The Founders: Stewart’s Call to Manhood

Douglass’ story of self-determination and courage reads like an answer to Stewart’s fiery call to black men:

“O ye fearful ones, throw off your fearfulness, and come forth in the name of the Lord… If you are men, convince them that you possess the spirit of men… Have the sons of Africa no souls? Feel they no ambitious desires?” (Stewart 57).

In an African Masonic Hall in Boston in 1833, Stewart invokes an image of strong black masculinity at roughly the same time that Douglass is being hired out by his owner Captain Auld to Edward Covey, the slave breaker. At the end of Chapter VIII in his Narrative, Douglass described Covey as “a member and a class-leader in the Methodist church. [Which] added weight to his reputation as ‘nigger breaker’” (Douglass 78). This description paralleled Douglass’ recollections of Captain Auld’s Methodist conversion. He insisted that Captain Auld “found religious sanction and support for his slaveholding cruelty” after attending the large Methodist camp meeting. He goes onto describe the irony of this master’s Christian home and his bloody practices: “I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders… Keep his lacerated woman tied up in this horrid situation for four to five hours at a time” (Douglass 76). It is likely that Maria Stewart was able to avoid witnessing similar atrocities in person.

Blood in the Water: Attica & America

Before you read the post, go ahead and scroll to the end of the page and start the Nas video. I hope that the truth behind Attica makes him and a lot of other rap artists more relatable, relevant, and impactful.

If I Ruled the World

Trickin’ six digits on kicks and still holdin’
Trips to Paris, I civilized every savage
Gimme one shot I turn trife life to lavish
Political prisoner set free, stress free
No work release purple M3’s and jet skis
Feel the wind breeze in West Indies
I’d make Coretta Scott-King mayor o’the cities and reverse themes to Willies
It sounds foul but every girl I meet would go downtown
I’d open every cell in Attica send em to Africa

If I ruled the world, imagine that
I’d free all my sons, I love ’em love ’em baby
Black diamonds and pearls
Could it be, if you could be mine we’d both shine
If I ruled the world
Still livin’ for today, in these last days and times

–NAS– (June 1996)

(right to left: Rockefeller; Nixon; Hoover; and Mancusi, the prison warden)

I remixed an image from the Attica prison uprising which is featured in the book, Blood in the Water, by Heather Ann Thompson out of the University of Michigan. In the book she uncovers a large state department cover-up of a massacre that killed 39 men. Over 1,000 prisoners had taken part in a protest of opportunity to improve their basic living conditions and humanity. Most of the prisoners were from heavily policed inner cities like Harlem, or Brooklyn. Others were transfers from other overcrowded and unkempt prisons. After the prisoners issued a list of demands including steady parole board reviews, edible food, reliable healthcare, and more frequent showers; President Nixon communicated with then Governor of New York, Rockefeller, that he wanted the ‘black problem’ taken care of.

Rockefeller allowed state troopers, policemen, and prison guards from all surrounding counties enter a yard of 1300 unarmed multiracial prisoners and hostages with guns blazing. After the initial massacre, the state continued to participate in the routine intimidation and retaliation against prisoners. State and prison officials even go so far as to inform the public falsely that the prisoners are removing the genitals of white men and eating them. In reality, the prisoners are being subjected to the worst torture imaginable. My ReMix puts the people responsible for the continuance of that brutality in the place that history will cast them, as the real monsters.

Mass incarceration is the largest human rights problem in the 21st century. As a teenager, jamming to my Walkman, I never understood why Nas would free the people in Attica other than the fact that they had skin like me. I never fully appreciated his reference to french/white savages and the context he was gathering his knowledge. I just knew that he was cool and I wanted to fit in and be cool too.

As an adult I fully understand his masterful play on words and why he is one of the best rappers and social commentators of all-time. Nas puts words to the horror that is the daily life of incarcerated men and women while still giving them love and hope. He is continuing some of the oldest traditions of African oration.

Digital Media gives me an avenue to bring together these intersections of pop culture & history; books & rap. It is hard to truly appreciate the artistry behind black culture without fully appreciating black history and the black experience. Maybe digital media can serve as a bridge between academia and the people buying the music. Or maybe it will just serve as a bridge for me. All of the images come with the express consent of the author. I met her and she assured me that all images that she and her publicist have released are fully intended for re-use by the public because they are pictures taken by the State during the retaking of the prison and the negotiation.

Dedicated to: LD Barkley, 21, dead; in prison at Attica for driving without a license. And for being black and poor. I hope that you are living in a place where “you can smoke in the street without police harassment.” To the many more that I cannot name here and now, I pray for you always… “If I ruled the world….”

A Letter to Black Folks

Dear Black Americans, African-Americans, Haitian Americans, Jamaican Americans, Cape Verdean Americans, Black Puerto Rican Americans, Black Brazilian Americans, insert nationality + Black

Black folks are a people of immigration. A story that goes untold.

We are all vaguely familiar with the transatlantic slave trade. (If not then check it out in 2 minutes here.)

As Europeans ‘discovered’ more brown and black countries, people began pouring out of the blackest place on earth, Africa. (Learn more about forced migration here). Black people landed on different continents and created new phenotypes all connected to Mother Africa.

                     Jamaicans

                   Nigerians

               Dominicans

                        Haitians

                        Mexicans

Brazilians

Looking at these pictures should point out a very big commonality… Descendants of Africa universally have darker skin and different features than the descendants of European nations, Asian nations, and most Middle Eastern and Latin nations. Even as  we seek to separate ourselves, our skin, hair, eyes, noses, and mouths all hold varying evidence that we are all Africa’s children.

After discovering these ‘new’ countries, white Europeans set out to exploit and capitalize off of their discoveries. As a result the story of the black diaspora is EXTREMELY COMPLEX and experienced all over the world.

Enter my home: ‘Murica.

The white folks in America decided they wanted to leave the other white folks in Europe and do their own thing. (Learn about the American Revolution in 5 minutes here.) They are not alone. Native-born South African white people had the same idea.

But back to America: The Revolution created a unique White American identity that minimized their perspective heritages- Irish, Polish, Italian, etc. (This has come with historical challenges and discrimination that was overcome by identifying with a larger white social and political identity. See Irish Immigration and Italian Whiteness as examples.)

(Please note that we are not aware whether this man is Irish American, Spanish American, Italian, or whatever. He is just American.)

Black people were enslaved in this country during that time. The collective American identity for blacks was property. When you choose to enslave people primarily on the color of their skin, you have to find justification.

Black people became criminals, lazy, dumb, and any thing else to justify the need for slavery and oppression. Cheap labor is hard to come by. Black & brown people (more specifically poor people) fill this necessity in America today, as they always have.

The consequences of this thinking haunt White America creating interesting conversation around white rage, a topic for another time.

And black folks are collectively asked to believe that it is black people’s fault that natural disasters hit us harder (Hurricane Katrina and the Demographics of Death), recessions unemploy us first (Black Unemployment Rate History), prisons filled with us to the brim (Bureau of Prisons). (Note that the US does not discriminate by nationality).

The idea of race is SOCIALLY CONSTRUCTED. (Read more about the Social Construction of Race here or here.)

What does this mean?

It matters less in America what you consider yourself and more what people around you consider your race to be (this is not true all over the world). This means that your beautiful Jamaican son, in America is a black man for whom the American world reserves little beauty. The cops do not give a damn where you were born. And no matter how much you seek to protect your child he will become exposed to what race means in America, especially if he is born and raised here entirely.

What can we do?

Within the black community we have to work harder to include black immigrants and cultures into our lives. I am going to write more about the contributions of black immigrants to black culture and America in this blog so stay tuned.

UPDATE: We need to work harder to recognize the contributions all Black experiences have made to the American experience. And acknowledge that while American Black Culture is the most widely viewed image of Blackness, Black Americans are the minority in the total Black Experience. Let’s talk about this more on my post next week about Blackness.  

Black immigrants that land on the shores of America should be included in our efforts at learning American Black history and culture. This understanding can create conversations that will lead to a clear agreement about issues that affect ALL OF US. And how to improve systems that claim to serve ALL OF US. (For example: crimmigration, police brutality, housing discrimination, disparities in education, and black unemployment to name a few.)

We are all connected so much more than we realize. Let’s all stop looking down at each other and start holding on to each other. THEY can’t tell us apart. So WE shouldn’t tear ourselves apart.

Let’s use social media to climb over the age old bullshit that has kept us separate. Do not fear what you don’t know and don’t understand. Let’s learn about each other.

What I am proposing is a radical love for each other. A love that will excuse our shortcomings and look past our miscommunications into something we could all deeply benefit from in this day and age: UNITY.

Do it for Mother.

We all we got.

Let’s build.

Love,

Mari

Update: Done with the input of the creative mind behind The Black Love Project and the stationery company Watersidemrkt —-
Monique Ameyo consulting from New Orleans. She heavily influenced next week’s post about Blackness and I hope that her voice continues to be a part of the future! Please click and support! (She has some of the CUTEST Africa-inspired love notes ❤️).


The Founders: Their Texts

The Narrative of Fredrick Douglass and the collection of speeches and essays from Maria Stewart, America’s First Black Woman Political Writer offer an intriguing juxtaposition of free and enslaved, feminine and masculine, exclusion and acceptance. God and religion are reoccurring themes throughout both texts and the authors deal with them in differing and similar ways. The interplay between these two scholars highlights the numerous contradictions black people in antebellum America were faced with on issues including religiously-sanctioned slavery and violence, freedom and literacy, and their own personal reconciliations and connections with God. On the photo of Fredrick Douglass staring out from the front cover of Narrative of the Life of Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself (Bedford Edition), he appears to be smirking at Maria Stewart’s call to arms for black men, even though they most likely never met.

Maria Stewart was born a free woman in 1803. By the age of five, she was without her parents and bond out to the family of a clergyman. In 1829, she married a veteran and businessman, James W. Stewart. The newlyweds reside in Boston where she meets the activist David Walker. Walker might be the standard that Stewart used when chiding black men for their lack of courage. Inopportunely, both men are dead with a few years of her wedding. It was after these deaths that she felt the call to a ministry of political and religious witness. Therefore she embarks on a brief public life between 1830 and 1833; she gives lectures and writes articles for the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, started by William Lloyd Garrison. Garrison is a distant dream to Douglass during these years, they do not cross paths until 1841, after Stewart has left Boston for New York. The cover of Stewart’s book has a figure praying to God for something that might be on its way north and away from slavery in the form of Douglass.

Douglass is born in Talbot County, Maryland to a slave named Harriet Bailey. Although he only described her briefly, her devotion is apparent. In 1826, he was sent to live with Sophia Auld and her husband, Hugh in Baltimore. Both impact his life incredibly by inadvertently encouraging his desire for literacy.

Sophia Auld teaching Freddy D his letters.

Throughout the Narrative, Douglass’ participates in several estate divides that involve splitting the slaves up and reassigning them to different family heirs. However, he spends the majority of his life in Baltimore. The most notable exception is between 1832 and 1836; he is sent back to rural Maryland, near his birthplace, to live with Hugh’s brother, Thomas (Captain) Auld. He is an urban young man, full of unsettling knowledge and Captain Auld quickly moves to correct him.

 

The Founders: Fredrick Douglass & Maria Stewart

We celebrate the founding fathers of American culture throughout the year and all over the country in different ways.

As time shifts we realize as historians that it is important to widen our scope and lens to include all extraordinary Americans in their rightful places as ‘founders’ of American tradition.

Maria Stewart, the gangsta

Maria W. Stewart is the founding woman of political discourse and critique in this country. Born a free black woman but bound out in service at an early age, Stewart was denied a formal education but that did not stop her from being an academic, an intellectual, and a voice critical of politics and the American government. Her rebellious spirit reverberates in a tradition of outspoken, heroic black women that includes but is not limited to Sojourner Truth, Anna Julia Cooper, Nina Simone, and Angela Davis.

For the next few blog posts in the founding series I will be referencing a book that is full of her speeches, articles, and writings:

This woman is truly gangsta. She is spitting the truth at a time when the majority of her people are still in chains. This series will compare her to my choice for the Founding Father of black culture:

Freddy Doug is what I like to call him and his face says it all. He EXPLODED on to the abolition scene with his honest, humane, and vicious attacks on his former masters. He was a brilliant orator and left numerous texts to be studied. He lived his life as an American rebel and is the birth father of WEB DuBois, Martin Luther King Jr, Bayard Rustin, David A Walker, and many, many more.

These two founders never crossed paths but they shared mutual acquaintances and very interestingly aligned point of views that I hope to shed some light on in the series on these two amazing historical figures.

Lets pass on our history of rebellion.

Together. You know why.

Mari-X.

Who is Mari-X?

I am just the descendant of slaves.

And I just need a place to breathe. A place to exhale.

Those history books and classes you had….

I am looking for somewhere to bring together all of things that matter to me; that may seem to be contradictory to many. I am an avid reader, music enthusiast, sports fanatic,  and freelance historian.

I am an American. And while I do not believe in American exceptionalism; I believe that the conditions people of color have been able to transcend in this country are exceptional.

But the push cannot stop. We can’t become complacent and believe that the system now serves us because we have black faces in high faces. We must PERSIST.

For our children. For our futures. For our livelihoods. For our lives.

So this is the history of some of the strongest people in the world told through a lens that classrooms have yet to adapt.

Whether you’re reading this from a beautiful MacBook overlooking waves in Hawaii; a small apartment in a high rise in Chicago; your cell phone on the commute from the suburbs of Long Island; or at bar while you wait out Metro Atlanta traffic… Know that we are all connected in ways that very powerful people do not want us to realize.

Without the struggles that have brought our community together we would not be here. We have to keep fighting, keep loving, keep laughing, and keep learning.

We must live.

I am writing this so that we can be aware of ourselves as a community. So that we can all come to the agreement that there is nothing better in the world than to be of African blood, with an extraordinary American swag.

So these are just thoughts penned…

From the descendant of a slave.

Inhale.