Counting the Cost

Confederate statues fall, but economic racism lingers

Julianne Malveaux | 8/24/2017, midnight

Cheers to New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, one of the first mayors to take Confederate statues down and to make the strong point that these statues represent nothing but oppression. You should check out the speech he delivered, in May at MarketWatch.com.

More cheers to Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh who had statues removed in the dead of night to avoid Charlottesville-type confrontations between racist White supremacists (also known as “good people” according to “45”) and those who oppose them. And although he does little that I agree with, in the interest of equal praise, I must lift up Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who had the statue of Roger Taney removed from the Maryland state house. Taney was an especially vile racist who authored the Dred Scott decision in 1857. He wrote that Black people had no rights that Whites were bound to respect, and provided justification for enslavement, even as many in the rest of the nation were clamoring against the unjust institution.

As the statues are falling, economic racism is not fading. African Americans still earn just 60 percent of what Whites earn. We have just 7 percent of the wealth that Whites have. The unemployment rate for Black workers is double the unemployment rate of White workers. Even with equal incomes, Blacks find it more challenging to get mortgages or other access to capital and our economic rights are being challenged every day.

It is important to note that these statues were not erected immediately after the Civil War. Of course, Southern Confederates—a bunch of losers—were too broke to build statues. They were still trying to recover from the devastation of the Civil War. How did they plan to recover? They needed a captive labor force to work their fields, just as enslaved people had before the war. So, they ensured quasi-captivity through intimidation. That need was partially responsible for the emergence of the KKK. They inspired fear, suppressed resistance, and, through Black Codes and Jim Crow, engineered the near-re-enslavement of Black people.

Black people who wanted to leave the South after the end of Reconstruction had to do it in the dead of night. Black people, who had land, were often forced to concede it or be killed. The Emergency Land Fund, a now-defunct organization that documented the Black loss of land, indicated that Black folks lost as much as 90 percent of their accumulated land by 1970, at least partially due to trickery and intimidation.

The origins of the wealth gap lie in this loss of land, and in the intimidation that kept African American people in near-slave status in the South. Confederate statues, flags, and Klan activity appeared wherever there was resistance—during and after the reconstructions, in the 1920s, after the Red Summer of 1919 and the return of Black men from World War I.

Again, we saw the rise of this activity, these statues and these flags, in the 1950s as the Civil Rights Movement pushed hard for equality. When people talk about taking “their” streets back, what they really mean is they want Black people (and other people of color) in their place; in their economic place and that place, for them, is subordinate.