We Can Overcome
Race seems to be the controlling criterion in contemporary dialogue when it comes to evaluating relationships among black and white Americans. Nothing is more harmful to the brainpower of black people than the elevation of the myth that one cannot thrive due to racism. Undeniably, racism is a reality, but it has never been sufficient enough to prevent black Americans from gaining an economic advantage in a struggle to better ourselves.
In 1834, a group of Connecticut businessmen declared that the “white man cannot labor upon equal terms with the negro….the black can afford to offer his services at lower prices than the white man.” Fugitive slaves had escaped there and opened businesses. When slavery ended in 1865, blacks carried their work ethic into the free market. Their white counterparts legislatively enacted discriminatory laws in an effort to stifle the competition from blacks.
Many 19th century black Americans wanted nothing more than the freedom to be productive. A shared intellectual currency at the time motivated blacks to perform very well without viewing race as a disability. In the 1870s, blacks occupied positions as lieutenant governor, mayor, sheriff, magistrates, treasurer, superintendent of education in five states including Republican Speakers of the House in Mississippi and South Carolina.
One day after Congress approved the Thirteenth Amendment ending slavery, Republican Senator Charles Sumner introduced a motion that made John Rock the first black attorney to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was already an American teacher, doctor, dentist, and abolitionist. John Rock was also one of the first black Americans to earn a medical degree (1852).
It’s how we respond to experiences and learning that makes the difference. In 1910, 71 percent of blacks over nine years of age were employed or operated family businesses. This heightened racial tensions that prompted whites to burn down black business and suppress the black vote in an effort to gain economic ground.
We needed the government to protect our civil liberties rather than provide wealth. When the 1964 Civil Rights Act came up for argument and a vote, Senator Olin Johnston, a Democrat from South Carolina said: “This is indeed the blackest day in the U.S. Senate since 1875, when Congress passed a civil rights bill similar to this one. It was 89 years ago that the [Republican] Congress passed the nefarious Reconstruction era civil rights laws, identical with what we are now discussing….” It was Republican William McCullough who stated in supporting the bill: “I believe in the right of each individual to have his constitutional rights guaranteed. On the other hand, he must always be prepared to shoulder the obligations and assume the burdens of citizenship….”
Rev. Tommy Davis is a full time chaplain in upstate New York