“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
What an interesting predicament we find ourselves in, as we witness the signing of a new federal holiday, Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates the end of slavery in America. As I write this column, only days away after the Supreme Court voting to save Affordable Care Act for the third time, it is truly an historic time!
Let’s take a look back in order to go forward. One hundred and fifty-four years ago, African-Americans waited for midnight so that freedom would come. It was during this era that Blacks were considered lower than animals. Slave owners often fed the animals before they fed the slaves.
Freedom came slowly over the next 50 years. We rose from full-blown slaves to become sharecroppers. I know about sharecroppers, because my father was one of them. Our entire family worked in order to live in some old, run-down house that stood on the land, and was owned by the landowner.
As I visited my family near Goldsboro, North Carolina, a few years ago, I saw one of those homes that my family lived in while our father was a sharecropper. It still stands there today, barns and everything identical. It was never torn down.
When I saw that house, I made a U-turn so that my sister and I could drive up that long path to look more closely. But the road was closed off. If we wanted to get close, we would have to park our car and walk. But it was a reminder of where my family has come from and what hundreds of thousands of other Black families have experienced.
After the Civil War, thousands of former slaves and white farmers forced off their land by the bad economy lacked the money to purchase the farmland, seeds, livestock and equipment they needed to begin farming. Former slave owners were so deeply in debt that they could not hire workers. They needed workers who would not have to be paid until they harvested a crop — usually cotton or tobacco, the two labor-intensive cash crops that still promised to make money. Many of these landowners divided their lands into smaller plots and turned to a tenant system. During the Gilded Age, many African Americans and whites lacked the money to buy farmland and farm supplies, so they became tenant farmers and sharecroppers.
Tenant farmers usually paid the landowner rent for farmland and a house. They owned the crops they planted and made their own decisions about them. After harvesting the crop, the tenant sold it and received income from it. From that income, he paid the landowner the amount of rent owed.
Sharecroppers seldom owned anything. Instead, they borrowed practically everything — not only the land and a house but also supplies, draft animals, tools, equipment and seeds. The sharecropper contributed his and the labor of his family. Sharecroppers had no control over which crops were planted or how they were sold. After harvesting the crop, the landowner sold it and applied its income toward settling the sharecropper’s account.
As we go through the final stages of the coronavirus pandemic here in the United States, this is a year none of us could have ever anticipated, a time when we must remember from whence we’ve come. We cannot and will not allow ourselves to be victims of the same racism that we as a people experienced 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago.
It is with this history in mind that we must remember from whence we’ve come. We will not be driven back to that menial lifestyle again.
Lyndia Grant is a speaker/writer living in the D.C. area. Her radio show, “Think on These Things,” airs Fridays at 6 p.m. on 1340 AM (WYCB), a Radio One station. To reach Grant, visit her website, www.lyndiagrant.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-602-6295. Follow her on Twitter @LyndiaGrant and on Facebook.