Over the last six weeks, I have written four columns focused on the historical arch of the political development of the black community in order to provide a context for considering our contemporary political condition. I want to summarize and conclude the exercise.
Donald Trump and his evil minions are not an anomaly or an apparition, they are emblematic of the reoccurring phenomenon of the evil of white supremacy that’s endemic to American culture. We have experienced this vitriol at least twice in the last hundred-plus years.
The first time was the white supremacist response to Reconstruction. The nascent attempt to establish citizenship for newly emancipated blacks was violently rejected. Blacks in the South were forced to live under Jim Crow, America’s apartheid system. Except from blacks not being chattel property, this was arguably no different than slavery. It’s worth noting that while black Americans were being newly re-enslaved under Jim Crow, America was actively implementing genocide on Native Americans.
The second time we’ve experienced this kind of virulent and violent white reaction was the period during and after WWI. More than 350,000 black Americans fought in WWI to make the world safe for democracy. The greatest fear among white supremacists was they would return home demanding, and maybe prepared to fight for, full citizenship.
So what was this reaction? An epidemic of race riots – crazed armed white men attacking defenseless black men, women and children, burning and destroying their communities. Think East St. Louis, Omaha, Chicago, Tulsa.
Then there’s the white community’s other favorite community event of the day, lynching black men, women and even boys, followed by the burning and desiccation of their bodies for the amusement and pleasure of the assembled white mob, which often included children. Lynchings were such a scourge that black Americans even petitioned the federal government for relief, to no avail.
Lastly, the explosion of Confederate Civil War monuments happened during this period as a reminder to black Americans of the power of white people and the proper place of black people. It was during this period that America instituted a race-based quota system for immigration.
But we not only survived these white supremacist assaults, but actually prevailed in this political, cultural death match. Despite the horrific origins of the black community in America, we created a community that was intelligent, strategic and resilient. We beat America’s worst because we were smarter and tougher. It was a community that, no matter how adverse the conditions, had the structural integrity to protect its children and prepare them to prevail in America, despite America. We were unified in the face of the enemy. It was this indivisibility on the issue of race that was the key to survival and victory.
We are no longer that community, and what does that mean when we again engage this existential enemy? In the rush to integrate into white America, millions of us abandoned the black community. I’m not just speaking about physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. Because of this, we are considerably weaker going into this next political death match against America’s most deplorable. But, as always, we’re not a people without hope.
Our destiny now rests with this emerging generation that I’ll call the Black Lives Matter generation. As a group, they are intelligent, fearless and committed. They also appear to lack a critique of America that speaks to our historical reality. But this is our fault, because they are the progeny of the black community we abandoned. They had to find their own way politically; they never got to learn the lessons from the history of our struggle because we never told them.
There’s one thing I want you to remember, and I didn’t write it. It’s from “The Jungle Book,” a 19th century book of fables by Rudyard Kipling:
"Now this is the law of the jungle, as old and as true as the sky,
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die...
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board. In 2016, he was awarded Best Serious Columnist for all of the state’s large weeklies by the Missouri Press Association.