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From a Black academic’s rebuke of Stacey Abrams to reparations: Black History Month 2021

By David Pendered

This is a different kind of Black History Month. It began early, with a Black academic’s rebuke of Stacey Abrams on an Atlanta-based podcast. It includes studies of reparations by Spelman College and Emory University, plus the release of C.T. Vivian’s memoir.

John Lewis, memorial 2020

A renewed sense of hope for the future was a big part of Atlanta’s mourning the death of John Lewis. Credit: Kelly Jordan

In addition, Black History Month 2021 encompasses last week’s vote by DeKalb County’s Board of Commissioners to install a memorial of the late John Lewis in the Decatur Square, on the site of the former Confederate Obelisk Monument. In the state Legislature, the House has agreed to consider four of the six police reform bills offered by Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex). President Biden has signed four executive orders intended to advance racial equity and address systemic racism in housing and criminal justice.

Not to mention Joe Beasley’s renewed reminder of Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s Special Field Order 15. It allocated to freed Black families 400,000 acres along the coast. President Andrew Johnson subsequently rescinded the order and returned the land to its original owners. Beasley, the retired southern regional director of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, figures the order is a good place to start a national conversation on reparations for slavery.

This is a lot of history in the making. It might prove to be an inclusive history, which may transcend one of the state’s guidelines for teaching Black History Month:

  • “Associate prominent African Americans to the career clusters. Use a picture and biography to identify. Have students name someone they may know from their local community.”

Atlanta Fed President/CEO Raphael Bostic. Credit: Sadat Karim, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Atlanta Fed President/CEO Raphael Bostic may have been looking to this moment in June 2020, when he released a personal essay, A Moral and Economic Imperative to End Racism. Bostic observes:

  • “It is time for us to collectively embrace the promise of an inclusive America, one where everyone can participate fully. We are each being challenged to rise to this occasion through education and action. All of us, especially our white allies, must learn the history of systemic racism and the ways it continues to manifest in our lives today.”

The rebuke of Stacey Abrams by Charisse Burden-Stelly, a visiting scholar at the University of Chicago, may not bloom into anything like The Great Debate between W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. Burden-Stelly’s remarks do affirm the continuing debate over aspects of the road to equality: achieving economic independence or fighting for civil rights.

Charisse Burden-Stelly

Charisse Burden-Stelly. Credit: carleton.edu

Burden-Stelly spoke Jan. 29 in a podcast by Renegade Culture, recorded at Playback Studios in the Historic West End. Burden-Stelly characterized Abrams as improperly credited with being a progressive who’s on the same plain with Fannie Loe Hamer, the voting rights, and civil rights, advocate from Mississippi who ran unsuccessfully for Congress and is noted for the sentence, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Burden-Stelly observed of Abrams:

  • “She’s being compared to all these sorts of very radical and militant people, who are doing all this work…. People think whipping votes is objectively progressive or radical. But if you look at who’s funding her and what she stands for, other than enfranchisement, she is not progressive. She is progressive in the American sense. But there is nothing radical or leftist about her….
  • “She can be seen as somebody who’s really on the side of the people, when I don’t know that that’s the case.”

The study of reparations by Emory and Spelman is part of a much larger program involving nine institutions funded with a $5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The University of Michigan’s Center for Social Solutions received the grant. As Emory described the program in a statement:

Love locks

Love locks add their sense of humanity to the Downtown Connector, standing as romantic tokens of a strong and true relationship. Credit: Kelly Jordan

  • “Emory will be among the network of nine​ ​geographically dispersed and organizationally different colleges and universities that will involve community fellows as well as local organizations in a collaborative public history reckoning designed to offer tangible suggestions for community-based racial reparations solutions.”

The memoir of C.T. Vivian was the subject of a webinar last week. The book, It’s in the Action: Memories of a Nonviolent Warrior, is available on Amazon and hard cover copies are to be released March 9.

A central message of the book is Vivian’s approach to creating successful movements. Bernard LaFayette, a protégé of Vivian, participated in the webinar to share some of his memories of the civil rights leader. LaFayette became a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and shared this lesson:

  • “The first recommendation is to identify student leaders, young people, who other young people will follow.
  • “My strong recommendation is you have workshop to train leadership. Let’s see what we can learn from others who have been successful – Martin Luther King and the bus boycott, Ghandi in India…. Learning from the mistakes of the past as well as what’s been successful.”
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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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1 Comment

  1. Dana Blankenhorn February 2, 2021 10:04 am

    Burden-Stelley is right. There is nothing radical or leftist about Stacey Abrams.

    That’s the point. What Abrams stands for is achievable. It’s practical. It’s right. When she becomes Governor, these things will be achieved.Report

    Reply

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