Category Archives: Race No Skin In The Game

New York Slave Revolt ► Throwback Thursday

We have to go all the way back to 1712, before this country was even a country, for this week’s Throwback Thursday.

At the time New York City was merely a small town, in a province of Britain, on the opposite side of the Atlantic Ocean. The crown colony known as New York (as opposed to old York, of course) was much larger than the current state. It included “all of the present U.S. states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Vermont, along with inland portions of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine, as well as eastern Pennsylvania“, as the WikiWackyWoo tells us.

Slavery, on the other hand, had been around forever. According to the Smithsonian Institute:

Life was wretched for the slaves brought to New York. Many of the city’s early landmarks, from City Hall to the eponymous wall of Wall Street were built using slave labor. The city even constructed an official slave market in 1711, Jim O’Grady reported for WNYC News in 2015.

“It was a city-run slave market because they wanted to collect tax revenue on every person who was bought and sold there,” historian Chris Cobb told O’Grady. “And the city hired slaves to do work like building roads.”

It is generally agreed that the New York Slave Revolt probably could not have happened elsewhere.

In the bustling town of New York, with its population at about 6,000 people, it’s estimated that about 10-15% were slaves owned by others. These slaves worked and lived in close proximity to one another, unlike the plantations of the south where there might be great distances between small groups of slaves. That immediacy allowed the slaves to talk to each other, to make plans, to foment rebellion.

Further reading at Not Now Silly

Is Toussaint L’Overture Packing Heat? Again?

The Great Slave Auction

Nat Turner Sentenced To Be Hanged

Frederick Douglass Escapes

Official Stamp of Approval

No Skin In The Game
Part One; Part Two; Part Three; Part Four

Where The Sidewalk Ends, Racism Begins
Part One; Part Two; Part Three

Rebellion or Revolt?

On the night of April 6, 1712, resentment reached a flashpoint. It began in, what was then, the middle of town, on Maiden Lane. There about 23 slaves met and began their rebellion. I’ll let Colonial New York’s Governor Robert Hunter pick up the story:

I must now give your Lordships an account of a bloody conspiracy of some of the slaves of this place, to destroy as many of the inhabitants as they could….when they had resolved to revenge themselves, for some hard usage they apprehended to have received from their masters (for I can find no other cause) they agreed to meet in the orchard of Mr. Crook in the middle of the town, some provided with fire arms, some with swords and others with knives and hatchets. This was the sixth day of April, the time of the meeting was about twelve or one clock in the night, when about three and twenty of them were got together. One…slave to one Vantilburgh set fire to [a shed] of his masters, and then repairing to his place where the rest were, they all sallyed out together with their arms and marched to the fire. By this time, the noise of the fire spreading through the town, the people began to flock to it. Upon the approach of several, the slaves fired and killed them. The noise of the guns gave the alarm, and some escaping, their shot soon published the cause of the fire, which was the reason that nine Christians were killed, and about five or six wounded. Upon the first notice, which was very against them, but the slaves made their retreat into the woods, by the favour of the night. Having ordered the day following, the militia of this town and the country of West Chester to drive [to] the Island, and by this means and strict searches in the town, we found all that put the design in execution, six of these having first laid violent hands upon themselves [committed suicide], the rest were forthwith brought to their tryal before ye Justices of this place….In that court were twenty seven condemned, whereof twenty one were executed, one being a woman with a child, her execution by than means suspended. Some were burnt, others hanged, one broke on the wheel, and one hung alive in chains in the town, so that there has been the most exemplary punishment inflicted that could be possibily [sic] thought of.

Not surprisingly conditions for slaves became worse following the rebellion. Laws were quickly passed that prevented slaves from gathering in groups of 4 or more. They could not carry firearms, nor could they gamble. Punishment for those crimes was a whipping. However, the new laws also demanded the Death Penalty for property crimes, rape, and conspiracy to kill. In addition, owners who wanted to set their slaves free would be required to pay a tax of £200, which was far more than they could get by selling the slave to someone else.

It wasn’t until 1799 that New York outlawed slavery, but “it remained an intrinsic part of city life until after the Civil War, as businessmen continued to profit off of the products of the slave trade like sugar and molasses imported from the Caribbean” not to mention the products from the south.

Slavery is ‘Merka’s original sin. The sin of Racism continues to this very day.

The Ferguson Riots ► No Skin In The Game

Gordon Lightfoot’s autograph on a picture of my father’s
store taken in Detroit on THE “Black Day In July,” 1967.

A question I have been asked repeatedly since Monday night is “Did you think you’d be seeing riots so many years after the the ’60s?” My answer is both “yes” and “no.” 

While I’m not an authority on riots, I did write The Detroit Riots ► Unpacking My Detroit ► Part Five, an investigative look at Motown’s several Race Riots, beginning with the first in 1863. The other reasons I get asked such a question is because of my studying of Race Relations and writing about same in Coconut Grove, Florida.

I was 15 years old when Detroit exploded in riot. Back then I wasn’t as educated about the deep history of race relations in ‘Merka as I am now. I remember asking over and over again why people would burn down their own neighbourhood, a sentiment I’ve seen several times concerning Ferguson since Monday night.

Now, older and wiser, I understand that rage often has no direction. Rage follows no logic.

I have often said that if I were a Black man in this country, I’d be
an angry Black man. Long ago I recognized the playing field between the
races was not level. I recognized the playing field has never been level.
I recognize that the playing field is still not level. Sure, it’s more level than it’s ever been. BUT, IT’S NOT LEVEL. That’s the only point that really matters. Despite 238 years of living under “all men are created equal,” IT’S STILL NOT LEVEL! If it pisses me off as a privileged White man, imagine how Black folks feel to be living it.

Trying to understand the ’67 Detroit Riot was the impetus for studying race relations the rest of my life.

My father had skin in the game. His furniture store on 12th Street, now Rosa Parks Blvd., was looted from top to bottom. Not a single piece of furniture was left when he was allowed to return by the National Guard to pick up the pieces and start all over again in the same location. Was his store targeted because he was a White store owner in a Black neighbourhood? That’s certainly within the realm of possibility. It’s also possible that by the time the unrest traveled the 4 blocks from Clairmount to Blaine, nothing but rage mattered anymore.

In my look at the Detroit Riots I mention over and over again that riots and flames cannot erupt in a vacuum. Ferguson didn’t just happen. There’s a history there. The rage in Ferguson had a very long fuse. And, while I don’t condone the rioting, I can understand the sentiment.

I have no skin in the game. I don’t live in Ferguson. I’m not Black. For that matter, I don’t live in Coconut Grove either. However, I’m a historian and this history touches me deeply. For the past several years I have been telling people that I’m not really writing about Black History, I’m merely writing about the history they didn’t teach us in school, our shared history.

The more this history is relegated to the margins, the less we can understand incidents like Ferguson. Ferguson is best understood in context, not as an isolated incident. In my research of Ferguson during the last 100 days, I’ve learned it shares a lot of history with Detroit. While Ferguson is a suburb of St. Louis and Detroit is a city, that’s about the only major difference. In both places:

  • Black folk were pushed into certain neighbourhoods due to discriminatory covenants in deeds;
  • The same redlining affected both communities;
  • The same Blockbusting tactics turned stable neighbourhoods from White to Black in a matter of a few years;
  • The same official federal housing policies kept the Black and White communities from integrating decades ago;
  • The same White Flight acerbated the divide;
  • The same inadequate school systems when compared to White neighbourhoods;
  • The lack of jobs and opportunity in the affected neighbourhoods;
  • The same systemic racism, which suppressed incomes in certain neighbourhoods, led to urban blight; 
  • The same absentee landlords who cared little about upkeep;
  • The same “blame the victim” attitude from those who only see the symptoms and not the disease of systemic racism.

All of this leads to the ghettoization of people, which has led to a gulf so wide that those on the opposite poles no longer have a common language to speak to each other.

These articles go into far
more depth than I ever could:

The Ferguson Lie

Bob McCulloch’s pathetic prosecution of Darren Wilson

The Independent Grand Jury That Wasn’t
The Ferguson prosecutor’s bizarre, self-justifying
press conference revealed his own influence.

How Not to Use a Grand Jury

It’s Incredibly Rare For A Grand Jury
To Do What Ferguson’s Just Did 

Why The Ferguson Grand Jury Didn’t Indict

Ferguson Grand Jury Evidence Reveals
Mistakes, Holes In Investigation

Documents Released in the Ferguson Case
The documents and evidence presented to the grand jury in Clayton,
that was deciding whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson
in the August
shooting of Michael Brown. The documents were
released by the St. Louis
County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch.

Ferguson Residents Speak Out: ‘I Just Started
Crying, Because There Is No Hope For Us’

How to Deal With Friends’ Racist Reactions to Ferguson

Ferguson Prosecutor Discovered With Connection
To Darren Wilson’s Defence Fundraiser

Officer Darren Wilson’s story is unbelievable. Literally.

A prominent legal expert eviscerates the
Darren Wilson prosecution, in 8 tweets

“Oh excuse me, isn’t that allowed?”

However, those who have their eyes open understand how the Grand Jury system was rigged in favour of Officer Darren Wilson. Those who held out a slight hope that the system would provide justice were sorely disappointed. Those who expected no better result understood that justice was something that only money, and privilege, can buy. Is it any wonder that people exploded in anger?

It’s easy to blame the rioters for the riot. It’s illegal to riot. Rioting breaks every social contract needed in order keep our streets safe from anarchy.

See? It’s just that easy.

I place far more blame for the riot on Prosecutor Bob McCulloch than anyone on the streets of Ferguson.

In a world where everyone agrees a ham sandwich can be indicted by a Grand Jury, McCullough failed to bring it home and get a trial for the killing of Michael Brown. He’s either incompetent or this was done deliberately and he’s been in the job to long to be considered incompetent. McCullough got what he wanted.

With the gaggle of international media present in Ferguson, McCullough could have given everybody a much shorter heads-up and then read his statement. Why did he choose to wait so long? It gave everyone many hours to gather. Furthermore, after announcing the time he would give his statement, McCullough inexplicably delayed it by another hour, when it would be that much darker.

Try and wrap your brain around this: During all the previous Ferguson protests police attempted to clear the streets as soon as it became dark. Now suddenly on Monday evening a crowd was encouraged to gather after dark.

Darkness also provides cover for other nefarious things. The KKK promised violence. So did Anonymous. In fact, those two groups promised violence on each other. Furthermore, there’s nothing to dismiss the possibility of agent provacateurs, as has happened during other protests in other locations. So many people wanted a riot — so many people predicted a riot — that it became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Welcome to Ferguson. Here’s your rock.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t also proportion some of the blame on Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who failed his citizens miserably. Long before there was even a hint of a verdict, Nixon decided to deploy the National Guard, in effect telling the neighbourhood that they couldn’t be trusted. Then, prior to being deployed and in answer to reporter’s questions, Nixon refused to say — or couldn’t say — who would be in charge of the National Guard.

Apparently nobody, as it turned out. While the vast majority of protestors were only there to express their First
Amendment Right to protest, shortly after McCullough made his announcement a very small contingent of protestors started smashing windows. Where were the police and National Guard as things started to go sideways? Why was there a police car just left parked where the protestors could attack it? There’s no way to prove this, but I feel it was left as a provocation, the same way a police car was just waiting for protestors to attack it in Toronto during the G20. It justified the crackdown that followed.

As it turned out, the National Guard was off protecting infrastructure.  Were they fearing a terrorist attack? The St. Louis Police, or so it appears, were protecting their own asses. Why weren’t they protecting people and property? Oh, that’s right. It was only Black people and Black property. No biggie. Move along. Nothing to see here.

Consider this: Those who are constantly trying to make it seem that the Black community is scary and monolithic got what they needed in Ferguson. Was that accidental? We may never know.

The only people who didn’t get what they needed are the people who live in Ferguson and, trust me, we all have skin in that game. As no less a personage than Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

No Skin In The Game; Part One

The flyer handed out by the protestors.

Thursday night was another night for divided loyalties and for putting things into stark relief. Let me explain.

In Coral Gables protestors from West Grove were expected to gather at 6PM to protest Trolleygate at the Coral Gables Mayoral Debate at 7PM. Also at 7PM, 3-and-a-half miles away, the Coconut Grove Village Council were expected to gather for its oft-delayed regular monthly meeting.* Trolleygate is a promised agenda item at the CGVC. What to do, what to do? The only viable solution: Go to both, like I did last month with the Coconut Grove Playhouse redevelopment meeting and the Charles Avenue Historic Preservation Committee meeting on the same night, and hope for the best. It turned out that I made all the wrong choices on Thursday night, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Biltmore Hotel

I arrived at 6 at the Coral Gables Congregational Church,
the location of the Mayoral Debate, only to see the first protestors just arriving. This is a beautiful little church which covers an entire block
in the middle of an expensive residential neighbourhood. It’s one small
block away from The Biltmore Hotel, one of the most exclusive resorts in the country.

Being dirt poor, I am always struck by the money on display in Coral Gables. It’s conspicuous consumption on a grand scale. The Biltmore is the physical representation of that. According to the WikiWackyWoo

In its heyday, The Biltmore played host to royalty, both Europe’s and Hollywood’s. The hotel counted the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Ginger Rogers, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Al Capone and assorted Roosevelts and Vanderbilts as frequent guests. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a temporary White House office set up at the Hotel for when he vacationed on his fishing trips from Miami. There were many gala balls, aquatic shows by the grand pool and weddings were de rigueur as were world class golf tournaments. A product of the Jazz Age, big bands entertained wealthy, well-traveled visitors to this American Riviera resort.

The Biltmore made it through the nation’s economic lulls in the late 1920s and early 1930s by hosting aquatic galas that kept the hotel in the spotlight and drew the crowds. As many as three thousand would come out on a Sunday afternoon to watch the synchronized swimmers, bathing beauties, alligator wrestling and the young Jackie Ott, the boy wonder who would dive from an eighty-five foot platform. Johnny Weissmuller, prior to his tree-swinging days in Hollywood, broke the world record at the Biltmore pool and was a swimming instructor. Families would attend the shows and many would dress up and go tea dancing afterwards on the hotel’s grand terrace to the sounds of swinging orchestras.

Now I have nothing against Rich folk, per se. Good for them. They got money and aren’t afraid to show it off. Double-plus good for them. As Max Bialystock, in the Producers, famously shouts, “That’s it, baby, when you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!” However, I had just come from the E.W.F. Stirrup House, currently undergoing Demolition By Neglect so some RICH developer can have his way with the land and turn a lovely and unique spot in ‘Merka into another ugly condo complex. But that’s another story for another day. Or is it? [See Part Two of No Skin In The Game.]

It’s always amazing to me that one only needs to cross an imaginary line on the map separating Coral Gables from Coconut Grove and witness a SPIKE in property values. It’s not something one needs to look up on Zillow. The evidence is right there before your very eyes. From slums to opulence in a few short blocks. Feel free to try it yourself one day. Then ask yourself why.

Panorama of the western facade of only the front
section of the Coral Gables Congregational Church.

Despite it taking up a block, the Coral Gables Congregational Church is still a small church that appears to have been added onto a number of times. From the outside, it appears to be a number of small interconnected buildings, with meeting spaces, chapels, a main church, a FREE TRADE gift shop, and band rehearsal spaces. A lot goes on in those buildings and a lot was going on Thursday night. I walked around the block 3 complete times, waiting for the protest and/or debate to get off the ground and took dozens of pictures of this lovely building. I saw sad people arriving for an Al-Anon meeting and happy people arriving for a wedding rehearsal. In the back of the building I listened to a band rehearse the same 16 bars of a Duke Ellington tune over and over again.

Rafael “Ralph” Cabrera,
posing stiffly for me.

However, the Coral Gables Mayoral Debate was no rehearsal. In this corner: sitting Mayor James Carson. And, in the red trunks, term-limited Commissioner Ralph Cabrera, who now wants the top job for himself. Obviously I have No Skin In The Game, but if I were to vote illegally in Coral Gables, I’d cast my ballot for Cabrera. He is the only politician in Coral Gables who has shown any open concern for the people of West Grove over the issue of Trolleygate. Last year — long before Trolleygate had become a lawsuit pitting West Coconut Grove [David] against the City of Miami and Astor
Development [Goliaths] — Ralph Cabrera was already ringing the [fake] trolley bell loudly
against this injustice by getting it put on the Coral Gables Commission agenda.

When Cabrara saw the Trolleygate protestors, he approached them and introduced himself. He expressed a general apology and said he was very concerned about this project. He thinks the West Grove neighbourhood is getting a raw deal. Cabrera was open in his condemnation, both with the protestors and with me, as I managed to buttonhole him briefly before he headed into the debate. Carbrera knows that none of those people are from Coral Gables and knows that he gains no votes for taking their side. Yet, he did so anyway.

Another gentleman I buttonholed was Edward Harris, a representative from Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez’s office.

Commissioner Bob Welsh of South Miami –not to be
confused with Miami, or Miami-Dade — protesting
against the polluting diesel bus garage.

SLIGHT TANGENT & MEA CULPA: There is a confusing array of governmental levels here, which I keep stubbing my toes upon when I confuse them. Miami-Dade County has its own Commission which presides over 1,946 square miles, the third largest county in Florida in area. However, it’s the largest Florida county in population and, according to the WikiWackyWoo, the 7th most populous county in the entire country. It includes “35 incorporated cities and many unincorporated areas.” Cities like Miami and Coral Gables are within Miami-Dade County, but both have their own city commissions. Coconut Grove, on the other hand, is not its own city, at least not since 1925 when it was annexed by the City of Miami

That’s why my questions to Edward Harris were so idiotic and for which I publicly apologize. When Mr. Harris said he was a rep from Commissioner Suarez’s office, I mistook that for Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, who represents District 4. Although Harris said “District 7,” my brain didn’t make connection to Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez of District 7. Consequently, all my questions were Miami-centric and not Miami-Dade-centric. D’oh! However, it also explains why Harris was speaking in broad generalities like “we’re watching it” and “our role is to learn” from the “voices of the people.” He was very polite to me, despite how stupid I was.

Pierre Sands, West Grove Homeowners and Tenants
Association, arriving with more protest signs.

However, when I asked him if he thought the Coral Gables diesel bus garage will ever open, his answer was pretty succinct. “Not as a bus garage.” He went on to say that while the facility is being built, what needs to be considered is environmental safety and the close proximity to the residents. “We can find some use for the facility.” Thinking I had my scoop for the day, I moved on. However, I realized on reflection (after figuring out the mistaken identity), Miami-Dade has little to say about this bus garage. While the county may sympathize with the neighbourhood’s predicament, the project was green-lighted by Miami Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff, who worked with an out of town developer behind the scenes to bamboozle West Grove. He did this and then justified not allowing the normal neighbourhood notification to his constituents or the Coconut Grove Village Council.

Aside from visually skyrocketing land values, these
corner street signs are a visual symbol one has
entered Coral Gables.

One thing that I think is very telling is that a citizen’s group from Coconut Grove thought its protest would have more traction in Coral Gables than with their own Commissioner in their own district in their own city. After all, it was their Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff that sold them out, not unlike a Modern Day Colonialist. Follow the bouncing ball to see how only the carpetbagging White folk win, while the native Blacks are screwed:

  • Coral Gables benefits because it gets to off-load a polluting diesel bus garage onto the neighbouring city of Miami [maybe**];
  • Coral Gables also benefits from all the new tax revenue that a multimillion dollar mixed use development brings from a chunk of land that it currently uses for a polluting diesel bus garage; 
  • Astor Development, tasked by Coral Gables to find another location for its polluting diesel bus garage, couldn’t afford land in Coral Gables, by it’s own admission;
  • Astor Development thought nothing of finding cheaper land in in the neighbouring city of Miami;
  • The land is cheap because of it being blighted due to 90 years of Systemic Racism. But that’s another story for another day;*
  • Speaking of not speaking about racism: Coral Gables has a statistic on its web site proudly proclaiming the city as 98% White (Hispanic qualifies as White);
  • Speaking of not speaking about racism: It would take a greater Social Demographic Scientist than I to figure out the racial make-up of West Grove. However, if I had to hazard a guess I’d say it was 98% Black;
  • Speaking of not speaking about racism: Statistics like that are not accidental;
  • Speaking of not speaking about racism: Oh, by the way, Coconut Grove. No! You can’t have a Coral Gables [fake] Trolly Bus stop outside the diesel bus garage because that’s the free bus that takes people around to all the exclusive shops in Coral Gables. If you want to get there, you’ll have to do it on your own steam;
  • Miami will receive no tax revenue from said polluting diesel bus garage;
  • Astor Development wins no matter how this goes. It now believes the 4 parcels of land acquired to build the diesel bus garage is now worth $3.5 million;
  • Marc D. Sarnoff worked behind the scenes with the developer to play one community group off against to find the best way to get this project through with the least amount of fuss;
  • Therefore . . .

Okay . . . okay . . . I’ll ask the question that everyone else is too afraid to ask: What is Commissioner Marc D. Sarnoff getting out of this deal? Why else would he sell his own constituents down the river to work in backrooms with a developer to get a polluting diesel bus garage slipped into the neighbourhood almost in the dead of night?

Just as Pierre Sands arrived with a stack of protest signs, it was time for me to zip over to the Coconut Grove Sailing Club for the Coconut Grove Village Council meeting. I should have stayed at the Mayoral Debate/Protest because the rest of the night was tedious. My GPS logged the fastest route to the Coconut Grove Sailing Club, which took me through another opulent neighbourhood before dumping me out onto 37th, where the real estate takes a markedly visual downturn. I’m back in Coconut Grove. I drove past the polluting diesel bus garage and across Grand Avenue. When one is driving east along Grand Avenue you can also see where White Coconut Grove starts.

The stark relief I spoke of in the first paragraph. In Part Two of No Skin In The Game we’ll explore why;
In Part Three of No Skin Left In The Game: The exception that proves the racist rule

* No Skin In The Game; Part Two – An Alternative History of Coral Gables or The Town That Racism Built
** This is still being adjudicated by a court of law and the law is whatever a judge says it is on the day this is decided