Our nation is at a pivotal moment in history. We have the opportunity to take steps in the direction of justice as light is being shined on an issue that has plagued our country since its founding in 1776. Racism, white supremacy and racially motivated violence are not new. The 2020 deaths of Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are heart wrenching to the black community, but they are not shocking—because deaths like these have been happening for centuries. Today, it’s my hope and prayer that I can do my tiny part with this small platform to help people who were shocked at these deaths and are now confused about the resulting protests and riots to unpack some of the history behind this year’s events.
The audience I have in mind as I write today is composed of white, Christian women because that’s the vast majority of my readership here. At the end of the day, my aim in writing is to plead with my fellow followers of Christ to make this issue a priority in how you practice your faith rather than a separate social justice issue that’s just too complicated for you to approach. I hope this issue of The Hump Day Happy gives you some tangible ways to move forward and get involved. I hope it leaves you feeling hopeful, not guilty. I hope it helps answer some of the questions you may have been afraid to ask.
H I S T O R Y
To understand race in America, we must first be students of American History. We must dig further than our high school history books and depart from the narrative that America is only “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” While America has indeed been a force for good in many ways, we must also acknowledge that this country was built on the backs of enslaved black people and that the land on which we build our homes and strip malls was stolen from Native Americans. The blood of countless people of color has soaked this land we love, yet in our silence about the atrocities of the past (and present), we do not honor them. We have to admit that we never made it right. We can love our nation and, at the same time, grieve that it was and is built on a foundation of white supremacy. Then, we can work to dismantle that system and build a new one that humanizes all people.
T I M E L I N E
This history is by no means complete, but I’ve attempted to hit the highlights with a focus on lesser-known events. I hope you’ll dive in deeper and fill in the gaps for yourself.
1619: British colonists swap from indentured servitude (poor Europeans) to imported African slave labor. It is estimated that 6-7 million people were brought to America in the 18th century alone. Think about the effect that had and still has on the entire continent of Africa.
1793: Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin and the South’s primary cash crop becomes cotton, which requires more labor. Slavery is essential to the economic success of America, particularly the South. The Fugitive Slave Act is also passed in 1793, making it illegal to aid a slave who had escaped. Local police enforce this law.
1808: Congress outlaws the importation of new slaves from Africa. However, the slave population triples over the next 50 years and reaches almost 4 million by 1860.
1861-1865: The Civil War.
1863: The Emancipation Proclamation. While the Emancipation Proclamation was certainly welcome news to slaves, it was strategic—Lincoln only freed slaves in Southern states that had seceded from the Union. The executive order did not emancipate slaves in places that were loyal to the Union. Black people were used as a political tool for the first time. Slavery was officially abolished in 1865 with the passage of the 13th Amendment.
1865-1866: This period is known as Presidential Reconstruction. Andrew Johnson, who was Lincoln’s VP, became president after Lincoln’s assassination. Johnson, who was from Tennessee, took a very moderate approach to Reconstruction. He granted amnesty to most former Confederates and allowed states and local municipalities to elect their own governments, which of course, were made up of former Confederates who sought to control and suppress former slaves. Land that had been given to former slaves as restitution was seized and given back to plantation owners. Governments immediately passed what were known as “Black Codes,” laws which restricted Black people’s right to own property, conduct business, buy or lease land and move freely through public spaces. Black Codes also included vagrancy laws, which criminalized men who were not working (or not working at a job recognized by white people). Enter… the convict leasing system, which allowed state prison systems to lease out convicts for labor to private businesses as well as local governments. It became very advantageous to arrest Black men—extremely cheap labor for private businesses, huge revenue for states (in 1898, 73 percent of Alabama’s state revenue came from convict leasing) and further suppression of freed Black people. Official convict leasing remained in place until the early 1930s. Today, the practice has evolved, and inmates still do work for private corporations while imprisoned. (Watch 13th on Netflix for more on this).
Summer 1866: The Memphis Massacre of 1866 (began as a shooting altercation between white policemen and black Union veterans and ended with mobs of white residents and policemen descending on black neighborhoods. 46 blacks and 2 whites were killed, 75 blacks injured, over 100 blacks robbed, 5 black women raped, and 91 homes, 4 churches and 8 schools—every black church and school—were burned) and The New Orleans Massacre of 1866 (complicated to explain… basically a group of white Democrats and policemen attacked a group of mostly Black Republicans at a political convention) happened just three months apart.
1867-1868: The massacres of 1866 swayed public opinion, and Radical Republicans gained control of Congress in the elections later that year. They passed the First Reconstruction Act (established military oversight in many Southern districts to ensure civil rights were being honored) and the Fourteenth Amendment (gave Black men citizenship and the right to vote). The Republican House impeached Johnson in 1868, but the Senate failed to convict him by one vote.
1867-1877: For a brief decade, Black people enjoyed the right to vote and hold office. Over 1,500 Black men were elected to some sort of public office during this period (16 served in the U.S. Congress, 600 in state legislatures and hundreds to local offices). Support for Republicans eventually waned in the South, and by 1876, the entire South was under Democratic control.
1865-1877: The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865 and expanded into most Southern states by 1870. Its mission was to resist the Republican party’s policies that sought to establish political and economic equality for Black people. Its goal was to intimidate Republican voters to ensure Democratic political victories. Klan membership spanned all socioeconomic classes and most local law enforcement officials either belonged to the Klan or did not take action against it. After Democrats regained control of the South, the KKK almost completely ceased activity until it was revived in 1915.
1874: The Freedman’s Savings Bank fails. Its all-white trustee board had loaned out much of the $1 million in savings deposited by Black people, and that money was lost.
1890-1908: Southern states pass new constitutions and laws that make registering to vote extremely difficult for poor citizens—white and black. These new requirements to vote included poll taxes and literacy tests, which were subjectively applied by white administrators. Black voter registration plummets. Black citizens would not vote in substantial numbers again until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.
1896: The Supreme Court rules that “separate but equal” facilities are legal in Plessy v. Ferguson. This included schools, railroad cars, hotels, theaters, restaurants, barber shops, etc. This precedent remained until 1954, when it was reversed by Brown v. Board of Education.
1898: The Willmington Insurrection of 1898 initiated an era of more severe racial segregation and disenfranchisement of Black people throughout the south. A Fusionist government made up of white populists and black Republicans had been legitimately elected and were in the process of dismantling the political advantages of white supremacist Democrats through redistricting and other measures. The white Democrats sued and lost their case in the Supreme Court. So, 2,000 white men staged a coup and overthrew the government. They also destroyed property and businesses that Black people had built since the Civil War. It is estimated that 60-300 people died. After the coup, they seized control of the city’s government and passed some of the first official racial hierarchy laws in the nation, creating division between poor whites and Blacks to prevent any further political alliance. Democrats in other states followed their lead. The Supreme Court upheld the measures.
Late 1800s/Early 1900s: A narrative about the sexuality of Black men arises: they are aggressive and their natural proclivity is to attack and rape white women. This narrative was used to argue that Black men lacked human intelligence and could not be trusted with the right to vote. If you pay attention, many of the Black men who were lynched during this period were accused of raping white women. At the same time, it was said that Black women, who were routinely raped by white men, lacked sexual morals. In the 43 years from the end of the Civil War until the attacks in Springfield, instances of labeling black men as some variation of "brute", "menace", "beast", "n****r", "rapist", "fiend", or otherwise "inferior" had been printed in newspapers across the country over 200,000 times, approximately 13 instances per day. These labels accentuated the perception among whites that began to conflate blackness with crime and poor morals.
1908: The Springfield Race Riot of 1908 began after two Black men were arrested as suspects in a rape case. A mob sought to lynch the men and discovered they had been transferred out of the city, so over 5,000 white men attacked black neighborhoods, murdering Black people in the streets and destroying homes and businesses.
1915: The Birth of A Nation is released. It was a huge production—the first 12-reel film ever made. It utilized cutting edge film techniques, was three hours long and was the first film screened in the White House. It was also incredibly racist. It portrayed Black people (many portrayed by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive toward white women. The KKK were painted as a heroic force. The film was the inspiration for the rebirth of the KKK on Stone Mountain in Georgia months later.
1916: The Great Migration begins and lasts until the 1970s. Six million Black people move away from the South and populate northern and midwestern cities. Before the Great Migration, only 1/5 of the country’s Black population was in urban areas. By the end, just 50 percent of the U.S. Black population remained in the South. By 1970, more than 80 percent of African Americans nationwide lived in cities. Cities were not ready for the influx in population, so overcrowding quickly became an issue.
1917: The East St. Louis Massacre was a series of labor and race related violence that caused the deaths of 40-250 African Americans, made 6,000 Black people homeless and caused $400,000 ($7,982,000 in 2020 dollars) in property damage.
1918: Mary Turner, eight months pregnant at the time, is lynched after she denounced the killing of her husband by a mob. Between Reconstruction and WWII, there over 4,000 lynchings (extrajudicial executions) were carried out in the United States.
1919: The violence-filled summer of 1919 became known as Red Summer and included 38 separate race riots across the country (not just in the South) in which white people attacked African Americans. Between January 1 and September 14, 43 black men were lynched, 16 were hanged and eight were burned at the stake. States declined to prosecute these mob murders. Unlike the many previous massacres, Blacks began to fight back in self-defense.
1921: The Tulsa Massacre obliterates a business district known as Black Wall Street. White citizens attacked a prosperous black neighborhood in Tulsa called Greenwood after a 19-year-old black man was accused of assaulting a white female elevator attendant. It is estimated that as many as 300 people died. Property damage totaled $32.5 million in today’s dollars. This event was omitted from local, state and national histories until the 90s.
1932-1978: The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the African American Male begins in 1932. Six hundred poor Black men, 399 of whom were infected with syphilis, were enrolled in the study with the promise of receiving free healthcare. The men who were infected with syphilis were never informed of their diagnosis and were not treated.
1944: Recy Taylor, a 25-year-old Black woman from rural Alabama, was gang raped by six white men. Rosa Parks, an investigator for the NAACP, worked to obtain justice for Taylor, but the men were never arrested and two all-male, all-white grand juries failed to indict them even after investigations produced plentiful evidence.
1954: After segregation of schools was ruled unconstitutional, the Citizens’ Councils of America was formed to oppose racial integration of schools, voter registration in the South and integration of public facilities. Members used intimidation tactics such as economic boycotts, firings, propaganda, threats and violence against civil rights activists. The Councils remained active and influential until the 1970s. Many former members joined the still active Council of Conservative Citizens, a white supremacist organization founded in 1985.
The Civil Rights Era is more widely known, so I’m going to really only hit less familiar highlights in this period. Black people were still being killed during this era—don’t think the violence against them stopped.
1965: Outright voter disenfranchisement ends with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This law, passed only 55 years ago, finally reversed the poll taxes, literacy tests and other measures used to prevent Black people from voting. Black people hadn’t been able to vote in the South for 57 years before the Voting Rights Act passed. I want to make sure you get that. We haven’t even caught up to the number of years they were disenfranchised. Imagine the implications of that.
1968: The Fair Housing Act is passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Up until this law was passed, discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of housing was perfectly legal. A practice called redlining, which began in the 1930s and was widely used all over the country to make it extremely difficult for black Americans to obtain home loans, is a huge contributing factor in the continuing wealth gap between whites and blacks in America. From a 2018 Washington Post article about the subject: “In the 1930s, government surveyors graded neighborhoods in 239 cities, color-coding them green for “best,” blue for “still desirable,” yellow for “definitely declining” and red for “hazardous.” The “redlined” areas were the ones local lenders discounted as credit risks, in large part because of the residents’ racial and ethnic demographics. They also took into account local amenities and home prices. Neighborhoods that were predominantly made up of African Americans, as well as Catholics, Jews and immigrants from Asia and southern Europe, were deemed undesirable.”
1950s-1960s: “White Flight” begins as schools are integrated and communities become more diverse. White people moved out of cities and into new suburbs surrounding the city center. In some cases, governments spent tax money to establish these new suburban infrastructures rather than maintaining city infrastructure, leading to the decay of non-white city neighborhoods.
1971: The War on Drugs is declared by President Nixon. It disproportionately targeted African Americans. For example, in 1986, Congress passed laws that created a 100:1 sentencing disparity for the trafficking or possession of crack cocaine (more commonly used by black people) compared to powder cocaine (more commonly used by white people). In 2010, the Fair Sentencing Act cut the sentencing disparity to 18:1.
1984: The first contract to a for-profit private prison is awarded to Corrections Corporation of America. This tracks right along with a new era of racially disproportionate mass incarceration (again, watch 13th).
1985: The Philadelphia Police Department bombs a neighborhood where Black activists were meeting. The bomb caused a fire that spread to neighboring homes. The police commissioner decided to let the fire burn, and 61 homes were destroyed, leaving 250 homeless. Eleven people, including five children, were killed.
1991: Four LAPD officers are filmed beating Rodney King. In 1992, the officers are acquitted and the 1992 Los Angeles riots erupt. Thousands of people rioted for six days. Widespread looting, assault, arson and murder occurred. Sixty-three people died, 2,282 people were injured and property damage was estimated at $1 billion.
2006: Sean Bell, 23, is fatally shot by NYPD officers the night before his wedding. Officers are convicted, then acquitted of all charges.
2009: Police shoot Oscar Grant, an unarmed 22-year-old, in the back while he is lying facedown. The officer serves two years in prison.
2011: Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, dies five days after being beaten by police. Officers are convicted, then acquitted.
2012: Trayvon Martin is killed by George Zimmerman (not a police officer). He is found not guilty.
2014: Eric Garner, 43, dies after being tackled and choked during an arrest for selling cigarettes illegally. A medical examiner rules the death a homicide, but a grand jury decides not to indict the officer.
2014: 18-year-old Michael Brown is shot 12 times in Ferguson during a struggle with police. The officer is not charged.
2015: Walter Scott, 50, is shot by police while running away after being pulled over for a broken tail light. The officer pleads guilty to a federal charge of using excessive force and is sentenced to 20 years in prison.
2015: Freddie Gray dies after sustaining a severe spinal injury after being transported in a police van.
2016: Philando Castile is killed by police during a traffic stop while reaching for his ID. The officer is found not guilty.
I’ll stop there.
Now. Why does this history matter?
Until about five years ago, I subconsciously assumed racist narratives about black people simply by absorbing the information floating around me. Black people were lazy, black boys were hyper sexual and dangerous, black people were criminals, black women were angry, black people were less intelligent. Basically, black people were inferior and I should be afraid of them. That’s why ghettos existed and crime rates in black communities were higher, right? They were just… bad. Reading that history, you can see that these narratives have been fed to us for literal centuries.
The problem with the kumbaya/colorblind approach to race is that it does not address these ingrained ideas we carry around about black people. Even white people who are nice to Black people or who have Black friends were raised in an environment where they could not help but absorb these ideas. Even people who were "raised to love everyone" subconsciously believe racist stereotypes. I’ve even read some Black people’s experiences about how they grew up believing these things!
For me, learning more about our nation’s history AFTER slavery opened my eyes to the truth: we are all part of this problem, and we don’t have to feel guilty about it; we just have to do something about it. Racism is my problem. Racism is your problem. Racism is everyone’s problem. There are no good white people and bad white people. We are all racist. Read that history! Racism is in our air. It’s OK to admit it. It’s necessary to admit it. You have to identify a problem before you can fix it.
Black people have had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of equality they’ve achieved, and white people have resisted every step of the way because of this deeply ingrained fear we carry around that has been passed down from generation to generation. Those who haven’t actively resisted equality have impeded it with their silence.
Just as white people inherit racism, Black people have inherited trauma. For centuries, they have been traumatized, robbed, raped, profiled and disenfranchised. Their loved ones have been murdered and no justice has been served. Their fathers have been stolen from them by racist laws that allow our government to lock them up for minor infractions. They’ve essentially been told they’re worthless over and over again. And they are still discriminated against in thousands of tiny ways every single day.
So no, black people will not be perfect. That’s something that is a huge barrier for lots of white folks, especially Christians. We want a perfect victim before we’re willing to advocate. We want all black communities, even the most impoverished and disenfranchised, to suffer no lingering effects from the trauma they’ve experienced. We want 400 years of history to be erased without us sacrificing anything—even our stupid Confederate monuments—in the process.
I think everyone can agree that people truly are the same, regardless of color, country or language. Human nature is universal. There are good and evil people of every race. If we truly believe that, it shouldn’t be hard to grasp that any problems faced by the Black community are not a result of blackness. They are the direct result of systemic injustice and white supremacy.
Incredibly, Black people in this country HAVE risen above this history. They’ve invented, they’ve created art, they’ve built businesses, they’ve founded universities, they’ve served in our military… the list goes on and on. We should marvel at their resilience and applaud the progress they have made despite the hatred and violence they have experienced. And we should fight with them to continue that progress.
So, my fellow white people—we have a choice. We can go on believing lies about an entire race of people and therefore be OK with not caring about their pain, or we can study our history, admit our bias, confront our racism and get to work. The time is now. The momentum is here. Join the fight.
Begin with your heart, then follow with your brain, then follow with your wallet. We'll talk more about that next week!
S O U R C E S
(I really should link all of these in the text, but I just don’t have time. It’s pretty straightforward which links go with which info).