As usual, I present this post with the caveat that I am neither a scholar nor a specialist in this field; I’m merely providing an overview for those who wish to have a cursory explanation and enough information to enable continued research on one’s own. For the parenthetical part of the title of this post, I chose the less-common, but contemporaneously-accurate, reference to the Chinese Restriction Act, although today it is most often called the Chinese Exclusion Act. This was a conscious choice, guided by my desire to show the fluidity and evolution of the immigration restrictions directed at the Chinese, and later other Asian immigrants.
Aerial view of Levittown, PA: Built quickly using assembly-line techniques; affordable; and for whites only.
It is often assumed that segregation by race in cities and suburbs (particularly in the north) was and is a result of “natural” processes, even when those processes are the ugly expression of white fear. White flight to the suburbs, the logic goes, may be reprehensible, but it’s a predictable result when white people, guided by prejudice, felt their neighborhoods were in danger of being “taken over.” In reality, that does not accurately describe what happened in urban and suburban areas. The segregation of areas by race was more than a choice made by individuals; it was abetted and reinforced by private and public policies, laws, and regulations. (Note: The following post is, for the most part, about northern cities; southern cities may have followed similar patterns, but I haven’t researched southern cities enough to say that with any certainty.)
H/t to Eric Foner, author of the book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (all citations listed as “Foner” refer to this book) and current events for inspiring today’s post.
First, some history. The fugitive slave clause of the Constitution came about at the behest of the SC delegation:
On August 28 the convention considered the fugitives from justice clause. Butler and Charles Pinckney attempted to amend this provision “to require fugitive slaves and servants to be delivered up like criminals.” Roger Sherman sarcastically countered that he “saw no more propriety in the public seizing and surrendering a slave or servant, than a horse.” James Wilson objected that this would cost the free states money. Significantly, this opposition came from two delegates who usually sided with the South. Butler wisely “withdrew his proposition in order that some particular provision might be made apart from this article.”57… …Immediately after this vote [on a commerce-related issue], Butler reintroduced the fugitive slave clause. Without debate or recorded vote, it too passed. 61 The last bargain over slavery had been made. The northerners who had opposed the fugitive slave provision only a day before were now silent. Source:The Covenant with Death and How It Was Made, Part 2
Leaflet issued by the Women’s Political Council calling for a boycott of Montgomery busses.
There are trailblazers and torchbearers. The trailblazer is the pioneer; the torchbearer follows and amplifies the path of the trailblazer. (There is no judgment implied in these designations, and one can be a trailblazer at one moment, while a torchbearer at another.) The students who sat at lunch counters in Greensboro and Nashville were trailblazers; one could make the argument that the Freedom Riders were torchbearers. Moms Demand Action/Everytown for Gun Safety are trailblazers; the students of Parkland and the March for Our Lives are carrying the torch. The Women’s Political Council of Montgomery, AL and Claudette Colvin, Mary Louise Smith, and Rosa Parks were trailblazers; Dr. King and the residents of Montgomery, who organized and conducted the Montgomery bus boycott, were the torchbearers. Today’s post is about the Women’s Political Council, without whom there would never have been a Montgomery bus boycott.
Photograph of Septima Clark, ca. 1960, Avery Photo Collection, 10-9, Courtesy of the Avery Research Center.
Like many white folk, my knowledge of the icons of the civil rights movement is limited at best and thoroughly deficient at worst. When I read that Dr. King had once described Septima Clark as the “Mother of the Movement” and realized that I had no knowledge of her role, I knew it was time to do some digging. As usual, this is just an overview, intended to whet your curiosity and encourage you to do some digging of your own.
A teacher and a life-long educator, Clark is most remembered for her role in establishing Citizenship Schools, which had the goal of providing full citizenship through education. In 1961, she became the SCLC director of education and teaching and traveled throughout the South, directing workshops which taught participants their constitutional rights, how to organize, as well as teaching literacy. Even more mundane topics like how to write a check were covered. Clark felt that literacy was the keystone for advancement:
Puerto Rico, 1900
Philadelphia North American, Rep. : The present condition of Puerto Rico would have been absolutely incredible and inconceivable to Americans of two years ago. We thought we knew our own hearts, and we should have said with entire confidence that wherever our flag went it would go as a messenger of benediction. Has a year and a half of empire stripped us of all the fine feelings of humanity with which we went into war for Cuban liberty, and turned us into a race of mercenary oppressors?
Ex-Attorney-General Smith, of Indiana
“It is conceded that Puerto Rico constitutes part of the territory of the United States and that our title to it was acquired under the treaty making power of the constitution ; and it follows, therefore, that the moment the title passed from Spain to the United States the constitution extended itself over every part of the island. Any attempt by congress to segregate the constitution and extend a part of its provisions to our island possessions is a violation of the letter and spirit of that instrument, amounting almost, if not quite, to an overt act of treason. We took these people from choice, not compulsion, and by that act we extended to them the protection of our constitution. If we have made a mistake in adding this territory to our country it is not too late to correct it. “
Sisters and probably my maternal 2x great aunts; one of those unsolved genealogical mysteries.
Be forewarned; rambling, stream-of-consciousness post ahead…
The most recent pronouncement by 45* (about Andrew Jackson and the Civil War) once again illustrates his complete lack of historical knowledge, and coming as it did on the heels of an unexpected interaction in my own life, it has me again thinking about grand themes like, “What is history?” and “What is family?” On Saturday, I received a Facebook friend request from someone I’ve never met; I did, however, recognize the name, because he shares the name of the husband of a great aunt (both of whom I also never met). Before accepting his request, I perused his FB page (why on earth do people not keep their pages locked down?) and was able to immediately discern that he is a full-blown Republican and Hillary hater. I’m not certain he is a T***p supporter, but he certainly isn’t shy about broadcasting his disdain for Dems. Given that I’ve limited my interaction with my own sister because of her vote for the Orange Shitgibbon, I had to think awhile on whether to accept this friend request. I finally did and don’t regret it; he’s a second cousin who searched for me on the recommendation of another recently-discovered second cousin. We had an amiable and lengthy chat, and signed off with the promise to stay in touch.
Thursday night, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party. She stands poised (in both senses of the word) to be the first woman to become president of the United States of America.
Secretary Clinton on activism and policy details:
It became clear to me that simply caring is not enough. To drive real progress, you have to change both hearts and laws. You need both understanding and action. So we gathered facts. We built a coalition.
But how do you make a [big idea real]? You do it step-by-step, year-by-year… sometimes even door-by-door.[…]
I sweat the details of policy – whether we’re talking about the exact level of lead in the drinking water in Flint, Michigan, the number of mental health facilities in Iowa, or the cost of your prescription drugs.
Because it’s not just a “detail” if it’s your kid – if it’s your family. It’s a big deal.
And it should be a big deal to your president.
On our nation’s history and making history:
“Stronger Together” is not just a lesson from our history.
It’s not just a slogan for our campaign.
It’s a guiding principle for the country we’ve always been and the future we’re going to build. […]
Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come.
Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between.
Happy for boys and men, too – because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.
So let’s keep going, until every one of the 161 million women and girls across America has the opportunity she deserves.
Because even more important than the history we make tonight, is the history we will write together in the years ahead.
Last night, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton clinched the Democratic Party presidential nomination.
Before her victory speech, this video was presented to the assembled crowd (it had been shared on social media earlier in the afternoon)
It is a powerful statement about the history that has been made and will be made.
Hillary Clinton’s Victory Speech, June 7, 2016, at the Brooklyn Navy Yard:
Secretary Hillary Clinton on the historic nature of her victory:
Tonight’s victory is not about one person.
It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible. In our country, it started right here in New York, a place called Seneca Falls in 1848 where a small but determined group of women and men came together with the idea that women deserved equal rights. […]
And this, looking ahead:
We believe we should lift each other up, not tear each other down. … To be great, we can’t be small. We have to be as big as the values that define America. …
This election is [not] about about the same old fights between Republicans and Democrats. This election is different.
It really is about who we are as a nation. It’s about millions of Americans coming together so take we are better than this. We won’t let this happen in America. And if you agree, whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, I hope you will join us in just a few weeks, we will meet in Philadelphia which gave birth to our nation back in that hot summer of 1776. Those early patriots knew they would all rise or fall together. Well, to day that is more true than ever. Our campaign will take the message to every corner of our country. We’re stronger when our economy works for everyone, not just those at the top.
With good paying jobs and good schools in every zip code and a real commitment to all families and all regions of our nation. We are stronger when we work with our allies and we’re stronger when we respect each other, listen to each other and act with a sense of common purpose. We’re stronger when every family and every community knows they’re not on their own. Because we are in this together. It really does take a village to raise a child. And to build a stronger future for us all. […]
Yes, there are still ceilings to break for women and men for all of us. But don’t let anyone tell you that great things can’t happen in America. Barriers can come down. Justice and equality can win. Our history has moved in that direction. Thanks to generations of Americans who refuse to give up or back down.
Now you are writing a new chapter of that story. This campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us and this is our moment to come together.
… if we stand together, we will rise together.
Because we are stronger together. Let’s go out and make that case to America.