Articles From the August 1993 Unification News
Resurrecting an Achievement Ethic in the Quest for Authentic Empowerment.
by Curtis Walker
"We (Blacks) must demonstrate our capacity to cooperate among ourselves, before demanding any cooperation where the resources of others (Whites) are at stake. Business is the ultimate test of our ability to cooperate. Somehow we must learn this fundamental lesson. It will be costly; there will be some loss in the process, but we must keep it up until we have developed within the race a group of people of definite capacity and unquestioned integrity, who can lead the way to larger achievements for the benefit of the whole race. ", R.R. Moton/President, National Negro Business League, 1928
Truth is, in order to engage in a meaningful and intelligent dialogue on America's Black-White question, it is important to understand, first of all, that Black America, as a whole, comprises two distinct communities. On the one hand, there is the community of the underclass, which is riddled with disrupted households, single-parent families, so-called aberrant ghetto norms and behavior codes, and the blights of crack cocaine, poverty, and dependency on government programs.
On the other hand, there is the Black middle-class community, which possesses the values, norms, folkways, and the economic viability which make it potentially as strong as any other ethnic middle class in this country. Along with that, we have the fact that one of the largest increases over the past two decades has been the increase of the African-American middle class. Yet, and this is extremely important, this notable fact of Black success is, more often than not, played down and/or ignored, especially by the intellectual left, who dominate today's liberal media.
In cahoots with our left-wing press on this conspiratorial cover-up of Black success we have the old-guard Black leadership, whose members operate out of a civil-rights interpretation of all life and the universe. The views of this leadership stem from a civil-rights vision which is rooted in the central conception of Blacks as the U.S.A's preeminent victims, victims devastated by a history of discrimination, and unable to advance without the benign philanthropy of an allegedly guilt-ridden, presumably privileged, White male elite.
Not surprisingly, this conception remains intact to this day. This "sacred" system of beliefs and excuses must be overturned, if genuine restoration and true victory are to be attained with regard to American race relations.
What this means is that tribal messiahs need to have an accurate perspective on America's racial history. In particular, we need to clearly understand how the Cain-Abel dynamic has been operating specifically within Black history itself, during the course of Black America's ongoing quest for overall, first-class citizenship.
Black historian Elizabeth Wright, in the Winter 1993 edition of her quarterly journal, Issues & Views, offers what this writer feels is a refreshingly insightful perspective. Wright deals creatively with the motives of both the Black leadership elite and their White liberal co-conspirators, all of whom continue to hold a vested interest in keeping Blacks locked within the mindset of failure, powerlessness, and victimization.
By grasping Ms. Wright's alternative historical view, tribal messiahs can equip themselves to more adequately cope with racial matters, as God's providence of restoration continues to advance.
With that said, I now present: keeping the Spotlight on Failure: How to make sure the patient does not get well By Elizabeth Wright
It is normal for members of ethnic groups to celebrate the high points in their shared history. The victories over natural and manmade catastrophes are held up as proof of the specialness of their heritage. Black Americans, however, are encouraged to remain fixated on the dreariest aspects of our past. Observe the typical museum exhibition or photography display devoted to black history, and you are likely to find depictions of slaves in torment, or photos of gory lynchings or smoldering-ash aftermaths of Klan raids.
If, now and then, an uplifting image does slip through, it usually has been inserted only to highlight some ensuing tragedy or "injustice." When it comes to blacks, one usually gets to see only the ruination, not the rebuilding, the deterioration, not the renewal.
It is not that other groups have no sad stories to tell, it's that they lack an elite who might profit from the repeated telling of their tales of woe. Celebrating the positive has the invigorating effect of unifying the members of the group around a common set of victories, which usually become heroic myths. "If we conquered that hurdle together, we can all rise to even greater heights." In the case of the American black, it is imperative to those who lead that such a wholesome state of affairs never prevail. The images of disaster and doom must be played up, for black youth especially, not so they may appreciate the past "struggle" but to condition each generation to readily accept, without question, the wisdom and guidance of the leaders.
Black history as told by the black establishment goes something like this: Africans uprooted, chained enslaved; brutal plantation slavery; oppressive Jim Crow and lynchings; then nothing but misery until the 1964 Civil Rights Act. According to this official version of our history, the black man (apparently unable to figure his way around a corner) suffered his fate in humble dejection, without the uplifting benefit of integrated schools, integrated workplace, and integrated country clubs. Like Sleeping Beauty responding to the prince's kiss, he awakened from his deep slumber of passivity in 1964, when a government document gave him the power to intrude himself and his young into institutions already created by others. It is then that real life began.
The accomplishments of blacks prior to the modern civil rights period, which is the Heroic Era of The Leaders, must be depicted as minimal or without any real significance. Those blacks who did figure their way around corners, and often very skillfully, are to be downplayed as aberrations, or just lucky folk. For how could a black man, decades before, or even a century before the "sacrifices" of the great Freedom Riders hold up his head, much less be the stalwart of his community?
This tendency on the part of the black elite to use the tragedies of the race to ennoble themselves, while detracting black energy away from productive enterprise, was noted as early as the 1850's. Abolitionist Martin Delany denounced northern blacks, especially, for wasting energy on "examining, complaining, moralizing over" the black condition, instead of getting on with the business of economically competing with whites.
Certainly, nobody had a clearer insight into what these people were up to than did Booker T. Washington who, in 1911, accused self-interest blacks of purposely emphasizing race, in order to get an easy ride for themselves. "There is a class of colored people," declared Washington, "who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. . . .
Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.... There is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don't want the patient to get well...." And, indeed, 82 years later, the patient has not gotten well, but the booming race business is healthier than ever, now buttressed by a flowering of other "victims" and oppressed groups.
Emphasis on Failure
One of the many negative consequences of the emphasis on failure and loss is that most blacks are cut off from a knowledge of the thousands of black men who viewed business enterprise and land ownership as critical to progress and actively pursued success in capitalist enterprise. For example, almost a century ago, Henry Allen Boyd, son of a slave, with little formal education, founded one business after another in Nashville, Tennessee, and assisted his fellow blacks to do the same. He was revered as the solid rock of Nashville's black community.
Just about 70 years ago, John Whitelaw Lewis countered Washington, DC's restrictive Jim Crow laws by building an elegant hotel for blacks. Designed by a black architect and built entirely by black tradesmen, it became the center of social life for black professionals and business people.
About a decade before Lewis, New York realtor Philip Payton and a partnership of black businessmen prevented the eviction of black tenants from two buildings in Harlem by buying the buildings outright. They met racism head-on with economic clout and were praised for their "novel method of resisting race prejudice."
It's hardly more than 60 years after Charles Spaulding and his cousin Asa presided over the country's largest black-owned business, Durham's North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, with Asa's intelligence and perseverance helping the company to survive even the Great Depression.
In the 1870's, Robert Reed Church, born a slave, used his brains and savvy to become a businessman prosperous enough to counter racist laws in Memphis by building a splendid park on Beale Street for the black community. Here, blacks enjoyed summer festivities, held graduation exercises and hosted an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the poor-all paid for with black dollars.
George Downing, an industrious entrepreneur in the 1840's, not only established catering business in several eastern resorts, but built the luxurious Sea Grit Hotel in Newport, Rhode Island. His was one of the most popular establishments in town.
There is also an impressive list of black men who, long before Emancipation, used their ingenuity to counter racism and to meet racial insult with economic initiatives. What did they all have in common? They were pragmatists, men who realistically assessed their options in the world around them, learned the economic principles that drove society, and set out to master them. They did not get sidetracked or bogged down in ideological swamp-lands, since such digression would not have created jobs for themselves or their children, or produce the capital with which to subvert bigotry
These men were not aberrations by any means, but were representative of a spirit that once seized blacks, where personal success was tied to a commitment to carry on the "progress of the race." They were part of a tide that had begun to roll long before slavery ended and which endured right into the 20th century.
Leaders With a Sense of Mission
It was this prevailing spirit among blacks that people like Booker T. Washington cultivated, to inspire them on to even greater achievements. The men and women who led the Tuskegee movement understood that just as important as the technical assistance they offered, was the moral support necessary to enhearten even the poorest to become successful craftsmen, farmers, and small business proprietors.
Many men who had been mechanics and blacksmiths during slavery worked to accumulate capital so they could open mechanical repair shops and blacksmith shops. In Cass County, Michigan, a community settled by former slaves, William Powell was one of many who opened their own companies. His was the Standard Repair Shop, where he invented several mechanical implements.
The present story of the black masses might be a very different one if the elite who usurped the mantle of leadership from the Tuskegee elders had possessed their same sense of mission. Instead, throughout the Tuskegee period, these arrogant ones scorned education in crafts and industrial skills, and especially derided black farmers. A 1909 poetic ditty by Kentucky educator Joseph Cotter reflects this disdain. Cotter mocked the tendency of black "intellectuals" to belittle the economic achievements of the black farmer in contrast to their college-bred attainments. He wrote: "What deeds have sprung from plow and pick!/What bankrolls from tomatoes!/No dainty crop of rhetoric/Can match one of potatoes./A little gold won't mar our grace/A little ease our glory/This world's a better biding place/When money clinks its story."
A great many affluent northern blacks scoffed at the small businesses that had sprung up throughout the South and other parts of the country. In fact, this disdain is still reflected today in the attitudes of most of the black leadership. For instance, in 1989, during the Miami riots, a television interviewer asked a local "leader" why American blacks failed to pool resources and open small businesses as do other groups. The response was that "piddling" little mom and pop stores are a thing of the past. After all, one could not expect blacks "after 400 years in this country" to engage in such lowly occupations.
What prominent members of any other group would downplay even the simplest accomplishments of their compatriots? These are the people who Marcus Garvey had in mind when he criticized Negroes who lacked the ability "to appreciate starting at a given point and climbing steadily, while other races have been willing to start from the lowest down to climb higher up."
The White Moral Crusaders
The harmful impact of this elite in denigrating the successes of the humblest blacks was matched only by the increasing intervention of outsiders into the affairs of the race, those crusading whites who, in the 19th century, Frederick Douglass commanded to cease their interference. Angered by an already well-developed white paternalism that was a byproduct of the abolition period, and concerned that such paternalism might prevent blacks from developing independently after emancipation, Douglass vehemently commanded whites to allow the black man to find his own place: "Everybody has asked the question, 'What shall we do with the Negro?' I have had but one answer from the beginning Do nothing with us!... Give (the Negro) a chance to stand on his own legs. Let him alone!" And if the black man were left to make his own way, Douglass said, "he will work as readily for himself as the white man."
Long before Douglass spoke those words, and long before Emancipation, black men had already begun to take their destiny in their hands. Experience had taught the freed-man the connection between the ownership of businesses and property and the greater ability to control his life. Just as Douglass predicted, liberated black men continued to map out their futures, as they founded towns like Mound Bayou, Mississippi and Nicodemus, Kansas, created thousands of small businesses in the North and South (hence the need for the National Negro Business League), founded and developed solid institutions like the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Mechanics and Farmers Bank, both of which stand today in Durham as a testament to black ingenuity and perseverance.
Historian Howard Brotz compares the words of Frederick Douglass demanding respect of the innate ability of blacks to words in a famous 1960's speech by President Lyndon Johnson, who refers to blacks as "hobbled by chains" and in need to "liberation." Describing American blacks as "pawns of moralistic crusaders," Brotz observes, "Common sense is precisely what has been blocked by an orthodoxy that homogenized all blacks as objects of public policy, as 'hobbled' victims." The true interests of blacks were seen as irrelevant to the great moral crusade.
Black Nationalism Based in Morality and Self-Help
Brotz points out that "black power" in its original cast, namely, the black nationalism of Martin Delany, Marcus Garvey and later, the Muslims, had always placed a strong emphasis on morality and self-help. But by the 1970's, in its revised version, black power was transformed into "black victim power" The leadership now had to reject the original accent on self-help, since such emphasis would place expectations on blacks themselves. This would not justify the middle class's claim on government for racial entitlements. The blacks masses, therefore, had to be depicted as helpless victims.
Yet, historian John Sibley Butler discovered an enterprising spirit in the earliest history of American blacks. He writes that the evidence of "Afro-American entrepreneurship, both slave and free, is systematic testimony to the spirit of enterprise even under troublesome conditions... Documents show that a very impressive business class evolved wherever there were free Afro-Americans." As entrepreneurs, blacks "formed an impressive and cohesive business class."
Many whites were apprehensive about such developments. The Southerner Thomas Dixon in the late 19th century minced no words in warning his countrymen about the prospect of economic competition from "hordes of negroes who outnumber the white population." He spoke of the "danger" of a man like Booker T. Washington, who was energizing the former slave populations, not only to do for themselves but to assertively compete in the marketplace.
None were dumb to the prospect to black-owned factories employing thousands of black workers turning out competitive goods and merchandise; of farmers growing produce for black-owned markets and food chains; of black architects and landscapers developing real estate and building hotels and other accommodations. A great many whites in the North and South understood the implications of an economically powerful black population and generations later were ready to accede to the lesser demands for "inclusion," as presented by the black elite. Ironically, years after this elite had derailed any possibility for the continuance of independent black institutions, a researcher quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. Explaining to a group of whites, almost apologetically, that it might be necessary to "temporarily" maintain some black businesses and schools "to prevent the loss of economic power that could result from complete integration."
The Ongoing Devaluing of Black Achievement
With the passing of the Tuskegee leadership, the stage was set for the forces that were to further atomize the black community. An alliance was now in place between a band of black sophisticates and eager white liberals who succeeded in linking all future progress for blacks to the quest for "equality." As time went on, any social or economic achievements that had occurred prior to the days of the glorious civil rights movement had to be downgraded as trivial, or even pathetic, since such achievement could not fit into the myth of liberation as a gift of a wise and benevolent 1960's leadership.
Progress must not be seen as the fruit of individual effort and enterprise, but only as the consequence of the noble deeds of a specific group of people initially headed by King. This is the real reason why King is hyped as Hero-to keep blacks beholden to the current leaders, who are to be viewed as direct "heirs" of the Hero. So, Benjamin Hooks, Jesse Jackson, and even the improbable Al Sharpton can speak of a debt due to those who, like themselves, made all progress possible. And, according to this civil rights vision, these worthies still make all progress possible.
As a controlling device, it works. Cut off from the knowledge of the steady progress made by blacks into the 1950's and the prudent measures taken by enlightened men and women who learned how to make the economic system work for them, the black masses continue to be manipulated by a cynical elite. The solutions to our social and economic problem have always been within our reach and with the black community. Our misfortune is that our race's custodians have chosen to ignore that part of our history that could have the most meaningful impact on our lives. It is not necessary for blacks to look to other groups to learn how to utilize free enterprise to improve our lives and restore our communities. We need only look to our own impressive and honorable past.
Beyond Civil Rights
From Elizabeth Wright's commentary, this writer sees one key point emerging: the traditional alliance between Unificationists and the Black civil rights leadership will no longer suffice, as we seek to bring about the genuine restoration of race relations in this country.
In times past, that alliance aided us in advancing the messianic agenda, particularly during the period of Reverend Moon's tax case, and during the brief span of "Minority Alliance International," which Reverend Moon created as a forum for dealing with racial bigotry and prejudice. That same alliance proved to be an especially fruitful one during the periods of CAUSA and ICC, when thousands of mostly black,, Christian clergy and laity united with us in our effort to revive American Christianity.
Today, however, the horizon has shifted. The vast majority of America's current racial matters and concerns are no longer "civil-rights" issues. Therefore, to continue viewing these matters through a civil-rights vision will only lead us to lose touch with reality.
Noted economist and author Dr. Thomas Sowell puts it thusly: "The battle for civil rights was fought and won, at great cost, many years ago. Like any fundamental human achievement, these rights cannot be taken for granted and must be safeguarded. But civil rights are not protected or enhanced by the growing practice of calling every issue raised by 'spokesmen' for minority, female, elderly, or other groups, 'civil-rights' issues. The right to vote is a civil right. The right to win is not. Equal treatment does not mean equal results. Everything desirable is not a civil right. Nor are the institutions or methods that produced civil rights likely to produce all the other things required to advance minorities, women, or others."
Dr. Sowell further states: "An attorney and former official of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund inadvertently revealed much of the evolution of that organization when he noted that by the mid 1960's the long, golden days the civil-rights movement had begun to wane," that the legal tools which it had developed `now threaten to collect dust.'
They needed new missions, and they found them, the crusade against the death penalty being just one. But they continued to call themselves `civil-rights' organizations, and the media have largely repeated that designation. In reality, the crusade for civil rights ended years ago. The scramble for special privilege, for turf, and for image is what continues on today, under that banner, and with that rhetoric."
Without a doubt, Blacks like Elizabeth Wright and Thomas Sowell are currently minority voices among African-Americans. For this Unificationist, however, Sowell and Wright offer cogent perspectives which can support all tribal messiahs in our quest to generate relevant approaches with regard to the monumental challenge of effectuating interracial amity and cooperation in this country.
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