Survivors of Terrorism
The events of September 11th tempt one to speak in apocalyptic terms of a world suddenly gone mad. But the pages of this catalog offer clear evidence that the world has long been mad. We live in a world filled with individuals and groups claiming that supposed racial, ethnic, economic or religious superiority gives them the right to kill, dispossess, exploit, or rule “inferior” peoples.
We hope the September 11th terrorists, and their sponsors, are rooted out and defeated, and their ideas discredited. Those terrorists may regret their attack on a people with the economic and military might to resist and strike back. However, enslaved Africans had no such economic or military might. They were overwhelmed by Europeans and Americans who displayed remarkably little mercy when presented with opportunities to profit from torture and exploitation. Amid claims that servitude was the natural condition of the African, white societies developed elaborate schemes to perpetuate their oppression of a people whose great sin was to be dark-skinned. Flogging, rape, torture and murder were routinely employed. We had a two-tiered legal system -- a Bill of Rights for whites, and shameful laws codifying the exploitation, degradation, and segregation of African-Americans. Black Codes, Fugitive Slave Acts, Jim Crow laws, separate-but-equal schools, etc.; the rhetoric and stratagems have been endless and varied.
African-Americans have persevered and endured in the face of almost impossible odds. This catalog documents their brilliance and achievement in a wide variety of endeavors and under the most difficult circumstances. Of course, items in this catalog also give evidence of deep and basic flaws in our society, but it is encouraging to see repeated instances where Americans of all races have joined together to oppose slavery, injustice and exploitation. While the struggle to build a just and sane society continues, perhaps endlessly, we remain hopeful for the future.
Phil and Sharon McBlain
Essay from Catalog 151