Centuries Of Racist Oppression Culminating In Mass Incarceration

Slavery By Another Name
A youngster sentenced under vagrancy laws, once known as the Black Codes, is punished in a forced labor camp in Georgia around 1932. – Photo: John Spivak

AFRICANGLOBE – In 1619, the first Africans were brought to North America by force to be slaves. From 1619 to 1776, this brutal chattel slave system was able to flourish in the 13 British colonies. From 1776, the United States government would take over the reins of this land, including its brutal slave system. From 1776 to 1865, while declaring its independence from its mother country, Great Britain, on July 4, 1776, the U.S. nevertheless held onto all of its evil practices.

The so-called Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 would end slavery as we know it. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, these so-called freed slaves would be subjugated by a new system of exclusion and exploitation under the Black Codes. Instituted by the slave states as slave codes, the Black Codes effectively re-enslaved Black people identified as vagrants, replacing their freedom with forced labor.

After the brief period of Black involvement in government known as Reconstruction, from 1865 to 1877, Black freedom was also denied for almost 100 more years by legalized racial segregation under the Jim Crow laws. After winning their freedom in the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history, Blacks were in many cases and places denied basic human, civil and political rights: the right to vote, the right to employment, the right to freely move about, the right to own land, the right to education, the right to decent housing, the right to adequate food and clothing, the right to a fair and just judicial system and much more, literally forcing Black Americans back into slavery by denying them a right to life. Jim Crow segregation in one form or another was practiced nationwide.

Pattern of practice

Our African ancestors were forced to make their own way, while being denied everything and subjected to vicious racist attacks by local, state and federal government officials. The state would use vagrancy laws in order to criminalize Black people because they did not have a job. Unemployment was considered a violation of state law, although the same system shut them out of the job market.

Once they were convicted under the vagrancy laws, they would be off to the penitentiary, where they would be forced back into slavery, legally, under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. So the government was able to use its judicial proceedings in order to incarcerate thousands of Black people under these vagrancy and Jim Crow laws in order to force them back into free slave labor, which was the government’s objective.

Pattern of practice

The struggle for civil rights in this country can easily define what I mean by pattern of practice. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was vetoed by President Andrew Johnson, but the law still passed. It was supposed to give Black Americans citizenship and extensive civil rights for all men born in the United States, except “Native Indians.” The Enforcement Act of 1870 was passed to re-enact the Civil Rights Act of 1866 once the 14th Amendment made its enforcement unquestionably constitutional.

Much of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 was codified into federal law as Section 1983, but its influence waned as Reconstruction ended. Then the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed to outlaw discrimination in public places because of race or previous servitude. But in 1883, the act was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, which stated that the 14th Amendment, the constitutional basis of the act, protected individual rights against infringement by the states, not by other individuals.

Pattern of practice

The Civil Rights Acts of 1957, 1960, 1964 and 1968 were basically testaments to the consistency of a resistance struggle for civil rights in this country by Black Americans and the countless human beings who would join in this Civil and Human Rights Movement, yet the system would continue to interfere with and obstruct the human and civil rights of Black Americans every step of the way for over 100 years. And today we are right back where we started, fighting for our human and civil rights.

Pattern of practice

We very well could be fighting for our human and civil rights in this country as long as the Congress – the Senate and the House of Representatives – the legislative branch of the United States government, continues to deny Black people our human and civil rights indefinitely. Government intransigence forces Blacks to address this issue every 20 years or so. This is where the real injustices occur, speaking to the real racist application of such pattern of practice. Throughout our struggle, the Civil Rights Movement was and is of astronomical value in our Resistance Movement.

Brief historical perspective

It would be counterproductive not to mention Denmark Vesey, Martin Delaney and especially Marcus Garvey and the contributions he and the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) made toward our struggle for independence, which nationalized us as a people, because that organization would be the catalyst for many freedom movements to come.

The civil and human rights organizations were all instrumental in laying a foundation for more progressive struggles that would take center stage in our struggle to be liberated, starting with the Nation of Islam (NOI), the Black Liberation Movement (BLM), which would give life to the Black Panther Party (BPP), Republic of New Afrika (RNA), Black Liberation Army (BLA) and countless other revolutionary formations that would become the face of the struggle for Black liberation, i.e., freedom in America.

We must begin to see these Sisters and Brothers as our honorable men and women who have made sacrifices and continue to stand in struggle, while always remembering those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The New Afrikan Independence Movement (NAIM) would be established and our struggle continue for self-determination, enabling us to govern ourselves as a Black independent nation within the borders of America. Black Americans would attempt to mobilize our people around socio-cultural, political and economic principles that speak to our humanity as a people, bringing into focus an ideology that represents the core of our identity, life style and beliefs that’s inclusive of all humanity.

These movements would progress until the mid-1970s , when state and federal governments made a concerted effort to stamp out all Black empowerment movements. Whether they were peaceful or radical, the government would conduct a vicious campaign, where the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies would work in conjunction to murder and incarcerate any Black person who dared to fight for their basic humanity and right to self-determination.

These repressive attacks by the government jeopardized our political and ideological development as a people. The brutal suppression programs waged against our people put fear in many, and the struggle for freedom had to take a back seat. To some extent, fear took the fight out of the people.

Part Two