Peter SlaveryPeter Slavery: Peter, a man who was enslaved in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1863, whose scars were the result of violent abuse from a plantation overseer.

(May 19 is the birthday of Malcolm X, a.k.a Al-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, and it is important to look at his life and work in fighting for rights for blacks and other minorities.)

In the United States of America (USA) today, it is easy to read in certain newspapers/magazines that Malcolm X hated whites and preached that blacks cannot mix with whites; that he preached violence by insisting that blacks should attain their freedom “by any means necessary.”  And anyone unaware of the sort of society Malcolm X was born into, did live and grow up in wont want to agree with that image of the man, Malcolm X.

The fact, however, is that Malcolm X lived and grew up in the real United States of America of the 1920s to 1960s – a society that regarded blacks as not good enough to share same social facilities with whites and there were clear Federal laws to that effect; where laws gave blacks stiffer punishment than whites for the same crimes; where organised mobs, such as the Klu Klux Klan, could kill blacks, openly, and no one would, openly, lift a finger to stop it or prosecute them; where a black man could be lynched by a white mob for simply looking at a white woman, but a white man could rape a black woman and no one butted an eyelid, and; the police condoned and even aided and abetted such crimes…

No, Ti-Kelenkelen is not stating that living at the receiving end of insane, unjust laws is justification to do acts prohibited by the Ten Commandments.  My concern is how do you build your talent to “be all you can be” in a society with clear laws that tell you you are inferior and authorities work to keep you from touching certain legitimate professions?  How can you go after a “pursuit of happiness” in such a society?  How secure can minorities, blacks, Jews, Latinos, Red Indians or Asians feel in such a society?

“Separate but equal”

Before the Civil Rights Movement (1960s) when the northern states, one after the other, started granting wider rights to blacks (and other minorities,) the Law by which blacks lived in the US was “separate but equal.”  Blacks had been in slavery since the 17th Century making immense contributions to the progress of the USA on all fronts.  They kept agitating for rights of citizenship, but the first recognition was contained in a US (Federal) Supreme Court decision (Plessyvs Ferguson: 1896) that said blacks and whites are “separate but equal;” that means they are equal as human beings but separate or different in social status or equality.  In plain language it meant whites are socially superior to blacks and deserve better living conditions.

It would take over half a century for the US (Federal) Supreme Court to overturn that in 1963.  In a 9-0 decision in a case called Brown vs Board of Education, the court ruled that “separate but equal” is unconstitutional and that it was injurious to the psychological development and self-esteem of blacks.  That decision granted full citizenship rights to blacks and all other minorities in the United States of America, but there were too many whites ready to resist the actualisation of the ruling.  It would thus take a decade of agitation by a Civil Rights Movement of blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians and Red Indians to compel the White House to pass Civil Rights laws to grant the real rights to blacks and other minorities.  But the peaceful demonstrations came up against violence by whites who loved the status quo.

Over the decades, the system has gradually yielded to pressure to roll out to minorities the rights granted them by Brown vs Board of Education and the Civil Rights laws, yet casual reading of newspapers across the US today will show whites maintain such a grip on the US government establishment that minorities still face veiled discrimination in so many forms.

Essentially therefore, Malcolm X rose to national prominence in the 1950s and was (aside from Martin Luther King) the other pre-eminent black leader during the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s.

House Leader and Farm Leader

During slavery generally, and specifically in the USA, there was the dual-concept of the “house slave” and “field slave.”  And it is important to point out that Malcolm X used it in his explanation of the various experiences and leadership issues of black in US society.  The house slave is the black person who worked in the house where the slave owner lived, and because of that closeness the white slave owner treated him and her with a lighter hand than he did the field slave.  The field slave worked on the farm on the estate and hardly saw or was seen by the slave owner.  There was an overseer and his team in charge of black field workers.  Wikipedia says: “Slaves were punished by whipping, shackling, hanging, beating, burning, mutilation, branding, and imprisonment. Punishment was most often meted in response to disobedience or perceived infractions, but sometimes abuse was carried out simply to re-assert the dominance of the master or overseer over the slave.”

There were in place unjust, punitive laws the foreman applied to the workers, interpreting these at his own discretion.  For example, if a worker on an apple farm was caught eating one fruit, he was whipped on the back with a horsewhip which drew blood; to act as deterrent to the other black workers.  The New African magazine once published a story, with photographs, on how blacks on sugar cane farms owned by the Methodist Church had to wear a metal cage that covers the lower half of their face to prevent them from chewing the sugar cane.  When a worker did an act considered serious enough that the slave owner’s opinion is needed, the slave was not brought before the owner, but the foreman went to consult the owner on the matter.  And the philosophy of the foreman was that the greater the violence/abuse, the more compliant the slave.

The important point to note is that the house slave had a “better” option of an intrinsically bad deal compared to the field slave, who lived under terrible sceptre of fear wielded by the overseers.  Generally therefore, the house slave lived under the less stringent application of slavery laws, while the field slave lived in the actual (slave) society set up by whites for blacks, all the unjust rules, severe punishment the least infractions and even mob-exacted death for ridiculously crafted “unwritten” charges.

Generally, it appears, the African American elite accept these broad categories, especially in classifying their leaders.  Thus the African American, Frederick Douglas (1818-1895,) a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln, is considered a house leader.  Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) is considered a house leader, while W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) is considered a field leader.  Here the distinction is that while fighting for justice for blacks the house leader is closer to and works with the power establishment of a state or the White House, while the field leader works away from it.  Usually, the field leader is constantly investigated by the power establishment, which is constantly looking for ways to destroy him.  For decades, Du Bois was hounded by US security and tax officials till he moved to live in Ghana with his friend, Kwame Nkrumah.  Out of frustration over injustice towards blacks, Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) established the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA,) and built a shipping line, the Black Star Line, to take blacks from the US back to Africa.  Reports say United States security sank the ship, and Garvey was later charged for fraud and deported back to Jamaica.

During the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr., was the house leader, and Malcolm X the field leader.  As leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King worked closely with President John F. Kennedy to pass several civil right laws granting actual rights to blacks and minorities.  Malcolm X is the black leader who criticised the evils of segregation and discrimination in the US and blamed the wealth-political establishment for such vices.  As spokes person for the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X fought for black rights by charging that blacks should get their rights “by any means necessary” and if the system refuses to yield blacks must leave for Africa.

Usually, the field leader is radical in pointing out the evils of the society, while the house leader hardly criticises the system but calls on the power establishment to alter it to allow blacks and minorities to realise their potential.  The field leader usually accuses the house leader of pursuing a path that will yield little or nothing for blacks, and the house leader hardly criticised the field leader.  The house leader is diplomatic, and the field leader is outspoken.

(Eventually, President Kennedy, Malcolm X and Dr. King were all killed in the 1960s, and while official investigations are yet to uncover the actual culprits, there are strong indications they were victims of elaborate plots by elements of the US power establishment averse to rights to minorities.)

We even could bring that concept into our history in Ghana.  On the one hand is the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) that was working with the colonialists to prepare Ghana for independence and, on the other, the more radical Kwame Nkrumah who moved away from the UGCC and demanded “Independence Now!”  In the end, however, it was the work by all of them, the Big Six, that compelled the British to grant independence to Ghana.

Indeed, when the leader of the Nation of Islam (US,) Louis Farrakhan, came here in the late 1980s, he spoke of the house leader and field leader and said they are the two poles whose works create the social synthesis to yield the singular outcome that advances the common good of the black person in the US; and everywhere else, I must add.


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