I love this deeply every time I hear it.
Why did You make me Black?
Why did You make someone
the world wants to hold back?
Black is the color of dirty clothes,
the color of grimy hands and feet.
Black is the color of darkness,
the color of tire-beaten streets.
Why did You give me thick lips,
a broad nose and kinky hair?
Why did You make someone
who receives the hatred stare?
Black is the color of the bruised eye
when someone gets hurt.
Black is the color of darkness,
Black is the color of dirt.
How come my bone structure’s so thick,
my hips and cheeks are high?
How come my eyes are brown
and not the color of daylight sky?
Why do people think I’m useless?
How come I feel so used?
Why do some people see my skin
and think I should be abused?
Lord I just don’t understand.
What is it about my skin?
Why do some people want to hate me
and not know the person within?
Black is what people are “listed”
when others want to keep them away.
Black is the color of shadows cast.
Black is the end of day.
Lord you know my own people mistreat me
and I know this just ain’t right.
They don’t like my hair.
They say I’m too dark or too light.
Lord, don’t You think it’s time for You
to make a change?
Why don’t You re-do creation and
make everyone the same?
Why did I make you Black?
Why did I make you Black?
Get off your knees and look around
Tell me, what do you see?
I didn’t make you in the image of darkness,
I made you in likeness of ME!
I made you the color of coal from which
beautiful diamonds are formed.
I made you the color of oil,
the black gold that keeps people warm.
I made you from the rich, dark earth that can
grow the food you need.
You color’s the same as the black stallion,
a majestic animal is he.
I didn’t make you in the image of darkness.
I made you in likeness of ME!
All the colors of the heavenly rainbow can be
found throughout every nation.
But when all of those colors were blended,
you became my greatest creation.
Your hair is the texture of lamb’s wool.
Such a humble little creature is he.
I am the Sheperd who watches them.
I am the One who will watch over thee.
You are the color of midnight sky.
I put the star’s glitter in your eyes.
There is a smile hidden behind your pain.
That’s why your cheeks are so high.
You are the color of dark clouds formed,
when I send My strongest weather.
I made your lips full so when you kiss
the one that you love, they will remember.
Your stature is strong, your bone structure thick
to withstand the burdens of time.
The reflection you see in the mirror…
The image that looks back is MINE.
– RuNell Ni Ebo
On Sunday, June 26, Jesse Williams received the 2016 BET Humanitarian Award. He gave a powerful acceptance speech that is an on-point statement highlighting racial inequality in America today. It’s ironic that it was given in a room full of entertainers, one of which was posturing with a thick gold chain while pointing to the brand on his shirt right before Jesse called out the culture of selling ourselves for brands after praying and working for centuries to escape being branded.
“This award is not for me. This is for the real organizers across the country: the activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do. Right? It’s kind of basic mathematics. The more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize.”
“There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There’s no job we haven’t done. There’s no tax they haven’t levied against us. And we’ve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. You’re free – they keep telling us. But… she…she would have been alive had she not acted so… free. Freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now.”
“The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job. Stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance… for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for Black people, then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.”
“The thing is though, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.”
~ Jesse Williams
Just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.
~ Jesse Williams
The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War. Prior to 1863, no concerted effort was made to recruit black troops as Union soldiers. The adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation in December of 1862 provided the impetus for the use of free black men as soldiers and, at a time when state governors were responsible for the raising of regiments for federal service, Massachusetts was the first to respond with the formation of the Fifty-fourth Regiment.
The formation of the regiment was a matter of controversy and public attention from its inception. Questions were raised as to the black man’s ability to fight in the “white man’s war.” Although Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew believed that black men were capable of leadership, others felt that commissioning blacks as officers was simply too controversial; Andrew needed all the support he could get. The commissioned officers, then, were white and the enlisted men black. Any black officers up to the rank of lieutenant were non-commissioned and reached their positions by moving up through the ranks. On 28 May 1863, upon the presentation of the unit’s colors by the governor and a parade through the streets of Boston, spectators lined the streets with the hopes of viewing this experimental unit. The regiment then departed Boston on the transport De Molay for the coast of South Carolina.
All but one of the portraits below (the lithograph of Robert Gould Shaw) were collected by Capt. Luis F. Emilio, commander of Company E of the regiment. The photographic portraits date from circa 1860 to 1880 and include tintypes, one ambrotype, and albumen photographs depicting both African-American members of the regiment, as well as white officers. The entire collection of 108 photographs is described in a collection guide with links to digitized images,54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment photographs (Photo. Coll. 72). Forty-three additional images of the volunteers can be found in the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment carte de visite album (Photo. Coll. 103).
Recruiting and Enlisting Soldiers
By the middle of February 1863, recruiting for the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment was underway. Newspaper advertisements and recruiting posters (see below) encouraged black men to enlist. Twenty-five men responded promptly, and by the end of the first week of enlistments seventy-two recruits were present at Camp Meigs in Readville (now West Roxbury), Massachusetts. However, more soldiers were needed and recruiters turned their attention to states throughout the North and South and into Canada to locate enough eligible black men to fill the regiment. By 14 May 1863, the regiment was comprised of 1000 enlisted men, and a full complement of white officers. In May 1863, Captain John W. M. Appleton donated the Enlistment roll of Company A of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. The remaining recruits became the nucleus of the Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.
On 16 July 1863, serving as a diversion for the intended attack on Morris Island, South Carolina, the Fifty-fourth Regiment saw its first action on James Island, losing forty-five men. On 18 July, after several days with little sleep, food or water, the regiment was instructed to lead the attack against Fort Wagner on Morris Island (see an 1863 watercolor of Morris Island from Fort Wagner by Henry Webber). In the disastrous assault led by Colonel Shaw, the 54th suffered very heavy losses, most notably the loss of their commander, and nearly half of the men present were killed, wounded, or missing. Despite this, the unit showed exceptional bravery and honor, never retreating as they waited for the reinforcements which would never arrive.
While the Fifty-fourth Regiment suffered heavy losses at Fort Wagner, there is no evidence that the unit was chosen because they were thought of simply as cannon fodder. When the news of the attack reached home, the unit which had been the target of so much attention, publicity, and skepticism finally earned the respect it deserved. Despite the defeat at Fort Wagner, the use of black soldiers in the 54th was viewed as a success and opened the way for numerous other black units in the Union Army for the remainder of the war.
“‘In my mind, I see a line, and over that line I see green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line… but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can’seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800’s. And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
~ Viola Davis on accepting her first Emmy for Leading Actress
The intention of this post is not to focus on the fact that crime and violence are at the center of each of the shows Uzo Aduba, Regina King and Viola Davis won Emmys for during the 67th Emmy Awards on Sunday, September 20, 2015… which happens to be the first Emmy program I’ve watched in full since… I don’t know when…. I’ll save that analysis for another post.
The intention of this post is to bask in the glory of black womanhood – in all her collective complexity, grace, humility, gratitude, strength, perseverance, life-giving, life-building forthrightness and beauty.
Three black women won Emmys – the highest industry award for their craft – in one night. I was happy for Uzo Aduba – though I only gotten through the first eight episodes or so of the first season of Orange is the New Black. Her character, Crazy Eyes, left an impression for sure. When Uzo Aduba accepted her Emmy, her gratitude was inspiring and beautiful witness.
“Hi. I really just want to say ‘Thank you’ a thousand times! If I could say ‘thank you’ a thousand times, it would not be enough to cover the amount of thanks that I feel for you, Jenji Kohan. I love you so much! I appreciate you for putting belief back in my heart. I love you. Thank you for making this show, for creating this space – for making a platform…. I love you most for your kindness! Thank you…. Thank you everybody! [I want to say thank you to my team] I love you most…mostly.. because you let me be me!”
~ Uzo Aduba on accepting her second consecutive Emmy for the same character, Crazy Eyes on Orange is the New Black, Netflix
Like many other black women of my generation, I’ve grown, aged and matured watching Regina King in countless roles on the small and big screens beginning with 227 in the late 1980’s. Her speech warmed my heart. She’s been a working actress for over twenty years, well-known and acclaimed and during her speech she put motherhood front and center as her greatest accomplishment. That warmed my heart and gave me hope.
“I was not expecting this, so I am just going to listen to God and just give gratitude for all the love that surrounds me. Thank you [to many]…. My amazing mother and grandmother who have taught me the power and the blessing of being a woman…. And this is absolutely amazing… My son Ian [sigh], the fact that I get to share this night with you, the best date in the house… ah, man… you make being a mother my greatest accomplishment. I love you! Cheers!
~ Regina King on accepting her first Emmy, for Best Supporting Actress in Limited Series or Movie, American Crime, ABC
I can’t tell you the first time I saw Viola Davis on screen. I don’t know what her first role was or if I saw it in real time. But I can say that I have known her – and women like her – most of my life: her rawness, her emotional honesty and power, her determination to allow her presence to be seen and experienced as equally noteworthy talent no matter her role or amount of screen time. Watching Viola evolve into a Hollywood powerhouse and a dynamic voice has been a distinctly awesome experience.
“‘In my mind, I see a line, and over that line I see green fields, and lovely flowers, and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line… but I can’t seem to get there no-how. I can’seem to get over that line.’ That was Harriet Tubman in the 1800’s. And let me tell you something, the only thing that separates women of color from anyone else, is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people… people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman. To be Black! And to the Taraji P. Hensons, Kerry Washingtons, the Halle Berrys, the Nicole Beharies, the Megan Goods, to Gabrielle Union: Thank you for taking us over that line! Thank you… to the Television Academy.”
~ Viola Davis on accepting her first Emmy for Leading Actress in a Drama Series, How to Get Away With Murder, ABC
Yeah. What she said.
Source: Twentieth-Century American Poetry (2004)
THE 54TH MASSACHUSETTS
Early in February 1863, the abolitionist Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts issued the Civil War’s first official call for black soldiers. More than 1,000 men responded. They formed the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first black regiment to be raised in the North. Many of the 54th soldiers did not even come from Massachusetts: one-quarter came from slave states, and some came from as far away as Canada and the Caribbean. To lead the 54th Massachusetts, Governor Andrew chose a young white officer named Robert Gould Shaw.
On July 18, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts stormed Fort Wagner, which guarded the Port of Charleston, in South Carolina. It was the first time in the Civil War that black troops led an infantry attack. Unfortunately, the 600 men of the 54th were outgunned and outnumbered: 1,700 Confederate soldiers waited inside the fort, ready for battle. Almost half of the charging Union soldiers, including Colonel Shaw, were killed.
Black soldiers and their officers were also in grave danger if they were captured in battle. Confederate President Jefferson Davis called the Emancipation Proclamation “the most execrable measure in the history of guilty man” and promised that black prisoners of war would be enslaved or executed on the spot. (Their white commanders would likewise be punished—even executed—for what the Confederates called “inciting servile insurrection.”) Threats of Union reprisal against Confederate prisoners forced Southern officials to treat black soldiers who had been free before the war somewhat better than they treated black soldiers who were former slaves—but in neither case was the treatment particularly good. Union officials tried to keep their troops out of harm’s way as much as possible by keeping most black soldiers away from the front lines.
THE FIGHT FOR EQUAL PAY
Even as they fought to end slavery in the Confederacy, African-American Union soldiers were fighting against another injustice as well. The U.S. Army paid black soldiers $10 a week (minus a clothing allowance, in some cases), while white soldiers got $3 more (plus a clothing allowance, in some cases). Congress passed a bill authorizing equal pay for black and white soldiers in 1864.
By the time the war ended in 1865, about 180,000 black men had served as soldiers in the U.S. Army. This was about 10 percent of the total Union fighting force. Most—about 90,000—were former (or “contraband”) slaves from the Confederate states. About half of the rest were from the loyal border states, and the rest were free blacks from the North. Forty thousand black soldiers died in the war: 10,000 in battle and 30,000 from illness or infection.
Book: ARMY LIFE IN A BLACK REGIMENT by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, (1823-1911)
The original “Uncle Tom”, Josiah Henson (June 15, 1789 – May 5, 1883) was an author, abolitionist, and minister. Born into slavery in Charles County, Maryland, he escaped to Upper Canada (now Ontario) in 1830, and founded a settlement and laborer’s school for other fugitive slaves at Dawn, near Dresden in Kent County. Henson’s autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself (1849), is widely believed to have inspired the character of the fugitive slave, George Harris, in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), who returned to Kentucky for his wife and escaped across the Ohio River, eventually to Canada. Following the success of Stowe’s novel, Henson issued an expanded version of his memoir in 1858, Truth Stranger Than Fiction. Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life (published Boston: John P. Jewett & Company, 1858). Interest in his life continued, and nearly two decades later, his life story was updated and published as Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (1876).
Josiah Henson (1789-1883) and his second wife Nancy, Ontario, Canada, 1877
Josiah Henson was born on a farm near Port Tobacco in Charles County, Maryland. When he was a boy, his father was punished for standing up to a slave owner, receiving one hundred lashes and having his right ear nailed to the whipping-post, and then cut off. His father was later sold to someone in Alabama. Following his family’s master’s death, young Josiah was separated from his mother, brothers, and sisters.His mother pleaded with her new owner Isaac Riley, Riley agreed to buy back Henson so she could at least have her youngest child with her; on condition he would work in the fields. Riley would not regret his decision, for Henson rose in his owners’ esteem, and was eventually entrusted as the supervisor of his master’s farm, located in Montgomery County, Maryland (in what is now North Bethesda). In 1825, Mr. Riley fell onto economic hardship and was sued by a brother in law. Desperate, he begged Henson (with tears in his eyes) to promise to help him. Duty bound, Henson agreed. Mr. R then told him that he needed to take his 18 slaves to his brother in Kentucky by foot. They arrived in Daviess County Kentucky in the middle of April 1825 at the plantation of Mr. Amos Riley. In September 1828 Henson returned to Maryland in an attempt to buy his freedom from Issac Riley.
He tried to buy his freedom by giving his master $350 which he had saved up, and a note promising a further $100. Originally Henson only needed to pay the extra $100 by note, Mr. Riley however, added an extra zero to the paper and changed the fee to $1000. Cheated of his money, Henson returned to Kentucky and then escaped to Kent County, U.C., in 1830, after learning he might be sold again. There he founded a settlement and laborer’s school for other fugitive slaves at Dawn, Upper Canada. Henson crossed into Upper Canada via the Niagara River, with his wife Nancy and their four children. Upper Canada had become a refuge for slaves from the United States after 1793, when Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe passed “An Act to prevent further introduction of Slaves, and to limit the Term of Contracts for Servitude within this Province”. The legislation did not immediately end slavery in the colony, but it did prevent the importation of slaves, meaning that any U.S. slave who set foot in what would eventually become Ontario, was free. By the time Henson arrived, others had already made Upper Canada home, including Black Loyalists from the American Revolution, and refugees from the War of 1812.
Henson first worked farms near Fort Erie, then Waterloo, moving with friends to Colchester by 1834 to set up a Black settlement on rented land. Through contacts and financial assistance there, he was able to purchase 200 acres (0.81 km2) in Dawn Township, in next-door Kent County, to realize his vision of a self-sufficient community. The Dawn Settlement eventually prospered, reaching a population of 500 at its height, and exporting black walnut lumber to the United States and Britain. Henson purchased an additional 200 acres (0.81 km2) next to the Settlement, where his family lived. Henson also became an active Methodist preacher, and spoke as an abolitionist on routes between Tennessee and Ontario. He also served in the Canadian army as a military officer, having led a Black militia unit in the Rebellion of 1837. Though many residents of the Dawn Settlement returned to the United States after slavery was abolished there, Henson and his wife continued to live in Dawn for the rest of their lives. Henson died at the age of 93 in Dresden, on May 5, 1883.