Time Is Of The Essence: What the past 500 years means for the future of Black Male Achievement

This timeline was created to provide the context for a conversation on the historical, social, and political factors that have helped create the current employment crisis facing African Americans. In order to better conceptualize sustainable solutions to the crisis, it is imperative that stakeholders at the community, non-profit, and government level understand the gravity of the disparate impacts that arose as a result of the events in this timeline and their implications for the trajectory of black men's lives. We further understand that all men of color have been adversely effected by discriminatory and exclusionary policies and practices throughout the history of this country; however, this body of work is focused exclusively on African American men. For more information on how to build a timeline of events that have impacted other men of color (ie: Mexican Americans, Latino Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders) feel free to contact James Jones and the B.MORE Initiative for instructions and next steps.

This timeline is produced by BMORE, an Initiative of Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty and Economic Opportunity. To learn more about this Initiative please go to our website: http://www.heartlandalliance.org/ntjn/projects/the-b-more-project.html;xNLx;;xNLx;;xNLx;Created by: James Jones, B.MORE Initiative Coordinator and Jonathan Philipp, Policy and Research Assistant

GI Bill (Serviceman’s Readjustment Act)

Created as a means of supporting returning WWII veterans, the “GI Bill” aimed at providing preferential hiring policies, post-secondary education financial support, financial support for job seekers, and very low interest home loans for returning veterans. These low interest home loans gave way to a cultural shift towards suburbanization. 42% of returning veterans utilized GI benefits to purchase a home in the newly built suburbs. The Federal Housing Authority was in charge of issuing the loans and utilized the redlining lending practices implemented years earlier by HOLC. These lending policies lead to disparities in GI Bill access for African American and Native American veterans returning home from the war. Veteran benefits were distributed by states and fell victim to personal prejudices and discrimination in most cases-most notably in the southern states. The GI Bill has been stated to have been largely responsible for the accumulation of intergenerational wealth through creating home ownership opportunities for families who wouldn’t have otherwise been able to participate in the housing market. Modern research into the GI Bill lending policies shows that only between .1 to 2% of those FHA housing loans went to non-whites regardless of their military statuses. The impact of the disproportionately low accessibility of the GI benefit to blacks and other minorities further intensified the concentration of poverty in urban centers. The geographic isolation of these resource deficient communities serves as an additional barrier to employment and economic mobility. Access to the education benefits of the GI bill was similarly limited for African Americans. At the time acceptance to predominantly-white institutions of higher learning was not extended to blacks therefore those returning veterans who were able to access their GI benefits had to use them at Historically Black Universities and Colleges (HBCUs) which were poorly funded and often lacked accreditation. This disparity exacerbated the education gap between blacks and whites and also limited the work opportunities of those returning veterans who could not attain a post-secondary education.

Pigford v. Glickman

In the early 50’s and 60’s the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) left the farm loan determinations to be carried out on local levels. These local loan determinations were often made by as few as three people in some towns creating room for acute bias and discrimination. From the 50’s onward, the USDA denied farm based loans and federally available farm assistance to African American farmers even if their repayment was on time and they had no outstanding red flags. These instances continued until Timothy Pigford and 13,300 other black farmers filed a class action lawsuit against the USDA (Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture. The USDA ultimately settled with the farmers for $1billion in 1999.

First Africans Sold Into Servitude in Jamestown, Virginia

The early settlers of colonial America relied heavily on indentured servants. The early contingent of indentured servants were mostly European immigrants who were held to work under harsh circumstances for 7 years before being released and given 50 acres as payment. In 1619, a Dutch ship, the White Lion, captured 20 Africans in a battle with a Spanish ship. The ship then landed at Jamestown, Virginia for repairs from the battle. In exchange for food and supplies, the Dutch traded the enslaved Africans to the Colonials as indentured servants. Plantation owners in Jamestown VA began buying hundreds of enslaved Africans under the guise of prosperity for the colony and increased profits for themselves. Plantation owners saw a large increase in profits by using enslaved Africans, known as “free labor,” over the previous European laborers, or “un-free laborers.” Plantation owners gained all of the profit on crops while their enslaved labor force toiled the land under dire circumstances for zero compensation. The deplorable origins of the social, political, and economic subjugation of African Americans in the US helped shape ideologies which have driven the development of public policy and social norms through today.

Adoption of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties

Massachusetts created the first legal code established by European colonists in New England. The Massachusetts Body of Liberties was one of the earliest protections of individual freedoms in America. Modern times. An analysis of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties points to dozens of these created liberties that contradict other liberties and in some cases contradict the liberty it is referencing. In Liberty 91 of the MA Body of Liberties it is stated, “There shall never be any bond slavery, villenage, or captivity amongst us unless it be lawful captives taken in just wars, and such strangers as willingly sell themselves or are sold to us.” This was also one of the earliest examples of the oxymoronic ideology of the time that forced law makers to craft legislation that championed libertarian ideals, while preserving the denial of human rights to an entire race of people merely for financial gain. This duality within the law would persist for centuries to follow. Portions of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties were also used by Connecticut and Virginia as legal precedent to expand the body of laws governing their enslaved African population.

Slave Status of Children (partus sequitur ventrum)

In 1662 the Virginia House of Burgesses adopted the Latin doctrine of partus sequitur ventrum which asserted that the slave status of newly born children was to be based on the status of the mother. This doctrine was in direct contrast with the English Common Law which dictated that the status of children be decided by the status of the father. This decision came about after a 1658 freedom suit which was fought and won by Elizabeth Key Grinstead. Elizabeth was the daughter of an African slave woman and an English politician. She argued that because her father had her baptized in the English church that she was to be classified as free people of color as opposed to Negro slaves. The court sided with Mrs. Grinstead and granted freedom to her and her son, whose father was also an Englishman. The shift from paternal to maternal indicators of freedom and bondage meant that the mixed children born to African slave women would automatically be born into slavery, further eliminating any chances for economic mobility. This policy had far reaching implications due to the frequency of interracial relationships between white men and slave women.

Additional Colonies Adopt Slave Laws

Utilizing the Massachusetts Body of Liberties as a precedent, other early colonies begin adopting slave laws. Because the premise of American Juris Prudence was based in English Common Law which uses precents for determination of legal standing and statutes, other colonies were able to refer to the MA Body of Liberties when drafting legislation for their respective communities. Connecticut and Virginia were the first to enact laws aimed at solidifying the permanent slave status of African laborers. During this time, other colonies began adopting similar legal frameworks to formalize the move from paid labor to slave labor in order to maximize profits. In 1663 Maryland adopted slavery laws followed by New York and New Jersey in 1664. By 1700 both Pennsylvania and Rhode Island had adopted similar slave laws while the remaining colonies relied on slave labor but did not have legal definitions or regulations.

Virginia Slave Code

As the practice of chattel slavery, where individuals are treated as property that can be bought and sold, expanded throughout the colonies, there grew a heightened need of the planter elite to develop laws to formalize the subjugation of African slaves and limit their ability to alter their socio-economic status. The 1705 Virginia Slave Code created broad legal definitions of slavery that more effectively divided people along racial lines than prior laws. The Virginia Slave Code stated that all non-Christian servants entering the Virginia Colony are to be considered an enslaved person and expanded the definition of people who were enslaved to all, “negro, mullato [partially black], and Indian slaves” to be considered property and ineligible for land and wages. The law went on to state that enslaved people were forbidden from assaulting white persons and from owning or bearing arms. Under this law white slave owners were not held liable for slaves that died during punishment. Furthermore, the law declared that slaves needed written consent from their masters to travel. The Virginia Slave Code is seen as one of the most oppressive and detrimental pieces of legislation for the people who experienced slavery in Virginia. These laws created heightened power differentials and set a firm precedent for unequal protection under the law that would impact African Americans for centuries to come.

The 3/5 Compromise

Almost 170 years after the first enslaved African people were brought to Jamestown, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 further formalized slavery by writing it into laws and the constitution. One of the most controversial debates during the convention was how slaves would be counted for purposes of Congressional appointments and taxation. Southern states had a large slave population and would benefit from the additional seats in the House of Representatives; however, state taxation at the time was based on population as well thus Southern states would incur additional charges if slaves were counted. James Madison came up with a compromise which stated that for purposes of apportionment and taxation, slaves would count for 3/5 of a person-3 parts human and 2 parts property. This compromise further solidified slaves’ standing as less than human and helped fuel the argument that they were not worthy of inalienable rights guaranteed in the constitution.

Naturalization Act

This Act declared that any, “free white persons” of “good character” living in the U.S. for 2 years was eligible for citizenship. This time frame later changed to 5 years (1795) and eventually 14 years (1798) to merit, “good character.” This act also excluded all Native Americans, free blacks, and any woman whose fathers had not been U.S. Citizen from citizenship. The ramifications of this Act further solidified the social status of slaves and helped ensure the proliferation of the caste system in the country.

The Dorr Rebellion

In 1841 most states in the US had replaced their colonial charters with state constitutions that gave much broader voting rights to all white male citizens. In Rhode Island however, numerous attempts to replace the charter had failed. The policy in place at the time restricted voting rights to free white men who owned property that was valued at $134 or more. Thomas Wilson Dorr-a middle class Harvard educated man-mounted a rebellion to open voting rights to free white men regardless of land value. Dorr initially supported and advocated for voting rights for free black men as well but changed his position after pressure from established white immigrants. Dorr’s rebellion is a keen example of the impact of the newly formed racial caste system that created the “us versus them” mentality even among America’s lower and middle class populations. The power dynamic created by the elite to prevent alliances from forming among the poor across racial lines was heightening and would have a long standing impact on US race relations.

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