Through Her Eyes is the working title for a series of non-fiction books that I have begun research on. These books will be geared toward young adults and will tell the history of significant events in America through the eyes of the women who were involved. The first in the series will be Through her Eyes: The Civil Rights Movement.
Why the Civil Rights Movement?
I feel that it is important to note that black people are not the only group of people to have a history of discrimination in the United States. Sadly, this country has a well established aversion to any group that was different from the original founders of the country, who were largely white and Protestant. After the Great Potato famine there was a flood of Irish into the country who were heavily discriminated against because of their Catholic religion. The influx of German and Chinese immigrants in the mid-1800s met discrimination as many US citizen saw them as competition for jobs. The Jewish and Italian immigrants from 1880 – 1920, faced discrimination on both fronts. Despite being a self-appointed land of the free where everyone is equal, the history of this country is riddled with discrimination and an abject lack of tolerance.
With each of these instances, time has proven to whittle away at this discrimination. Slowly, sometimes painfully slowly, these groups became accepted into the melting pot of America. Pockets of discrimination remained, but overall acceptance became the norm. Despite clear examples of this reoccurring throughout our history, Americans seem unable to stop the pattern. A large factor fueling this, is fear: fear of different cultures taking over the current culture, as well as fear of losing jobs and land. During World War II, thousands of Japanese-Americans were rounded up and forced into internment camps, not because they had done anything wrong, but because white Americans were afraid that they would side with Japan and destroy our country from within.
Even worse than the internment camps was the almost complete genocide of the native inhabitants of this land. Native Americans were seen as savages because they weren’t Christians, stupid because they didn’t subscribe to the belief that land was something that could be owned, and brutal because when they fought back they didn’t follow the established European rules of engagement. There was great fear that these drastically different people would ruin the plans and the future of the colonists and later the Americans as they moved west. These are generalizations and there is much more involved in the conflict between these peoples and what precipitated the atrocities and eventual genocide that took down large and powerful tribes. That story is several books unto itself.
The point of all of this is to say that there has been a long-standing fear and subsequent subjugation of groups of people in this country who didn’t fit the standard of the original colonists. This part of America’s history is shameful, and there is a tendency to downplay it, or sweep it under the rug as the product of a bygone era that no longer exists. However, I feel that as disagreeable as this part of our history is, it is essential that we continue to talk about it. That we continue to examine the darker side of our past so that we are more enlightened in how we behave and how we treat people moving forward in this country. Perhaps then we can finally learn to skip the fear and subjugation steps and move directly to tolerance and acceptance.
So if all of this has occurred throughout our history, why did I choose to focus solely on the black narrative for the first book in the Through Her Eyes series? The answer is as simple as a number. Well, part of a number – 3/5. The original subjugation of blacks was not based on fear, but based on a belief that they were less than human. The first black inhabitants of this country did not come by choice, or willingly. They came on slave ships to be sold as chattel. Their bodies were sold at the market like so many other household goods. They were seen as lesser and baser than white people. This was not only believed, it was recorded for all to see.
When the founding fathers of this country sat down to create a new government, a government that represented the people of their great new nation, they conceived of a Senate and a House of Representatives. The first would contain two representatives from each state, regardless of the size of the state. The representatives for the second would be determined by the population of each state. That population to be determined by a count of the white inhabitants. Here was a sticking place. Southern states were largely agrarian, and thus had much smaller white populations than their Northern counterparts. They argued that this wasn’t fair as the Southern representatives had to not only speak for their white males, but also everything the white males owned, including slaves. Here was another sticking point. If a slave wasn’t considered a person, how could they be counted in the population? After much debate, it was decided in what became known as the Three-Fifths Compromise, that each slave would count as 3/5 of a person when determining the population of each state.
It is written in the founding documents of our nation, that a black person is less than a full person. No other race, or group of people in the history of the United States has ever been singled out as such. At this time, women were also considered to be the property of white men. The few women who avoided this, only did so when the men in their lives died off, leaving the women free. However, the founding fathers did not include this in the Constitution. In fact, women aren’t mentioned at all, it was simply assumed that the traditional roles of women would stay in effect. Was it a great situation for all women? No. Was it better than slavery? Yes. From the start of our country, black people were written down for posterity as being nothing more than property and less than fully human.
This is the fundamental stigma that the abolitionists, then the Civil Rights activists and now the Black Lives Matter activists fight against; a belief so ingrained in our original society that it was written into the founding documentation right along with the right to free speech and the right to bear arms. This is what makes the black narrative not only unique, but still so incredibly relevant today. The question of the rights and worth of our black population is as old as our country itself, and only by studying and understanding that history and that fight, can we move forward into a country of true equality.
To truly understand a people, you only have to look as far as how they treat those among them with no power. For much, if not all of American history, it has been the black community that has lacked power. That is why I have chosen to start this series of books with the Civil Rights Movement. Their stories and the battles they fought are just as relevant today as they were when they were originally written in the streets with blood. They are stories that can never be forgotten, because black citizens are worth far more than three-fifths, and the Civil Rights Movement was the first time that they got to stand up and declare that for themselves. The point is not that black lives matter more than white, the point is that black lives matter, too.
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