you have occasion to fly the jittery skies during this holiday period,
be aware that you owe a measure of your safety to South Carolina's Black
Congressman James E. Clyburn and to American Airlines whistleblower
Julie Robichaux. George Bush is no more the air traveler's guardian
than Richard Reid, the ridiculous - but still frightening - British-Jamaican
Reid was subdued while fumbling with matches in an attempt to light
his explosive footgear, no one aboard Paris to Miami Flight 63 could
assume that the danger was over. There were, after all, hundreds of
other potentially lethal shoes attached to the feet of other passengers.
In a suit filed in early June, dispatcher Robichaux charged that she
was under instructions to place cost considerations ahead of safety.
alleges that her supervisors ordered her to delay reporting the incident
to federal authorities, and to keep the plane on course to Miami. A
diversion to Boston would cost the airline thousands of dollars. She
refused, got on the phone with North American Air Defense Command, and
coordinated the Boston landing with fighter escorts.
two-year old law that allowed Robichaux to defy her superiors, the Aviation
Safety Protection Act, is Congressman Clyburn's brainchild. "Luckily,
with the protection this law provides, the dispatcher felt courageous
enough to ignore her superiors' orders and potentially saved the lives
of all the passengers on Flight 63," Congressman Clyburn said.
"The law worked precisely as designed, and became a source of strength
at a critical time."
does the incident have to do with President Bush? Everything. The Bush-Cheney
administration's relationship to the airlines and mega-business in general
is like that between members of a Star Trek Borg Collective - they communicate
instantaneously, without the need to speak, in perfect, corporate harmony.
Before there was even a ballpark estimate of the casualties at the World
Trade Center, Bush and his congressional leaders were ready with a multi-billion
dollar bailout bill for the airline industry, the only casualty that
counted in high Republican circles.
airlines and their political front men always insisted on paying poverty
wages for airport security. It took September 11 for the Bush White
House to change its tune, and then only reluctantly.
is no need to conjure up a conspiracy to explain the administration's
failure to take precautionary actions last summer, when
all signs pointed to an attack on U.S. commercial aircraft. The Bush-airline
collective understood that any additional vigilance might have signaled
to passengers that all was not well, threatening ridership and profits.
shared mentality explains the airline actions alleged by Flight 63 dispatcher
Robichaux. In the face of passenger behavior never witnessed in the
history of aviation, in which hundreds of lives hung in the balance,
the instinctive reaction was to protect profits and fly on as if nothing
applies to the airlines, also describes the current crowd in the White
House: They will do nothing, nothing, that might impede the free
flow of trade and cash.
history, George Washington's property
with its Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, is a center of American
mythology. Visitors and residents are fed a steady diet of pablum, which
usually boils down to: the white men who gathered in this city did great
things for which all Americans should be proud. We're damn lucky they
won the Revolutionary War.
the perspective of descendants of slaves, that's a very iffy proposition.
It is not at all clear that George Washington's victory over the British
was in the interests of the 20% of Americans who were Black, the vast
majority of them slaves. Consequently, African Americans must also have
some input on what modern America has to say about George, one of the
biggest slaveholders in the all of Virginia.
did not figure into colonial head counting, and there can be little
doubt that the Revolution insured the near-extinction of Native Americans.)
the Maryland swamp that was to become Washington, D.C., was still being
drained at the time, George Washington divided his Presidential days
between New York and Philadelphia, often residing at what is now called
the Robert Morris Mansion. A rich white man in need of constant attention,
Washington had eight slaves at his household's constant beck and call.
These men and women were housed in the stable area near Sixth and Chestnut.
National Parks Service (NPS) holds sway over the several blocks that
make up Independence National Historical Park, including the sites where
Washington and his slaves slept. The NPS also takes upon itself the
duty of "interpreting" the deeper meaning of what went on
in the hallowed halls, meeting rooms, kitchens and stables under its
an April letter to the Philadelphia Inquirer, National Historic Park
superintendent Martha B. Aikens wrote, "The Park Service has long
planned to interpret [the mansion's significance], and we welcome suggestions
about ways to reflect its history accurately and give visitors the best
assurances are not enough for Michael Coard, a Black attorney who has
organized a demonstration on Wednesday, July 3 at 4:00 p.m to demand
that the NPS "build a monument to the memory of the eight ancestors
who were enslaved by George Washington right here in Philadelphia in
the stable area of America's first White House." Coard has taken
the lead in Black resistance to the NPS's hegemony over historical interpretation.
If the feds refuse to loosen their grip on the national legacy, Coard
envisions "a state and federal lawsuit filed by a 'Dream Team'
consisting of several prominent Black attorneys." For information
on the demonstration, E-mail Coard at mailto:[email protected].
George or Master Washington?
African Americans have responded to white hero-making with Black hero-making,
demanding, for example, that Black Revolutionary War soldiers get equal
billing with whites. This is all well and good, of course, but does
not clean up essentially distorted history; it simply applies a layer
of color to a flawed picture.
significance of such symbols as the Liberty Bell or the houses in which
Washington slept lies in the nature and character of the American Revolution:
What was it about, at the time?
let's compare George Washington's conduct toward Blacks at the start
of hostilities, with that of the British. (We have made liberal use
of an excellent PBS-WGBH website on Blacks in the Revolutionary War,
the link to which can be found at the end of this article.)
Governor of Virginia, whose royal title was Lord Dunmore
to disrupt the American cause by promising freedom to any slaves owned
by Patriot masters who would join the Loyalist forces. (Runaway slaves
belonging to Loyalists were returned to their masters.) Dunmore officially
issued his proclamation in November, 1775, and within a month 300
black men had joined his Ethiopian regiment.
fact, Virginia's slave owners took a long pause to weigh their options,
before moving against Dunmore. Many wondered if the cause of separation
from Britain was worth risking separation
from their slave property. General Washington took a hard line against
any manifestation of Black personhood.
he took command of the Continental Army in 1775, Washington barred
the further recruitment of black soldiers, despite the fact that they
had fought side by side with their white counterparts at the battles
of Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill.
sense would dictate, substantially more Blacks fought in the British
ranks - all of them with the status or promise of becoming free men.
Many, if not most, of Washington's dark soldiers remained slaves during
and after the conflict.
the end came, the top British commanders kept their word to the King's
November 1782, Britain and America signed a provisional treaty granting
the former colonies their independence. As the British prepared for
their final evacuation, the Americans demanded the return of American
property, including runaway slaves, under the terms of the peace treaty.
Sir Guy Carleton, the acting commander of British forces, refused
to abandon black Loyalists to their fate as slaves. With thousands
of apprehensive blacks seeking to document their service to the Crown,
Brigadier General Samuel Birch, British commandant of the city of
New York, created a list of claimants known as The Book of Negroes.
Blacks fortunate enough to be listed in The Book - 3 to 4,000 former
slaves and their families - sailed to freedom in Canada and England
(although a number of former soldiers wound up in Jamaica, where some
soon lost their freedom.)
things considered, no informed slave would choose George Washington
over King George III. In reality, however, the slave didn't have a choice;
he simply tried his best to get as close as he could to any glimmer
Attucks or Colonel Tye?
Fourth of July is the holiday for heroes. Most African American school
children are taught that Crispus Attucks was the first Black martyr
of the American Revolution, shot down in Boston in 1770, five years
before the actual war broke out. Our trusted PBS-WGBH website describes
the 27-year old runaway slave as a dockworker and sailor who hung out
with a rowdy crowd. The confrontation with British soldiers started
with a Friday night street brawl.
following Monday night, tensions escalated when a soldier entered
a pub to look for work, and instead found a group of angry seamen
that included Attucks.
evening a group of about thirty, described by John Adams as "a
motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues
and outlandish jack tarrs," began taunting the guard at the custom
house with snowballs, sticks and insults. Seven other redcoats came
to the lone soldier's rescue, and Attucks was one of five men killed
when they opened fire.
pamphleteers and propagandists immediately dubbed the event the "Boston
Massacre," and its victims became instant martyrs and symbols
John Adams mentioned above was the lawyer for the British soldiers.
He won acquittal for most
of his clients, and went on to become a drafter of the Declaration of
Independence and the second President of the United States. At the trial,
Adams argued that Attucks was the aggressor who struck the first blow.
is fine with me. By all means, give Brother Attucks his due. However,
my Black heroic favorite fought for the British.
Tye was perhaps the best-known of the Loyalist black soldiers. An
escaped bondman born in Monmouth County, New Jersey, he wreaked havoc
for several years with his guerrilla Black Brigade in New York and
New Jersey. At one time he commanded 800 men. For most of 1779 and
1780, Tye and his men terrorized his home county -- stealing cattle,
freeing slaves, and capturing Patriots at will. On September 1, 1780,
during the capture of a Patriot captain, Tye was shot through the
wrist, and he later died from a fatal infection.
other words, Colonel Brother Tye returned to the old neighborhood and
made all the slave-holding, Black folks-hating racists pay for attempting
to transform him into a beast of burden. How come Melvin Van Peebles
hasn't made a movie about this man - Ye Olde Sweetback's Bad Arse Song?
to the present: Our sentiments are with Philadelphia's Attorney Coard
and the others who are demanding a monument for George Washington's
slaves. The ancestors deserve a memorial. Admirers of Washington should
also be thankful to the slaves, for not killing the old son of a
regarding Washington's status as Father of Our Nation: The Virginia
planter had no legally recognized children, yet Washington is an extremely
common surname among African Americans. Are there any white people
out there named Washington? I've never met one.
Reading for Everyone's Fourth of July
Douglass was a giant of the Nineteenth Century. He towered over normal
men, a person so astounding in intellect, oratory, passion and dignity
that the very fact of his existence gave the lie to notions of
white superiority. Racists shriveled in his presence.
1852, the prospects for Black emancipation could not have seemed worse.
Other abolitionists might have been grateful for a chance to plead the
cause of the slaves before a white audience as friendly as the Rochester,
New York, Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society. The speaker would have been
expected to congratulate the sponsors on their relative liberality.
Not Douglass. The following excerpt from Douglass's speech, delivered
on July 5th, is the essence of manhood, distilled into words.
to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals
to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice
and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration
is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national
greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and
heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence;
your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers
and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious
parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception,
impiety, and hypocrisy - a thin veil to cover up crimes which would
disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty
of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these
United States, at this very hour.
where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies
and despotisms of the old world, travel through South America, search
out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts
by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will
say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy,
America reigns without a rival.