It is impossible to do justice to Black people’s history of resistance from oppression, brutality and white domestic terrorism in just this country alone, much less our global history of resistance. It’s equally impossible to find large contingents of Blacks who know about our incredible legacy of resistance.
Why? Because Black people’s history of standing up, speaking out and fighting back against oppressive forces was viewed as dangerous to the status quo, in that such knowledge might inspire even more resistance and a changing of this nation’s power dynamic. Thus, our legacy of resistance was ignored, replaced by false narratives of the happy enslaved person who was some combination of docile, cowardly and complacent.
The truth, however, paints an entirely different picture.
During our enslavement in America, resistance took many forms, including the work of abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, but also the freedom “by any means necessary writings of David Walker and others.
Moreover, the enslaved resisted in other ways, including work slowdowns, the purposeful breaking of tools, grinding up glass and serving it in “massa’s” food, eventually killing him. Moreover, escaping bondage was a constant way we resisted.
And though we are taught extremely little about enslaved uprisings, most are familiar with those movements led by Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner. Some may even have heard of Bacon’s Rebellion where enslaved Blacks and dirt-poor whites fought together against wealthy, land-owning whites—until those landowners bestowed the “idea of whiteness” and white privilege upon the poor whites, who then sided with the wealthy.
But few know the name of the largest enslaved rebellion in US history. Andry’s Rebellion, also known as the German Coast Uprising, was a revolt that took place in Louisiana from Jan. 8 – 10, 1811. Fewer still know of the “Maroons,” a name given to enslaved Africans who fought for their freedom or escaped and formed entire free communities in the swamps and forests of every nation where slavery existed. In the US, maroon communities could be found in Georgia, the Carolina, Louisiana and especially Florida, where many Maroons joined with the Seminole nation and fought successfully with them against American troops and “slave” patrols.
And though rarely mentioned, uprisings took place locally, according to University of Houston history professor, Dr. Gerald Horne.
“I would say that during that period (enslavement), not only in Houston, but in Texas generally, there were numerous uprisings,” said Horne.
But Horne goes further, arguing that General Granger’s famous proclamation read on June 19, 1865 was by no means the culmination of the Juneteenth story.
In his latest book, “The Counter-Revolution of 1836: Texas slavery & Jim Crow and the roots of American Fascism,” Horne shows that though Confederate troops surrendered in April 1865, they planned to continue the war using Mexico as their base of operations in coalition with the French. However, Granger and his thousands of predominantly African (Black) troops, after fighting valiantly and victoriously to free enslaved Blacks in Texas, then saved America from these ongoing Confederate plans.
“It’s not only June 19, 1865, that we should mark, but also June 19, 1867, because that’s when the French leader Maximillian was killed, which marks the end of the attempt to continue our enslavement in Mexico,” said Horne.
Contrary to popular belief, 100 years before the Voting Rights Act 1965, the Voting Rights Act of 1865 gave Black men the right to vote. And we used our vote/voice throughout the entirety of Reconstruction, fighting against mistreatment by electing candidates who looked like us and had our best interests at heart.
The result: More than 1,500 Black officeholders served during the Reconstruction era (1865–1877) at the local, state and federal level.
BLACK TOWNS MOVEMENT
The end of Reconstruction (1877) brought on a massive wave of white domestic terrorism, with Confederate leaders who were traitors to the US, being given full power to rule their southern states the way they saw fit. Still, we resisted. One way we did so was by building Black towns all across the country.
In the late 1870s, many Blacks headed west where they created all-Black cities like Nicodemus, Kansas. A wave of Blacks settled in Oklahoma, the state with the most Black-founded cities in the nation, including the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma known as “Little Africa” by some and “Black Wall Street” by others.
But no state was “immune” to Black resistance in this form (i.e. Seneca Village, NY and Rosewood, Fl).
We also founded institutions with our best interests at heart as a way of resisting tyranny. Tuskegee Institute (1881), National Business League (1900), Bethune-Cookman (1904), NAACP (1909), National Urban League (1910) and eight of the Divine Nine (1906-1922) are just a few examples. Many of these institutions supported the one-woman movement known as Ida B. Wells Barnett, who between 1898 and the 1930s waged war against the lynching of Blacks.
Though white domestic terrorism aimed at Blacks never ceased, Black resistance increased, especially when Black veterans returned home from WWI.
The 1915 movie “Birth of a Nation” which depicted the Ku Klux Klan as saviors of America, resurrected the KKK and increased lynchings of Blacks. With the war’s end, and soldiers allowed to maintain their military-issued weapons, Blacks across the country fought back.
The Camp Logan rebellion (1917) serves as a local example of Blacks refusing to allow themselves or their families to be slaughtered without offering some level of resistance. That same year, Black veterans now farmers who sought to unionize, were attacked by whites, and they fought back, though unsuccessfully, as Black men, women and children were massacred.
But such battles took place nationally, so much so, that 1919 is forever known as the “Red Summer of 1919” because of all the terrorist attacks by whites and the armed resistance given by Blacks.
DN: Part 2 covers Black Resistance from the Harlem Renaissance to today, including the TSU “Riots,” the TSU Five and UH fight for Black Studies.