Calvin Baker Interview

Why now ??    Black people have been fighting for equal rights and equal treatment for generations.    We have been pushing these issues and trying to organize, trying to educate others about the issues but, bottom-line, we are a minority.  We don’t have enough voices, enough resources to turn things on our own in this white-dominated society.   

Malcolm Jenkins, a member of the New Orleans Saints football team, observes that “this movement might have been started by black people, it may have been carried-on on the backs of black people, but it is going to cross the finish line on the backs of white people.  It is important that we educate them, that we challenge them to get involved, to learn what’s going on.   The only way we are going to see this all the way to fruition is going to be if we get white people to bring this to a majority rule.”   I agree with his observation, and that seems to be the reason the movement is finally getting its deserved attention right now.  Not only whites in this country, but people of all colors from all over the world are realizing the disparities!   This is the first time I can personally remember this kind of global support.

The purpose of these posts is not to make you feel stupid or guilty, or attack your integrity.  You’ve based your opinions on life because of your knowledge and experience.   I just want to encourage you to open your mind and try to see what the world looks like from another position than your own.  Neither blacks nor whites were taught anything about the history of black people in America.  Very little was said in the history books about any of our struggles or accomplishments.  We did not merrily pick cotton and sing joyous songs all day long!!   There was more than one person of color (George Washington Carver) that actually invented things!!    If you just have a closed mind and think all we want to do is erase history, I can’t fix that.    And if you just hate black people and consider them less than you or even sub-human, I can’t fix that either.   But if you sincerely wonder what all the fuss is about, that is an avenue to learning about the situation.  You then won’t have to wonder why blacks in this country have reached yet another breaking-point in their quest for equality.    Equality in treatment by the police, equality under the law in housing, in education, in the workplace, in economic opportunities.   I want you to see that there is systemic racism in this country and things have always been biased against people of color since day one.

I watched an 6/20/20 interview by CBS reporter Jeff Glor with author Calvin Baker concerning his new book, “More Perfect Reunion.”  I was upset (surprised??) at first with his opening statements.  When questioned by Glor, Baker said “race is stupid”,  we all know race is an invention” and “there has never been a race problem in America.    What the hell was that all about?!??!!?    With subsequent questioning, he provided no real explanation for his lofty, (to me) nonsensical comments, which is what annoys me most about intellectuals, black or white.  Statements like that are like fodder to some, as they use broad statements just like that as baseless support of a bias they have.    But after I brushed-off this minor annoyance, I listened to what he had to say.  His focus was not on just the issue of race itself.  He says we have an integration problem.   It’s the matter of integration, or the lack thereof, that is the reason why we are having these “race” problems today.   

It is his assessment that integration has been the real goal of the Civil Rights Movement in America.    Abolitionists pushed for the emancipation of the slaves. That event happened, but the ball was dropped on exactly how to integrate Black Americans into society.   There was never a real plan set forth on how to do it.  President Abraham Lincoln was in discussion with Frederick Douglas on these issues the time of his assassination.  Andrew Johnson subsequently assumed the office and all of that ceased.   Although Johnson was deeply committed to saving the Union, he did not believe in the emancipation of slaves when the war started. After Lincoln made him the military governor of Tennessee, Johnson convinced the President to exempt Tennessee from the Emancipation Proclamation.

Baker says that we have tried to handle these Civil Rights issues at 4 pivotal points in our history. :   

  • 1775 Continental Congress :  The Second Continental Congress convened after the Revolutionary War (1775-83) had already begun. In 1776, it took steps of declaring America’s independence from Britain.   Five years later, the Congress ratified the first national constitution, called the Articles of Confederation, under which the country would be governed until 1789, when it was replaced by the current U.S. Constitution.   The provisional government of Virginia instructed its delegation to submit a proposal for independence before Congress.    Congress appointed a committee to draft a provisional Declaration of Independence for use should the proposal pass.   The declaration was primarily the work of one man, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote an eloquent defense of the natural rights of all people, of which, he charged, Parliament and the king had tried to deprive the American nation. 
  • 1863 Emancipation ( but not equality ) :  President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of civil war. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”    Before the Civil War, Lincoln told the South they could keep their slaves.  But he was a work-in-progress, as his ideology evolved over time.  He basically changed his mind on the subject.   It is Baker’s assessment that if Lincoln had not been assassinated, we would have gotten to where we are now, in the process of integration, a hundred years ago.    As I previously stated, when Johnson stepped in as president, he had no desire to fulfill Lincoln’s ideals. 
  • 1964 Civil Rights Movement  :  The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public places and banned employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, is considered one of the crowning legislative achievements of the civil rights movement.   Its duty was to guarantee all citizens equal protection under the law through the 14th Amendment  [the 14th amendment granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including former slaves—and guaranteed all citizens “equal protection of the laws.”],  and its duty to protect voting rights under the 15th Amendment [the 15th amendment granted black men the right to vote as it guaranteed that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”].         

The 60’s Civil Right Movement involved broad alliances of people who set forth to bring about these changes.   Unfortunately, almost every one of these leaders of the black struggle were murdered (John F. Kennedy, Malcom X, Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers ), which greatly slowed progression at the time.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law, the Civil Rights Act, on July 2, 1964, following one of the longest debates in Senate history.    White groups that were opposed to integration with blacks – check this out – “responded to the act with a significant backlash that took the form of protests, increased support for pro-segregation candidates for public office, and some racial violence.”   Sound familiar?    Mirrors what you are seeing right now??!!??      The constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act was immediately challenged and it was upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of  Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. (1964).    The act gave federal law enforcement agencies the power to prevent racial discrimination in employment, voting, and the use of public facilities.

Another important piece of legislation, the Fair Housing Act of 1968, was the culmination of a campaign against housing discrimination.  It was  approved at the urging of President Johnson, one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.   Its primary prohibition made it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person’s inclusion in a protected class (their race, color, religion, sex or national origin).   The goal was to form a housing market in which a person’s background (as opposed to financial resources) did not arbitrarily restrict access.    Calls for open housing were issued early in the twentieth century, but it was not until after World War II that concentrated efforts to achieve it were undertaken.   While the Fair Housing Act stopped some of the more egregious instances of housing discrimination, it should be noted that we are still far from fair when it comes to equal housing and one’s ability, especially those of minorities, to obtain it.    Race is still an issue and has been despite the all the efforts made over the years.

  • PRESENT ( 1970’s  – now ) : This stage includes the thoughts and works of those person’s born after the 60’s Civil Rights movement.  Baker is encouraged by the recent surge in universal support of the Black Lives Matter movement.  But he does question is true integration what we really want or support.  He mentions how we refer to New York as a “melting pot”, but is it really that??   We are not, and probably will never be a totally blended population.   He says we actually live “adjacent to one another, yet segregated.” We still have pocketed congregations within cities, places like Harlem, Little Italy, Chinatown and such.   I think people are always going to congregate with others like themselves based on things like ethnic commonalities.  That does not negate the desire for equality under the law. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *