Address of the Colored Convention to the People of Alabama [Mobile, Al; 1867]

My efforts to better refine my understanding of the Southern US has led me to a study of the Reconstruction. During my readings, I came across a document from my hometown that was produced by the Colored Convention held here in Mobile, 1867. I couldn’t find digital record of it beyond partial transcripts hidden behind paywalls, so I took it upon myself to make it accessible.

Its worth noting that the Republican Party referred to in this document are not the neoconservatives of today, but were the party of Abolitionists. They were bourgeois; however, the revolutionary context of Reconstruction allowed the party to give some political power to radical ideas like land distribution. The opposition party was referred to as the Bourbon Democrats, a party that rallied behind the property rights of the deposed slave aristocrats and stood for deregulation, low taxes and a free market. While the Republicans were arming the freed slaves, the Bourbons were arming white terrorist organizations like the KKK and its predecessors.

This document is not flawless, by Marxist standards. We can observe how reliance upon Bourgeois powers, no matter how progressive, to grant the working class any political or economic power is always a losing game. But, more importantly, we can observe a part of southern history that is hidden from the population: Unions of working class and agrarian people organized for economic and political freedom, threatened violence if their voices were ignored. We can understand what political forces at play inspired the reaction to resort to racial terror: the political forces of land reform and class restructuring.


Fellow Citizens:

When, upon the passage of the Stevens [Sherman]-Shellabarger bill the colored people were invested with all the rights of manhood theretofore withheld from them, it was thought best that a convention, composed entirely of our own people, should be held, before deciding upon our future political course. Such a convention has been held in Mobile; it has deliberated upon the state of the country, upon the rights and duties of the colored people of Alabama, and authorized us, in its name, to issue this address to the voters of the State.

As there seems to be considerable difference of opinion concerning the “legal rights of the colored man,” it will not be amiss to say that we claim exactly the same rights, privileges and immunities as are enjoyed by the white men – we ask nothing more and will be content with nothing less. All legal distinctions between the races are now abolished. The word white is stricken from our laws, and every privilege which white men were formerly permitted to enjoy, merely because they were white men, now that word is stricken out, we are entitled to on the ground that we are men. Color can no longer be pleaded for the purpose of curtailing privileges, and every public right, privilege and immunity is enjoyable by every individual member of the public. This is the touchstone that determines all these points. So long as a park or a street is a public park or street the entire public has the right to use it; so long as a car or a steamboat is a public conveyance, it must carry all who come to it, and serve all alike who pay alike. The law no longer knows white nor black, but simply men, and consequently we are entitled to ride in public conveyances, hold office, sit on juries and do everything else which we have in the past been prevented from doing solely on the ground of our color…

We have said that we intend to claim all our rights, and we submit to our white friends that it is the height of folly on their part to withhold them any longer. One-half of the voters in Alabama are black men, and in a few months there is to be an entire reorganization of the State government. The new officers- legislative, executive and judicial- will owe their election largely, if not mainly to the colored people, and every one must see clearly that the voters will then be certain to require and the officers to compel a cessation of all illegal discriminations. The question which every man illegally discriminating against us must decide is, whether it is politic to insist upon gratifying prejudices during a few dull months, with the certainty by so doing, of incurring the lasting displeasure of one-half of the voting population of the State. We can stand it if they can, but we assure them that they are being watched closely, and that their conduct will be remembered when we have power.

There are some good people who are always preaching patience and procrastination. They would have us wait a few months, years, or generations, until the whites voluntarily give us our rights, but we do not intend to wait one day longer than we are absolutely compelled to. Look at our demands, and then at theirs. We ask of them simply that they surrender unreasonable and unreasoning prejudice; that they cease imitating dog in the manger; that they consent to allow others as well as themselves to prosper and be happy. But they would have us pay for what we do not get; tramp through the broiling sun or pelting rain, or stand upon a platform, white empty seats mockingly invite us to rest our wearied limbs; our sick must suffer or submit to indignity; we must put up with inconvenience of every kind; and the virtuous aspirations of our children must be continually checked by the knowledge that no matter how upright their conduct, they will be looked on as less worthy of respect than the lowest wretch on Earth who wears a white skin. We ask you – only while in public, however- to surrender your prejudices,- nothing but prejudices; and you ask us to sacrifice our personal comfort, health, pecuniary interests, self-respect, and the future prospects of our children. The men who make such requests must suppose us devoid of spirit and of brains, but they will find themselves mistaken. Solemnly and distinctly, we again say to you, men of Alabama, that we will not submit voluntarily to such infamous discrimination, and if you will insist upon tramping on the rights of outraging the feelings of those who are so soon to pass judgement upon you, then upon your own heads will rest the responsibility for the effect of your course.

All over the state of Alabama- all over the South indeed- the colored people have with singular unanimity, arrayed themselves under the republican banner, upon the republican platform, and it is confidently predicted that nine-tenths of them will vote the Republican ticket. Do you ask, why is this? We answer, because:

  1. The republican party opposed and prohibited the extension of slavery.
  2. It repealed the fugitive slave law.
  3. It abolished slavery in the District of Columbia.
  4. It abolished slavery in the rebellious states.
  5. It abolished slavery throughout the rest of the Union.
  6. It put down rebellion against the Union.
  7. It passed the Freedman’s Bureau Bill and the Civil Rights Bill.
  8. It enfranchised the colored people of the District of Columbia.
  9. It enfranchised the colored people of the nine territories.
  10. It enfranchised the colored people of the ten rebel states.
  11. It passed new homestead laws, enabling the poor to obtain land.

In short, it has gone on, step by step, going first one thing for us and then another, and it now proposes to enfranchise our people all over the Union. It is the only party which has ever attempted to extend our privileges, and as it has in the past always been trying to do this, it is but natural that we should trust it for the future.

While this has been the course of the Republican Party, the opposition has unitedly opposed every one of these measures, and it also now opposes the enfranchisement of our people in the North. Everywhere it has been against us in the past, and the great majority of its voters hate us as cordially now as ever before. It is sometimes alleged that the Republicans of the North have not been actuated by love for us in what they have done, and therefore that we should not join them; we answer that even if that were true they certainly never professed to hate us and the opposition party has always been denouncing the “d—n n—r and abolitionist’ with equal fervor. When we had no votes to give, the opposition placed us and the Republicans in the same boat, and now we reckon we’ll stay in it. It may be and probably is true that some men acting with the Republican party have cared nothing for the principles of that party; but it is also certainly true that ninety-nine-hundredths of all those who were conscientiously in favor of our rights were and are in the Republican party, and that the great mass of those who hated, slandered and abused us were and are in the opposition party.

The memories of the opposition must be short indeed, to have forgotten their language of the past twenty years but we have not forgotten it.

But, say some of the members of the opposition party, “We intend to turn over a new leaf, and will hereafter give you all your rights.” Perhaps they would, but we prefer not to put the new wine of political equality into the old bottles of “sectional animosity” and  “caste feeling.” We are somewhat fearful that those who have always opposed the extensions of rights are not sincere in their professions…

Another fact should be borne in mind. While a few conservatives are making guarded promises to us the masses of that party are cursing us, and doing all they can to “make the d—-d n—-rs stay in their place.” If we were, therefore, to join that party, it would be simply as servants and not as equals. Some leaders, who needed our votes might treat us decently, but the great majority would expect us to stay at home until election day, and then vote as our employers dictated. This we respectfully decline doing. It seems to us sagest to have as little as possible to do with those members of the community who delight to abuse us, and they are nearly, if not quite all to be found in the ranks of the opposition party…

It cannot be disguised, however, that many men calling themselves conservatives are disposed to use unfair means to carry their points. The press of Mobile, and other parts of the State, contain numerous threats that those colored people who do not vote as their employers command, will be discharged; that the property-holders will combine, import white laborers, and discharge their colored hand, etc. Numerous instances have come to our knowledge of persons who have already been discharged because they attended Republican meetings, and great numbers more have been threatened. “Vote as we command, or starve,” is the argument these men propose to make us of, and with it they expect to succeed.

In this expectation they will be mistaken, and we warn them before it is prosecuted any further, that their game is a dangerous one for themselves. The property which they hold was nearly all earned by the sweat of our brows- not theirs. It has been forfeited to the Government by the treason of its owners, and is liable to be confiscated whenever the Republican party demands it. The great majority of that party is now opposed to confiscation, but if the owners of property use the power which it gives them to make political slaves of the poor, a cry will go up to Congress which will make the party a unit for confiscation.

Conservatives of Alabama, do you propose to rush upon certain destruction? Are you mad, that you threaten to pursue a policy which could only result in causing thousands of men to cry out to their leaders, “Our wives and little ones are starving because we stood by you; because we would not be slaves!” When the nation abolished slavery, you used your local governments to neutralize and defeat its action, and the nation answered by abolishing your governments and enfranchising us. If you now use your property to neutralize or defeat this, its last act, it will answer by taking away the property you are only allowed to retain through its unparalleled mercy and which you have proved yourselves so worthy of retaining…

So complete, indeed, will be our victory, that our opponents will become disheartened unless they can divide us. This is the great danger which we have to guard against. The most effectual method of preserving our unity will be for us to always act together- never to hold separate political meeting or caucuses. It may take some time for us to get to pulling together well, put perseverance and honest endeavor will overcome all obstacles. In nominations on account of color by either wing, but that the most capable and honest men will always be put in nomination. We understand full well that our people are too deficient in education to be generally qualified to fill the higher offices, but when qualified men are found, they must not be rejected for being black.

The lack of education, which is the consequence of our long servitude, and which so diminishes our powers for good, should not be allowed to characterize our children when they come upon the stage of action, and we therefore earnestly call upon the stage of action, and we therefore earnestly call upon every member of the Republican Party to demand the establishment of a thorough system of common schools throughout the state. It will benefit every citizen of the State, and, indeed, of the Union, for the well-being of each enures to the advantage of all. In a Republican, education is especially necessary, as the ignorant are always liable to be led astray by the arts of the demagogue.

With Education secured to all; with the old and helpless properly cared for; with justice everywhere impartially administered, Alabama will commence a career of which she will have just cause to be proud. We shall all be prosperous and happy. The sad memories of the past will be forgotten and the joys of the present and the prospect of the future.

And now, with our eyes fixed upon the starry emblem of our national greatness, and our hearts lifted in gratitude to God, we submit our cause to the good people of Alabama, and commend it to the favor of the Most High.

Signed,

S. Berry
Wm. V. Turner
D. Wiggins
Committee

[Daily State Sentinel, May 21 1867]

Uneven and Combined Development in the US Southeast

It is no secret as to the general backwards nature of the southeastern sections of the United States. The caricature of the redneck has invaded the consciousness of the masses, convincing many of the “northern elites” that the average southern white working class person washes their klan robes with the rest of their whites in the wash tub. The caricature of the southern black worker is even more caustic and damning.

Leon Trotsky, a leading revolutionary in the 1917 October Revolution, described the theory of Uneven and Combined Development. This theory is key to understanding the development of the southeastern United States in any holistic manner for the same reasons Trotsky was able to discover this law while analyzing the history of Russia. To begin to explain this idea, let us first define this theory and then discuss the history of the US-SE region in respects to the economic systems in play.

The theory of Uneven and Combined Development is an observation of a simple fact: changes in the mode of production in a society happen in some places before others, accelerating the development in backwards societies. These accelerated developments skip steps in the processes of history, adapt ideas to fit into the unique frameworks of the backwards society and thus carry over many of the contradictions that historically challenged the society.

This theory is the most prevalent in US history as the contradictions between the agrarian south and the industrial north began to become more and more acute. Though, it doesn’t begin there. From the beginning of the colonization of the Americas, we can trace this theory’s relevance. As the colonists landed in the still agrarian Americas, they did not intend on adopting the lifestyle of the indigenous peoples who long predated the colonists. Instead, the invading Europeans intended to build the Americas into a reflection of their quickly industrializing homelands.

The settlers built communities and learned how to survive in the alien environment with the help of the Native Americans, adapting their European experiences with the challenges of the New World. Slaves were stolen from the homes and used indiscriminately to transform the American colonies into a Capitalist superpower. In the late 1700s, England began to push for the end of slavery. This was not an acceptable course of action for the American colonies, as their productive forces were still that of an agrarian society. Thus, the contradictions arising from this combined and uneven development boiled over into what we call the American Revolution. This first revolution was intended to not only solidify national identity and independence but to ensure the continued rapid growth of American Capital.

As the northern states industrialized and made the transition into Capitalism, the southern states lagged behind this progress. The reason for this lag is readily obvious for anyone familiar with the history of America: The south clung desperately to its agrarian, slave owning mode of production. This reactionary nature formed an irreconcilable contradiction to the developing Capitalism in the northern states. Capitalism requires wage workers, or else there is no profits and Capitalism does not grow. This understanding leads to the historic conclusion that we see play out in the American Civil War, which I claim to be the second American Revolution as Capitalism cemented its foundation.

The institution of slavery was abolished, but the centuries of ideological development in the southern populations could not be so easily absolved. Though the slaves were free, they held no personal wealth, land or education. Again, the laws Trotsky formulated come into stunning display. The south was not only agrarian, but destroyed by the civil war. Factories didn’t appear overnight and the educated worker required to participate in factory work would take a large investment to develop. For the freed slaves, this left little opportunity to survive outside of selling themselves back to the plantation owners as Sharecroppers. These sharecroppers perhaps experienced less beatings and the previous slave owners couldn’t steal their families away to sell on slave markets; however, their lives were still marked by poverty and violence.

To define an emotion that relates the white slaveowners to the black slaves would be to define fear. This fear exploded after the slaves were freed. Black people were indiscriminately killed by white men who would never be charged, violent hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan terrorized black communities, the police transitioned from slave catchers to violent predators in the black communities. Racism as an ideology was key to this transformation, if the new Capitalist class would emerge from this economic shakeup as the victor. W.E.B. DuBois writes:

     The political success of the doctrine of racial separation, which overthrew Reconstruction by uniting the planter and the poor white, was far exceeded by its astonishing economic results.

The theory of laboring class unity rests upon the assumption that laborers, despite internal jealousies, will unite because of their opposition to exploitation by the capitalists. According to this, even after a part of the poor white laboring class became identified with the planters, and eventually displaced them, their interests would be diametrically opposed to those of the mass of white labor, and of course to those of the black laborers. This would throw white and black labor into one class, and precipitate a united fight for higher wage and better working conditions.

Most persons do not realize how far this failed to work in the South, and it failed to work because the theory of race was supplemented by a carefully planned and slowly evolved method, which drove such a wedge between the white and black workers that there probably are not today in the world two groups of workers with practically identical interests who hate and fear each other so deeply and persistently and who are kept so far apart that neither sees anything of common interest.

These historic developments have not sublimated into the inconsequential. In fact, I would argue that they are reaching historic levels of contradiction. The racist ideology has become a foundation to the American worldview. It is systemically installed from early ages, as we fill in dots next to our ethnicity and sexual organs for school examinations or our state identification. These ideological institutions have imprinted racism and misogyny into the working class conscious to such a degree that the ideology has become invisible. The liberal white claims to have left behind the racism of their grandparents, not because they balk at the continued oppression of the black worker but because they no longer say the n word unless it appears in their favorite new rap song. Even then, only if they’re in white company can they sing along.

That is an optimistic example. Across the southeast, white supremacy never died. It quietly lurked in the poorest communities as liberal propagandists spoke of a post-racial society and placed a black man in token positions of power. All the while, the funding of public schools was linked to property value and standardized test scores, drugs were trafficked into the black communities by state agents as a way to destabilize the growing awareness and movement against these racist policies, and to top it off the police targeted these communities with drug offences and violence, effectively destroying the radical communities being built in the face of white supremacist hatred.

There is now an inarguable link between ethnicity, crime and punishment that can be broadcast by those ideologues with financial interest in the separation of the races. White people, thinking themselves as logical, ignore the systems and history that created this situation. They openly embrace racism and fascist ideology, as it speaks to their simple worldview that was calculated by the ruling class. Black people, exhausted yet emboldened in their oppression, see the racist white person as the cause of racism not because of a lack of intelligence but because of an disproportionate level of visibility of the roots. The police are white men, the judge is a white man, the loud and obnoxious customer is a white woman who treats the service worker with a scorn reserved for the service worker with brown skin.

However, this isn’t how the story ends. Late stage Capitalism is rife with internal contradiction, including the race hatred the ruling class has fomented for centuries. More than that is the economic instability that is being revealed by the failures of the capitalist markets and the failures of the state to regulate the greed of the class it represents. Events such as the battle for Wisconsin, Occupy Wall Street, the rise and fall of Bernie Sanders and more point to this conclusion. The studies that show a massively unequal distribution of wealth that has grown over the past few decades, the failures of the housing markets and the impending crash of the student loan crisis will spark revolutionary change.

With the rise of visible, authoritarian white supremacy in the form of the Trump administration, the veil of stability has torn to reveal the tape and glue holding Capitalism together. Again, our leaders intend to scapegoat this failure on the most oppressed sections of the population: the immigrants, the poor, women, black Americans, Muslims and all permutations resulting from these descriptors. A wave of revolutionary consciousness is growing, even in the historically backwards south.

In fact, I argue that like Russia, the south’s economic and socially backwards nature could be the spark that ignites the explosive power of revolution. However, even in our revolutionary groups there are strict racial lines are subconsciously drawn. I’ve been organizing with a radical Marxist cadre for 7 years in the southeast and the average strength of our organization bounced around the number 20. That is not insignificant! However, it was rare when the majority of these 20 weren’t consisting of white and male comrades. In black communities, there are no shortage of radical thinkers and doers who organize their communities around their own empowerment.

How to remedy this psychological barrier is a mystery to me. I half expect it will only be resolved through the ultimate conclusion of Capitalism no longer being able to provide the white male with its psychological wage of superiority, as WEB DuBois discussed. However, this is a nebulous point in our future and we must do something now if we are to prepare to overthrow the most powerful mode of production that Earth has seen.

I propose that we must also view the white male American through the lens of Trotsky’s law. Usually Marxists tend to use this theory to understand situations like the ones discussed earlier; however, these dialectical laws transcend the grand scales of state and economy and penetrate even into the worldviews of the working class.

As Trotsky wrote (paraphrased) , “the privilege of historical backwardness compels the adoption of whatever is ready, skipping intermediary steps.”

White men, the revolutionary awakening of this era of late stage capitalism and our privileged backwards tendency towards misogynist violence, racist violence, homophobic violence fit this description in a damning fashion.

How many of us still use words like “btch”, “pssy”, “ghetto”, “gay”, or “sissy”? Honestly in radical circles and under calm circumstance, I’ve found it to be rare. But How many of us normalize these behaviors with our actions and refusal to engage in productive discourse in the most pressing of moments, when its easy to forget the nice one liners about being feminist or anti racist?

How much of our behavior as revolutionaries is still informed by a racist and misogynist subconscious drive, but is thinly veiled by our discovery of radical politics. This is the combined and uneven development. The ideas of marxism were developed in some of the most brutally oppressive times, when the military and police could open fire on workers and no social media could report it. They address the continued existence of these very same oppressive agents in our society, yet as WEB DuBois wrote the white population in America is largely cushioned against these agents even if it’s purely psychological.

When white male Americans embrace Marxism and the radical ideas that were developed from the dialectical analysis developed by Marxists, we adapt these ideas and twist them to fit our experiences. We use the catchphrases to build a radical costume to wear when our resolve is strong and the pressures that psychologically trigger the embracing of reactionary and violent ideologies are far at hand. But, when the shit hits the fan, how is this weak pseudo radical to react? The dialectical result of this is the “brocialist”.

This is doubly true for those of us who were raised in this backwards environment that encouraged our race hatred, our hatred of women and LGBTQI, our xenophobia. We must confront these ideological programs not with rhetoric, as the liberal does. We must confront these reactionary roadblocks with extreme prejudice, especially in our radical circles. We must understand our psychology in order to master it; unfortunately, the bourgeois class has diligently worked to muddy up the pool.

Distraction, both through traditional scapegoating and postmodernist cultural desires, serve to placate the revolutionary nature of even self proclaimed Marxists. We must build our communities, build radical relations between working class people not on radical party lines but on class lines. We cannot build while we waste our nights drunken and our days recovering. In the same way, we cannot build while allowing ideologically planted discrimination to guide our actions in both times of comfort and in times of hardship.