Annie Malone and American History

“What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?…
Or does it explode?”

Langston Hughes

The city of Saint Louis celebrated the first virtual Annie Malone parade in May. Thousands of African American families “attended” from home. Maybe a smattering of Caucasians. In the past, our newspaper had headlines that said that this was the largest “Black Parade” in the area. If you are like most people, you will want to ask:

“Who was Annie Malone?”

She was an extraordinary woman who led a fascinating life. Her parents were slaves. Her mother had to escape from Kentucky, hauling her large brood, once her husband decided to go fight for the Union Army. One of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who were vital to the Union Army’s success in the conflict. Kentucky was a slave state. Any Union Black soldiers who were captured were first tortured in vicious ways, then executed. White Union soldiers were traded for Rebel troops.

Annie could not finish high school because of poor health, yet she grew her business so well that at one point she paid more income tax than anyone in Saint Louis, maybe the state. She gave jobs and hope to tens of thousands of Black women. She singlehandedly made sure that a Black orphanage remained open. She donated money left and right: to universities and charities, while maintaining a frugal lifestyle. Why does the vast majority of the population not know about her?

I remember a brief conversation that I had with a “friend” long ago. He made what he thought was a funny comment, about why they needed a whole month to commemorate Black history. That a few hours would have been enough. This made me curious, and furious. I did some reading.

He never heard of Senbe Pieh, also known as Joseph Cinque. He led a rebellion of 53 African captives being transported from Cuba to be sold as slaves. In those days it was common to transport slaves from the Caribbean to America because most slaves who survived the “cruise” from Africa were sent to work on sugar cane plantations. There was this myth, which of course became common knowledge, that stated that Black people were better able to exert superhuman efforts if the weather was hot.

The captain and the cook were killed. Cinque took over the ship and headed back to Africa, but the US Navy forced him to return to America. He was charged with murder. John Quincy Adams defended him. The rebels prevailed and were allowed to return to Africa.

Nat Turner led a slave rebellion and was hanged. Less known is the fact that there were more than 200 slave revolts. Frederick Douglass, lately of Trumpian fame, escaped slavery and became a prominent voice for abolition. Sojourner Truth, who escaped slavery with her infant daughter, later successfully sued her “owner” to allow her to get her son back. Octavius Catto, who was murdered because he tried to organize Black people to vote.

W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes, who could write inspiring prose and poetry. Dozens of educators; artists; politicians.

A month would never be enough to learn about all. Or a year. Or a lifetime.

There is a lot of talk about statues these days. Proponents of keeping Confederate statues and names say that this is all about preserving our history. If this is the case, why are there no statues of the people that I just mentioned scattered through our country, particularly in the South? They are part of our history. Why not memorialize them to the same extent that traitors were revered?

The answer, of course, is that the statues were not placed in our main thoroughfares to teach us about our past. They are there because the people in power wanted to remind those who were being relegated to poverty and submission that these men up on those horses had the ability to strangle the life out of those who complained.

What do you think would have happened if the South had won the Civil War?

Would Jefferson Davis have allowed all Union troops to go home unharmed? Would he have pardoned Lincoln? How long do you think slavery would have remained the law of the land? Fifty years? A hundred? Until now? Would the Southerners have erected statues to honor Grant and Sherman? Would they at any point have felt honor-bound to preserve Black history?

You know the answer to all of these questions.

So no: it’s not about history. It’s about the fact that there has been, and there continues to be, a concerted effort to suppress, intimidate, and demoralize a large segment of our population just because they are born with genes that are a teeny weeny bit different from those of the majority. We should never appear, even faintly, to honor anyone responsible for this monstrosity.

I keep hoping that I will live to see the day when every Annie Malone parade is bursting at the seams with ALL of our population. Until then, I urge you to do your best to not be one of those people who knows so little of the lives of others.

I no longer talk to my “friend.”

Before you write any disparaging comments about my views, I must insist that you finish reading the following works, so that we have something substantial to discuss:

  • The Ways of White Folks, short stories by Langston Hughes
  • Desiree’s Baby; short story by Kate Chopin
  • The Wife of his Youth; short story by Charles Chesnutt
  • This Morning, this Evening, So Soon; short story by James Baldwin
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings; biography by Maya Angelou
  • The Souls of Black Folk; book by W E B Du Bois
  • The Wikipedia pages on Elijah Lovejoy and the 1921 Tulsa massacre

That should be enough material for anyone to be at least 10% informed. Digest them; then we can talk about preserving history.

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. lolaroig2013

    Reminds me the need to read short stories in elementary school.

  2. nmedearis

    Black people do have a problem.
    They are discriminated against and met with prejudice. It hasn’t ended. There should be an abolition of oppression, discrimination and racism. Black history is a part of everyone’s history and we should know OUR history, which goes back several generations and then some

  3. Phillip

    Sir,
    I am most impressed by your great wisdom, or it arrogance? You boldly ask the questions “What do you think would have happened if the South had won the Civil War?
    Would Jefferson Davis have allowed all Union troops to go home unharmed? Would he have pardoned Lincoln? How long do you think slavery would have remained the law of the land? Fifty years? A hundred? Until now? Would the southerners have erected statues to honor Grant and Sherman? Would they at any point have felt honor-bound to preserve Black history?
    You know the answer to all of these questions.
    So no: it’s not about history. It’s about the fact that there has been, and there continues to be, a concerted effort to suppress, intimidate, and demoralize a large segment of our population just because they are born with genes that are a teeny weeny bit different from those of the majority. We should never appear, even faintly, to honor anyone responsible for this monstrosity.”
    Then you strongly imply that you and all those that agree with your point of view know the answers. How can anyone today know what was in the hearts and minds of people living 100 years ago? How can we understand what influenced their thinking, what pressures were put to bear on them? What the needs of their families, their country and their way of life were. We know none of this. What we do know is that we made horrible mistakes and poor decisions. But we must learn from the past and grow stronger from our mistakes.
    There have been shameful actions associated with Dr. King, Malcom X and other great black leader and but we still honor the good that they accomplished. We do not judge them for their human frailties, we accept them, forgive them and learn from them.
    I remember when you were newly retired and gathering meds and medical supplies to take overseas to your sister; you stated how different and difficult it was to deal with the insurance companies and doctors. You said you had no idea what we had to deal with and now as a regular common retiree you saw why the everyday Joe Blow was complaining about the system. You might apply that scenario here and not judge others (Jefferson Davis and southerners in general) until you have lived their lives and lived in their times.

    1. I’m sorry that I upset you. You’re a bright man and you obviously care to further the common good.
      No; I don’t know for sure what the people who held the power in the South would have done had they won. Based on the fact that one hundred years later they were still OK with having Blacks go to the back of the bus, the fact that they elected George Wallace as governor and millions wanted him to be president… I don’t think the odds for Lincoln were good. You say that we should learn from the past and grow stronger from our mistakes. How long should it take? A hundred years?
      Again; I’m sorry. I’m just so angry that the greatest country on Earth has such a huge problem with bias. When there’s no need. We could have a huge economic and moral boost if we decided to make sure that everyone receives equal opportunities and education. But for some reason we refuse to do so.
      And for the record: We are all deeply flawed. But whatever shameful things Dr. King and Malcolm X did, it was not being a traitor to their country. And it has nothing to do with North or South any more. Due to modern mobility and social media it’s easy to find racism and prejudice everywhere, on both sides of the equation. So we have this huge issue, and we cannot talk about it calmly without resorting to calling each other names. Sad.

  4. Maxine

    I really think that the high emotional attention of the Civil War is mainly because of the removal of all evidence of the Confederacy from public places. The Civil War was a very dark part of US history and according to the constitution the Confederates were committing treason. Having said this the argument that the public is having about the confederate statute in Forest Park is a waste of time. The statute has been in the park for 100 years and now it is an issue. Many individuals, including African Americans didn’t notice the statute until it was in the news. I find it hard to believe that with the other important issues that St. Louis has the removal of a statute is front and center.

    1. I understand your point. The Forest Park statue is a symbol. A large stone. Just as a flag is a piece of cloth. I agree that we have important unresolved issues. However: Now that the monument is in the news and not about to go away, it is impossible to wish that it would just disappear. That won’t happen. So: What’s the best way to deal with it? Now that it has become important… What’s the mayor supposed to do? Ignore the protests? On both sides? You must admit that this is not an option for her. SOMETHING has to be done, and she must follow her gut. The way I’ve dealt with this conundrum: I have imagined how I would feel if the Germans had built a monument to their troops who died during WW II. Or the Italians. Or the Japanese. These people killed a lot of our ancestors. I’d feel offended if I found out they were being honored. I understand that troops were just following orders; that their mothers loved them just as much as American mothers loved their kids who died. But they fought for the wrong cause. So no monument for them.
      This is just my view, and I admit nothing in life is black and white, pun fully intended. I hope that both of us can channel our energies into making a difference in a constructive way. Thanks for writing.

  5. Paco

    Thank you. You got it; congratulations.