As a Black Man Thinks: I, too, am America

Editor’s note: Meet my friend Ralph Mitchell. Ralph and I grew up in the same segregated Southern town in military families and both had our lives impacted by the war in Vietnam. Ralph is a veteran, a Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army Reserves. He is CEO of his own financial investment company and lives in Massachusetts. He writes screenplays and loves history. You can connect with Ralph on LinkedIn & Facebook.

By Ralph Mitchell

As a Black man, I always thought that it was ironic that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was created back in 1866.  This came just three years after the Emancipation Proclamation when President Lincoln freed the slaves.

Before 1863 when slavery was in force, any Psycho or Sicko with enough money in hand could go to the local slave market, purchase a live human being … and then do to them whatever he so pleased.  Nothing was off the table.  Those slaves (Men and Women) could be worked to the point of physical exhaustion, brutally beaten without mercy; and even forced to submit to any any all sexual demands imposed upon them.  Slaves had zero rights as Human Beings.

After the formation of the ASPCA and the Jim Crow Era of Racial Segregation was in effect until Civil Rights were granted in 1964, the farm animals and house pets of White people had more rights than Negro citizens.

If some drunkard brutalized a woman’s house cat and hung it by the neck, that perpetrator would be charged with a crime and arrested.  If a rancher’s prize Bull was stolen, somebody would be held accountable and face criminal charges.  But during that 100 years of the Jim Crow Era (1863 to 1964) Black men could be hauled out of jail by drunken mobs, beaten and lynched; Black women could be raped and Black children could be sexually molested and murdered … and no perpetrators were ever even arrested. Property that belonged to Black people could be stolen by Whites who got away scott-free!  Why?  Because Black people officially had no Human Rights nor any Legal Rights prior to 1964.Even though the laws had officially changed in 1964, the attitudes and behavior among certain people did not begin to change until decades later. Mainly because their lies and bigotry began to die off with them.

Medgar & Myrlie Evers on their wedding day

Prime example, look at what happened to Medgar Evers, a WW2 Veteran who served in the US Army in Western Europe and fought the Nazis.  After the war he was a very outspoken Civil Rights leader and was active with the NAACP in Mississippi citing many of the injustices being imposed against Black (or Colored) People.  It was Byron De La Beckwith who assassinated Medgar Evers in  June of 1963.   Even President Kennedy saw this as an unjust  tragedy.

Beckwith was arrested and received official Indictments.  But when he went to trial, two all-white juries from that local area eventually became “hung juries” and refused to hold him guilty in spite of blatant evidence that proved him as being guilty.  After his release he openly bragged in public about how he killed Medgar Evers.  It was not until 30 years later that Beckwith finally was taken back to court, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. What would have happened to Evers if the roles were reversed and it was him that shot Beckwith?  God only knows!  But justice would certainly not have taken 30 years.

Telegram Mrylie Evers sent to Jackie Kennedy when John F. Kennedy was murdered.

 

Although a courtroom trial is supposed to consist of a jury of one’s peers, this has rarely been the case whenever it has come to Black men.  A true jury of one’s peers would by people who ALL are of the same gender and ethnicity as the Defendant.  In Beckwith’s first two trials, that may have been the case where he was tried by Juries composed of nothing but White southern men armed with with attitudes of White Supremacy.  But when it came to the Central Park Five (now called the Exonerated Five) this was NOT the case.  All five of those young men were convicted by all White juries who saw them as being nothing but dangerous “animals” that were threats to society in spite of sketchy evidence and certain facts not being admitted in court.

Just look at the case in Minnesota that is taking place right now.  Another unarmed Black man being killed by White cops who simply acted as Judge, Jury and Executioner. And only one has actually been charged (not convicted) with any crime.  Would this have been the case had it been Black cops that killed an unarmed White man?  Hell no!

As a Black man I feel as though the entire Criminal Justice System needs to be completely reformed with crooked cops and over zealous DAs being held personally accountable for actions on their part that were later proven wrong.  As examples:  fabricated evidence, confessions that came only after physical beatings.  Forged confessions.  Suppression of evidence that could prove innocence.  Abuse of power needs to become a felony with serious penalties as a result.

 

Some White people scoff at the idea of Reparations to Black people.  The Whites argue that Slavery was a very long time ago, records are too sketchy and that since there have been so many people of color that have migrated into America over the past 50 years it would be too difficult to tell who would be eligible.  Also, why should they see their tax dollars go to pay for Slavery Reparations, when they have never owned any Slaves?

My answer has always been to base Reparations on the Jim Crow Era that lasted for 100 years after Slavery and ran until 1964.  Separate and unequal was the law of the land.  Whites got automatic preference while Blacks got the exact opposite.  This translated not only to public education and the funding of tax dollars, but also translated into private sector employment and job opportunities.  Whites easily got hired into jobs with paychecks whereas Blacks got “excuses.”   Anybody of African ancestry with a valid American birth certificate could prove their ancestry with certified copies of their Birth Certificates.  Back in the day, some towns in America listed the race of the newborn child as well as the race of the mother and the father.  In the most egregious of towns, race was not listed as being “Negro” but entered as “nigger”.  This just goes to show how oppressive the racial climate really was to those people prior to 1964.  Those who are older should be the ones to eventually receive the most money.  Whatever they do not personally spend, they could pass along to their heirs or to charity just like the elders within well to do White families.

 

Now don’t get me wrong.  I do NOT see all White people as being inherently evil.  Look back at history.  John Brown was a White man and he was totally an outspoken opponent of Slavery and was one of the first to lay down his life in the Civil War.  According to my official DNA my bloodline is 75% Africa,, 15% European and 10% Asian or Native American.   How could i possibly hate what is inside of me?  Furthermore many of my dearest friends have been White ever since I grew up on an Army post in Germany when my Dad was a soldier.  I never had any problems getting along with anybody because I never looked at any differences, but instead I looked at what made us all similar.

Copyright @RalphMitchell

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

4 Comments

AF Roger

about 5 months ago

Dear Mr. Mitchell: Thank you for writing. I'm a 73-year-old veteran (USAF, 1969-73), and Oregon has been my home since 1987. I grew up in an entirely white and very Christian farming community in eastern Nebraska. My high school years spanned 1961-65. We watched all of the school desegregation struggles, the lunch counter sit-ins, bus boycott, marches, speeches, prayers and police violence on TV. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the march for jobs with justice came right in the middle of that in 1963. We watched the police violence, water hoses, attack dogs and billyclubs on black and white TV. Right alongside the escalation of the Vietnam War. We never talked about it at church. And we never talked about it in high school Civics and American Government or Social Studies classes, as best I recall--and I do have a pretty good memory. We did not read any books on slavery, Jim Crow, or civil rights. For Civics, we did read Masters of Deceit by J. Edgar Hoover. It had the status of Scripture. The Red Scare scared us. When something particularly violent or upsetting was on the TV evening news, my parents talked about it at dinner. Their attitude to all the racial tension and the Civil Rights Movement could best be distilled into a general fear that "Blacks were going to take over." Take over what? It seemed strange to me that as Lutherans we should be afraid of someone named Martin Luther King, Jr. who knew Scripture, prayed and spoke so eloquently, sang hymns and spoke the name of Jesus with such power. . I cannot change where I came from or the history of that part of my life. Fortunately, my world broadened a bit when I became a student at the University of Nebraska in September 1965. It broadened more when a summer language fellowship took me to Vienna, Austria in the turbulent summer of 1968. I was in East Berlin on August 21, 1968 when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. A few weeks before, I had walked the grounds of a Nazi concentration camp. It changed my life and helped open my eyes. Back on campus in my Senior year, I was privileged to be able to enroll in the school's first ever Black Studies course. It was a multidisciplinary course with far more material available than we could read in a semester, but it was a start. I saved all those books and have read and re-read them again in later life. I just pulled Nobody Knows My Name and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin off the shelf, both Dell paperbacks that sold for 50 and 75 cents when new. I will re-read them. It might not be a bad idea to re-read Dr. King's book Where Do We Go From Here, Chaos or Community? for the fourth time. I would re-read W.E.B. DuBois' The Souls of Black Folk, but it's on loan to a friend at church. Truly, one of the little books from that course I most treasure is poet Arna Bontemps' little anthology titled American Negro Poetry, Such voices among us, almost entirely unknown and unheard! The copyright and printing dates on these books confirm that we could have been reading them--and wrestling with them--in high school. We should have been. We missed teachable moments. We missed teachable years--hell, teachable decades and centuries! This white American would be all in favor of reparations--as part of a much larger nationwide "truth and reconciliation process" to learn and re-learn our own history and its enduring legacy. How ironic that in the Christian faith we expect confession, contrition and repentance to be the path to forgiveness and renewal--along with the amendment of our sinful lives. How can that not be necessary for entire societies, whole nations? It is no wonder that serious wounds do not heal unless the dressings are changed. Old wrongs and injustices don't disappear unless redressed and the root causes are changed. I grieve for our country and for generations for whom life could have been and--should be--very different. I grieve that there is so much of ourselves we do not know and have refused to see. Thank you for keeping faith and writing with grace. Amen.

Reply

AF Roger

about 5 months ago

To McConnell, I would reply that it is true none of us was alive when the horrific events of past centuries took place in the colonies and states of the new USA. But we are alive today with the results of the past and what has NOT been done to correct and repair such damage. We don't get a pass. Instead, the charge is more urgent. Great wisdom has also been passed down to us if we would look. Another piece of work for us to read, or re-read, might be The Good Society by Robert Bellah, et al. It's 29 years old. I re-read it two years ago and was stunned. Can we even think like this anymore? Will we dare?

Reply

Travis

about 4 months ago

Dear Mr. Mitchell, I believe that you are wrong when you write: "Slaves had zero rights as Human Beings." Apparently there were "slave codes" that outlawed certain abuses of slaves. According to the educational document linked to below it was illegal in places to cruelly mistreat slaves for no reason, "owners" were required to properly clothe and feed their slaves, and "owners" were required in general to give their slaves Sunday as a day of rest. https://mrstreit.webs.com/Slave%20Codes%20Examples.pdf The people of the southern United States back then were severely deceived, but i would like to think that they were not in general so brutal and inhuman as to think it should be legal to sadistically torture another human. As C.S. Lewis wrote: "Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that', or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils." If the information above, which i found by a brief internet search, is not true, please let me know. I want to have correct beliefs about history as much as possible. I have not lived in the South. Maybe every other person there is a virulent racist. I wouldn't necessarily know. Perhaps, in the words of President Lincoln, "every drop of blood drawn with the lash" has not yet been repaid and this country has yet to endure great and terrible chastisement from God until Jesus returns to establish His peaceable kingdom. May God bless you and Ms. Zacharias,

Reply

Ralph Mitchell

about 4 months ago

Even though "Slave Codes" existed, actual enforcement of such was a different matter. Most local authorities simply looked the other way and slave owners were allowed to do as they pleased when it came to their property.

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