MIA: WOMEN FIGHTING STATE TERROR
We would like to thank Alexander Cockburn for his excellent March 25 "Beat the Devil" column, "The Nightmare in Israel." As activists in Ta'ayush (Arab-Jewish Partnership), we commend his giving voice to the courageous Jewish Israelis who are fighting against Sharon's state terror. However, we were disappointed that Cockburn did not mention any women. Ruchama Marton, for example, as founder and president of Physicians for Human Rights Israel, has been struggling against Israel's occupation and draconian policies in the territories for over a decade. Gila Svirsky is one of the leading activists in the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace; this group has been instrumental in raising public awareness and organizing protests and vigils over the past year and a half. Yehudith Keshet is one of the organizers of Machsom Watch, a group of women who stand witness at the various Israeli checkpoints around the country. These are just three of the many Jewish women who deserve recognition for speaking and acting out against the evil being perpetuated by the Israeli government. And while it is crucial at times like these to heed the voices of all progressive Jewish opposition, it is equally vital to recognize the participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel in the same struggles. Often forgotten in a conflict purportedly between "Arabs" and "Jews," Palestinians in Israel continue to play a foundational role in anti-occupation groups like Ta'ayush, PHR and Bat Shalom. We must insure that women and minorities are not, once again, elided from the historical record.
DENMARK VESEY'S SLAVE REBELLION
We encourage readers interested in the debate about black abolitionist Denmark Vesey to turn to the October 2001 and January 2002 William and Mary Quarterly (WMQ) rather than rely on Jon Wiener's misleading and error-ridden recapitulation of it ["Denmark Vesey: A New Verdict," March 11]. Wiener applauds the "stunning piece of historical detective work" by Michael Johnson, who contends that the Vesey plot in Charleston in 1822 was "not a plan by blacks to kill whites but rather a conspiracy by whites to kill blacks." In pinning superlatives on Johnson, however, Wiener neglects to disclose that he and Johnson have been close friends for almost thirty years, dating back at least to the 1970s when both worked together at the University of California, Irvine. With the ethics of historians currently under a great deal of public scrutiny, we find this omission disingenuous at best.
We will have more to say about Johnson's novel interpretation in future publications. We do agree with Wiener that Johnson relies on the manuscript court records, although Wiener errs in implying that scholars writing prior to Johnson neglected to examine those documents. We also agree with Wiener that the coerced testimony of Carolina bondmen in the court records, like virtually all documents pertaining to slavery, should not "be taken at face value." Thus, we do not agree with him (or Johnson) that the manuscript court record "is the only authoritative contemporary source." As with any other surviving document about slave resistance, the court record must be evaluated in the context of other relevant sources. We do not believe that Johnson has adequately responded to our criticism in the WMQ. Indeed, given his energetic investment in denying black agency, we wonder what sort of evidence short of the second coming of Vesey himself with an admission of guilt on his lips would persuade Johnson that at least some of the slaves in Charleston in 1822 were planning to liberate themselves by force.
Johnson responded to his critics by concluding that Vesey and his followers were really the victims of a Machiavellian hoax perpetrated by James Hamilton Jr., the politically ambitious Charleston mayor. For the moment, we will merely say that the principals of 1822, white as well as black, were far more complicated than Johnson, or Wiener, seems to think.
DOUGLAS R. EGERTON, ROBERT L. PAQUETTE
Did Denmark Vesey plan what would have been the biggest slave uprising in US history? Or was he framed because of a rivalry between political factions of the slaveholding elite? For decades historians--including myself--have been teaching the former. Now there's important evidence that we may have been wrong. The evidence comes from Michael Johnson. It's true that he was my colleague at UC Irvine until he left for Johns Hopkins eight years ago and that we remain friends. But Southern history is a small field in which people tend to know one another, and I'm friends with those on both sides of this debate. These friendships are less significant for readers than the quality of the evidence about Vesey's trial and execution. Egerton and Paquette promise they'll tell us what they think about that "complicated" issue in "future publications." It's too bad they didn't give us more substance in this one. Meanwhile, Johnson's piece has just been honored by the board of editors of the William and Mary Quarterly, the leading journal of early American history, as its best article of 2001.
TULSA'S (AND AMERICA'S) SHAME
Adrian Brune's insightful and informative article "Tulsa's Shame" [March 18] shines light on a subject once cloaked in a conspiracy of silence. But Tulsa's shame--a horrible act of ethnic cleansing of blacks by the institutions of white power--is not solely Tulsa's or Oklahoma's but America's shame as well. After World War I white mob violence, often tacitly supported by local governments, flared up across the country. Chicago, Omaha and St. Louis were just some of the cities that experienced race riots similar to Tulsa's. The systematic violence and disfranchisement of blacks in Tulsa is not unique to this little oil town on the plains, even though its remoteness from national centers of political and cultural power make it an easy target.
Tulsa may indeed be a conservative town on the buckle of the Bible Belt, but it is the only city, as far as I know, that has been courageous enough to take a good hard look in the mirror in its attempt to seek justice and reconciliation for its almost forgotten victims of racial violence during the pre-civil rights movement era. And it wasn't the legions of cosmopolitan journalists now swooping over the story that broke the silence but the voices of a few brave souls who cared enough about the riot's legacy to keep its history alive.
I am of Native American descent and have lived in Tulsa my whole life, except for a tour in the Navy. The US government took the Oklahoma Territory, gave it away to whoever wanted it and drove Native Americans out of our lands and onto reservations with poor living conditions, then and now. The people who should be upset are the Native Americans, but you don't see Native Americans fighting or complaining that "you took my land." We were here first, but you don't see us wanting a memorial for something that happened long ago. So as far as I am concerned on the race riot, yes, it was a tragedy, the Oklahoma City bombing was a tragedy, September 11 was a tragedy, and I am, with the rest of the country, sorry for those people's losses. Life goes on. Always remember, never forget, but move on.
Adrian Brune mentions that at the end of the Civil War blacks flocked to Oklahoma looking for a state to "call their own." But Tulsa was, as a part of Indian Territory, not a place for either blacks or whites to call their own--unless they were stealing it. Tulsa was part of the Creek Nation, given to the displaced Creeks for "as long as grass grows and water flows." I support reparations for the victims of the Tulsa race riot but find it appalling that there is no recognition that the entire eastern part of the state was created in an orgy of racism unparalleled in the history of our country.
To clarify a statement toward the end of the article that "the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministries has raised about $20,000 toward reparations privately": The Unitarian Universalist Association contributed that $20,000 to the TMM, an interfaith coalition, to initiate a fund for the direct payment of reparations to riot survivors. The UUA has also contributed another $5,000 to help TMM set up antiracism programs.
THE REV. WILLIAM G. SINKFORD
As one who has discussed this history with students, colleagues and fellow residents, I know that the riot remains highly controversial. The question is who, if anyone, is going to pay? The city? state? federal government? Tulsa is undergoing significant demographic change with the influx of immigrants from Latin America and Asia. Might it not be more effective to "correct" for past injustices by investing in public services and providing grants to innovative community groups, businesses and individuals to facilitate positive, progressive cultural relations across not just black-white but a number of racial and ethnic lines?
The plan backed by many Tulsans, a museum in the old Vernon AME church in Greenwood, and memorial and educational resources funded through the Greenwood Cultural Center, would do more than reparations could ever do. Why feed a few when you can teach a city's population to fish?
NEVER DROPPED THE WELFARE BALL
Barbara Ehrenreich and Frances Fox Piven charge that think tanks, including the Economic Policy Institute, failed to look "ahead to the prospect of rising unemployment" in the context of welfare reform ["Who's Utopian Now?" Feb. 4]. That erroneous critique from people we respect and we hoped would be more familiar with our work was disappointing. EPI researchers have published many papers and developed mountains of data on the need to address welfare reform with labor market conditions in mind. We've highlighted the problems of unemployment and underemployment for low-wage workers. We've also shown that falling wages among low-wage workers reflected these problems, which are only worsened by forcing people into the labor market without any corresponding job creation programs.
When welfare reform was first debated, we produced a widely cited report that examined the potential for increased labor supply to outstrip demand and therefore lower wages (by 12 percent!) among low-wage workers. We provided statistics on wages, unemployment and underemployment among workers likely to have left welfare, to illustrate the weaknesses in the job market for former welfare recipients. We published frequent analyses on the labor market experiences of young minority women. We even added staff to try to insure that this work reached a large network of advocates and activists.
To accuse us of not noticing the relationship between the labor market and welfare reform is inaccurate and unfair. We have continued to examine the job prospects of former welfare recipients, even during the boom years. Our current work focuses on how the downturn is affecting former welfare recipients. We haven't once dropped the ball.