Donald Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently revealed their utter lack of familiarity with the whole idea of “Black History Month.” As has been widely reported, at a carefully staged putative “listening session” surrounded by the few sycophantic and fawning black people who dot his otherwise near lily white administration, Trump did not seem to appreciate that the great, late Frederick Douglass — the 19th century black abolitionist, consummate orator, ambassador to Haiti, Marshal of D.C., counselor to presidents, fierce womens’ rights advocate, statesman par excellence, and escaped slave — was in actual fact very late, having died some 122 years ago.
So sayeth President Trump:
“…Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.”
To those, like Trump, who are unfamiliar with “black history,” this could mean that old Fred is sitting in the White House ante-room patiently waiting for an audience with the rookie president.
But Trump wasn’t done yet, of course. He wanted to demonstrate to his legions of white and not so man legions of black followers his deep knowledge — if not appreciation — for black peoples’ “big impact” upon American (read white) history. He mentioned Harriet Tubman who, though herself an escaped slave with a $40,000 price on her head, returned at least nineteen times to the virulent slavocracy and surreptitiously freed as many 1,000 other enslaved black folks.
Trump knew about Rosa Parks, too. His reference to Parks and Dr. King, however, was about as disrespectful of that fallen leader’s legacy as one could possibly get without actually uttering the dreaded “N-Word.” King, he said, was important to Trump personally not because of his “big impact” on America, but because a “fake news” report had had Trump removing a bust of King from the Oval Office. Trump, once again, wanted all to know that no such removal had ever, ever even been contemplated.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer later valiantly tried to clean up his boss’ mess but only managed to wade even deeper into the muck of ignorance swirling in, around and through this now reclaimed, white-dominated, White House. Spicer explained that what the Trump had meant to say, you see, was that, “…[T]hrough a lot of the actions and statements that he’s [Trump? Douglass?] going to make, I think the contributions of Frederick Douglass will become more and more.”
Well…that clears that up.
And not to be left out, VP Pence also attempted to display his own bona fides and appreciation for black folks’ contributions to this nation-state’s history. Via Twitter, the VP wanted all to know that “black history” actually began and ended with Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves.
Writeth Pence: “As #BlackHistoryMonth begins, we remember when Pres. Lincoln submitted the 13 th Amendment, ending slavery, to the states.” Any amateur historian with nominal Google skills can attest to the easily ascertainable fact that Lincoln never “submitted” any such amendment. It was the “Radical Republicans” — after Lincoln’s murder in April of 1865 — who finally forced the 13th Amendment through Congress.
Lincoln’s actual and weak-kneed “Emancipation Proclamation” (Executive Order №. 95) took effect on January 1, 1863. That order did not free a single slave, not one. That’s because the Proclamation only “freed,” or applied to, those people enslaved by states still “in rebellion,” i.e., the entire Confederacy. The Proclamation specifically and purposely did not apply to Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware and Missouri where slavery was just as rampant as it was in the deepest, darkest parts of the “Deep South.” These four “border states” remained in the Union but were allowed to keep their slaves because they were geographically and thus strategically absolutely necessary for the Union Army’s successful prosecution of the war. Thus, again, even though they maintained slavery in all of its ugly forms, they were not card carrying members of the Confederate States of America.
Thus, the practical effect of Lincoln’s order left slavery fully intact everywhere it existed. No. It was the smashing victories of the Union Army and the subsequent passage of the 13th Amendment which finally forced the South to “let my people go.”
Black History Week began as the brainchild of Chicago historian Carter G. Woodson in February of 1926. In 1976, President Gerald R. Ford extended the commemoration to the entire month. Why February? Because February contains both the birthdays of Lincoln (12th) and Frederick Douglass (17th).
Traditionally, the celebration/commemoration of Black History Month involves a recitation of the achievements and accomplishments of black heroes and heroines. There is, however, another, darker side of this history which is rarely related — the white side.
Let’s look at just that one week in February (from the 12th to the 18th) and see, historically, how it has unfolded as it relates to black people down through the years — centuries.
2/12/1901: After having rejected it each year for 45 years, Delaware finally ratified the 13th Amendment.
2/13/1923: The New York Renaissance became the first black professional basket ball team. The team, however, was dissolved in 1948 after being denied admission into the whites-only National Basketball Association.
2/14/1945: An all-white grand jury refused to indict any of the six white men who gang raped Mrs. Recy Taylor in Abbeville, Alabama. None have ever been prosecuted.
2/15/1804: New Jersey passed a “gradual emancipation” act. It was the last Northern state to abolish slavery. [As an aside, every single one of the original thirteen colonies had slavery].
2/16/1847: Missouri outlawed the education of all black people residing within the state; and simultaneously banned the immigration of all free black people into the state for any reason.
2/17/1947: Greenville, SC. A large mob of white men brutally beat, tortured and murdered Willie Earle. They slashed, ripped and tore souvenir pieces and chunks of flesh from his body before finally blasting him with a shotgun. Twenty-eight men were charged with his murder. All were acquitted.
2/18/1965: To bookend the week — Jimmie Lee Jackson, an unarmed 26-year-old black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Marion, Alabama.
These incidents and 358 others are documented in a disturbing calendar entitled “A History of Racial Injustice” produced by the Equal Justice Initiative organization in Montgomery, Alabama. The calendar chronicles the nearly 4,000 lynchings of black men, black women, black boys and black girls beginning in 1870 to the 1960s.
And so, to Messrs. Trump, Spicer and Pence….Listen Up! Sadly, realistically, these events, together with the black masses, black heroes and black heroines, must needs be remembered, noted and condemned, for they constitute a prominent, even predominant, yet secret and covered-up, damnable white feature of “Black History Month.”
Originally published at https://www.counterpunch.org February, 2017.