Past Time to Remember Slavery

memorial in Montgomery, Al

New Orleans   The scars of slavery haven’t healed.  Evidence abounds in the open wounds of blatant racism and deep-seeded, systemic discrimination towards African-Americans which manifests itself from top to bottom in our political, financial, and cultural experiences in the country that date from slavery until today, and, sadly, tomorrow.  The existence of slavery and its residue is the uncomfortable truth that continues to mar the American myth.

Bizarrely, surveys indicate that there are significant parts of the population that don’t even put the issue of slavery as the key cause of the Civil War more than 150 years ago!  There may be some hope though as some communities, rather than ignoring our shameful history, are finally acknowledging it.  This may be an indication of dealing with these realities more truthfully and finally seeking to confront their impact on us all.

Several years ago, a lawyer in Louisiana restored Whitney Plantation along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans as a museum that detailed the history and impact of slavery.  Georgetown University has been forced to offer some reparations for the selling of slaves owned by the Jesuits who built the college in Washington to sugarcane plantation owners in Louisiana by making amends including offering free tuition to the ancestors of those slaves.  Yale has been forced by students to downgrade their recognition of the racist, Civil War instigator and apologist South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, long honored as one of their graduates by taking his name off of one of their buildings.  These are all small steps forward, but there are many more that must be taken.

More dramatically a museum has now opened in Montgomery, Alabama that catalogues the lynching of hundreds of hundreds of African-Americans, adding injury and pain to the legacy of slavery and shame to any and all that allowed these injustices to go unpunished.  I haven’t visited the museum yet, but the reviews describe its power to teach, including steel obelisks with the names of each victim that “bleed” in the rain.  I want to see that.  We should all see that.  In New Orleans on the 300th anniversary of the city historical markers are being unveiled that clearly document the city’s dominant role in the slave trade from receiving port to auction block to plantation and domestic labor.

We need a lot more of these kinds of markers everywhere so that no one ever tries to pretend again that the Civil War was not about slavery.  The legacy of slavery endures until fully recognized and resolved.   The opposite side of the struggle throughout the South to remove monuments to Confederates must be an effort to force contemporary populations to face the facts of slavery.

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The New HUD Seems OK with Racial Discrimination

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Little Rock       It has become a modern foundation of public policy, following Rahm Emanuel, now the Mayor of Chicago, and earlier when the comment was attributed to him when he was chief of staff for President Obama, to “…never let a serious crisis go to waste.”  Like Katrina a dozen years ago, many governmental policy makers saw the $28 billion in community development recovery funds going to Houston, the Gulf Coast, and Puerto Rico in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma as just such an opportunity.   They might have been right except for the devastation being wrecked on the Housing & Urban Development department by Hurricane Ben Carson, its turn-back-the-hands-of-time Trump secretary.

Carson claims he’s not going soft on the mission of HUD to assure fair and equal housing and therefore to combat racism in public policies.  This claim is despite the fact of all evidence to the contrary.  He has removed the words “inclusive” and “free from discrimination” from HUD’s mission statement according to a report in The New York Times.  He has put a hold on various fair housing investigations he inherited from the Obama administration.  He canceled a settlement conference with Facebook over fair housing violations in their ad targeting that have led fair housing organizations from around the country to join in filing suit against the department and Facebook in federal court in Manhattan recently.  He has gone soft on big developers over disability access.  He tried to reverse an Obama pilot, years in the making, that would allow section 8 vouchers to be used in more affluent neighborhoods.

Most disturbingly is the way HUD and local officials have handled a housing development in Houston, long recognized despite its gung-ho growth and prosperity in recent years as one of the most segregated cities in the country.   Before the Obama administration turned over the keys to the HUD building, they had slapped back hard at Mayor Sylvester Turner’s attempt to nix a 233-unit mixed income, racially diverse project called Fountain View in the upscale, largely white area around the Galleria.  Under Carson’s regime, a watered-down settlement was approved that bypassed HUD’s own lawyers and negotiated directly with Turner, despite his opposition to the project.  A proposed $14 million penalty that the developers would have had to pay to the Houston Housing Authority if the Fountain View project was scuttled also disappeared from the negotiations.

Not surprisingly, since HUD under Carson no longer has much interest in enforcing fair housing, national and local groups have now sued the city and HUD to block $5 billion in funds that are desperately needed for rebuilding neighborhoods until this issue is resolved.  This is a classic devil-and-the-deep-blue-sea situation.  For the sake of rebuilding Houston, are we supposed to join HUD and say racial discrimination is now hunky-dory?  We know that any delays in recovery funds can be fatal to neighborhoods.  On the other hand, allowing continued racial segregation, HUD-sanctioned or not, in Houston or any other city will eventually kill the city’s very heart and soul.

The choice seems clear.  Even if Carson and HUD are now OK with racial discrimination in housing and elsewhere, we must oppose it at every opportunity, no matter the pain.

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