September 28, 2005

JenellyBean: The Diligent Student

I got an A on my first paper of the year!

Here's what I wrote:

HIS 355
Critical Essay
September 17, 2005

The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

This nine-time Emmy Award-winning television movie was very deep. I say this with true conviction, because as I watched the entire movie I was on some type of emotional roller coaster. I would feel pain and pleasure, alongside anger and happiness as Miss Jane told her story. I watched her strength intensify as she matured into a strong woman. I listened to her story of African Americans who possessed high hopes in gaining freedom and of those that feared it. She spoke to me of White oppressive groups threatening, terrorizing, and killing Black families and communities. I watched Black people risking their lives through demonstrations to force White men and women to listen to their cry for civil rights and as I sit here today an African American women, I am witness to the struggle of the African American from the time of slavery, during the period of Reconstruction and segregation, through the Civil Rights era, reaching to now.

From start to finish the movie portrays Miss Jane Pittman’s strength; the strength slavery forced upon her; the strength Black people had to own in order to make it through life. As a young child on the plantation her defiance shined through as she passively drew water from the well for White confederate soldiers that arrived on the plantation. Shortly after the soldiers arrival to the south Black slaves were emancipated and “Uncle”, a slave on Jane’s plantation, tried to convince the slaves in staying on the plantation. He made an effort to reason with them about freedom and what hardships they will face. They had no food, no shelter, no education, no direction, and most importantly they had the wrong color skin. He knew White confederates in the South were killing Blacks traveling north, but little miss Jane made it clear she was leaving the plantation as a free woman and she asked “Uncle” to show her which way was north.

Understanding why slaves would leave what was said to be comfortable lives on the plantation, for the unknown troubles of freedom, can be understood when you understand the true nature of slavery—absolute submission to the White man. So as expected, many slaves left their plantations but within a week of their departure death was in their path. After losing almost all of the “family” she knew Miss Jane and Ned traveled independently together in hope of finding Ohio. The free south was no place for a Black person let alone two very young children to be traveling alone. Miss Pittman was brave and she had a quest—freedom. Unfortunately, after walking many days with no food or water Miss Jane and Ned found they would be safer working on another plantation until they could manage on their own. Life on the plantation would differ slightly from that of pre-emancipation, but still both of their lives would change during the years spent on the plantation.

As the years continued and African Americans remained free their quest for knowledge increased. Black’s insatiable hunger for knowledge brought them together to form small schools to educate themselves. The Ohio Literary Ladies Society did many things towards the establishment of schools for Black children. By the turn of the century Booker T. Washington’s National Business League reported that there were 160 Black female physicians, seven dentists, ten lawyers, 164 ministers, assorted journalists, writers, artists, 1,185 musicians and teachers of music, and 13, 525 school instructors.
[1] A number of Black women found their own schools some of the most prominent would be Mary McLeod Bethune, Charlotte Hawkins Brown, and Janie Porter Barrett.[2] Strong speakers helped establish committees in Black communities where the injustices committed against Blacks were voiced and pride for the race was cultivated. Black activists attempted to push Black consciousness beyond the class and race prejudice and more towards modernist ideas and attitudes. The Afric-American Female Intelligence Society of Boston sponsored a young abolitionist’s speech before a mixed audience of men and women. Women like Maria Stewart rallied against the racism toward Blacks that fueled discrimination in the North and provided rationale for slavery in the South.

We were barbarians and needed to be civilized. Racial hostility was especially focused on Blacks who made substantial economic gains. It was not to my surprise that a White oppressive group would be formed during this time to try to keep the Black man from rising above the condition of servants. What struck me during this movie as I watched the Ku Klux Klan terrorize Black women, lynch Black men, and burn Black homes to the earth, was the cowardice of these White men that found comfort within themselves in committing such monstrous acts, but lacked dignity and hid behind white cotton masks (the cotton that Black people picked for so many years under submission). I still try to understand the White mans lust for power. I’m having such a hard time with this concept because it was not as if they told a couple white lies to get ahead—they enslaved multitudes of people to increase their economic wealth. They killed masses of Black people to scare them and psychologically keep them under obedience to the White man. They were trying to protect their race was their justification of their actions. Trying to protect their race? If anyone needed protection at this time wasn’t it the Black family? Black men were accused of raping White women and as a result they were left hanging from a tree. But to add insult to injury it was the Black woman being raped by the White man. This would lead mothers to become very over protective of their children forcing them into taking serious measures to instill values within them. And we are barbarians? African Americans had to show them otherwise and thus American history moves from the period of Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement.

Jimmy, a young Black man approached Miss Jane Pittman in her late years of 110 with a scheme to have a young Black girl drink from a “Whites Only” water fountain to intentionally arouse the White community and give Blacks a reason to march down to city hall. Civil Rights demonstrations—Bus Boycotts, Protests, Non violent Resistance, Sit Ins, Freedom Rides, Civil Rights Marches on Washington—were all part of the struggle to end racial inequality. By partaking in said acts, African Americans were taking a blunt stand to the injustices of the nation. During these demonstrations Blacks were brutally beaten, arrested, and unfortunately, much blood was also shed during these demonstrations, but those who died as martyrs of civil rights did not die in vain. In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteeing basic civil rights for all Americans, regardless of race and in 1965 Congress passed the Voting Rights Act giving all men Black and White the Right to vote in free and fair elections. Although women were not given the right to vote at this time Black women supported this legislation, because it was understood that the rights of Black men had to be secured before Black women could make a claim for theirs. If the entire Black race had no rights the women’s struggle was meaningless. After the passing of this legislation Black women made a loud call for their rights, because they too wanted to hold office, be a part of the criminal justice system, and they wanted to make decisions within educational systems.

It took women a long time, but their persistence prevailed. In 1920 the 19th amendment was made to the constitution saying:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or
abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall
have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

As an African American I sit here today a free educated woman with the right to vote. The struggle of Blacks in America paved the way allowing my family to come to this country from Africa not as a part of the slave trade, but as free Blacks with rights.

[1] “When and Where I Enter” by Paula Giddings p. 75
[2] “When and Where I Enter” by Paula Giddings p. 76


angeleyes said...


JenellyBean said...

Thanks Laura!
How you been?


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