WORDS FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE URRA
BLACK WOMEN’S LIVES
IN RECONSTRUCTION AMERICA:
Carrie Langston Hughes, and
October 29, 2022 | Noon
Brief remarks on
Frederick Douglass’ speech:
“What to the slave
is the Fourth of July”
BY JOSETTE BAILEY
Given that the UURA is in part dedicated to saving 857 Riverside, a home that is known to have played a role in the Underground Railroad, it would seem remiss for our organization not to comment on the irony of Frederick Douglass, born to slavery in 1818, and (escaping from slavery as a young man) having been invited by the Rochester Ladies Auxiliary to give a speech on the Fourth of July.
What were these good ladies thinking?
Did they wish to engage in perverse and cruel irony?
For in truth, for an escaped slave to be asked to comment on the day celebrated by Euro-Americans, as their day of freedom, is to participate in a perverse, and cruel irony, a mockery of what the word and concept of freedom means.
African Americans did not gain their freedom on July 4th, 1776.
They would have to wait until January 1, 1863, for Abraham Lincoln to sign, The Emancipation Proclamation, and given the historical nature of Jim Crow, Segregation, and state sanctioned violence against African Americans, there are many people within the African American community who question still to this day, if we have yet, or will ever gain our freedom.
So, I would pose to you Frederick Douglass’ question, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”, or for that matter, “What is the Fourth of July to an African American?”
What freedoms, and liberties are African Americans free to enjoy in their own country?
Have you ever considered this question? Is this a question that falls within the moral framework of how you live in the world?
I ask you this now, and I also invite you to support the work we are doing to save 857 Riverside Drive, a home owned by an abolitionist that supported the work of the Underground Railroad.
Enjoy your Fourth of July.
In his speech, Douglass said:
Fellow Citizens, I am not wanting in respect for the fathers of this republic…they loved their country more than their own private interests.
But despite the national rejoicing for Independence Day,
I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.
Toward the end of the address:
Fellow citizens, I will not enlarge further on your national inconsistencies. The existed of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretense, and your Christianity a lie.
What is JUNETEENTH?
Juneteenth (officially Juneteenth National Independence Day, and also known as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day) is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans.
President Joseph Biden recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday on June 17th, 2021.
In addition to it being a holiday recognizing an important moment in the journey to freedom for formerly enslaved African Americans,
Juneteenth is celebrated as a day to recognize African American culture, and traditions.
Originating in Galveston Texas on June 19th, 1865, it was the day that enslaved African Americans learned that slavery had been abolished by President Abraham Lincoln as of January 1, 1863, when he issued
The Emancipation Proclamation.
What does Juneteenth mean to the residents of New York State and New York City?
Surprising as it might seem to most of us, New York City was the second largest slave port in all the United States, second only to Charleston, South Carolina.
During the colonial period 41% of all households had slaves.
Slaves built Fort Amsterdam, and all the successor forts along the Battery.
As many as 20% of colonial New Yorkers were enslaved African people.
The New York economy was dependent on the labor of these people.
In 1799 New York passed a Gradual Emancipation Act that freed enslaved children born after July 4th, 1799, but indentured them until they were young adults.
In 1817 a new law passed that would free enslaved people born before 1799, but not until 1827.
According to the 1830 census there were “only” 75 slaves listed in New York City, and by 1840, no slaves were listed in New York City.
However, life in New York was not easy for the freed former slaves.
Freedmen/ freedwomen were not allowed to buy property, were not allowed to congregate in groups, and when traveling at night were obligated to carry a lantern.
They also were not allowed to go above Worth Street.
Sadly, they were frequently subject to random attacks of violence, vilification, and discrimination.
As the city grew, and developed, African Americans were forced from one neighborhood to the next, first Canal Street, then the West Village, and the area around the theater district.
Seneca Village was one of a few settlements where people of all ethnicities were able to live, but that community was dismantled, and the residents scattered when the city decided to build Central Park.
Finally in the late teens of the 20th century African American businessman Phillip A. Payton Jr. along with other like-minded businessmen convince Euro-American landlords to rent to African Americans, and we have the large-scale movement of much of the community to northern Manhattan.
General information about slavery in New York found in: Wikipedia, and exhibition notes New York Historical Society, Slavery in New York.
To learn more about the history of slavery in NYC and about the African Americans, who have lived here since the Dutch acquired Manhattan Island, I recommend Black Manhattan by James Weldon Johnson.
Tod Roulette and Josette Bailey at St. Phillips Church on West 134th Street in Harlem for Pride Sunday, June 12th 2022.
Josette Bailey was born in the village of Harlem on March 12th 1954 to attorneys Joseph Arthur Bailey, and Helen Alexandra Gordon Bailey. She is the oldest of three children, and the only girl. Her family lived in both Manhattan, and the Bronx, moving every so often to satisfy both her father’s wanderlust, and her mother’s desire never to leave New York City.
Her parents had a law office near the Apollo Theater in the 1960-1970’s and Josette recalls watching the street action of West 125th Street, and listening to the iconic soundtrack of Motown emanating from the theater.
The family moved to 630 West 158th Street (one of the houses included in Save West 158th Street) and lived there for more than fifty years.
She has seen many incarnations of the Audubon Park Historic District from genteel, to cracked out, to gentrified.
She attended both public, and private schools, and is a proud alumna of the Nightingale Bamford School, and provincially attached Native New Yorker.
Josette attended Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY where she majored in English Literature.
She earned a Masters degree from the Gallatin School at NYU in Inter-disciplinary Studies.
Josette has worked in theater as both an actor and playwright.
She was a religious educator for the Unitarian Universalists, at the Fourth Universalist Society and worked as a program administrator for the YMCA of Greater New York, amongst the many other jobs that she has held.
Josette is currently a student at the Harlem Family Institute, studying to become a NY State licensed psychoanalyst. She is acutely aware of the pathology of the American personality, and the failed nature of the American dream. She knows that many people, if not all of us, are in pain, and is angry that much of the pain of Native people, Black Americans, and other people of color is aggravated, and intensified by the on-going systemic nature of racism, and oppression, which is endemic to this society.
She observes that the failure to landmark historically, and culturally significant communities in Northern Manhattan is but another iteration of that peculiar American disease – a disease that constantly manifests as a failure to recognize the historic contributions, and the beauty of place of certain communities.
She asks, and invites all people who find the URRA website, and reads its contents to join us in the fight to save 857 Riverside Drive and West 158th Street.