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Co-Publisher Glen Ford
If 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 shoe bomber.
When 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.
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.
The 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."
What 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.
The 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.
There 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.
This 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 had happened.
What 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.
George Washington's property
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
From 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.
(Indians did not
figure into colonial head counting, and there can be little doubt that
the Revolution insured the near-extinction of Native Americans.)
Since 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.
The 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 jurisdiction.
In 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 possible
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].
or Master Washington?
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.
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?
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.)
of Virginia, whose royal title was Lord Dunmore
sought 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.
In 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.
When 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.
As common 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.
When the end came,
the top British commanders kept their word to the King's Black soldiers.
In 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.
Those 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.)
All 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 of freedom.
Attucks or Colonel Tye?
The 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
Monday night, tensions escalated when a soldier entered a pub to look
for work, and instead found a group of angry seamen that included
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
and propagandists immediately dubbed the event the "Boston Massacre,"
and its victims became instant martyrs and symbols of liberty.
The 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
Which is fine with
me. By all means, give Brother Attucks his due. However, my Black heroic
favorite fought for the British.
Colonel 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.
In 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?
Returning 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
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
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.
In 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.
What, 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.
Go 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
Enjoy your holiday.
PBS - WGBH Blacks
in Revolutionary War site
here to return to the home page