Freedom is not free | Colorado Public Radio
“Freedom is never given voluntarily by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. – Martin Luther King Jr.
The issue of slavery in this country is perhaps the most controversial event in our history. It continues to resonate, especially in the black community, with its effects felt to this day. There are issues of income disparities, health and education.
And then there’s the phenomenon of colorism – the idea that a lighter complexion is seen as an advantage. Colorism is experienced in the black community as experienced from outside. But even within the community, those with different skin tones are seen and treated differently.
People with lighter skin have always been considered better than those with darker skin. These differences are largely due to interracial sexual encounters, many of which resulted from the rape of black women by their slave masters during slavery. Light-skinned slaves were given work to do in the main house and enjoyed other privileges while dark-skinned slaves continued to work in the fields, hence the terms house niggers and field niggers. This disparity in treatment created social tensions between the two groups. The residual tension of this dynamic still exists. In addition to lighter skin, these interracial children also had different hair texture. African hair texture tends to be tightly curly, often described as woolly. Light-skinned black people had a straighter hair texture that many people today call “good hair.” The reality of this disparity between dark-skinned blacks and light-skinned blacks is illustrated in the classic Spike Lee film, School Daze in a dance number titled “Good and Bad Hair” which parodies the relationship between dark-skinned and light-skinned women, focusing on the value and esteem placed on hair texture and hair color the skin.
The outcome of police brutality is another holdover from the slavery era. Groups of white people organized slave patrols, which scoured local areas for potential runaway slaves. The methods they used were cruel and aimed at instilling fear in the enslaved community. These slave patrols paved the way for militia-like groups after the Civil War and terrorized free blacks during the Reconstruction era. Many have led to the formation of modern police departments. Over the past few decades, we’ve seen how police brutality affects communities of color, with the most visceral incident being the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police Department police officer Derek Chauvin.
Slaves were denied what they wanted most: freedom. And the idea of freedom was the main concern of the community and the center of its music. The Negro Spiritual “Oh Freedom” is an affirmation of the state of freedom.
Mr. Roger Holland
One of the things I find ironic about the state of slavery in this country is that the authors of the Declaration of Independence focused on the ideal of freedom; the state of freedom. Included in the preamble are the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness. .”
Additionally, Thomas Jefferson in 1775 wrote the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms. In response to the actions of the British Parliament, he says: ‘We have counted the cost of this contest and find nothing so appalling as voluntary slavery. – Honor, justice and humanity prohibit us from docilely abandoning this freedom which we have received from our valiant ancestors and which our innocent posterity has the right to receive from us. He goes on to say, “We will, in defiance of all risk, with relentless firmness and perseverance, employ for the preservation of our liberties; to be of one accord resolved to die as free men rather than to live [as] slaves.” The settlers who established this land were adamant that they did NOT accept a state of being assimilated to that of slavery, but had no qualms about enslaving others.
After years of tension between North and South, civil war broke out in 1861. Arguably at the center of the tension was the issue of slavery. Abolitionists, who included free blacks, runaway slaves, and whites, had been working for the eradication of slavery for some time. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation. One of the provisions of this edict provided for the acceptance of black men to join the Union army, thus allowing “the freed to become liberators”. While the proclamation announced that slaves were now free, the change in status was not legal until the 13th Amendment was ratified and thus abolished slavery on December 6, 1865.
Of all the spirituals created by the enslaved African community, the most prominent and dominant theme is that of freedom. The spiritual “Oh Freedom” is believed to have emerged around the end of slavery or shortly thereafter. I have said many times in my previous articles that slaves were denied what they wanted most: freedom. And the idea of freedom was the main concern of the community and the center of its music.