The President's Column: Holiday WishJanuary 6, 2022
by George Gresham
It’s time for an apology
The holiday season is upon us. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Eid Al-Fitr, or none of the above, this time of the year is a season of giving, of peace and love.
And I have a wish… But more about this wish in a moment.
First, some history: In 1619, more than 400 years ago, the first Africans were brought in chains to the Virginia colony and worked in slavery. For nearly 250 years thereafter, European slavers kidnapped an estimated 13 million Africans and chained them in the holds of ships that crossed the Atlantic Ocean; millions died aboard these ships before reaching their destinations, their lifeless bodies were dumped into the sea. Those who survived these voyages were treated as little more than drudge animals: Deprived of their very names, their families and communities and the languages they shared with them.
They were also subjected to rapes, beatings, whippings, lynchings, and other forms of brutality that often ended their lives.
Slave labor largely created the wealth of our country, allowing the cotton, tobacco, textile, shipping and banking industries to become the global giants they became. From all of this, the slaves themselves derived……nothing.
The Civil War ended slavery, but after Reconstruction was dismantled and former slave owners returned to political and economic power in the South, millions of formerly enslaved people and their descendants lived in servitude as plantation serfs, prisoners (also on plantations), and so-called tenant farmers or “sharecroppers”, and deprived of their civil rights under an American version of apartheid known as Jim Crow.
The United States declared its status as an independent nation in 1776. That was 245 years ago.
But most kidnapped Africans and African-Americans were held in the bondage and servitude of slavery and apartheid for nearly 350 years. It was only 60 years ago that the Civil Rights Revolution won a Voting Rights Bill.
And those protections have been nearly dismantled by 25 years of rightwing Supreme Court rulings. This story is well known. It cannot be disputed.
It is not a pleasant story. It is a disgraceful story. When millions of us took to the streets last year, following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we began a reckoning with this history. Many statues dedicated to the traitors and slaveholders who declared war against the United States were removed from places of honor.
We all know well the Big Lie that the Republican Party has fostered—that in fact Donald Trump was re-elected a year ago and that the vote was stolen.
But there is another Big Lie pushed by the same Republican governors, Fox News, the white supremacist blogosphere, and far-right mobs. This Big Lie would not simply rewrite the 2020 Presidential election. It would rewrite American history. They are furiously trying to remove from all levels of the American education system—from elementary schools to colleges and universities—something they label “critical race theory.” But in fact, it is basic United States history that they don’t want our children to learn.
Because if our children know our history, they might just want to do something to correct our injustices.
For purposes of this column, I am not even addressing the genocide that exterminated— through massacres, disease and deprivation—90 percent of the indigenous peoples who lived here for centuries; or the forced annexation of half of Mexico that is today’s Texas, California, etc. and that is the heritage of Mexican-Americans. Presidents like to tell us that ours is “a nation of immigrants.” But that’s not entirely true.
Sure, tens of millions of our people are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. But our native peoples are called native for a reason. Our tens of millions of Mexican-Americans are the descendants of people whose lands— from Texas to California—were forcibly annexed by European settlers.
As they say, “We didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us.”
But African-Americans are unique.
Our ancestors were not native to this land, and they did not immigrate.
They were brought here by force, in chains, at point of death.
And history and justice demand a reckoning.
This brings me to my holiday wish: It is something that we as Americans deserve. And that is an apology. Is it too much to ask that our President, our Congress, apologize for the enslavement of my ancestors? I am not talking now about reparations, though we are also due them. A simple apology will do. For now.
Meantime, I wish you all, my dear 1199 sisters and brothers, a happy, restful and peaceful holiday season!