PIQUA — “A people without knowledge of their past history, culture, and origin is like a tree without roots.”
Larry Hamilton, retired teacher and community activist, began his Black History Month seminar on Tuesday with that quote from civil rights activist Marcus Garvey, illustrating the need for a community to know its past. Hamilton added to that illustration a picture of a Sankofa bird, a West African symbol.
“It’s flying forward and looking backwards,” Hamilton said. “That symbolizes where we are in terms of our desire to look back to the past and allow the past to be a means of which we can propel ourselves into the future.”
Hamilton went on in his talk, titled “Whose we are matters who we are,” with a brief overview of two worldviews, Eurocentrism and Afrocentrism. Hamilton explained that Eurocentrism was coined in the 1980s to describe the conscious or unconscious belief of “European exceptionalism” or the superiority European culture and ideals.
Afrocentrism emerged in response to Eurocentrism, according to Hamilton. Hamilton explained that Afrocentrism focuses on the history and contributions of black people or people of African descent.
“Europeans have long had a premium of promoting their particular ideas,” Hamilton said. “That shouldn’t be particularly alarming to anybody … To the victor belongs the spoils.”
Hamilton explained that European “military might” along with their economic and political authority “has been dominant.” With that has also come control of how history is presented along with influences in the media. Hamilton stated that this has had an effect on the psyche of black people and that people must “look at things anew.”
One such influence is how Europeans interpreted the Bible.
“The Bible says absolutely nothing about race,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton stated that, beginning in the Renaissance, Europeans have provided “a slant or perspective or bias on biblical characters or events.” He used the examples of the curse of Cain and the curse of Ham, stating that European culture incorrectly tied the curses to “blackness.”
“That was their spin on it,” Hamilton said. He added later, “Europeans willfully interpreted the curse as a condemnation of blackness.”
From there out, that interpretation that tied the curses to “blackness” was used to justify the inferiority of black people, as well as slavery.
“In their (slave owners’) minds, these people are just fit for slaves anyhow,” Hamilton said.
Within the United States, Hamilton also noted that the attitude toward slaves was the same whether it was coming from a white slave owner or a white northerner who did not own slaves. For an example, Hamilton brought up the Randolph slaves. The freed Randolph slaves immigrated to the Miami Valley after slave owner John Randolph from Virginia freed all of his slaves in his will after he died in the 1840s.
“When black people arrived in the upper Miami Valley from their enslavement in Virginia … they had land purchased for them in an area of Mercer County,” Hamilton said, noting it was “thousands of acres.”
“And white people in Mercer County, particularly German Catholics, weren’t particularly happy with the presence of an increasing number of black people. There’s already a black settlement in Mercer County, but now the Randolphs were coming, and about 400 of them.”
Hamilton explained that the residents who opposed the incoming large number of Randolph slaves rallied together and “created a vigilante group.” According Hamilton, this group or “mob” came together and “sat upon the boats bringing the Randolph freed to Mercer County” to keep the Randolphs from coming to the area. The group also published a statement in numerous local newspapers stating their opposition.
“They basically created a resolution and in this resolution, what they said, this gets back to the misinterpretation of Europeans of the Bible,” Hamilton said. “They said, ‘Whereas the supreme ruler of the universe has fixed immutable laws of the world and marked his lines and boundaries and made undeniable distinction everywhere perceivable between the different races of men.’”
Hamilton asked the group listening, “Did the Bible say that? Did God say that?” The group said no.
“That’s their interpretation,” Hamilton said, explaining that they thought what they were doing was okay because of that interpretation. Hamilton went on reading from the resolution: “We will use all and every means in our power to preserve … those laws and distinctions ordained by the creator.”
Hamilton went on to discuss the 1857 Supreme Court Ruling of Dred Scott v. Sandford, in which Dred Scott attempted to sue for his freedom and lost. In Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s written decision, Taney stated that there were “no rights which the white man was bound to respect” in regard to black people. Taney stated that people of African descent were never meant to be citizens or Americans.
“We see what the attitude has been in America because of slavery,” Hamilton said.
Jumping forward, Hamilton discussed the Jim Crow era, where laws enforced racial segregation, along with what is known as the “new Jim Crow.” The new Jim Crow describes an argument that United States’ current mass incarceration system is a new form of racial segregation.
Hamilton also briefly touched on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Ninety percent of the police are good,” Hamilton said. “They are doing a job. It is a tough job … There is what is (called) omertà, that is a police code of silence. They will validate, or lie, to protect another police officer.”
Hamilton called for police officers to be trained differently and to take up an attitude of servitude instead of authority. Hamilton also stated that a small percentage of police officers could be “predators.”
“And they become police officers because they can prey upon victims,” Hamilton said, citing the example of Daniel Holtzclaw. Holtzclaw is the former Oklahoma City police officer who was recently convicted and sentenced to 263 years in prison for the rapes and sexual assaults of numerous black women.
“That happens more than we know,” Hamilton said.
At the end of the seminar, Hamilton mentioned the importance of valuing one’s ancestors and knowing one’s history. Hamilton talked about how he advocated to have Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. memorialized on a bridge in Piqua. Hamilton also memorialized his grandmother Esther with a flagpole in his yard, honoring her and other female ancestors of his family. Also memorialized on that small monument was a woman five times his great-grandmother, who was once noted as being an old woman “worth nothing.”
Hamilton concluded with a call to educate children about black history, particularly children within the black community.
“Our children aren’t being taught in the schools and you’re not teaching them in the home,” Hamilton said. “They’re listless. They don’t know who they are.”
Hamilton will be repeating this seminar again on Thursday from 6:30-8 p.m. at Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church, 320 Park Ave., Piqua.
There will be more Black History Month seminars coming up this month, including the seminar “The Randolphs: A Slave Mentality and/or Let’s Just Move On.” It will be held Tuesday, Feb.16, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursday, Feb. 18, from 6:30-8 p.m.
Hamilton will also hold the talk “Healing: Being likeminded in creating ‘a more perfect union’ by way of an inclusive heritage” on Tuesday, Feb. 23, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursday, Feb. 25, from 6:30-8 p.m.
All of the seminars will take place at Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church. Those interested in attending any of the free seminars may contact Hamilton by email at [email protected]
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall