Thursday, September 1, 2011

Commentary: If Lincoln Had Lived & Obama Doesn't Get Re-Elected"

"If Lincoln Had Lived & Obama Doesn't Get Re-Elected"

By Sheri Bailey

Out on the battlefield, in the trenches, along slave alley and down in the ghetto for folks like Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln was incredibly slow in ending slavery. But from Frederick Douglass' vantage point as a presidential adviser, he knew of the overwhelming obstacles that faced the 16th president and understood that victory lay in getting the Commander-in-Chief to allow Black enlistment into the Union forces.

Once the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863 almost 200,000 Black men officially joined the Union ranks. Soon, the North was winning the war and on April 9, 1865 Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered. WE WON THAT WAR, FOLKS. The Civil War was won by those Americans who believed in truth, justice and freedom for all!

Abolitionists, Quakers, enslaved and free Blacks and Indians were among the diversity of individuals and groups who were excited to rebuild the country after a very bloody war, but after President Lincoln was assassinated there was no one to lead. Rather than build on what was started in 1776 via the vision of men like Jefferson, Washington and Franklin, in 1865 Lincoln was the lone politician with the intelligence, strength of character and command of language who could speak to the masses and had a commitment towards freedom for all.

Once Lincoln was gone there was no hope for Reconstruction and by 1870 the political leaders of the day had ceded power to the policies of segregation, Jim Crow and the KKK. Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind claimed to be ten-years-old before she realized the South lost the war. Where I live in Virginia there are numerous monuments and schools named after Confederate soldiers, but virtually nothing that recognizes that the Tidewater-Hampton Roads region was a major stop on the Underground Railroad because of its ports and the Great Dismal Swamp.

I am worried about what will happen if President Obama is not re-elected. If he is not re-elected, the healthcare bill that he used all of his initial political capital to pass could be repealed. Repeal of the healthcare bill would result in the loss of health insurance for 32 million currently uninsured Americans in 2014. I fear the healthcare bill will be stopped by a newly-elected Republican president and that’s one of the reasons why President Obama must be re-elected. Also on the chopping block will be public education, public employees and the very heart of the American Dream.

If Obama is not re-elected then America's future will be defined by the recklessness of politicians like Eric Cantor, Rick Perry and Sarah Palin. These are not people who could have founded a nation in the 1770s; or kept it from splitting apart in the 1860s; or pulled it out of a Great Depression in the 1930s. These are people whose sounds and furies signify absolutely nothing.

On the night of November 4, 2008 Barack Obama told us now that we had elected him, we would have to make him do our will. He knew it wasn't going to be easy, but even he didn't realize how hard it would be to have so many pulling at him to save, not just a nation but the whole world.

I also have a request of President Obama--please sign the Antiquities Act and make Fort Monroe a national monument! This will create jobs for a significant under and unemployed population and secure Fort Monroe's unique role as the place where slavery ended in the United States. Fort Monroe, Virginia is where American democracy was first fully recognized for every citizen, regardless of race, color, creed or faith. It is a symbol of guaranteed rights to freedom, justice and equality for all.

Change comes slowly and it only comes if you stay the course, so faith is the key. Fort Monroe is where the history of Black people in America started on August 20, 1619 with the arrival of 20 or so Africans from Angola and came full circle on May 23, 1861 (at the beginning of the Civil War) with the first of the enslaved -- James Townsend, Frank Baker and Shepherd Mallory -- put on the path to citizenship by being declared Contraband of War by General Benjamin Butler.

This history is biblical as it pays homage to the unnamed millions who have suffered and survived enslavement. In 2019, 400 hundred years after Blacks arrived on the shores of Hampton, VA it will be time to reflect and look forward. Fort Monroe, the Ellis Island of the 19th century, should be the place where the world goes to understand how America ultimately triumphed over the legacy of slavery.

As a non-profit executive, I am trying to blend the creative arts and grassroots activism with the Juneteenth Movement and Collective Arts Theatre in partnership with many others. We are building a model that includes jobs creation and action solutions for entrenched social issues. Our methods include growing community gardens and documenting local history for presentation on live stages or film in venues ranging from schools to prisons. To do this work we depend on teenagers, senior citizens, skilled and unskilled workers and professionals for everything from accounting to wardrobe people (especially those who specialize in period clothing). We particularly invite our military neighbors to work with us, especially in the planning of exhibits and activities involving events on the Underground Railroad and the raising of a militia in August 1831 to quell the Nat Turner Insurrection.

As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, in a post-911 world it is the American people who must step up and demonstrate that we are an exceptional people. Frederick Douglass said, "Freedom must be demanded, with some ways being more effective than others." In addition to screaming at the President about jobs, the Congressional Black Caucus was also holding job fairs across the country. That's good. That's their job and they should keep doing that on a regular basis while respecting the unity we need to ensure the re-election of the President Obama.

Finally, thank you Black Women for Obama for CHANGE (BWFO4Change) for being that place where President Obama has complete and unwavering support no matter how severe the storm. From the first, BWFO4Change recognized that Barack Obama was a tremendously gifted leader and took a leadership role in getting him elected. And, we know that individuals in our network are working towards his re-election. BWFO4Change symbolizes the hope of all who believe that America's best days are not behind us, but still to come.

Sheri Bailey is the founder and Executive Director of The Collective Arts theater in

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