One hundred and seventy-five years ago today, La Amistad and its crew of former slaves was captured off the coast of Long Island and towed to New London, Connecticut, where the story of the slaves’ revolt and subsequent trial for piracy and murder immediately became the sensation of the popular press, and a cause célèbre for abolitionists and other sympathizers. In this excerpt adapted from Outlaws of the Atlantic, historian Marcus Rediker takes us back to the first days of the ship’s capture, when the idea of “black pirates” would ignite the imagination of early America and take these fifty-three Africans on a journey from the holds of a slave ship to the halls of the Supreme Court and beyond.
The story began with a sensational headline: “A Suspicious Sail—a Pirate.” The New York Morning Herald announced on August 24, 1839, that a pilot boat had spotted a mystery ship about twenty-five miles off the coast of New York. On deck were “a number of negroes, twenty five or thirty, . . . almost or quite naked; some were wrapped in blankets, and one had on a white coat.” They were a “strange crew,” all the stranger for brandishing machetes, pistols, and muskets. One sailor “had a belt of dollars round his waist; another called the captain, had a gold watch. They could speak no English, but appeared to talk in the negro language.” Black pirates, armed and flush with plunder, were cruising the coast of Long Island.
The vessel itself was in eerie disrepair: “Long grass was growing upon her bottom, and her sails were much torn, as if she had been driving about at the mercy of the gale, with her sails set and no one at the helm.” Here, declared the Morning Herald, was the “Flying Dutchman,” the ghost ship that wandered the seas endlessly as a portent of doom. Indeed, doom seemed already to have struck the vessel, which once upon a time had been a slave ship: “It was supposed that the prisoners had risen upon the captain and his assistants and captured her.” Having murdered the master and crew, those aboard could not navigate the vessel. They “are now drifting about bound for no particular port.”
NOGALES, AZ: Detainees sleep and watch television in a holding cell where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the US Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center.
Call it irony or call it a nightmare, but the “crisis” of Central American children crossing the US-Mexican border, which lasted for months amid fervent and angry debate, is now fading from the news. The media stories have been legion, the words expended many. And yet, as the “crisis” leaves town, as the sound and fury die down and attention shifts elsewhere (even though the children continue to arrive), the real factors that would have made sense of what’s been happening remain essentially untouched and largely unmentioned. It couldn’t be stranger—or sadder.
Since late June 2014, the “surge” of those thousands of desperate children entering this country has been in the news. Sensational stories were followed by fervent demonstrations and counter-demonstrations with emotions running high. And it’s not a debate that stayed near the southern border either. In my home state, Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick tearfully offered to detain some of the children—and that was somehow turned into a humanitarian gesture that liberals applauded and anti-immigrant activists decried. Meanwhile the mayor of Lynn, a city north of Boston, echoed nativists on the border, announcing that her town didn’t want any more immigrants. The months of this sort of emotion, partisanship, and one-upmanship have, however, diverted attention from the real issues. As so often is the case, there is so much more to the story than what we’ve been hearing in the news.
With autumn just around the corner, it’s about time to think about heading back into the classroom. Whether you’re an educator, activist, administrator, parent, or socially-engaged citizen, here are five progressive education titles to put on your personal syllabus this fall:
SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR - A grandmother and grandson walk by the Barrio18 insignia in the Ilopango district of San Salvador. The Barrio18 gang, also known as 18th Street, originated in the barrios of East Los Angeles, CA.
While the country turns its attention to the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, the crisis of undocumented Central American children fleeing gang violence in their home countries has continued to grow. What many Americans don’t understand is that these gangs—18th Street, Florencia-13, and MS-13, to name a few—first got their start here in the United States. Fueled by a cycle of arrest, deportation, recruitment, and reentry, gangs who were once local to the streets of East Los Angeles have now gone international. In the following excerpt adapted from Jumped In: What Gangs Taught Me about Violence, Drugs, Love, and Redemption, sociologist Jorja Leap explores the real origins of these Central American gangs, and reveals in the process how our current border crisis is actually the result of a history of broken immigration policies.
I want to understand the truth about gang members and the reality of their lives. I do not devise formal questionnaires. Instead, I depend on people in the streets. This includes law enforcement officers, priests, politicians, poets, and gang members—active and former. This is why, two days after meeting with the sheriff, I am in South LA talking to Kenny Green. Kenny is a former gang member who rarely speaks of his street associations. He is no longer active and works as an interventionist and case manager. I settle in for the long haul. Any discussion with a gang member or a former gang member is always a long-term commitment; whenever I sit down with Kenny, I budget a minimum of two hours. I will not leave his office until the sun has gone down. An account of any event even the smallest street altercation—becomes an occasion for a history lesson and a recitation of gang genealogy.
I ask Kenny to explain the gangs of Los Angeles to me as simply as possible. He thinks carefully, then says, “To understand gangs in LA you gotta remember it’s the blacks and the browns. And the neighborhoods are different, really different. You can ask anyone.”
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 14: Demonstrators take part in a rally on West Florissant Avenue to protest the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown by a police officer on August 9.
This week’s firestorm of racial outrage—which had continued to smolder since the July 17 death of Eric Garner at the hands of a New York City police officer—seemed as inevitable as it was horrifying. The shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer is only the latest incident in a series of high-profile and unjust deaths of black men and women by law enforcement, or by civilians with a weapon and a stand-your-ground mandate. That the officer in Ferguson remained anonymous for a full week after Brown’s shooting only fueled the unrest.
We asked several Beacon authors for their take on what happened in Missouri this week. Their responses were as varied as the contributing factors that compelled this incident to boil over: the shock of a small, Midwestern suburb confronting unjust violence; the deployment of an over-militarized police force; the arrest of journalists and public observers; the close lens of social media. As Jeanne Theoharis says at the end of this piece, and as the photographs this week from Ferguson made clear, the struggle for civil rights seems far from over.
A young boy stands in the rubble of his destroyed home in Beit Hanoun, Gaza.
Cornel West recently spoke at a march on Washington in support of Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire between Hamas and Israeli military forces. Despite a string of shaky cease-fires, yet more rockets were exchanged last night, and the future remains undecided.
“This is a human affair,” Dr. West preached. “Any human being who chooses occupation and annihilation is a war criminal, and especially when they’re killing precious Palestinian babies. A Palestinian baby has exactly the same status as a white baby in Newtown, Connecticut, as a brown baby in the Eastside of LA, as a Jewish baby in Israel.” It’s a powerful moment, a reminder of the indiscriminate nature of warfare, and a military occupation in which an estimated 80% of deaths have been civilians.
I had long been fascinated by the history of Haiti, especially its profound revolutionary self-emancipation based on the greatest slave revolt in modern history (1791-1804). The small island nation also boasts one of the world’s greatest folk art traditions—it has more painters per capita than any other place on earth. They paint sheer wonder, as André Breton, leader of Europe’s surrealist movement, discovered when he arrived in Haiti in 1945. When he saw the paintings of the vodou houngan Hector Hyppolite, he remarked that by these astonishing works he recognized his own as failures.
Protesters at a rally in support of ousted Market Basket CEO Arthur T. Demoulas (courtesy Save Market Basket)
“Every once in a while,” Robert Reich, the former US Secretary of Labor, recently wrote, “something happens that exposes the underpinnings of American capitalism.” He was calling attention, in a series of Facebook posts, to a local labor dispute with a twist that’s now gained the national spotlight. For the past several weeks, the non-unionized workers and customers of Market Basket, the small chain of New England grocery stores known for inexpensive prices, have been fiercely protesting the board’s ouster of CEO Arthur T. Demoulas. Now, aisles are going empty, registers have closed. Supply trucks full of food sit near loading docks, unable to offload their rotting cargos.
While the backstory to the current situation approaches near-Shakespearean levels of complexity and intrigue—involving strong-arm tactics, brutal grabs for power, and an intricate family feud between cousins with nearly the same name—it’s a simpler narrative that people are rallying around. Arthur T., or “Artie T.,” as he’s affectionately called, has over the years become renowned among Market Basket employees for supporting high wages and good benefits, and for offering a profit-sharing program that effectively treats workers as minor shareholders. As Reich put it, Arthur T. had been fired because “he treated his employees and customers too well.”
LOST HILLS, CA : The sun rises over an oil field in California, where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has contaminated aquifers in a state damaged by drought. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
During summers in California’s Central Valley, an inland area that spans the length of the state from Bakersfield to Stockton, it’s not uncommon to hear a local rejoice when “it will only be 100 degrees today!” The sun is relentless and its heat is stifling, especially during a drought, and especially for the thousands of farm workers who are responsible for nearly all of California’s and much of the United States’ agriculture.
Now, a report from the University of California, Davis explains that if the drought continues for two or more years, Central Valley farmers will be forced to increasingly rely on groundwater reserves, some of which, we are now learning, may have been polluted by fracking wastewater.
Growing up in the heart of the Central Valley, whose claim-to-fame is being the “Gateway to Yosemite,” my preferred remedy for the afternoon summer heat was to frolic in the lawn sprinklers for hours on end, quench my thirst with gulps of water from the garden hose, engineer makeshift slip-and-slides, and bike to the farmer’s fruit stand down the road.
The days of moderately worry-free water consumption are long gone as California rightfully encourages reductions in residential water use during this debilitating drought. What I never imagined is that my trips to the farm stand might become a relic of the past not only due to a lack of water, but to a lack of safe water.
Ninety years ago this past weekend, on August 2, 1924, James Baldwin was born in Harlem to a single mother, the eldest of nine children, plagued by poverty, and by a deeply divided country where both his race and his sexuality were seen to be liabilities. That Baldwin, who left Harlem first for Greenwich Village and later for Paris, would transcend these difficult beginnings to become a citizen of the world—famously sparring in one instance with then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy on the necessity of civil rights legislation—was evidence of his remarkable talent, unparalleled intellect, and the sheer force of his principles. As the poet Nikky Finney put it in her introduction to Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems, Baldwin would come to be regarded as “the most salient, sublime, and consequential American writer of the twentieth century.” He spoke about his early life, and of his difficult relationship with his stepfather—a domineering presence in Baldwin’s youth—in a 1963 interview with Kenneth Clark:
As the 2014 mid-term elections grind inexorably towards us, the concept of “nullification” has started to pop up with surprising frequency. As used in political circles, the term refers to the supposed ability of a state to nullify, or void, any federal law it finds too onerous or politically unacceptable. Most recently, Iowa’s Republican candidate for the US Senate, Joni Ernst, caused a stir by apparently advocating nullification to attendees of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition.
“Bottom line is, as a US senator, why should we be passing laws that the states are considering nullifying?” Ernst asked. “I mean, that’s bottom line, is our legislators at the federal level should not be passing those laws.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. at a press conference in June, 1964 World Telegram & Sun photo by Walter Albertin (via Wikimedia Commons)
In July of 1964, fifty years ago this month, Harper & Row published what has often been applauded as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s most incisive and eloquent book. Why We Can’t Wait recounts the Birmingham campaign in vivid detail, while underscoring why 1963 was such a crucial year for the civil rights movement. During this time, Birmingham, Alabama, was perhaps the most racially segregated city in the United States, but the campaign launched by Fred Shuttlesworth, King, and others demonstrated to the world the power of nonviolent direct action. King examines the history of the civil rights struggle and the tasks that future generations must accomplish to bring about full equality. The book grew out of ideas in first expressed in King’s extraordinary “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” a passionate response to eight white clergymen who argued that racial segregation should be fought in the courts and not by protest in the streets. That famous letter, which is included in the book, was first composed on scraps of paper and in the margins of a smuggled newspaper. It would eventually bring much needed national attention to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s campaign in Birmingham, and become an essential clarion call for the wider civil rights movement.
Summer is a time for getting outdoors, listening to the birds, taking long walks in the woods or long naps on the beach. And there’s nothing quite like reading a book outside, or after a day spent basking in the splendor of the natural world. With that in mind, here are five titles to accompany your summer adventures, or inspire your next trip outdoors:
In the late 1970s, the Internal Revenue Service introduced code 401(k). Intended to supplement traditional defined benefit retirement pensions, 401(k)s have instead largely replaced them, prompting a massive shift in how retirement is funded in the United States, and bestowing enormous financial risk upon employees rather than their employers. The result, according to James W. Russell, professor of sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University and author of Social Insecurity: 401(k)s and the Retirement Crisis, has been a massive economic catastrophe, jeopardizing the financial futures of many American workers.
In a recent conversation with professors Jerry Lembcke and Ellis Jones of Holy Cross College, Russell outlined the inadequacies of the 401(k) system and explained alternatives for Americans who want to maximize their benefits and live comfortably in retirement.
If representation is homogenous, then it is inaccurate. Yet, Muslims are daily portrayed and perceived as a monolith—in spite of there being 1.6 billion Muslims spread out over 56 countries, dozens of ethnic groups, and a multitude of legal and cultural practices.
Herbert Marcuse with Angela Davis in 1970 (Nancy Chase)
July 19th marks the 116th anniversary of the birth of Herbert Marcuse, the German-born university professor and internationally celebrated social theorist, philosopher, and political activist who went on to become one of America’s most inﬂuential intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s. His analysis of capitalist consumerism and social repression ignited the New Left, inspiring such radical scholars and activists as Abbie Hoffman, Kathy Acker, and Angela Davis, who notably claimed that “Herbert Marcuse taught me that it was possible to be an academic and an activist, a scholar and a revolutionary.”
A memorial to migrants who have died trying to cross the border stands in Reynosa, Mexico.
According to the US Customs and Border Protection, more than 47,000 unaccompanied minors have crossed the border in the last six months, up 92% from the previous year. The humanitarian crisis has sparked new urgency in the immigration debate, one that President Obama recently proposed to solve by increasing the speed of their deportations. Though Obama has since backed off from that plan, seeking instead $3.7 billion in funding to help alleviate the situation, how exactly those dollars will be allocated, or whether even his request will pass the crucible of Congress, remains unclear.
Meanwhile, unaccompanied immigrant children are still arriving at the border in droves. The numbers, in aggregate, are staggering but they belie the human struggle each of these children have undergone simply to reach the US. It is exactly that struggle that Margaret Regan writes about in The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands. In the following excerpt, Regan, in telling Josseline’s story, shows us the sometimes tragic and all-too-real dangers that many of these unaccompanied minors must increasingly endure.
Josseline pulled her two jackets closer in the cold. She was wearing everything she had brought with her from home. Underneath the jackets, she had on a tank top, better suited to Arizona’s searing summers than its chilly winters, and she’d pulled a pair of sweatpants over her jeans. Her clothes betrayed her girly tastes. One jacket was lined in pink. Her sneakers were a wild bright green, a totally cool pair of shoes that were turning out to be not even close to adequate for the difficult path she was walking. A little white beaded bracelet circled her wrist. Best of all were her sweats, a pair of “butt pants” with the word HOLLYWOOD emblazoned on the rear. Josseline planned to have them on when she arrived in the land of movie stars.
She tried to pay attention to the twists and turns in the footpath, to obey the guide, to keep up with the group. But by the time they got to Cedar Canyon, she was lagging. She was beginning to feel sick. She’d been on the road for weeks and out in the open for days, sleeping on the damp ground. Maybe she’d skimped on drinking water, giving what she had to her little brother. Maybe she’d swallowed some of the slimy green water that pools in the cow ponds dotting this ranch country. Whatever the reason, Josseline started vomiting. She crouched down and emptied her belly, retching again and again, then lay back on the ground. Resting didn’t help. She was too weak to stand up, let alone hike this rollercoaster trail out to the road.
I’m a soccer addict. I love playing, watching, and following the “beautiful game” any chance I get. I inherited my love for the sport from my Egyptian father, who sat me down in our Texas home and told me what “football,” really was. He taught me about Pelé and Brazil, and of the great rivalry in his own country between the clubs Al-Ahly and Zamalek. He also taught me about the World Cup and Ramadan. And we can all agree that at least one of them is of great religious importance.
The World Cup and Ramadan aren’t always mentioned in the same sentence, but this year was different. The Islamic holy month started during the tournament’s knockout stage. In some ways, this was a fitting moment for the Muslim soccer players who had made it that far. They knew the Muslim world would be watching them as they pushed their bodies to their physical limits in the greatest moment of their careers. This was certainly the case for Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira of Germany, who helped seal German soccer supremacy for the next four years.
The last time Ramadan and the World Cup crossed paths was in 1986 and 1982 respectively. I’ll never forget the summer of 1982. I was in Egypt, visiting my father’s family on a much-delayed bereavement trip. My father had died of cardiac arrest in October of 1981. We buried him in a Muslim cemetery in Houston, Texas and had to wait eight months before we could visit our relatives in Cairo. Those eight months were tough on me, a nine-year-old boy who just lost his father, soccer coach, and mentor.
GAZA CITY, GAZA - JULY 15: Palestinian 4-year-old Sheyma Al-Masri, wounded in an Israeli airstrike within the 'Operation Protective Edge', gets treatment at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Gaza on July 15, 2014.
As Israel and Hamas trade blows, and with Israel’s Operation “Protective Edge” entering its eighth day, the casualty count in Gaza continues to climb, with estimates of nearly 200 Palestinians killed and over 1,500 wounded by the airstrike campaign. President Obama recently defended Israel’s right to the bombardment, making a US-brokered peace deal seem further away than ever. It’s a development that adds fuel to an argument that Middle East historian Rashid Khalidi frames in his latest book, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. In it, Khalidi—who recently appeared on the radio show On Point to talk about this latest backslide into violence—asserts that, far from being the unbiased benevolent guide to peace between Israel and Palestine, the US has, in fact, been an agent of continuing injustice, effectively preventing the difficult but essential steps needed to achieve peace in the region. The following is excerpted from Khalidi’s introduction to Brokers of Deceit.
In politics and in diplomacy, as in much else, language matters greatly. However debased political discourse may become, however disingenuous diplomacy often is, the words employed by politicians and diplomats define situations and determine outcomes. In recent history, few semantic battles over terminology have been as intensely fought out as those concerning Palestine/Israel.
The importance of the precise use of language can be illustrated by the powerful valence in the Middle East context of terms such as “terrorism,” “security,” “self-determination,” “autonomy,” “honest broker,” and “peace process.” Each of these terms has set conditions not only for perceptions, but also for possibilities. Moreover, these terms have come to take on a specific meaning, frequently one that is heavily loaded in favor of one side, and is far removed from what logic or balance would seem to dictate. Thus in the American/Israeli official lexicon, “terrorism” in the Middle East context has come to apply exclusivelyto the actions of Arab militants, whether those of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Hamas, Hizballah, or others. Under these peculiar terminological rules, the actions of the militaries of Israel and the United States cannot be described as “terrorism,” irrespective of how many Palestinians, Lebanese, Iraqi, or Afghan civilians may have died at their hands.
In October of 2008, Frank Warren, founder of PostSecret, came to my undergraduate campus in Macon, Georgia, where a single microphone was set up in front of the stage. At the end of his presentation, Frank opened the floor to anyone who wanted to share a secret aloud. A line slowly formed behind the first timid, sharers, as if by speaking each one was passing a baton of courage to the person behind them. The eighth or so speaker was a slender girl who drew back her shoulders before she spoke. “I don’t want to talk about this with anyone after we leave this room,” she said in a voice stronger and larger than expected, “but two years ago, I was raped by my high school boyfriend of five years. And my secret is that, while I can stand here and tell that to all of you, I cannot tell my mother.” With her back still straight, she stepped around the mic and returned to the rows full of anonymous students.