An African American and Latinx History of the United States

by Paul Ortiz

Book Summary by Brian T. Murphy

Ortiz weaves together narratives of struggle within African American, Latinx, and Indigenous working communities, mostly against the oppositional forces of what he calls “racial capitalism.” Although each chapter is a seemingly random list of labor struggles in the last 250 years, his point is not to focus on a particular series of historical events, rather to emphasize that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous working class communities constantly drew inspiration from one another, and that the long battle for emancipation and democratization in the US was inextricably tied to labor struggles on the international stage. Learning that these struggles are one in the same is meant to catalyze a more unified rebuttal to a predominantly white, capitalist ruling structure, who since the founding of our nation has used violence and even our own Constitution to preserve inherited wealth and power.

Major concepts.

 

  • “This book draws from the voices and experiences of people from the African and Latinx diasporas in the Americas to offer a new interpretation of the United States history from the American Revolution to the present. This is a story about how people across the Hemisphere wove together antislavery, anticolonial, pro-freedom, and pro-working-class movements against tremendous obstacles.” P1

  • “Herein lies a new way to understand American history. The radical ideas of Frederick Douglass, the Christian Recorder, and the editors of  El Malcriado were generated in social movements where people came together to learn how to overturn slavery and other forms of domination. Placing these struggles at the heart of the historical narrative allows us to reenvision the vibrant past that shines a path for every individual that yearns for a more democratic future.” P6

  • “In the course of my research, I have learned is that it is impossible to understand United States history as a singular entity. To comprehend where we are and how we got here, we must go outside the confines of the nation-state for answers. This book connects the stories of freedom fighters in the Mexican War of Independence to Africans and Indigenous people who challenged slavery in Spanish Florida, as well as Harlemites who railed against the US military occupation of Nicaragua in the 1920s. This movement-centered approach to history raises up the voices of the people who built democracy across borders and helps us overcome the paralyzing nationalistic myths that have divided people in this hemisphere for too long. There are many in the United States today who believe that there is only one way to be an “American,” but history teaches us that this is not true. To quote Aime Cesaire, “There is room for all at the Rendezvous of Victory.” P10

  • “African Americans drew courage from the resistance of Latin American freedom fighters and they brought anti-imperialism as a way of life into the twentieth century. They built a movement culture around identifying with oppressed people facing US military aggression in Latin America and the Caribbean–a culture with which their counterparts in the Cuban solidarity movement of the 1870s and their earlier ancestors in the radical abolitionist movement would immediately have identified. By defining the core of US imperial culture as ‘the government of American banks,’ Black critics identified the newest phase of American imperialism, its origins, and its financial imperatives. The rising power of Wall Street to determine US foreign policy was exposed at its roots. Such an incisive analysis would bear fruit as Black internationalism flowered once again after World War II.” P115

  • “The opponents of US military invasions of the earliest twentieth century demanded that the United States be held accountable for its overseas depredations. Instead, historians shrouded the country’s history in a veil of innocence and exceptionalism, which has undermined the nation’s ability to reform itself to this day.” P117

  • “Between the Gilded Age of the 1890s, which saw an eruption of capitalist wealth in the United States, and the Great Depression, workers in the United States endured the bloodiest labor conflicts in the history of the industrializing world…By the start of World War I, in 1914, the idea of the United States as a ‘classless society’ was finished.” P 118

  • “Racial capitalism produced cohorts of politicians and political institutions whose primary function was to keep wages low, to quash dissent, and to severely curtail the freedoms of African American and immigrant workers. Politicians who build their careers at the expense of Black and Brown labor became the leading political figures of the postwar period in Mississippi, Florida, and California.” P142

  • “Until the right to organize is guaranteed, efforts to address inequality and poverty will be doomed to failure.” P179

  • “If American history serves as a guide, not even the president of the United States can stem the tide of grassroots freedom movements and the ability of people throughout the hemisphere to draw inspiration from each other’s struggles. An African American and Latinx history of the United States teaches us that the self-activity of the most oppressed is the key to liberty in the future of the Americas.” P184

  • “African American and Latinx people have challenged and fought this system for centuries, and a careful study of their histories certainly offers clues on how to confront the current social emergencies faced by increasing numbers of Americans.” P189

Introduction

  • “Douglass believed that the United States needed to surrender the image of itself as an exceptional icon of liberty in order to deal with the self-inflicted problems that had driven the country into bloody civil war. He also reminded his Yankee audience that their pursuit of profits at the expense of human rights had had lasting consequences.” P3

  • “Many of the events chronicled in the following chapters either occurred outside the boundaries of the United States or happened in such a manner as to make the idea of borders and boundaries seem absurd.” P7

  • “Those interested in the origins of democratic traditions in this country must look to Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa as often as they look to Europe. In eras where fascism, eugenics, and apartheid dominated the nations of Europe and the Global North, it was often ideas from the Global South (referring here mainly to the nations of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa)–as well as the immigrants who brought those ideas to the United States–that rejuvenated US political culture.” P7-8

Chapter 1. The Haitian Revolution ends the birth of emancipatory internationalism, 1770s to 1820s.

  • “The wealth built up by enslaved African labor gave English colonists the resources they needed to challenge British rule and to subsequently contest European powers for domination in the Western Hemisphere. The slave plantation was the engine of early economic growth in the Americas, the Force behind the rise of global markets in tobacco, sugar, molasses, dyestuffs, cotton, and other commodities.” P12-13

  • “Indeed, the third draft of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence listed as primary grievances against King George III ‘prompting our negroes to rise in arms among us’ and, in the next sentence, ‘endeavoring to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, & conditions of existence.’” P15

  • “Paine wanted the rebellious colonists to look at themselves in the mirror: ‘With what consistency, or decency they complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hold so many hundreds of thousands and slavery; and annually enslave many thousands more, without any pretense of authority, or claim upon them.’ Paine’s pleas for moral consistency fell upon deaf ears and hearts hardened with the lucre of chattel bondage.” P15

  • “African Americans fought with every weapon at their disposal to change the course of the American Revolution away from slavery and toward freedom for all. In the fall of 1776, Lemuel Haynes, a Revolutionary War soldier in Massachusetts, took up his pen to grapple with Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence…Private Lemuel Haynes was a free Black man and a soldier who believed that the American revolution should be a war against slavery…He became an ardent foe of slavery and titled his rebuttal to Jefferson’s document ‘Liberty Further Extended: Or Free thoughts on the illegality of Slave-keeping…Building on this point, Haynes insisted that the goals of the Revolution should not be constrained by race…The twenty-three-year-old citizen soldier sought to imbue the revolution with a vision much broader than that of Jefferson’s and his proslavery countrymen.” p16-17

  • “By the end of the war, historian Benjamin Quarles estimated that at least five thousand African American men served in the Patriot armies.” P17

  • “The Patriot ruling class designed the US Constitution to protect chattel bondage…The Electoral College was a check on the rights of ordinary people to directly elect the president, as well as a guarantee that presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe would protect their fellow Virginia plantation owners’ interests for the first decades of the nation’s history.” P19

  • “History’s only successful slave revolution was led by Toissant L’Ouverture, a former House servant. The slaves defeated each of the European armies sent to crush their rebellion. Winning their independence in 1804, the revolutionaries christened their new nation Haiti in honor of the original Indigenous inhabitants’ name for the island, Ayiti–much to the horror of US and European slaveowners. As African Americans quickly understood, and as historians have reconfirmed, the Haitian Revolution was a major impetus for the abolition of slavery and independence in the Americas.” P20-21

  • “Approximately one million enslaved workers were shipped from cities such as Baltimore, Charleston, South Carolina, and Washington, DC, to the burgeoning plantations of the Deep South, which supplied the majority of the world’s cotton to Great Britain, France, and other rapidly industrializing nations. According to one historian, ‘In 1830, the aggregate value of United States slaves was about $577 million. The economic power value in 2014 would be $9.84 trillion (56 percent of 2014 GDP).’” P23

  • “Baltimore’s Black churches, neighborhoods, hidden sellers, and shipyards nurtured freedom fighters who carried the African American freedom struggle out of embattled Baltimore and into the broader world. Charity Still, Harriet Tubman, William Watkins, Frederick Douglass, and so many others left Baltimore to become profits of justice. Their children and their pupils carried on the struggle into the era of the Civil War.” p28-29

  • “John Adams created a rigid framework for US American exceptionalism by arguing that the Black people of the Western Hemisphere did not have the capacity for self-rule.” P30

  • “For African Americans and their abolitionist allies, the antislavery movement did not begin or end in the United States; it was conceived of most broadly as an anti-imperial cause.” P32

Chapter 2. The Mexican war of Independence and US history. Anti-imperialism as a way of life, 1820s to 1850s.

  • “José Maria Morelos’s efforts to recruit [James] Madison to support the Mexican War of Independence represented a moment of unparalleled opportunity for the United States to place itself on the side of liberty for all–not just in its rhetoric, but in its actions.” P35-36

  • “[John Quincy] Adams’s denigration of the Mexican War of Independence demonstrates that a central motivation for US imperial expansion into the west–the concept of manifest destiny–was that it would preempt the threat of revolt in the United States and keep the institution of slavery intact.” P38

  • Adams racialized people in Mexico and Latin America in ways that would haunts their descendents in the United States well into the 21st-century. José Morelos’s vision of a ‘beautiful bond’ between Mexico and the United States was doomed by the imperatives of racial capitalism.” P38

  • “While armies of liberation were dismantling slavery all throughout Latin America, the Monroe Doctrine gave the slave trade a new lease on life in Cuba. Once again, Adams invoked the specter of race to argue that Cubans were incapable of fighting a genuine war of independence. Adams warned that there was much to fear from Cuban independence, especially the possibility that a slave rebellion in Cuba could potentially destabilize slavery in United States…In a rush to expand the frontiers of slavery and racial capitalism, James Madison, John Adams, and John Quincy Adams foreclosed the possibility of cooperation with the independence movements in Latin America and the Caribbean.” P39

  • “The United States attempted to negotiate a treaty with Mexico for the “surrender of such fugitive slaves as might seek refuge on the soil of that Republic. But the treaty was rejected by the Mexican Congress, which denounced slavery as a ‘palpable violation of the first principles of a free Republic’” p41

  • “At the outset of the Second Seminole War, nearly one thousand enslaved African Americans rose in a concerted effort to join Seminole allies in fighting the United States.” P43

  • “Back on American soil, Douglass connected the US invasion of Mexico with the oppression of labor, the extension of slavery, and the evils of militarism.” P47

  • “Black thinkers attempted to link the Mexican War of Independence, the antislavery movement in the United States, and the ongoing efforts to end racial and caste oppression in the Americas…The efforts of Black communities to pay homage to Morelos, Guerrero, Toussaint L’Overture, and other freedom fighters suggests a political culture where the pursuit of liberty outranks nationalism or commercial imperialism.”

  • “African-Americans, Native Americans, Mexicans, and other groups waged intense battles against slavery in the first half of the nineteenth century. The determination to fight the slave republic and create a culture of anti-imperialism is a singular achievement and requires a reenvisioning of US history. African Americans repeatedly pointed out that slavery and imperialism were fatally intertwined and encoded in the nation’s institutions from the very beginning, with grave consequences for all of the citizens of the Americas. Inundated with propaganda about the superiority of Anglo-Saxon institutions, freedom fighters against slavery looked to Haiti, Mexico, and other nations in the Global South for political wisdom on how to grapple with racial capitalism. Unfortunately, too many Americans have forgotten Mexico’s rich history of social democracy, and how African-Americans, Latinx people, Native Americans, and citizens of the Americas have made the practice of anti-imperialism central to their way of life. Mexican immigrants brought traditions of mutual aid, solidarity, and democracy with them to the United States. These values have too often been squandered by their adoptive country. Instead, these immigrants have been asked to assimilate to a nation that was ignorant of the role they had played in eradicating slavery and in waging a heroic war of independence against the Spanish Empire.” P52-53

  • “Manifest Destiny was, among other things, a preemptive strike to ensure that the freedom movements rising in Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean, and elsewhere did not spread to the United States.” P53

Chapter 3. To break the fetters of slaves all over the world. The internationalization of the Civil War, 1850s to 1865.

  • “Anglo theft of Mexican and Indian lands was the order today. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was supposed to protect the status of the approximately 115,000 former Mexicans who lived within the newly conquered territories of the West. Instead, existing anti-Indian and anti-Black laws were amplified to undermine human rights of Mexicans who could not prove that they were definitively white.” P56

  • “The rise of agriculture in the West was premised on the creation of an impoverished working class unable to defend itself in the courts, in politics, or in the fields. In an overview of two centuries of agricultural history, Ernesto Galarza argued that twentieth-century farmworkers were disenfranchised politically and economically because their ancestors did not own land…Not hatred but racial capitalism drove the system of exploitation.” P57

  • “The resistance of African Americans, Tejanos, and white abolitionists was decisive in the advent of the Civil War. C. L. R. James wrote, “The agitation of the abolitionists, the sensational escapes by the Underground Railway, the ferment among the Negroes, all helped to focus public attention on slavery. But long before the Civil War the great issues were becoming clear.” Antislavery insurgencies gravely threatened racial capitalism and forced the hand of Southern politicians. Southern elites viewed the preservation of slavery and the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act to be nonnegotiable.” P61

  • “The following year, John C. McGehee, the president of the Florida Secession Convention, gave the most concise reason why the majority of his colleagues supported secession: “At the South, and with our People of course, slavery is the element of all value, and a destruction of that destroys all that is property.” p62

  • “The French invasion of Mexico in 1861 raised alarm bells in African American and Mexican American communities across the continent. In emperor, Maximillian I of Mexico, had been imposed on Mexico by France. The popular assumption in the abolitionist press was that Maximilian’s ultimate goal was to reestablish slavery in Mexico, as well as to negotiate an alliance with the Confederate States of America… the popular holiday Cinco de Mayo, initiated by Mexican American Union Army veterans in the Southwest to commemorate the Mexican victory over the European invaders, joined together themes of Mexican independence, resistance to imperialism, and slavery abolition.” P64-65

  • “Senator Sherman want to did clearly understood that Black war service was saving the Union: “They have never fought against us. They have relied upon our promise, and have performed their part. Without them, and without their presence as a weakness to the enemy, we might not have succeeded.” Sherman argued that Negro manhood suffrage was a minimal precondition for the reconstruction of the South: “If we put Negro regiments there and give them the bayonets, why can’t we give votes? They have joined in putting down the Rebellion; and now to place them at the mercy of those they have helped us to subdue–to deny them all political rights–to give them freedom but leave them entirely subject to laws framed by Rebel masters–is an act of injustice against which humanity revolts.” P68

  • “The rising of the workers was a hundredfold more important than an enlightened statecraft; it was the motive force compelling Emancipation and the remarkable period of reconstruction that followed after the end of the Civil War. At no time in American history has the working class occupied such a position of awesome power. In a speech given toward the end of 1863, Frederick Douglass made it clear that Lincoln’s leadership would not win the war: “We are not to be saved by the captain this time, but by the crew. We are not to be saved by Abraham Lincoln, but by the power behind the throne, greater than the throne itself.” Without the uprising of the plantation workers, the nation would have been permanently broken two: they were not merely heroes – they were the saviors of the republic. P69

Chapter 4. Global visions of reconstruction. The Cuban Solidarity movement, 1860s to 1890s.

  • “African Americans were creating an idea of citizenship that linked national civil rights and international human rights, deeming one insufficient without the other. These fifteenth amendment commemorations open a window into a new theory and practice of American freedom. Black speakers and their audiences articulated the idea that their individual rights were intimately connected with the rights of oppressed people in Latin America, the Caribbean, and other parts of the world. This was an ideology based on the harsh experience of seeing slavery and racial capitalism extinguishing liberty everywhere went. African Americans understood that the United States had torn itself apart due to its allegiance to a theory of profit-based individualism shrouded in slavery. The nation must never again define freedom in such a way as to place property rights above human rights. Furthermore, Americans could not preserve their liberty at home while crushing it abroad as slavery’s imperial advocates have demanded.” P74

  • “Port cities such as Baltimore continued serving as strategic nodes of communication for receiving and spreading word about the progress of the antislavery and independent movements in Cuba.” P74

  • “Emancipatory internationalism had been born in the first stormy years of the republic when African Americans and their allies recognized that slavery, racial capitalism, and imperialism were fatally intertwined. Now, even as they were embroiled in struggles for land, the right to vote, and protection from Ku Klux Klan terrorism, African-Americans insisted that their emancipation was incomplete as long as oppression existed elsewhere. African Americans drew on their own experiences in making the Civil War a war for freedom in order to build the Cuban Solidarity movement.” P80

  • “Black political leaders and state legislatures in the South played an important role in the Cuban Solidarity movement by demonstrating that the international struggle had a mass base of African American voters.” P81

  • “However, the momentum of the Cuban Solidarity movement slowed as white supremacy, anti-black violence, an voter suppression began to erode African American political power. The massacre of the black electorate came in waves of violence and fraud–first in the form of the so-called First Mississippi Plan (Ku Klux Klan terrorism, lynching, and election corruption), and then in the Second Mississippi Plan (poll taxes, literacy tests, residential requirements). Voter turnout in the South begin a general decline, and the entire region began sinking into the venality of one-party rule.” P84

  • “The Cuban Solidarity campaign launched by Black antislavery abolitionists in the heart of Reconstruction was one of the most remarkable social movements in American history. In placing the liberation of Cuba on the same platform with their desperate struggle for equal citizenship in United States, African Americans from Key West to California created a new kind of freedom movement. The national petition campaign was built on the traditions of anti-imperial antebellum slavery abolitionism. Furthermore, the movement prefigured the Third World liberation and anti-apartheid struggles of the twentieth century.” P85

  • “On the Florida mainland, African American workers were also making progress. In 1887, African-American guano-fertilizer factory operatives in Pensacola formed an alliance with white railroad workers through the Knights of Labor and carried out a successful strike for higher wages. During the business downturn caused by the 1888 yellow fever epidemic, Black labor in Jacksonville organized and unemployment movements that successfully pressed municipal authorities to create a public Works program that would provide jobs. In addition, African Americans throughout Florida were taking part in the creation of a public education system that for the first time in Southern history served the children of Poor and rich alike.” P89

  • “Moneyed interests in the South had no plans to share power with workers, nor were they interested in building a public infrastructure to develop an educated working class. In 1889, Florida state legislatures revoked the city charter of Jacksonville, an act that empowered the governor to replace pro-labor elected officials with a white regime controlled by the state…Next, it imposed puppet regimes friendly to elite interests in all three of Florida’s large cities where active labor movements, interracial and internationalist, posed a threat to white business supremacy…In subsequent decades, more than a dozen states skillfully used Jim Crow segregation laws, as well as voter restrictions, to crush interracial alliances and curtail the rights of new immigrants to vote. Florida abolished declarant alien voting in the constitutional revision of 1895 as part of the state’s move to disenfranchise both African Americans and immigrants.” P91

  • “Voter suppression was the linchpin of a system in which the working class was bereft of real political and economic power.” P92

  • W. E. B. Du Bois characterized reconstruction as “the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which this world has ever seen.” The subsequent defeat of Reconstruction “was a tragedy that beggared the Greek; it was an upheaval of humanity like the Reformation and the French Revolution.” p94

  • “Voter suppression was designed to undermine the kind of democratic politics that the Cuban solidarity movement brought into being. Disenfranchisement remove the largest potential block of anti-imperial voters from the nation’s voting rolls.” P94

Chapter 5. Waging war on the government of American banks in the global South, 1890s to 1920s.

  • “The historian Louis A. Perez Jr. Has explained how US political leaders and scholars erased the decades-long struggle of the Cuban people to expel the Spanish in favor of a self-serving Spanish-American war narrative crediting the United States with bringing about the islands independence.” P98

  • “In 1925, the Negro World published a scathing critique of the conduct of US corporations in newly occupied nations…The Report hammered American imperialism, stating, “Puerto Rico is superficially prosperous, but the masses of the people are wretched. They are landless in an agricultural country. Some of them are allowed a minute patch of ground on a plantation. In return they are expected to work on the plantation for a small wage. This is locally called peonage.” P101

  • “Puerto Rico became, in the words of journalist Juan Gonzales, “The richest colony in American history,” hugely profitable to US corporations, yet mired in poverty after generations of exploitation by the United States. An impoverished working class began a decades-long exodus to the United States in search of economic security.” P102

  • “W. E. B. Du Bois insisted that the struggle to regain the vote must be joined with anti-imperialism. To the audience at the 1928 NAACP convention in Los Angeles, Du Bois explained that the ‘disenfranchisement of the Negro in Southern States has brought about such distortion of political power in the United States, that a small white oligarchy in the South is the dictator of the nation.’” P104

  • “Critiques of slave owners and manifest destiny gave way to condemnations of banks, military intervention, and racism as destructive forces. These critics rejected the idea that the United States had a mission to spread democracy abroad and insisted that people in the Global South had the right to determine their own destinies. The resiliency of this political tendency served as precursor to the rise of organizations in the twentieth 20th Century such as the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the African Blood Brotherhood, and the Black leftist organizations of the New Deal era. By stressing the connections between freedom, labor power, and national liberation, the practitioners of emancipatory internationalism unveiled the workings of racial capitalism while deepening democratic resistance to it.” P105

  • “Domestically, the Negro World reported on numerous dimensions of Jim Crow in United States, including anti-Black violence, employment discrimination, and educational inequalities. It also published cases of Jim Crow policies in Spanish-language columns in an effort to educate its international readership about ‘procedimientos inhumanos’ (inhuman procedures)…” p 110

  • “African Americans cheered the Nicaraguan resistance against the United States invasion of that country in the 1920s. Black media exposed the ugly reality that the US Marines were in Nicaragua to defend the profits of the United Fruit Company, Brown Brothers, J. & W. Seligman, and other entities with a monetary interest in exploiting the region.” P112

Chapter 6. Forgotten workers of America. Racial capitalism and the war on the working class, 1890s to 1940s.

  • “Between the Gilded Age of the 1890s, which saw an eruption of capitalist wealth in the United States, and the Great Depression, workers in the United States endured the bloodiest labor conflicts in the history of the industrializing world…The railway strike of 1877 (known as the Great Upheaval), the massacre of Chinese workers in Rock Springs, Wyoming (1885), the Haymarket Square Riot (1886), the Thibodaux Massacre (1887), the Apalchicola general strike (1890), the Homestead lockout (1892), the Pullman strike and boycott (1894), the Colorado labor wars of 1903–4, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (1911), the Ludlow Massacre (1914), the Everett Massacre (1919), and the Elaine Massacre (1919)–these were just a few of the better-known conflagrations. By the start of World War I, in 1914, the idea of the United States as a ‘classless society’ was finished.” P 118

  • “Lucy Gonzalez Parsons, an anarchist of African, Mexican, and indigenous descent, admonished workers in Chicago to fight back with every means at their disposal: ‘The voice of dynamite is the voice of force, the only voice which tyranny has ever been able to understand.’” P119

  • “Intergenerational economic inequality had a devastating cumulative effect on Black and Latinx families because it meant that they would not be able to pass down meaningful amounts of wealth to their children. The economic historian Carlos Shammas writes, ‘The bulk of household wealth in America, perhaps as much as 80 percent of it, is derived from inheritance, not labor force participation. Both Jim Crow and Juan Crow ensured that working class Latinx and African American families had far less of a financial legacy to leave to future generations.” P127

  • “Government leaders in President Herbert Hoover’s cabinet whipped up anti-Mexican sentiments to direct popular anger away from the failure of the federal government to deal with economic suffering and high unemployment. In 1929, the US Congress passed the US Immigration Act, which enabled the US to target Mexicans for deportation. The avowed admission of the American Federation of Labor was to organize the unorganized, yet it failed abjectly to fulfill this mission went it reproached Mexican workers for taking jobs away from ‘real Americans.’” P132

  • “Black women’s fight in Charleston [August 1933] for a uniform minimum wage affirms their roles as pioneers of the resurgence of radical labor activism that birthed industrial unionism as well as paving the way for the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1935. The African American women at Charleston Bagging and Manufacturing were not merely waging a wildcat strike; they were struggling to expand the scope and scale of the New Deal to their workplaces in communities. They were part of what would become a mass movement of African American women across the country calling for federal intervention in the economy.” P135

  • African American and Latinx women in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Tampa would join their sisters in Charleston in major strikes that challenged the government’s wages and hours codes. In March 1934, Black female laundry and cafeteria workers in Birmingham led wildcat strikes for better wages and working conditions under NRA code agreements. In the wake of the Birmingham upheavals, Black women domestic workers in New Hope, Alabama, launched the first recorded striking the city’s history. Like their counterparts in Edisto, the New Hope women demanded the minimum wage scale that would cover all domestic workers. Black-and-white women farmworkers at Seabrook Farms in New Jersey stood up to tear gas and police beatings to demand NRA wages in their industry.” P136

  • “With roots in the nineteenth century, Colored Labor Day was an event where African American unionists from Charleston and the Sea Islands gather to celebrate the role their labor had played in building the nation.” P136

  • “The capstone antilabor achievement of the post war period was Congress’s passage of the Taft-Hartley act of 1947, which severely undermined the power of labor unions to strike and enshrined the right of the federal government to intervene on the side of employers during labor disputes. Equally important were federal and state government programs that enforced a steady supply of workers from other countries who lacked the power–or legal right–to bargain collectively with their employers.” P141

  • “It was not coincidental that Congress ensured that millions of Black and Latinx workers were excluded from New Deal social legislation in order to placate business interests from South Carolina to California who fought to maintain white business supremacy. Agricultural workers and domestic workers–two of the largest categories of Black and Brown workers–were barred from the core New Deal protections such as Social Security, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the National Labor Relations Act, which gave workers the right to organize. These exclusions in turn exacerbated black and Latinx poverty, and drove deeper wedges between sectors of the US working class to create cleavages that would never be resolved.” P141-2

  • “Racial capitalism produced cohorts of politicians and political institutions whose primary function was to keep wages low, to quash dissent, and to severely curtail the freedoms of African American and immigrant workers. Politicians who build their careers at the expense of Black and Brown labor became the leading political figures of the postwar period in Mississippi, Florida, and California.” P142

  •  “The organizers who built the social movements of The Great Depression would soon link up with a new generation of activists in the 1960s to generate a revived struggle for dignity and justice on all fronts.” P142

Chapter 7. Emancipatory internationalism vs. the American Century, 1945 to 1960s.

  • “Militarism and political manipulation in the service of Washington-directed capitalism were the preferred tools of US foreign policy in Latin America and the twentieth Century. In 1954, the New York Times warned hysterically that ‘Communists might ultimately take over Guatemala and use it as a base to infiltrate other Latin nations and the vital Panama Canal zone.’ In the same year, the United States engineered a bloody coup against President Jacobo Arbenz, even as it flooded the region with the arms shipments to US-friendly regimes in Honduras and Nicaragua…Arbenz only crime, writes [historian Greg] Grandin, was ‘to expropriate, with full compensation, uncultivated United Fruit Company land and legalize the Communist Party –both unacceptable acts from Washington’s early 1950s vantage point.’” P149

  • “[Martin Luther] King Believe that the idea of the ‘middle-class utopia’ derailed comprehensive efforts to end poverty. If us society was based on ‘fair play,’ as so many alleged and assumed, then obviously the poor only have themselves to blame for their poverty. In reality, however, the hardest-working members of the United States were consistently the poorest and least advantaged.” P151

  • In 1952, Caesar Chavez, a WWII veteran and the son of migrant farm workers, took a job in San Jose, California, as an organizer with the Community Service Organization. Along with a cohort of remarkable activists that included Dolores Huerta and Gilbert Padilla, Chavez learned the skills of community organizing. A decade later, the group began organizing a labor union and formed the National Farmworkers Association.” P152

  • “On July 29, 1970, the United Farm Workers signed union contracts covering approximately thirty thousand workers in the grape industry. The labor historian Robert Gordon notes, ‘All of the newly signed contracts insured substantial wage increases, created a union hiring hall, and established strict regulations regarding the use of pesticides.’” P155

  • “In 1969, the Chicago Black Panther Party created the original Rainbow Coalition, composed of the Puerto Rican Young Lords and the Young Patriots, the group of revolutionary white activists.” P160

  • “A perennial dynamic in US history is that advances made by African Americans and Latinx people always elicit counterattacks from state and private interests. J Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation develop the Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) to undermine and destroy individuals such as Martin Luther King Jr. And organization such as the black panther party and the Young Lords.” P162

Chapter 8. El gran paro estadounidense. The rebirth of the American working-class, 1970s to the present.

  • “Seeking to counter the social movements and national labor strikes of the Vietnam War era, corporate-funded Republicans and so-called ‘New Democrats’ destroyed unions, downsized social welfare, cut taxes on the rich, and unleashed the power of banks and corporations through deregulation in order to discipline an insurgent citizenry.” P163

  • “When the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) was formed in 1985 it moved the Democratic Party away from African American, Latinx, and working-class constituencies and toward big donors and military-industrial corporations. DLC members in Congress spearheaded punishing domestic and foreign policy measures, including the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, both in 1994, as well as the US invasions of Iraq, in 1990 and 2003. NAFTA increase the pace of deindustrialization in the United States, and neoliberal trade policies hit Latinx and Black workers particularly hard.” P164

  • “The Voting Rights Act of 1965, a key achievement of the civil rights movement, has been a continuous target of reactionary forces in American politics. The act had helped to protect the voting rights of African Americans, Latinx people, Haitian immigrants, in many other groups that had been historically discriminated against and disenfranchised. Between 2010 and 2013, however, Republican dominated legislatures in thirty-one states passed scores of bills designed to restrict voting rights in order to constrict democracy. Recent advocates of voting restrictions claimed that Hispanic ‘illegal immigrants’ in Florida and other states threatened to ‘decide the next presidential election.’ The US Supreme Court lent it imprimatur to the restriction title wave by formally abrogating the Voting Rights Act in 2013. ‘Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on,’ wrote the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg.” P179

  • “Concurrently the passage of Arizona House Bill 2281 was part of a national move to rollback the efforts of schools to offer courses on the contributions of racial minorities in the development of the United States. The bill targeted to a Mexican American studies program based in Tucson’s Unified School District that had markedly increased student success and graduation rates. Considered together, SB 1070 and HB 2281 work efforts to erase the spirit of the nascent Latinx social movement that forms the base of the May Day protests.” P181

  • “Invoking history in his keynote address to an energized audience, the Reverend William Barber II observed, ‘It Took us 400 years from slavery to the present to reach $7.25, but we can’t wait another 400 years.” P 183

Epilogue. A new origin narrative of American history.

  • “What blinded my generation to the history of US imperialism are the doctrine of American exceptionalism and the myth of isolationism. Both ideas are firmly disapproved when we approach US history from African American and Latinx perspectives.” P186

  • “Teaching American history honestly means ending the unforgivable silences surrounding the debts of gratitude we owe to Haiti, Mexico, and Latin America generally in demonstrating through words and deeds the meanings of justice and freedom. Generations of people in the United States drew inspiration and lessons from the Haitian Revolution, the Mexican War of Independence, and the Cuban War of Liberation, among many other struggles. Scholars should continue to research the threads of emancipation the people in the Americans have attempted to weave together.” P187

  • “For example, the oft-ignored roll of the citizens of Mexico as carriers of traditions of social democracy to the United States needs to be better understood. Mexican migrants to the United States hail from a country that abolished slavery long before the United States, fought off repeated imperial invasions from Europe, and promoted ideals of sharing the nation’s wealth on a roughly equal basis.” P188

  • “Inequality in American life today is not the result of abstract market forces, nor is this the consequence of the now-discredited ‘culture of poverty’ thesis. From the outset, inequality was enforced with the whip, the gun, and the United States Constitution. Jim Crow and Juan Crow laws, backed by law enforcement and paramilitary organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, stood like flaming sentinels against Black and Brown progress. African Americans and Latinx people were forcibly brought or recruited to the United States to toil and to do work that others could not or would not do. Their labor built this nation, but they were not fairly compensated for their work. Instead, they were starved, tortured, traumatized, and murdered for attempting to exercise rights that others took for granted.” P188

Think for Yourself. Dissolve your Allegiances.