In the pre-Civil War South, enslaved people were chattel property of the slaveholding class. But they were a peculiar kind of property insofar as they thought, imagined, created, resisted, and plotted rebellions against the horrendous conditions and system in which they involuntarily found themselves. No wonder slaveholders considered them a “troublesome” property.
Today slavery resides in our collective past. And while their descendants no longer work in the fields from sun up to sun down on plantations under the threat of the whip or the hangman’s noose, they remain “troublesome.” Not to enslavers obviously, but to corporate exploiters, promoters of racism and division, and extremists on the right. Indeed, because of their intervention at critical turning points over the long expanse since slavery’s abolition, the scales of change have tipped in favor of justice, equality, and social progress.
I no longer believe “vanguard” (who leads) is the exclusive property of any economic class, social constituency, or political party. Instead, it’s earned in the course of struggles and dependent on particular circumstances and challenges at any moment or conjuncture. But if anybody comes close to claiming that moniker, it would be the African American people.
James Jackson, a brilliant African American leader of the Communist Party in the 20th century, once told me back in the 1970s that African Americans didn’t necessarily have the same degree of formal schooling as others. But what they did possess was a political IQ second to none.
I expect this fall we will see fresh evidence of this once again as they step to the plate, organize, and overwhelmingly cast their votes against Trump and his Republican cronies on Election Day.