Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Founding myths: blacks don't count for Emory’s president



Like the University of Denver and Northwestern, Emory University in Atlanta is, in origin, Methodist. But Methodism, like other religions as Paul Tillich remarks*, often accommodates to the prevailing - in many cases, remarkably un-Christ-like - social practices of the powerful. Thus, its first President 175 years ago, a Methodist bishop, was a slave-owner named John Emory.

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Now, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, opposed bondage and provided books for black settlers in Birch Town in Nova Scotia (see my Black Patriots and Loyalists, ch. 8), the only black town outside of Africa. "They will never," he said, "want for books, while I live."

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But Methodism in the South adapted to and acted for bondage as it did in the West for genocide against indigenous people (Chivington and Evans were for the Union even though Chivington led the Sand Creek massacre and Evans sent him. See here and here).

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A University born and steeped in human bondage, Emory hosted a national conference entitled "Slavery and the University: Histories and Legacies" in 2011. In announcing it, Gary Hauk, Emory's vice president and deputy to the president, wrote that the college used to "rent" slaves to work on campus in the mid-1800s from local slaveowners.

In Emory’s early years, most faculty members, many presidents and major financial contributors owned slaves (see here).

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The conference which featured a keynote address by Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University and exemplar of asking questions about bondage and seeking out the truth - see here - was sponsored by current President Wagner and includes his own broadly favorable remarks. He says he abhors slavery.

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But in the most recent issue of the University’s magazine, Wagner mused about the importance of political compromise in the supposed circumstance that "gridlock" (rather than the rule of very rich people often locking out the rest of us) is our central problem. Wagner chose to praise the grotesque “compromise" in the constitution that counts slaves as 3/5th of a man in order to secure more representation for their owners. See here.

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It would be hard to spit in the fact of all decent people more directly than invoking this clause.

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The Founding Myth of the sacredness of the constitution - it is a document of freedom in some respects - confuses weak-minded people of privilege (the viciousness of "original construction," say with Justice Scalia, is not confused) who blurt out racist drivel like this.

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The result of the BLACKS ARE THREE-FIFTHS HUMAN BEINGS “compromise,” which President Wagner did not know, is that for 52 of the first 72 years of the Republic, between 1788 (the election of Washington) and 1860 (the election of Lincoln) the President was a slave-owner. The only Presidents elected twice were slave-owners.

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Tom Jefferson is reputed to be a "good" slave-owner. Ask the descendants of Sally Hemings...Or read Paul Finkelman's recent op-ed piece in the New York Times on the "Monster of Monticello" - see here - the best piece the Times has so far published on that period in response to two previous reviews of the vapid best-seller by Jon Meacham also about Jefferson's "skill" in maneuvering around "gridlock" - see here.

To own another human being was to have a monstrous power over her. As Montesqueiu said in book 15 of Spirit of the Laws, it bred at the least "harshness, cruelty, anger, rashness" in the owners.

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To reiterate the constitutional idiom of the slaveowners about blacks is to betray the core meaning of human freedom.

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For all Jefferson's inventiveness, Monticello has much in common with Candieland in Django - see here.

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Now, slave-owners got about 35% extra representatives from "counting" slaves as part of the population they "represented" in Congress as well.

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When there was a great popular movement from below in the United states to prevent the expulsion of the peacefully settled Creek Indians from Georgia – over a million people signed petitions and fought against this in a population of 13 million (h/t Steve Schwartzberg) – the monsters arranging the genocidal transfer (“the trail of tears”) secured Congressional approval through the “votes” of these slave-owners. See here.

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This was Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act, an act which destroyed any possibility of a comparatively decent - i.e. non- or at least less genocidal - settlement between whites and indigenous people and for which Jackson should be known as perhaps the most evil American President (it is a fierce competition, however).

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Leslie Harris, a history professor who has led efforts to bring out Emory's story and oppose racism, is cited as saying that Wagner’s point is foolish because Civil War happened and the “compromise” didn’t work. This is true, but not the main story.

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Possessed by the racist myth of the Founding, President Wagner simply did not consider black people, even free ones (about a fifth in a population then of roughly 500,000 out of a total population of some two and a half million) to be participants in the American regime. For this "compromise," white people, often slave owners in the North which was just beginning to abolish slavery, bargained with other whites who owned large number of slaves...

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That was the degraded character of the constitutional convention and all of its provisions concerning bondage. See here.

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This provision and others like it show that America was at its founding no democracy. It was no better than apartheid South Africa.

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Yes, the constitutional convention installed individual freedom, particularly in the Bill of Rights for some. Yes, the founders were sophisticates – having studied Aristotle and Montesquieu – in terms of institutional design.

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But no, the reality of slavery stains the constitution (not to mention genocide against indigenous people and the denial of suffrage to women) and it was not made clean until the end of the Civil War and the 13th amendment.** See here.

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The constitution which purports to be the slave’s and mine cannot be mine, said Henry David Thoreau in "Civil Disobedience."

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A constitution which leaves out the citizenship of blacks cannot be mine, says any one who believes in human rights, any decent and freedom loving person.

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The people who made this constitution struggled for freedoms for themselves. They in fact relied on blacks to soldier for them as Black Patriots and Loyalists shows. But John Laurens, Tom Paine and Benjamin Franklin aside, they were not, in the main, friends of freedom.

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President Wagner celebrates a "compromise" among such people. He forgets blacks and defends the odious 3/5ths clause, that blacks are 3/5ths human from the standpoint of inflating the power of their masters. In a dramatic move, the University faculty rightly censured his statement.

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Wagner wishes to speak for diversity in the University, now 31% minority students. His attitude about American history represents the extreme, slave-owning opposite...

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In addition, Wagner's standpoint opposes any white person who wants a decent education and to think morally about American history. For we need to build a common society, a democracy, based on the rights and voices of every person. See here.

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If Wagner has now recognized his mistake and repudiated it - it was not "clumsiness," it was amnesia about real American harm to humans - that would make him a decent person. But it would not make him a good University leader.

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Emory has the archives of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This week at a conference about SCLC celebrating protest, protestors marched demanding that “Wagner resign.”

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Some of the speakers, like Dorothy Cotton (my companion and friend from Palestine, leading songs of freedom - here) and Bernard Lafayette included the demonstrators in their remarks - see the story from the Emory Wheel, the student newspaper, below.

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Not only does the news article in Sunday's Times: “Emory University’s Leader Reopens Racial Wounds” by Kim Severson and Robbie Brown, misunderstand the issue; it views the controversy bizarrely from the standpoint of "control" by the University President (see my comments in parentheses in the article below). With the rhetoric of this piece, the editors of the Times's reporting pages distinguish themselves for racism and dishonest baiting of students and faculty.(h/t Duncan Campbell)

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More broadly, the Times so far will not publicize any discussion of the central role of blacks in fighting for Independence. For blacks were not passive and somehow “unrepresented” in the constitutional convention. They had been leading fighters on the American side, the forces, mainly in the First Rhode Island Regiment, who took the two main British strongholds at Yorktown and were according to German Private Georg Daniel Flohr, who walked around the field of battle afterwards, the majority of the dead on the Patriot as well as the Loyalist side.

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The constitutional convention was the betrayal of black soldiers who made the initial Union happen.

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In addition, white sailors, seized or impressed by Britain, had seen the nearly 20 slave revolts throughout the Caribbean starting in 1750. Sailors, black and white, brought the word to London and Boston in the early 1760s (see Black Patriots and Loyalists, ch. 2). Thus, the multiracial crowds in the American revolution – engaged in riots against press gangs and stamped paper as well as the Boston Tea Party – were mainly abolitionists.

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They fought for a decent democracy (leaving aside for a moment the indigenous people, for instance, Narragansett Indians, who were also part of the First Rhode Island Regiment, and would, in another crime against liberty, be driven out), one that did not practice slavery.

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Decent whites, too, were not represented in this foul "compromise."

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But the actions of blacks and whites from below won gradual emancipation in the Northern states during and immediately after the Revolution. By 1787 (the constitutional convention), Pennsylvania (1780), Massachusetts (1782), Connecticut (1784) and Rhode Island (1784) had all enacted gradual emancipation (owners still held children in slavery till 21, adults for much of their lifetime even in those cases). New York, one of the largest slave-owning states, and New Jersey, would enact gradual emancipation in 1799 and 1804.

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Poor whites along with blacks (and including serious Christians like the Quakers and the New Light Presbyterians) wanted a genuinely free regime and disdained a regime that practiced slave-owning.

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So Wagner’s words also dishonor many whites who repudiated America’s Founding Bondage.

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In Race and Revolution (1993), Gary Nash suggested that gradual emancipation was possible in the South at the time of the Convention. My Black Patriots and Loyalists (2012) gives further reasons why this might be true.

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In any case, on the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Times has gotten around to noticing that revolt from below played a large role in the Emancipation Proclamation and the recruitment of blacks as the main fighters in the Civil War. See here.

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Interestingly, Bruce Levine’s new The Fall of the House of Dixie tells that 80% of the new recruits to the Union after January 1, 1863 were black.

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In addition, Sherman’s march through Georgia was coincident with black revolt. Slaves often set fire to the mansions.

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Black Patriots and Loyalists shows, however, that black troops played a central role for the United States not only in the Civil War, but in the Revolution itself.

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The truth is thus the exact opposite of the racist Daughters of the American Revolution's and Sons of the American Revolution's longstanding racism. As Anita Wills relates, these organizations have long stalled the admission of black descendants of revolutionaries. See here and here.

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But serious patriotic organizations ought to be rooted in the descendants of black soldiers who were responsible for the victory at Yorktown and in the Civil War as serious writing of history needs to recount the central role of black soldiers.

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So President Wagner also has distinguished company in veiling the enormous contribution of emancipation (what made the Revolution genuinely for freedom) and black soldiering both in the fight against Britain and the Civil War.

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As I have underlined here, the New York Times will print that there are a few more Crispus Attuckses. See also here. But it will not so far acknowledge the evidence that black Patriots, white abolitionists, and the push for gradual emancipation from below were central in the American Revolution.

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A history less whited out might be one easier for students to grasp. Setting the story straight was part of the reasoning behind the 2011 meeting at Emory. See here.

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In addition, being a Southern School, Emory has some peculiar twists in regard to racism. Before World War II, Harvard would not promote Jews to position of tenure (my father, Richard Gilbert, the first American Keynsian, was on the economics faculty as an instructor for 15 years), and Abbot Lawrence Lowell, a President of Harvard for whom Lowell House is named, tried to restrict the number of Jews admitted to Harvard.

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But after the War at Emory, the head of the dental school led a conspiracy to flunk 60% of Jewish dental students which lasted until 1961:

"...in October, Dr. Wagner officially apologized to Jewish dental students who had been failed, harassed or both under John E. Buhler’s tenure as dean of the dental school from 1948 to 1961.

Many saw the apology for that chapter in Emory’s history, when as many as 65 percent of Jewish students had to redo course work or were failed, as a healing move in keeping with the culture of the university, which has devoted years to studying its own racial history, both good and bad."

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To his credit, President Wagner has apologized for this. Still, it sounds like the academic corruption here went really deep and that the dental school needs some plaque of dishonor for the crimes committed by its dean and its professors.

It was, after all, a pro-Nazi school of dentistry outlasting the originals who were defeated in 1945...

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A decent society is one in which the stories of each person can be told, each person find a voice and speak as a member of a community and a free individual from the heart. See here.

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As Emory’s President recycling of the worst of Founding Myths reveals, this is, to this moment, far from the case with blacks.

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And despite growing recognition of the monstrousness of Methodists like John Chivington, John Evans and Ralph Byers (three founders of the Colorado Seminary) toward “the red fiend” and the racism of the founding of Colorado as well as of the University of Denver and Northwestern by Evans, there is still much to be healed. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the University of Denver and of the Sand Creek Massacre. It is time that we caught up with the Methodist Church in realizing and repudiating these things as it would be worth, at Emory, looking into the depths of racism at its and our country’s founding, siding with and mourning for the victims, and taking the first steps on a more democratic journey.

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New York Times
Emory University’s Leader Reopens Its Racial Wounds

A campus march on Friday. Mr. Wagner's article has been seized upon [a gross racist way of putting it; it is Wagner's problem that he said and believed this...] by students and faculty who say it was yet one more example of insensitivity [racism is a crime, not an "insensitivity"] from the Emory administration.
By KIM SEVERSON and ROBBIE BROWN
Published: February 23, 2013

ATLANTA — A reception on Friday at Emory University to celebrate the work of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the years after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. could have been more poorly timed, but not by much.

Emory University’s president, James W. Wagner, spoke Friday at a reception for an exhibition about the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

All week long, the president of Emory, James W. Wagner, had been trying to control the damage done [interesting what perspective the Times takes, the controller observed, not the damage and the damaged] by a column he wrote for the university magazine. In it, he praised the 1787 three-fifths compromise, which allowed each slave to be counted as three-fifths of a person in determining how much Congressional power the Southern states would have, as an example of how polarized people could find common ground [in victimizing other people].

It was, he has since said, a clumsy and regrettable mistake.

A faculty group [no, it was the University Senate, i.e. the organized faculty of the University!] censured him last week for the remarks. And in a speech at Friday’s reception for the campus exhibition, “And the Struggle Continues: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Fight for Social Change,” Dr. Wagner acknowledged both the nation’s continuing education in race relations and his own.

“I know that I personally have a long way to go,” he said.

His article has been seized upon [the same blame the victim rhetoric - President Wagner attacked all decent people, and naturally people resist] by students and faculty members who say it was yet one more example of insensitivity from the Emory administration, which in September announced sweeping cuts that some say unfairly targeted programs that are popular with minorities [these include journalism and the arts; Emory is a rich school with a 5.4 billion endowment and it is not economic need which is driving these bizarre cuts].

About 45 students showed up to protest at the reception, silently holding signs that read “This is 5/5 outrageous” and “Shame on James” [the main ones called for Wagner to resign] as the fight for racial equality was discussed by Dr. Wagner; Representative John Lewis of Georgia, a veteran of the civil rights movement; and leaders of the S.C.L.C.

Whether the cuts — which include phasing out the departments of physical education and visual arts and also the journalism program, and suspending admission to graduate programs in economics and Spanish — disproportionately affect racial minorities is in dispute at the university, where minority members make up 31 percent of the student body [it might also be asked whether such cuts are sane in a serious university, one ranked number 20 in the country].

Certain programs that focused on or made recruiting minority members a priority have been shifted to other departments or eliminated, but university officials say the impact will not be as drastic as protesters believe.

Savings will be reinvested in other departments, including neurosciences, studies of contemporary China and new media studies.

Such academic realignment is starting to happen at liberal arts colleges around the country, said Phil Kleweno, a consultant at Bain & Company who specializes in higher education. “Not every school can excel in every subject,” he said. “Given where we are financially, these are wise decisions for many universities to make.” [this is nothing but a bit of propaganda from Bain, yet deemed to be worthwhile in an article on what a decent education is in a University...Or to put it differently, the Times now advertises the standpoint of companies privatizing things, education, the military and the like, in its so-called reporting].

In an interview on Friday, Dr. Wagner said neither the cuts nor his self-described gaffe in Emory Magazine was intended to hurt what he described as a vibrant multicultural environment at the college.

The president’s misstep was only the latest episode in what one Emory administrator called “quite a challenging year” for the private university.

Although still listed as the 20th best university in the nation in U.S. News and World Report’s latest ranking, Emory admitted in August that it had intentionally sent incorrect test scores to the magazine and the Department of Education for more than a decade.

The university has also grappled over whether to allow Chick-fil-A, whose conservative Christian owners have donated large amounts of money to organizations opposed to same-sex marriage, to operate on campus [here is, again, something non-bigoted the University is doing; it would be good to know what role Wagner is playing in this].

And in October, Dr. Wagner officially apologized to Jewish dental students who had been failed, harassed or both under John E. Buhler’s tenure as dean of the dental school from 1948 to 1961.

Many saw the apology for that chapter in Emory’s history, when as many as 65 percent of Jewish students had to redo course work or were failed, as a healing move in keeping with the culture of the university, which has devoted years to studying its own racial history, both good and bad.

The school, which is 177 years old, was named for John Emory, a Methodist bishop who owned slaves. Although many of its leaders favored segregated education, the school decided in 1962 to sue the state for the right to enroll students regardless of race.

More recently, the school dealt with a fraternity that flew a Confederate flag and an anthropology professor who used a racial epithet in class. But it also houses significant collections of African-American historical artifacts and literature, including what is thought to be the nation’s most complete database documenting American slave trade routes.

“Emory is a community that airs its laundry,” Dr. Wagner said in the interview, calling that a strength and a demonstration of its ability to evolve with its student body.

“We’ve had several wounds this year,” he said. “This one,” he added, referring to the magazine column, “is a particularly painful wound for me because it was self-inflicted.”

Jovonna Jones, 19, the president of the Black Student Alliance at Emory, said she had forgiven Dr. Wagner for his transgression.

“As an African-American woman who has gone to predominately white institutions since middle school, I’ve had lots of incidents like this,” she said. “It’s hard to be shocked anymore.”

People keep asking her if she thinks the university president is a racist, Ms. Jones said.

“I don’t think that’s the real question,” she said. “The important question is: What does it mean to embrace and value a diverse student body? What are the values of the school?”

Leslie Harris, a history professor and the director of a series of campus events that for five years examined issues of race at Emory, said she was more troubled by the intellectual holes in Dr. Wagner’s argument.

In his column, Dr. Wagner used the Congressional fight over the national debt to muse on the importance of compromise, which he called a tool for noble achievement. “The constitutional compromise about slavery, for instance, facilitated the achievement of what both sides of the debate really aspired to — a new nation,” he wrote.
That is a deep misunderstanding of history, Dr. Harris said.

“The three-fifths compromise is one of the greatest failed compromises in U.S. history,” she said. “Its goal was to keep the union together, but the Civil War broke out anyway.”

To members of the S.C.L.C., whose records are housed at Emory’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, the protesters at the reception were a welcome sign.

“I love it,” said Brenda Davenport, who has served as the national volunteer and youth organizer for the S.C.L.C. “Where else would you want protesters to show up but at something that is about the value of protesting?”

A version of this article appeared in print on February 24, 2013, on page A15 of the New York edition with the headline: Emory University’s Leader Reopens Its Racial Wounds.

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Emory Wheel
Civil Rights Exhibit Opens Amid Protests
Saturday, February 23, 2013

Students protesting University President James W. Wagner’s controversial column about the Three-Fifths Compromise joined members of the Emory and Atlanta communities at the opening of a civil rights exhibit in the Robert W. Woodruff Library Friday evening.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s (SCLC) exhibit, titled “And the Struggle Continues,” chronicles the efforts of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his contemporaries in achieving desegregation, gaining suffrage and dismantling systematic discrimination in the United States. The event, which began at 6 p.m., included speeches from civil rights leaders who were contemporaries of King.

The exhibit comes to campus at a time when local and national groups are outraged over Wagner’s use of the Three-Fifths Compromise as an example of political compromise in a column for Emory Magazine. The clause was an agreement made between the Northern and Southern states in 1787 and stated that only three-fifths of the slave population would be counted for purposes of taxation and voting representation. Faculty voted to censure Wagner on Wednesday.

At 5:30 p.m. Friday evening, approximately 30 students convened at Asbury Circle with flyers and signs with phrases such as “I am NOT an afterthought“ and “I deserve 5/5 respect.” Protestors consisted of members of the Student Revisioning Committee (SRC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), among others.

The protestors marched silently from Asbury Circle to the exhibit in the Schatten Gallery and Jones Room at Woodruff Library.

“We’re here to show our solidarity against what — at least I personally feel, but I think a lot of us feel — is a shameless co-optation of the legacy of the civil rights movement by James Wagner,” said Patrick Blanchfield, sixth-year Laney Graduate School student.

Both Blanchfield and NAACP members said they did not wish to disrupt the opening of the exhibition.

“We will continue to fight against the systematic disenfranchise and marginalization of students and faculty at Emory and dismantle the culture of apathy and ignorance ingrained in Emory’s community,” said Kayla Hearst, President of Emory’s NAACP.

Upon arriving, the protestors stood in a circle away from the exhibit holding their signs, awaiting the arrival of Wagner.

“As long as they’re respectful of the event, I don’t have a problem with it,” said Rich Mendola, senior vice provost of library services and digital scholarship. “SCLC is in the spirit of protest after all.”

The event itself drew a couple hundred Atlanta residents and Emory community members. As guests began to congregate in the Schatten Gallery in anticipation of the evening’s speakers, the protestors gathered in the back holding their signs high to send their message to Wagner. Wagner’s arrival at 7 p.m. prompted the beginning of the speeches.
“The exhibition raises the question ‘well, just how far have we come?’ and the second question is ‘how far do we have to go?’” Wagner said in his speech.

He answered his own question. “I personally have a long way to go, and I pledge myself toward working toward that just society that we all seek.”

The atmosphere shifted to admiration with loud applause and hollers of approval as Congressman John Lewis, a venerated member of the African American and Atlanta community, stepped up to the podium.

“The ideas that the SCLC struggled for and Martin Luther King, Jr. died for are still being debated today in the Congress, in the courts, in legislatures, in the press and at dinner tables around the country,” Lewis said.
Civil rights leader and former President and CEO of SCLC Charles Steele, Jr. described how the SCLC forged a relationship with Emory University in 2005 and how the effort to gain equality endures.

Steele recalled the story of A. Philip Randolf imploring President Franklin Roosevelt to desegregate public services like buses and water fountains, to which Roosevelt replied, “Make me do it.” Steele consequently ended his speech shouting, “I promise you one thing, we’re gonna make you do it.

The idea that modern civil rights leaders have a long way to go to achieve King’s ideal society was a theme of the evening as Dorothy Cotton, SCLC’s educational director, began her speech by singing a line from a song from the civil rights era.

Cotton described her experiences working with King on the Citizenship Education Program, which helped disenfranchised individuals gain the right to vote. Her speech highlighted the individual efforts of civil rights leaders during the movement and charged her audience in a call to action.

“People sometimes talk like they’re waiting for Dr. King to come back and fix things — I want us to think about what do we see that’s not working right, what do you see that’s not working right?” she asked.

At one point, Cotton broke into song and members of the audience joined her. She concluded her speech by discussing the effects of divisions among people.

“[King] taught us what did it mean to love those who hate you,” she said. “Once you get anybody in a category and you measure each group against somebody else we do some weird things.”

Bernard Lafayette, a distinguished scholar-in-residence at the Candler School of Theology, told anecdotes about his experience during the freedom riders movement, which protested segregation on bus systems. He stressed the importance of educating people about the civil rights movement, as he himself teaches a class at Emory.
Lafayette underscored the importance of continuing to strive for equality, referencing the student protestors.

“Yes, the struggle continues. I see some signs back there about the struggle.”

The protestors filtered out of the gallery as the speeches concluded.

— By Rupsha Basu

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*In The Protestant Era, Tillich defines the Protestant principle as a critical principle, one that resists particular congealings of social power, in his case once upon a time, capitalism (see his remarks on the demonic situation of 5 million unemployed in Germany in the depression in "The Protestant Era and the Proletarian Situation" and Nazism. He was number 5 on Hitler's hit list for emigres; Bertolt Brecht was no. 12....

Tillich gave philosophy of religion (then Philosophy 193) for the last time my freshman year at Harvard and it was a powerful experience - he is, it turns out a Heideggian theologian with a radical bent - to hear him talk.

**The clause that prisoners could be enslaved, however, permitted the jailing of blacks and then providing them to great corporations like US Steel to work them to death. See Douglas Blackmon, Slavery by another Name.

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