“They were peace men; but they preferred revolution to peaceful submission to bondage. They were quiet men; but they did not shrink from agitating against oppression. They showed forbearance; but that they knew its limits. They believed in order; but not in the order of tyranny. With them, nothing was ‘settled’ that was not right. With them, justice, liberty and humanity were ‘final;’ not slavery and oppression. You may well cherish the memory of such men. They were great in their day and generation. Their solid manhood stands out the more as we contrast it with these degenerate times.”
Quote from: “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” An address delivered in Rochester, New York, on July 5, 1852 by Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass made these observations of the Founding Fathers of this country while protesting the idea of the 4th of July when the country suffered Afrikan chattel slavery. As many know, Frederick Douglass had been in chattel bondage, escaped from slavery and struggled to become the country’s foremost abolitionist. In this quote, Douglass exclaims the Founding Fathers, in his understanding, opposed the existence of slavery as they sought to establish their own sovereignty from British imperialist power. Douglass’ reflection on the Founding Fathers during his protest of the 4th of July lends an enduring reality to today’s protests:“we contrast it with these degenerate times.”
Colin Kaepernick’s protest, not standing for the National Anthem, reminded me of Frederick Douglass’ statement on July 5, 1852, that spoke volumes as to why honor a holiday or a symbol of the nation when the nation fails to live up to its creed. Kaepernick’s protest is not unique for an athlete; as we know, Black athletes have often protested racial injustice, from Kurt Flood to Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali, etc. None had become so symbolic as the 1968 Olympic protest in Mexico by Tommie Smith and John Carlos (note: As a student at Overfelt High School in San Jose, California, I was tutored in math by John Carlos). However, what is important to contrast between Kaepernick’s and Douglass’ protests, as existed in the times of Douglass concerning slavery, Kaepernick needs to be reminded that slavery still exists today.
As I’ve often written concerning the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it enshrines the institution of penal involuntary servitude and slavery. Obviously, it is possible the so-called Founding Fathers did not imagine that 240 years after independence from England, slavery would be codified in the U.S. Constitution. President Thomas Jefferson (a slave owner), in March 1807, signed a law “to prohibit the importation of slaves into any port or place within the jurisdiction of the United States.” Unfortunately, that congressional act failed to prevent the continued trafficking of Afrikan slaves to the U.S., and it was not until the civil war forced President Abraham Lincoln, in 1865, to sign into law the 13th Amendment to end chattel slavery. Essentially, the 13th Amendment prohibited individuals to own and profit from Afrikan slavery. However, it institutionalized involuntary servitude and slavery, permitting the State and Federal governments to engage in this “degenerate” practice.
“Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery? Is that a question for Republicans? Is it to be settled by the rules of logic and argumentation, as a matter beset with great difficulty, involving a doubtful application of the principle of justice, hard to be understood? How should I look today, in the presence of Americans, dividing, and subdividing a discourse, to show that men have a natural right to freedom? Speaking of it relatively, and positively, negatively, and affirmatively. To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven, that does not know that slavery is wrong for him.”
Could not the same be said of Kaepernick’s protest given the rash of police killings, the wave of injustices Black men, in particular, have experienced via the criminal justice system, ushering them into a system of slavery? And yet, protest we must to ensure not only national dialogue on the pervasive issue of racial injustice, but the need to build national organizations to force institutional and structural changes in government and governing. When we collectively come to terms that this struggle is a continuing process in a national revolutionary determination, we will give full support to those like Kaepernick who “get it”, those who are prepared to put their careers on the line, put their money where their mouth is, and simply challenge the nation to recognize that slavery in all of its forms is inhumane. That “We the People” pursuant to the Jeffersonian doctrine, have an absolute right to rebel against government tyranny.
Remember: We Are Our Own Liberators!
Jalil A. Muntaqim
September 13, 2016
[Originally written on the above date, but Attica correspondence department
refuses to mail, improperly withholding my mail.]