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“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”

These words spoken by Frederick Douglass more than 150 years ago aptly summarized the relationship of black people in America to the largely white nation that surrounded them. 

photo: International Business Times 

photo: International Business Times 

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or both."

Charles E. Cobb Jr., This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, loc. 2719. Kindle Edition 

#BlackLivesMatter passed its first major hurdle, weathering a brutal winter.  It's going to be a long and hot summer.  I was going to write a piece about protest and rights and Baltimore and Freddie Gray, but Charle's Cobb says it better than I could.  But I felt I had to speak up now, especially since Freddie Gray's only offense was an old one

looking ...in the “wrong” way—what whites sometimes called “reckless eyeballing

Cobb 2014, loc. 1773

Instead of following the riots in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, I've been re-reading some of the history of the Civil Rights struggle in the South, particularly the part armed resistance played in that struggle: 

“I’m alive today because of the Second Amendment and the natural right to keep and bear arms,” recalled activist John R. “Hunter Bear” Salter in 1994.

Cobb 2014, loc. 236

...antilynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett wrote in 1892, “A Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.

Cobb 2014 , loc. 929

Indeed, Mississippi’s gun culture proved so powerful that in 1954, when state legislator Edwin White expressed alarm that too many blacks were buying firearms and introduced a bill requiring gun registration “[to protect] us from those likely to cause us trouble,” the bill never even made it out of committee.

Cobb 2014, loc. 2362

During a 1961 symposium—135 years after Jefferson’s death in 1826—author James Baldwin could still pronounce, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.

Cobb 2014, loc. 693

And so the struggle continues.  Behind the face of nonviolence was always the threat of danger, of violence.  Douglass was right when he said  "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or both."

It's the question Thomas Jefferson had asked in the country’s earliest years: “Are our [Negroes] to be presented with freedom and a dagger?

Cobb 2014, loc. 4282.

and the answer came:

Years later, reflecting on this reign of terror from the ruins of Reconstruction, Frederick Douglass wrote that gaining genuine freedom in the South would require “the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box.

Cobb 2014, loc. 927

Every what the Mississippi white man pose with, he got to be met with. I said, “Meet him with ever what he pose with. If he pose with a smile, meet him with a smile, and if he pose with a gun, meet him with a gun.” —Hartman Turnbow, Mississippi farmer

Cobb 2014, loc. 2159

Six years later Malcolm X, then a leader of the Nation of Islam, showed greater hostility and less restraint than Du Bois: he denounced Martin Luther King Jr. as a modern Uncle Tom subsidized by whites “to teach the Negroes to be defenseless.

Cobb 2014, loc. 197

Cobb, Charles E. 2014. This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible. Kindle. New York: Basic Books.

Why I Care About #BlackLivesMatters (and Why You Should Too)

Why I Care About #BlackLivesMatters (and Why You Should Too)