Thoughts on The Mueller Report

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We’ve all heard a lot about the Mueller Report by now. I don’t claim any expertise other than having watched hours and hours of legal experts talk about it and having read much, though not all, of it. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a citizen who has been highly distressed, even despairing, about the last 4 years of our country’s life. I offer here my thoughts and opinions about what the report, even redacted, says about the current president.

Volume I specifically deals with whether or not there was Russian interference in our 2016 election and whether there was conspiracy on the part of the Trump campaign to enable interference. The report states uncategorically that there was Russian interference, and in fact it started in 2014 before the current president had announced candidacy for 2016.

I was surprised by how many redactions there were in Volume I, as I’d thought that Roger Stone’s case was the only outstanding one as to whether or not there was coordination with Russian operatives. There must be cases we’re not yet aware of and may never know about.

Russian operatives were sent to the United States in 2014 in order to begin to take the temperature of the country and infiltrate organizations that were disaffected by the Democratic President Obama. This says clearly to me that Russia wanted a Republican President elected, no matter whom, in 2016.

It also suggests to me that the fact that the President at the time was an African-American was seen as a path to sowing discord in the country by playing to White Supremacists and also that the Russian government who approved these special ops are White Supremacists themselves.

Here’s my takeaway from the beginning of Volume I:

  1. Page 9 While saying there was no evidence of a conspiracy on the part of the Trump campaign, Mueller does say that candidate Trump did see benefits in having Russia on his side.
  2. Page 12 Dates of when hacking of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and the DNC coordinates with when it became clear that Trump would be the GOP nominee.
  3. Page 13 If there truly was no conspiracy, then Trump is the luckiest bastard in the world. It beggars belief that someone who already had a reputation for corrupt business practices was relying on ‘luck” rather than certain knowledge of what the Russians were doing.
  4. Page 14 Why would Manafort share polling data with Constantin Kilimnik, which is undisputed, if not to knowingly influence the election?
  5. Page 15 The timing of the Wikileaks dumps of John Podesta’s e-mails and the Billy Bush videotape of Trump bragging about his sexual assaults of women seem fishy at this remove. It has always been assumed that the e-mail dump was to distract from the pussy-grabbing video. However, it’s been more than clear that Trump’s sexual proclivities do not bother his supporters, even the Christian right. At the same time, it was becoming clearer that US intelligence agencies were known to be investigating Trump, and the video may have been released as a distraction to that. What would be more damaging to him before the election?
  6. Page 40 Further to my speculation about motives of racism on the part of the Russians, when the social media campaign started, the operatives invented a “Black Matters” Facebook page in order to confuse people about the actual group Black Lives Matter. They also threatened family members of Black Lives Matters activists (names redacted).

Volume II begins on Page 341 with an analysis of the possibility of obstruction of justice committed by the president. The report over and over again views actions by Trump both public and private as having the “potential” to fall within the rubrics of obstruction of justice.

There follows a long discussion of the definition of obstruction of justice and challenges to it, in which the report appears to conclude that limitations that Trump’s lawyers claimed for the statute are not valid.

Specific to this discussion is whether Congress can legitimately prosecute obstruction of justice charges against the president. The ruling theme is that neither Congress nor the president can do anything that would assume one or the other’s separate duties. The report concludes that Congress would not be infringing on the president’s Article II duties if it prosecuted him for obstruction of justice.

Be it noted that the first duty of a President is “To take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” We know that that has not happened with this administration.

In discussing ways in which Trump publicly and privately tried to coerce Michael Cohen into cooperating with the investigation, and then turned on him and gave an interview to Jeanine Pirro about Cohen’s father-in-law, the report repeatedly uses the term “points to evidence” that the president had criminal intent in silencing Cohen.

The report also finds Trump’s responses to the Special Counsel’s questions inadequate or incomplete. Most are answered by “I have no recollection” or objections that the incidents occurred two years before and important incidents cannot be remembered. There is also a lot of blame put on other people as reason why Trump doesn’t remember something, eg he testifies that the Moscow Tower plan was Michael Cohen’s idea and that he was not very interested in building in Moscow and therefore he doesn’t remember anything about those plans and communications from the Russian state administration about the plans.

Here is part of the Mueller Report’s ending summary:

  1. CONCLUSION

Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

In sum, contrary to the position taken by the President s counsel, we concluded that, in light of the Supreme Court precedent governing separation-of-powers issues, we had a valid basis for investigating the conduct at issue in this report. In our view, the application of the obstruction statutes would not impermissibly burden the President’s performance of his Article II function to supervise prosecutorial conduct or to remove inferior law-enforcement officers. And the protection of the criminal justice system from corrupt acts by any person – including the President – accords with the fundamental principle of our government that “[n]o [person] in this country is so high that he is above the law.”

 Mueller Report footnote footnote: 1091 A possible remedy through impeachment for abuses of power would not substitute for potential criminal liability after a President leaves office. Impeachment would remove a President from office, but would not address the underlying culpability of the conduct or serve the usual purposes of the criminal law. Indeed, the Impeachment Judgment Clause recognizes that criminal law plays an independent role in addressing an officials conduct, distinct from the political remedy of impeachment. See U.S. CONST. ART.

l, § 3, cl. 7. Impeachment is also a drastic and rarely invoked remedy, and Congress is not restricted to relying only on impeachment, rather than making criminal law applicable to a former President, as OLC has recognized. A Sitting President’s Amenability to Indictm ent and Criminal Prosecution, 24 Op. O.L.C.

at 255 (“Recognizing an immunity from prosecution for a sitting President would not preclude such prosecution once the President ‘s term is over or he is otherwise removed from office by resignation or impeachment.“).

My interpretation: “Have at him, Congress. Investigate him fully and bring charges of impeachment, which I cannot do, and then arrest the son-of-a-bitch the second he leaves the White House.”

There are only two legislators so far whose opinions on impeachment I respect. The first is Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose statement was unambiguous. The second is the Honorable Elijah Cummings, who gave more nuanced views to Joy Ann Reid on All In with Chris Hayes Tuesday evening. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCor-a3YPz4insert) I reject those Democratic legislators who say we’ll take care of this at the ballot box. The Russians are still interfering and states are still suppressing votes and we still have an Electoral College. I for one don’t trust the ballot box.

In addition, the president is still obstructing justice in plain sight through tweets and actions. He and advisers and cabinet officials are openly defying the House of Representatives and tromping all over its separate powers. Further, he has contributed not only to the acts of White Supremacists but is responsible for the death of children at the southern border. How much more harm can he do in a year and a half?

A lot. A hell of a lot.

 

 

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Novelists Explore Internalized Racism

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I recently read two books in a row by African-American authors that address the state of internalized racism in America through deep satire.

Paul Beatty’s book, The Sellout, was written in 2015; Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s book came out earlier this year.

We often think of satire as having a humorous element, but in both of these books, I found that every time I was tempted to laugh, something pulled me back as I reflected on the reality behind the author’s words.

The Sellout is about an unnamed California man who owns a farm in a small town called Dickens on the outskirts of Los Angeles. He was home-schooled by his radical sociologist father, but it’s not your average home schooling. Hearing gun shots while having tokens of white supremacy put in your bassinet is traumatic, but certainly teaches a lesson.

Paul Beatty

Paul Beatty

Yet, as an adult, the narrator agrees to take on Hominy, Buckwheat’s understudy in The Little Rascals, as a slave. Yup, Hominy – after a youth spent being filmed portraying all the worst stereotypes of white audiences – insists on being enslaved, and the narrator obliges. He goes further and, with a little help from his friends, decides to re-create segregation in order to attract white people with money back to his hometown, which has been taken off the maps.

He winds up being arrested for violating every civil rights amendment and law and his case goes to the Supreme Court.

In his 2015 New York Times review, Dwight Garner calls the first 100 pages of the book “caustic and . . . badass.”

“What I mean,” he writes, “is that the first third of The Sellout reads like the most concussive monologues and interviews of Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and Dave Chappelle wrapped in a satirical yet surprisingly delicate literary and historical sensibility.”

We Cast a Shadow, Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s satire, is more on the order of Key and Peele at their best and also more poignant to me. Again, we meet an unnamed man in a not-too-distant New Orleans who has married a white woman. Their son is very light-skinned and could pass for white except for patches of dark skin on various parts of his body. The father is obsessed with his son having all the advantages of being white to the point of subjecting him to various “demelanization” treatments, which the boy does not want and finds painful.

Maurice Carlos Ruffin

Maurice Carlos Ruffin

The narrator himself could be called a sellout. He has separated himself from his roots to the extent that he dresses “white” and does everything he can to align himself with the white higher-ups in his law firm in order to win a promotion and the bonus that will help him pay for his son’s whitening treatments.

How much of what he does is for love of his son or hatred of himself? He has father issues himself, as his father is serving a life sentence for assaulting a police officer who assaulted the narrator’s mother. He blames his father for resisting, even though they live in a project that is being more ghettoized every day and eventually is cordoned off from the rest of the city. In the next state over, presumably Mississippi, African-Americans have to wear tracking devices, so the narrator’s fears are very real.

All of it, however, comes down to white supremacy and the expectation by even liberal whites that black people just need to “get over” slavery. Just “get over” the fact that they’re only barely American citizens now because of what their ancestors endured in the Middle Passage and on the farms and plantations and building sites of the territory that eventually became the United States of America.

I noted above that every time I was tempted to laugh while reading either of the books, something held me back. More to the point, I had to wonder whether I, as a bleeding-heart liberal white woman, had a right to laugh. In Ruffin’s book, in particular, there were more moments where I was tempted to cry.

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah ends his NYT review of Ruffin’s book this way:

“How does racism shape our ability to love?

We Cast a Shadow churns fresh beauty from old ugliness. What injustices have we as a culture come to accept as normal? What are the pitfalls of our complacency? And how can anyone survive this? These questions are essential to America’s growth, but rarely do we see them posed so sharply. Read this book, and ask yourself: Is this the world you want?”

Michelle Obama – She Became

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I usually listen to nonfiction because for some reason I understand it better when I hear it even though I can’t highlight and underline.

There was never a question that I would listen to Michelle Obama’s Becoming once I learned that she narrated it herself.

It is no exaggeration to say that the sound of her voice stating her truths – defiant, tender, exasperated, joyful, determined, awed – was one of the most powerful literary experiences I’ve had in a long time.

I don’t know what I expected. Perhaps that this would be a glossy, triumphant statement of the first African-American woman to be the First Lady and perhaps the most admired woman in the world.

michelle 1

There is already a determined look in that face.

It wasn’t. Ms. Obama holds no punches as she talks about the hard-earned victories of her life that were won against the odds of being black in America. She was an ambitious child from the get-go, funny and creative and imaginative as she grew up in a lower middle class family on the South Side of Chicago.

Her ambitions took her to an Ivy League college and on to a position in a prestigious law firm in Chicago (through which she met her future husband) and high-level positions with nonprofits. She makes no apologies for living the good life once she was making the good money. Even so, she continued to live at home with her loving parents, who encouraged her to be the person God dreamt her to be.

The tears started early on in her description of her relationship with her father. Although stricken with multiple sclerosis, he never missed a day of work until came the inevitable. Her relationship with her practical mother is also revelatory and predicts the extremely strong family bonds she and her husband created as his political career grew.

Ms. Obama did not want to be a political wife. She doesn’t hide the disappointments of playing not only second fiddle, but second fiddle to the first African-American to run for President, with all the pain and anger that brought with it. They had struggled for years to have children and finally resorted to in vitro fertilization. With the arrival of Malia and a few years later Sasha, she never wanted to stop working but she also wanted her little family to herself, safe and secure.

Still, there was an abiding sense that being President what God had dreamed him to be, so she carved out a place for herself in his campaign, insisted on having staff for herself, and learned to relate to people of all colors and contexts around the country.

The media was hot on her trail, waiting, it seemed, for her to make slips and for the right-wing media to translate anything she said into fear for white people. The conspiracy theories, the birtherism calumny led by one Donald Trump, all of it could have broken her spirit. Instead, with each new challenge, she adjusted herself to finding a way to act within the framework of that challenge and, as she famously said, “When they go low, we go high.”

When she described President Obama’s first election to the Presidency, I cried again, thinking of that night when I had decided that I wanted to hear the news, good or bad, from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. The news came surprisingly early, and as Jon Stewart announced with tears in his own eyes, “I have the privilege of telling you that Barack Obama is the next President of the United States,” I wept for joy and called my sister and we wept together.

The next eight years were never particularly easy for Ms. Obama, with two growing girls, her husband often away, threats coming in, and the eternal presence of Secret Service agents for herself and her family. But she persisted in carving out a way to live as a family and a way to make her own mark on the Presidency, particularly in regard to children’s nutrition and veterans and military families. As her husband did, she applied herself to making a difference, and she did.

I could go on, but I’d rather you read it – or better yet, heard it – for yourself, if you haven’t already. This is a remarkable portrait of a remarkable woman of whom I’ve no doubt we will continue to hear. You will weep with her and rejoice with her, be angry on her behalf and be proud of her accomplishments. It took courage to write this particular book at this particular time, and you will applaud that courage and even feel as if you knew her well.

James Lawson, Pioneer of Nonviolence

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James Lawson’s name is one that is probably not familiar as a civil rights hero among those who haven’t especially studied the movement.

Yet John Lewis says in his memoir, Walking with the Wind, “Little did I know that the man who would truly turn my world around was waiting for me in Nashville. His name was Lawson, Jim Lawson.”

It was from Lawson that Lewis first learned the depth of the philosophy of nonviolent action. Lawson was a field secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR); he traveled around the country giving workshops until he settled at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where. Lewis was a theology student at Fisk University.

lawson2Lawson had grown up in Ohio. As a conscientious objector during the Korean War, he served 14 months in jail. After serving his time, he went to India as a Methodist missionary and became profoundly obsessed with the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

Lewis and his best friend, Bernard Lafayette, attended the workshops that Lawson offered. It was also Lawson who introduced them to the Highlander Folk School, where founder Myles Horton, Septima Clark, Rosa Parks, and others taught both citizenship classes and nonviolence as a means to ending segregation and acquiring the vote.

Buoyed by Lawson’s continued teaching and encouragement, the young Lewis and Lafayette along with James Bevel, Diane Nash and others went to a conference in Atlanta that led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Lawson was instrumental in the writing of SNCC’s Statement of Purpose in 1960. Yet just two years later, at the April 1962 anniversary  conference, he was not invited. The membership of SNCC was changing to more radical voices who advocated revolution rather than integration and argued for violence in the name of self-defense. Stokely Carmichael, James Forman, and Tom Hayden were among those new voices. While Lewis was elected to the executive committee of SNCC and was also asked by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to be on the board of the Southern Baptist Leadership Conference, it wouldn’t be long before he was sidelined from SNCC also because his heart and soul were with Lawson and King.

Though Carmichael directly attacked Lawson, saying that “deliberate self-sacrifice [was] an unnatural philosophy,” he continued to teach nonviolent resistance as an instructor at COFO (the Committee of Federated Organizations) in Oberlin, Ohio, which was training volunteer students, many from the North, for the voting rights drive of Freedom Summer. He also was active in trying to get the Methodist Church to abolish its principle of Central Jurisdiction, which meant that while many African-Americans served as bishops, pastors, and missionaries, there were many segregated Methodist churches.

A year ago April, I watched the CPAN coverage of the day-long gathering in Memphis that marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s murder. I watched all the wonderful speeches from the modern-day civil rights icons, but what really made me sit up was the voiceover saying that James Lawson was to be the next speaker. I hadn’t known he was still alive. How glad I was to see and hear directly from this man who had such a powerful effect on the nonviolent movement and on John Lewis in particular.

Dr. Lawson, who is 90, established The James Lawson Institute (JLI) in 2013 to educate organizers and leaders about nonviolence. A documentary about Dr. Lawson may be seen at https://www.pbs.org/thisfarbyfaith/witnesses/james_lawson.html.

 

Atlanta’s First African-American Cops

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In the accompanying photograph, the first African-American policement in Atlanta are, from left in the front: Henry Hooks, Claude Dixon, Ernest H. Lyons; back: Robert McKibbens, Willard Strickland, Willie T. Elkins, Johnnie P. Jones, and John Sanders.

I recently read Georgia author Thomas Mullen’s first in a series of mysteries featuring the first African-American policemen in Atlanta.

After the first book, Darktown, appeared in 2016, he wrote an article for the Atlanta magazine about the history of the eight men who took the great risk of doing a job neither white people nor many African-Americans wanted them to do.

The second book in the series, Lightning Men, is newly released.

Mayor William Hartsfield was perhaps not considered progressive, but he was looking to bring Atlanta into compliance with mid-20th century civil rights laws. He met with religious leaders, including Martin Luther King Sr., about ways in which African-Americans could progress in their native city. He and Police Chief Herbert Jenkins (himself a member of the Klan) initiated the young men into the police force on April 3, 1948.

In his speech that day, Mayor Hartsfield acknowledged that 95% of the white police did not agree with the idea of having African-Americans on the force. That 95% would make life very difficult for the black officers in the years to come. In fact, they were not allowed to work out of the white police headquarters, but were consigned to a basement in the Butler Street YMCA for five years.

They were also not allowed to arrest white people, drive squad cars, or wear their uniforms to and from the Butler St. Y. Their beat was the Sweet Auburn area, consisting of black middle class and underclass neighborhoods. The area was called “Darktown” by white folks, and God help the black cop who tried to do anything to solve a crime that would take him out of that neighborhood.

Darktown fictionalizes two of those first recruits. Lucius Boggs is the son of a respected minister. He has a college degree and had lived a fairly privileged life for an African-American until World War II when he enlisted and was kept at the South Carolina training camp for the entire war because of superiors not wanting to send men overseas who might be inclined to tell foreigners what being black in the US was really like.

Boggs’s partner, Tommy Smith, comes from the underclass neighborhood of Sweet Auburn. He was on active duty during the war, in a tank division. He is muscled and has never been able to afford the sensitivities that define his partner.

One night they see a white man hit a lamppost on their beat. When they go to investigate, they find a young black woman with him. She has a bruise on her jaw. A couple of days later, they are called to the scene where her body has been disposed of, a bullet through her heart.

It is clear that the white force couldn’t care less about who had murdered her. Boggs takes it upon himself to investigate and begins to break every rule laid down by white supremacy of what he can and can’t do as a “Negro” police officer.

Thus begins a harrowing tale of the injustices heaped upon the African-American community of Atlanta by Klansmen in the police force, of ex-cops who form a group called the Rust Division who come in to help out the white cops when things need to be cleaned up, of the efforts by the white cops to undermine their African-American colleagues, and the almost superhuman effort by the black cops to continue in their jobs when they realize what they’re facing.

Mullen, who is white, started his research in 2012. He says in his article, “I learned of these officers when I read former Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Gary Pomerantz’s 1996 history of Atlanta, Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn. He devotes just four pages of his 545-page epic to the city’s first black cops, whose swearing-in prefaced the coming victories of the civil rights movement. But I wanted to know more. As black people in the Jim Crow South, they were second-class citizens, barred from the front of buses, most restaurants, and public parks, and constantly at risk of state-sanctioned or mob-rule violence. Yet they were also authority figures, charged with enforcing laws that often oppressed them and their families.”

A transplant from Rhode Island to, eventually, Decatur, Mullen was fascinated by this bit of history. He saw it as a vehicle for depicting larger social conflicts. At the time of his research, Michael Brown and so many others were still alive, but Trayvon Martin had been murdered by George Zimmerman and a united effort to undermine the first African-American President had begun. Police violence against African-Americans was not yet country-wide news, yet certainly those in Atlanta knew only too well what police violence was like.

Mr. Mullen also acknowledges that, as a transplant from Rhode Island, might seem to be trying to muscle in on the work of native Southern writers. But, he said, “My past work has wrestled with what it means to be American and how the various tangled threads of our past have combined to weave us into who we are today. To write about American identity in the South means writing about race.”

The full article can be read here: Thomas Mullen talks about Darktown

The eight men came from a variety of backgrounds. Ernest H. Lyons had seen a woman stabbed when he was 7 years old. No police came to help. The incident made him want to be a cop. John H. Sanders was the salutatorian of his graduating class at Booker T. Washington High School, but he could only find work as a janitor. When they plus Claude Dixon, Willie T. Elkins, Johnnie P. Jones, Henry Hooks, Robert McKibbens, and Willard Strickland began active duty, they were called “YMCA cops” by some black people who resented their authority. White cops made false reports of wrongdoing by the black policemen and even tried to run them over as they crossed the street.

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Officer Claude Mundy (far right), the first black officer killed in the line of duty, in front of the Butler Street YMCA.

Mullen’s novel is well-written and certainly atmospheric, to the point where I could say it should probably not be read by everyone. For me, as a white woman, I read such books in order to bear witness to the victims of racial violence wherever and whenever it occurs. It’s often not easy for me. There were many times while reading Darktown that I had to close the book because of its relentless realism.

But if reading such a book is painful to me, I have to always remind myself of the pain suffered by the victims themselves, throughout our tortured history. It is, in part, my way of atoning for America’s original sin.

The Wisdom of Strangers

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I have been accused of being too friendly and too willing to talk to strangers.

Here’s the thing: I’ve met some amazing people this way and also learned from each of them, and I wouldn’t forego these experiences for anything.

After having to put my cat down last week and then cancel an event that I had my whole heart set on, I was feeling pretty aimless when I drove 1,100 miles to Georgia but decided to go anyway and see what happened.

What I had hoped would happen was fairly clear would not when I arrived in the city I came to. As Bono sang, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” To make matters worse, the place I was renting a “studio” apartment from for a couple of weeks was shoddy and not terribly clean; it certainly looking nothing like the pictures on the Internet.

Still, I thought, okay, maybe I’ll learn something new here.

I returned to my room today to find the staff electrician fixing the two-burner stove that wasn’t working. I was very hot and very tired after an eventful morning and lunchtime and just wanted to lie down and take a snooze.

The stove job turned out to be pretty complicated, and the man was in and out and in out of my room getting more supplies, turning the electricity on and off, and getting even more supplies. I sat down at the little table to check Facebook. Then I heard him humming and asked him whether he was a musician.

The man is probably in his late 30s, dark-skinned, and with what I thought as a Hispanic accent. For the next half hour we talked about our favorite classical composers, blues musicians, and Michael Buble’s CD of Sinatra music. He also told me about getting a French press for his mother and that he would be visiting her that night to teach her how to use it.

It was when I finally thought to say, “My name is Cynthia, by the way” that he told me his name in both Italian and Spanish. Was he both Italian and Spanish, I asked?

“My mother is Spanish and my father is Italian and Native American,” he answered.

Does he have any Cherokee blood? I asked.

“Ottawa,” he answered.

I explained that I had asked because the two times now I’ve driven to Georgia, I’ve been appalled by the way “Cherokee” is used for the names of stores and such that have no relationship to the Cherokee nation.

He smiled ruefully, and then told me that his mother being Spanish came from a heritage that was partly to blame for the ravaging of his father’s ancestors in the Americas.

He spoke softly and succinctly. “I did research on all the countries that were responsible for that for my master’s thesis.”

“What was your degree in?”

“Linguistics.”

I kicked myself even as I asked, “What are you doing working here?”

“A lot of people ask me that.”

“I take it back, I take it back! I’m not trying to demean your job. God knows, not just anyone could do what you’re doing. I was just thinking that you have so much knowledge and wisdom to share; you would make a wonderful teacher.”

He spoke ruefully again, and slowly. “I do think of myself as a teacher. I do try to engage people and show them how that history repeats itself.”

“And is repeating itself right now.”

“Yes.” We agreed that corporations were enslaving people all over again.

Then he told me about a 16th century monk who had seen what went on in the “new world” and had tried to get the ear of Isabella and Ferdinand to stop the plundering and depredations.

“You have a calling,” I said. “It’s almost a ministry.”

He nodded.

He was done by now fixing the stove and putting all the supplies back on his cart.

“Thank you for all I’ve learned from you today,” I told him.

“It was my pleasure.”

And he rolled the cart away.

For the curious, here is what Wikipedia has to say about the monk he told me about, Bartolomé de las Casas:

Bartolome de las casasBartolomé de las Casas (Spanish: [baɾtoloˈme ðe las ˈkasas] ( listen); c. 1484[1] – 18 July 1566) was a 16th-century Spanish colonist who acted as a historian and social reformer before becoming a Dominican friar. He was appointed as the first resident Bishop of Chiapas, and the first officially appointed “Protector of the Indians“. His extensive writings, the most famous being A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies and Historia de Las Indias, chronicle the first decades of colonization of the West Indies. He described the atrocities committed by the colonizers against the indigenous peoples.[2]

Benjamin Lay: Abolition’s Prophet

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When I hear people try to excuse historical acts of racism by saying, “That’s how people were then,” I get apoplectic. I think of people who throughout history have clearly demonstrated they knew right from wrong, no matter what the prevailing society was like.

Now I have another weapon in my arsenal: Benjamin Lay (1682-1759) of Abington Township, PA.

Thanks to Marcus Rediker, the general public can know more about this fierce warrior for emancipation through his book, The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became First Revolutionary Abolitionist.

In 1738, Benjamin Lay walked 20 miles to attend the annual Quaker’s Philadelphia meeting, according to Mr. Rediker. Keep in mind that it wasn’t until 1758 that the Quakers outlawed slave-holding among the brethren. Lay carried with him a hollowed-out book containing an animal bladder filled with red pokeberry juice. When it came his turn to speak,

“Throwing the overcoat aside, he spoke his prophecy: ‘Thus shall God shed the blood of those persons who enslave their fellow creatures.’ He raised the book above his head and plunged the sword through it. . . .He then splattered (the red juice) on the heads and bodies of the slave keepers.”

He was expelled from the meeting.

Lay was not a single-issue prophet, though. It wasn’t just his views on emancipation that caused people to disparage him. He truly believed and tried to bring forth a Utopia where everyone was equal and would live simply by growing their own food and making their own clothes and respecting nature. He himself lived in a cave, subsisting only on fruits and vegetables because of his belief in animal rights, and he refused to use anything that existed because of slave labor.

Mr. Rediker posits that Lay isn’t well known today because was not a “gentleman saint” like William Wilberforce, who led the British abolition movement. Lay was “wild and confrontational, militant and uncompromising.” Sounds like a great many prophets.

Being a little person as well as having a hunched back made people think he was “deformed in both body and mind.” It could be that his own “otherness” contributed to his strong feelings about slavery, but it is obvious that his main inspiration is from his understanding of Scripture and what was revealed to him.

According to Joe Lockard of the Antislavery Literature Project at Arizona State University, Lay also was known to perform what might be considered “guerilla” street theater to try to get people to confront the evil of slavery. He even kidnapped a fellow Quaker’s son to show the pain that enslaved families endured when slave-holders broke those families up.

The one book that Lay wrote, which was published by Benjamin Franklin, is available online at:  https://antislavery.eserver.org/religious/allslavekeepersfinal/allslavekeepersfinal The book is titled All Slave-Keepers That Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates. It looks as if it will take some effort to read, but may be well worth the fortitude to understand Benjamin Lay’s devotion to the cause.

Lay must have felt well vindicated when the Society of Friends in Philadelphia did decide to discipline and/or turn slave-holders out of the community. He died a year later.

Mr. Rediker’s book is available in audible form as well as hard-cover and paperback. He is Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh and Senior Research Fellow at the Collège d’études mondiales in Paris. He is the author of numerous prize-winning books, including The Many-Headed Hydra (with Peter Linebaugh), The Slave Ship, and The Amistad Rebellion. He produced the award-winning documentary film “Ghosts of Amistad” (Tony Buba, director), about the popular memory of the Amistad rebellion of 1839 in contemporary Sierra Leone.

An essay from his book appeared in The New York Times last year and the last paragraph is relevant to our times:

“In his time Lay may have been the most radical person on the planet. He helps us to understand what was politically and morally possible in the first half of the 18th century – and what may be possible now. It is more than we think.”