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“We Fight for Men and Women Whose Poetry has Not Yet Been Written…” Remembering Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When it learned that the Federal Government was recruiting African Americans, both free men and former slaves as soldiers the Confederate Congress issued this proclamation:

“Any negro taken in arms against the Confederacy will immediately be returned to a state of slavery. Any negro taken in Federal uniform will be summarily put to death. Any white officer taken in command of negro troops shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection and shall likewise be put to death.” 

Those who doubt that the leaders of the Confederacy fought the war for any “state right” other than the maintenance and expansion of slavery needs to look at the actions and words of that racist republic. 


One hundred and fifty-four years ago today one of those African American regiments went into action against the Confederate works at Battery Wagner, outside of Charleston, South Carolina. The 54th was raised in Boston and Frederick Douglass was instrumental in recruiting men to serve in it, two of which were his sons, and another the grandson of Sojourner Truth. The regimental commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was the son of wealth abolitionists. When the call for volunteers was made in 1861 joined the 7th New York, and later commissioned in the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, with which he fought at the battle of Antietam. After that battle he was offered the command of a black regiment then being raised in Boston. He initially declined the offer but on second thought decided to take it. 

Later tonight I will probably watch the film Glory about that regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. It was one of the first African American Regiments raised for service in the Civil War. I have seen the movie a number of times, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Of course I have written a number of articles about the 54th and other African American units in the Civil War, the later “Buffalo Soldiers” and African American military pioneers, but I cannot forget the 54th. These were men who volunteered and remained in service knowing that the Confederate Congress had condemned them to death should they ever be captured. They also endured the mocking of some White Union soldiers as well as pay inequity with whites, for doing the same dangerous job as infantrymen.

When it was decided that an attack would be made on Battery Wagner the 54th was chosen for the mission. General Thomas Seymour provided this rational for leading the attack the the 54th: they “were in any respect as efficient as any other body of men; and as one of the strongest and best officered, there seemed to be no good reason why it should not be selected for the advance”


During their attack on the night of July 18th 1863, 272 members of the 600 men of the 54th who made the attack including their commander, the twenty-six year-old Colonel Shaw were killed or wounded in a bloody but unsuccessful assault on Battery Wagner. Following the assault, “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” He would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.


Thinking that it was an insult the Confederates stripped Shaw’s body of his uniform and robbed him of his possessions, including his sword. They threw Colonel Shaw’s body in a mass grave with his African American soldiers. When Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told by Confederate commander General Johnson Hagood:

“Had he been in command of white troops, I should have given him an honorable burial; as it is, I shall bury him in the common trench with the niggers that fell with him.”

Union officers sought to have his remains returned but Shaw’s father wrote to implore them not to continue the effort. He wrote to the regimental surgeon:

“We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company. – what a body-guard he has!”

When Shaw first went to war he wrote to his mother words that should be in all of our hearts when we fight for the rights of others, especially those who are despised due to their race, national origin, color, religion or lack thereof,  gender, or sexual orientation:

“We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any.”

That is what we fight for when we stand for the civil rights of others. That is why it is important to remember the example of the men of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Stand by Those Principles, Against All Foes, At Any Cost: Independence Day 2017


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is July 4th and the 241st anniversary of the declaration by the leaders of 13 colonies of their independence from Britain and the founding on a new nation. It was a nation founded on a principle of the Enlightenment, the principle that all men are created equal, and as their Declaration of Independence noted that as such are “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

That founding principle was revolutionary and regardless of how badly it was many times lived out in the history of our nation, it was and still is the first time that a nation was not founded on the basis of ethnicity or religion, but rather a principle, a proposition that no matter how noble was, and still is often despised by Americans. 

One of the most notable was George Fitzhugh, a major Southern slaveholder and apologist for not only slavery but the inequality of poor whites and women wrote: 

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.

Fitzhugh also wrote: 

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.”

But he was not alone. In 1860 South Carolina led a procession of 11 states out of the Union based on the proposition that only certain men were created equal. Every declaration of secession had at its heart the statement that the institution of slavery was to be protected and expanded with the implication that African American slaves could never be equal, free, or enjoy the slightest legal protections of citizenship. These states were willing to fight a war for this and even at the end of that war many of their leaders resisted any call for granting emancipation to blacks, and then when that was over use terrorism and law to again strip away the rights from newly freed blacks through lynching, the Black Codes, and Jim Crow. 

In 1852 not long after the passage of the Compromise of 1850 which included an enhanced Fugitive Slave Act which dictated that Northerners had to cooperate in the recapture and reenslavement of blacks residing in their free states, Frederick Douglass preached one of the most damning sermons about what July 4th meant to slaves. He said:

“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.” 

Even so men like Fitzhugh would proclaim: “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.”

Of course such is not liberty, it is tyranny and it is the seedbed of dictatorship. The word liberty is often abused by those who seek total power and control over the lives of others. Abraham Lincoln said as much when he noted: 

“We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” 

The proposition in the Declaration that all men are created equal is essential to understanding or appreciating liberty. If we view others as below us, as even less than human then we cannot say that we believe in liberty. If we decide to limit the right of citizens to speak out because of their color, their national origin, their race, their religion, their gender, or sexual identity then we are not for liberty, we are no better than George Fitzhugh or others, even the Nazis, who enslaved, imprisoned, and exterminated others in the name of their power, and their right. 

If our concept of liberty is so limited by our ideology that we cannot accept others having it or being equal to us then we stand against the very proposition that the United States was founded and we should bury the American experiment and stop lying about a proposition that we no longer believe in. The eminent American jurist wrote these words, which for me are like the Declaration, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech are secular scripture that are sacred to my understanding of being an American, and something that I will never yield. Judge Hand said: 

“Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. The spirit of Liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of Liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of Liberty is that which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.”

So today, on this 241st anniversary of our independence when the rights of citizenship, the rights of suffrage, the rights of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech are under assault for the man occupying the highest office in the land I do not despair. I do not despair because the spirit of liberty still lives in my heart as it does many others who still believe in that sacred and revolutionary proposition that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

In the darkness of 1852 Frederick Douglass said these words to people who at the time were refused citizenship and who were enslaved:  

“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

May we not forget those words on this day when the founding proposition of our country is under attack. 

Cherish our independence and never stop believing in or fighting for liberty. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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The “Saving Principles” of the Declaration of Independence

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Abraham Lincoln spoke these words in Springfield, Illinois on June 26th 1857, nearly 160 years ago. They are part of a continuum in the development of his philosophy of liberty and how he understood the words of the Declaration of Independence, and how he believed that the authors 0f that document understood the words that set the United States apart from all other nations. The words “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” were revolutionary for their time and the Jefferson understood them in that manner.

“They [the signers of the Declaration of Independence] did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, nor yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right; so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.”

Though at the time they words of the Declaration only applied to white men, the words and writings of many of the founders were uncomfortable with the actual condition of black slaves as well as Native Americans. The had enough integrity to understand that what they wrote was a proposition that had universal implications which were not yet realized and would take time to happen. Those who mocked the document, the proposition, the founders, and the new nation understood that as well. It was a watershed moment for all of Europe was still under the control of Kings and despots. Thomas Jefferson understood how these words threatened despotic rule around the world and in 1821 he wrote to John Adams:

“The flames kindled on the 4th of July 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them.”

But this was something that the people of the United States would have to wrestle with for decades before the most glaring aspect of inequality, that of slavery was overthrown. Frederick Douglass understood the importance of the Declaration even as white Americans on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line crafted compromises that left blacks in slavery and gave unfettered access for slave owners to go to Free States to recover their human property. In 1852 he wrote:

“I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.”

It is that ring bolt and it must be understood in its universal application and people in the United States and in countries which have embraces some portions of the concept and fight for it, otherwise it could be lost. Harry Truman noted this danger in 1952 when he said:

“We find it hard to believe that liberty could ever be lost in this country. But it can be lost, and it will be, if the time ever comes when these documents are regarded not as the supreme expression of our profound belief, but merely as curiosities in glass cases.”

Today the rights, protections, civil liberties, and opportunity to advance themselves of Americans are being rolled back in a manner that a few decades ago most of us would have found unimaginable. They are under threat many ways, too many to mention today and they must be continually fought for or we will lose them.

As Independence Day draws near I will continue to write about this subject even as I write about the Battle of Gettysburg. It matters too much.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Remembering the Memorial Day Order

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I detest the overly recreational and commercialized hype of how we Americans “celebrate” Memorial Day. It is a time for contemplation and remembering those who have given their last full measure of devotion to our country.

Abraham Lincoln summed it up well in his conclusion of the Gettysburg Address:

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

As we contemplate the importance of Memorial Day and remember the men and women who gave their lives for this country it is important to remember why we do this. Memorial Day grew out of local observances following the Civil War, a war that claimed the lives of over 620,000 American Soldiers from the Union and the Confederacy. New demographic studies by historians estimate the losses at closer to 750,000. Hundreds of thousands of other people had they lives shattered by the war, killed, wounded, maimed, crippled, and shattered in mind and spirit, the country in many places devastated by war’s destruction. If we use the 620,000 number as our yardstick, it would have meant that 2.5% of the population of the country died in the war. People needed to make sense of the terrible losses that often wiped out the younger male populations of the small towns and communities from which most of these men, and a few women hailed.

To put this in perspective, if the same number of Americans were to die today in a way the total would be over seven million people, seven million my friends. The war reached into every home in some way, and sadly or perhaps thankfully we have no concept of such losses today.

In 1868, Major General John Logan who had been an excellent corps commander during the war was serving as the Commander of the nation’s first true Veterans organization, the Grand Army of the Republic which gave those veterans a place of refuge in a country that was leaving them behind and forgetting their sacrifice in the name of westward expansion and a growing economy. Let’s face it, money has almost always been more important to Americans than the troops who sacrificed their lives for the nation, but I digress…

Anyway General Logan issued this order on May 5th 1868:

HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC, General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

  1. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

  1. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of

JOHN A. LOGAN, Commander-in-Chief

N.P. CHIPMAN, Adjutant General

Official: WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

General Logan’s order is remarkable in its frankness and the understanding of the war in the immediate context of its conclusion. In 1868 the day would be observed at 183 cemeteries in 27 States and the following year over 300 cemeteries. Michigan was the first state to make the day a holiday and by 1890 all states in the North had made it so. In the South there were similar observances but the meaning attributed to the events and the sacrifices of the Soldiers of both sides was interpreted quite differently. In the North the Veterans overwhelmingly saw themselves as the saviors of the Union and the liberators of the Slaves. In South it was about the sacrifices of Confederate soldiers in what became known as the “Lost Cause.” But in both regions and all states, the surviving Soldiers, family members and communities honored their dead.

In 1884 Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Frederick Douglass both spoke about the meaning of the sacrifice made by so many.

Holmes, a veteran of the war who had been wounded at Antietam ended his Decoration Day 1884 speech:

“But grief is not the end of all…Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death, — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and glory of the spring. As I listen, the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.”

Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist who lobbied Lincoln for emancipation and to give Blacks the chance to serve their country had two of his sons serve in the war spoke these wars:

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.”

It is important for the country not to forget those who served and the cost of those who have given the last full measure of devotion to duty and those who still carry the scars of war on their bodies and in their minds and spirits. I am one of the latter and I have known too many of the former.  Maybe that is why am so distrustful of those who advocate for war but have no skin in the game.

An Alsatian-German Soldier named Guy Sager wrote in his book The Forgotten Soldier: 

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”

I agree with him and pray that those who direct the course of this nation will take the words of General Logan, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Frederick Douglass and Guy Sager to heart before they embark on war, and when they remember those that have served.

May we never forget the sacrifices made by these men and women and those who continue to fight and sometimes die today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Offering We Bring: Memorial Day Weekend 2017

 

In his Memorial Day speech of 1884 Frederick Douglass spoke these words:

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.”

Memorial Day, at one time known as Decoration Day is one of our most sacred civil holidays that we celebrate in the United States, or at least it should be. It was a holiday born out of the shedding of the blood of 750,000 American soldiers, from the North and the South in the Civil War, a singular event that still echoes in our history and in some sense defines who we are. The sad thing is that many; if not most Americans it is simply another holiday, a chance maybe to get a three day weekend at the end of the school year and beginning of summer vacation. This is so because we and our government dominated by business interests and our own wallets for decades knowingly made the decision to sacrifice of the teaching of history and heritage at the altar of “education” that “produces jobs.”

The Racecourse Cemetery

But the first observance of what we now know as Memorial Day is fascinating and it needs to be remembered. Frederick Douglass was absolutely right when he spoke the words that I began this article, and we need to remember the humble beginnings of this day which was first marked by recently freed slaves in Charleston South Carolina on May 1st 1865, barely two weeks after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and three weeks after the surrender of Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House. Their commemoration was for the most part forgotten as Charleston sought to remove the vestiges of any Union sacrifice within the city limits in the 1880s.

The acrid smell of smoke of the last battles of the American Civil War was still lingering over many towns and cities in the South on May 1st 1865. Charleston South Carolina, the hotbed of secession was particularly hard hit during the war. In 1861 Cadets of the Citadel and South Carolina militia forces began the war with the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Union Forces laid siege to the city in late 1863, a siege which ended with the city’s surrender to Union forces on 18 February 1865. The day of the surrender was somewhat ironic. Charleston, the city most associated with the opening of the conflict surrendered to Union forces on the fourth anniversary of the inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy. By the time of its surrender much of the city had been destroyed by Union siege artillery and naval forces.

Charleston had also been the home of three of the Confederacy’s brutal prisoner of war camps. One was located in the Charleston City Jail and the other at Castle Pinckney which had been one of the ante-bellum U.S. Army installations in the city. A third camp was erected on the site of the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in 1864. This was an open air camp and Yale Historian David Blight wrote that “Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.”

By the end of the war most of the white population of the city had left and most of those remaining were recently freed slaves. After their liberation and the city’s occupation by Federal forces, which included the famous 54th Massachusetts as well as the 20th, 35th and 104th US Colored Troops Regiments, about 28 these recently liberated Black men went to work and properly reinterred these 257 Union dead on the raceway building a high fence around it. They inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course” on an arch above the cemetery entrance.

On May 1st over 10,000 Black Charlestonians gathered at the site to honor the fallen. Psalms, Scriptures and prayers were said, hymns were sung and many brought flowers. A parade of 2800 children covered the burial ground with flowers. They were followed by members of the Patriotic Association of Colored Men and the Mutual Aid Society. This society’s members provided relief supplies to Freedmen and provided aid to bury those Blacks who were too poor to afford burial. More citizens followed many laying flower bouquets on the graves. Children then led the singing of The Star Spangled Banner, America and Rally around the Flag. The Brigade composed of the 54th Massachusetts and the 35th and 104th Colored Regiments marched in honor of their fallen comrades. Following the formalities many remained behind for a picnic.

Other communities established their own Memorial Day observances in the years following the war, but the event in Charleston was the first. The first “Official” commemoration was on 30 May 1868 when Union General John Logan who headed the veteran’s organization called The Grand Army of the Republic appealed to communities to honor the dead by holding ceremonies and decorating the graves of the fallen.

In the South three different days served a similar purpose. In Virginia people commemorated the day on June 3rd, the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Carolinas marked the day on 10 May, the birthday of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In much of the Deep South the event was conducted April 26th, the anniversary of the surrender of General Joseph Johnson’s Army to General William Tecumseh Sherman. For many in the South, still attempting to come to grips with their defeat the day would become about “The Lost Cause” or “the defense of Liberty” or “States Rights” and the war was often referred to as the “War of Northern Aggression.”

The “Martyrs of the Racecourse” cemetery is no longer there. The site is now a park honoring the fascinatingly complex Confederate General and post-Reconstruction Governor of South Carolina Wade Hampton. An oval track remains in the park and is used to run or walk by the local population and cadets from the Citadel. Thankfully, at long last in 2010, one hundred and forty-five years after the dedication of that cemetery a marker was placed in that park commemorating the cemetery and the event that we now recognize as the first Memorial Day.

The Union dead who had been so beautifully honored by the Black population were moved to the National Cemetery at Beaufort South Carolina by the 1880s. Some state that the reason for this was that the cemetery had fallen into neglect, and this may be the case, but the event and their memory conveniently erased from memory of Charlestonians. I do not think that this would have happened had the people who had the bodies moved simply restored and maintained the cemetery. Had not historian David Blight found the documentation we probably still would not know of this touching act by former slaves who honored those that fought the battles, and gave their lives to win their freedom. Blight wrote in 2011 in the 1870s Charleston “had no place for the former slaves’ march on their masters’ racecourse.”

The African American population of Charleston understood the bonds of slavery and oppression. They understood the tyranny of prejudice in which they only counted as 3/5ths of a person. They understood and saw the suffering of those that were taken prisoner while attempting to liberate them from the tyranny of slavery. They stand as an example for us today.

But their suffering was not over. Within little more than a decade Blacks in the South would be subject to Jim Crow and again treated by many whites as something less than human. The struggle of they and their descendants against the tyranny of racial prejudice, discrimination and violence over the next 100 years would finally bear fruit in the Civil Rights movement, some of whose leaders, like the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. would also become martyrs. Unfortunately that struggle is not over.

Frederick Douglass spoke to Union Veterans on Memorial Day 1878. His words, particularly in light of the war and the struggles of African Americans since and the understanding of what those who were enslaved understood liberation to be are most significant to our time. It was not merely a war based on sectionalism or even “States rights,” it was a war of ideas, a war of diametrically opposed ideologies. He said:

“But the sectional character of this war was merely accidental and its least significant feature. It was a war of ideas, a battle of principles and ideas which united one section and divided the other; a war between the old and new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization; between a government based upon the broadest and grandest declaration of human rights the world ever heard or read, and another pretended government, based upon an open, bold and shocking denial of all rights, except the right of the strongest.”

Douglass’s words were powerful then and they resonate today as many of the same ideas that were the cause of the Civil War and were continued during Jim Crow are still alive. Unfortunately there are those in our society who labor daily to establish the “rights” of the strongest over the weak, the poor, the powerless and minorities of all kinds. Of course such actions, often wrapped in the flag, patriotism and buttressed with cherry picked quotes (many of which are fake, changed or taken out of context) from some of our founders are designed to re-establish the oligarchy of the power of the few, much like the men who owned the lives of the slaves and poor whites in the ante-bellum American South. Such actions do nothing but demean and trample the sacrifice of those who fought for freedom and the only remedy is to fight them with the full knowledge of truth.

I do hope that this weekend we will celebrate Memorial Day in a fitting manner. Let us honor those Americans who died that others might be free. Let us look back at what freedom actually means and not forget the sacrifices of those that gave, and still give their lives in the “last full measure of devotion to duty” that others might live. Take a moment today at noon to pause what you are doing and go silent for at least one minute, and remember.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: The Beginnings of a Book

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Hannah Arendt wrote:

“Slavery’s crime against humanity did not begin when one people defeated and enslaved its enemies (though of course this was bad enough), but when slavery became an institution in which some men were ‘born’ free and others slave, when it was forgotten that it was man who had deprived his fellow-men of freedom, and when the sanction for the crime was attributed to nature.”

It has been a very busy few weeks and one of the exiting things that is in the process of happening is that my literary agent has informed me that he has some promising leads in trying to get one of my book drafts published. The book, which I have given the tentative title Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era began as one of the introductory chapters to my Gettysburg Staff Ride text and took on a life of its own. As I read, researched, and wrote my search led me to more and more aspects of slavery and abolition that opened my eyes to the very religious, and Christian justifications for both, especially the words of Southern preachers which I have a hard time getting out of my head because of how perverse those views were, and still are.

Over the past couple of years I have posted parts of it on this site and I feel that it is really important work as so many of the issues of the ante-bellum era in regard to the institution of slavery: the Civil War with emancipation and the Thirteenth Amendment that outlawed slavery in the United States; Reconstruction with the Fourteenth Amendment which granted citizenship to freed African Americans, and which became foundational for other Civil Rights causes, and the Fifteenth Amendment which gave Black men the right to vote. These were followed by the Civil Rights act of 1875, and then with the end of Reconstruction came the return of White Rule, the overthrow of the Civil Rights Act, and the reestablishment of slavery by another name with Black Codes, Jim Crow, and violent White Supremacist groups, and finally the emergence of a new Civil Rights movement in the late 1940s. First Baseball and then the military were desegregated, then finally in 1964 the Voter’s Rights Act was passed and then in 1965 the a new Civil Rights Act.

During the interregnum between the end of Reconstruction and the high point of the Civil Rights movement, many African Americans, famous, and those not so famous worked to establish equality. Men like Frederick Douglass, W.E.B DuBois, Jackie Robinson, Benjamin O. Davis and Benjamin O. Davis Jr., James Meredith, John Lewis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and women like Rosa Parks fought discrimination, segregation and racism through peaceful protests and strong personal leadership and example. The Buffalo Soldiers served their country proudly even though they faced discrimination almost everywhere in the United States. But they all persevered.

Their story is the story of America, and intertwined in it are the themes of religion, racism, ideology, and politics; sometimes used for the purpose of freedom, but all too often perverted to deprive others of that same freedom. The institution of slavery needed racist ideology and a theology to cover the evil that it was, and can be again. That is why I write about it, and why I led this article with the quote by Hannah Arendt. The fact that after a great Civil War that claimed the lives of about 750,000 American soldiers, North and South, that others within months attempted to re-establish slavery by other means, and then when Reconstruction ended succeeded in using the law to make Blacks both second class citizens as well treating them as less than human. The poison of this philosophy spread to Europe where Hitler and his Nazi Party zealots crafted race laws against the Jews that were based in part on the American model of Jim Crow and the Black Codes.

The resurgence of White Supremacist groups across the United States and in Europe show us that we cannot ignore history without ourselves committing similar crimes against humanity. I guess that’s why I started this article with the quote by Hannah Arendt. It wasn’t just the enslavement of people, it was the institutionalization of that as well as its defense by ideologues, business leaders, politicians, and worst of all, supposedly Christian religious leaders.

So anyway, that is why I write. Anyway, I’m going to have a lot to do working with my agent over the coming days and weeks. Have a great day. I’ll keep you posted.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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“An Example of Somebody Who’s done an Amazing Job” Frederick Douglass’s Immortal Words for the Church and Trump

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Frederick Douglass 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A couple of weeks ago President Trump made an interesting acknowledgement of African American Abolitionist and civil rights champion, Frederick Douglass. The President said:   “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” But I really wonder if the President, and the 80% plus continent of Evangelical and other conservative Christians really understand what Douglass stood for, or have ever heard his harsh words for the church of his day, which are as applicable now as when he penned them in 1845. It is hard read if you claim to be a follower of Jesus, because while the issue of slavery has been resolved, at least officially, there are many others who reside in this country now who are with the blessing of many “Christians” are discriminated against, persecuted, and even hated. Yes, Douglass’s words still echo loudly in our land.

Anyway, have a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

slave-coffle2

But African Americans too had an effect on the debate. In the 1820s Black abolitionists organized with white abolitionists and of their own accord “in order to improve their lives and to attack slavery.” [1] Even before “Garrison published his famous Liberator in Boston in 1831, the first national convention of Negroes had been held, David Walker had already written his “appeal,” and a black abolitionist magazine named Freedom’s Journal had appeared.” [2] Initially most blacks that could simply desired to improve their lives and hoped that their self-improvement would result in less discrimination and more opportunity. This was known as the self-improvement doctrine. But in the face of continued discrimination in the North and in a society where slavery was expanding and slavery proponents “philosophical and political defenders became ever more in intransigent, and where racism became an increasingly rigid barrier even to the most highly talented blacks, the self-improvement doctrine lost viability.” [3]

Escaped former slaves like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and others added their voices to the debate. Unlike the white abolitionists these leaders “formative years and antislavery educations were spent on southern plantations, and not in organizations dedicated to moral suasion.” [4] Douglass became a prominent abolitionist leader and was very critical of the role of churches, especially Southern churches, in the maintenance of slavery as an institution.

However, Douglass did not spare Northern churches from criticism for buttressing the peculiar institution. Douglass’s polemics against Northern and Southern churches in the South in his autobiography reads like the preaching of an Old Testament prophet such as Amos, or Jeremiah railing against the corrupt religious institutions of their day:

“I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference‐‐so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women‐whipping, cradle‐plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.

“Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.” I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fill the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families, — sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, — leaving the hut vacant and the heart desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! All for the glory of God and the good of souls.”

The Christianity of America is a Christianity, of whose votaries it may be as truly said, as it was of the ancient scribes and Pharisees, ʺThey bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on menʹs shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. All their works they do for to be seen of men.‐‐They love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, . . . . . . and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.‐‐But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Ye devour widowsʹ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers; therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.‐‐Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides! which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but within, they are full of extortion and excess.‐Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead menʹs bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.ʺ  Dark and terrible as is this picture, I hold it to be strictly true of the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America. They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel… They attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy. They are they who are represented as professing to love God whom they have not seen, whilst they hate their brother whom they have seen. They love the heathen on the other side of the globe. They can pray for him, pay money to have the Bible put into his hand, and missionaries to instruct him; while they despise and totally neglect the heathen at their own doors.

Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion of this land; and to avoid any misunderstanding, growing out of the use of general terms, I mean by the religion of this land, that which is revealed in the words, deeds, and actions, of those bodies, north and south, calling themselves Christian churches, and yet in union with slaveholders. It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify. [5]

Douglass and other African American abolitionists were cognizant of the fact that in spite of their good intentions that many Northern abolitionists were unconscious of their own racism and many black abolitionists were repelled by it. As such black abolitionists were characterized by “racial independence and pragmatism” while white abolition leaders though “still committed to antislavery principles, increasingly divided over doctrines such as political action or evangelical reform.” [6] Douglass and others realized that blacks had to take control of their own destiny and take an active role in the abolitionist movement. In 1854 Douglass declared “it is emphatically our battle; no one else can fight it for us….Our relations to the Anti-Slavery movement must be and are changed. Instead of depending on it we must lead it.”  [7] Douglass and other black abolitionist leaders found this necessary because many white abolitionists were unable to “comprehend the world in other than moral absolute, as well as their unwillingness to confront issues of racial prejudice and poverty….” [8] As a result Douglass and other black abolitionist leaders went into the critical decade before the Civil War with a clear idea that the fight would be much more difficult and complicated than many of their white counterparts could image.

Notes

[1] Blight, David W. Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory and the American Civil War University of Massachusetts Press Amherst and Boston 2002 p.30

[2] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.23

[3] Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.31

[4] Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.31

[5] Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History. Anti-Slavery Office, Boston, 1845. Retrieved from http://antislavery.eserver.org/narratives/narrativeofthelife/narrativeofthelife.pdf/view February 24, 2017  copyright © 2005 by the Antislavery Literature Project.

[6] Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.32

[7] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.24

[8] Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.32

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