Tag Archives: Frederick Douglass

Shooting Cans | By Kevin Alexander Gray

The Racist Assault on the 14th Amendment

One of the many racist jokes I heard in the 70s during my time in the military starts with two white soldiers on the rifle range. One soldier asks the other how he learned to shoot so well. “I like shooting cans right off the fence,” the other soldier says, “Af-ri-cans, Por-to-ri-cans and Mex-i-cans.”

The joke came to mind when I heard Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina saying, “birthright citizenship is a mistake,” followed by his GOP cohorts’ claim that immigrants have “anchor babies” as a way to tie themselves to the benefits of U.S. citizenship. Graham says he’s considering introducing a bill to rescind Section 1 of the 14th Amendment, which generally guarantees U.S. citizenship to those who are born within U.S. borders.

That is not all it does. The section reads:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Also called the “due process” clause or the “equal protection” clause, this part of the 14th Amendment is the very foundation of U.S. civil rights law. The new nullifiers who talk of getting rid of it thus signal the nature of their purpose and the intrinsic unity of those they hold in contempt, like so many cans on the fence.

“Anchor babies” makes for better headlines, and it’s diverting. “People come here to have babies,” says Graham. “They come here to drop a child. It’s called, ‘drop and leave.’ To have a child in America, they cross the border, they go to the emergency room, have a child, and that child’s automatically an American citizen. That shouldn’t be the case.”

“Drop a child.” It’s as if he were talking about animals.

Graham is not up for re-election, but his child-dropping potshot is designed to appease a right wing that is angry because he’s “too liberal,” he’s “no Jim DeMint,” saddled up with the Tea Party and the likes of Ollie North and Tom Tancredo. A Greenville County Republican committee even voted to bar Graham from future meetings and events, censuring him “for his cooperation and support of President Obama and the Democratic Party’s liberal agenda.”
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Filed under American History, American Politics, American Progressive Politics, Black Politics, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Immigrant Rights, LGBT issues, South Carolina Politics, white supremacy

What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

Frederick Douglass
July 5, 1852

Frederick DouglassMr. President, Friends and Fellow Citizens: He who could address this audience without a quailing sensation, has stronger nerves than I have. I do not remember ever to have appeared as a speaker before any assembly more shrinkingly, nor with greater distrust of my ability, than I do this day. A feeling has crept over me, quite unfavorable to the exercise of my limited powers of speech. The task before me is one which requires much previous thought and study for its proper performance. I know that apologies of this sort are generally considered flat and unmeaning. I trust, however, that mine will not be so considered. Should I seem at ease, my appearance would much misrepresent me. The little experience I have had in addressing public meetings, in country schoolhouses, avails me nothing on the present occasion.

The papers and placards say, that I am to deliver a 4th [of] July oration. This certainly sounds large, and out of the common way, for it is true that I have often had the privilege to speak in this beautiful Hall, and to address many who now honor me with their presence. But neither their familiar faces, nor the perfect gage I think I have of Corinthian Hall, seems to free me from embarrassment.

The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable—and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude. You will not, therefore, be surprised, if in what I have to say. I evince no elaborate preparation, nor grace my speech with any high sounding exordium. With little experience and with less learning, I have been able to throw my thoughts hastily and imperfectly together; and trusting to your patient and generous indulgence, I will proceed to lay them before you.

This, for the purpose of this celebration, is the 4th of July. It is the birthday of your National Independence, and of your political freedom. This, to you, is what the Passover was to the emancipated people of God. It carries your minds back to the day, and to the act of your great deliverance; and to the signs, and to the wonders, associated with that act, and that day. This celebration also marks the beginning of another year of your national life; and reminds you that the Republic of America is now 76 years old. I am glad, fellow-citizens, that your nation is so young. Seventy-six years, though a good old age for a man, is but a mere speck in the life of a nation. Three score years and ten is the allotted time for individual men; but nations number their years by thousands. According to this fact, you are, even now, only in the beginning of your national career, still lingering in the period of childhood. I repeat, I am glad this is so. There is hope in the thought, and hope is much needed, under the dark clouds which lower above the horizon. The eye of the reformer is met with angry flashes, portending disastrous times; but his heart may well beat lighter at the thought that America is young, and that she is still in the impressible stage of her existence. May he not hope that high lessons of wisdom, of justice and of truth, will yet give direction to her destiny? Were the nation older, the patriot’s heart might be sadder, and the reformer’s brow heavier. Its future might be shrouded in gloom, and the hope of its prophets go out in sorrow. There is consolation in the thought that America is young. Great streams are not easily turned from channels, worn deep in the course of ages. They may sometimes rise in quiet and stately majesty, and inundate the land, refreshing and fertilizing the earth with their mysterious properties. They may also rise in wrath and fury, and bear away, on their angry waves, the accumulated wealth of years of toil and hardship. They, however, gradually flow back to the same old channel, and flow on as serenely as ever. But, while the river may not be turned aside, it may dry up, and leave nothing behind but the withered branch, and the unsightly rock, to howl in the abyss-sweeping wind, the sad tale of departed glory. As with rivers so with nations.

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