In order to see the future, we must first look back to see the past. During the days of bondage there was something called the Slave Patrols. “Patterrollers” (patrollers) were White men who served on local patrols organized throughout the South to control the movement of enslaved Africans outside their captive plantations.
Patrollers policed their neighborhoods by challenging any enslaved African whom they suspected of being away from his captive plantation to produce a written “pass,” or authorization, from his or her slave master. Enslaved Africans found without a pass were subject to arrest, beatings, or other forms of sometimes deadly violence. ( Click here to read the entire narrative )
The reason why indentured servitude, which originally involved Blacks as well as Whites, morphed into Black chattel slavery was based on this. (Indentured servants, whether brought over from Africa or England, served for a term of years and then were granted their freedom as well as a plot of land.)
However, it was far easier to keep track of Blacks than Whites, and so once all the indentured servants were Black, and none White subjects of the English king, no one cared what became of them. And so over time their “term of indenture” was extended to lifetime service, and then ultimately passed on to their offspring.
The Slave Patrols were organized throughout the South after Nat Turner’s 1831 Rebellion in Virginia. Turner organized a major, systematic, deadly uprising against the plantocracy that forever shattered the Southland‘s tranquility. The Slave Patrols were a direct response to Nat‘s War. Thus, the Civil War, 30 years later, lasted as long as it did because the men of the South, though badly outnumbered, had far more military training.
The book, The New Jim Crow and the documentary Slavery by Another Name indicate how the law has been consistently used, since Abolition, to maintain Black second class citizenship. The rise of the Ku Klux Klan aborted the promise of the Reconstruction era which followed the Civil War. Then came the formal institution of segregation, the so-called Jim Crow laws.
Simultaneously, Blacks were sent to the chain gang for minor infractions, or after being forced into debt by White landowners. As the country moved toward involvement in the Second World War, with its massive demands for manpower, this process petered out. Later, in the sixties, the civil rights movement effectively ended legal segregation.
But ever since, there has been a dramatic, steady increase in the rate of Black incarceration, and as of late the number of police shootings of unarmed Black men has spiked. The Trayvon Martin Case is a focal point for the building awareness, resentment and anger in all sectors of the Black community at the stubbornly persistent subordination of the Black population, even under the very reign of a Black president.
And so what does the future hold? Hopefully sooner or later accused murderer George Zimmerman will be, tried, convicted and sentenced to a significant term in jail. The longer the uproar continues the more conscious and volatile the people become. The only way to take the spotlight off the case is to bring it to a close.
Black Activism goes in cycles. For example, a generation after the Nat Turner’s War in 1831, Frederick Douglass led the vigorous Black involvement in the abolitionist movement which culminated in the Civil War in which 200,000 Black troops turned the tide in the North‘s favor. A generation after the Civil War, there were the glowing Black strides made during Reconstruction, that culminated in the assault against it. In the decade between 1910 and 1920 African Americans began to protest with their feet against the injustices of the South and migrated to the North where they joined in forming the Marcus Garvey movement and other nationalist organizations in the 1920s.
In the 1940s, during and after the Second World War, African Americans made a sustained push towards equality which dampened as cold war fanaticism gripped the land. Ultimately, though, it could not contain the robust civil rights movement that matured in the ‘60s. A generation later, all the major American cities had Black mayors, as Jesse Jackson embarked on his inspiring campaigns to win the presidency. Immediately after, came the Rodney King Rebellion and associated disturbances in the early ‘90s, as a defiant, rebellious new music and perspective, hip hop, spread far and wide across the land.
But as hip hop has been tamed, African Americans lost control of the cities, and the police and their associates seem to be going on a rampage. Now, though, a generation after the Rodney King upheavals, consciousness again begins to grow, centered this time around on the Trayvon Martin killing. The authorities, thus, can be expected to bring George Zimmerman to justice, out of fear that the Sleeping Giant will awake. However, it will be up to us to remember our history, and once and for all stop our persistent cyclical slumber.
Dr. Lewin was born in Harlem, New York. His parents hail from Jamaica and Cuba. His research has included topics in Jamaican political history, charismatic leadership in African America, Africa and the Caribbean and the class structure in Black America. He is the author of the popular book Africa is Not a Country its a Continent!