Although Africans were brought to America before the Mayflower, blacks have never benefited from the same blueblood status accorded the descendants of the first Europeans to arrive on these shores. For while the Declaration of Independence asserted that “All Men Are Created Equal,” its hypocritical signers only paid lip service to that lofty notion after they won the Revolutionary War.
For, over the very vocal objections of Quakers and other dissenters who warned that the stain of slavery would haunt the United States for generations to come, the Founding Fathers opted to weave that evil institution into the very fabric of the young nation, going so far as to codify blacks 3/5ths human by law under the sacrosanct Constitution.
Consequently, over the intervening years, blacks caught nothing but hell in the U.S., initially as property to be bought and sold, even whipped or raped, at the whim of their masters. When blacks appealed to the Supreme Court for relief from the oppression, Chief Justice Taney only damned them to further misery via his Dred Scott decision which legally declared blacks “beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
In spite of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the freedmen would find themselves betrayed by the federal government when it reneged not only on the Reconstruction promise of 40 acres and a mule but the guarantees of due process and equal protection contained in the recently-passed 14th Amendment. The end of the Civil War also signaled the rise of the Ku Klux Klan whose bloody reign of terror would mark an era of a century of lynchings.
Meanwhile, African-Americans patiently lobbied the courts for civil rights, but found the road to justice blocked by the bigoted double-speak of Plessy vs. Ferguson and other rulings allowing for “separate but equal” treatment. Such rulings only further emboldened segregationists who strategically proceeded to pass cruel Jim Crow laws designed to condemn blacks permanently to a state-sanctioned second-class.
As someone who spent his formative years in the Fifties frustrated by my mother’s having to explain that I couldn’t go to this amusement park or that swimming pool because “colored” weren’t allowed there, I remember like it was yesterday watching televised news broadcasts of my heroes being knocked over by fire hoses and attacked by police dogs simply for trying to register to vote.
So, excuse me for being moved to tears by Barack Obama’s historic Presidential victory, as I reflect upon the endless struggles and sacrifices a spiritually-resolute people have made over the ages en route to this glorious, historic moment.