A Look At All The Presidents Reveals The System Is Hostile To Black People
As the presidential races heat up, Margaret Kimberley has a new book, “Prejudential: Black America and The Presidents,” that exposes how every one of the forty-five presidents in the United States has maintained a state of white supremacy. Her research cuts through the traditional narratives and myths of our presidents to show their support for chattel slavery until the Civil War and then the ongoing oppression of blacks in many forms after that and continuing today. Characterizing the presidents as bad to less bad, she discusses that our presidents reflect the reality of the founding principles of the country, which have not been successfully challenged. Kimberley argues that it has always been popular movements, not presidents, who have brought significant reforms and encourages black voters to break with the duopoly political parties.
Margaret Kimberley is a New York based writer and activist for peace and justice issues. She has been a columnist for Black Agenda Report since its inception, and was for four years the weekly columnist for Black Commentator. Her work has also appeared in the Dallas Morning News, the Chicago Defender, and on web sites such as Alternet, Counter Punch, Tom Paine and Buzzflash.
Ms. Kimberley is a member of the War Resisters League speakers bureau, Stop the Merchants of Death (SMOD.) SMOD speakers are committed to informing the public about corporate connections to American military activity, especially the occupation of Iraq. She is also a member of Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq. In 2006 Ms. Kimberley moderated a forum entitled, “People of Faith for Peace and Justice.” The forum addressed the need for politically progressive Christians to have a greater voice in public policy debates.
Margaret Kimberley has spoken at Riverside Church in New York City, at seminars hosted by the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, and to student groups at institutions such as Mount Holyoke College and Drew University. Ms. Kimberley has also been a guest on radio talk shows around the country.
Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the Forces Of Greed with Margaret Flowers
Kevin Zeese (KZ): And Kevin Zeese.
MF: Clearing the fog is a project of PopularResistance.org. You can subscribe to us on iTunes, SoundCloud, Mixcloud, Stitcher and Google Play. You can also find us at popular resistance dot-org, and while you’re there check out the Popular Resistance store, where you’ll find Clearing the FOG gear like t-shirts, bumper stickers, tote bags and water bottles.
MF: So this week we interviewed Margaret Kimberly of Black Agenda Report. She has a new book out called, “Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents” and it’s available on Steer Forth Press
KZ: Yeah, Margaret is an editor of Black Agenda Report and did a great job going through each president and showing the reality that racism pretty much permeates the presidency.
MF: Yes. She goes through how the presidents always wanted the United States to be a white country and have supported policies to try to create that.
KZ: And she includes not just the obvious racist like Woodrow Wilson, Andrew Jackson and the slaveholding presence, but also Barack Obama, Lyndon Johnson, John Kennedy… president who we think of as anti-racists.
MF: I thought her take on President Trump was really interesting and her argument for what black voters should be doing in the 2020 elections. So before we get to that interview, why don’t we talk about some things that are in the news. This week on popular resistance we wrote our newsletter about our most recent trial which concluded on Friday, and what Is going on right now in Venezuela.
KZ: Yes. It was a week-long trial and the deliberation took as long as a trial… ten and a half hours. The jurors deliberated, deliberated, asked lots of questions and they came back saying they were deadlocked. The judged says keep thinking about it. They came back four hours later still deadlocked, and in the end we got a mistrial because the jury was deadlocked.
MF: Yeah for those listeners who are not familiar with our case, Kevin Zeese and I are part of the Embassy Protection Collective which stayed in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington DC last spring for 37 days with the permission of the elected government of Venezuela to protect it so that there was time for the United States and Venezuela to negotiate a protecting power agreement, which is what countries normally do when diplomatic relations breakdown. But the United States was trying to hand over diplomatic properties to their failed coup leaDERS.
KZ: And we were prosecute along with David Paul and Adrienne Pine, a nurse and an anthropologist. It was a strange case because the jury was told that Juan Guaido was President even though he hasn’t been a president for a nanosecond in Venezuela. In that jury room he was the president, and the jurors didn’t know anything about Venezuela. And so they believed he was president and that made them very confused as to why we were there, because we had permission of what they thought was a former government, the Maduro government, and not the current government, which they thought was the Guaido government. When we talk to the jurors afterwards ,and the jurors stayed in the room and took questions from lawyers and the judge, the bottom line was that they were very confused.
MF: It was a confusing situation and there was no way really in the way that it was set up that it couldn’t be confusing. The judge, you know to her credit, US law states that the president has the right to recognize the leader of another country, and this judge did not have the authority to challenge that. She restricted a lot of what the jury could hear, or what she said, because if they started hearing, you know, Maduro’s the president. Guaido’s the president, that would be too confusing for them. But in the end, trying to keep that truth out of the courtroom was more confusing to them.
KZ: Yeah the jurors thought we were there just for three days, May 13th, when we were given it a trespass notice, to May 16th, and we were arrested. But in fact we were there for 37 days and jurors were like, “why were there for three days in May? What was going on in May?” It just made no sense to them and so the situation created lots of questions and at least for some of the jurors that confusion led to a reasonable doubt, and other jurors were ready to convict us.
MF: Right, but fortunately it needs to be a unanimous decision and the jury has to find someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And so since they weren’t able to do that. They were deadlocked. We appreciate the people power that went on in that jury for those few jurors who held out and wanted to acquit us.
KZ: So the result of a mistrial means that we might be tried again. The prosecution has to decide the Trump prosecutors have to decide will they prosecute us again? It’s a very expensive process to prosecute these cases. Lots of legal lawyer time. Lots of court time.
MF: It’s a misdemeanor case and it takes up a lot of the judges time. This is the chief judge of the federal court in DC.
KZ: And so we’ll find out on February 28th what the prosecutors want to do. Will they drop the case and be satisfied that they made us go through the process and got a mistrial, or will they try again? If they do we’re preparing in fact to face another prosecution. If you go to DefendEmbassyProtectors.org that’s our defense committee. You can find out more. You can get involved and find out what you can do to help to prevent that next prosecution
MF: So it’s very interesting, you know, there’s so much confusion about Venezuela in the United States because the corporate media gives the u.s. imperialist perspective and not the reality. And so, you know, just last week or the week before I guess it was when President Trump did his state of the union, he invited the coup leader, Juan Guaido, who was on an international tour, to be in the capital and to stand up and be recognized as the president of Venezuela. And as you said, he’s never been the president, but then on February 11th, the same day that our trial started, Juan Guido returned to Venezuela and that’s when reality hit. He is recognized by some countries outside of the Venezuela as the quote-unquote interim president, but in Venezuela, people are very clear that he is not the president and that he’s actually a traitor to the country.
KZ: Well the first thing that happened when he got back to Venezuela was he went through customs and the customs officer took his passport, because he’s not allowed to travel out of the country. What president can have his passport taken away by a customs officer? None. Right from there… the first step into Venezuela, it was shown he is not the president. Then he stepped in the airport. And as you said he was not very popular. People were calling him a traitor, an assassin
MF: They were throwing things on him.
KS: Chasing him out of the airport.
MF: Grabbing him by the shirt.
KZ: It was a mob scene of opposition. He was not a loved president and that was very clear. Even the opposition doesn’t support him anymore. He could not win the election for the National Assembly, to be the president of the the National Assembly, which is controlled by the opposition. He couldn’t win that election a month ago. And so he’s falling down further in Venezuela. But unfortunately, we’re seeing some activities in Venezuela that are disconcerting. Some terrorist attacks at key buildings. This is the kind of thing we’ve seen in other us regime change efforts. No one’s accused the United States yet, but it’s typical of US tactics. We have heard in the past of u.s. planning terrorist activity in Venezuela to cause disruption and fear and get people divided. So this maybe the new tactic u.s. is doing . Terrorist attacks inside. We don’t know yet. I expect it will come out because Venezuela has uncovered these terrorist attacks in the past.
MF: Right and I wanted to mention that the new National Assembly, the new leadership of the National Assembly, which as you said is its opposition dominated …
KZ: elected by people all from opposition parties.
MF: Right. So they are actually investigating Juan Guido for corruption, for the money that he’s received from outside countries, which is the reason that he’s not allowed to travel… because he violated the law by taking money from foreign governments. They are also, you know, looking into a case against the United States for actions that have led to the theft of Venezuela’s assets in the amount of $116 billion dollars. Juan Guido is implicated as part of that. And we have all of this on Popular Resistance. It’s in the newsletter. It’s really interesting that the leader of the party that Juan Guido used to be part of, Popular Will… The leader of that is Leopoldo Lopez. He’s been under arrest for a long time because of violence that he incited. He’s now in asylum in a Spanish embassy. But Rudy Giuliani flew to Spain to meet with some supporters of that party and Leopoldo Lopez’s cousin, Alejandro Betancourt, is actually being prosecuted in the United States for money laundering 1.2 billion dollars
KZ: And Guliani is representing him.
MF: And Giuliani went to the Department of Justice after meeting with these folks in Spain and tried to to get the DOJ to give leniency to Alejandro Betancourt. So there’s all kinds of corruption that’s wrapped up around on this but I think another really interesting thing that happened in the past week is Venezuela filed a request for an investigation of the United States by the international criminal court because of the illegal, unilateral coercive economic measures. We call them sanctions. Many people call them sanctions, but these are coercive measures that the United States has been using against Venezuela.
KZ: And they want to investigation. because this has caused a humanitarian catastrophe in Venezuela. It’s shorten the lives of 40,000 Venezuelans, according to one research project by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, over just a few years. And there are scores, more than two dozen countries, that are subject to US unilateral coercive measures or sanctions. If those countries join this lawsuit with the ICC, that would be phenomenal. Imagine all these countries demanding the ICC investigate the United States. Now the ICC has been under a lot of pressure from the United States. They don’t want to be investigated. The US has threatened sanctions on the judge and prosecutors at the ICC. They have threatened to withdraw funding. It’s very serious . The US does not want to be subjected to investigation for their crimes, The US unfortunately violates a lot of international laws. This unilateral course of measures is one example of many US violations of international law.
MF: That’s right and there is going to be some days of protests in March against these sanctions. There’s a website, sanctionskill.org. If folks want to get involved, protests are being organized across the country and around the world to raise awareness that these unilateral coercive measures are illegal. They need to be stopped. There are ways that we can resolve our conflicts that don’t require starving, keeping people from getting their medicines or killing people.
KZ: sanctionskill.org. I think it’s very important people understand that sanctions are are a form of war. Economic blockades, preventing financing of economies, preventing trade, this leads to people dying. This is a form of war and needs to be challenged and we hope that the public gets organized and starts to raise concerns. sanctionskill.org.
MF: Another interesting court case that’s coming up… Abby Martin. She’s a filmmaker and a journalist. People may know her from the Empire files. She was invited to be the keynote speaker at the Georgia Southern University media literacy conference, and she was required before she could speak to sign a pledge to Israel. This is something that the Georgia state law requires, and because she wouldn’t sign that pledge, they wouldn’t allow her to speak at the conference. The whole conference fell apart as people who were organizing… some of them… stood with Abby Martin. Now she is partnered with the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, and CARE, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and they filed suit in federal court against the state of Georgia for violation of her First Amendment right.
KZ: And Abby will be speaking. Her film will be shown at the UNAC conference in New York City this upcoming weekend and Abby will be speaking via video along with Mike Prisner, her co-filmmaker, about the film and taking questions. From the audience. It’s a fantastic film about Palestine from Gaza. Gaza fights for Freedom. Incredible video by Gazan people taking video. And my Can a be turn that into a really amazing film.
MF: That’s right. And that film will be shown on Saturday Night February 22nd. It’s at the people’s forum. And if you want to get more information about that conference, you can go to UNACpeace.org.
I just want to make our listeners aware that they’re actually 28 States who have similar laws to what Georgia has, and last December President Trump signed into law a law that said that public universities could not get funding if they’re not doing enough to combat anti-Semitism. Of course now that the definition of anti-semitism includes criticism of Israel, this has really shut down the rights of people in the United States to, you know, have the right to protest and redress the government for the actions that Israel is taking.
KZ: Well it’s an attempt to shut down, and that’s because the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, BDS, is an effective tool for challenging Israel. Last week we talked about how BDS leads to ODS. One Democratic state. That is the long-term solution for Israel and the BDS movement needs to adopt that as the vision for the future. And then I think we have a strategy and a goal that makes a lot of sense in that can be achieved.
MF: Right and so one Democratic state would basically be that there be a constitution. There’s no Constitution right now.
KZ: And that’s because Israel does not want to define what Jewish means. It’s very complicated, and that’s one reason why there’s no constitution.
MF: It would be a One Democratic state that was secular, where everybody had the right to vote, where minority rights would be protected. It’s really the only way in the current situation where so much of the Palestinian land has been taken, as they are under this apartheid colonial situation. It’s the only way to resolve this in a way that supports the rights of all people living in Palestine.
So let’s talk about a new study. There’s a lot of talk about college education and you know high amounts of student debt. 1.6 trillion dollars of student debt in the United States. 11% of people are defaulting on that debt. That’s a record numbers of defaults. And there was a new study looking at what would millennials, people with college and post graduate college debt… What would they be willing to do to get rid of that student debt? 39 percent of them said they would be willing to spend a week in jail.
KZ: That is amazing. And there’s a whole series of things people would be when do. And people are suffering because of this debt. People are not able to get jobs. They take jobs they don’t want because they’re desperate for money. They get second jobs. They live with their parents. They can’t buy a house. They can’t buy a car. So many problems we created. And to think in our generation schools were basically free. There were minimal cost to go for a college education. Now the cost of tuition and lodging and food has all skyrocketed. People going into debt. And now the debt can’t be something you can even get rid of in bankruptcy, thanks to Joe Biden. Biden was the guy who led the charge in Congress for making it so bankruptcy could not alleviate student debt. So these youth are stuck with debt, undermining their lives. And we grew up in a situation where people got basically free collagen. In New York City when I was growing up the CUNY system was totally free.
MF: That’s right. And 89% of people with student debt that were polled in this study said that it was a significant financial burden for them, their student debt, meaning that they had to make sacrifices just like what you outlined… not being able to buy a home, you know, not being able to buy a car, living with their parents, not starting families. So this actually doesn’t just impact them. It impacts our whole economy. If the newest generation, the youngest generation is not able to do the normal things of participating in economic life. And this all goes hand in hand to with the whole job situation where most of our jobs are service jobs and they’re low-wage job. So it’s all tied together. But you and I came from middle-class families. And we were born in the 50s and 60s, the time when there was the greatest equality in the United. And I think part of that was because you could get a very low cost education. We would not, I would not have been able to go through college and medical school the way I did the way the prices are now.
KZ: And I couldn’t go on to college and law school. I went to state universities and could not have afforded private universities. And certainly couldn’t afford the cost of universities today. So we have really treated this generation—now more than one generation—terribly, and it’s undermining ourselves. You take a generation or two out of the economy, that hat undermines the entire economy. These capitalists who are insisting that these students pay their debt need to wake up. It’s not healthy for anyone in the society to have generation or two straddled or stuck with debt that they just can’t afford and undermines their ability to participate in the economy.
MF: And I guess it’s starting to… workers are starting to fight back against this. I mean it’s really growing. There’s a new study by the Economic Policy Institute that looked at the number of people involved in work stoppages. And so in 2017, that was just 25,300 people across the country that participate in work stoppages.
KZ: That sounds like a lot of people. 25,000.
MF: But in 2018, it was 425,000 and in 2019, it went up to 485,000. So this is even in an environment where there are laws passed at the state level to make it more difficult for workers to strike.
KZ: And this is occurring at a time an economic recovery.
MF: So called
KZ: So called. The minute we got out of the recession in 2019, and now we’ve had these two record years of work stoppages, the largest two year number in 35 years. That’s because the jobs are terrible.
MF: And benefits are being bargained away, like health care, like pensions.
KZ: And so, you know, something like single-payer healthcare or medicare for all would be a big boon for workers. Except these unions are fighting back against medicare-for-all. It’s so absurd.
MF: Well some are.
KZ: Yes. Some are. And it’s a false fight. I mean, these Unions know that they take healthcare out of the situation and it gets provided for through taxes and a national improved medicare for also situation, then they can bargain for salaries and other benefits. Pensions.
MF: Safer working conditions. More jobs.
KZ: Shorter work weeks. So many other issues a bargain for. Let’s get healthcare out of that and begin to actually work for the workers. Right now workers are going on strike because they are desperate. People are financially insecure. Even those who have jobs cannot afford any surprise major expense of more than four or five hundred dollars. It’s an absurd financial situation. And it’s time for people to recognize people are striking for a reason, and time for government and the business owners to respond.
MF: Last week we talked about what was happening with marijuana reform around the world. This week let’s focus in a little bit more on what’s happening in the United States. There are potentially 11 more States who in this coming election season will have measures on the ballot for marijuana reform.
KZ: There are currently four measures that have been approved for the ballot. Two for adult legal use of marijuana. Two for medical use of marijuana. South Dakota has both, an adult legal use and a medical use. And New Jersey has on the ballot a legal adult use after they were unable to pass it through the legislature. Now the voters will get to vote on it. Polls shows a very good chance it will pass.
MF: That would be a constitutional amendment.
KZ: That would be a constitutional amendment. And Mississippi is going to be voting on medical marijuana. Medical marijuana across the country has like eighty percent support in the polls. So I think those medical marijuana initiatives pass. The New Jersey polls are very good for legal use. And that will be really interesting for New York. They’ll have Massachusetts on one side. New Jersey on the other, all selling marijuana legally, collecting tax revenue while New York stays without it. Although Governor Cuomo says he promises to pass it in 2020. We’ll see.
MF: Right. The other states that are seeking signatures right now to get on the ballot are Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Idaho.
KZ: And some of those say very difficult for collecting signatures. You’re talking about more than a hundred thousand signatures. Oklahoma’s a very difficult state to get on the ballot for example. So I’m not sure all those will get on the ballot, but that shows people are organizing. I know when I was working on this issue, I was the formerly the director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and Vice President of Drug Policy Foundation, and we were very involved in these initiative efforts. The first one 1996 was California medical marijuana, and that opened the floodgates. I’ll tell you initiatives are not easy. You have to first off test, through polling and focus groups, on what the public is ready to support. So you pursue an issue that can pass. Then you have to collect those signatures. You’re talking about two to three dollars per signature, for very strong volunteers. Very hard to do with just volunteers. Then you’ve got to run a campaign, which means advertising. Television advertising. Door to door activity. Initiatives are not easy and yet this has been the way the marijuana issue has broken through legislators, because legislators were blinded by it. They were unable to confront it so the people had to take over, organize, and create the situation where they can make the change they want.
MF: Right. Well, it’s time to end the prohibition on marijuana. Think about the impact that will have as there are still hundreds of thousands of marijuana arrests across the country every year and people being incarcerated because of that.
KZ: And then once we win the adult legal use we still to fight for justice because a lot of these states that have legalized are going very commercial. It’s very expensive to get into the business of selling marijuana legally in the dispensary. A lot of the communities that have suffered the most from the marijuana wars—black and brown and poor communities—are not able to participate. And we’re not doing enough to erase people’s records. So even when you pass these initiatives it’s only a step and we still have to continue to fight for justice around this issue and other drug issues. Marijuana is one issue, but we have serious problems with other drug issues as well. We got to move to a health-based harm reduction approach for other drugs, but getting marijuana off the table, legal for adults legal for medicines are major first steps.
KZ: Let’s talk about what’s going on in Canada. We’ve been talking about what’s going on with the coastal link gas pipeline that the coastal link company is trying to build on Wetsuetan territory. The Wetsuetans never ceded their territory to Canada and they’ve been fighting for years to stop the construction. Then a Canadian court approved an injunction against them that would prevent them from taking action to blockade that construction. They continue to blockade it anyway, and last Thursday the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had a pre-dawn raid, 5 a.m. They showed up in full force with armed drones and all kinds of things too to raid a camp that the Wetsuetans had. They broke windows on cars. They pulled a woman who was not dressed out of her truck. They arrested six people. And that has really caused some outrage across the country of Canadians who are supporting the Wetsuetans.
KZ: That’s right. There are protests across the country from coast to coast. Even the United States people are getting are angry about this. People oppose fracked gas to begin with so that already is a climate crisis problem, but then to violate the rights of these First Nations indigenous peoples adds to the problem. And encounter they call them first Nations because these were Nations. And they say this is unceded territory, as you mentioned. What that means is they never agreed they were part of Canada. So they believe they are a nation.
MF: Well they are in fact a nation.
MF: And they have the rights of a Nation. Courts have recognized that they have rights, but prime minister Trudeau is sicking the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on them to steal their land, go in there and take the resources on their land and add more to the climate crisis. Trudeau has really proven himself to be a terrible neoliberal, anti-environment anti-justice prime minister. He’s been absolutely horrible on countries like Venezuela. He just really has shown himself to be [this]. It’s unfortunate he was re-elected.
MF: The protests have really been amazing. People are shutting down ports, railway stations, bridges, roads. They’re protesting at government buildings, doing prolonged occupations at government buildings. They’re going to the offices of Coastal Link and protesting. And they have three demands. They’re demanding that Canada implement the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. They’re calling on the injunction, the court injunction, to be suspended so that the Wetsuetan can continue to resist. And they’re calling on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to stand down and stop terrorizing the Wetsuetan people.
KZ: These are all reasonable requests based on economic, racial and environmental justice and respect for the sovereignty of indigenous first nations in Canada. Their protests are amazing. It’s great to see so many Canadians across the country joining in their support.
MF: I want to give a shout out to some of our friends down in Western North Carolina who did a protest as part of Extinction Rebellion on Valentine’s Day. It was a beautiful protest with lots of hearts, you know, loving the planet and saying that we need to protect it.
KZ: And that video is on popularresistance.org.
MF: That’s right. And then there are or actions being planned in Washington DC that anybody around the country is welcome to come and participate in. This is a group called shut down DC. It’s a coalition of organizations that’s organizing for actions from Earth Day April 22nd through May Day, May 1st. And starting midway through the protest they’re going to be daily themes of actions that are led by people who are on the front lines of those themes. And so if you go to popularresistance.org, you can find information about how to plug into these Earth Day to May Day, Shut Down DC actions
KZ: These shutdown DC activists have done beautiful protests before. Very visual. Very creative. And so if you are able to be in the DC from Earth Day to May Day, it’s a great time to be part of important protests against the climate crisis.
MF: And you don’t have to be there for the whole time f you can’t. Even if you come for a few days, they have organizing calls and direct action training. So there’s ways for people to plug in. And remember that when it comes to direct actions, there’s lots of different roles that people can play. There are some people who may risk arrest, but there are lots of actions that people can do to support that don’t risk arrest, such as helping with media or helping to support those who are risking arrest with jail support, or just participating in a way that doesn’t risk arrest. So people shouldn’t be afraid of, you know, it’s called shutdown DC, but there’s lots of things that people can do to support it.
KZ: And I can tell you in Washington DC the police are very used to protests. And so you can do a lot in DC without getting arrested. It’s very different from New York. I just want people to realize the DC approach is very difficult for protesters because it’s kind of like the marshmallow approach. They let you do things. It’s the conflict that creates movements and so while that’s a difficult process for us to deal with as organizers. it’s also an opportunity for moving more people to get
MF: Washington DC has protests literally every day and the police have been sued a number of times, so that kind of restricts what they do, but I think that we can’t give a blanket statement.
KZ: We’re facing prosecution ourselves. Of course, we can’t give a blanket statement. We’re being prosecuted for what we did at the protecting the Venezuelan Embassy, but I’m just letting people know that there is more flexibility in Washington DC. You’ll get warnings. You’ll get the opportunity to back off. I’m just urging you to get involved in these very important protests.
MF: I think it’s important for people if they’re going to engage in the protest, because things can’t always be predicted, to check in with the organization, get the training and information that you need so you can participate in a way that’s acceptable and appropriate for you. So that’s the news that we have for today. Why don’t we take a short musical break and we’ll be back with our interview with Margaret Kimberly.
MF: You’re listening to clearing the fog speaking truth to expose the forces of greed with Margaret flowers
KZ: and Kevin zeese.
MF: And now we turn to our Margaret Kimberly. Margaret is a senior editor of the Black Agenda Report and activist for peace and Justice and the author of a new book “Prejudential: Black America and the President.” Thank you for taking time to join us Margaret.
MK: Thank you for having me.
KZ: All right. Well, it’s gonna be fun talking with you about this and it’s such an interesting timing. Presidential weekend is when there’s will come out. So let’s start with the basic question. What made you write this book?
MK: Well, I had written a column for a Black Agenda Report about Theodore Roosevelt. I had watched one of those public television documentaries about the Roosevelt family, and it was—pun intended—a whitewash of Theodore Roosevelt, of his racism, of his imperialism. And so I was inspired to write about him for my following Black Agenda Report column. And a friend and supporter of Black Agenda Report said to me said will write about all of them? Why don’t you try all the presidents? And I thought about it and I realized that writing about all of the presidents and their relations with their treatment of black people was a great way to sum up American history. And it also reveals the ways in which the beginnings of this country, which defended and protected chattel slavery, and how so many policies were intended to physically control black people, starting obviously from slavery, the Three-Fifths Clause of the Constitution, the Electoral College, the fact that the new capital that they actually built a new city and built it within the confines of the plantation economy. So many things that happened in this country are a result of this history.
MF: And I should let our listeners know that the book is divided into 45 chapters.
MK: One for every one. I get all of them all of them. For some of them there’s not a lot to say, but they all played a role in this… I say that anti-black racism is foundational to the country and every single president has proved that in some way or other.
MF: But that’s not I think what people would think. The person who’s kind of traditionally educated in this country probably doesn’t have this knowledge. You’re a historian. When you were researching the various presidents, what did find in terms of kind of the common information that’s out there versus more of what the reality is of each of the presidents.
MK: Well, the interesting thing is even people who want to be well informed in this country are misinformed because so many lies are taught. It’s a I don’t think the word conspiracy is too harsh. The biographers and scholars who’ve written about these people lie about them. They either lie outright or they omit, and I think it’s important for to point out that an omission is a lie. So if you write about Abraham Lincoln and you don’t point out that he never gave up his desire for colonization, that is to say for black people to be sent out of the country… As late as about a week before he was assassinated, he spoke with a former Union general and asked him to come up with the plan to send black people away. There actually was a short-lived plan. 400 people were sent to a tiny Island Off the coast of Haiti Ile-a-Vache, cow Island. In 1862 Lincoln wrote this order the day before the Emancipation Proclamation, and these 400 formerly enslaved people were sent to this island. They were not well provisioned. They died from diseases and hunger and the survivors were brought home. But he actually acted on it. This was something that was planned for decades. And many presidents who we think of as being better, such as John Adams… Out of the first 12 presidents 10 were slaveholders. The only two who were not were John Adams and John Quincy Adams… But he was no abolitionist. He was from Massachusetts. Although we must point out slavery was legal in the north at that time. He could have been a slave holder. He bragged that he was not. But he did not want to end slavery, and he feared the presence of free black people. And he was one of many who wanted to send black people out of the country. Most of them wanted a country for white people, and they were quite upfront about saying so. The country of Liberia. The capital is Monrovia named for James Monroe. He was another in favor of colonization. So this was something that was discussed for the first hundred or so years of the country’s history. It was clear that that wasn’t going to happen. But the Civil War was followed by the all-too-brief Reconstruction Era and then Jim Crow segregation, and nearly a hundred ears of a kind of fascism. It’s not exaggeration to call it that. But that only ended with the mass movement. And that is the other thing I’ve learned, you know, the ones who were called good for black people or not so bad. If they did something good it was because they were forced to. Lincoln was not an abolitionist, but it was the enslaved themselves… every time Union forces drew near enslaved people ran to the union lines and thus forced his hand, and forced him to make the Civil War a war against slavery. So that is the most important thing. It is the people in action, the people in movement, that create better circumstances and the ability to exercise our human rights.
MF: Rights great and some say that the kind of break from the colonists with, you know, the British was in part because there were limits… The brits were trying to impose limits on the people’s ability to commit genocide against the indigenous and and there was a movement away from slavery. Is this something that also informs the early days of this country?
MK: Yes, it is. The colonists, you know, for all their talk of freedom and fighting tyranny… The Declaration of Independence is funny. I was never taught this in school, but it’s right there. The Declaration of Independence mentions that the British or instigating the Indians to rise. The colonists wanted to continue to expand across the continent. The British did not want them to. They had other considerations. The French and the Spanish had territories in what’s now the United States, and the spreading of their settlements would have created other issues for them. But these were people who wanted it all. They wanted all of the Indian lands. They wanted unfettered access to chattel slavery. They feared that Britain might outlaw slavery, or the transatlantic slave trade at some point; And in order to do that, they had to be free of the British crown. And I think it’s important to think of this country as a settler colonial state. That explains so much of what happened in history and it certainly explains the Revolutionary War.
KZ: You know, there’s so much you said I wanted to talk about. But let me focus on the point about movements having to push presidents. I mean, obviously the first slaveholding presidents are one example. Andrew Jackson’s horrible racism. Woodrow Wilson’s incredible racism, but then you get to the people like John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, the Civil Rights Act, the Civil Rights Movement. Now, they are, I’d say just from my understanding of history, that they probably two of the “less bad” presidents when it comes to Black Liberation. Tell us about the negative sides of them, on these issues, and the positive sides of them.
MK: Well, Kennedy… let’s not forget that the Democratic party was the party of the segregated South, and Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson. He chose a southerner as his running mate. That was how you balance the ticket, a northerner and a southerner. So Kennedy was never very serious about the Civil Rights Movement, the human rights movement. He did not like… and Bobby Kennedy was especially bad, his brother, the Attorney General. They did not support the Freedom Riders, did not provide them with protection from federal law enforcement. Kennedy’s first meeting with Martin Luther King was held in secret. It wasn’t publicly announced. It didn’t appear in the White House log. The Press didn’t know about it. He was still trying to mollify those Southerners whose support he needed and wanted. He finally did give a speech and called civil rights “A moral issue, not a political issue.” Of course, it is a deeply political issue, but the little he did in his short time in office was because there was a movement. They could not back down. The people wouldn’t allow it. And Lyndon Johnson was a southern segregationist. He did shepherd through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but he was forced to do it by the actions of the people. But he was never really an honest broker. In 1964 at the Democratic National Convention, which was in Atlantic City that year, there’s a famous incident involving Fannie Lou Hamer from Mississippi. She and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party were seeking to be seated instead of the desegregated Mississippi delegation. And she was on national television and giving a very riveting speech about the oppression she suffered in Mississippi, describing this vicious beating that she suffered. And Lyndon Johnson cut her off the air and they did preempt her speech and Lyndon Johnson came on and [said] some BS about the anniversary of the president’s assassination approaching or something. They made up something to get her off the air. So that is what we got with a supposedly “good president.” Bobby Kennedy allowed Hoover to surveil Martin Luther King and others. At this convention in 1964 Fannie Lou Hamer, Martin Luther King… They were all being spied on. The FBI had tapped their phones and knew everything that was being discussed. So that is what we get with the so-called good ones. They will respond to movements but even so we still have to be very careful of them. And I think one of the things I have concluded is… the electoral system is a system that’s adversarial with us. We have to see political parties—and it’s been the Democrats that’s been the black political party since the late 60s. We are in an adversarial relationship with them and we a not see them as friends or protectors. We have to realize that they are only going to be as good as we are, and even so we still have to watch our backs.
MF: And it’s so interesting how how afraid they are of somebody who might tell the truth about what’s actually happening like Fannie Lou Hamer. So many people were excited and inspired by our first black President, Barack Obama. What are your thoughts on him? How does he fall in the whole spectrum of bad to not so bad?
MK: Well, he was, you know, he’s an interesting case of course. You know, all of the presidents have to uphold… they have to uphold white supremacy. The system demands it, and he was no different. And in the modern era what we’ve seen in the last few elections is the role of money and the role of very wealthy people in deciding who the president is going to be. The fact that Obama raised 10 times as much as John McCain in that 2008 election tells you who he was beholden to. And so, of course when he became president he bailed out the banks, the banks who had caused that 2008 financial crisis in the first place… The banks who were deregulated by Bill Clinton, a democrat in the supposed friend. Obama also, I think because he was black… is black. He’s not dead. Because he’s black he had an extra additional requirement to prove that he was not going to allow black politics to resurrect itself. And when I say black politics, obviously there are lots of black politicians. But by black politics, I mean politics that asserts our particular needs and addresses what our concerns, and the redress that we still require. So when Obama spoke his first… the first national attention he received was at the 2004 Democratic Convention— he was about to run for the senate in Illinois— and in his speech he said there is no Black America. There is no white America. Well, of course, that’s not true. There is a Black America and a white America and people in those groups assert themselves as such. But that was his way of telling the people, the 1% as they are now known, that he would be a safe candidate. He also from time to time… Well, he still does it now actually… the criticism of black people… the jokes about cousin Pookie, the scolding, especially of black men, calling black men are responsible. These are things that if Hillary Clinton had said them she would have rightly been called a racist. But he got a pass because —and it’s understandable, the yearning to see a black face and a high place, is still very strong. Also, a lot of the opposition to Obama was racist. So black people responded to that as well and my entire life black people debated whether it was possible for a black person to be elected president. And then when it happened, when we found out it could be true, there was this urge to allow him to succeed. But a successful president in this era is one who acts in the interest of people who are frankly our enemies, people and forces domestically and internationally. So he bails out the banks that get trillions of dollars to the financial services industry, and in return he leaves office and now he gives a speech and gets paid half million dollars for it. That’s the way the system is set up. So it was particularly disheartening to me and to others, although our voices were in the distinct minority. It was very disheartening to see someone who looked like us act against our interest and yet still be loved and admired as Obama was. Is.
KZ: And it’s very hard to look at Black America and see much improvement under Obama, as far as incarceration, education . In fact a terrible loss of wealth. Nothing done about that, with the economic collapse in foreclosure. So looking at his impact on Black America, it’s not a very pretty picture. You know, one of the things I think about… obviously race issues are so intertwined with the entire history of the country, from the founding, from pre-founding. Slave revolts and abolition of slavery. I assume they’re were always movements that were creating fissures around these issues and sometimes that seems to have a relationship to presidential politics, often in third-party movements. But one president that kind of I’ve always been curious about is John Quincy Adams, because he ran for president with one of the abolition parties in a third-party race. So if you can talk about John Quincy Adams. I’m really curious about him because he seemed to be potentially the one who could have challenged slavery and he did push the abolition movement.
MK: Yeah, he was president. He has an interesting history. He was President for one term, from 1825 to 1829. He was a mixed bag. So as a senator he supported the Louisiana Purchase, which increase the size of the slaveholding regions of the country. He supported Andrew Jackson’s invasion of Florida, stealing it from Spain. And of course that added slaveholding territory. He was the architect Monroe Doctrine, which says that the entire hemisphere belongs to the US and that’s still being used today when we discuss Venezuela or other parts of the Americas. And after he was defeated, he was a member of the House of Representatives and he did more as a member of Congress that he did as president. He was a staunch opponent of something called The Gag Rule, and in order to silence abolitionists in the House, it basically banned any discussion of abolition. But he pushed against it. But he was an accommodationist on the issue of slavery. He would say that slavery was evil, but then he would say it’s good for commerce. So he was back and forth. He did take part. He was the attorney who represented the captive Africans on the Amistad. The Amistad was a Spanish ship transporting enslaved people in Cuba. They rose up and took over the ship but it was captured off the coast of Long Island. They were trying to sail back to Africa, and he argued the Supreme Court case which resulted in Freedom for the Amistad survivors, who did eventually return to Africa. I believe what’s now Sierra Leone. So you know, you can give him a little bit of credit. But even those like him, it’s always one step forward two steps back. They may speak out against slavery, but at the same time accommodate. So that is that seems to be the best we get in American history frankly. And I think the way the system is set up, and the presidency and the constitution or set up. I think it is inevitable. So I think we have to be careful even as we agitate for particular people to be an office, to always remember the limits placed on them… intentionally placed. Still in the system,
MF: Right. You get a little bit of tweaks here and there but the system doesn’t change. The overall system stays the same. So every presidential election we hear that this is the most important one ever. And this year is no different. People are saying, you know, Trump is so bad that everything has to be focused on defeating him. Is this the most important election ever?
MFK: Well, you’re right every one is the most important. I mean I guess it’s technically true, but Trump is not the worst. One of the things I hope people get out of reading the book is that Trump is not the first president to make overt racist appeals. I think of in most recent time Bill Clinton. He left the campaign trail to sign an execution for mentally disabled black man in Arkansas. His Sister Souljah moment where he race-baited Jesse Jackson to make clear that he was going to uphold white supremacy, like everybody else. And yet he got black support, because the Democrats are, you know, our only option and the Republicans are so terrible. So no matter what Democrats say, they are supported. Ronald Reagan giving a speech in Mississippi talking about states rights, comments about welfare queens and strapping young bucks using food stamps… George HW Bush using William Horton, who they called Willie… he was never known as Willie, to race bait against Michael Dukakis. So this there’s this long pattern and so Trump is not an anomaly. He is just the most obvious, and I think because he’s not a politician he dispenses with any of the niceties that other presidents felt obliged to follow. He is very right wing and he does incite and encourage the most overtly racist elements, but he’s not the first to do it. First of all. And secondly, the condition of black people in this country was pretty bad before. Ae have mass incarceration. Two million people incarcerated. Half of those people black. That happened before Trump. Obama was the Deporter in Chief. He deported more people… I believe that Trump thus far still has not deported as many people as Obama had at this point in his presidency. So despite Trump’s awfulness, I think we cannot forget the awfulness of those who came before. And even in foreign policy where Trump has really ratcheted up the tax on foreign country using sanctions… but that wasn’t started by Trump, and let’s not forget what Obama did to Libya and that he that he tried to do the same thing to Syria. So Trump is bad, but so were the others. I actually think if trump just had better manners, he would be accepted by the Establishment. Because you see in foreign policy at the State of the Union Address, they invite Juan Guaido… Nancy Pelosi… She may have ripped up his speech but she certainly jumped to her feet, and the Democrats have gone along with this horrendous policy of just being very overt and choosing a president for another country. So I think it’s important to ignore some things about Trump and look at the bigger picture. And now we see Mike Bloomberg. Ugh, you know we had wealthy people controlling politics. But Bloomberg has just dispensed with the middleman and says “I’m going to do it myself.” Now it’s not clear if he really wants to be president, if he just wants to stop Bernie Sanders, if he wants to let Hillary Clinton back in. There’s all sorts of rumors, especially in the last few days. But is that saving us from anything? What does that save us from? The Democrats at the last debate… They were asked… Trump has moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem. And none of them said they would move it back to Tel Aviv. They would not. Democrats always do this. They don’t undo what Republicans do when they finally get back into office. So that’s one of the things to remember and to realize, that they are not not our saviors,
KZ: You know, that lets to my other next question, which is the predicament of black voters in this duopoly, these two-parties, you know, Wall Street war parties that both have long racist backgrounds. I talked with Glenn Ford your colleague and our friend about this, and he talks about black voters are looking at who can protect them from this the horrible racist Republicans, And that kind of forces them to stay in the Democratic party. And someone like Mike Bloomberg. You look at his treatment of poor people, you know, all sorts of horrible policies that were just overtly racist and anti working-class, anti poor, and yet you see all these black politicians endorsing him. It’s just obscene. Ignoring his racist political past. So what should black voters be doing? How do black voters develop political power. Do they have to break for the Democratic party? Can they do it in the Democratic party?
MK: Well, we do have to break with the Democratic party, and everyone talks about, we have to get rid of Trump. We have to fight Trump. We have to fight Trump. The first fight has to be against the Democrats. It is entirely their fault that Trump won in the first place, so they are literally to blame. But when they get in the gains we make are so negligible. It’s gains for a small group of people, the ones you mentioned who are endorsing Bloomberg. And it’s just because money Talks. You know, I’m not surprised to see it but it is frankly a lot more depressing than I imagined it to be, to witness this complete capitulation. But the black so-called leaders, the misleaders as we call them in Black Agenda Report, capitulated a long time ago. Black people have to think about self-determination. We have to break with the Democratic party. I am a Green. I used to vote for Greens when I could in elections, and I finally made the decision to officially register as Green. We needed a real left party. We need a real Workers party, a real people’s party a real peace party, and we have to talk seriously about letting the Democratic party die, because they can’t even guarantee victory. You know, when Obama was President they were so focused on the presidency, so they could make deals with Republicans. They didn’t even care about Democrats running across the country. Almost a thousand seats lost by Democrats around the nation, and Trump’s victory was the day of reckoning there. So I don’t believe the Democratic party is useful. They’re not our friend. Now, they’re not even useful in the electoral sense. So I think we have to … There was always talk of a National independent black party. That was a movement a couple of decades ago, but we have to have self-determination. It’s going to be a long fight and many debates among people of good will, but we cannot continue to go along with the Democrats and with their puppets who sell us out.
KZ: I mean black voters are basically taken for granted by the Democrats and it’s a gigantic error because if black voters break from the Democratic party, the Democratic party is finished. They’ve already lost about 35 percent of workers to the Republicans and that’s been true for all of this century. If they lose 35 percent of Democrats to the greens of the greens become a green/black party and the black leaders take control of the green party, which would be welcomed by many green leaders… that would be an amazing death of the democratic party. And this 20/20 election could be a disaster for the Democrats because of that.
MK: I can’t even predict what’s going to happen frankly. When you look at their determination to defeat Bernie Sanders who is no socialist. I mean what he’s talking about is, you know, reforms and giving us things that we used to have. We used to have public colleges that were so cheap they were almost free. I can’t believe I hear people saying can we have three college? I mean we did, For almost three decades we did. But even the little bit that Bernie Sanders is offering is anathema to them. So this is the time to make the break. This is not the time to accommodate. Rather than let a billionaire take over. I mean it is so blatant. You know, as I said before, Bloomberg is cutting out the middleman. He’s like, we’re going to be under billionaire rule if this man succeeds. We already are but now it’s going to be official. And that is something to fear as much as Trump’s rednecks, in my opinion. But it’s going to be a topsy-turvy year and I really can’t even make a prediction about what’s going to happen. But everything that we’re seeing shows that it is imperative that we practice self-determination and stop looking for the Democrats to protect us, because they’ve already in so many ways shown us that they are are not our friends.
MF: That’s so true. And you know, I can predict, I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. You heard it here first. You think the Iowa caucuses were disaster. Wait till the July convention. It is going to be a disaster brokered convention. The super delegates will come in. Sanders will have it robbed. Who they end up picking doesn’t matter because it will just divide the Democratic party and the destruction of the Democratic party seeds have been planted.
Let me close with this final question. As bad as the history of presidents are, it is so linked to the history of the country, and you know today we see incredible police violence against black communities, links between the new right-wing racist movements and police. We saw that in the past with sheriffs in the South and in the Civil Rights era. It just seems like the bad policies among presidents on race issues are just a reflection of the reality of racism in the United States.
MK: Yes. Absolutely. The president’ get… Obviously being the president gets all the attention, and especially with someone like Trump in office. But the reality of our lives… You mentioned the loss of the little bit of wealth black people had in home ownership was lost in 2008 and there was no attempt by the black president to recover that. No attempt on his part to cut the incarceration state. So these presidents get… You know, they are the presidents. You can’t ignore them. But I think in giving them so much attention we forget that the system overall is so hostile to black people. And especially now at this in stage of capitalism where when they talk about job growth is such a joke. Low-wage work. The levels of oppression, the inequality. The fact that so many Americans are poor—and this is not an issue at all, politically… that no one even bothers to speak to that. The increasing homelessness… all of the indicators of a society being under stress. It is a mistake to focus on this office, even to focus on solely on someone like Trump, when we have an entire system that is in neee of being done away with and replaced with something that’s really transformational that works for the people.
MF: Well Margaret thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today. We strongly encourage our listeners to read this book. It’s important, especially this year going into this year, that people have this understanding of the dynamics, you know, in this country and and how to break out of that. So thank you for writing the book and thank you for speaking to us about.
MK: Thank you very much.