GM – FBF – Today, I want to share with you an article that I wrote for a newspaper back in 1996 – 128 years since the admendment was passed. Now it’s has been 150 years is there any changes since the article?
Remember – ” We as a people need all of the support of this President as the Civil War is ending and slaves will truely be free” – Frederick Douglass
Today in our History – July 28, 1868 – The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adoped by all states.
This is an artilce that I wrote back in 1996 when I was Teaching at Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver, New Jersey as Director of Black Studies:
What will it take for African-Americans to gain their citizenship? Brought to the shores of this land for the sole purpose of hard labor and a permanent, inherited and inherent state of servitude, Black people never were meant to become citizens. And yet this is what happened on July 28,1868, when the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted. It was on that day that Secretary of State William Seward issued a proclamation in which he certified the ratification of the 14th Amendment by the states.
Since that time, it has been an uphill battle for the descendants of slaves to remove the badge of slavery, even when the physical shackles were removed.
Malcolm X articulated the extent of the problem of citizenship for African-Americans in a 1963 interview, when journalist Louis Lomax pressed the issue.
“If they were citizens, you wouldn’t have a race problem. If the Emancipation Proclamation was authentic, you wouldn’t have a race problem. If the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were authentic, you wouldn’t have a race problem,” Malcolm insisted. “If the Supreme Court desegregation decision was authentic, you wouldn’t have a race problem. All of this hypocrisy that has been practiced by the so-called white so-called liberal for the past 400 years, that compounds the problem, makes it more complicated, instead of eliminating the problem.”
Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” And Hamer wanted to become a “first-class citizen,” as she testified at the 1964 Democratic Convention as a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, in opposition to her state’s whites-only delegation. She spoke of the beatings, harassment and threats she faced from white supremacists for attempting to exercise her rights as a citizen.
“Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?” she asked.
Black people in America are constantly made to fight for their rights, and are subjected to the whims of a hostile white majority. Being a citizen on paper and under the law proves illusory when the institutional racism against us has not abated.
New movements are necessary every few decades or so in order to secure the rights we were told we already have. And even today, there is a struggle among Black people, who are fighting for an existence free from state violence, mass incarceration and institutional racism.
Section 1 of the amendment says the following:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
With the enactment of the 14th Amendment, the infamous Dred Scott v. Sanford decision — which held that the descendants of African people could not be citizens — was no more. In Dred Scott, Blacks, according to Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever profit could be made by it.”
“The Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment guaranteed formal citizenship to ‘all persons born in the United States’ including African Americans.
In its original conception, the 14th Amendment was an anti-subordination law designed to lift African-Americans out of slavery and allow them to be equal citizens. This requires remedial action ordered by the courts or passed by Congress (see Section 5). However, when the U.S. Supreme Court took a conservative turn in the 1970s, it began viewing the 14th Amendment as an anti-classification law, which meant that remedial actions designed to help African-Americans attain true citizenship became suspect. We saw this through the Court’s hostility toward desegregation and affirmative action.
Slavery was abolished in part to promote the industrial future of America and steer it away from being an agrarian society. De jure segregation was eliminated because it was an international embarrassment after World War II, when the United States wanted to expand its global influence and, in the wake of the Cold War, to prevent African-Americans from being drawn to communism.
So in my view, laws are not enough. Activism is not enough. But we need both laws and activism, and at the right historical moment, African-Americans will gain some more citizenship rights. It will not be full citizenship, and it is a slow climb — certainly not satisfying to advocates of racial justice. But this is the unfortunate reality in my view. Research more about this and the other Civil Rights Admendments and share with your babies. Make it a champion day!