Am I not a man and brother?
Ought I not, then, to be free?
Sell me not to one another,
Take not thus my liberty.
Christ our Savior, Christ our Savior,
Died for me as well as thee.
Am I not a man and brother?
Have I not a soul to save?
Oh, do not my spirit smother,
Making me a wretched slave;
God of mercy, God of mercy,
Let me fill a freeman's grave!
As I reflect over the words of the proclamation carried by General Granger, these words standout to me. “This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.” Encapsulated in this order was the medicine needed for a racially sick country which held people as product. A country whose body was torn apart by a cancer of racism and revealed itself in a destructive Civil War. A change was moving throughout the nation and the answer to the question, “Am I not a man and brother” was to be answered.
General Order #3 announced you are “a man and a brother” by stating a change in relationship as the freedman and woman were to be viewed as possessing equality in terms of existence and ownership. We are unique and unrepeatable human beings. We are human beings marked with royalty and the potentiality to live remarkably. This is an absolute quality which can not be diminished by any legislation, incarceration, or dehumanization. Juneteenth marks a celebration in which the ears of black and white skinned human beings would hear an absolute truth, “You are equal.”
General Order #3 announced you are “a man and a brother” by stating a change in relationship between masters and slaves. Previous to the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation the relationship between these persons was one of White personhood and Black commodity. White personhood was able to participate freely in the economic, social, and political development of the small infantile nation. Whereas Black bodies were commodities, bought, trade, and sold to accomplish the development, cultivation, and sustainment of the new Egypt. Black bodies and White personhood related to one another in the form of a transaction in which White personhood extracted the emotional, physical, and spiritual capital from Black bodies to create a structure which would benefit the power of White Egypt. With the announcement on Juneteenth, Black bodies experienced a change of relationship as they heard they were qualitatively the same as their White counterparts. We are not commodities and cattle to be auctioned. We are creatures and a collective mass of human beings who can create, labor and earn a wage.
General Order #3 finally announced a change in relationship as participants in the market place. General Granger’s Order #3 impacts approximately 250,000 slaves in Texas according to Dr. Henry Louis Gates. The impact of a quarter of a million persons learning they would no longer be existing and functioning as free labor is without measure. Consider for a moment if 10% of these persons now have the opportunity to work, negotiate a price for labor, and receive compensation for that labor. The terms of slave and master begin to erode in Texas and the South for our common terms of employer and laborer. These persons now have the opportunity to function as laborers and dare we say new entrepreneurs who would lay the foundations for great enterprise efforts such Black Wall Street, Madame Cj Walker, and others. Our participation in the marketplace requires a reevaluation of our economic education and the support of more entrepreneurs who will own businesses and not simply patronize a business.
This qualitative change in relationship among Whites and Blacks, the labor context, and market place did not come without its challenges. There was and there would be opposition. Sharecropping, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow were all forms of opposition to the good news “We are human beings.” Opposition arises from those who benefit from the status quo. The beneficiaries of the status quo act out of fear over the loss of security, comfort, and affluence. Fear created the unjust economic practice of sharecropping. Fear created the inequitable practice of the Homestead Act in the which the federal government supported White brothers and sisters seeking to make a new life West while Black freedmen and women struggled to move freely with economic shackles still around their ankles. Yet it is the steady rain of heavenly plagues which begin to wash away the existing reality and reveal a fresh soil of new landscapes for many to enjoy.
We are men, women, brothers and sisters. Juneteenth only affirms what is already in each and everyone of us. We are powerful and remarkable image bearers of God. We are men and women who have a long lineage which does not begin in chains and the bowels of slave ships. Our lives begin on West African shores, North African landscapes, and in the shadow of great pyramids. We have the intellect of kings, queens, scientist, theologians, and entrepreneurs. Thus our relationship to one another should be one of persons who are actively pursuing opportunities and partnerships which uplift the wellbeing of one another. We have come from different families. We have ancestors from different plantations but we are here now…together. We are here now. And just as our forefathers and foremothers huddled together for comfort and courage in dark fields to sing praises to God in whose image they were made. We need to rally together around common economic interest to achieve economic goals for the common good. Recommit yourself to work with persons of goodwill to find solutions to improve the social, economic, political, and religious situation of your fellow African American brother and sister. But not only them…let us commit to being a people who provide such an influence to the state of Arkansas and our nation all people will rise up and say with one loud voice…
“We are men. We are women.
We are sisters. We are brothers.
We will all die free.”
Given at the Arkansas Black Mayors Association on March 22, 2019
I am thankful for the opportunity to speak for a few minutes with this august group of men and women who gather here from across the state of Arkansas. It warms my heart to see this group of Black leaders who have committed themselves to a term of public service as mayors. You are the executive leadership, the figure heads, and face of your cities.
Since the early part of twentieth century, Blacks have chosen to focus on political power as the primary means to bring about social and economic change. We stand on the shoulders of men such as Dr. King and Reverend Abernathy. We are encouraged by the strength of Fannie Lou Hamer and Rosa Parks. They sought to access the halls of political power through nonviolent direct action to secure the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. These men and women flung open wide the doors of opportunity for all of us today. These are just a couple of reasons fifty-one cities are represented by Black males and females in Arkansas today in contrast to an Arkansas of that same 1960’s period which had no Black Mayors. There were glimmers of hope though in the midst of a difficult period leading up to the funeral of legalized segregation, Jim Crow, and Jane Crow.
Historian Carl Moneyhon, identifies significant economic foundation for Arkansas Blacks in the early twentieth century was tied to the land. Moneyhon, observes political representation by Blacks was “primarily agricultural…” because “a majority of black voters lived on the farm” (p.223). What we can also learn is that there was a growing middle class of Black Arkansans even in the midst of a segregated and overtly racist Arkansas. This growing middle class included clergy, educators, doctors, lawyers, and other jobs marked as professional (Moneyhon, 1985). So from Little Rock to Pine Bluff, from counties such as Chicot, Desha, and Phillips County, the middle class began to energize our Black population even under such dehumanizing racist environment.
What does this information mean for us today? How can we use political power as a means to open doors of greater social and economic power to bring vitality or sustain the communities you men and women represent?
I believe there is an abundance of great opportunity for our Arkansas cities and towns. If we look at our history and the ingenuity of Black Arkansans post-Reconstruction through the Civil Rights Era, there is no reason there can not be many Wiley Jones. “Wiley Jones had risen from slavery and the farm to become a wealthy man. By the end of the century, he owned the Wiley Jones Street Car line, town lots in Pine Bluff…Contemporaries estimated Jones’s wealth at $300,000.00 by 1890” (Moneyhon, 1985; p.225). As political leaders you have been given the authority to create opportunities of success for the citizens you represent. It is a heavy responsibility but with support it can be accomplished.
Our organization works with cities and towns to provide technical support to create nonprofits and develop leadership which can create opportunities of change for cities and towns such as yours. Since 2018 in partnership with the University of Central Arkansas we have established a community development nonprofit in the city of Mitchellville with Mayor Carl Griswold. This year we have started similar work in the city of Eudora with the leadership of their new Mayor Travis Collins to focus on educational support, housing, and workforce training. The common thread I have seen unite these different cities is a passionate commitment of transformation despite resource limitation. This is part of our history in Arkansas and yet history has shown Black Arkansans have the faith and leadership to take two fish and five loaves to be a blessing for many generations.
These future generations are why you are here today and when we continue to look forward harnessing the victories of the past, I believe the opportunities for each of your cities will be great. CoHO want to be a part of supporting the creation of those opportunities.
Thank you and God Bless.
Copyright Arrowmakers 2019