Why Neo-Confederate Claims about Black Slaveholders Are So Misleading

Neo-Confederates insist that the many statues of Robert E. Lee commemorate only southern “heritage,” and that the revered “Lost Cause” had nothing to do with slavery. Among their favorite proofs of the latter proposition is the claim that southern blacks were also slaveholders, which is somehow thought to make the Confederacy’s “peculiar institution” appear more even-handed or benign. The most recent iteration of this dubious storyline comes in the form of a widely-circulated internet image asserting that “What your history books [don’t] tell you is that 3000 blacks owned a total of 20,000 slaves” in 1860.  Signed by “A Proud Southern Deplorable – Southern Rebel,” the point of the meme is … [Read more...]

Ben Parten on America’s Other Founding Father: Nat Turner

In the 2014 film Top Five, Chris Rock's character has set out to make a film called Uprize, about the Haitian Revolution.  He sees it as his way of changing his image and being a more serious artist, rather than merely the star of a series of ludicrous comedies about a bear who becomes a cop.  Little does he realize that much of America has little appetite for a movie that's basically about black people killing a bunch of white people.  It doesn't "play in Peoria." Ironically, two years later brought The Birth of a Nation, director Nate Parker's ambitious attempt to tell the story of another slave uprising: the 1831 revolt led by Nat Turner in Virginia. The movie met with a relatively … [Read more...]

It Started Here: Jean Vang’s Journey into Fresno’s Hip Hop Past

Popping is a dance style that originated in Fresno and is characterized by abrupt spastic movements. The dancers pop their limbs in sudden drastic motions while incorporating subtle pauses to accentuate these popping gestures. The origins are often credited to brothers Popp’ in Pete and Sam Solomon who helped create the dance stylings in the 1970’s.[1] The Solomon brothers grew up in West Fresno which was predominantly African American. Latinos and African Americans were often segregated to this region of Fresno, which suffered from widespread unemployment and poverty. The schools in this region were neglected and housing was dilapidated.[2] It was under these difficult conditions that the … [Read more...]

A Blaxican’s Journey through Fresno’s Racial Landscape

In the summer of 1973, DJ Kool Herc tried something new on the turntables: by extending the beat, breaking and scratching the record, he allowed people to dance longer and entertained them with his rhymes as an MC. After that moment, everything changed. The sound that emerged out of the South Bronx in New York City led to a cultural movement that changed the lives of generations around the world.[1] For Phillip Walker, a mixed race kid from Fresno, California, hip-hop not only served as the soundtrack of his youth, but provided a way to understand his neighborhood and build a multiethnic community. Phillip Ernest Walker Jr. was born on January 28, 1976 in Fresno, California. He is the son … [Read more...]

The Story of Boogaloo Sam as Told by Izel Gaye

We all have that one piece of clothing, be it a fresh new hat or a favorite pair of jeans, that when we slip it on it makes us feel like a million bucks.  You walk a little taller and feel as though your outlook for the day may be brighter simply by adorning yourself in this one item.  For Izel Gaye, a 58-year-old man who has lived most of his life on the west side of Fresno California, that special item is a pair of dancing shoes that were given to him by his friend, Poppin’ and Boogaloo icon Sam Solomon. “When he gave you something,” Mr. Gaye reflected in a recent oral history, “It was like oh boy you better hang on to this… it's got the magic touch.  Then when I put ‘em on I feel like I’m … [Read more...]

Straight Outta Fresno: Hip Hop Dance from Popping to B-Boying and B-Girling

In 1979, Soul Train host Don Cornelius introduced the nation to five dancers who called themselves the Electric Boogaloos. “As you may know, these very creative young men have invented a dancing style that’s becoming very popular, and it’s described as ‘popping,’” Cornelius announced to the cameras. Shortly after their 1979 performance, Hollywood produced a series of breakdancing films that featured actual poppers like Bruno “Pop N' Taco” Falcon and Michael "Boogaloo Shrimp" Chambers showing off the dance’s characteristic pops, ticks, jerks, and spasms.  By the time kids in Kenosha, Wisconsin marveled at Pop N’ Taco’s spastic, yet simultaneously fluid, dance routines in the film “Breakin’” … [Read more...]

The Complexity of the Present: Black Lives Matter, History, and Balancing Conflicting Ideas

“Whatever may be our quarrel with our fellow citizens in times of peace,” William Dawson wrote to the NAACP on April 10, 1917. “ [I]n times of national danger it is our duty to lay aside for a while the family feud and rally to the call against a common enemy and as long as we claim citizenship, we must respond to the call.”[1] Only days before, President Woodrow Wilson had committed the nation to World War I and the U.S., with a military ranked somewhere between 17th and 20th internationally, had to conscript an army. Earlier that Spring the government, anticipating the possibility of war and pressured by black leaders like Washington D.C. Reverend J. Milton Waldron and his Committee of … [Read more...]

Here and Away: African Americans, WWI, and Civil Rights

In 1925, General Robert Lee Bullard, Commander of the U.S.’s Second Army during WWI in Europe, retired and released a book of memoirs: Personalities and Reminiscences about the War. Bullard had enjoyed a fairly distinguished career in the military peaking during the Great War. Yet, like many of this day, he harbored prejudices; most notably his dismissive attitude toward African American soldiers. In his memoir, he described America’s black soldiers in WWI as cowards – “Couldn’t Make Negroes Fight says Bullard” read one New York Herald Tribune headline - inferior to white troops, and generally unsuited for service. “All this constructive equality I regarded as an injustice,” Bullard … [Read more...]

Los Angeles Black Worker Center Pushes for Inclusion

LeDaya Epps grew up in foster care until adolescence. When she finished high school, bouncing from job to job with no real career path, she struggled to land steady employment. By 2010, she had three children to care for as well and prospects looked tough. Then in 2013, the Los Angeles Black Workers Center along with a coalition of partners including LA County Federation of Labor and LA/OC Building and Construction Trades and LAANE, successfully negotiated an employment agreement with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA,) her life changed. For years, the city had been expanding its subway and light rail systems; the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Train that runs through several … [Read more...]

Fatalism, Policy, and Conclusions: Reflecting on Between the World and Me (Part II of ToM’s roundtable)

Evan Thomas-Arnold  When I started reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, sometime when he started writing for The Atlantic, I was struck by the energy in his writing, and the seriousness with which he addressed his topics, be they wresting, hip-hop, or more traditionally “serious” topics. Through his blog and feature pieces I was shown that major fixtures in our collective understanding of U.S. history were false, and easily dismantled through study of readily available scholarship. I appreciated his rigor and zest, and could relate to his admissions of being an under-performer in the past. Coates’ writing has, for me, been about empowerment – empowerment against prevailing myths and convenient … [Read more...]