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So, to some, all lives matter now?

The words “all lives matter” are a common response to the Black Lives Matter movement. American history shows, though, that black lives never have mattered, and they still don’t.

The Declaration of Independence asserted all men are created equal. “All men” clearly meant “all white men.” African-American slaves weren’t legally considered people—sort of—until the Constitutional Convention in 1787. There, delegates voted that black slaves were three-fifths of a person, but this was all about political representation and taxes. Black lives did not matter.

That vote, though, didn’t stop passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. This required runaway slaves to be returned to their owners (note the word). Upon the slaves’ return, their owners had them whipped, shackled, lynched, beaten, burned alive, castrated, mutilated, branded, tortured and raped (men and women). The slaves’ lives didn’t matter to anyone but them.

It wasn’t until 246 years after the first slaves were brought to Virginia that the 13th Amendment abolished slavery (1865). In the post-Civil War South, though, slavery still existed and, according to the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, “a tense atmosphere of racial hatred, ignorance and fear bred lawless mass violence, murder and lynchings.” Photographs show a smug nonchalance among white lynch mobs. Did all lives matter then?

Let’s turn to the 20th century.  Take 14-year-old Emmett Till, who made the mistake of flirting with a white woman in Mississippi in 1955. The woman’s husband and his half-brother shot him in the head and threw his body into a river. The men beat Till so severely that he was barely recognizable as a human. An all-white male jury took just an hour to acquit his murderers. All lives didn’t matter to them.

History books are full of chapters about black lives not mattering in the 1950s and ’60s. Those chapters are still being written.

Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is fueled further by the deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police—Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, and Natasha McKenna, to name just a few. Those cases, among many others, raise serious questions about police accountability for the use of excessive force.

In other ways, black lives still do not matter. Why, just last month, did a federal appeals court have to repudiate North Carolina’s voter identification law? The New York Times quotes the court as saying the law’s provisions “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to stifle black voter turnout. A separate Times story quotes a “blizzard” of similar attempts in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and Texas.

African-Americans have been in America almost 400 years, but, as George Salis writes in Stetson University Today, a year-old New York Times/CBS News poll shows “nearly six in 10 Americans, including heavy majorities of both whites and blacks, think race relations are generally bad.” Salis quotes Stetson University education Professor Patrick Coggins as saying, “Ideologically, 10 to 20 percent of our society is locked in the past. There are people who still believe in segregation and defining others based on their race rather than their character.”

Responding to the Black Lives Matter movement by saying “all lives matter” sweeps aside 400 years of history. If all lives mattered, would there be a need for a Black Lives Matter movement?



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 7th, 2016 02:39 pm (UTC)
That last line nails it. Well done, pjv.
Aug. 8th, 2016 12:15 am (UTC)
Thanks, Jamie. for reading and for commenting both here and on FB.
Aug. 7th, 2016 03:15 pm (UTC)
Amen brother.
Aug. 8th, 2016 12:15 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading it.
Aug. 8th, 2016 03:37 pm (UTC)
There, delegates voted that black slaves were three-fifths of a person (1787).

Thank you for both your words and in reminding me of this heinous fact, once learned but shamefully forgotten.
Aug. 9th, 2016 12:44 pm (UTC)
I was reminded of a whole bunch of things when I researched this column, but because of my white privilege, I was free to forget them. Thank you for reading and commenting.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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