Category: Georgia

Black History MonthGeorgiaHistory

Why are y’all still protecting racist monuments?

What strikes you about this scene?

On the first morning of Black History Month, 2020, an infant’s stroller faces a towering obelisk erected a century ago by white supremacists. Over a hundred years ago in 1908, confederate army veterans had constructed this object to venerate the Confederate States of America and mark the ascendence of white supremacist state governments throughout the South.

Off to the side of the image, the child’s parents discuss a historic marker that explains the racist history of the statue. The statue dwarfs the marker. I heard the child’s mother explaining (perhaps to friends or parents) the point of the smaller counter marker off to the side. The child’s parents are white as are the group of their friends gathered around the marker.

I took the photo during a morning run two weeks ago. I’ve been struggling to come to terms with what this image says for two weeks.

Are you as shook by this image as I am?

Why does Georgia, the South, the US still feel the need to pollute its public spaces in this way?

Some context, in case you need it

Over a hundred years ago, the hard won freedoms of Black people across the U.S. lay in shambles. A Civil War had been fought, over half a million soldiers had died, the Confederate States economy based upon human trafficking and forced labor (i.e. slavery) had ended. In a brief period of no more than 20 years after the Civil War, African Americans had tasted self determination and been allowed a partial sample of democracy. Yet starting in the mid-1870’s, their former unapologetic enslavers had again regained control of government, and consolidated a hold on national political power in the U.S. that would be unchecked for another century. These reactionaries led campaigns of terror on African American communities with the approval of the U.S. government, denying Black folk access to basic human rights. This was the world into which by great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents had been born into. I sometimes think of my grandfather’s grandfather, a Black Civil War veteran who had witnessed this arc of terror: from enslavement, a struggle against tyranny, to freedom; only to end his life little more than a slave.

In an act of brazen self-affirmation, one of these terrorist organizations, a group of Confederate Veterans formed by Clement A Evans erected a monument to the lost cause (perhaps then not so lost) of a racial state. My mother used to speak of how the Klan would hold rallies near this artifact, on their way to rallies at Georgia’s Stone Mountain (site of another racist edifice).

Confederate veterans, Klan supporters, and other friends of white supremacy erected this “monument” in 1908…
…meanwhile on the “other side” of Atlanta, formerly enslaved Black folk were building institutions to counter white supremacy. The photo is from an exhibit at the Atlanta History Center.

Over the last ten years, there have been renewed efforts to remove the monuments to the white supremacy state, reinvigorated by the need to respond to the tragedies of the Charleston Church Massacre the Charlottesville Rally. Memorials like the National Memorial for Peace and Justice provide examples of what a reconciliation process would look like. But these efforts in the state of Georgia have hit a roadblock — state law prohibits the removal of Lost Cause monuments. The NAACP, the Atlanta History Center, and other organizations of conscience have responded with efforts to contextualize these structures.

The marker that is next to the obelisk is one of the first attempts by Black people in Georgia to contextualize the Civil War monuments so pervasive in the South.

Marker erected in 2019 to explain the “lost cause” obelisk. What to do about a government that protects fascist monuments?

What’s wrong with keeping confederate monuments — they’re history?

I struggle to understand why anyone would want to preserve a monument to white supremacy in a public space with significant Black population.

What do you think?

I’ve heard it said (even by Black folk) that these markers are “history”, and that removing them amounts to “erasing history”.

If you think about it, this monument and others like it are not markers that identify significant events in the Civil War, or regional history: there are markers around Atlanta that described the Civil War battles, markers where Black churches were burned, markers where student lead sit-ins de-segregated restaurants. Rather this one and others like it, venerate The Lost Cause — no not the prospect of the Falcons winning a Superbowl — but the notion that there was a redeeming value in the Confederate States of America, a government created for the express purpose of maintaining a racist economic system built upon the mass enslavement, exploitation, and dehumanization of African Americans. The Lost Cause formed the ideological basis for the Klu Klux Klan and other terrorist organizations as well as of the governments that ruled the South. If you think about it, this “monument” and others like amount to a huge dis-information campaign. It is not history, it is anti-history.

This marker and it’s protection feels like a cause for concern on several levels: it was created by early 20th century racists to venerate the racist government of the 19th century; and it continues to be protected by a 21st century state government, thus reifying the support of a racial power hierarchy. It is a monument to the persistence of the racial state.

A photograph in Atlanta’s Freedom Parkway honors the Civil Rights Movement. Do we give equal value to slavery as to civil rights? Is there anything associated with white supremacy that is worth honoring?

But what does it mean today?

But Georgia is different now that it was 100 years ago.

The U.S. representative for this area is Black, the city council of Decatur is diverse. My aunt, who moved to Decatur in the 1970’s remarks on how amazing it is that the space is now truly multiracial, almost overwhelmed with joy that the confederate vestiges are now being challenged. Most of the police officers I encounter any given day near the monument are Black. How would the confederate generals react knowing that episodes of the HBO series The Watchmen — whose lead is a Black woman and whose plot references a white supremacist terror attack in Oklahoma — is filmed feet from the site of the statue? As I drop by son off to the school near the state capital complex, I see staff and legislators that are a diverse representation of a state in which Black and Brown people comprise 40% of the population. Atlanta ranks as the third in the U.S. in terms of population that self-identify as LGBTQ. Georgia is sixth in terms of undocumented people. It is a diverse state, and further a state in which people of color have a say in government — Stacy Abrams, a Black woman, lost the most recent governors race by 1%
of the vote.

In March, a memorial inspired by the National Memorial for Peace and Justice will be opened in Decatur. It will be a remembrance to Dekalb County’s Black victims of racial violence. Decatur will be only the second government entity in Georgia to do so.

So, things are changing. Is it enough simply to let “things take their course”?

Imagining a space for truth and healing

The dialog that took place between the child’s parent and friends is critical to building a livable future. I wish that I had stopped and asked her:

As a white person looking at this, how do you feel? Do you feel outrage, shame, indifference? What should be done?

It is dialog that makes “memorials” like this pertinent, relevant. We need ways to address the pain inherited from the past; naming the problems that we face today; and a starting point for calling the future we want into being.

What other ways are there to move forward?

In public spaces like this, once dominated by racism and centering oppression, a few ideas have come to mind.

  • What if the guides giving tours of the city were taught how to reframe and refocus away from the white settler oriented perspective currently given?
  • What if the city provided a Land Acknowledgement template for conferences and conventions that paid homage to the Indigenous guardians and first people of the land?
  • What if we made possible barcodes that allowed visitors to understand how the labor of the enslaved had contributed to the building of the city?
My daughter and I came across this clipping at the Atlanta Historical Society. A multiracial (somewhat) group of women activists gathering in 1931 to call for an end to racial terrorism. The Georgia Interracial Commission was one of the participating organizatiions.

That there are so many spaces in the South that are beginning to peel back the layers of pain and silence is encouraging. A space to hear the stories of the still living elders that experienced terror first hand, a space to talk and come to terms with a path forward. It will require imagination and courage.

Imagining a future for our children

It’s easy to imagine that the child sitting in the carriage will witness the removal of the Lost Cause monument and others like it. It’s easy to imagine a future in which this same child is taught history in grade school that centers the stories of the Indigenous, LatinX, and Black people that are so central to the history and future of this county.

This outcome is not inevitable. Countries come to terms with their past inequity through engagement with it — we cannot wish a world into existence, maintaining it once we have it will be difficult. The past is still present for Black people in persistent health, education, and economic disparities. The past is present in persistent anti-Black policing. The past is present not that far from my doorstep. We have fully not excised these ghosts in white sheets.

I want to gift build a world for that child in which they would hold the racially just society as fundamental as air; in which that child would understand the crimes of the past and see as fundamental to their humanity to guard against it. Georgia and the other states in the South could be a birthing ground for a generation for which anti-racism is life. This world will not come from silence.

FoodGender EqualityGeorgia

Liberté for Georgia

Buy a French dessert by Friday, post a comment here, and I will donate up to €37.00 to the ACLU or Planned Parenthood to protect women’s rights in Georgia.

I saw amazing desserts in Paris, but I cannot possibly eat that many calories! Help me out while preserving Liberté for women in the United States.

Delacroix’s Liberté guidant le peuple is the post inspiration

If you purchase a traditional French dessert between now and Friday and comment on it here, I will donate a dollar to the ACLU to preserve a woman’s right to safe abortion. Up to a total of €37.

Here are some inspiring desserts to inspire

These are too amazing for me! Eat one yourself and I’ll donate to ACLU!

GeorgiaHistory

What are the Muskogee holy days?

When does the United States get to the level of spiritual and psychological maturity to honor the peoples and civilization that lived on its soil and held its skies and rivers sacred before the first European countries even existed?

I eat, live and breath on stretches of earth that were carefully and lovingly maintained, defended, honored by the Muskogee, Cherokee and their forebears for millennia. We can’t even approve an hour to remember and cherish our collective ancestors? They don’t even rate to the level of Halloween? That ain’t right.

Think of it this way. The pride of India is the Taj Mahal. The Mughal empire — in whose time it was built — has long passed into time, yet every child in Delhi knows some connection to this wonder of the world. India is home to so many diverse faiths, among them the Sikh faith. Not everyone — not even a majority — is Sikh yet the sacred days of that faith are celebrated widely. Because it is a denial of history and a warping of reality not to. Would any resident of London refuse to acknowledge their connection to Stonehenge, or to Shakespeare? Yet the governments of those times, even the notion of the country of Britain, has changed many times in the centuries since. Would any Egyptian deny the pyramids, or Hatshepsut?

So yea, this place we call the U.S. did not and does not begin and end with European settlement. Being complicit in Erasure is no way to live.

So what to do?

Well the image for this post is from the Ocmulgee National Monument mounds in Georgia. We know that the Ocmulgee peoples have held this site sacred for at least the last 17,000 years, give or take a colonizer shutdown or two.

My one resolution for getting beyond Erasure? Understand and live my debt to the Ocmulgee (forbears of today’s Muskogee Nation) civilization. A festival will be held on September 21 and 22 of this year on the grounds of the monument.

Join me?

GeorgiaHistorySocial JusticeUncategorizedVoting

Who’s worse Brian Kemp or Lester Maddox?

Feeling some despair headed back to Georgia, and the U.S. generally after a month in India.

It’s about this question: Will Brian Kemp govern Georgia like Lester Maddox?

Lester Maddox became the governor of Georgia during my childhood. He was openly racist, was famous for selling axe handles with which to beat down civil rights activists, and actively fought a state memorial immediately after Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Until Brian Kemp, I don’t remember any Georgia governor who so actively and openly embraced race based voter suppression and racist immigration messages.

Yet Maddox apparently went on the most aggressive hiring of African Americans in the state’s history.

I’m finding solace knowing that people of color in Georgia nonviolently sacrificed their livelihoods and their lives to end the Maddox mode of governance.

Those sacrifices opened the door for people like Stacey Abrams, Andrew Young, and Jimmy Carter.

Our grandmothers and uncles and neighbors did this with an inner soul power (to quote Dr King) that could not be suppressed by axe handles or tear gas. I find strength knowing that we can call on that soul power to do the same again.

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Why voting in Georgia matters: Black infant mortality

If you are an infant born to an African American mother in Georgia (also Mississippi or Alabama) your chances of making it past the first year are worse than that of an infant born in Syria. China and Venezuela also have lower infant mortality rates than the 12.5 deaths per 1,000 infants that the Kaiser Family Foundation reports for Georgia.

If you’re eligible to vote in the upcoming Georgia election on November 6, 2018, this is a PSA to: 1) vote, and 2) vote for candidates that can change the healthcare disparities impacting expecting mothers and their children.

I delved into these statistics after reading this Atlantic article and was stunned, saddened, outraged. The popular reports of life in Syria and Venezuela paint those countries as war zones, places in the throes of chaos, places where the healthcare system has collapsed and failed the most vulnerable. Coincidentally, the infant mortality rate for Black children in Georgia (the state) is identical to the overall rate of Georgia the country (12.9  deaths / 1,000) — and the democratic institutions of the two Georgias may be in similar shape. Georgia the country is making strides towards full democracy.

You might say that I’m comparing disparate populations — Black people in Georgia vs the overall population of Syria. Would you agree that a comparison of Caribbean nations to the U.S. Black populations is reasonable? All of these islands have significant African diaspora populations — equalling or exceeding the Black population of the state of Georgia. Many of the current Black inhabits of the U.S. claim Caribbean ancestry. Let’s then compare Georgia’s infant mortality with that of the most populous Caribbean countries and Puerto Rico (a U.S. territory).

infantmortality

These figures are from the Kaiser Family Foundation table cited earlier and the CIA infant mortality rankings. The United Nations and CDC keep similar statistics.

The overall impact of Georgia’s health policies — the defunding of rural health, unaddressed racial disparities, the refusal to support medicaid expansion among them — are richly detailed in this report When the State Fails: Maternal Mortality & Racial Disparity in Georgia. The results of these policies have been devastating  — a perfect storm on the life expectancy of Black women and children, and also upon those of rural Georgians of all races and ethnicities.

What can be done?

  • If you live in Georgia, please remember to vote — there are candidates on the November 6, 2018 ballot who are committed to ending health disparities based on class and race.
  • You might consider moving to Georgia (in the mode of Freedom Summer). To quote Stacey Abrams “Georgia matters to everyone. If you change the leadership of Georgia, you change the South. If you change the South, you change the country.
  • Stay informed and advocate for universal healthcare in the U.S.
  • If you’re a healthcare professional, consider getting involved in volunteer efforts in the Southern U.S.