Note: A few years ago, on my radio program on WRFG-Atlanta’s “Just Peace”, I interviewed the Harvard educated Marxist economist Richard Wolff. Wolff said that Harvard tried to make him into a good capitalist, but it didn’t work. I mentioned to Wolff that in my organizing work in the South, since the 1970s and during what was still the Cold War era, people were often afraid to even mention the word “capitalism” much less critique it and have a dialogue about other economic systems and that the fear from the Cold War era had lingered. Wolff said that he had the same problem across the country overall, but that this changed with the 2011 Occupy Movement. He said that since the Occupy Movement, Americans now have in their mindset the 1% versus the 99%. In other words, there is an acute understanding and consciousness about huge and inappropriate economic inequities under this US capitalist system. As a result, the opportunity for organizing on and dialoguing about economic issues is now, even in spite of and perhaps also because of the Trump election that has altogether demonstrated the control and manipulation of the US economy and its workers by such a small 1% elite.
Historically, I have also found that the prevailing racism and white supremacy in America have hindered, to a large degree, the necessary organizing work and collaboration between working folks – black, brown and white – to address and organize against these inequities and, instead, working toward a more just collective economic system. In the South, what the “white” capitalist elite have invariably done, under this essentially feudal-like system, is to create conflict between the white and black workers in order to control labor altogether. The white working class has, therefore, invariably served as the puppet of the elite and consequently against their own interests.
However, there have been episodes in the country when blacks and whites have, in fact, come together in the South and more of this history needs to be told. One of the most profound integrated groups, in my opinion, was the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU) created in 1934 in the midst of the depression. In 1984, the STFU held it’s 50th anniversary and I was blessed to attend a portion of ceremony that took place in Memphis, Tennessee along with other activities in Arkansas. Below is the 1984 New York Times article about the reunion that provides some of the important history of the STFU.In 1984, while at the STFU reunion, I was fortunate to talk with one of the founders, H.L. Mitchell (1906-1989). I also talked STFU member George Stith about the STFU organizing in the sugarcane growing areas of Louisiana and how treacherous that was. Being someone black and organizing in that area, owned and controlled by white Louisiana plantation owners, was dangerous work to be sure.
Before sharing the 1984 New York Times article about the STFU, I want to provide some narrative from a 1992 interview with George Stith, from the Great Depression Series, where he explains, briefly, the mission of the STFU, as well as the definition of a tenant farmer and a sharecropper.
Now, when you think back about the STFU, and all the battles you fought and all the dangers that you faced, what is it that makes you feel most proud? What is it that you want to think STFU meant, or want to be remembered for?
Well, I think it should be remembered, ’cause, we looked at it as a humanitarian organization. People who worked for poor people, no matter what race, creed, or color they were, and that’s what makes me feel good. See, we went down to Louisiana in the sugar cane, where it was pretty bad down there. We organized groups down in sugar cane area, and we pulled them out on strike for twenty-eight days. We won the strike, but no membership. I mean, they paid the price, I can’t go into too much details on it, but the price was set by the government. The government would have a hearing mostly in Thibodaux or somewhere, down by Bowlett Bush, and the government would have the hearing, and nobody would testify but the plantation owners.
Tell me about the process of sharecropping, how it actually works.
Well, well maybe I need to tell you the difference of a sharecropper and a tenant, well, we had both on the farm. A tenant was a man who had his own mules and his own plough tools. He worked, he give a fourth of the cotton and a third of the corn to the plantation-owner. A sharecropper was one who the plantation owner furnished the mules and the plough tools and the seed. He worked the crop, he gathered it, and he was supposed to get half of it, but most of the time he didn’t. He got what he gave him. Working hours were from, mostly from daylight to dark, which includes from twelve to thirteen hours a day. Don’t go to the lot with the man and the mules until it was sundown, that was a violation of the rules, sharecropping rules. And you must have them out of the lot by sun-up.
Also, in the New York Times article, H.L. Mitchell mentions that “Henry A. Wallace, Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture, ”favored the planters and cared nothing for the sharecroppers.’‘ However, while Wallace was trying to develop programs to assist farmers during the depression, the problem he faced was that the Senate Agriculture Committee and others committees were headed by conservative southern whites. Here’s some information about this:
Dating to the Depression, the South was so dominated by conservative Democrats that lawmakers who behaved reasonably well – and even some who did not – could hold office virtually as long as they wanted, earning seniority and privileges.
That political monopoly produced legislators such as Democratic Rep. Jamie Whitten of Mississippi. He became known as the “permanent secretary of agriculture” because he held such a grip over farm spending during a 54-year career.
Democratic Sen. Russell Long – scion of the famed Louisiana political dynasty of Huey Long – was called the “fourth branch of government” for his mastery of tax law during 16 years as Senate Finance Committee chairman.
Committee chairmen held far more power and independence than they do under today’s centralized system, and Southerners often made clear their disdain for contrary views from other parts of the country.(Washington Post)
Under these circumstances, it was next to impossible for Henry Wallace to pass legislation through the Senate that would benefit the tenant farmers and sharecroppers in the South. The large southern landowners, many of whom were in the Senate, insisted that the money from the agriculture programs come to them altogether and that they would then distribute resources to the black and white tenants and sharecroppers. (To note that this was hypocritical is an understatement as these southern elite simply kept the money themselves.)
Wallace didn’t want laws passed that would exclusively benefit the large landowners, but he had to adhere to the demands of Senate’s southerners or he could get nothing passed in Congress that would at the very least benefit small farmers in other parts of the country. Not surprisingly, because the large white southern landowners were keeping the government money for themselves rather than distributing to tenants and sharecroppers, the New Deal agriculture policies, as practiced in the South, bypassed those who were most in need. Greed prevailed, which is historically how the South has operated!
Also, the 1930s creation of the STFU is an excellent model of collaboration between blacks and whites for what we need to do today to challenge an economy that benefits the 1% and not the rest of us.
November 16, 2017
LITTLE-KNOWN TENANT FARMERS’ UNION WILL RECALL ITS BOLD PAST AT REUNION
By WILLIAM SERRIN
Published: March 14, 1984
MONTGOMERY, Ala.- On the steamy night of July 13, 1934, 18 men, 11 of them white and 7 black, met in a rickety schoolhouse on a cotton plantation near Tyronza, Ark., and formed a bold union, the Southern Tenant Farmers Union.
Among them was a young man, H. L. Mitchell, who had been a sharecropper but was then operating a dry cleaning business.
The union never was large, but it had a mighty spirit. It challenged social and economic power in the South and attempted to do what unions still often do not do: organize the poor.
On Friday, at the old Statehouse in Little Rock, Ark., near the land where union members were chased, beaten, imprisoned, and where some were killed, 75 to 100 of the people who belonged to the union will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of its founding – An Integrated Union.
Mr. Mitchell, 77, still energetic and dedicated, will be there. So will the Rev. George Stith, who was one of its most able organizers; Evelyn Smith Munro, long one of the union’s indefatigable workers, and John Handcox, who helped write some of the labor movement’s grandest anthems including ”Roll the Union On” and ”We Shall Not Be Moved.”
The union, often unmentioned in labor histories, was integrated when almost no institutions in America were integrated.
It was instrumental in exposing the evils of farm tenancy and the sharecropper system. It criticized New Deal agricultural policies like the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, which, the union said, favored large landholders. It was largely responsible for the establishment of the Federal Farm Security Administration, which, until it was abolished in 1946, fought for the rights of tenant farmers, sharecropppers and small farmers.
The rural areas of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas had long nurtured movements like the Farmers Alliance and the People’s Party.
In 1927 at the age of 21, Mr. Mitchell moved to Tyronza, Ark., from Halls, Tenn. He tried sharecropping, but the land was poor and he took over the dry cleaning store and made friends with Henry Clay East who ran the gas station next door.
In 1934 the Socialist Norman Thomas visited Tyronza to investigate the farm tenancy and sharecropper systems. At lunch at Mr. East’s house, Mr. Thomas suggested Mr. Mitchell and Mr. East form a tenant farmers’ union.
The union received help from many friends: Dr. William R. Amberson, a Memphis physiologist and a Socialist; Howard Kester, a minister and a Socialist; Gardner (Pat) Jackson, a Department of Agriculture official in the early Roosevelt Administration and then the union’s Washington representative and Dr. Will W. Alexander, who was administrator of the Farm Security Administration. But Mr. Mitchell was always the union’s driving force.
Anthony P. Dunbar, author of “Against the Grain (Southern Radicals and Prophets, 1929-1959) ” a study of radical movements in the South, calls Mr. Mitchell ”one of the people who give character and quality to the South.”
It seemed the union might have great success. By 1937 it had 31,000 members. In 1935, it staged a strike of 5,000 cotton pickers and won wage increases. It organized demonstrations to bring the nation’s attention to the eviction of tenant farmers by landords. ”We had people moving, doing things for themselves,” Mr. Mitchell says.
But a number of forces combined to prevent the union’s success and sap its strength over the next 20 years. There was the opposition of plantation bosses as well as of many in the Roosevelt Administration. There was also the breadth of the union’s goals: the replacement of the plantation system with cooperative farms owned by tenants, and a racially integrated organization of the nation’s farm workers.
The labor movement also hurt. When the tenant union applied for membership in the new Committee on Industrial Organization in 1937, John L. Lewis, president of the C.I.O., forced it to affiliate with a new union, the United Cannery Agricultural Packinghouse and Allied Workers of America.
The union withdrew from the cannery workers and the C.I.O. in 1939, but its energy was sapped by struggles with the cannery workers’ Communist leadership.
The introduction of new technologies during and after World War II also hurt the union. Land-owners replaced tenants with machines like the gasoline tractor and the mechanical cotton picker. In 1940, the nation had 2.6 million farm workers; today it has less than a million.
Mr. Mitchell and others worked hard to keep farm unionism going. During World War II the union sent unemployed members to farm jobs in the South, the North and the West.
From 1947 to 1949, the union, now called the National Farm Labor Union, conducted a strike of 1,000 workers at the DiGiorgio Farms near Bakersfield, Calif. The company broke the strike, but the strike and subsequent union actions in California helped give rise to the United Farm Workers.
In 1960, in Mr. Mitchell’s words, the union, then known as the National Agricultural Workers Union, was ”submerged” into the Amalgamated Meat Cutters Union. Mr. Mitchell went to work for the meatcutters as an agricultural specialist and helped organize sugar cane workers, fishermen, chicken farmers and dairy farmers.
A large, rawboned, white-haired man, Mr. Mitchell lives in Montgomery with his wife, Dorothy, whom he married in 1940 and who long was the union’s secretary-treasurer.
Looking back, Mr. Mitchell said John L. Lewis was a ”business unionist whose interest was in getting a huge membership that could pay union dues.” He said Henry A. Wallace, Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture, ”favored the planters and cared nothing for the sharecroppers.” He said President Roosevelt ”was a real good politician, but of the two Roosevelts, I’d take Eleanor.”
”We were never just a union,” Mr. Mitchell said. ”We were a movement. We tried to make it a union, but we didn’t do so good at that.”
Note: With the accusations now about Republican Alabama Senatorial candidate, Roy Moore, having sexually abused young girls, I, of course, am reminded the major criticizer and opponent of Moore who was none other than late civil rights attorney J.L. Chestnut.
Over the years, I was blessed to be in consistent contact with Attorney Chestnut on civil rights issues. I was definitely dialoguing with him when, in the early 2000s, Roy Moore defiantly commissioned the placement of a monument of the Ten Commandments by an Alabama Judicial Building. At the time, Roy Moore was Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and by doing this Moore was, of course, in violation of the US Constitution’s establishment clause of “separation of church and state”:
“Separation of church and state” is paraphrased from Thomas Jefferson and used by others in expressing an understanding of the intent and function of the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States which reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” (Wikipedia)
Moore obviously thought he was above the law but, thankfully, he is not! He was forced off the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to remove the monument after being ordered to do so by a federal court.
In 2005, Chestnut wrote an article below in reference to Moore creating “Alabama’s Taliban”, which is obvisouly an appropriate description. In his 2005 article, Chestnut also compares the former Alabama governor George Wallace and Roy Moore and says that Moore seems to aim no higher than the Alabama governor’s office. I would love to read what Chestnut would say in 2017 about Moore’s run for the U.S. Senate. However, Chestnut wrote the following in 2005:
Wallace founded a political party (the American Independent Party) and wanted to be president but Moore appears to aim no higher than the governors’ office and would turn Alabama into a quasi-Christian theocracy to get there.
I would also relish reading what Chestnut would say about these sexual harassment accusations against Moore and, as mentioned, Moore’s current Senate race altogether. Believe me, Chestnut would be relentless on the issue and tell the country what they need to know about the “real” Moore who, he notes, “seems to brook no competition in his making of Alabama appear the most backward state in the union.” I guess Moore’s intent as a US Senator would be to work with Trump and others in his party to continue making the United States, overall, more backward as well. With Alabama’s Roy Moore as a Senator and Alabama’s Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Chestnut would have a field day writing about not just Alabama’s Taliban but America’s Taliban.
November 10, 2017
Justice Initiative International
By J. L. Chestnut, Jr.
Two “holier than thou” preachers, one back and one white, visited my office on different days last week but on the same mission. The men are riled up over words I wrote about Chief Justice Roy Moore running for Governor on a 5000-pound statute or monument promoting the Ten Commandments. The white preacher also was not pleased with some words I spoke about Condi Rice on this show. The two evangelical visitors are, to me, Alabama’s equivalent of the intolerant Taliban in Afghanistan.
I said to both preachers that Californians are often No.1 in making fools of themselves but Moore seems to brook no competition in his making of Alabama appear the most backward state in the union. I also said Moore has a whole lot of help and mentioned an online Alabama news group that once put out a poster that read, “Increase Your Child’s IQ by up to Eight Points” and followed that with a poster calling for public execution of school children who commit violent acts.
The white preacher wanted me to know that regardless of what I thought, said and tried to make fun of, Judge Moore will be the next governor of Alabama. I said that would not surprise me in the least. In fact, that would be par-for-the-course. I also said that state government in Alabama is located on a hill in Montgomery called “Goat Hill” and that is a perfect name and Moore is the latest justification for the name. The white preacher didn’t seem to grasp that last point.
I explained that long before George “Schoolhouse Door” Wallace (and even before Jeff Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest) politicians in Alabama made public Asses of themselves on “Goat Hill”. They railed against niggers, high tariffs and Yankees and often in that order, while helping keep Alabama near last in every quality-of-life category. Believe it or not, the Alabama Legislature once passed a law making it a capital offense to put salt on a railroad track. That law was never repealed and remains the law in Alabama.
Before Moore burst on the state scene, Alabama Lt. Governor, Steve Windom, while actually presiding over a session of the state senate urinated in a water-cooler jug under the podium. He didn’t want to relinquish the presiding officer’s chair during a filibuster. The urine jug was later dubbed the “Confederate Battle Jug.” During another session of the legislature, Gov. “Fumbling Fob” James cursed on the floor of the House – while seeking support for, of all things, public school prayer. James also said, “No one has a greater appreciation for a classical education than I do,” then defiantly rejected a major tenet of a classical education -evolution – by defiantly adding, “I didn’t descend from an ape.”
James statement reminds me of an unlearned campaign promise by Lester “Ax Handle” Maddox of Georgia who said, “If elected [governor] I will disintegrate the schools.” This ignorant and racist nut invented a word-disintegrate-on the spot! There are many “Goat Hills” in Dixie. I think it goes with segregation, racism and self-righteousness.
The black preacher wanted me to know that Moore and Wallace are not comparable, politically or any other way. The preacher is only half right. Moore and Wallace are both similar and different. Each man qualified as an ambitious, self-styled states rights Alabama politician who defied federal law and led misguided populist revolts, but the similarities probably end there. Wallace founded a political party (the American Independent Party) and wanted to be president but Moore appears to aim no higher than the governors’ office and would turn Alabama into a quasi-Christian theocracy to get there.
Moore’s antics are hardly new in Alabama. Some years ago, poor white residents in a trailer camp (at Priceville) and a few homeowners all in a rural section of Madison County tried to carve a new town out of the trailer camp and rename it Brooksville. The only law would be the Ten Commandments. There would be a volunteer mayor but no other town official. Every adult citizen would have a gun or a pistol and they would protect each other. Of course that unconstitutional theocratic and religious idea never got off the ground. How could it?
There is really no distinction between a failed attempt to transform a trailer camp into a theocracy and Moore’s theocratic designs for the whole state of Alabama. Religious dogmatists have been trying for years to take over mainstream institutions and government. If you get a big belly laugh out of religious fundamentalists trying to transform an Alabama trailer camp into a theocratic religious township, please consider that such people control school boards, regularly defeat and elect politicians of all kinds, including George W. Bush who placates them with words about “being born again.” Being seen as standing up for the Ten Commandments is as politically potent in Alabama as hollering “nigger, nigger, nigger”!
The white preacher who visited with me accused me of having made up out of “thin air” that Condi Rice’s family opposed the 1960s civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham. He had no facts to refute my charge but the man just could not believe that blacks as prominent as the Rice family would have opposed a black civil rights movement. I explained that upper class, educated blacks had the most to lose from opposing the white establishment and most of them regularly denounced the black marchers and protesters. I also suggested that the preacher read the book, Race, Class and Power in the Alabama Coalfields, 1908-1921, by Professor Brian Kelly of Belfast, Ireland.
This book reaches back to the turn of the century in Birmingham when black and white coal miners tried to gain better wages and working conditions in the face of stiff employer opposition and Klan violence. In chapter three, Professor Kelly discusses in great detail the role played by members of Birmingham’s extremely conservative black middle class and the lengths these people went to distance themselves from a struggling black working class. The Rice family comes from that conservative black upper class and members hadn’t changed all that much in the 1960s or now.
I love preachers, but some of them seem to have so much trouble with me.
J.L. CHESTNUT, Jr. was a civil rights attorney in Selma, Alabama. He was the founder of Chestnut, Sanders and Sanders which became the largest black law firm in Alabama. Born in Selma and, after graduating from Howard University Law School, he began practicing law in Selma in 1958. He started as the only black lawyer in the town and has been challenging the establishment since then. He is the author of “Black in Selma” with Julia Cass (1989 Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
Note: As there is much attention about China regarding Trump’s recent visit, I thought I would send out yet again an article about the Chinese. In 2016, I had sent out the article below about the Chinese and learning about the Chinese culture while living in Asia in the 1970s. The Atlanta connection? Prior to leaving the United States in the 1960s, I was part of a group of international students in Atlanta that would meet frequently to discuss what was happening internationally – the group included Chinese, Swedes, Swiss, French, Germans, Indonesians, Australians, etc. The leader of our group was the Chinese student C.S. Kiang who was studying physics at Georgia Tech. He was renowned as having the most overdue books of any student at Georgia Tech. During the years I knew Kiang, in Atlanta, I also knew he was doing what he could to get into China to visit his family – and this was a time when it was next to impossible to get into China but he was vigilant about this. Once finishing his PhD in the United States, he ultimately went back to China to launch the first environmental program at Peking University:
Professor C.S. Kiang is Chairman of the Peking University Environment Fund and the Founding Dean of the College of Environmental Sciences at Peking University between 2002 and 2006. His vision is to set up the basic infrastructure for the development of leadership in sustainable development, exploring the world impact of what China does in the 21st century. (Wikipedia)
In the 1980s, I was also engaged in research about immigrants in America and became focused on immigrant vs American student behavior. What I learned was fascinating and somewhat relates to the culture and economics in both American and Chinese societies. American students are inclined to study alone and are generally embarrassed if they don’t know something. This is rather the individualistic mentality both culturally and economically in the individual competitive “go it alone” America. Whereas, the Chinese students tended to study as a group. Along the lines of Confucian thought, it is important to learn, be educated, and not knowing something is not a disaster as what’s important, to repeat, is for everyone to learn! I noticed also that some teachers in America were beginning to use this Chinese model of group teaching and dialogue.
November 7, 2017
Justice Initiative International
Some Reflections about the Chinese
By Heather Gray
September 13, 2016
Given the changing world dynamic regarding a higher profile of China, I wanted to share something about my experience in Asia. For me, living among the Singaporean Chinese in the 1970’s was a life-changing experience.
We often hear about the civil, religious and human rights abuses in China at the behest of the Chinese government, about the tragic Chinese occupation of Tibet coupled with the huge economic growth in China. But, as always, there is a distinction to be made between the government, the people and its culture. The same distinction applies to the United States, of course, or any other country and culture for that matter. And, importantly, a variety of Chinese communities, with direct links and traditions to be found on the Chinese mainland, exist throughout Southeast Asia.
In the 1970’s I lived in Singapore for two years. It is known as the Chinese bastion of Southeast Asia. By 1826 Singapore was a British Colony and remained so until 1959. In 1963 it joined the “Federation of Malaysia” and in 1965 it withdrew from the Federation to became an independent country. The vast majority of Singaporeans are of Chinese descent. Lee Kuan Yew was the Prime Minister at the time.
During WWII the Japanese invaded Singapore and easily defeated the British occupiers by essentially walking across the land bridge from Malaysia and altogether circumventing the British naval fortresses. While ruthless occupiers, the Japanese defeat of the British did much to undermine the arrogant white supremacy touted by the British occupiers. Nevertheless, while in Singapore in the 1970’s, we soon learned about the ongoing effects and hostility generated by WWII. In the 1970’s, we were told that the Japanese individuals who had occupied Singapore and/or their family members were not allowed into Singapore.
Singaporean Chinese speak one of five Chinese dialects. The major group is Fujianese, the others are Chaozhouese, Cantonese, Hakkaese and Hainanese. Ultimately, after its independence, the Singapore government chose to unify the Chinese language by adopting Mandarin, which is the standard and official form of Chinese on the Chinese mainland and is based on the Beijing dialect.
Arriving in Singapore
When I first arrived in Singapore in 1971 from Australia with my Australian husband and young son, I was in my 20’s.
I had been raised in Canada, the United States, and then lived in Australia a few years before going to Asia. Like many in the West, particularly among white westerners (as in those of European descent), I was approaching the world with a holier than thou attitude. I thought I knew something about what I liked in terms of art, culture and commerce. Singapore changed everything for me.Coming up close and personal with the Chinese, albeit not even on mainland China, was a sobering and humbling experience. In Singapore, I went back to square one. The United States is, after all, a cultural neophyte compared to ancient China and most of the world for that matter. I realized, in 1972, that I knew virtually nothing about anything.
Confucius and Religion
I don’t think it’s possible to begin a discussion about Chinese culture without mentioning something about Confucius. Confucius lived in what is referred to as the Axial Age or “The Great Transformation” as in Karen Armstrong’s book by that name. This period was about 500 years before Christ when there was a transformation from a belief in magic to one of reason. The Buddha also lived during this period along with Lao Tsu in China, Pythagoras in Greece, Isaiah of the Old Testament and others.
The Axial Age was an excessively violent one, which might also partially explain the arrival of spiritual leaders at the time who, such as the Buddha, stressed the need for compassion, particularly for those outside your group.
With the Confucian emphasis on individual achievement through study, including that any human, and not exclusively the elite, was capable of doing so, in some ways the axial period was an early version of the enlightenment or “Age of Reason” that took place in Europe some 1,000 years later.
Confucius stressed the importance of family, of honoring the ancestors and of individual achievement through study. You can witness an acknowledgement of this in Chinese communities everywhere. Confucius stressed an early version of the Golden Rule. He said “What one does not wish for oneself, one ought not to do to anyone else.”
Confucianism was about “right” actions or instruction on morality and good government.
By 140 BC there were civil service examinations in China based on Confucian philosophy and study, which was maintained almost exclusively until the 19th century.
Karen Armstrong writes that “Confucian philosophy endorsed the meritocratic system of the Han (Empire), which…selected its civil servants by means of a public examination. The Confucians had always believed that a man of virtue and learning should take a high position in government, regardless of his birth. They supported the family, the basic unit of society, and above all they were scholars as well as thinkers, intimately familiar with the cultural history that was essential to Chinese national identity.”
While Confucius thought that legitimate leaders or emperors should rule society, he did set limits. Basically, rulers should not seek power for their own ego but to benefit others. He also taught that everyone, the rich and poor, could be fully developed human beings or “junzi.” But, according to Armstrong, Confucius said this had to be sculpted through rituals and “actions” rather than ceremonies to the gods. The goal was to learn how to treat others with empathy or compassion. To become fully developed one had to give up what Confucius described as the “ego principal” which he said was the “source of pettiness and cruelty”.
Some refer to Confucianism as a religion, but it is not about worshiping gods, it did not have clergy. This is where, in contrast, the religions of Buddhism and Daoism began to play a role in Chinese life as they dealt with issues of suffering and death. While the Chinese, under Mao Tse-tung in the mid 1900’s, attempted and today continue to suppress religion within the Chinese mainland, most Chinese throughout the diaspora are Buddhists but many are also Confucianists in their way of life. Armstrong makes the point that being both is no conflict. A Chinese, she says, can be Confucianist during the day and a Buddhist or Daoist at night.
Ultimately it appears that Confucian thought has been a profound constant in Chinese cultures even though its emphasis has fluctuated historically. The Communist Party, in a continuation of other previous criticisms of Confucianism in China, tried to end the Confucian traditions, for one, because of its emphasis on the past. Confucianism was also sometimes blamed for the lack of modernism in China. But it never disappeared. Confucian thought is seemingly ingrained in the Chinese culture. Confucius was even referred to at the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Chinese Science, Language, Arts and Literature
No brief summary could possibly capture the far-reaching and exhaustive accomplishments of the Chinese language, arts and literature, which are among the earliest and greatest in the world, not to mention the Chinese firsts in science, health and psychology. Thus, the 5,000-year-old history of Chinese arts, science and literature is a list far too long to expound upon here. The exquisite jade and ancient Chinese sculptures will take your breath away!
As Robert Temple notes in his book The Genius of China, paper and porcelain technologies began centuries ago to be exported from China and suffice it to say that “china” is synonymous with porcelain as it was in China where the process began. Paper and porcelain are fairly well known to have been Chinese inventions, but the Chinese also invented bottled natural gas, iron casting, fishing reels, whisky, the decimal system, seismographs, hormone treatments and lavatory paper and much more. Temple notes that centuries ago the Chinese were engaged in civil engineering feats not even attempted in Europe until centuries later in the Industrial Revolution>
As Pulitzer Prize winning scientist Jared Diamond notes in an editorial to the New York Times in 1999:
“Just imagine an apertologist in the year 1000 trying to predict who would end up opening a capsule in 2000. That would have been a no-brainer: the Chinese, of course! China then was the world’s largest, most powerful, most technologically advanced empire. It had the world’s biggest and best ships, equipped with Chinese inventions like magnetic compasses, sternpost rudders and watertight bulkheads. The long list of other Chinese firsts included canal lock gates, cast iron, deep drilling, gunpowder, bamboo guns, kites, paper, porcelain, printing and wheelbarrows. At the dawn of this millennium, China seemed poised to colonize and conquer the world…”
It is said, in fact, that China is responsible for more than half of the world’s “basic inventions.”
In 2002 British historian Gavin Menzies launched upon the world stage the book entitled 1421: The Year the Chinese Discovered America. Menzies describes how 71 years before Columbus ventured toward the Americas, the Chinese, led by the great Chinese admiral Zheng He of the Ming Dynasty, had already traveled and mapped the area. In fact, it is speculated that Columbus used maps developed by Zheng’s armada on his own adventure. Zheng’s, 100 ships that were 400 feet long and 150 feet wide, navigated around Africa, the Americas and, of course, Asia between 1421 and 1423. It is important to note that Columbus’ largest ship, the Santa Maria was but 90 feet by 30 feet.
Menzies reports that once the admirals returned to China after their remarkable travels the Chinese emperor decided to isolate China from the rest of the world. There had been significant fires in China while the admirals explored the world. Because of this, Menzies states that the emperor thought the gods were punishing China for this venture so he ended further explorations. At a time when Europe was beginning to solidify it’s occupation of the Americas and parts of southeast Asia, China was isolating itself. Nevertheless, the influence of China persisted throughout Asia and southeast Asia.
Importance of China to Chinese in the Diaspora
The influence of China throughout Southeast Asia is profound. For centuries, the Chinese have settled and traded in the region. Chinese communities in the diaspora also maintained contact with the mainland. Developed over time, one way they stayed connected was through Chinese Voluntary Associations (CVA’s), which were prominent in Singapore.
CVA’s are Chinese associations with members of specific Chinese dialects or kin, clans, temples or secret societies. They perform numerous functions such as religious ceremonies or honoring ancestors from their area of China. The CVA’s offer that sense of belonging that is important in any immigrant group.
The CVA’s generally have association with their home village or district in China. They also assist immigrants from their area to adapt to their new country, such as help with food, housing, education of children, and finding jobs. Also, most Chinese communities in the diaspora were always sending money or some semblance of support back to family members or their community in China. This has accelerated recently as China has now opened up considerably.
In other words, mainland China is now and was always in the picture. I would venture to say that it remains the center of the universe for the Chinese diaspora throughout the world. It’s thought that the CVA’s also offered a protection from and political clout in the face of British colonialism in Singapore and elsewhere.
Attitudes about the Chinese in Southeast Asia
There has been a long-standing resentment of the Chinese throughout Southeast Asia, which has included competition between various Asian ethnic groups. It is likely that the huge unified and accomplished China has indeed been a concern to the smaller countries in Southeast Asia. But this has also made life difficult for some of the Chinese immigrants throughout the diaspora and is also likely one reason why Singapore is rather a “homeland” or refuge for the Chinese in the region.
In the 1960’s in Malaysia there were riots against the Chinese. Hundreds were killed. People told me the “rivers ran red.” I met Singaporeans who lived in Malaysia at the time who told me they were running and hiding, wherever there was a refuge, from the hordes of Malays. My husband, who later lived in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpar, had a Chinese secretary who, at the time of the riots, came home to find her husband’s head in her refrigerator. Questions of why and how these riots arose are still being explored. It’s true that the Chinese in Malaysia tended to be the heads of banks, universities and government posts, which, some have said, was resented by indigenous Malays. But there could have been other issues at play in Malaysia at the time.
For one, the U.S. and British governments were concerned about the influence of communist China on the Chinese diaspora and it is now well documented that the secret service agencies of both countries (the U.S. CIA and the British MIA) began to intensify their interference in Southeast Asia during the Cold War. This would be both for political reasons and to assure access to natural resources in the region. (See my article on this in a 2007 Counterpunch posting entitled “A New Explanation for an Incident that Continues to Divide Malaysian Ethnic Groups: The 1969 Riots Against the Chinese in Malaysia“).
Other expressions and actions of resentment of the Chinese in the region are that, after the Vietnam War, there were thousands of “boat” people who were forced out of Vietnam. Many have said that the Vietnamese felt that this was their opportunity to rid the country of Vietnamese of Chinese descent.
An Indonesian friend of mine who was Chinese told me her father, a physician, changed his family name so it would not sound so Chinese. This was a way of protecting his family.
In the Philippines, those who control the vast portions of land and power today and in the past are of Spanish or Chinese descent, and many indigenous Filipinos resent this.
There is also a difference between the Straits Chinese (Malaysia/Singapore) and those from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Invariably, China is looked upon as the motherland, but the cultural idioms have evolved very differently, and even the way they look at one another is varied.
The elephant in the room is always the ruthless Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet in the 1950’s.
China is obviously the center of the universe for the Chinese as the Greek and Roman traditions tend to be thought of as the grand beginnings of European culture by those from the West.
When I attended the NGO Forum on Women in 1995 in Beijing it was with a delegation of 30 women who were African American, Latino American, Native American and some, like me, who were European American. Most of the women had never left the United States until then. Many expressed concern about the poverty they witnessed in the rural areas around Beijing.
The Chinese do their best to offer the world the face they want shown and I knew this yet the women with me could see beyond all of that and witness the face of poverty. Being witness to the poverty was important, but for me it was hard to see beyond the Chinese culture, which I knew was not impoverished, but rather affirming on the whole. Further, whether cultural traditions can inhibit challenges to exploitive government economic policies is another matter and not explored in this article.
In South Africa during the apartheid years the huge majority of South Africans who are Black, of course, maintained their rich and potent culture in the face of the oppressive apartheid laws. I think the same principle applies among the Chinese. The culture was and has been vibrant and dynamic in spite of the government.
I guess I had witnessed too often the pride of the Chinese regardless of where they lived and who they were. I knew that regardless of the government in place, the culture was grounded in ritual and daily routines that are practiced everywhere in Chinese communities. These are rituals that seem to build individual and collective confidence and that draw upon the rich Chinese history. This is Confucianism at its core. The culture and its history are formidable to be sure.
I sometimes felt like a sponge trying to observe, absorb and learn about the Chinese culture and traditions. I think what most impressed me even more than the profound accomplishments of the Chinese, was the observation of the ancient and vibrant traditions that were present in every day life. As history and ancestry were realities among the Chinese and impossible to escape, the connection with the past, then, resonated in the present as it has done in Chinese communities for centuries. It was almost tangible.
The experience with the Chinese led me to a whole new view of the world. My own cultural traditions and ancestry in the west were but miniscule, I realized, in the ocean of human and world achievements. It taught me to look beyond the insular views of my own world and to appreciate, learn from and honor the history, culture and accomplishments of the Chinese, certainly, but more generally of the “other,” wherever that “other” might be.
Heather Gray produces “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She can be reached at email@example.com.
As mentioned in my previous article, “Africa in the Southern United States: Part I“, in order to understand the history of America and the Southern U.S. we need to learn about the influence of Africa in virtually everything we do in the American culture – be it our music, our food, our religion, etc. Invariably, this requires a focus on South Carolina that has the most unique African community in the United States. In my previous article I noted:
“… if you are going to learn about the profound influence of Africa in America you have no choice but to ultimately focus on South Carolina. In my years of activism in the South, the southeastern part of South Carolina – namely the Charleston area and the South Carolina Sea Islands – has always played a significant role. In fact, the most distinctive and unique African culture anywhere in the United States is of the Gullah community in the Sea Islands that has, for at least 250 years (since the mid 1700s), lived in this area. They are from Sierra Leone in West Africa and were brought to the islands as slaves because they were highly skilled rice growers and growing rice was most definitely not a European skillset.” (Gray)
As a follow-up to “Part I”, I will focus more in-depth on the Gullah rice culture of South Carolina. We are fortunate to have the scholarship of Judith Carney and her all-encompassing book about this, entitled “Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas.” And below is the New York Times Book Review by Drew Gilpin Faust who offers an excellent analysis of Judith Carney’s book. As Faust notes, for one:
Carney challenges conventional histories, which describe Europeans adapting an Asian crop to American uses. Arguing persuasively that highly sophisticated forms of rice culture from West Africa preceded the arrival of any knowledge from Asia, she carefully traces the variety of production systems used by Africans in different environments and landscapes, including the elaborate construction of canals and dikes in coastal swamps. The existence of these complex adaptations was ignored by European observers all too ready to dismiss the possibility of technological achievement among African peoples. The ”denial of African accomplishment in rice systems,” Carney writes, ”provides a stunning example of how power relations mediate the production of history.” (NYTimes)
A few years after writing this 2001 New York Times review, Drew Gilpin Faust, who is also a scholar of Southern history, the Civil War, etc., became the president of Harvard, and, therefore, the first ‘female’ president of Harvard, as well as the first president brought up in the South, which was in the state of Virginia.
November 6, 2017
Justice Initiative International
Seeds of History
The expertise of African slaves in growing rice
played a crucial role in the American South.
Related Link: First Chapter: ‘Black Rice’
By DREW GILPIN FAUST
In low-country South Carolina, American slavery assumed a distinctive form, one that has captured the attention of generations of historians. Between the end of the 17th century and the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of people of African descent toiled in swamps, ditches and fields cultivating rice, a crop that by the time of the American Revolution had created a planter aristocracy wealthier than any other group in the British colonies. The high concentrations of slaves in rice-growing areas produced as well a black culture that remained closer to its African roots than that of any other North American slave society. Yet even in South Carolina, where they were a majority of the population, blacks have remained underrepresented in the historical record, partly because they were unable to leave the rich written legacy that immortalized their owners, partly because historians have failed to look closely enough at the evidence that has survived.
In ”Black Rice,” Judith A. Carney, a professor of geography at the University of California, Los Angeles, finds new ”ways to give voice to the historical silences of slavery.” Exploring crops, landscapes and agricultural practices in Africa and America, she demonstrates the critical role Africans played in the creation of the system of rice production that provided the foundation of Carolina’s wealth.
Carney challenges conventional histories, which describe Europeans adapting an Asian crop to American uses. Arguing persuasively that highly sophisticated forms of rice culture from West Africa preceded the arrival of any knowledge from Asia, she carefully traces the variety of production systems used by Africans in different environments and landscapes, including the elaborate construction of canals and dikes in coastal swamps. The existence of these complex adaptations was ignored by European observers all too ready to dismiss the possibility of technological achievement among African peoples. The ”denial of African accomplishment in rice systems,” Carney writes, ”provides a stunning example of how power relations mediate the production of history.”
Not until well into the 20th century did changing assumptions about race prompt revisions to this story. Since the publication of Peter Wood’s pathbreaking ”Black Majority” in 1974, historians have recognized a link between African rice cultivation and Carolina’s economic success. But Carney’s richly detailed analysis gives this connection real specificity.
In order to understand the role of Africans in rice history, Carney argues, it is necessary to think of rice as a ”knowledge system” — not just a plant or a seed but an entire complex of techniques, technology and processing skills. Africans imported as slaves into Carolina possessed this knowledge, and used their understanding to guide phases of evolution in American rice production.
Thus, after a vast increase in importations of slaves between 1720 and 1740 provided the necessary labor, Carolina rice cultivation, which had begun with upland or rain-fed culture, shifted to higher-yielding inland swamps. The newly arrived Africans created embankments, sluices and canals almost identical to patterns of West African mangrove rice production. With another influx of slaves after 1750, cultivation moved to still more productive tidal flood plains, which required such a large-scale deployment of floodgates, canals and ditches that rice fields became, in one planter’s words, a ”huge hydraulic machine.” This transition, Carney writes, depended on ”the large number of slaves imported directly from the rice area of West Africa who possessed knowledge of the crop’s cultivation.”
Carolina planters even knew which African ethnic groups were expert in rice growing and explicitly favored them in their purchases of new slaves. A newspaper in Charleston, for example, advertised the sale of 250 slaves ”from the Windward and Rice Coast, valued for their knowledge of rice culture.”
The knowledge system Carney describes called for different roles and distinctive kinds of expertise for men and women, and these aspects of rice culture were also transported to the New World. Women played a critical part in seed selection, sowing, hoeing and processing of rice. The importance of these skills enabled slave traders to command higher prices for women in Carolina rice-growing areas than in other American slave markets.
The Carolina rice kingdom, the foundation of power in a state that would eventually lead the South out of the nation, came into being because African slaves had mastered — and shared — the techniques necessary for growing rice seeds in standing water. ”Why,” Carney asks, ”would West African slaves transfer to planters a sophisticated agricultural system . . . that would in turn impose upon them unrelenting toil throughout the year?” The knowledge of rice cultivation, she concludes, provided slaves arriving in South Carolina with a crucial negotiating tool, enabling them to bargain for labor arrangements that guaranteed them greater autonomy than in any other Southern agricultural environment.
In cotton-growing areas a system of gang labor prevailed that required unremitting work from dawn till dusk. But on South Carolina rice plantations task labor was the rule. Once their tasks were accomplished, slaves could turn to their own gardens, or manage their own time in other ways. Task labor introduced a degree of freedom into slavery’s oppression.
But Carney is careful not to be too celebratory about the leverage Africans achieved as a result of their knowledge and skill. As rice became a commodity in high international demand, even the structures of the task system could not protect Carolina slaves from almost ceaseless labor.
This detailed study of historical botany, technological adaptation and agricultural diffusion adds depth to our understanding of slavery and makes a compelling case for ”the agency of slaves” in the creation of the South’s economy and culture. But Carney also illuminates another of the almost limitless ironies of Southern history. The knowledge and creativity of Africans created an agricultural system in South Carolina that was based firmly on their own enslavement and exploitation.
Drew Gilpin Faust’s most recent book is ”Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War.”
Judith Carney, professor of geography at UCLA and recipient of three distinguished teaching awards, is the author of two award-winning books: Black Rice: The African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas and In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World. Her research centers on African ecology and development, food security, gender and agrarian change, and African contributions to New World environmental history. The Association of American Geographers has honored her with the Netting Award in recognition of distinguished research that bridges geography and anthropology, the Carl Sauer Distinguished Scholarship Award for significant contributions to Latin American geography, and the Distinguished Scholarship Honors. Recent publications study the human usage of mangrove ecosystems in West Africa and the diaspora, the historical significance of recent genetic sequencing of African rice, and African foodways in the Americas.
Drew Gilpin Faust is the 28th president of Harvard University and the Lincoln Professor of History in Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
As president of Harvard, Faust has expanded financial aid to improve access to Harvard College for students of all economic backgrounds and advocated for increased federal funding for scientific research. She has broadened the University’s international reach, raised the profile of the arts on campus, embraced sustainability, launched edX, the online learning partnership with MIT, and promoted collaboration across academic disciplines and administrative units as she guided the University through a period of significant financial challenges.
A historian of the Civil War and the American South, Faust was the founding dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, guiding its transformation from a college into a wide-ranging institute for scholarly and creative enterprise, distinctive for its multidisciplinary focus and the exploration of new knowledge at the crossroads of traditional fields.
November 1, 2017
Justice Initiative International
In the 1950s, when I was very young, my father moved our western Canadian “white” family to Atlanta, Georgia and, as I’ve written in my article “Growing up in Jim Crow Atlanta“, this was when my life-long journey began. It was my first exposure to people other than those of European descent. It was, therefore, my introduction to a culture largely influenced by Africa, which to me describes the southern part of the United States. This includes, to name but a few examples, the cultural musical expressions (jazz, blues, etc.); the food (okra, gumbo, watermelon, etc.); acknowledgement of “family” defined as beyond nuclear family relationships – in other words, more of a community embracement; respectfulness of elders; profound and passionate religious expressions and commitment, and: “As James Baldwin correctly observed, blacks transformed Christianity in America, unleashing it from its more “God-centered” moorings and turning it toward the ideal of Jesus, the Savior.” (National Geographic)
My life-long journey in the South was to consistently acquire knowledge of the culture, but also to address what I soon learned was the malicious and sinister prevalence of the European-American practice of white supremacy, largely thanks to the on-going legacy of the institution of slavery. This also included learning about the isolation of the white working class and manipulation of them by the white elite. Europeans came to America with the feudal elite mindset that, unfortunately, has been maintained.
Nevertheless, there is and always has been a merging of both the African and European cultures, not the least of which being in music. For example, the Appalachian whites developed “Bluegrass” music largely from their Irish, Scottish and English traditional music that “was also later influenced by the music of African Americans through incorporation of jazz elements” (Wikipedia) and the use of the banjo instrument which is from West Africa:
The modern banjo derives from instruments that had been used in the Caribbean since the 17th century by enslaved people taken from West Africa. Written references to the banjo in North America appear in the 18th century, and the instrument became increasingly available commercially from around the second quarter of the 19th century….
In the Antebellum South, many black slaves played the banjo and taught their masters how to play. For example, in his memoir titled With Sabre and Scalpel: The Autobiography of a Soldier and Surgeon, Confederate veteran and surgeon John Allan Wyeth recalls learning it from a slave as a child on his family plantation. (Wikipedia)
But if you are going to learn about the profound influence of Africa in America you have no choice but to ultimately focus on South Carolina. In my years of activism in the South, the southeastern part of South Carolina – namely the Charleston area and the South Carolina Sea Islands – has always played a significant role. In fact, the most distinctive and unique African culture anywhere in the United States is of the Gullah community in the Sea Islands that has, for at least 250 years (since the mid 1700s), lived in this area. They are from Sierra Leone in West Africa and were brought to the islands as slaves because they were highly skilled rice growers and growing rice was most definitely not a European skillset.
Rice has been cultivated in West Africa for at least 3,000 years. Strabo noted that rice was cultivated in the Fezzan (modern-day Libya) by the Garamantes. Although this is well outside the zone of cultivation today, African rice was probably common in the Sahara in wetter periods (Chevalier, 1932:86). African rice (Oryza glaberrima ) is a distinct species from Asian rice (Oryza sativa) and is not interfertile with it. The first reference to rice in West Africa is in the writings of Leo Africanus (Africanus, 1632), who travelled through the region in the 1560s and noted the practice of sowing rice ‘on the waters’ in the area of modern-day Sokoto in northwestern Nigeria, a technique still used today. (ODI)
The slave owners reaped the financial benefits of the highly skilled West African rice growers, but the West African community remained isolated on the Sea Islands and away from the slave owner’s so that, thankfully and uniquely, they retained their profound culture. In addition to their agricultural knowledge and skills, the Gullah brought with them their crafts, language and religious expressions that have been maintained to this day and that altogether powerfully influenced the southern culture:
Southern cuisine is the result of a splendid cultural convergence, deriving from the intersection of three foodways: British, Native American, and West African. The West African influence was particularly strong in the cuisine of the Lowcountry of South Carolina, where, long before the rise of cotton farming, a rice economy dependent upon enslaved labor ensured that West Africans were present in large numbers from the early days of the colony.
But what if, for some reason, West Africans had not been brought forcibly to the Lowcountry, and their cultural influence had not been felt in the region? To be sure, the entire history of the colony would have taken a dramatically different course. Lacking its rice cash crop, Charleston almost certainly would not have become one of colonial America’s wealthiest cities. And, the food its residents ate would have been very, very different.
The ingredients wouldn’t be the same, for starters, since so many of the grains and vegetables that define Lowcountry cooking would be missing from the kitchen. Cowpeas and black-eyed peas, okra, greens, watermelon, yams – these were all staples of the West African diet, as were sorghum and sesame (or benne), too.
Carolinians would have missed out on many African cooking techniques, too: one-pot cooking, stews, gumbos, thickening with okra or nuts. West African cooks prepared greens by laying meat on top, and without that influence the Southern tradition of using smoked meats as seasoning may never have begun. (Charleston City Paper)
Below is an article by scholar Joseph Opala about the Gullah. This will be followed by additional articles and a video about the Gullah and their African roots.
The Gullah: Rice, Slavery, and the Sierra Leone-American Connection
The Gullah are a distinctive group of Black Americans from South Carolina and Georgia in the southeastern United States. They live in small farming and fishing communities along the Atlantic coastal plain and on the chain of Sea Islands which runs parallel to the coast. Because of their geographical isolation and strong community life, the Gullah have been able to preserve more of their African cultural heritage than any other group of Black Americans. They speak a creole language similar to Sierra Leone Krio, use African names, tell African folktales, make African-style handicrafts such as baskets and carved walking sticks, and enjoy a rich cuisine based primarily on rice.
Indeed, rice is what forms the special link between the Gullah and the people of Sierra Leone. During the 1700s the American colonists in South Carolina and Georgia discovered that rice would grow well in the moist, semitropical country bordering their coastline. But the American colonists had no experience with the cultivation of rice, and they needed African slaves who knew how to plant, harvest, and process this difficult crop. The white plantation owners purchased slaves from various parts of Africa, but they greatly preferred slaves from what they called the “Rice Coast” or “Windward Coast”-the traditional rice-growing region of West Africa, stretching from Senegal down to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The plantation owners were willing to pay higher prices for slaves from this area, and Africans from the Rice Coast were almost certainly the largest group of slaves imported into South Carolina and Georgia during the 18th century.
The Gullah people are directly descended from the slaves who labored on the rice plantations, and their language reflects significant influences from Sierra Leone and the surrounding area. The Gullahs’ English-based creole language is strikingly similar to Sierra Leone Krio and contains such identical expressions as bigyai (greedy), pantap (on top of), ohltu (both), tif (steal), yeys (ear), and swit (delicious). But, in addition to words derived from English, the Gullah creole also contains several thousand words and personal names derived from African languages-and a large proportion of these (about 25%) are from languages spoken in Sierra Leone. The Gullah use such masculine names as Sorie, Tamba, Sanie, Vandi, and Ndapi, and such feminine names as Kadiatu, Fatimata, Hawa, and Isata-all common in Sierra Leone. As late as the 1940s, a Black American linguist found Gullahs in rural South Carolina and Georgia who could recite songs and fragments of stories in Mende and Vai, and who could do simple counting in the Guinea/Sierra Leone dialect of Fula. In fact, all of the African texts that Gullah people have preserved are in languages spoken within Sierra Leone and along its borders.
The connection between the Gullah and the people of Sierra Leone is a very special one. Sierra Leone has always had a small population, and Sierra Leonean slaves were always greatly outnumbered on the plantations by slaves from more populous parts of Africa-except in South Carolina and Georgia. The rice plantation zone of coastal South Carolina and Georgia was the only place in the Americas where Sierra Leonean slaves came together in large enough numbers and over a long enough period of time to leave a significant linguistic and cultural impact. While Nigerians may point to Brazil, Cuba, and Haiti as places where Nigerian culture is still evident, Sierra Leoneans can look to the Gullah of South Carolina and Georgia as a kindred people sharing many common elements of speech, custom, culture, and cuisine.
JOSEPH OPALA is an American anthropologist who lectures at Fourah Bay College (University of Sierra Leone). His study of the Sierra Leone-Gullah connection began in 1977, when he conducted an archaeological and historical survey of Bunce Island under a grant from the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1980, he did research in Oklahoma among the Seminole Freedmen and acted as an historical consultant for their community leaders. Since 1985, Mr. Opala has been actively engaged in spreading information on the Gullah in Sierra Leone speaking on SLBS, BBC, VOA, etc. and writing for the African press. He is a founder and co- chairman of the Gullah Research Committee at Fourah Bay College, an interdisciplinary group committed to a thorough exploration of this important topic.
Note: This is about the Canadian reaction to the 1996 U.S. Helms-Burton Act that strengthened the embargo against Cuba. In 1996, two Canadian legislators created what some considered a parody and/or “look-alike” of Helms-Burton. It was the Godfrey-Milliken Bill that was, instead, against the property in the U.S. owned by those who fled to Canada during the Revolutionary War. Yes, a similar scenario of Cubans and American businesses that fled to the U.S. during the Cuban Revolution in the 1960s. But first, some brief details about the Helms-Burton Act:
The Helms-Burton Act set up stringent punishments on any business or person that profited from property of American businesses and people that had been seized in the Cuban Revolution. The bill included a policy of punishing foreign nations and companies who had profited from this seized property (which in practice means trading with Cuba at all, since everything in Cuba is in some way connected to such property). This included a number of Canadian companies. (Wikipedia)
Below is also more detailed information about the Canadian Godfrey-Milliken Bill:
The Godfrey-Milliken Bill, officially Bill C-339: The American Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Loyalty) Act was a Private Member’s Bill introduced in the Canadian parliament by Liberal MPs Peter Milliken and John Godfrey. The bill has been viewed as a parody of the American Helms-Burton Act….
The 1996 bill responded by calling for descendants of United Empire Loyalists who fled the American Revolution to be able to reclaim land and property that was confiscated by the American government. The bill would have also allowed the Canadian government to exclude corporate officers, or controlling shareholders of companies that possess property formerly owned by Loyalists, as well as the spouse and minor child of such persons from entering Canada. In total some three million Canadians are descendants of United Empire Loyalists, including Milliken and Godfrey. The current value of the land and property seized during the American Revolution is many billions of dollars.
The bill received widespread attention in Canada, and also some publicity south of the border including a feature on 60 Minutes.
The Godfrey-Milliken Bill did not become law; however, a more serious piece of legislation sponsored by Milliken called “An Act to amend the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act” did pass. Bill C-54 contained no reference to Loyalist property claims, but it did serve to neutralize the Helms-Burton Act within Canada. (Wikipedia)
While the Godfrey-Milliken Bill did not become law in Canada, still it generated interest on the part of many Canadians whose land was seized during the Revolutionary War. As Godfrey noted in the article below:
“There are now three million people in Canada (descended from people who had land seized) and the value of those properties is in the billions of dollars…
One woman wrote Godfrey to say that her ancestors were thrown off a chunk of land that is now part of downtown Washington.
“Can you imagine what this might mean?” the parliamentarian mused. “Perhaps the White House itself is trafficking in confiscated property.”
Below is a 1996 Inter Press Service article about this thought provoking and interesting Canadian bill.
CANADA-U.S.: Helms-Burton Look-Alike Attracts Interest
OTTAWA, Sep 18 1996 (IPS) – When two Canadian parliamentarians introduced legislation demanding compensation from the United States for land seized during its war of independence, the world laughed at what seemed to be a cleverly executed joke, designed to mock Washington’s moves against Cuba.
But some Canadians are apparently taking the matter seriously.
John Godfrey, who is sponsoring the bill along with fellow Liberal parliamentarian Peter Milliken, says some 50 people have expressed interest in pursuing compensation claims against the United States for land seized in the 18th century during the Revolutionary War.
“I expect there will be more people interested,” Godfrey told IPS. “There are now three million people in Canada (descended from people who had land seized) and the value of those properties is in the billions of dollars.
“We’re talking about land which is now part of Boston, Manhattan, Philadelphia – although from what I’ve seen of Philadelphia, I’m not sure that any Canadian would want to get that back.”
One woman wrote Godfrey to say that her ancestors were thrown off a chunk of land that is now part of downtown Washington.
“Can you imagine what this might mean?” the parliamentarian mused. “Perhaps the White House itself is trafficking in confiscated property.”
The intent of the Godfrey-Milliken bill is to closely mimic the logic and the language of Helms-Burton – the ‘Cuban Democracy and Solidarity Act’ that is designed to discourage investment in Cuba.
The thinking behind the legislation – whose authors are both descendants of U.S. residents who remained loyal to England during the war for independence – is that if the United States can enact measures to retrieve land that was taken at a time of political upheaval, then the same process can be used against the United States.
The U.S. law, initiated by Senate committee Chairman Jesse Helms, and Representative Dan Burton of Indiana, allows Cuban- Americans to use U.S. courts to sue foreign firms whose business in Cuba involves property seized by the Fidel Castro government during the Cuban revolution. It would also allow officers or family members of foreign companies doing business with such property to be barred entry into the United States.
Godfrey-Milliken, formally known as the ‘American Democracy and Solidarity (Loyalty) Act’ would give the same powers to Canada and to the descendants of so-called ‘Empire Loyalists’ who were stripped of their property after refusing to renounce their allegiance to England.
According to Godfrey, the Canadian bill, which will likely face a Parliamentary vote this fall, has been successful in raising questions about the broader implications of U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba.
“There’s been some huffing and puffing from the more humourless members of the U.S. Congress,” said Godfrey. “But essentially it’s got far more play as a form of protest than the formal protests from the minister of foreign affairs.”
Indeed, the Canadian government formally retaliated against Helms-Burton, with the Sep. 16 introduction of amendments to the Foreign Extraterritorial Measures Act. New portions of the act would block U.S. residents’ efforts to collect compensation from Canadians if they won their cases in U.S. courts.
One of the new requirements calls on Canada’s Attorney General to issue ‘blocking’ orders, declaring that judgement handed down under any “objectionable” foreign law such as Helms-Burton will not be enforced or recognised in Canada.
However, previous legislative measures designed to offset U.S. anti-Cuba moves have had little effect. A bill passed by Parliament in 1984, for instance, made it illegal for Canadian firms (even those owned by U.S. parent companies) to respond to U.S. pressure by curtailing normal trade with Cuba. But since it is close to impossible to determine that a company disengaging from Cuba had not made that decision on purely business grounds, there has never been a prosecution under the act.
Although Godfrey-Milliken has received widespread applause in Canada, not everyone in this country approves.
Conservative business columnist Terence Corcoran, who writes for the Globe and Mail newspaper, says that Empire Loyalists were already handsomely compensated when Canadian land was given to them by England. He adds that the Treaty of Paris of 1783 does not instruct the United States to compensate Loyalists. It only asks the United States to recommend that action to individual states.
Godfrey disagrees. He says that while the U.S. central government had no constitutional power in 1783 to order states to pay compensation, its members did acknowledge this as a moral obligation six years after the war.
Land provided by the English is also irrelevant, Godfrey says.
“The British decided they would give these penniless refugees some land as a way of tiding them over,” Godfrey recounts. “The fact that the British did the decent thing for some refugees does not get the U.S. off the hook. That is like saying that if the United States gave welfare cheques to Cuban refugees, that covers any possible compensation from anything else.”
When asked if the arguments he makes in favour of compensating Empire Loyalists may actually strengthen the logic of Helms- Burton, Godfrey brings the issue back – with characteristic humour – to one of consistency.
“I would be delighted if Helms-Burton provided the ethic that allowed Godfrey-Milliken to go through.” He bursts into laughter: “I’m pleased to sacrifice the Cubans on this one. If this is the new moral standard in international commerce, then I’m all for it, because I’m going to be a very rich man.”
Meanwhile, some Canadians are finding less to laugh about. Seven executives and board members of Sherritt International Corp. of Toronto (including the chairman and the president) have already been banned from entering the United States under Helms-Burton. Another firm to have its officials denied U.S. entry is the Mexican Grupos Domos.
One Canadian company deeply involved in Cuba is Delta Hotels and Resorts, which manages and operates six hotels owned by the Cuban government but using the Delta corporate logo. Delta spokesperson Marilott Bloemen told IPS that since “none of the properties we operate were expropriated or confiscated as far as we know,” the company does not expect to be targeted under Helms-Burton.
Helms-Burton may, however, be having a wider impact. The Globe and Mail has reported that Canadian jazz musician Jane Bunnett, who was set to tour North America with the Cuban jazz artists she records with, had most of her U.S. concert dates cancelled just after Helms-Burton took effect this year.
While such threats continue, John Godfrey vows he will not rest.
“My current plan,” he told IPS, “is to contact the one-half of American lawyers who didn’t work on the O.J. Simpson trial and see if they will work on contingency for us. Three million people might be eligible for compensation. That’s a lot of work.”
By Dr. William Small
October 28, 2017
Justice Initiative International
The presence of Sport in American society has always lived under the long shadow of racism. Black men while being held in captivity were compelled to fight each other for the profit and glory of their “owners” and the plantations on which they lived. Black jockeys were an integral part of the sport of horse racing until they were forced from the ranks of stardom by racist owners, unfair employment practices and often jockeys with inferior riding skills. Black athletes were participants in professional baseball and football before ”jim crow” and segregation turned those sports into segregated money-makers.
In spite of this sordid and distorted historical record, the world of Sport still manages to project itself as an institution that is above politics where homogeneity and ethics prevail. A place where the playing field is level and the most talented are predestined to be the winners. Sport projects the impression that the athletes, on game day, are colorless. It is all about the team and the only colors that matter are the team colors and the red white and blue that inspires the singing of the national anthem at the beginning of the contest. In the Olympic contest we proudly recite the medal totals and project them with attractive charts and graphs. However, it is always the countries that have the most money who score best in the overall medal count.
It is not just Black jockeys and pre modern era athletes who could tell stories of the hardship and discrimination encountered as they endeavored to find a respectable place under the “Sport Big Top”. The storied careers of Jack Johnson, Jessie Owens, Jackie Robinson, Satchel Page, Curt Flood, Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Emlen Tunnell, Buddy Young, John Carlos, Tommy Smith Muhammad Ali and others graphically depict the true story. That story says that at any given time, Sport is the vehicle that either projects the best or hides the worst characteristics of the society that embraces it. There is very little purity in its passion or volatility. There is however the enduring potential for Sport to supply a “well spring” of irrationality and emotion that mirrors the racial schizophrenia of society.
One of the more irrational aspects of the Sport, race, and politics “confusion” is becoming more prevalent in this season in which we currently find ourselves. For some years, the political voice of the Black athlete, like the proverbial Genie, had been put back into the bottle. Big salaries, hopes of professional careers and lucrative endorsements served as a pretty good “stopper” to insure that not much came out of that bottle. Hopefully things are beginning to change. Recently we have seen college athletes, professional basketball players, both male and female, tennis celebrities and an increasing number of entertainers adopting political positions and taking stands on important social justice principles. Generally speaking, these voices are seemingly speaking louder than the voice of our traditional civil rights organizations.
Most recently, Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem has rekindled the issue “of the voice of the athelete”. Interestingly, much of the negative reaction to his decision has been linked to conversations about love of country and patriotism, instead of issues of constitutional freedom and individual liberty. It is also interesting, but not surprising to me, that the recent delegation of Olympic swimmers in Rio, who acted like juveniles, lied about their behavior and lied on Brazilian officials to the embarrassment of themselves and America, have experienced no similar expression of public disapproval. The best known member of that group, I am advised, will soon be in America’s living room “dancing with the stars”. Cha-cha, cha. Similarly, when celebrated basketball coach Bobby Knight, put on an embarrassing display of immature behavior at a tournament in an overseas venue, and virtually had to sneak out of “the country”, he was still Bobby Knight – just a passionate good old Indiana boy.
I eagerly and proudly lend my voice to the expanding chorus of voices who support Colin Kaepernick in his decision to publicly protest police brutality and racial injustice. I admire his courage in not shrinking from his decision or from the exercise of what he sees and declares to be his responsibility as a man and as a leader. He has declared that some things are more important than football and the perquisites that accompany athletic stardom. He has put his money where his mouth is; and he had the courage to take that stand, while sitting. In adopting those behaviors, he symbolically took a seat on the bus next to Rosa Parks; or sat at the lunch counter knowing that the question asked would not be “what will you have today Sir”? Nevertheless, the answer given to the world was “I will just have a little First Amendment Freedom”.
On this issue, Brother Kaepernick has answered the question and has earned his “A”. Significantly, we, too, must answer the question. The real test that remains to be taken, is for the rest of us who criticize our athletes and entertainers for “not giving back”, “for not doing enough”, “for being too aloof”. The test question, is whether we can circle the wagons to support and give protection to those who rise to speak truth to power on our collective behalf? What does Black leadership have to say about this attack on the career of a young man who puts service to the cause of racial justice above his career and professional security? Silence is not an adequate comment.
Speaking personally, I say to Colin, “thank you a thousand times for the example set and for the moral courage and leadership displayed”. Beyond that, all I can say is that someone did a heck of a job of raising that young man.
Dr. William Small, Jr. is a retired educator and a former Trustee and Board Chairman at South Carolina State University.
Note: Two hundred seventy five years ago today, West Africans in South Carolina rebelled against the slave system. It was the largest slave rebellion in colonized North America prior to the Revolutionary War. The Stono Rebellion had a profound effect on the white plantation owners who were shocked that these brave West Africans knew about use of weapons and military formations. And further, whites were stunned to see that Africans acted likely the same way they would had they, as whites, been the ones enslaved. The article was on Counterpunch today.
The Legacy of the Stono Rebellion
The largest Slave Revolt prior to the American Revolution
By Heather Gray
September 9, 2014
Justice Initiative International
On September 9, 1739, the Stono Rebellion took place in South Carolina. It stunned the white South Carolinian plantation owners. Slaves from West Africa decided to revolt against the oppressive South Carolina slave culture. As revolutionaries, they were impressive and fierce. In no uncertain terms, they demanded their “liberty”. It is likely the most important slave rebellion in American history.
This rebellion is particularly meaningful for me. For years, I have worked with Black farmers and cooperatives in south, including South Carolina. The Stono Rebellion began on the property of one of the cooperatives I’ve worked with, which is close to Charleston and near to the Stono River. I visit the site often and reflect about these incredibly brave Africans who demanded their freedom.
Here’s a description of what happened that day when some 20 enslaved Africans revolted against the South Carolina slave culture.
“On Sunday, September 9, 1739, a group of Kongolese slaves broke into a storehouse about fifteen miles south of Charles Town in the colony of South Carolina. The slaves, now rebels, killed the two storekeepers and took all the guns and powder they could carry. Led by a man named Jemmy or Cato, the rebels moved southward and killed about twenty-three white colonists, destroyed property, recruited other slaves to join them, and marched toward Spanish Florida where they expected to find freedom. Before the day ended, they encountered, of all people, South Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor William Bull, who hastened away to alert the local militia. In the meantime, the rebels were spotted in an open field dancing and playing drums – a call to arms, a preparation for battle. They were soon surrounded by the militia, and in the battle that ensued militia members noted that many among the rebels, fought like well-trained soldiers, using flags and fighting in formation. And yet they were outnumbered. The rebellion was put down and many slaves were executed. Some of the rebels escaped into the woods; one was not captured for several years” (Shuler, 2009, p. 3-4).
By the time the Stono rebels reached the open field, about 100 slaves had joined them. They had, in fact, spared the life of a slaveholder who was good to his slaves. In the end, approximately, 23 whites were killed by the Stono rebels and ultimately 44 Africans were killed by the militia. Some have ventured to assume that a few members of the Stono group did, in fact, find their way to Florida.
But first, a history is relevant regarding European antagonisms, and African history as it intersects with these events.
In the early 1700’s, the southern part of North America was embroiled in the conflicts between European countries – in this instance, primarily Britain and Spain – that wanted control of the vast resources in colonized North America or the Caribbean. In 1739, the Spanish controlled the Florida territory and Britain reigned over the rest of the east coast of the Atlantic and in particular, in this instance, South Carolina and Georgia close to the Florida border.
In 1693 and 1733 the Spanish royalty and government sent edicts to the colony in Florida stating essentially that African slaves, who were able to escape and find their way to Florida, not be sold or returned to the British colonies. And further, the edict also required that the Africans become Catholic and provide four years of service to the Spanish crown.
The intent of the Spanish was obviously to destabilize the British colonies as much as possible and also add to their military personnel in their battles or skirmishes against the British.
An untold number of slaves from South Carolina did find their way to Florida, fought for the Spanish crown, and in 1737 populated the first free Black town in America. It was created by the Spanish government and known as “Garcia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose”, close to St. Augustine. It is now referred to as Fort Mose.
Reviewing African history is particularly essential to understanding this rebellion. It is thought these slaves were most likely from the Kingdom of Kongo in West Africa. The “Kingdom” at the time was broadly defined to include the present-day Angola, Senegal, Congo, etc.
South Carolinians were interested in obtaining West Africans as slaves because of their skills in rice cultivation. African rice, in fact, is estimated to have been grown in West Africa for some 3,000 or even up to 6,000 years ago. West Africans were skilled rice growers and they were in demand, albeit as slaves, for aspiring white rice plantation owners along the South Carolina coast.
The Portuguese had established relationships with the Kongo in the 1480’s. Not long after, Christianity spread throughout the country. The Kongolese ultimately built numerous Catholic churches in the late 1400’s and early 1500’s and at one point had diplomatic relations with the Vatican. The Pope also ultimately appointed a bishop for the area. All of this, in fact, finally resulted in conflicts with the Portuguese by some Kongolese who were opposed to the Portuguese intervention.
It is possible, therefore, that the Stono rebels spoke Portuguese and were familiar with the Catholic religion. It is thought, then, they would have been able to speak with Spanish visitors in South Carolina (a language close to Portuguese), if the opportunity availed itself. In fact, it appears that the Spanish deliberately sent envoys to South Carolina to surreptitiously explain these opportunities to the Africans. Prior to 1739, however, as mentioned, many slaves had already escaped to Florida and the word about this would have spread throughout the slave communities.
Further, at the time the Stono slaves were brought to South Carolina there had been excessive fighting in West Africa with some of the fighters being caught and sold to slave merchants. Indeed, it is thought, when they arrived in South Carolina, that the Stono rebels were likely already skilled fighters from their West African battles who knew how to use weapons and engage in military strategies (Shuler, 2009).
The military engagement would also have included African traditions of warfare such as the drumming and dance-like engagement to build excitement and courage for battle (Shuler, 2009).
The rebels also waved flags and shouted what many have said was “liberty”. Shuler notes that “To be sure, this is a complicated moral truth; the Stono rebels committed some acts of horrific violence. And yet there are countless examples of American letters of such acts being approved and praised…but not others like Stono” (Shuler, 2009, p. 9). As freedom fighters, Stono rebels represented a vast array of narratives. Shuler states further regarding the event:
“The narrative that Stono represents has always been in the hearts and minds of many Americans. For a moment, the Stono rebels sliced open – literally and figuratively – the public sphere in South Carolina, speaking directly to the philosophical concerns of many Enlightenment figures: What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be free? The rebels responded to both these questions” (Shuler, 2009, p. 182 ).
The significance of this rebellion was immense even though there had, in fact, been numerous other smaller revolts prior this. In fact, before the Stono rebellion South Carolina had already demanded that all white males carry guns on Sundays when at church and if found without a gun they would be fined. This mandate was to be enforced not long after the Stono rebellion and is considered one of the reasons why the Stono leaders decided to hold the rebellion when they did – on a Sunday before this policy was enforced.
A few scholars have also questioned whether going to Florida was the intent of the Stono rebels. The inference has been that perhaps they wanted to make a profound statement about the injustice of the system and a demand for liberty for all. In fact, the Stono leader Cato’s great-great grandson, George Cato, was interviewed during the New Deal’s Federal Writer’s Project in 1937. The story of what happened in the rebellion had been transferred from generation to generation. Cato said of his great-great grandfather, that he was willing to lay down his life for that was right and “not for his own benefit as it was to help others.”
After Stono, South Carolina passed the draconian Negro Acts that restricted African behavior in ways never before enacted and also placed demands of whites not to be as cruel as before that then might prevent further outbreaks. They no longer allowed for the importation of slaves from the Kongo.
The rebellion seemed to be the start of a narrative in South Carolina to justify the dreadful system of slavery. Prior to that there had been some meaningful dialogue in the country that, for one, questioned the morality of the system. Some South Carolinians had engaged in that dialogue as well. No more. Greed and fear, it appears, won the day. South Carolinas slaveholders were not about to give up on their money making venture of extracting wealth from the oppression of others (Kelly, 2013).
Stono also scared the white South Carolinians. They wanted to blame the Spanish for this rather than acknowledging the demands of the slaves themselves. They obviously found it hard to believe that Africans acted in a way they, as whites, would have had they been the ones enslaved. A quote from the C.L.R. James is quite appropriate here. Regarding the Haitian revolutionaries, he said, “The slaves have revolted because they wanted to be free. But no ruling class ever admits such things” (Shuler, 2009, p. 85).
Shuler asks the question about the nature of human rights. “What are human rights? In short, human rights are those rights or entitlements one has simply by virtue of being human. Human rights are prior and above civil rights, which are contingent on one being a citizen of a country. They are moral claims, ultimate protections of human dignity” (Shuler, p. 5). This is a dialogue that continues to this day, of course, and the Stono rebels helped to build the narrative.
Slavery, in the end, is war against human nature and human liberty. The Stono fighters were in a war against this injustice. And where did these Stono rebels stand within the context of the human rights struggles and narrative? The Stono rebels joined the huge international struggle and debate for freedom and revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries from America to Haiti to France and on.
Finally, Shuler notes the importance of Stono regarding the advent of capitalism, also within the context of human and economic rights. He says:
“(The Stono rebels) learned to perceive changes in the social climate of whites so that they might gain some advantage….At a moment of extreme social anxiety the Stono rebels created uncanny networks that featured a counter narrative to that of those in power in South Carolina….This rebellion exemplifies the social possibilities embedded within moments of cultural and technological transformation – in this case the transformation brought on by a growing Atlantic capitalist economy and its development of international communications networks. At Stono, a counterpublic emerged promoting a revolutionary alternative to the offered discourses of the South Carolina white colonial public.
And this counterpublic effectively piggybacked, although unwillingly, on the infrastructure of capitalism – most notably the slave ship. The Stono rebels then rose up on September 9 and delivered their communications to the people of St. Paul Parish, South Carolina, and to the world” (Shuler, 2009, p. 84).
Kelly, Jospeh – “America’s Longest Seige: Charleston, Slaverry, and the Slow March Toward Civil War”, 2013, The Overlook Press
Shuler, Jack – “Calling Out Liberty: the Stono Slave Rebellion and the Universal Struggle for Human Rights”, 2009, University Press of Mississippi
HEATHER GRAY is the producer of “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: With current revelations about sexual abuse by American men from Weinstein, Cosby, O’Reilly, etc. to presidents Trump and Bush there are so many issues that need to be addressed. And most of us know that these revelations are just scratching the surface. For one, it is way past time for Americans to have nationwide sex education in our school systems, as is the case in many European countries, to help empower women but importantly for men and women, both young and old, to better understand sexual behavior and impulses.
Additionally, the abuse of women by American men overseas, as well, is a sad chapter in American history. In fact, the abusive and disrespectful actions by the men above are reflected in the military policy and military male behavior in and around US bases overseas. The Philippines prior to the removal of the American bases in the 1990s is a prime example. While in the Philippines in 1989, I observed much of this sad behavior around the Subic Naval Base in Olongapo City and also talked with some of the prostitutes. I wrote about this issue in 2015 after the surprising statement by Amnesty International that the sex industry should be decriminalized. I questioned what Amnesty knew about it all.
But given the recent events in America and the much appreciated outspoken women revealing this abuse, I want to yet again share something about US policy overseas and how it reflects domestic behavior as well.
Some Filipinos asked me to please let American mothers know what their sons were doing overseas and I have done precisely that and am doing so yet again.
But first, I also want to share comments from Harry Hamilton who is retired from the military and who was in the US military in the Philippines in the mid-1970s:
From Harry Hamilton
So most of my time was in the Philippines Islands (PI). I was there from Feb 74 through Oct 76. Angeles City, the Philippine city outside the main gate of Clark Air Force Base was ‘wide open’ during the time I was there. It was a wild place; anything went for the most part.
I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in this country and things that were tolerated during those years tend to set the stage for how you act, at least until you know better. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy to learn the things a young man should have learned or known growing up. Of course, my mom, grandmother, aunts, etc. tried to teach all of us better. It was also a fact that many of them just didn’t know what to tell us because of the environment in which they grew up. So it was to a degree, the blind teaching the myopic. What I am trying to say is that the environment and lack of sex education during my formative years set the stage for many men and women that carry some until today, unless they, on their own, strived to learn what was appropriate, right, or otherwise. I believe George H. W. Bush is a product of that environment, which is a generation ahead of my own. Even he, after being president and holding many other high offices, still feel the urge to act inappropriately because he probably was never chastised for acting inappropriately. But I am glad that he apologized for his unwarranted touching.
When I first arrived in Southeast Asia, I saw firsthand that women were treated as a lower class, and it was stark. Young girls were basically not wanted or cared for by the family in the manner that a young boy was. I learned that boys were prized because they were expected to take care of their aging parents. Boys, when they grew up and married, brought another set of hands to work toward the families survival. Girls, when they grew up and married, became a ‘worker’ for their husbands family. This practice was rooted in both socioeconomic, environmental, tradition, and, to a greater degree, ignorance. During my time there, American soldiers took advantage of this practice. I was appalled at what some of my fellow Americans were doing. Some ‘owned’ girls out right. If you wanted to buy a young girl, age 15 and up, they were for sell by parents willing to sell for anywhere from $100 (older girls) to $300 (younger girls). Any soldier caught with a girl that was determined to be ‘owned’ by him was dealt with quickly and harshly. There were many GI’s that were prosecuted, but the practice of owning girls were widely practiced. The authorities knew it, but it wasn’t easy to prosecute.
During my time in Europe, I recognized that sex education was very different than what it was in the states and elsewhere around the globe that I had visited. Europe was more open with sexuality and wasn’t boorish and backwards as it was/still is in the US. I believe Europe has a more open minded approach to sex education that is certainly worth emulating here [in the US].
The sex trade was widespread and plentiful. As I mentioned earlier, the environment and socioeconomic conditions in the Philippines and other countries contributed heavily to this, the US Military notwithstanding. Of course, it was no different in Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong (it cost a lot more), Taiwan (not as open, but it was there), South Korea, Japan (to a lesser degree, but it was still there). While sex trade in the Middle East or SW Asia is still there, it is a much more controlled commodity because of the religion. Most GI knew better than to engage in the sex trade in SW Asia because of the harsh punishment if caught.
October 26, 2017
Justice Initiative International
A Message to American Mothers About Sex in the Military
Amnesty International just made a decision regarding decriminalizing the sex industry and I frankly wonder if they understand anything about it. In the dialogue about this within the Amnesty International circles, the Philippines is mentioned. Here’s an excerpt of what Janice G. Raymond who is the former co-director of the “Coalition Against Trafficking in Women” had to say about this in her article “Amnesty International’s Sex Trade Decision: Not in Our Name”:
There is much I want to share with American mothers regarding all this. In 1989 I visited the Philippines and traveled extensively. Since 1898, the US inequitable relationship with the Philippines has been one of conquest, colonization, economic control, military occupation and a joint military relationship with the Philippine military. In 1989 there were intense activities by the US military and government to counter the growing Filipino movement to rid the Philippines of the U.S. bases – primarily Subic Naval Base in Olongapo and Clark Air Force Base in Angeles City that had been allowed in the Philippines since after World War II. In 1991 the bases were finally ousted after the Philippine Senate chose not to renew the Military Bases Agreement with the United States. Under the Bush administration, however, the US military is once again in some parts of the Philippines. This does not bode well for the Filipino people.
My travels took me to the city of Olongapo, the home of the U.S. Subic Naval Base, where I spent time with representatives of organizations working with abused children and prostitutes around the base. One of the pastors in Olongapo asked that when I got home if I would please talk with American mothers about what their sons were doing in the Philippines. “Then,” he said, “maybe we can finally end this abuse of our children and women.” As a mother myself, I took this request to heart.
In Manila in 1989, while being driven by an elderly taxi driver, I decided to ask about one of the most famous and powerful US military officers ever in the Pacific region – none other than US General Douglas MacArthur, the Commander of the Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific during World War II. “Where did MacArthur live when in Manila?” I asked. “It depended on which girl friend he wanted to spend time with,” he said immediately. I didn’t know my question would provoke a comment about MacArthur’s sex life in the Philippines. His famous statement “I shall return” suddenly had new meaning! Having just returned from Olongapo, however, where I was inundated with information about the US military and its sexual abuses, the driver’s response resonated ten-fold.
When I arrived in Olongapo, the major news was about the death of a young 12 year old girl. She had just died in the hospital from a vibrator that had managed to work its way into her intestinal tract. The culprit in this case was a European male pedophile, but Americans were complicit. The US had been instrumental in creating this culture of sexual decadence.
Let me share a little about Olongapo. In 1989 it was a city of approximately 300,000 people that largely catered to the US naval base and had been known as a “rest and recreation” area for US sailors. There were estimates of some 16,000 prostitutes in Olongapo and some 3,000 street children. Like the rest of the 65 million Philippine population at the time, 70% of the Olongapo residents were below the poverty line. The port in Olongapo was considered one of the best in the Philippines.
Subic Base was located on the ancestral land of the Aetas or Negritos, one of the ancient and darkest skinned of the Filipino tribal groups. Signs around the Subic golf course warned the Aetas that they must not be seen and rather stay in the jungle. Stories in Olongapo abounded about Aetas who defied these rules and were shot at by the military.
My visit to Olongapo corresponded with a US naval ship of approximately 6,000 men that was about to arrive in the port. That’s 6,000 men with money to spend and ready for recreation. Many of us think that with an American base and US dollars flowing from the military personnel that economic development would flourish in a city “graced” by its presence. This is a myth. The existence of a US base generally leads to a dependent economy and degradation.
After decades of the Subic Base’s existence, the largest domestic employer in Olongapo, I was told, was an organization called PREDA (www.preda.org), headed by the Catholic priest Father Shay Cullen. PREDA employed some 30 workers in a handicraft business. Otherwise, there were Filipino workers on the naval base, but this, of course, was a dependent employment and not an entity owned and controlled by the Filipinos themselves. There was also a flourishing “hospitality” business of nightclubs, as well as prostitution of women and children and speculation of the existence of a pedophile syndicate. During the Jim Crow era the bars were segregated and even in 1989 Filipino males were not allowed in some of them.
According to Alex Hermosa, a PREDA staff member, the population of the area was growing, yet there were more permits for bars than for small industries “which is one of the problems we have,” he said. “People want to earn quick money through bars and nightclubs and the local government seems to be encouraging this thing… because, of course, many of the government officials own bars as well.”
Apart from handicraft work, PREDA devoted its efforts to assisting and counseling abused children and women around the US base. Edson Alabaso, a counselor for PREDA, said many of the prostitutes were victims of illegal recruitment. “Girls from the provinces will be deceived by opportunists,” he said, “where they will be offered good jobs in Olongapo, where in reality they turn up being hospitality girls. It can be tied up to the fact that the rural areas in the Philippines are basically underdeveloped. So a majority of our people go to the big cities in search of greener pastures…and many hospitality girls hope to marry American servicemen. So indirectly, America influences this type of influx of people to big cities because it dictates the economic policies in this country. And directly,” he said, “the US Naval Base pulls people to Olongapo because of the distorted development that it offers our people.”
Alabaso defined a “hospitality girl” as a “person who offers her body to foreigners or to anybody who wants to have sex with her in exchange for money. Most of the hospitality girls have licenses,” he said, “so that they can legitimately be called ‘hospitality girls’. In order for (them) to get a license they have to undergo a checkup once a week at the social hygiene clinic so as to make sure (they have) no sexual disease whatsoever….but the women have to pay for the treament.” According to Hermosa, however, “the services of the City of Health office, including the medicines, (were) paid for by the U.S. Navy. So (the US military was) sort of making the women safe for the American sailors” even though the women had to pay for treatment themselves.
I heard complaints in the Philippines about Americans bringing in AIDS, so it appears to me that the American military should have been given a health observation or exam as well before venturing anywhere in the Philippines, especially those who chose to have any kind of sexual relationship with Filipino women.
The women were encouraged to ask the sailors to use condoms. Hermosa also said that when the sailors were on liberty they were given a number of condoms but, according to the women, in spite of their requests they rarely, if ever, used them.
Here is how the prostitution system worked. The young women, referred to as “fresh”, worked in the bars in the Magsaysay area of Olongapo – they were generally from ages 14 to 30. They danced in seductive scimpy bikinis in the bars where they were observed by sailors who would then select the woman they wanted for the night. They then made their request to the owner of the bar. The cost was about 500 pesos (approximately $25-US) of which the bar owner took 300. So the women earned about $10.
The children were another matter. The abuse of children was extensive in Olongapo with reports of children as young as 4 years old being abused. Alabaso said that the child prostitution syndicate in Olongapo, at the time, catered “to the needs of American servicemen who (were) considered to be pedophiles. As a matter of fact, we have one resident here (at PREDA) – a street child – she’s 13 years old. But at 11 she was already being used by the Americans for sex.”
According to one of the prostitutes, there was a hierarchy established in the military for how women could be brought on the base. She said, enlisted men were required to have passes to take a woman on the base. However, a first lieutenant or a sergeant were not, according to her, required to have passes. She also said that sergeants were allowed to take 6 or 7 women with them on the base at one time. The women were not allowed to sleep on the base. She told me that, for example, if women went on the base at 5 PM they could perhaps have dinner, dance, and go on the ship but they would have to be out the same day. Men could sometimes have women spend the night on the base, she said, but it depended on their rank.
Richard Gordon, the Mayor of the city at the time, claimed there was no prostitution in Olongapo only “entertainment with sex.” As owner of one of the largest hotels in Olongapo, the Mayor had a vested interest in maintaining the US bases and the culture it created. To control and manipulate the growing opposition to the US bases in the Philippines, the Mayor licensed vendors in the city (i.e. flower vendors, bicycle riders, jeepney drivers, vendors in the markets) who were required to wear uniforms. According to Alabaso, when the Mayor organized “pro-base” rallies, all vendors were required to attend or they would lose their license. In addition to the Olongapo police, the Mayor had his own private army or “salvage team” that was used to intimidate and harass people with “negative attitudes about the base or negative attitudes about his administration.”
I asked Alabaso, as a Filipino, how he felt about the situation in Olongapo. He said, ” Personally, seeing all this exploitation that the Americans do to our women – they use our women for their satisfaction and the pay money in exchange – I can’t help but condemn these people. I can’t help but hate them. I can’t also help but condemn what they are doing to our children, especially our girls who as young as they are already being exploited/used by the American pedophiles for their sexual cravings. It’s condemnable – the whole scenario in Olongapo made by the American servicemen….(The Americans are especially difficult) when they are drunk. They shout everywhere. They jump. They wrestle on the streets. They become wild. No Filipino can intimidate them. No Filipino can say to them ‘Hey man, you’re getting so unruly. What are you doing? This is not your place!'”
It’s important to note, that what the US military had been doing in the Philippines was with a nod and a wink from the powers that be, sometimes likely with official or unofficial policy, as they attempted to ensure that thousands of US troops were happy while away from home. The consequences of the military’s behavior on the Filipino population and the on-going legacy and social costs today from this behavior, however, seems of little concern to the US military or government.
Thanks to the “Gabriella Alliance for Filipino Women”, I was able to talk with a few of the prostitutes in addition to the one mentioned above. One of the women told me that she was from a rural community where the economy was virtually nil. She came to Olongapo to engage in prostitution to help her family and in particular to help her brother go to school. Her family consented for her to do this and she had been consistently sending money home. She can no longer live in her village, however, because she will be ostracized she told me. It is a sacrifice she made for her family. Perhaps this is an example of someone who could be assisted by Amnesty’s decision, but I am not sure about that. At the very least she should not be criminalized for working to help her family but the prostitution recruiters are another matter.
Women under these circumstances become commodities and exist under a form of slavery – bought and sold. It is far better that economic and educational opportunities for women be prioritized. In fact, it is now realized that the world is better, safer and less violent and abusive when women advance, when democracy prevails and when women lead in both business and government (Konner). Chris Hedges also makes reference to the economic issues relative to it all in his recent article “Amnesty International: Protecting the ‘Human Rights’ Of Johns, Pimps And Human Traffickers” (Hedges). It appears the Amnesty International staff and members have much to learn!
Finally, the individual responsibility and behavior of American soldiers in the more than 120 US bases around the world is quite another matter. I know that it was here that my Filipino pastor friend thought that American mothers could play a role. Perhaps if mothers knew more about the abuse by the military they could be persuasive with their sons.
The world and US safety would be far better served if American sons and daughters were here in the US where they belong and where they are needed. But at the very least if American mothers don’t like what’s happening they should lobby for a change. As Alabaso said at the end of our discussion, “You (in America) can help us by pressuring your government about their expansion worldwide (of) the installation of (US) military bases. It doesn’t work for us here in the Philippines, neither does it work for you as a people.”
Konner, Melvin, Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy (2015) W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York.
Note: In 2015, I sent out the article below about the history of the US overturning the Iranian government in the 1950’s. Given that Iran is yet again in the news, knowing this history of the CIA orchestrated coup in Iran, after WWII, is incredibly important as the consequences have been relevant to the dynamics in the Middle East ever since. This was the also first time the CIA had dismantled a government.
I need to also say that regarding the contemporary relationship with Iran, notwithstanding President Trump’s recent debacle and confusion about it all, I was so appreciative of President Obama’s Nuclear Deal with Iran as a move toward peace in the Middle East and the world. It was the first time a US President had bravely gone against the directive of the Israeli government and AIPAC altogether:
First time in US history, an American president dares to oppose the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC. The crisis deepening day by day upon the Iran nuke deal between the US and its biggest ally in the Middle East – Israel.
U.S. President Barack Obama gave a strong message to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel group that has been strongly opposing the Iran nuclear deal, in his meeting this week at the White House with the two executives of AIPAC. (Global Research)
October 22, 2017
Justice Initiative International
Iran, the CIA and Post WWII History
The Atlantic Charter and Iranian Independence Thwarted
Note: In this article I refer repeatedly to the late Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Mohammad Mosaddeq has a number of spellings such as Mosaddeq also spelled Masaddiq, or Mossadegh. I have chosen to use “Mosaddeq” from the “Iran Chamber Society“.
The dialogue with the Iranians is a positive move on the part of the Obama administration and particularly that the U.S. Senate presented the White House with a victory on this agreement. This is encouraging, though it is still being negotiated in the House of Representatives at the time of this writing. However, relatively little history of the U.S. and its historic relationship with Iran is being shared. This is unfortunate as the consequences overall of U.S. disruptive policies have been profound on the Iranian people and the Middle East since the end of WWII.
To understand some of this we need to look again at the Atlantic Charter issued by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in August 1941.
The Atlantic Charter was formulated by Roosevelt and Churchill when they came together in Newfoundland 1941. It was largely based on Roosevelt’s State of the Union address to Congress in January 1941 in which he said “….we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms” (1) freedom of speech and expression; (2) freedom of every person to worship God in their own way; (3) freedom from want; and (4) freedom from fear. (Moyers)
Churchill was anxious for U.S. assistance in the war against Germany so agreed to the Charter.
On 9 August 1941, the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales sailed into Placentia Bay, with Churchill on board, and met the American heavy cruiser USS Augusta where Roosevelt and his staff were waiting. On first meeting, Churchill and Roosevelt were silent for a moment until Churchill said “At long last, Mr. President”, to which Roosevelt replied “Glad to have you aboard, Mr. Churchill”. (Wikipedia)
The eight principal points of the Charter were:
1 no territorial gains were to be sought by the United States or the United Kingdom;
2 territorial adjustments must be in accord with the wishes of the peoples concerned;
3 all people had a right to self-determination;
4 trade barriers were to be lowered;
5 there was to be global economic cooperation and advancement of social welfare;
6 the participants would work for a world free of want and fear;
7 the participants would work for freedom of the seas;
8 there was to be disarmament of aggressor nations, and a post-war common disarmament. (Wikipedia)
Sounds good doesn’t it? One of the more controversial of the principles was the third one, as in “All people had a right to self-determination”. Almost immediately, countries suffering from colonial oppression in various parts of the world confronted Churchill about this. Churchill refused to accept the universality of the Charter, and inferred it was meant for Britain threatened by Nazi control and not for those under Britain’s colonial rule. Churchill’s response led to major accusations of hypocrisy of Churchill himself and European imperialists/colonialists overall in the West.
Roosevelt, on the other hand, implied that “Principle Three” of self-determination applied universally, but he was not overt about it.
In the long run, however, the hypocrisy of not adhering to the principles of the Atlantic Charter rests with both the U.S. and British governments in subsequent years.
At the time, many throughout the world appropriately compared Nazism to colonialism. As in, Europeans were alarmed at oppressive forced labor and dictatorial behavior by the Germans being utilized on them yet they employed similar tactics and oppression in their colonies in Africa and elsewhere. Some stated that the Germans learned their techniques of oppressive tactics from their own colonies and from that of other Europeans, which makes sense.
Hypocrisy of this type formed the basis for many postwar anticolonial theorists’ rejection of making arguments based on Western pronouncements and values. (Franz) Fanon observed with disgust that Western discourse is “never done talking of Man” and yet bases itself on raw violence directed against humans. Likewise, Aimé Césaire condemned European humanistic idealism, which he dubbed “pseudo-humanism,” since it “has diminished the rights of man”….
Hence, Césaire showed that Europeans’ outrage directed itself not toward Nazism itself, but rather “the fact that [Hitler] applied to Europe colonialist procedures which until then had been reserved exclusively” for the “darker peoples” of the world. Europeans applied the rule of colonial difference to their moral and legal condemnation of Nazism, by approving of its application in the non-Western world but rejecting its application in Europe…. Césaire saw similar inconsistency in Europe’s vocal condemnation of Hitler’s violence against European victims, but silence on Nazi-like methods applied to “Algiers, Morocco, and other places” of contemporary colonial violence. (Reeves)
Recent historians have also referred to the Churchill hypocrisy when comparing British colonialism to Nazism. For example, Indian historian M.S. Venkataramani noted “Winston Churchill governed more alien millions the world over than Adolf Hitler did at the zenith of his power.” (Reeves)
Iran was somewhat caught in the middle of the struggles in the Middle East regarding the major protagonists during WWII and was invaded by the British, the Soviets and others.
The Anglo-Soviet Invasion of Iran was the invasion of the Empire of Iran during World War II by Soviet, British and other Commonwealth armed forces. The invasion lasted from 25 August to 17 September 1941, and was code-named Operation Countenance. The purpose was to secure Iranian oil fields and ensure Allied supply lines for the Soviets fighting against Axis forces on the Eastern Front. Though Iran was officially neutral, according to the Allies its monarch Rezā Shāh was friendly toward the Axis powers and was deposed during the subsequent occupation and replaced with his young son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. (Wikipedia)
Iran, then, had ultimately assisted the allies in offering a route for resources to the Soviets and was acknowledged for this at the conference in Tehran. In fact, the Tehran Conference took place in 1943. Russia’s Joseph Stalin, Britain’s Winston Churchill, and the U.S. Franklin Roosevelt were in attendance. The following document was signed by the three leaders and in which is stated at the end “in accordance with the principles of the Atlantic Charter“:
The Governments of the United States, the U. S. S. R., and the United Kingdom recognize the assistance which Iran has given in the prosecution of the war against the common enemy, particularly by facilitating the transportation of supplies from overseas to the Soviet Union.
The Three Governments realize that the war has caused special economic difficulties for Iran, and they are agreed that they will continue to make available to the Government of Iran such economic assistance as may be possible, having regard to the heavy demands made upon them by their world-wide military operations, and to the world-wide shortage of transport, raw materials, and supplies for civilian consumption.
With respect to the post-war period, the Governments of the United States, the U. S. S. R., and the United Kingdom are in accord with the Government of Iran that any economic problems confronting Iran at the close of hostilities should receive full consideration, along with those of other members of the United Nations, by conferences or international agencies held or created to deal with international economic matters.
The Governments of the United States, the U. S. S. R., and the United Kingdom are at one with the Government of Iran in their desire for the maintenance of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iran They count upon the participation of Iran, together with all other peace-loving nations, in the establishment of international peace, security and prosperity after the war, in accordance with the principles of the Atlantic Charter, to which all four Governments have subscribed.
WINSTON S. CHURCHILL
FRANKLIN D ROOSEVELT
First, Iran was promised only $500,000 from the U.S. government for its trials and tribulations during the war to assist the allies, while the Europeans received 1.2 billion from the U.S. through loans or grants from the U.S. Marshall Plan (Wikipedia).
Iran was rewarded with only $500,000 in (U.S.) Point IV aid and the promise of a $25m loan. That loan would never be awarded however as nationalism quickly swept post-war, symbolized by the rise of Mohammad Mosaddeq to the office of prime minister in 1951.
Within 10 years of this historic Tehran Conference, the first and only democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq , was ousted by the CIA. As the first Iranian to receive a Doctorate of Law (acquired in 1913 from the University of Neuchatel in Switzerland) and with the Cold War in place at the time, it is also important to note that Mosaddeq was neither a communist nor a radical Islamist. Emulating Roosevelt’s policies, Mosaddeq had plans for a “New Deal” type government to benefit the Iranian masses, and sought ways to fund his program through economic independence.
Mosaddeq was elected Prime Minister in 1951 prior to which he had presented the idea of Iranian oil nationalization to the Iranian people. Mosaddeq wanted opportunities and reforms for his country outside western influence, which he realized could not be achieved without “economic” independence. Britain at the time, however, largely controlled the Iranian economy through its dominance of the Iranian oil industry. (International Man)
Mosaddeq also mistakenly thought Iran was a sovereign nation. Whether deliberately or not, he was also attempting to adhere to Principal Three of the Atlantic Charter regarding self-determination, much to the chagrin of the British and the United States. Ultimately, the issue was Iranian “oil” and the British were not about to give up on that valuable resource they had controlled since 1908.
In 1908, a sizable deposit of oil was found in Masjed Soleiman, Iran and the British company the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) was created. In 1935 it became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Importantly, Stephen Kinzer, author of All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup And The Roots of Middle East Terror, notes that this company was the largest in the British Empire (Democracy Now ). He says further that ” the Iranian oil is actually what maintained Britain at its level of prosperity and its level of military preparedness all throughout the ’30s, the ’40s, and the ’50s”. ( Democracy Now)
However, Iran only received 25% of the proceeds of the oil industry. In fact, politically conscious Iranians were aware, however, that the British government derived more revenue from taxing the concessionaire, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, than the Iranian government derived from royalties. (Iran Chamber)
As Prime Minister, Mosaddeq reasonably wanted to do an audit of the oil company but the British denied this request. In the early 1950’s, the Iranians also discovered that Americans had established a 50/50 deal with the Saudi oil entities known as the Saudi-Aramco agreement. The Iranians also attempted this 50/50 concept with the British but were rebuffed. Finally in 1951, the Iranians nationalized the oil industry altogether.
Britain was outraged by the Iranian nationalization of the oil industry and wanted to overturn the Iranian government. U.S. President Truman was, apparently, somewhat sympathetic to Mosaddeq’s demands or vacillated on the issue and would not agree to the British invasion of Iran. Yet according to Stephen Kinzer, Truman also thought he could talk Mosaddeq out of the nationalization scheme. That didn’t work. By 1953 a more conservative and Republican administration under Dwight Eisenhower approved the ousting by the CIA of the Mosaddeq government. It was known as “Operation Ajax” and it marked the first time the CIA had overturned a government.
MI6, the UK’s foreign spy agency, and the CIA would organize the coup. Kermit Roosevelt, a grandson of former US President Teddy Roosevelt, was the CIA officer in charge.
The goal was to return the monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (also known as “the Shah”) to power. (In Farsi, the Persian language, “shah” means “king.”)
The CIA and MI6 used classic methods of subterfuge. They paid Iranian goons to pose as communists and wreak havoc in Tehran, the Iranian capital, and vandalize its business district. The police couldn’t restrain them, and the violence grew. (International Man)
In 2013, the 60th anniversary of the ousting of Mosaddeq, the CIA released documents affirming its involvement in the coup (RT Question More) The British papers about the coup remain secret even though, according to the Guardian, Iranian school children know all the details of the coup. (Guardian)
In 2009 the former foreign secretary Jack Straw publicly referred to many British “interferences” in 20th-century Iranian affairs. (Following the CIA release of U/S. involvement, the British) Foreign Office said it could neither confirm nor deny Britain’s involvement in the coup. (Guardian)
Mosaddeq was not killed but ultimately placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.
The Iranian-Armenian historian Ervand Abrahamian, author of “The Coup: 1953, the CIA and the Roots of Modern US-Iranian Relations“, said in a recent interview that the coup was designed “to get rid of a nationalist figure who insisted that oil should be nationalized. Unlike other nationalist leaders, including Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mosaddeq epitomised a unique “anti-colonial” figure who was also committed to democratic values and human rights….” (Guardian)
The British and Americans placed the accommodating Shaw (i.e. King) as ruler of Iran. Britain wanted to go back to the previous arrangement of controlling the oil industry altogether but public sentiment in Iran at this point was so opposed to this that the British had to capitulate. As a result, also under pressure from the U.S., a consortium holding company was incorporated in London in 1954 called the Iranian Oil Participants Ltd (IOP). It was composed of British, American, Dutch and French oil interests. Iran was to receive 50% of the oil profit (emulating the Saudi-Aramco arrangement) but Iran was not allowed to audit the industry nor could Iranians serve on the board of directors.
In Iran, the IOP continued to operate until the Islamic Revolution in 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini confiscated all of the company’s assets in Iran… and annulled the 1954 agreement and all regulations pertaining to it. (Wikipedia)
Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, there has been a wide range of sanctions against Iran imposed by the United States, the United Nations and the European Union. Click here for a summary of the sanctions.
Both the Shah and the Ayatollah Khomeini were not democratically elected as was Mosaddeq. It is rather mind boggling to speculate as to what might have happened had the U.S. not overturned the Iranian government in 1953 and instead had assisted the Iranians in having control over their own oil resource and respected the democratic process in Iran by adhering to the Atlantic Charter and Principle Three’s concept of “self-determination”. Nevertheless, the Iranians have suffered from isolation and economic sanctions from the west largely because some sectors decided to take the situation into their own hands rather than serving the dictates of the United States or the West overall. As Noam Chomsky notes:
Why the assault against Iran? ….In 1979, Iranians carried out an illegitimate act: They overthrew a tyrant that the United States had imposed and supported, and moved on an independent path, not following U.S. orders. That conflicts with the Mafia doctrine, by which the world is pretty much ruled. Credibility must be maintained. The godfather cannot permit independence and successful defiance, as in the case of Cuba. So, Iran has to be punished for that. (Democracy Now)
Hopefully with the recent acceptance of the agreement with the Iranians in the U.S. Senate and the possible projected lifting of the sanctions against Iran, opportunities for the Iranians might again be in the offing. It is an exciting prospect.
What had begun, in the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt as “an example of what we could do by an unselfish foreign policy” ended in ignominy that continues to this day…. the feelings and aspirations that were enshrined in the Iran Declaration seem a world away today. (ademocraticiran )
The unfortunate lesson of it all was that the United States sent a message to the Middle East and to the world at large, that the United States was not interested in democratic systems and processes. As Stephen Kinzer noted:
When we overthrew a democratic government in Iran, ….we sent a message, not only to Iran, but throughout the entire Middle East. That message was that the United States does not support democratic governments and the United States prefers strong-man rule that will guarantee us access to oil. And that pushed an entire generation of leaders in the Middle East away from democracy. We sent the opposite message that we should have sent. Instead of sending the message that we wanted democracy, we sent a message that we wanted dictatorship in the Middle East, and a lot of people in the Middle East got that message very clearly and that helped to lead to the political trouble we face there today. (Democracy Now)
Further, it appears that the principles of the 1941 Atlantic Charter are not something the United States and Europe are willing to adhere to particularly if it regards threats of access to capital, control of labor and control of raw materials, such as oil and/or access to seeds and control of seeds in the agricultural sector and many other examples.
The disruptive Republican members of the House of Representatives in their opposition to the Iranian agreement are yet again arrogantly displaying their disdain for a semblance of justice and respect for the other. Nor are they adhering to Roosevelt’s directive of “what we could do by an unselfish foreign policy” and/or the possibility of dialogue and negotiation. As they say in southern Africa, “A luta continua” – the struggle continues!
Heather Gray is the producer of “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She has been involved in agriculture advocacy and communications for 25 years in the United States and internationally. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia and can be reached at email@example.com