Paul R. Lehman, History and bigotry give an insight into today’s challenges

July 8, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Posted in American Bigotry, American Racism, Bigotry in America, blacks, Disrespect, equality, Ethnicity in America, fairness, justice, minority, Oklahoma education, Prejudice, President Obama, public education, Respect for President, whites | 1 Comment
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Many Americans are led to believe that all African Americans are the descendants of African slaves and that the freedmen were only abused, beaten, and murdered after the Civil War, during the Reconstruction period. American history does a poor job of telling the story of the African Americans who were not slaves, and called free persons of color. That freedom enjoyed by these persons of color was so restricted in certain states that little difference of treatment existed between them and their slave brothers. Prior to the creation of the hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Night Riders whose jobs were to keep the persons of color in their place, each state made laws to restrict the movement and manage the activity of the free persons of color. In many instances the laws also gave specific instructions regarding the actions of free European Americans (whites) and their relationship to African Americans, slave and free.

Many people are puzzled at the attitude and behavior of some European Americans relative to the treatment of African Americans today, especially since the election of Barack Obama as President. A quick look at one of the state laws prior to the Civil War might shed some light on this subject. A bill went into effect in South Carolina in April, 1835. The bill was No. 2639 An Act To Amend The Law Relating To Slaves and Free Person Of Color.

Be it enacted by the honorable, the Senate and House of Representatives, now met and sitting in General Assembly, and by the authority of the same:  If any person shall hereafter teach any slave to read or write, or cause, or procure any slave to read or write, such person, if a free white person [ some European Americans were still slaves at this time] upon conviction thereof shall for each and every offense against this Act be fined not exceeding one hundred dollars and imprisoned not more than six months; or, if a free person of color, shall be whipped not exceeding fifty lashes and fined not exceeding fifty dollars, at the discretion of the court of magistrates and freeholders before which such person of color is tried; and if a slave, to be whipped at the discretion of the court, not exceeding fifty lashes: the informer to be entitled to one-half of the fine, and to be a competent witness. And if any free person of color or slave shall keep any school or other place of instruction for teaching any slave or free person of color to read or write, such free person of color or slave shall be liable to the same fine, imprisonment, and corporal punishment as are by this Act imposed and inflicted upon free persons of color and slaves for teaching slaves to read or write.

The careful reader will recognize the unequal and contrasting treatment regarding a free European American (white) and that of a free person of color. The European American was to receive no whipping, just fines and imprisonment as the magistrates saw fit. So, the concept of privilege for European Americans was written into the laws very early on in society. The objective in all cases was to prevent the African American, slave or free from learning to read and/or write, thereby keeping them in a system of perpetual slavery.

Prior to this law, a number of citizens, European Americans and African Americans kept school of instruction that included both European Americans and African Americans as students. The law was meant to put an end to any kind of instruction to not only African American slaves, but to free persons of color as well. As a matter of fact, the way the law was written, it would be a crime for an African Americans parent to teach his or her children to read and write. Remember, the law reads: “…for teaching any slave or free person of color to read or write…”So, being a free person of color had its limitations and dangers in that if he or she was known to be able to read and write, he or she would be in constant fear of being accused and convicted of a crime.

Most states had laws restricting the lives and actions of both slave and free African Americans while at the same time showing privilege to the European Americans. After the Civil war, the emphasis centered directly on the African American in the form of the Black Codes and later Jim Crow laws and practices. So, the lack of education of the African American has never been a concern for certain segments of society. The more they can remain illiterate, the easier they are to manage, manipulate and exploit.  The idea behind this concept is simple—the more education the African American acquires, the more they contend for fair treatment in society, and the more they become a threat to the privileges enjoyed by the European Americans.

Today, many European Americans recognize that the clock is tickling away the time they can continue to enjoy the privilege of being “white.” With President Obama as the leader of the country, their sense of superiority is under threat, so they must try and forestall any additional encroachment on their value. One of the things that President Obama brings to the mix is something the bigots have little or no defense for, and that is an absence of a direct American slavery legacy via his parents. This fact of ancestry makes it difficult for those biased against him to try and find some line of attack based on the general stereotypes associated with African Americans. Fortunately, no law is available to help them remedy their problem.

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  1. Your topic is so apropos in this bitter divisive climate. No accident new laws are being written to restrict voter’s rights at the same time revered existing voter’s rights laws are being challenged. Your comments remind me that it is not the “rule of law” that separates the United States from the rest of the world. It is the concept of equally under that law serving the most diverse citizenry in the world that makes this country unique. Land in any other place in the world other than the USA and the people all look and sound alike. But take a cab for LaGuardia to Harlem and see all the nations of the world under one roof. I agree with you, that concept is out of the bag. There is no turning back even though there are those determined to make that happen.

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