutral, functioned as a commanding instrument of white privilege…The Democratic Party that fashioned and superintended the New Deal and Fair Deal combined two different political systems: one that was incorporating new groups and voters, who had arrived from overseas or had migrated from the South; the other still an authoritarian one-party system, still beholden to racial separation.

“Southern seniority was exaggerated by not having to compete in a two-party system. Members from the region thus secured a disproportionate number of committee chairmanships, giving them special gatekeeping powers.

“Each of the old age, social assistance, and unemployment provisions advanced by the Social Security Act was shaped to racist contours.”

“They used three mechanisms. First, whenever the nature of the legislation permitted, they sought to leave out as many African Americans as they could…Second, they successfully insisted that the administration of these and other laws, including assistance to the poor and support for veterans, be placed in the hands of local officials who were deeply hostile to black aspirations. Third, they prevented Congress from attaching any sort of anti-discrimination provisions to aide an array of social welfare programs such as community health services, school lunches, and hospital construction grants…

“Since blacks counted in the numbers reported by the census, their large presence combined with their frequent inability to vote allowed white citizens to gain representation in higher proportions than their population in the House of Representatives…The Senate, with its distribution of two seats for each state, conferred on its seventeen racially segregated states a veto on all legislative enactments they did not like. When this power was deployed, as it was in matters of relief and social insurance, it seriously widened the racial gap. Federal social welfare policy operated, in short, not just as an instrument of racial discrimination but as a perverse formula for affirmative action.”

Blacks who had migrated northward to take advantage of job prospects often found themselves victimized by the “last hired, first fired” principle. For more, read here :

“And they were funneled into segregated housing, caused not only by racist landlords or paranoid communities, but also by redlining practices specifically encouraged by the federal government. The National Housing Act of 1934 established the Federal Housing Administration and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, which created “residential security maps” for several cities to determine the safety of real estate investments in selected areas.”

Jamelle Bouie writes:

“Existing black neighborhoods were lined as unsafe, and thus ineligible for financing. For prospective property owners, this was terrible: Absent cash on hand, there was no way to afford a home or a business in your area. What’s more, blacks were all but barred from entering white neighborhoods, if not by restrictive racial covenants (which forbid property sales to African Americans and other minorities) then by violence and intimidation. In Chicago, for instance, anti-black riots were a regular part of public life. Here’s Arnold Hirsch, author of Making the Second Ghetto: Race and Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 :

“On July 28, 1957, a crowd of 6,000 to 7,000 whites attacked 100 black picnickers who occupied a portion of the park that had previously been “reserved” for whites. Though blacks had used the park in the past, they were customarily restricted to certain portions of it. More than 500 police were needed to calm the area after two days of disturbances. On the first day alone at least forty-seven persons were injured and sixty to seventy cars stoned. Rioters spilled out of the park, attacked police officers attempting arrests, and, eventually, placed the entire area between the nearby Trumbull Park Homes and Calumet Park in turmoil. Police squadrons had to form a “flying wedge” to break through the crowd to rescue blacks besieged in the park.” In the late 1940s, he writes, there was “one racially motivated bombing or arson” every twenty days.”

In 1937 the government began to build public housing, but It was actually designed primarily for working-class white families. Housing built for black people was segregated. In large cities like Chicago and Detroit, public housing became a black program – those horrible concrete high rises that came to be called “the projects” – and the FHA created a different program for whites, which was a single-family suburban program. Terrel Starr writes:

“The Federal Housing Administration financed the construction of new single-family homes in suburban developments  (and government money plotted and paved the roads to get there). The FHA and the Veteran’s Administration also guaranteed cheap mortgages for the families who moved there, making this new kind of owner-occupied housing often just as affordable as rents had been in public housing projects in the city. Like many of those original projects, though, the new homes were explicitly unavailable to blacks. The FHA required developers to use restrictive covenants barring blacks , and it denied black families the mortgages that allowed working-class whites to leave public housing.

“The FHA created a different program for whites, which was a single-family suburban program.”

As the white “barely poor” moved out — and as the strict criteria for who could live in public housing faded — the median incomes of the families there began to fall. In 1950, the median household in public housing earned about 57 percent of the national median income. That number fell to 41 percent by 1960, then 29 percent by 1970. By the 1990s, the median family in public housing made only about 17 percent what the median family in America made.

Relatively speaking, that means public-housing residents by the 1990s were about three times as poor as they had been in the 1950s.

World War Two: Participation in imperial wars is a dubious and difficult moral question. Should we be proud that women can now serve in combat? But it is true that the military – and, eventually, an integrated military – has long offered opportunities for working class Americans to enter the middle class. Kaznelson, however, insists that blacks were inducted at much lower rates than whites, received discriminatory treatment (including health care and training for higher status positions), and served in legally segregated units. He concludes:

“…for most African American individuals, and certainly for the group as a whole, war service ended with a wider gap between whites and blacks, as white access to training and occupational advancement moved ahead at a much more vigorous rate.”

In America, the fear and uncertainty of wartime always contributes to increased racial tension, and this period was no exception. Just as during the previous war, there were dozens of race riots, almost all of them white-on-black events that primarily destroyed black lives and property.

Post-World War Two: The G.I. Bill created the American middle class, but almost exclusively for whites. First of all, far lower percentages of blacks than whites had been allowed to serve, and thus to qualify for its benefits. Secondly, writes Kaznelson, Southern politicians made sure that “it was deliberately designed to accommodate Jim Crow,” and that it placed nearly impassible boundaries in front of black veterans. Because implementation, including unemployment insurance, loans and funding for college-level education, was left to all-white local officials, “the playing field was never level.”  Only one in twelve job training programs in the South admitted blacks, while the white working class received the training that opened further opportunities.

The G.I. Bill financed 90% of the 13 million houses constructed in the 1950s. However, those same Southern politicians made sure that 98% of those homes went to whites, even when home construction was in the North. Of 350,000 federally subsidized homes built in Northern California between 1946 and 1960, fewer than 100 went to blacks, as did none of the 82,000 homes built in Levittown, New York. People of color remained locked in the inner cities, their dwellings and businesses often torn down to make room for the interstates that would shuttle whites to the suburbs where only they could live.

This was the period when Southern Democratic congressman, many of whom had supported New Deal programs that improved labor rights, began to shift their allegiance to anti-union Republicans, eventually reversing the Democratic hold on the South. In the Southwest, Mexicans and Mexican Americans were enduring the effects of the Bracero Program and its aftermath, which I write about here :

When African Americans relocated to friendlier areas, they still had to confront the reality of racially restrictive housing “covenants”. After the war, it was still common practice for developers and realtors – even in the liberal San Francisco Bay area – to bar non-whites from moving into their newly built homes, and to have such covenants enforced by law. Although they are no longer legal, as recently as 2019, the University of Washington found over 20,000 properties in the Seattle area with racial covenants in their deeds.

Part Four

There goes the neighborhood – Old joke (or not).

The 1960s and 1970s: Three-fourths of the one million persons displaced from their homes by the Interstate Highway Program were black. A fifth of all African American housing in the nation was destroyed for highways. The government was reducing the housing stock for blacks at the same time it was expanding it for whites. In fact, since the highway program made “white flight” easier, we can even say that white middle-class housing access – affirmative action – was made possible because of the destruction of housing for African American and Latino communities. Tim Wise writes :

“The so-called ghetto was created  and not accidentally. It was designed as a virtual holding pen—a concentration camp were we to insist upon honest language—within which impoverished persons of color would be contained. It was created by generations of housing discrimination, which limited where its residents could live. It was created by decade after decade of white riots against black people whenever they would move into white neighborhoods. It was created by deindustrialization and the flight of good-paying manufacturing jobs overseas.”

White flight remains a reality to this day, as a recent study  points out:

“White flight eventually becomes more likely in middle-class neighborhoods when the presence of Hispanics and Asians exceeds 25 percent and 21 percent, respectively…This continuing trend has a number of consequences for an increasingly multicultural America, none of them positive…(as racial segregation has been) a key predictor of reduced life chances, across health, academic, and economic outcomes.”

A fifth of all African American housing in the nation was destroyed for highways.”

As the federal government finally acknowledged the elephant in the living room – the farcical “separate but equal” – and mandated desegregation in the schools, Southern leaders (soon to be uniformly Republican) faced the fear of race-mixing and solved the dilemma with a stroke of malevolent genius. If they couldn’t prevent black children from entering the best public schools, they could simply transfer their own children to private schools, de-fund the public ones, which were now primarily black and brown, and find ways to subsidize the private ones with public money. The Southern Education Foundation reports :

“From the mid-1960s to 1980, as public schools in the Deep South began to slowly desegregate through federal court orders, private school enrollment increased by more than 200,000 students across the region – with about two-thirds of that growth occurring in six states…What was once the South’s 11 percent share of the nation’s private school enrollment had reached 24 percent in 1980…The eleven Southern states of the old Confederacy enrolled between 675,000 and 750,000 white students in the early 1980s, and it is estimated that 65 to 75 percent of these students attended schools in which 90 percent or more of the student body was white.”

Northerners have long criticized this situation in the South – and their hypocricy seems to be matched only their apparent ignorance. The anger of working class whites whose wages were stagnating and who perceived that blacks were getting ahead of them would eventually elect con men like Reagan, the Bushes and Trump. But, following the popularity of George Wallace, it erupted in Northern cities such as Boston, which produced one of the most iconic images of the 20th century:

Now, the American school system (especially in Northern cities) is nearly as segregated as it was in 1960, with predictable implications for funding, testing, dropout rates, college placement and job preparation. Eighty percent of Latino students and 74% of black students attend schools that are majority nonwhite. The percentage of black students attending majority white schools has been in decline since 1988, and it is now at its lowest point in almost half a century.

In 2003, 1/6 of all black students were educated in “apartheid schools” – schools in which students of color make up 99% of the population. The achievement gap between minority and white students continues to widen. Minority high schoolers are performing at academic levels equal to or below those of three decades ago.

1985-present: The War on Drugs has disenfranchised over six million people, two million of whom are black. This simple fact has utterly determined the course of recent history.

Let me say that again: This simple fact has utterly determined the course of history.

The more African Americans a state contains, the more likely it is to ban felons from voting. The average state disenfranchises 2.4 % of its voting-age population but 8.4 % of blacks. In fourteen states, the share of blacks stripped of the vote exceeds 10%, and in five states it exceeds twenty percent. While 75% of whites register, only 60% of blacks can. In any given Senate, over a dozen Republican senators owe their election to these laws.

Had felons been allowed to vote in 2000, Al Gore’s popular vote margin would have doubled to a million. If Florida had allowed just ex-felons to vote, he still would have carried the state by 30,000 votes and with it the presidency. Would Gore have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan? Would we all have had to endure a bogus war on terror that has cost trillions of dollars and killed several million people? Would the Supreme Court be on the verge of banning abortion? Would the government be leading the world in a race toward a petrochemically-induced climate disaster? We can’t answer these questions, but we should continue to ask them.

“If Florida had allowed just ex-felons to vote, he still would have carried the state by 30,000 votes and with it the presidency.”

In 2020 we also have to acknowledge the ongoing voter suppression, gerrymandering and computer fraud  in over twenty states, all of which have contributed to Republican control of Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court.

And these conditions existed before the Court disemboweled the Voting Rights Act in 2013. After that decision, the 2016 election became the first in fifty years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. Again: it’s absolutely certain that without that Court decision, there would be no Trump presidency. 

And while we’re at it, let’s take note of another fact: These numbers do not include Americans residing in Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands, all of whom are considered U.S. nationals, who are allowed to vote in primaries (did you know that Michael Bloomberg won his only Democratic delegates in American Samoa’s primary?). But since they are not considered citizens, they cannot vote in general elections. This is an aggregate population of nearly four million people – nearly all of them people of color. Imagine the results if they could vote for President and compare that to the privileges retained by the white supremacist governments from the Carolinas to Arkansas.

Those numbers are dwarfed by an even larger group, those citizens who for all reasons are ineligible to vote, including most prisoners as well as college students on campuses not in their home districts. The adult population is 245 million, and 220 million are eligible to vote (about half of whom actually do). This results in a staggering number: some fifteen to twenty million American adults – at least half of them people of color – are not permitted to vote.

Of course, due to the effort and sacrifices of the Civil Rights movement, most of the older patterns have disappeared, at least legally. But the long-term consequences of 275 years of discrimination remain as a cruel reality. Due to home equity inflation and resulting family inheritance, as well as the exclusion from Social Security and unequal access to capital, an average black family still has one eleventh of the wealth of a white family, even when they make the same income.

“The long-term consequences of 275 years of discrimination remain as a cruel reality.”

As I write in Chapters Six and Ten of my book, a striking aspect of our de-mythologized world is our literalization of the ancient myths of the sacrifice of the children. And one of the prices America pays for its obsession with innocence is the perpetuation of a particularly ironic form of generational cruelty.

It bears repeating that people over 75 years of age, widely celebrated as the “greatest generation ,” themselves formerly the recipients of massive government welfare support, are now the demographic most resistant to the extension of those supports to young people and people of color.

Since 1996 nine states have banned affirmative action: California, Texas (subsequently reversed), Washington, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma. These bans have led to a 23% drop in the chance of college admission for minority students, compared with a 1% drop in other states, relative to nonminority students.

2008: Long-term patterns of government and private sector discrimination and outright fraud came to a head in the subprime mortgage crisis. During the period preceding the housing boom, 6.2 % of whites with good credit scores received high-interest mortgages but 21.4 % of blacks with similar scores received these same loans. It turned out that several of the major banks had been purposely giving people of color subprime mortgages, including borrowers who would have qualified for prime loans. The worst of the lot, Wells Fargo had provided a cash incentive for loan officers to aggressively market subprime mortgages in minority neighborhoods. Women of color were the most likely to receive subprime  loans while white men were the least likely.

The results were predictable. Black homeowners were disproportionately affected  by the foreclosure crisis, with more than 240,000 blacks losing homes they had owned. Black homeowners in the D.C. region were 20% more likely to lose their homes than whites with similar incomes and lifestyles. From 2005 to 2009, the net worth of black households declined by 53% while the net worth of white households declined by 16%.

Both conscious and unconscious biases remain, leading to findings that job-seekers with black-sounding names are 50% less likely to get a callback than those with white-sounding names, as proof that affirmative action is not obsolete.

“From 2005 to 2009, the net worth of black households declined by 53% while the net worth of white households declined by 16%.”

In 2020 racial profiling remains a major factor. Police stop and search black and Latino drivers on the basis of less evidence than used in stopping white drivers, who are searched less often even though they are more likely to be found with illegal items. The resultant fines, arrests, legal fees and time spent in court mean that people of color have even less disposable income relative to whites. In New York City alone, the stop-and-frisk program made over 100,000 stops per year between 2003 and 2013, with 686,000 stops at its height in 2011. Ninety percent of those stopped in 2017 were African-American  or Latino . Even as recently as 2016, the NYPD made over 12,000 stops.

From the annoying to the most critical: police in the U.S. kill over a thousand people per year.

Blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than whites. For black women, the rate is 1.4 times more likely. It is still true that every 28 hours,  an African-American or Latino is shot dead by a police officer, a security guard or a self-appointed vigilante. 80% of the victims are unarmed.

Here is the ultimate in affirmative action for whites: long-term evidence that their lives are worth more to the state than the lives of people of color. “Policing in this country” writes Salim Muwakkil , “has always had the dual purpose of maintaining social order and enforcing the racial hierarchy.” For my thoughts on the massive inequalities in sentencing and prison populations, read here  and here .

The final indignity is that most of this vast accumulation of affirmative action for white people is not common knowledge, either in the news media, in politics or at any level of the educational system, including universities. This means that whites have been given free rein to wallow in their ignorance, and thus in their unacknowledged privilege. It means that, most whites have been able to live out their lives completely unaware of the long term, institutional factors that have kept people of color down – and themselves up. James Baldwin said it fifty years ago:

“…this is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it…but it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”

In American theological terms, this means that large numbers of whites are still able to perceive their own relatively happy status as deserved, and the impoverished conditions of millions of black people as their own fault. And when whites feel that they are falling backwards in the rat race, the politicians have provided them with a ready-to-order scapegoat: affirmative action – “discrimination” in favor of those same undeserving , lazy minorities. And the growing realization that whites themselves will be actual minorities (as they are already are in California) soon is a source of terror.


It means that a majority of white people are privileged to believe that they are more often the victims of racism than black people


Meet the new boss

Same as the old boss – The Who

I first posted this essay in 2015, finishing with these words:

“This has been a brief outline of our history of affirmative action for whites. Keep it in mind the next time some fool starts to rant about how minorities get all the breaks. You need to know the facts, and you need to know how they express the myth of American Innocence.”

I had already suggested – correctly, I believe – that major power brokers had assigned Barack Obama the task of shoring up holes in the myth of American Innocence. Still, it was a time when I (and probably you) still labored under the misconception that learning the facts about our history and the themes of our mythic narratives would naturally lead people to more progressive politics, and that the power brokers would respond. How naïve I was.

In the spring of 2020 we’ve since had five more years of evidence that logic and reason will not penetrate the hard shell of denial. What I didn’t fully understand when I published my book in 2010 is that the sum total of racist, misogynist, nationalist, materialist, celebrity-worshipping – and for millions, religious – beliefs that fill the regions of the conservative mind compose a solid but extremely fragile identity that has been built up over many generations. Calling any one of its assumptions into question is to open up the possibility that the entire edifice will collapse. We are talking about identity.

The question “Who am I?” is not really meant to get an answer. The question “Who am I?” is meant to dissolve the questioner. – Ramana Maharshi

And now, in the time of plague, in a time when circumstances are offering everyone yet another initiatory moment, it’s clear that the response to the questioning of one’s identity is a terror so deep that most of us will follow any old white con man, one of whom promises to put the sheets back over our eyes, and the other who promises a return to “normalcy.”

And who can blame the Republican faithful for being skeptical about Medicare for all, real tax reform or the dangers of the coronavirus when, as Caitlin Johnstone writes, they’ve been subject to

“…mainstream outlets who’ve sold the public lies about war after war, election after election, status quo-supporting narrative after status quo-supporting narrative?”

And who can blame the Democratic faithful for absorbing the Russiagate narrative and the “CIA is our friend” narrative and the “defend Israel at all costs” narrative and the “electability” narrative when they’ve been subject for decades to that same media discourse? Looking in from outside the myth of American Innocence, now I can see that the only difference between reactionaries and conventional liberals is that the first group is angrier and the second is more naïve. I recall that from the outside, from the perspective of the Other, black novelist Walter Mosely wrote in 2004 of the last time American innocence had been challenged: “I have never met an African-American who was surprised by the attack on the World Trade Center.”

Still, as a mythologist, my work is to offer up historical fact, put it into the context of mythological truth, and use that truth to try to imagine ways to approach a new history of the future. We are better than who we think we are. May this plague finally open our eyes to what true progressives (and now, Bernie Sanders) have been arguing for well over a century – We’re all in this together. May it be so.

Questioner: How should we treat others?

Ramana Maharshi: There are no others


Gullah, descendants of Afrikan slaves in South Carolina who haven’t abandoned their cultural roots

The Gullah Geechee Kinfolk…Pathfinders Travel Magazine

The Gullah people, also referred to as the Geechee, reside in Georgia and the low country of South Carolina within the United States.  They are also located within the coast and the Sea Islands  – which are a series of minute islands along the Atlantic Ocean. They equate to over 100 islands.

Originally, the Gullah people inhabited the Cape Fear region of North Carolina extending to the Jacksonville, Florida area. They eventually heavily populated South Carolina and Georgia.

They differentiate themselves by referring to one another as saltwater Geechee or freshwater Geechee; this describes the mainland and the Sea Islands settlers. saltwater

Geechee or Gullah are also the names of the language spoken by the African natives. The name Geechee is said to derive from the Ogeechee River within the vicinity of Savannah, Georgia.

The Gullah originate from Angola, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Senegambia, Cote d’Ivoire, Madagascar, Mozambique and the Bight of Benin which is a bight in the Gulf of Guinea on the western African coast.

Slaves from this portion of Africa were brought for the chief purpose of profit for slave owners and colonizers.

Two British trading companies operated the slave castle at Bunce Island, formerly known as Bance Island in the Sierra Leone River.  Henry Laurens, a slave agent was based in Charleston, S.C. His colleague, Richard Oswald was based in England.  Any slaves taken from West Africa passed through Bance Island.  It was the principal spot for slaves being shipped to Georgia and South Carolina.

Along the Western coast of Africa, the natives grew and harvested rice.  This rice was initially planted and grown in the inland delta of the Upper Niger River.  British colonizers realized that African rice could be cultivated in the southern parts of the U.S. Hence why slaves were captured from Western Africa. They were needed to build irrigation and dam systems that would aid in growing the rice.

By the 18th century, large acres of land in the lowlands of South Carolina and Georgia were made into African rice fields.  It proved to be very lucrative for America during that time.

The Gullah have been able to preserve much of their African culture due to the similarity in the climate of their origin and their new land. Many slave overseers were African which enabled a fusion of African cultures and preservation of customs. Additionally, because malaria and yellow fever became endemic, white slave owners, rice field owners and plantation overseers were forced to leave their homes and migrate to the city.  This attributed to the increase of African rice overseers.

1861 ushered in the beginning of the Civil War. White planters, afraid of an invasion by U.S. naval forces, abandoned their land.  Union forces soon arrived on the land and were introduced to the Geechee who were eager for their freedom and willing to risk their lives for it.  The Gullah joined the Union Army as the First South Carolina Volunteers.

The Sea Islands became the first place in the South where slaves were freed. Unitarian missionaries from Pennsylvania also formulated schools for freed slaves – even before the end of slavery.

After the end of the war, the rice fields became damaged and chances of labor were considerably low.  Rice planters gradually abandoned their land. In 1890, hurricanes obliterated the crops altogether. The Gullah were now the main inhabitants of the low country which isolated them from their former owners and the greater population. This allowed for the opportunity to practice their culture, undisturbed by outside influences.

There was an awesome mending of customs and traditions from the Mende, Baga, Fula, Mandinka and Wolof tribes, to name a few.

Some mentionable customs that have passed from African traditions are the Gullah word guber which is derived from the Kikongo and Kimbundu word, N’guba.  The Geechee version of gumbo comes from the Angolan dish of okra called Umbundu.  Gullah herbal medicines are highly comparable to traditional African remedies.  Gullah strip quilts are made in the same fashion as Kente cloth from the Ashanti and Ewe people of Ghana as well as the Akwete cloth from the Igbo tribe of Nigeria.

During the 20th century, wealthy whites redeveloped some areas of the plantations destroyed earlier on.  Since there has been an influx of visitors who wish to enjoy the favorable weather and beautiful scenery. Juxtaposing this notion has been the Gullah fighting to preserve and practice their culture.  Development of the plantations for tourism purposes has also threatened the livelihood of the native Gullah.In 2006, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Act enabled the preservation of historic sites as it relates to Gullah culture.  The act has also provided $10 million towards the cause aforementioned.

Gullahs have reached as far north as New York City; keeping close ties to family members by visiting and passing down their traditions to newer generations. Some Gullahs have established relationships with natives in Sierra Leone in the form of reunions.


A story of 1619, 1776 and 2020: Telling the whole truth about Amerika and slavery

Engraving shows the arrival of a Dutch slave ship with a group of African slaves for sale, Jamestown, Virginia, 1619.
Engraving shows the arrival of a Dutch slave ship with a group of African slaves for sale, Jamestown, Virginia, 1619. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Last week, the New York Times received a George Polk Award — one of the highest marks of recognition in American journalism — for its 1619 Project, a special package published last August exploring slavery’s legacy in the United States. Yet the Times’ own report on the award acknowledged that the project has drawn sharp criticism from historians. And a few days earlier, a group of African-American public figures launched a rival 1776 Project to counter what they consider its false and demoralizing narrative.

No decent person would deny that African-Americans endured horrific oppression or dispute the value of telling that story. But there is plenty of dispute about historical facts and interpretations, and their present-day meaning. Was racialized slavery an evil that tarnished America’s founding ideals — or America’s very foundation? Are our current social structures still hopelessly rooted in white supremacy, or is reality far more complex?

The 1619 Project posits that American history began with slavery — the arrival of 20 enslaved Africans in colonial Virginia. But as former Vanderbilt University professor Carol Swain argues in her 1776 Project essay, this narrative is flawed from the start: The Africans were indentured laborers who, like their white counterparts, later gained freedom and sometimes land. Leading black historian Nell Irving Painter also makes this point. Thus, 1619 was the start not only of African bondage in America, but of the free African-American community.

Most contentiously, the 1619 Project asserts that preserving slavery was a principal motive for the American Revolution. Its defenders cite literature arguing that the colonies’ pursuit of independence was fueled by fears of a ban on slavery after Britain’s highest court ruled in 1772, in Somerset vs. Stuart, that slavery was not sanctioned by British common law. But as I found in months of research, reported in depth in The Bulwark, this is junk history: The colonial Somerset backlash is a myth based on speculation and cherrypicked, out-of-context quotes. (There was a backlash among planters in the Caribbean, but they sought more British protection while mainland America rebelled.)

Supporting material mentioned on Twitter by 1619 Project lead author Nikole Hannah-Jones includes University of Houston historian Gerald Horne’s 2014 book, “The Counterrevolution of 1776.” But that volume is riddled with errors — e.g., a 1774 pro-Crown, pro-slavery pamphlet is misattributed to a revolutionary — and Horne is a career Communist propagandist who defends Stalinism. While Hannah-Jones has downplayed the connection, Horne is on an upcoming New York Times-sponsored panel about the project.

The real story of slavery and the American Founding is full of paradox. The Revolution’s anti-tyranny rhetoric kindled abolitionist fervor; the British offer of freedom to slaves who fought for the Crown stoked fear of slave revolts. Supporters of the 1619 Project note that the Declaration of Independence referenced such fears, assailing King George for inciting “domestic insurrections amongst us.” Yet the same passage originally included a powerful condemnation of Britain’s promotion of slavery — later dropped to placate slaveholders.

The Revolution’s aftermath saw abolition in the North, but also a slavery-enabling Constitution and rollbacks in the rights of free blacks — a shameful betrayal of “all men are created equal.”

Still, the revolutionary spirit of that message remained. It almost certainly helped end slavery in the Western world. It scared slaveholders like Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, who repudiated the Founders as anti-slavery believers in “equality of races.” It inspired abolitionists like Frederick Douglass, who saw it as a goal to fight for.

The 1619 Project admirably stresses black Americans’ role in that fight — but asserts that “for the most part [they] fought back alone,” an inaccurate and polarizing claim that erases the very real history of interracial solidarity.

In a later-deleted snarky Twitter rejoinder to the 1776 Project, Hannah-Jones wondered why any African-Americans would embrace “the year revolutionaries decided to form a new country where you and your people would have been enslaved for another 100 years.” But the dissenters — conservatives like Swain and activist Robert Woodson, but also liberals like Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Clarence Page, scholar and author John McWhorter, Columbia University philosophy student and writer Coleman Hughes — believe that the heritage of 1776, of a political order based on the then-radical principle of inalienable human rights, belongs to all Americans. They deserve to be heard.



Interview by Robert W. Young

Chances are you’ve heard about 52 Blocks, possibly because of its supposed link to the prison system or because of celebrities like Wesley Snipes who have taken to it. I’m betting, however, that you don’t know much more than that. I didn’t. Which is why I linked up with Mahaliel Bethea, aka Professor Mo. The New York City–based martial artist is one of America’s most prominent proponents of 52 Blocks, and as such, he possesses unique insight into its history and development, as well as its current state. Sit back and prepare to be educated on this up-and-coming art.


First, I’d like to get the name of the art straight. Is 52 Blocks the same as 52 Hand Blocks?

They’re the same. Different people teach it different ways and call it different things, but they’re the same system.

And is 52 Blocks the same as Jailhouse Rock?

Yes. Jailhouse Rock was what they called it before they started using the name 52 Blocks. It’s also been called “wall fighting.” But over the past few years, 52 Blocks has become the most widely accepted name.

Where did the system originate?

Some people will tell you it comes from incarceration, but actually it’s a very Afrocentric system. But when you look at its history, you find that because of mass incarceration, the fighting system evolved in the jails. Some people mistakenly say that the name Jailhouse Rock means it comes from the jails. Most masters of 52 Blocks will tell you that it’s a martial art from Africa.

Does that mean the martial art came here with African slaves centuries ago, or did it come afterward?

I think it’s related to genetic memory. Let me explain. If you watch how capoeiristas move and you study how hip-hop and break dancing evolved, you’ll see similarities. Break dancing evolved in the Bronx, and those kids in the Bronx never knew anything about Brazil, but their movements were very similar to the jinga of capoeira. Their movements — the head spins and so on — were very similar to what the capoeiristas did.

Did the kids who created break dancing watch capoeira and say, “Let me copy that”? If not, where did the kids learn it? How did they know it? We believe it’s a genetic memory from their African roots.

We do know that a lot of fighting systems were used in fights that took place on plantations. Plantation owners would take their slaves from place to place and let people gamble on the fights. So slaves did have a form of fighting.

Do you think capoeira looks similar to what you do in 52 Blocks?

No. I think capoeira looks very similar to break dancing. A lot of the traditions that you see in capoeira are also in break dancing. Many articles have been written about this link, especially about the jinga.

Has 52 Blocks in its current incarnation been influenced by any other martial arts? Is there any Brazilian jiu-jitsu in it? Is there any karate or kickboxing? Or is it pure?

The 52 Blocks that I teach, because of my experience in other arts, includes gun disarms, joint locks, knife defense and knife offense. It’s always been an art that’s evolving. When I learned from my Uncle Johnny Muhammad, his 52 Blocks was different from what mine is now because he had his boxing. A lot of people had boxing skills, which is why the boxing element is very much a part of 52 Blocks.

But then my Uncle Johnny also had a couple of kicks in there because he’d done karate. In the past, 52 Blocks depended a lot on the practitioner. Now, however, people are putting together a curriculum so you get gun disarms, strangulations and things like that.

When I started, it didn’t have a curriculum. Some guys were better than others at certain things, and you went from place to place to learn. In a way, 52 Blocks is like savate. They say it came from the ghettos of France and evolved over the years — with the uniforms, the boxing and the ring being added. Now it’s their national fighting art.

The thing about 52 Blocks is that for a lot of people of color, it was our first martial art. Why? Because it was free. Because it was taught in the neighborhood. Because many of us had somebody in the family who had spent a couple of years in jail, and when he came back, he’d show us how to fight.

Does 52 Blocks have a philosophy, or is it all technique?

Its philosophy is the philosophy of survival. There are no rilosophyeal rules. You do what you have to do to survive. Your job is to embarrass your opponent. If you embarrass your opponent, other people won’t want to fight you. It’s about tricking him. Making him look left while you punch him on the right. Dazzling him with your hands and then kicking him.

As I said, the philosophy is that of a survival art. That’s one of the reasons it’s evolving. Look at krav maga — survival means you’ve got to be able to disarm a person with a gun. In 52 Blocks, we believe that sticks, knives and guns are weapons you have to understand how to deal with. And the animal you’ve got to know how to deal with is the dog. Dogs are part of our neighborhoods.

Why are so many celebrities doing 52 Blocks?

Ludacris did a fight scene in Fast and Furious using 52 Blocks. Larenz Tate did a film called Gun Hill that featured 52 Blocks. I think they like it because it’s an Afrocentric martial art. They want to study an art that’s relevant to them. The thing about 52 Blocks is that a lot of people grew up with it. The public doesn’t know it, but for many people, this was our first martial art.

When I was a kid, I saw a Jerome Mackey commercial on TV. Mackey was the first guy to have a commercial. He was franchising martial arts schools — the big time. I asked my mother to take me there. She said, “We can’t afford Jerome Mackey. Go see your uncle.”

So I did. What did my uncle start showing me? 52 Blocks. People love it because their uncles and cousins talked about it. I’ve had grandfathers come to my dojo with their grandsons and do 52 Blocks together.

Did Wesley Snipes train in it?

Of course! I was Wesley Snipes’ bodyguard. It was fun because we were two martial artists who loved to train — and by the way, he’s a real martial artist with several belts and he’s really good. His introduction to the martial arts was 52 Blocks.

In the past, we didn’t think people would understand 52 Blocks, so we always said, “Yeah, I’m a karate guy.” Many of us never wanted to be identified with the jail thing. We didn’t want to have to debate people about it. But then my instructor Reno Moralez told me, “This is an African martial art, and you need to put out a video on it.” So, being an obedient student, I did.

The point I’m trying to make is that Wesley Snipes might not have said in the beginning, “Yeah, this is 52 Blocks,” but he knows the art. In the past, people would refer to it as street fighting. They would say, “Yeah, I do karate, jujitsu and street fighting.” The street fighting always represented 52 Blocks. Now it’s finally being uncovered, and people like me are working hard to give it a name. We’re thankful that Black Belt magazine is giving it a name.

Is it true that many of the blocks you do are intended to injure the opponent — like blocking a punch by putting your elbow in the path of the fist?

Exactly. It’s a close-quarters style of fighting. Even though some guys think, Oh, it’s boxing, so they’re squaring off, it’s really about close contact. That’s why they used to call it wall fighting. It’s for fighting in a closet or on a staircase. Often, instead of a jab or cross, we’ll use an elbow, a head butt or a knee. The elbow is often used when somebody gives you a long shot and you want to break their fingers or break their hand. As a matter of fact, you’ll hear rap singers talk about “throw them bows.” They’re talking about elbows — again, without saying 52 Blocks.

Do practitioners of 52 Blocks do much punching, or is it mostly open-hand striking?

It depends on the artist, but punching will usually be the foundation. The punches are similar to boxing punches. There’s also a lot of open-hand striking and gouging.

What about kicking?

The front kick is what you usually see in our system. If you see a roundhouse kick, it’s probably a hybrid system. For leg techniques, the big things in 52 Blocks are the front kick, the knee strike and the stomp. We do a lot of stomps.

And ground fighting?

There is ground fighting, but it’s not as extensive as in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. On the street, the thing is to not stay on the ground. The 52 Blocks martial artist always wants to get up. If I can’t finish you within 20 seconds, I’ve got to get up.

We always teach that when you stay on the ground, you have to assume that your opponent has another person with him. That other person can be a wife who’s about to stab you or a guy who’s about to hit you with a chair. In ground fighting, we try to finish quick. Once we stabilize the person, we look around. We’re always looking for who the next attacker might be. That’s why a good 52 Blocks guy likes to “play the wall.” When your back is against the wall, nobody can hit you from behind.

Earlier, you mentioned the knife. Do you teach knife offense as well as defense?

Yes. We teach about different kinds of knives — of course, the ice pick is the most popular. We do less slashing and more poking. Most of what we focus on is using makeshift knives. If you’re on the streets or in jail, you make your own knife. We don’t use fancy knives, and flashy is not part of the system. We might try to puncture the inside of the attacker’s thigh or his groin. We’ll start with his lower body and work our way up. Of course, this is only for life-and-death situations. We’re not looking to kill people. It’s called 52 Blocks because it’s about blocking first!

The name “52 Blocks,” by the way, comes from a game we used to play where we would throw a deck of 52 cards down and whatever number you saw was the number of techniques you got. If you got a 2, you got two punches. If you threw a 10, you got 10 shots. It could mean defense or offense.

What else is part of 52 Blocks?

Takedowns. The most common takedowns are the double-leg and single-leg — and picking a guy up to dump him. There’s also an over-the-back throw. The fancy martial arts throws would never get used in 52 Blocks.

Is there anything similar to kata?

If you put together a sequence of hand moves, that would be what we would call a kata. We also do a lot of shadowboxing. A shadowboxing sequence might include a punch, moving around, an elbow strike and so on — it’s like kata, but it’s not rigid from beginning to end. It’s a freestyle movement.

You said your system is designed for close-range fighting. Do you have a particular strategy for closing the gap?

It’s usually about waiting for the guy to come to you because, again, it’s 52 Blocks. You want to see what he’s got so you can block it. If a fight was starting from a conversation, I might “stack the deck” with my hands — reach out and pull his hands down — and then head-butt him. A lot of 52 Blocks guys like to start with a head butt or a knee or something like that.

A big part of the system is using trickery through deceptive head movements, hand movements and body movements. If you watch the evolution of boxing, especially the way black boxers moved, you’ll see that they didn’t move the way the old-time boxers did. With the black boxers, all the stiffness was gone. They were bobbing and weaving — all that stuff comes from somewhere, right? After Jack Johnson and then Jersey Joe Walcott, you saw a lot of 52 Blocks in the way boxers moved. That’s not the way boxing was originally designed; that’s where they took it.


Did you know white slave owners raped enslaved Afrikan males? Here’s why

Buck Breaking where a white male readies to ram the behind of the enslaved African male via

The quest by white slave owners to dominate Africans was so dire that they devised Buck Breaking (Male Slave Rape) to break the intimidated and strong enslaved African males they have taken delivery of.While homophobia cannot be countenanced in a civil society, the opposition to same sex union must nonetheless be viewed beyond the lens of morality to historical experience.

In Jamaica, as well as, in other Caribbean states, the opposition to gay sex is in part due to the distasteful incidences where a slave owner or an overseer before a black population raped the dominant male often comprising his wife and children to emasculate him and to send the warning that even their supposed front man could be tamed.

Voyages in transatlantic slave trade Pic Credit:

In Tariq Nasheed’s Hidden Colors documentary, the case is made that right from the ships which spent some three months on the high seas, the enslaved African males were easy target for the captain and his unruly crew, who had their way with the hapless men. Sadly, the practice continued on the plantations too, with those who landed in Jamaica bearing the most brunt.

Those who have stated strong opposition to gay relations have been dancehall artistes, but the gay rights groups have pushed back even having scheduled concerts involving these artistes to be cancelled. Their protests have been so successful that some of the artistes have been banned from Britain by the Home Office.

Artistes such as Shaba Ranks, Buju Banton, Beenie Man, Bounty Killer and Sizzla Kalonjis have all been accused of rendering anti-gay lyrics and expressed public anti-gay comments in interviews. While calling for the demise of gays is unacceptable, it helps to understand the source of the vehemence with which the Jamaica society opposes gay unions. The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service has also scrutinized other artistes including Elephant Man, Vybz Kartel, Capleton and the group T.O.K to ascertain if their songs contain homophobic lines.

Image result for buck breaking

And to America and breeding farms – another devious scheme hatched all in the interest of making money.

When chattel slavery of Africans and African Americans was abolished in the United States in 1865, barring slave traders and owners from importing new slaves from Africa, the owners resorted to making the strongest males mate with the healthiest females to produce babies.

As author and historian, Anthony Browder puts it; “they bred the Blacks like cattle.” With two of the largest breeding farms in the U.S. being in the Eastern shore of Maryland and just outside of Richmond Virginia, the chosen Black male was made to have sex with his mother, sister, aunt or cousin. The slaver didn’t care about bloodline and family bond. And it’s said the origins of the vulgar slang mother**ker was due to some of the sons f**king their mothers.

Image result for buck breaking

According to psychiatrist, Dr. Patricia Newton, the breeding farms account for Boston having a high incest problem in the U.S. with seven out of 10 people having had an incest experience.

When notable singer R. Kelly who is facing multiple rape charges was accused of being intimate with minors, he also submitted he had also been abused as a child by older relatives staying with them. While the opposition to homosexuality and the cases of incest are with us today, they have an underbelly stemming from the past.


The disturbing account of a black baby thrown into boiling water and flogged to death by slave-ship captain

Voyages in transatlantic slave trade Pic Credit:

Today, many Africans are still living with memories of the pains and brutalities meted out to their ancestors by European and American slave traders.The slave masters didn’t just brutalize adults; black children were also treated with cruelty.

Bahamianology writes that “African children bound for slavery in the colonies of the West Indies, Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and South America as well as the colonial states of America, were treated with a cruelty which almost defies the human imagination.”

Accounts state that to make the young ones obedient slaves, slave masters employed different inhuman tactics, including flogging to instil fear in them.

The thought of babies and young ones experiencing outright barbarity, being beaten to a pulp, snatched from the arms of their mothers and sold to strangers is nothing any mother would wish for her enemy, let alone herself.

What was more disheartening was the fact that many of these little black boys and girls were kept in cages in breeding farms as though they were animals, and this sometimes led to their deaths.

Documented pieces of evidence of the brutality faced by enslaved children abound but the story of a 10-month-old baby who was thrown into boiling water and flogged to death by a slave-ship captain portrays wickedness at its peak.

While black slaves were being transported from Africa, the 10-month-old baby was sulking and refusing to eat. This troubled the captain of the ship as the baby was definitely part of the money he would make from the trade.

An account by The Liberator, cited by writes that the captain subsequently took the baby from the mother and tried to force the baby to eat.

He hit the baby who would still not eat and reportedly said: ‘I’ll make you eat or I’ll kill you.”

The baby developed a swollen leg resulting from the manhandling from the captain.

The account of the 10-month-old baby dropped into boiling water by a slave-ship captain in 1832. (The Liberator, Saturday 28 January 1832) | Source – Bahamianology

To douse the swollen legs of the child, the captain asked his men to boil water and then the unimaginable happened; the captain ordered that the baby’s feet and nails be dipped in the hot water. Right after, the nails and skin of the baby’s feet came off.

Having no sympathy for the child, the captain used an oiled cloth to wrap the feet of the child and then tied the child to a heavy log of wood for three days.

The captain wasn’t done with the little child yet; he caught the child up and said: “I’ll make you eat, or I’ll be the death of you.” He went on to flog the child until the child died.

After the infant was lifeless, disregarding the talks from his countrymen who were spectators of this devastating event, the captain called the mother of the baby and beat her while ordering her to pick up the child and throw it into the ocean.

The Liberator writes that the mother “then dropped it [the baby] into the sea, turning her head away the other way that she might not see it.”


‘Pantherism is for everyone!’

“Panther Power” – Art: Peter Kamau Mukuria (Comrade Pitt), 1197165, Red Onion Prison, P.O. Box 1900, Pound VA 24279

Interview with NABPP Chairman Shaka Zulu by Heather Warburton of New Jersey Revolution Radio

Heather Warburton: This is Wine Women and Revolution with your host Heather Warburton coming at you here on New Jersey Revolution Radio. You can find us online at Get us wherever you get your podcasts from and follow us on all the social media.

Today I am really excited about this interview. I have someone with me that the group he’s with is probably doing some of the best organizing I’m seeing in the state of New Jersey right now. And I do not say that lightly. They really are doing really impressive work up in the Newark area. Welcome to the show, Chairman Shaka Zulu of the New African Black Panther Party.

Chairman Zulu: All power to the people! Glad to be here and I’m glad to talk to your audience.

Heather Warburton: I’m so happy that New Jersey Revolution Radio was able to support you guys and help get your message out. And that’s one of the things I’m probably most proud of that we’re doing here on NJRR. Because like I said, you guys are doing amazing organizing. I’m just not seeing the kind of organizing you’re doing – that grassroots neighborhood empowerment organizing – by many other groups in the state.

So I wanted to take a little trip back to your origin story. How did you come to be a revolutionary? How did you get this thought, revolutionary thought, in you? And you’re going to start empowering communities? Where did that come from?

Chairman Zulu: Well, I think that how I became a revolutionary was my encounter with the criminal justice system. I think that the police encounters, the prison cell, that kind of kicked me into the revolutionary movement. When I initially went to prison, I was a common criminal. You know, I sold drugs. I robbed. I’d steal. I did all the things that people that are cut off from the economy do to survive.

But when I went to prison, that’s when I encountered a hardcore revolutionary idea – that with study with time and practice one can change their behavior, one could change their ethics and morals, their values, and join with the rest of humanity trying to make a better place for everybody. So I began to read books. I began to talk to political prisoners. I began to do a lot of writing. And in that process, I discovered the importance of ideas – what it meant, how can we apply it?

“All Power to the People” – Art: Peter Kamau Mukuria (Comrade Pitt), 1197165, Red Onion Prison, P.O. Box 1900, Pound VA 2427

And in essence, how can I relate to those ideas in a meaningful way? So I encountered books that I still read to this day, “Soledad Brother” by Comrade George Jackson, Huey P. Newton’s “Revolutionary Suicide” or “To Die for the People,” Bobby Seale’s “Seize The Time.” Obviously, I read Assata Shakur, I read Angela Davis’ “If They Come in the Morning.” So I read a lot of revolutionary books that dealt with the Black condition here in the United States.

But as I began to delve deeper into ideas, revolutionary ideas, I began to become familiar with Mao Tse-tung, Lenin and Marx, Che Guevara and their lifestyle, their ideas; the ideas match their action. So I said in order to be a true, genuine revolutionary, I had to marry theory with practice. And so I became a revolutionary within the enemy prison system.

Heather Warburton: And so obviously, you’re reading a lot of early, you know, the Black Panther movement stuff? And is that really … had you had any familiarity with the original Black Panther Party before you were in prison? Or did you really come to finding their ideology while you were in prison?

Chairman Zulu: Oh no. I think that the average Black person, whether they are part of the Black lumpen class or the Black working class or the Black petty bourgeois class, knows of the history of the Black Panther Party in a superficial way. Because our brothers, our sisters, our mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers had some kind of encounter with the Black Panther Party, whether they saw it growing up, or they experienced it by participating in the many programs that the Black Panther Party had.

So I always knew that the Black Panther Party existed. I didn’t know its ideology. I didn’t know its membership. I didn’t know its international reach. And I certainly didn’t know its theoretical practices. But I knew of the Black Panther Party name.

It’s similar to old folk tales that we have within the Black community. Especially during slavery, there will be periods where the African slaves would get together, and they would talk about Old Jack, or they would talk about Old Kennedy. These are Black slaves that rose up in rebellion. They escaped the plantation, and they raided the slavemaster’s house for the corn for the chicken. But they were never caught.

And so 10 years, 15 years, 20 years down the line, this tale is still being told to African slaves, about the behavior of Old Jack or Old Kennedy, who was able to outmaneuver the slavemaster, in fact, the slave state, but he was never discovered. And in some instances, it’s a fairy tale. Because with African culture, you want to inspire. You want to motivate. You want to put people in a position where they believe they can win.

So the Black Panther Party has that sort of mysticism, that sort of mystique within the Black community. Some of us don’t understand its ideology and think that all it is is a hate whitey party. You know, others, perhaps thought it was, or still think that it’s about kill police or guns, you know.

But it was only when I begin to read that I begin to understand that the most important aspect to the Black Panther Party was the social programs. Was this ability to empower people who were hopeless, who had no sense of what it means to be agents of change, and not depend on the enemy state, not depend on charity, not depend on handouts, but become proactive, transforming your conditions where you at right now.

You may not have all the resources, but you have something to start with, and that idea of the Black Panther Party, that you can empower yourself, empower the community, empower the nation, empower the world through a revolutionary thrust for freedom inspired me. And that’s where I became enamored with social programs as a prerequisite to the liberation of all oppressed people.

Heather Warburton: Well, I think that leads really well into my next question: We obviously know the problems with capitalism; we know the problems of imperialism; we know the problems of racism in this country right now. So what does a good functional society look like to you? We know what we’re struggling against, but what are we struggling for? What do you want to see reflected in society?

Chairman Zulu: Yeah, I think that one of the most beautiful things about being a communist is that we have over 150 years of solid practice to look back on to determine what kind of society we want. Obviously, the first socialist society in 1917 did not get the chance to fully develop as a socialist society, because it was constantly under attack. It was surrounded by imperialist enemies.

“Panther Love” – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 264847, Pendleton Correctional Facility, G-20-2C, 4490 W. Reformatory Road, Pendleton, IN 46064

And from 1917, really to 1953, we saw a microcosm of a world that we want today. We saw woman liberated from the household, and Russia’s situation, liberated from the peasant life, the peasantry, the backwardness of that kind of life, so they could become leaders of the society. We saw free healthcare. For the first time in history, we saw housing become a human right. The means of production, the resources under the earth, and on the earth, was put into the hands of the state, and the state used it to lift up the living conditions of its people.

So I think when we look at capitalism, and try to compare it to the kind of world that we envision today, the most important aspect that everybody can agree with is that all of the resources under the earth belong to all up the people on top of the earth. That these resources will give us a world that is free from militarism, racism, a world that is free of negative isms.

Because if you look at resources, resources are primarily responsible for the way that the world is constructed. Today, there’s uneven economic development, because there is a part of the world that hordes and monopolizes the resources and the Earth. So that gave birth to racism. That gave birth to wars. That gave birth to a sort of seeking refuge in a religious understanding.

So if the resources were in the hands of the people, we won’t have a Congo that has been at war essentially all of its life since Leopold invaded during a scramble for Africa. But I’m talking about since 1996, when Laurent Kabila assumed power in the Congo and was assassinated. Since the next year, there has been a low intensity war taking place in the Congo over the resources – the gold, the diamonds, the tantalum – that go into cell phones, airports, jets etc.

So if we can grab hold of the resources that are in the hands of the 1,670 billionaires, if we can grab hold of those resources, we can change the world that we live in, and we can start giving people housing as a human right. We could give them education as a human right. We can abolish prisons. We can abolish warfare as a means of resolving contradictions between nation states and individuals.

So I think that the kind of world we want is a socialist world; it is the only viable alternative to capitalism. There have been others who try a third way, you know, monarchies, and others who sort of mix capitalism and socialism. None of that stuff works.

“Panther Love” – Art: Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, 264847, Pendleton Correctional Facility, G-20-2C, 4490 W. Reformatory Road, Pendleton, IN 46064

We know that socialism gives us the ability to put humanity on the right course and on the right foot. Capitalism, from the get go, put humanity on the wrong course. So I think [we can] envision a world that is free of pollution, free of sexism, patriarchy, a world that is free of militarism, a world that gives humanity the opportunity to live in peace and harmony and to enjoy the fruits of the earth in an equal way. So that’s the kind of world we want: We want a socialist world.

Heather Warburton: And I was really hoping that’s what you’d touch on. Because everything you said just makes sense. People don’t always understand what communism or socialism means. And they build things up in their head. But really everything that you said I think everyone can relate to.

I think everyone can see the contradictions of their current life, and how some other way of forming society just makes sense. That we’re actually living collectively as opposed to constantly in conflict with each other. And conflict comes out of capitalism or any class society really.

Chairman Zulu: Exactly, man, if you look at the earth, it’s been around a long time, almost a billion years. States, the modern construction of a state where you have people existing on top of one another, the working class, the ruling class – that is a new invention. And it came into existence as a result of dividing up the resources of the world.

Prior to that, for thousands of years, people lived in a kind of world where intercommunally everything was shared amongst the people. So if we wanted grapes, it wasn’t a grape store down the street that monopolizes the grapes. You know, if we wanted apples, we didn’t have to go to Chiquita and ask them, can we buy a pound of apples. You simply went and plucked some apples off the tree.

You got enough to make sure that the whole village got some apples when they wanted some. So this is the kind of world that we can only create. This is the kind of world that we can only create, through a revolutionary struggle of the working class, against those who seek to continue to hoard, control, dominate, monopolize the resources of this earth that belong to everybody.

Heather Warburton: And I think to that end is where you’re doing really amazing organizing work. And I’m hoping you can tell us a little bit about some of the work that you started doing. You’re building an actual base of revolutionary power in the city of Newark. So can you tell everybody a little bit about what you started doing there?

Chairman Zulu: Oh, that’s beautiful. I think. This base, this base area, this idea that there’s liberated territory, that revolutionaries here in the United States can go to and strategize, come up with tactics, come up with ways of clarifying theories, and values and ethics and more rules came out of my study.

It came out of the fact that the Black Panther Party created base areas in the country where all people who were struggling for justice could come and meet and talk. Sometimes, in these areas, discussions got heated, you know; they were intense, but they were meant to clarify the conditions that oppressed people were struggling with.

So what we want to do is rebuild that infrastructure of revolutionary thought, a revolutionary structure – revolutionary into communalism. We want to rebuild that because it gives us the opportunity to extend that revolution outwardly from a base area. I think that a lot of revolutionaries and progressives have moved away from the construction of a base area, because of the way that helter skelter politics is organized nowadays.

There is a need to respond to so many conditions of brutality and exploitation. And as a result, the painstaking work of doing what Antonio Gramsci called “building the organic leader in the community” working with the grassroots who have suffered.

Being a Black Panther meant working hard every day with and for the party. – Photo: Pirkle Jones

So we’re trying to re-institute that infrastructure. And we have been moving in that direction for the last few months. Our first campaign was to stop a prison that they was trying to build. Here in the City of Newark, they wanted to build a prison smack in the heart of the oppressed community. They wanted to tear down houses in that particular community in order to build the prison.

So we put together what we call a No Prison Friday Rally. And for nearly two months, we were on South Orange Avenue here in the city of Newark protesting and rallying every Friday. And we got the governor, the enemy governor, to state that there will be no prison built on South Orange here in the city of Newark. That was the work of the New African Black Panther Party and the United Panther Movement.

Others have come along, the Johnny-come-latelys, and claimed responsibility; that’s okay. But the community in which we stage these rebellions knows who put the groundwork down. Know who was there every week, to stand in solidarity with them. So that was one of our initial programs. And we still continue that program under a different set of work conditions.

We no longer focus strictly on the prison, per se. But now we incorporate mass incarceration, criminal justice, you know, there’s 2.5 million people in the enemy prison today. There’s 6.5 million people on some form of criminal justice supervision. There’s 500,000 people waiting right now in county jails across the country. So we exist, we live in a mass incarcerated state. And any revolutionary organization that truly wants to liberate the ground has to take on this ugly behemoth of mass incarceration.

So Fridays, we call it “No mass incarceration; we want liberation!” That’s our new project.

Our other project is Empower the Block. That is something that we put together two weeks ago – and a Saturday survival program. We go out into the community, not to bring charity, not as an act of pity.

But we do it as a way of empowering the people in the community. Letting them know that you don’t have to wait on the garbage truck to come. You don’t have to wait on the mayor to come. You don’t have to wait on the state to come.

You could simply get on your block, pick up a broom, and empower each other by cleaning the neighborhood. And then talk about why did you need to clean the neighborhood, because the resources that other communities have are not available in these poverty stricken communities that are left out of the national economy.

So it’s the means of revolutionizing the minds of the people. Let them know that we could start with something small and build that project into a mighty revolutionary force. And so that’s what Empower the Block does. It gives the people the opportunity to come out of their house to meet one another again, and to begin to talk to each other about why our blocks (are the way they are).

Why would communities of nations have to suffer the way they are suffering? It’s because of capitalism, white supremacy. It’s because of an idea that, in order for capitalism to maximize the rate of dollar, it must exploit the labor power of the masses of the people. We have to teach that.

They have to understand that economics is primarily responsible for their condition. It is not individual white men. It is an economic system that has privileged white society over Black society. So we get rid of capitalism; then we could sit down all of us – Black, white, Latino, Asian and the indigenous people – and talk about the kind of world we could build. But it starts with grassroots organizing.

Heather Warburton: What you were saying reminded me a lot of Thomas Sankara when he says, people who just give us food, you’re not helping our community really. [The ones] giving us fertilizer, giving us plows, so we can empower ourselves is who’s really helping us.

And you know this confusion of like, charity is great – you’re filling a temporary need – but you’re not really teaching people how to empower themselves and do it themselves. And that’s really where revolution comes from, is enabling people to know that they really hold the power. And you know, that’s your slogan, right? All power to the people.

Chairman Zulu: And that’s beautiful, that’s beautiful, because that’s the difference between a capitalist society; they individualize heroic acts. As a socialist society, we make heroic collective work.

So if there is a village or an urban setting that is suffering from a lack of resources and the state is unwilling or unable to provide those resources, then we have to come up with a methodology to pool what little we have to make sure that our brothers or sisters can eat or have access to health care or stop police brutality or get a decent education.

All Power to the People!

So Thomas Sankura was right. You know, giving us a bowl of rice, it’s not the same weight as teaching us how to plant rice in order to feed the whole community. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to hand out a bag of food and simply say, that’s the work of revolution.

We’re trying to build confidence in the idea that you could start a community garden, and plant your own vegetables, plant your own food, and utilize that as a way of empowering your community. So charity is an act of capitalism. Empowering people, allowing people to become agents of change, is an act of socialism.

Heather Warburton: I think you just said that beautifully. Really, I think that was perfectly stated. And I hope that’s going to resonate with some people.

One other thing that I did want to touch on with you is historically, when we think about revolutionaries, it kind of is more from a masculine viewpoint. You know, we think about some of the great revolutionaries throughout history, it’s always men. And I know you’re specifically working on empowering women as well in your community to make them revolutionary leaders. It’s not just a men’s only club for the New African Black Panther Party.

Chairman Zulu: You know what, Comrade? That is very important to us. We have we have a multiplicity of rules and regulations that prohibit discrimination or sexism or patriarchy against not just revolutionary women, but women in general. We find it a stamp of disapproval that we should subject the other half of humanity to psychological chains or to physical chains – to a tradition that denied them their full stature as human beings.

So we make it a case to put qualified, qualified sister comrades in leadership positions. And we have in place currently, within our various two organizations, sisters, revolutionary sisters, who are leading, who are making decisions, who are highly qualified to move this revolutionary struggle forward.

And all of the men within our organization respect, adhere to and push forward with this idea that half of humanity cannot be in chains, while the men sit, eat apples, drink water and talk about freedom. We can’t do that. So it would be reinforcing a kind of bourgeois tradition to say that only men can pick up rocks. Or only men can write a dissertation. Or only men can speak eloquently to move the masses.

I know that history shows us definitely and we have those examples that we teach to one another on a day to day basis. So some of our comrades lead these particular study groups; female, woman comrades lead study groups. You know, they lead the protest rallies that we organize.

So it’s a wonderful opportunity to show the rest of the country – and by extension the world – what mighty power lies dormant in a woman when they’re given an opportunity to lead revolutionary movements and to express revolutionary ideas, because all of the ideas, all of the projects that we have been doing have come from our female comrades.

I’m the face of the revolution. But behind me is a cadre of women revolutionaries who prod me every day, who tell me every day, be mindful of how you speak. Be mindful of what you do, because you have to represent everybody, not just men.

And we’ve just elected to the branch committee of the New African Black Panther Party a deputy minister of finance, who is a female. She is from Delaware, and she and hopefully the world will get the opportunity to see her pretty soon, but she is a wonderful revolutionary leader.

So we’re making sure that anyone who’s qualified within our organization and within our ally organizations are that if you don’t push women forward who are qualified, we don’t want to have anything to do with you. Because we’re not going to a set a new form of slavery within a socialist framework. It’s not going to work.

We’re either for the total freedom of humanity, or we’re for the continuation of the division of humanity that we have today. We are for total freedom – the New African Black Panther Party is for the complete and total liberation of all humanity. And that includes our significant, mighty force of woman revolutionaries.

Heather Warburton: And I think that’s great that you’re putting that into practice and not having ally organizations that are upholding misogyny and upholding male supremacy. If you’re going to be an organization that affiliates with you, you’ve got to put this stuff into practice. You can’t just talk about it; you’ve got to do it. So I thank you for that.

You had said something to me at – I think it was at – the Green Party convention. It was a quote about women, something about holding up half the sky. What was that called?

Chairman Zulu: Ah, Mao Tse-tung! Let me tell you Mao Tse-tung said that first. And it’s a famous quote that women hold up half the sky, now bound up with that as a whole lot of ideas of values and ethics.

But Malcolm X said it in a way where he made it more plain. He said that you can tell the political development of a people by the political development of its women. So what he meant was, an equal and virtuous society will prioritize the most disenfranchised and victimized people within that society [and help them rise] to a level where they are on an equal footing with others. And for us, since we’re talking about women, they have been the most brutalized in this society, because they have always been under the foot of a patriarchal, dominating kind of structure.

Heather Warburton: Yeah, I thought that was a great quote. So I wanted to make sure that you said that again. So what if people want to help? How can they get involved and help you? How could if somebody wanted to start organizing a revolutionary base somewhere like Philadelphia or other cities? What can they do? How can they get involved?

Chairman Zulu: Well, the easiest thing is you can visit the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Facebook page. And we have an email address: You can email And we will talk to you about what are the requirements, how you go about opening up a collective or a branch within Pennsylvania or any other state.

There is a prerequisite to that: You have to go through an orientation process. So we will explain all of that to anyone. All you have to do is send me an email at

Heather Warburton: And you accept donations as well?

Chairman Zulu: That’s right. In fact, we can’t do anything without donations. The word … they say that revolution ain’t free. Freedom isn’t free. So we collect the nickels and dimes of the masses of the people.

If anybody wants to donate, they could CashApp $Szulu. Again, they could CashApp $SZulu. And we will certainly appreciate whatever contribution you could make to us building this base area of social, cultural and political revolution here in the city of Newark.

Heather Warburton: All right, you guys, like I said, you really are doing some of the best organizing I’m seeing. So it’s just a different spirit you’re organizing with, and I think it’s starting to show that people are starting to really pay attention. You didn’t brag about it yet yourself. And I asked you to brag a little bit about some of your work you’re doing. You had 500 people show up to an event?

Chairman Zulu: Yeah, that was wonderful. Mao Tse-tung got a saying that a small spark can start a prairie fire. That sometimes revolutionaries and progressives around the world, especially in the West, which is Britain, France, United States, they get discouraged. They get discouraged when lot of people don’t show up. They get discouraged when their ideas don’t readily take off. They get discouraged when they don’t see immediate gratification.

And as a result, their work suffers. They may have a great idea. But because we have this immediate gratification mentality, we end up not staying with the idea, not sticking to the idea. When we started the prison rallies, it was only 15 of us, mostly from our organization. But each week, it increased. It gradually increased. It brought more people in.

So we can’t simply take credit for all of those people coming out. We know that the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice also participated in that rally, and their voice was able to help persuade a lot more people to come.

So we was just happy that folks stood up; they raised their voice of condemnation of the prison by putting their bodies on the line. And this is the kind of work that we want to do, we will continue to do.

I think that we’re building a beachhead, a true genuine beachhead in New Jersey, and there are gonna be folks coming from all around this country watching what we do. And I mean this in the collective sense, watching what we do. And we hope that this small, small spark, here in the state of New Jersey and the city of Newark becomes a prairie fire around the country.

Heather Warburton: And Brian and I have always joked here of calling New Jersey the great nation of New Jersey, and the thought was that we would start the communist nation of New Jersey or the People’s Republic of New Jersey. But you guys are actually doing that. You guys are starting your own area that can spread and I think it will.

I really genuinely believe in the work you’re doing and that it’s going to spread. And you’re going to build an actual revolutionary base here in New Jersey and spread out from here.

Do you have any closing words today before we wrap it up?

Chairman Zulu: No, I just want to say all power to the people and encourage our brother and sister organizations out there, the masses of the people, that change can only come through small incremental steps. That we shouldn’t automatically be enamored with the glitz and glamour of struggle, but get our hands dirty, get on our knees, and turn some screws, and knock some nails to some wood. That’s how you build an infrastructure of revolution.

And I’m excited. I’m happy. And we’re just getting started. Hopefully, like I said, we build this thing into a dual and contending power with the enemy system. And it leads to a true genuine revolutionary overturning of capitalism and imperialism.

Heather Warburton: And I ask a lot of people if they’re an optimist, and I genuinely believe you are because you see, in practice and in theory and practice, change happening. Time is short, and we need this change to happen. And I don’t see a lot of other movements that could bring about this change that we all need.

[Without it] we will die ultimately; capitalism is killing us. It will wipe out humanity. And we need revolution now. And you’re one of the only organizations I see that’s even remotely making that happen. So, so much for the work you’re doing.

Chairman Zulu: Thank you. I appreciate this interview, and any time you need us, the New Afrikan Black Panther Party will be there. We will be on the scene. And we appreciate the work that you’re doing at this radio station as well.

Heather Warburton: And same thing: Whenever you need publicity or you want to talk about anything, our air waves are your airwaves. You know that that anything you want to talk about, we’re here for.

Chairman Zulu: All power to the people!

Heather Warburton: All power to power to the people! To my listeners, thank you so much for joining us today. This interview should be inspiring to you. This interview is probably the breath of fresh air a lot of you need right now. Because things are grim. And it’s easy to get bogged down in how grim things are. And that’s why we’re here. We want to inspire you. We want to help elevate the voices of the people that are doing the actual hard work of changing society.

We appreciate you so much here as our listeners and our family at NJRR and we do unfortunately have to ask for your help occasionally. We take no corporate money; we can’t be your voice if we’re being paid off by the corporations. So we only can rely on donations from the activist community.

If you can go on to our website,, click on that Donate button, even if it’s only $2 a month. That really helps us budget and know what we’re going to have coming in so we can get more people out to cover events, so we can get more places.

You know, Brian and I are the only two of us. We need to be able to hire more people to get out and cover these events. So anything you can do, we really appreciate it. The future is yours to create; go out there and create it.

New Afrikan Black Panther Party Chairman Shaka Zulu can be reached at




City Of Hampton, Virginia To Host Official Commemoration Of The 1619 First African Landing In English North America In August

Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, in partnership with Fort Monroe AuthorityFort Monroe National Monument, and the City of Hampton, will host the 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing on August 23-25, 2019 in Hampton, Va. The multi-day event serves to recognize the 400thanniversary of the landing of the first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America at Point Comfort in 1619. It will feature a commemorative ceremony, a preview of the new Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center, Black Cultural tours, living history demonstrations, storytelling, and youth and musical performances. The event will also feature cultural group displays from Project 1619, the Contraband Historical Society, and the U.S. Colored Troops, and exhibitions from Virginia institutions and museums, including the National Park Service, American Evolution, Hampton History Museum, Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, Casemate Museum, and more.

“The First African Landing Commemorative Weekend will be a pilgrimage for African Americans and all Americans who are interested in learning about the heritage, struggles and triumphs of the first Africans who were brought to  the shores of Point Comfort,” said Terry Brown, first African American superintendent at Fort Monroe National Monument. “African American history is complicated, but it’s important for us as Americans to examine the events of the past and understand the stories of slavery, resistance and emancipation and the impact on our nation.”

As recorded by English colonist John Rolfe, the arrival of “20 and odd” African men and women at Point Comfort in late August 1619, was a pivotal moment in the nation’s history. Stolen by English privateers from a Spanish slave ship and brought to Point Comfort on a ship called the White Lion, these natives of west central Africa are believed to have been traded for food and supplies. They were the first Africans to be brought to English North America. The site of the ship’s arrival is the present site of Fort Monroe National Monument in Hampton, Virginia.

“The landing of the first recorded Africans at Point Comfort in 1619 marked the moment African culture became an integral part of American culture and an indelible influence on the development of our nation,” said Dr. Cassandra L. Newby-Alexander, Professor of History, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Norfolk State University and co-chair of the 2019 Commemoration First Africans Committee. “The early relationship between the unfree Africans and English in the Virginia colony is complicated, yet their forced arrival set into motion an important African imprint on every aspect of American society and culture. Moreover, Africans’ fight for freedom, equality, and inclusion was transformative because it began our nation on its journey toward racial equality – something we are still working toward today.”

Hampton visitor experiences and opportunities to learn about Virginiamulticultural history, interpreted through museums, attractions and historic sites, frame the commemoration.

Fort Monroe was the arrival site of the first recorded Africans. On the same site, the first move toward emancipation occurred when Frank BakerJames Townsend and Shepard Mallory sought sanctuary during the Civil War. At Hampton University, the education of newly emancipated individuals began in 1868 and 150 years later is going strong. It is the legacy of the human computers like Katherine JohnsonMary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn who helped to set the national course to the stars through their work at NASA Langley, and that of so many more individuals who helped to shape our nation,” said Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck. “While we do not celebrate the reason the first Africans arrived on our shores, we marvel at how far we have come during this 400-year journey, and maintain hope for a future of unity and equality.”

For more information about the 2019 Commemoration of the First African Landing at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., please visit:

For media interested in attending the commemorative weekend, please contact

About the 2019 Commemoration
The 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution highlights events that occurred in Virginia in 1619 that continue to influence America today. Featured programs, events and legacy projects will position Virginia as a leader in education, tourism and economic development. American Evolution commemorates the ongoing journey toward the key ideals of democracy, diversity and opportunity. Dominion Energy is an American Evolution Founding Partner and Altria Group and TowneBank are Virginia Colony Partners.

About Fort Monroe Authority
The Fort Monroe Authority, a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia, is primarily responsible for the care and conservation of hundreds of historic buildings and structures. The FMA is also responsible for the transition of this former Army post to civilian uses through historic preservation, residential and commercial leasing, and public programs. The Fort Monroe Visitor and Education Center, a legacy project of the 2019 Commemoration, is scheduled to open later this year.   The exhibit galleries will tell the profound stories of Captain John Smith and the early colonists and their encounter with Native Americans, the arrival of the first enslaved Africans, and the culmination of 242 years of slavery as the first contrabands came to Fort Monroe seeking refuge and freedom.  The Visitor and Education Center will be operated in partnership with the National Park Service and complements the existing Casemate Museum, which is located just a short walk from the Center.

About Fort Monroe National Monument
Identified by Captain John Smith as “Pointe Comfort” in 1607, later dubbed “The Gibraltar of the Chesapeake” and then “Freedom’s Fortress,” Fort Monroe was the third oldest US Army post in continuous active service until its closure as a military installation in September 2011. As the landing point for the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies in 1619 and the site of the first emancipation policy decision during the Civil War, Fort Monroemarks both the beginning and the end of slavery in the United States. The majority of the Fort Monroe peninsula was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Created by Presidential Proclamation on November 1, 2011, Fort Monroe National Monument includes historic fortifications and the North Beach area. Visit for more information.

About the City of Hampton 
Hampton, Virginia is the oldest, continuous English-speaking city in our nation, and many pivotal moments in American history occurred here. The Hampton 2019 Commemorative Commission designated by Hampton City Council seeks to commemorate the 1619 landing of Africans at Point Comfort in English-occupied North America and to educate people about its role as a critical national turning point through programs, events, exhibits, and other opportunities for reflection.

American Evolution

Katie Franklin, 2019 Commemoration,, PH: (202) 974-5084

HAMPTON, Va.June 27, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -x