Historians question Trump’s ‘heroes’ for new national monument

Among the combative and unusual way President Donald Trump chose to celebrate Independence Day, some historians were particularly puzzled Saturday by his announcement for a new monument called the “National Garden of American Heroes” populated by a grab bag of historical figures chosen by his administration.

The garden, Trump explained in a Friday night speech at Mount Rushmore, was part of his response to the movement to remove Confederate statues and racially charged iconography across the country.

“Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities,” Trump said. “This attack on our liberty, our magnificent liberty, must be stopped.”

In response, Trump said he plans to build “a vast outdoor park that will feature the statues of the greatest Americans to ever live.” Among the statues to be erected in the garden – spelled out in an executive order – are evangelical leader Billy Graham, 19th century politician Henry Clay, frontiersman Davy Crockett, first lady Dolley Madison and conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia.

“The choices vary from odd to probably inappropriate to provocative,” said James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association.

“It’s just so random. It’s like they threw a bunch of stuff on the wall and just went with whatever stuck,” said Karen Cox, a history professor at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, after struggling for several minutes to describe the order outlining the proposed monument. “Nothing about this suggests it’s thoughtful.”

Perhaps worse than the scattershot nature of the selected heroes is the apparent political motivations behind the monument, said Cox, who is writing a book on Confederate monuments. “It doesn’t address the reality on the ground, the real debate and turmoil going on in this country,” she said, including the anger and ongoing protests about systemic racism and inequality.

In his executive order, Trump rails against those who have pulled down or vandalized some statues as well as localities that have removed others. Several cities and states have decided not to honor the Confederate leaders who fought against the United States to preserve slavery.

“My administration will not abide an assault on our collective national memory,” Trump says in the order that stipulates that the garden should include “historically significant Americans.” Among them would be presidents, Founding Fathers, religious leaders and “opponents of national socialism or international socialism.”

“It seems like a pretty naked attempt to seize on a cultural conflict to distract from other issues,” said Grossman. He noted Trump’s executive order establishes a task force and gives it 60 days to submit a report detailing locations and options for building the new garden monument.

“There’s no rush here. The only real emergency is that there’s an election coming up,” Grossman said.

To hurry such work defeats the whole purpose of erecting statues, he said. Monuments are exercises in reflection, he said, a chance to plumb our collective memory and reflect on who we are as a country, what we value most and want to honor and pass down to future generations.

“For starters, you might want to consult different communities about who their heroes are and not just choose your own,” Grossman said. “You might also want to consult professionals, like actual historians.”

Trump’s list of “heroes” includes five African Americans, but no Latino and Hispanic figures such as labor leader and civil rights activist César Chávez.

While Founding Fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – well represented by existing monuments – and Republican heroes Ronald Reagan and Scalia made the cut, the list doesn’t include a single Democratic president such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson.

Adam Domby, a historian at the College of Charleston, noted the lack of any Native Americans on Trump’s list, even noncontroversial ones such as Sitting Bull or Sacagawea. The oversight is particularly galling, Domby said, given Trump announced it at Mount Rushmore – a monument that sits on land considered sacred to Native Americans and found by the Supreme Court to have been taken illegally from them.

One hero who made it onto Trump’s hero list, however, was frontiersman Daniel Boone, who fought Native Americans in wars and skirmishes throughout his life.

“This list they put together, it raises so many odd historical questions,” Domby said. “Why did they choose Gen. [George S.] Patton but not [Dwight D.] Eisenhower – because of the movie ‘Patton’? They include some African Americans, but only ones that might be considered ‘safe’ or ‘comfortable’ like Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. Where’s W.E.B. Dubois? Where’s Malcolm X?”

One of the more puzzling selections is Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Union officer in the Civil War. Domby suspects Chamberlain was included because his character appears in the 1993 movie “Gettysburg,” or maybe perhaps because Chamberlain ordered his Union soldiers to come to attention and show respect to Confederate soldiers as they surrendered.

Other figures named in the executive order include: John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, Betsy Ross, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington and Orville and Wilbur Wright.

The proposed monument drew derision from critics, who saw it as an attempt to capitalize politically on the divisive cultural debate over Confederate monuments.

“Trump, your Garden of Heroes is sleight of hand. You want to focus on monuments, but your policies have undermined voting rights, health care, immigrant justice & protections for the American people, esp poor & low wealth,” William Barber, a reverend and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, said in a tweet.

If Trump believes so strongly in history, “how about a national monument to opponents of southern secession? And to abolitionists?” Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Douglas Blackmon said on Twitter. “There are no Asian American heroes. Like Sadao Munemori who attacked two machine gun emplacements in Italy, then gave his life diving on a grenade to save his unit. He’s not a hero? Wrong color?”

“The tragedy is an undertaking like this could actually be a good idea if serious,” said Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton University. “You could engage artists who are hurting for work right now. You could be innovative and really rethink the idea of what it means to memorialize things and how we do that. You could even break out of the whole classical/neoclassical forms we’ve been stuck in when it come statues. But I don’t think that’s what Trump has in mind.”

In the executive order, Trump says all statues will be lifelike or realistic, “not abstract or modernist representations.”

The order calls such statues “silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal.”

But that misunderstands the nature and function of such statues, said Cox, the historian in North Carolina. “Monuments are much more a reflection of those who put them up. They aren’t so much about the past as they are a reflection of our values and ideals in the present,” she said. “That’s why they’re often so problematic.”

Racism: the scourge continues

BAR HARBORRacism in the U.S. has existed since the colonial era and has involved practices that restricted the political, personal and economic freedoms of African Americans. While racial discrimination was largely denounced by the mid-20th century, extensive evidence of racial discrimination in various sectors of modern U.S. society, including criminal justice, education, business, the economy, housing, health care and media, still exists.  

Among the current overt efforts to limit the rights and opportunities of Black Americans are symbols designed to remind and frighten those citizens of the physical and psychic offenses administered to them and their forebears. Confederate flags, monuments honoring rebel leaders, and the names of several military bases honoring southern officers are now under attack.

Fred Benson

Fred Benson, Seth Singleton and Nat Fenton will address the points of view surrounding these relics during a virtual talk with the Jesup Memorial Library on Tuesday, July 14, at 7 p.m.   

Benson will present brief histories of how and why 10 U.S. Army installations were named for Confederate generals, and describe why some oppose removing them on historical grounds. Singleton will look at how others have tried to confront the sins and symbols of their history, and why historical ghosts are never quite laid to rest, with tales from Russia, Vietnam, China and South Africa. And Fenton will make the case that these intimidating relics must be removed from public lands. They must be removed not to hide history but to create our own history consistent with our centuries-old self-evident truth “that all Men are created equal.” 

Benson has been engaged in national and international government affairs activities in the White House, the Pentagon and with Weyerhaeuser Company. He also served in the U.S. Army with responsibilities including senior positions in the offices of the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army as well as aviation and ground command assignments in Korea, Vietnam and Alaska. He was selected as a White House Fellow and subsequently served as a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships for Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Nat Fenton

Singleton is professor of international relations, most recently at the University of Maine. He studied Russian history at Harvard and political science at Yale. He lived in Russia during its revolutionary upheaval in 1991 and 1992, in Tanzania shortly after its independence and in Vietnam as one of the first postwar U.S. Fulbright Scholars, in 1999-2000.  

Fenton was educated in Bar Harbor elementary schools, St. Mark’s School, Bowdoin College and Cornell University Law School. He came back to Bar Harbor and practiced law from 1972 to 2019. 

Registration is required at https://jesuplibrary.org/event/july14talk/ or email [email protected] 

MJ Hegar, Royce West fighting to become Democratic Senate champ against GOP incumbent John Cornyn

With the nation gripped by the coronavirus pandemic and calls for social change, MJ Hegar and Royce West insist they are the candidates for the moment.

The runoff opponents are trying to convince Democratic voters that they’re the best choice to deliver on issues like health care and social change–and beat Republican incumbent John Cornyn in November.

Uncharacteristic of recent Democratic statewide primary races, the contest has featured bitter exchanges over race and ethics, signaling a potential fracture when a nominee emerges against Cornyn.

Hegar of Round Rock is a former Air Force helicopter pilot who says she’s the change agent needed in an environment dominated by lawyers.

West of Dallas is a longtime state senator with a record of tackling issues related to education, health care and criminal justice.

“From the economic and public health fallout from COVID-19 to horrific racial injustice and a broken immigration system, Texans across the state are excited to elect a servant leader and a get-sh**-done Texas mom with a proven track record of bringing together a broad coalition to accomplish the mission,” Hegar said.

“We’re getting more and more support across the state,” West said. “I’ve done the work in the Democratic Party to ready myself for this particular office. The voters see me as someone who has achieved results in the past and will continue to get things done.”

The July 14 runoff will test if voters are engaged or hindered by fears of catching COVID-19.

“I don’t think that anyone of them has communicated much past their bases of support,” said Matt Angle, a political strategist who directs the Democratic research group called the Lone Star Project.

Angle said West is strong in Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth and anyplace where he can lure Black voters to the polls. Hegar is most powerful in central Texas and the suburban rings around major cities.

“It’s still a regional race,” Angle said.

Two months ago Ed Espinoza, the executive director of a liberal group called Progress Texas, gave Hegar the edge over West because of her pronounced fundraising advantage.

But now he’s not sure who will emerge as the nominee against Cornyn.

“It’s totally unpredictable,” Espinoza said. “It’s hard to predict which voters will show up at the polls.”

During the past week Hegar and West have had contentious exchanges related to qualifications and experience.

Hegar, 44, is a decorated combat veteran who has run only one campaign. That was in 2018, when she ran a close but unsuccessful race for Congress against Republican incumbent John Carter of Georgetown.

FILE - In this July 1, 2019, file photo, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar poses for a photo in Round Rock, Texas. Hegar is the choice of Senate Democrats' campaign arm to take on Republican incumbent John Cornyn in 2020, picking up a key endorsement Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, in a crowded and widely unknown field of challengers. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
FILE – In this July 1, 2019, file photo, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar poses for a photo in Round Rock, Texas. Hegar is the choice of Senate Democrats’ campaign arm to take on Republican incumbent John Cornyn in 2020, picking up a key endorsement Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, in a crowded and widely unknown field of challengers. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)(Eric Gay / AP)

After the near miss, she opted to challenge Cornyn. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee backed Hegar in the 12-person primary, causing a backlash from some local Democrats who wanted the group to remain neutral.

West has questioned Hegar’s party credentials.

At the KVUE-TV Austin debate Monday, he criticized Hegar for voting in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, a vote she said she cast for former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. He also questioned why in 2011 Hegar gave a campaign contribution to Cornyn, now her potential opponent.

Federal Election Commission records reveal that Hegar, through a political action committee called VoteSane, gave a $10 donation to Cornyn. Hegar has also contributed to the campaign of then Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is now the U.S. Ambassador to NATO.

“People can believe the excuses about the Republican voting if they want to. I find it a bit thin,” West said in a news release.

Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Texas Senator Royce West, left, and Veteran Air Force Pilot M.J. Hegar, are appearing Sunday moring at 8:30 AM on NBC5 week's Lone Star Politics with NBC5's Julie Fine and The Dallas Morning News' Gromer Jeffers. (NBC5 screen shot)
Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Texas Senator Royce West, left, and Veteran Air Force Pilot M.J. Hegar, are appearing Sunday moring at 8:30 AM on NBC5 week’s Lone Star Politics with NBC5’s Julie Fine and The Dallas Morning News’ Gromer Jeffers. (NBC5 screen shot) (NBC5 screen shot)

Hegar’s rise to political prominence was due in part to her military experience. She received a Purple Heart and a Distinguished Flying Cross for her service.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of career politicians condescending to me that my 12 years in uniform bleeding for our constitution on foreign soil, five years working in health care or my experience as a mom of a 3- and a 5-year-old are not important enough to consider,” Hegar said during an explosive exchange with West during the KVUE debate.

Hegar then unloaded on West.

The bond attorney has done work for cities and school districts in Texas, which is legal. Personal financial disclosure reports show that in 2018 West collected over $1 million in legal fees.

“We have politicians frankly, like you Royce, who become millionaires in office, and have spent their time legislating in their own best interest instead of the interests of their constituents,” Hegar said at the debate.

West, 67, has been a lawyer since before entering politics. And he said his law firm has employed numerous workers and fellow lawyers. He chastised Hegar for calling him a rich lawyer that doesn’t have the interest of everyday Texans at heart.

He recently dropped an email to supporters about his origins as a lawyer in southern Dallas.

“So many people are conditioned to question the achievements of a minority person,” West wrote. “We as a nation are waking up to systemic racism and the filters or screens it creates through which we see others. I think Hegar’s screen needs a little cleaning.”

State Sen. Royce West, center in white, joins in a group photo following a rally of the Greeks United for Change for Juneteenth at Dallas City Hall on Friday, June 19, 2020. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)
State Sen. Royce West, center in white, joins in a group photo following a rally of the Greeks United for Change for Juneteenth at Dallas City Hall on Friday, June 19, 2020. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)(Smiley N. Pool)

That prompted a pointed response from Hegar, who said she hoped West would stand with her against corruption.

“Far too often we have seen lifelong politicians use their office to benefit themselves, which is why I pointed out State Senator West’s refusal to ban members of Congress from trading individual stocks, place his robust financial portfolio in a blind trust, and increase transparency and accountability in elected officials’ business dealings,” Hegar said in a statement. “Texans deserve to know that their elected leaders are looking out for the best interests of the people they represent, not their own stock portfolio and bottom lines.”

When Hegar slammed West for not agreeing to put his holdings in a blind trust, West said he hadn’t been asked to do so.

West has cast himself as the candidate with the background to tackle topical issues like criminal justice reform. He’s worked in civil rights law and in the Legislature has authored numerous bills on criminal justice reform.

“The question is whether you need a true Democrat in office, and whether you want someone at this moment in our history, where we really need to have someone that has the experience to deal with the issues of Washington, bring fresh ideas,” West said during the debate.

In her television ad that began running across Texas Tuesday, Hegar also said she is a social justice warrior and would fight against systemic racism and family separations at the border.

Titled “We Are Texas,” the commercial closes with the tattooed Hegar riding a motorcycle.

“We won’t let families be ripped apart at our border any longer,” she says in the ad. “We stand together against the systemic racism that’s hurt Black Americans for far too long.”

Many Democrats say Cornyn will lose to Hegar or West.

“Texas demographics, along with the horrific republican leadership this state has been subjected to, have shown voters across,” said Ira Bershad, president of the Frisco Democratic Club. “Texas that it’s time for a change.”

Hegar has pointed to her superior fundraising over West as a reason she should be trusted to take down Cornyn.

She has $1.6 million in the bank for the runoff against West. She’s raised about $6.5 million over the entire campaign.

Cornyn has more than $12 million in the bank, and will be ready to pelt the eventual Democratic nominee with a flurry of negative campaign ads.

“Because of the fundraising, MJ is in a strong position,” said Democratic strategist Lillian Salerno.

But Salerno added that West benefits because he has the support of most of the state’s Democratic Party establishment, including nearly all of the Democratic lawmakers in the Texas Legislature.

Last Thursday U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, joined the parade of elected officials backing West.

“If there’s a large election turnout, MJ Hegar will probably win,” Salerno said. “If there’s a small turnout and most of the voters are Democratic Party regulars, it’s going to be Royce West.”

Cornyn’s campaign aides have been active in the Democratic race. Hegar’s supporters say the incumbent would rather run against West because of Hegar’s strength with suburban women. Others say Cornyn would prefer West because of his ability to appeal to minority voters. The Cornyn campaign has gotten into spats with both candidates, including an instance when Cornyn’s campaign dubbed West “Restful Royce,” a moniker that the African American leader deemed offensive.

An April poll by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler showed potential soft spots for Cornyn, including a high percentage of Texans undecided – 34% – on Cornyn versus either Democrat,

What’s more, President Donald Trump runs six percentage points better against Democrat Joe Biden than Cornyn does against either of his less well-known challengers.

Bershad said Democrats would unify against Cornyn, no matter who won the nomination.

“Donald Trump and John Cornyn succeeded once in fooling Texas that they would “drain the swamp,” he said. “Turns out, they are the swamp”.

Virus, protests, Trump’s angry words darken US July 4th weekend

WASHINGTON DC: The United States marked an unusually somber Independence Day on Saturday, as a record surge in coronavirus cases, anti-racism protests and an angry speech from President Donald Trump cast a shadow over what normally are festive celebrations.
Popular beaches on both coasts — normally packed on July 4th — were closed as California and Florida suffer alarming surges in Covid-19 infections, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned citizens to “assume everyone around you is infectious.”
Across the country, Main Street parades have been canceled, backyard barbecues scaled down, and family reunions put off on a day when Americans typically celebrate their 1776 declaration of independence from Britain.
But others, weary of lockdowns or simply defiant, carried on as if the deadly pandemic were a thing of the past.
Florida on Saturday marked a new daily high in confirmed virus cases at 11,458 — far more than any other state. Miami Beach imposed a curfew and made mask-wearing mandatory in public, yet some Florida beaches remained open.
The beach at New York‘s Coney Island was also open and crowded, with few wearing masks.
Mark Ruiz came with his wife and two children, despite being “definitely worried” about the virus.
“I just can’t stay home on the Fourth of July, I got to take my kids out,” he told AFP. “We can’t be in a bubble all summer.”
Coney Island also hosted a special socially distanced version of the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest — won for the 13th year in a row by Joey Chestnut, who set a new world record downing 75 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
Health officials have been bracing for a new spike in virus cases after this weekend, which they see as a potential tipping point for more infections.
The US virus death toll is fast approaching 130,000, roughly one-quarter the world’s total.
Fireworks displays are typically a high point of the holiday, but an estimated 80 percent of the events have been canceled this year.
Local officials in Washington have discouraged massing on the National Mall for the capital’s fireworks display.
People were out even so, with some saying they were compelled to be there at a moment when the US is both grappling with the virus and undergoing a historic reckoning on racism.
“It’s time for us to stop bragging that we are super special, that the world should follow, we need to look inside to see what’s wrong with us. We never honestly asked ourselves about race in this country,” 54-year-old Mary Byrne told AFP.
Trump plans to take in Saturday’s “Salute to America” in Washington, complete with military music and flyovers, from a White House balcony.
He and his wife, Melania, released a video message wishing Americans “a very, very happy Fourth of July.”
The president was optimistic about the virus. “We got hit with this terrible plague from China,” he said, “and now we are getting close to fighting our way out of it.”
Trump’s address at the Washington festivities will pay tribute to health care workers, police and the military, White House spokesman Judd Deere told AFP.
Social distancing would be observed, he added.
The previous evening Trump spoke at Mount Rushmore, where he upended the tradition of presidents giving inspiring and unifying speeches on July 4th by lashing out at protests that have erupted since unarmed African American George Floyd was killed by police.
Facing a tough re-election battle in November and eager to mobilize his political base, Trump denounced “violent mayhem” on US streets, though most demonstrations have been peaceful.
His presidential challenger, Democrat Joe Biden, struck a sharply different tone, tweeting Saturday: “Our nation was founded on a simple idea: We’re all created equal. We’ve never lived up to it — but we’ve never stopped trying. This Independence Day, let’s not just celebrate those words, let’s commit to finally fulfill them.”
Protests have continued in many US cities since Floyd’s killing in May, and more than a score were taking place Saturday in Washington.
All should be over before the night’s celebration on the Mall, set to start at 6:40pm

Tsuru for Solidarity: Nikkei Voices of Protest

Protestors gathered at Elmherst Hospital in Queens, N.Y. for the Tsuru for Solidarity rally, one of several held nationwide on June 6-7. (Photo by LINDA MORRIS)

By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

Last of three parts

Emily Akpan, a member of the New York Day of Remembrance Task Force, is a Yonsei of African and Japanese American descent. She challenged the Nikkei community to come out of their comfort zones. 

“My question is what is the Nikkei community willing to risk, going to risk for black liberation and for our collective liberation?” she asked.

Sarah Baker, JACL vice president of public affairs, who is based in Seattle, discussed the model minority myth. 

“We also played into the model minority myth, a divisive narrative that simultaneously served to both benefit and victimize our community,” Baker said. “The privileges we have gained from this dangerous trope have only driven a wedge between Asian Pacific Islanders and other communities of color, and we cannot continue on this path. We must stand together if we want to create meaningful change.” 

Nina Wallace, communications coordinator for Densho, is a Yonsei of mixed heritage from Seattle. She felt it was time to have the difficult talks about race relations and racism with our elders, youths and peers. 

“At Densho, we borrow our name from a Japanese word that means ‘to leave a legacy,’” said Wallace. “Today, we have a choice of what legacy we want to leave behind and what kind of ancestors we will be. My hope for myself and for everyone in our community is that we choose to be the ancestors who stood firmly and lovingly on the side of justice because black lives matter. It always mattered and will forever matter.” 

Bruce Kunitomi Embrey, Tsuru and Manzanar Committee co-chair, has been in the trenches fighting for justice and equality for decades, as did his mother, Sue Kunitomi Embrey, and his father, Garland Embrey. He encouraged participants to continue the fight.

“Outrage and condemnation and protesting is not enough,” said Embrey. “We need to continue to protest to change policy. We must continue to work on all fronts. We must demand radical changes in policing, not just an end to police brutality and the use of lethal force but in the very way policing of Black, Indigenous and communities of color take place. We must demand radical changes for Black, Brown, Indigenous communities in housing, healthcare, education — in every facet of life in America. We must continue now and into the future and stand with all those fighting to end the legacy of white supremacy in America.” 

Demonstrators make their feelings clear outside the gates of the Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. (Photo by MICHELLE CHEN)

National Tsuru Rallies

• Washington, D.C.: National Tsuru rallies opened in Washington, D.C. David Inoue, Tsuru member and JACL executive director, called upon all Nikkei to support not just reparations for African Americans but also to advocate for better housing, education, healthcare and fair wages for African Americans and other people of color. 

James Early, an African American who was assistant secretary of public service and education with the Smithsonian, urged the public to support organizations such as Tsuru. 

“It is incumbent, therefore, on progressive, concerned, earnest citizens across the ideological and political spectrum to step forward and support projects like Tsuru for Solidarity, which is focused on the unique experiences of Japanese Americans, in particular whose families were incarcerated on the order of magnitude to what happened to Native Americans, who were forced into reservations, and of course, on the order of what happened to enslaved Africans who were forced to come here,” said Early.

Sojin Kim, Julie Abo and a number of supporters hung cranes on a fence near the White House. More than 200,000 cranes had been sent to them, and Inoue said they hoped to return next year with more than 500,000 cranes. 

New York: The New York action organized in front of the Elmherst Hospital in Queens, which is in a working-class neighborhood composed mainly of people of color. Becca Asaki opened with a land acknowledgement to the different Indigenous tribes that once inhabited the area. 

Lauren Sumida made the connection between how the treatment of Japanese Americans held in U.S.-style concentration camps during World War II paralleled the experiences of more recent immigrants being held in detention centers. In particular, she noted that Nikkei family members who contracted contagious diseases such as tuberculosis in camp were often “given substandard health care and died in the camps,” in the same way the COVID-19 virus is currently wreaking havoc in the migrant detention camps. 

Asaki said, “We are here to be allies that we didn’t have in 1942.” 

After a moment of silence, Linda Morris made a call for action. She advocated that federal and state funds be divested from law enforcement and reallocated to social services, healthcare and education, and urged that schools be free of police. 

“Our liberation is bound up with yours,” said Morris, addressing the different communities of color. “And we urge all in the Japanese American community and for all members of Asian Pacific Americans to fight with us.” 

The Northwest action took place at the old Seattle immigration depot. (Photo by STAN SHIKUMA)

• Chicago: Tsuru organizers gathered in front of the Cook County Jail, where there have been seven reported deaths from COVID-19 and hundreds of prisoners and guards infected with the virus. 

Tsuru and the Chicago Community Bond Fund invited Cassandra Greer-Lee to share about the experiences of her husband, Nickolas Lee, who passed away after contracting COVID-19 while imprisoned at the Cook County Jail. 

Greer-Lee said when her healthy husband was placed in a jail cell with two sick inmates, she tried to unsuccessfully get him transferred. She said she made hundreds of calls and even called the cleaning suppliers, but no one responded to her request to get her husband transferred. When her husband called to say he was starting to feel sick, she made 132 phone calls but no one helped her. 

“He was given a death sentence,” said Greer-Lee, who said that her husband was also her best friend. 

Cori Nakamura Lin led the call to action as supporters hung tsuru on the Cook County Jail fence in memory of those who had been incarcerated there and passed away, as well as Japanese Americans who had passed away while imprisoned in camp during World War II. 

• Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania members were in a midst of a virtual vigil to shut down the Berks Family Residential Detention Center, just outside of Redding.  

“The Berks Family Detention is one of three federal detention facilities in the country and is one that we think, with the right advocacy, would be easier to shut down,” said Rob Buscher. 

Hiro Nishikawa, a Sansei who was incarcerated at the Colorado River (Poston) War Relocation Authority camp in Arizona during World War II, shared about his own family’s experience as prisoners and how that shaped his activism. 

Jasmine Rivera, Shut Down Berks Coalition community organizer, read a statement from one of the migrants detained inside Berks, which has confirmed cases of COVID-19. This immigrant from Haiti, who identified himself only as P.M., said he, his wife and their two-year-old child had arrived on March 18. Their child became severely sick, with outbreaks of bumps around the mouth, chin and lips that started to bleed. The child also could not keep food down. The parents reported this to the medical staff every day but no medical attention was given to the child until 12 days later. 

P.M. also noted that they are expected to clean the restrooms and sleeping areas but are not given gloves or masks. The staff that serves food also does not wear gloves or masks. He said all they are doing is “seeking asylum and have done nothing wrong” and are “terrified and was asking for help in staying alive.” 

Jane Palmer, director of Berks Stands Up, said “We want our government to work for all of us, including for the most vulnerable.” 

The coalition called upon Gov. Tom Wolf and the Berks County commissioners to close down the detention center through an Emergency Removal Order. 

This segment was hosted by Tsuru, JACL–Philadelphia, Asian Americans United, Unitarian Universalist Pennsylvania Legislative Advocacy Network, Shut Down Berks Coalition, Shut Down Berks Interfaith Witness, Sunrise Movement Berks. 

• Seattle/Tacoma: The Northwest action started with Tsuru members, led by Stan Shikuma, standing in front of the old immigration station in Seattle that had been built in 1932 and opened in 1933. Shikuma noted that many immigrants from Japan, including his mother, came through this station. Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the station was converted to a temporary detention center to imprison Issei, he said. 

Shikuma said they started at the Seattle immigration station because “racism permeates all institutions in our society, not just law enforcement but in immigration policies, education, healthcare, jobs, so that’s why we’re out here. We need to end that racialized inequality and the immigration system is a big part of it.”

From Seattle, the group met up with a larger contingent at Tacoma, in front of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), which was built in 2004 to imprison an ever-expanding number of immigrants. 

In February, Satsuki Ina and Mike Ishii joined with Densho and JACL to support La Resistencia, which has been holding protest rallies almost on a weekly basis in front of NWDC. According to Ishii, the NWDC holds many transgender immigrants who had fled from violence in their home countries. 

The Tacoma portion was led by Chrissy Shimizu with Tsuru, Erin Shigaki, artist and Minidoka Pilgrimage Committee member, and ShaCorrie Tunkara from La Resistencia. Tunkara’s husband had been detained at NWDC and deported to Sierra Leone in October 2018, separating him from her and their two children. 

Tunkara said when her husband was detained at NWDC, she learned that he and other detainees were not being given clean changes of clothes and had to resort to sharing underwear and socks. Additionally, her husband was not given proper medical attention for his asthma and a tumor on his neck. After about 10 months of imprisonment, Tunkara said she received a phone call at 3 a.m. in the morning from ICE, telling her to bring clothes for her husband, who was about to be deported. 

“Our lives mean nothing to the folks detaining our communities,” said Tunkara, who called for a shut-down of NWDC. 

A consortium of taiko groups performed in front of the NWDC to let detainees inside know that they are not forgotten. 

• San Francisco: Former World War II camp survivors held a memorial service at the former site of the Tanforan Assembly Center, which is currently part of a shopping mall. They included Dr. Satsuki Ina, Tsuru co-founder, Kiyoshi Ina, Chizu Omori, Emiko Omori, and Hiroshi Shimizu. Rev. Ronald Kobata from Buddhist Church of San Francisco led the service as survivors and their supporters offered **oshoko.** 

From there, participants joined a larger contingent at a nearby park, where Kim Miyoshi and Nikkei camp survivors shared their experiences and stood in solidarity with the plight of other people of color. Kiyoshi Ina, whose mother was pregnant with him at Tanforan and was born at the Central Utah (Topaz) WRA camp, wore a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and took a knee to protest police brutality after his speech. 

The group then invited supporters to join them in a Bon dori to “Ei Ja Nai Ka,” a song written by PJ Hirabayashi of San Jose Taiko. Bon odori is danced during Obon to honor the dead, and in this case, supporters honored those who died in camp and those who died at the hands of police brutality. Bakuhatsu Taiko performed the song. 

• Southern California: Southern California contingent featured a virtual rally since they did not want to take away from the hundreds of protest rallies sweeping the area following the murder of George Floyd, and wanted to observe the need to practice social distancing since Southern California comprises half the COVID-19 deaths in the state.  

Joy Yamaguchi, a Tsuru and Nikkei Progressives member, shared about their support of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice (IN4IJ), which works to improve the lives of immigrants and is currently fighting to shut down the Adelanto Detention Center. 

Lizbeth Abel, immigration detention coordinator with IN4IJ, read a statement from an immigrant currently detained at Adelanto and shared that detainees have complained of being sprayed with a disinfectant called HDQ neutral, which has caused bloody noses and burning eyes. 

Mia Barnett introduced Guerline Jozef, the founder of the Haitian Bridge Alliance, a collective of Haitian organizations that offers legal and social services to black immigrants, many of whom are survivors of torture.

Among those that HBA has helped was Daniel Tse, an immigrant from Camaroon, who was forced to flee his country after he was arrested for participating in a protest. He survived a harrowing trek to the U.S. but he described it as a “journey of hope.” But rather than finding the “land of freedom,” when Tse arrived at the border, he was turned around and restraints were placed on his hands and feet. He was then sent to what he described as an underground cage where he was held for close to 10 days before he was transferred to an Orange County detention center and then to Adelanto. 

Thanks to HBA, Tse was released on a $10,000 bond. Jozef pointed out that black migrants face higher bail costs and deportation rates than lighter-skinned immigrants.  

Today, Tse assists other detained African immigrants as his way of paying back the assistance he received from HBA. “We have officers in ICE that treat you horribly because of the color of your skin,” he said. “It’s horrible and we need to push this fight forward and have all detention centers shut down.” 

Traci Kato-Kiriyama with Vigilant Love and Nikkei Progressives closed this portion with a call for more solidarity work. 

Arts & Letters

Leslie Ishii hosted the arts and letters portion of the virtual conference. “With the fight for justice, for remembrance, for healing, we must also bring joy and a celebration of our connection,” said Ishii. 

Artists included Ty Defoe, Janice Mirikitani, Kishi Bashi and Nobuko Miyamoto.


Mayor Barrett Announces Allocation of Community Development Block Grant Funds

MILWAUKEE— Mayor Tom Barrett Tuesday announced his plans to commit significant resources from the Community Development Block Grant Fund to address housing, employment and COVID-19 mitigation efforts. The total amount that will be reprogrammed comes to approximately $5.6 million dollars.

Resources will be distributed to City departments and community organizations for the purposes of providing employment, job training, education, affordable and quality housing, legal services, youth recreational activities and pandemic response.

“The funds designated to the Community Within the Corridor mixed-use project marks the largest single allocation of Community Development Block Grant HOME Program funds. With this investment, the City will revitalize and reenergize the former Briggs & Stratton Corporation site by developing housing, recreational and commercial areas and green space,” said Mayor Tom Barrett.

Alderman Russell W. Stamper, II, whose 15th Aldermanic District includes the Community Within the Corridor project, said the infusion of Community Development Block Grant resources into the community brings hope for a better overall quality of life for many.

“I commend the City of Milwaukee and the Grants Administration staff in DOA for ensuring that the CDBG funding is targeted where it can do a great amount of good for the community,” Alderman Stamper said. “The Community Within the Corridor project will provide jobs, transform the neighborhood, and bring hope and beautification to the area, and it will have facilities within the development offering health and wellness services, as well as recreational and educational programming. It is expected the project will create 260 construction jobs in addition to 25 permanent jobs.”

Alderman Stamper said he is also pleased with other key focus areas for the funding, other than housing and employment, including anti-prostitution efforts and City of Milwaukee Youth Council initiatives to help teens and young adults.

Alderman Khalif J. Rainey, Chair of the Community and Development Committee, said he appreciates the hard work put in by city staff and city partners to utilize the CDBG process as a way to nurture economic development, housing creation, employment opportunities and youth services.

“We are allocating millions of dollars to help bring positive impacts on key issues affecting Milwaukee residents, including economic development, employment, youth achievement and neighborhood revitalization,” he said.

“I especially want to thank the City of Milwaukee for contributing $100,000 to the Office of African American Affairs, which is located in the 7th Aldermanic District,” Alderman Rainey said. “We must continue to provide the resources the OAAA requires to provide the necessary business and economic development, educational, financial and health services to the community on a daily basis. This is a great first step and the Common Council will be looking to provide full funding for the OAAA in the 2021 city budget.”

Through the City of Milwaukee’s 2020 Budget commitments, the following programs will receive $624,270. The financial breakdown is as follows:


  • City Clerk’s Office – $50,000

Milwaukee Community Excellence Fund is used to support community events that promote peace and violence prevention. The funds will focus on the Big Clean program, which promotes volunteerism around street and neighborhood cleanups.

  • Department of Administration – $500,000 total

o   Office of African American Affairs – $100,000

In addition to being responsible for the administration, coordination, and implementation of city policies relating to the special needs of African Americans, an important function of the Office of African American Affairs is providing direct services and resources for Milwaukee residents in areas including employment, job training, education, business ownership, financial literacy and asset building, and health care.


o   Street Prostitution Partner Patrol – $100,000

The program works with private and community organizations to supplement patrols and monitoring of high-prostitution areas in the months of April through September.


o   Milwaukee Promise  – $300,000

The Milwaukee Promise is a fund allocation to the Black Male Achievement Advisory Council. The Council was created and empowered by the City of Milwaukee Common Council and Mayor Barrett to lead the city’s efforts to advance black male achievement through the collective input and efforts of dedicated community stakeholders. The request for proposals issued from these funds have addressed improving economic activity, increasing educational opportunities, enhancing health services and trauma informed care.

  • Youth Council Reserve – $74,270

The City of Milwaukee Youth Council is a group of young leaders representing aldermanic districts and committed to making a difference in Milwaukee. The Council works on issues that are important to young people, talking to peers, family, neighbors, and community leaders about their concerns and taking action to address them. The funds allocated will be released through a request for proposal addressing youth services.

Through the Community Development Block Grant Home Investment Partnerships Program, the following programs will receive $3,920,178. The financial breakdown is as follows:


  • Dominican Center for Women – $500,000

The Amani Block Project addresses the need for quality and affordable housing in the Amani neighborhood. The pilot block will engage current residents and partners to improve existing and new housing stock, addressing 38 units.

  • Impact Seven- $ 750,000

The Garden Homes Neighborhood Initiative provides gap funding to renovate 30 in-rem and privately owned properties.

  • Community Within The Corridor – $1 million

The Community Within The Corridor project is a 197-unit mixed-use development located on the former Briggs & Stratton Corporation site in the 30th Street Commercial Corridor.

  • Community Advocates – $1,670,178

The Rental Assistance Program provides funding match to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security funding designated for rental assistance for Milwaukee residents.

Through the Community Development Block Grant 2020 Reprogramming and Additional Entitlement Dollars, the following programs will receive $1,144,555. The financial breakdown is as follows:

  • Milwaukee Christian Center – $50,000

The YouthBuild program provides training and education for 18 to 24-year-old Milwaukee residents who are disconnected from school and/or work. Members build new houses, which are then available for sale to families earning no more than 80% of County Median Income.

  • Employ Milwaukee – $105,000

The Community Resource Navigators Program trains, employs and deploys more than 100 individuals to community and neighborhood organizations, churches, shelters, isolation facilities and other public health staging areas to: 1) Help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through the distribution of public health information and resources, 2) Deliver medicine, food, clothing, shelter and supplies to older or at-risk individuals, 3) Aid in contact tracing, 4) Provided information on how to access mental health resources to individuals suffering from significant additional psychological stress and anxiety about the ongoing public health concerns and their risk of exposure, and 5) Provide information on how to access unemployment benefits, dislocated worker resources, or current job openings.

  • Legal Action of Wisconsin – $100,000

Provides free legal services to low-income people who would be denied justice without help.


  • Northwest Side Community Development Corporation – $250,000

Provides a match for a $1.67 million grant from the Economic Development Administration for the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium to establish an Energy Innovation Advanced Training & Development Center.

  • United Sports Club, Inc. – $15,285

Provides funding for part-time tennis instructors, equipment and camp sites at Sherman Park and North Division neighborhoods.

Trump revives losing cause vs. ACA

Protesters gather across the Chicago River from Trump Tower to rally against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act Friday, March 24, 2017, in Chicago. Earlier, President Donald Trump and GOP leaders yanked their bill to repeal “Obamacare” off the House floor Friday when it became clear it would fail badly. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)



Throughout the Barack Obama years, the Republican Party beat a dead horse, repeatedly trying to kill the Democratic program providing the government-overseen health care plan. Officially, it’s called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but the GOP derisively nicknamed it Obamacare.

Donald Trump is trying all over again, looking to the Supreme Court to declare the law unconstitutional.

Long ago, Republican congressional leaders were determined to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but they finally were dramatically denied by one remaining colleague with a spine, the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

On July 28, 2017, he rose from a sickbed at home, flew across the country and cast the deciding Senate vote that kept Obamacare alive, to the great dismay of fellow Republicans but to the grateful relief of millions of its policyholders. Among their supporters was former vice president Joe Biden, a principal architect of the Affordable Care Act who is now on the cusp of the 2020 party presidential nomination.

If Trump had wanted to arouse Biden’s wrath, he could not have found a better policy to assail than Obamacare. The former vice president, after stumbling through the early 2020 party primaries, made a remarkable comeback in South Carolina on the strength of African American voters and is poised to be the next Democratic nominee.

Just why Trump would choose to resurrect the lost cause of killing Obamacare is a political mystery, when in recent history it has been widely and increasingly popular with voters. In the Democratic primaries, Biden clung to it in competition with the more progressive party wing led by Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, that favored a Medicare-for-all alternative replacing Obamacare.

Biden undercut them by also offering a public option that works similarly to Medicare, tailored for those who cannot take advantage of private-industry coverage paid for by their employers or unions.

As a result, Obamacare has been substantially reduced as a vulnerable target for Trump to exploit in the coming general election, once it gets seriously underway. Its protection of coverage for pre-existing conditions remains among its most publicly desirable features.

Accordingly, the president is thrashing around in search of another path to save his incumbency, in the midst of sinking public opinion polls and a health-care crisis hammering his rudderless policy leadership. He is being reduced to finding other political escape routes, such as challenging the use of mail-in voting prior to Election Day and making wild claims that the outcome will be “rigged” against him by unidentified “thugs” and other partisan miscreants.

Biden himself has warned in a recent radio interview that Trump “is going to try to steal this election.” Speculative scenarios circulate of ways the sitting president, if faced with defeat, might decline to go quietly and have to be forcibly removed from the White House. He has told Fox News, though, “Certainly, if I don’t win, I don’t win.”

Such is the atmosphere of contrivance on one side and wishful thinking on the other, as this weird and most unconventional presidential year unwinds. Both major party conventions are toying with ways to soldier through the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping to emerge with a semblance of sanity and discipline. The Grand Old Party particularly gropes to retain public interest and respect for a political process that has gone haywire in the path of an invisible force of nature.

One can only hope that we as a people can maintain our own sanity through the coming months; that we can allow our long history of peaceably selecting our national leadership to run its course through an orderly procedure that has served us well for more than two centuries. The best result will be a clear-cut, incontrovertible victory for one nominee or the other, in both the popular vote and in the Electoral College.

Until then, however, the chances are the divisions and the bitterness on both sides will go on, until the people speak decisively and with a collective wisdom that seems beyond our capability right now.


Jules Witcover is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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Danny Glover: Police Represent the ‘Last Line of Defense for White Supremacy’

Actor and far-left activist Danny Glover, perhaps best known for playing LAPD police officer Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon film series, has declared that the police in America represent the “last line of defense for white supremacy.”

“But the violence that we see — whether it’s the toxic places where they (black people) live; the inadequacy of health care for them; whether it’s the lack of affordable housing; the absence of jobs at living wages; all those things – that’s basically going unseen. We see the actual violence because the police is what it is. It’s the last line line of defense for white supremacy. That’s what the police represents. They don’t protect African Americans,” Danny Glover said in an interview with Variety, speaking about the death of George Floyd and the frenzy of protests and hysteria that followed it.

“You can make an argument that the institutional violence has its roots in so many different ways,” the Predator and The Color Purple star said. “The violence that we see now that is acted out on the physical body of George Floyd has been the kind of violence that is engrained within the American idea of its culture, in its own subtlety, since the first Africans were brought here. So it’s 400 years of violence. It’s not just now!

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez (R) and US actor/activist Danny Glover (L) wave to the crowd while attending the CITGO-Venezuela Heating Oil Program inauguration ceremony at the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church 21 September 2006 in the Harlem locality of New York. Chavez, in Harlem to announce the expansion of a programme to send cheap Venezuelan oil to poor families in New York, launched a new personal attack against President George W. Bush, calling the US leader an “alcoholic” and a “sick man”. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

Glover has long been one of Hollywood’s most vocal supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as other left-wing causes such as Bernie Sanders’s unsuccessful presidential campaign and Hugo Chávez’s disastrous “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela.

Last year, Danny Glover testified before Congress on the issue of providing financial reparations for descendants of Africans enslaved in the United States, describing it as a “moral, democratic, and economic imperative.”

“Despite much progress over the last centuries, this hearing is yet another important step in the long and heroic struggle of African-Americans to cure the damages inflicted by enslavement, post-emancipation, and forced racial exclusionary policies,” he declared at the time.

Follow Ben Kew on Facebook, Twitter at @ben_kew, or email him at bkew@breitbart.com.

Jamaal Bowman: The Left Has to Become the New Center

NEW YORK – Jamaal Bowman is the new voice of the democratic, socialist and insurgent left in the United States after prevailing in the primaries of his party in New York over veteran congressman Eliot Engel.

In an interview with EFE in a park in the Bronx neighborhood, he says he is convinced that the “left has to become the new center” as well as the need to defeat President Donald Trump, whom he compares to Hitler.

About 10 minutes before the interview, he personally calls to confirm the location: the corner between Broadway and Van Cortlandt Park in the North Bronx, a place near Yonkers County, where Bowman, a former high school principal lives with his wife and three children.

He arrives alone, dressed in a purple polo shirt, black glasses, shorts and a smile that can be seen behind a fabric mask, which he takes off when the interview begins.

The interview takes place on a bench in Van Cortlandt Park where he talks about his life, his party, the country and the African-American community.

“It got us to the position where we have this happening. People are dying while people are making billions of dollars, so Biden have to move, the Democratic Party has to move, the country has to move away from these extremes that literally kill people, particularly black and brown, disproportionality,” Bowman says.

Bowman, 44, is part of a new generation of young progressive figures in the Democratic Party, led by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

He was a high school teacher for 20 years and has experienced many of the US’s social injustices first hand which has helped shape him as a politician.

“You know when you have that experience, it’s not just that, being raised by a single mother, my father not being around, living in public housing, living in rent-stabilized apartments, attending public schools, having family members on drugs, having friends who have been killed or incarcerated, being beating by the police,” he adds.

“All of that made me who I am. And it helps me to empathize with others who go through oppression and struggle.”

He says he is in favor of investment in public education, universal health care and other social policies, in addition to raising taxes for large companies and corporations.

“When the wealthy has a problem, we give them a $1.5 trillion cheque to solve that problem. So, socialism works in this country for the wealthy,” he adds.

“But when we talk about it for the working class, the wealthy paint the picture that socialism is a negative thing.”

He continues: “All it means is that we believe in universal healthcare, we believe in public education, we believe in housing as a human right, we believe in justice in all its forms for everyone, that’s what we believe and we believe in equality and equitable sharing of our democracy, so if that means socialism, that’s socialism.”

Bowman’s campaign priorities include demands for justice and equality for the African American community.

He says the Black Lives Matter movement which was sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis contributed to his victory in a constituency where voter participation has tripled this year compared to 2018.

Floyd, who was African-American, died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

“Every movement is gonna have a huge victory that’s part of it, the victory that seems to be happening right now is police reform and criminal justice reform,” Bowman says.

“And we have to be bold and visionary in pushing the right reform.”

He adds that being African American in the US “means to live with rage that you have to exist within a country and a system that you’re a part of but often oppressed within.

“So, it’s fear, it’s rage, it’s anger and that’s what we have to overcome individually and collectively, we have to get over that to exist in this country with joy and love and community.”

He describes Trump as “a manifestation of how rotten our system has become” but that he has triggered “people like me, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and others to get more involved in our politics, and not just in terms of running for office, but just being involved at every level.”

He says that the US president is a “Hitler-like figure” and adds: “If we don’t stop him now, we should have stopped him before, but we absolutely have to stop him now because he is a racist, he is a fascist, he is the epitome of white supremacy and we have to stop that at all costs.”

Chef Jonny Rhodes built a revered Houston restaurant. His next mission: Fighting ‘food apartheid.’

By most accounts, Houston chef Jonathan “Jonny” Rhodes has already achieved tremendous success. Just a few years removed from culinary school, he has worked in several Michelin-starred kitchens and is running his own celebrated restaurant. Nonetheless, he says, everything in his career has brought him to this moment, confronting food justice against the backdrop of what is perhaps the biggest movement against anti-blackness and police violence in history.

“We talk about that stuff all the time in the neighborhood, honestly, because our community is constantly harassed by the police,” says Rhodes, 29. “I see it every night when we’re closing up shop at 11 o’clock. Nobody would have called the police, there would have been no incidents,” and yet six police cars pull into the neighborhood. “It’s like they’re hunting.” Police violence is one of the many ways black Americans are denied freedom, Rhodes says. Freedom here, he laments, is conditional. “We’re literally treated like tenants. The second we step out of line, it’s like, ‘Well go back to …’ or, ‘This is my country…’ ”

That’s why a restaurant, even a revered one, has never been enough for Rhodes, who says the pathway to real freedom is through the security and sustainability that comes with land ownership. He has been laying the groundwork since he opened his neo-soul food restaurant, Indigo, by building out a market of preserved and canned pantry items supplemented by produce from the modest garden next door. His intention: to eventually open a full-service grocery store and, further down the line, start a farm to supply the store.

Rhodes harvests peppers in the garden next to the restaurant/grocery. (Amy Scott for The Washington Post)

Rhodes decided to open Indigo in Houston’s Northline neighborhood, just outside of where he grew up, in part because he wanted to prove that fine dining belonged there, even if local law enforcement — and some Yelp reviewers — may have thought otherwise. But he has long had bigger aspirations for the project he undertook two years ago: He wants the world to see what’s possible without the chains of an oppressive history, by “showing people what we’re capable of and letting them follow us through the examples of what we’re doing outside. It makes them curious. And as it makes them curious, they create, they start asking questions. And when they start asking questions, they create their own ideas, and ideas are dangerous to the establishment — so instead of telling people to stay safe, we tell them to stay dangerous.”

What constitutes “staying dangerous” in Rhodes’s mind? It starts with Indigo’s unconventional, barrier-breaking premise: The five-course soul food menu is made up of dishes designed as much to convey flavor and beauty as to elicit dialogue about the food history of the African diaspora, with such names as Violence of Hunger; Hijabs, Hoodies & Afros; and Descendants of Igbo. Everything that’s cooked is prepared over a wood-fired grill because it’s historically accurate and because Rhodes and his team — including his wife, Chana Rhodes, and longtime locals such as Edwin “Slim” Williams, who built most of the restaurant’s garden himself — couldn’t afford the $10,000 necessary to install a gas kitchen when they opened. Once or twice during the meal, Rhodes steps into the dining room, surrounded by African art, books about slave foodways and posters emblazoned with revolutionary quotes, and presents a deft treatise on the inspiration behind each dish, encouraging guests to consider the intersections between past and present, in addition to their own roles in the sociopolitical issues he touches on. The 13-seat restaurant, which offers only two seatings per night, four nights per week, has become one of the most coveted reservations going.

But reviews and awards have never been Rhodes’s goal. And neither is just conversation, though conversation is a big part of the Indigo experience, where questions about the impact of centuries of oppression on the foodways of the diaspora are commonplace. That’s because Rhodes says that “creating awareness [alone] is just kind of whack, but actually taking steps and strides to get natural resources” is where the real work and impact happens.

Broham Fine Soul Food and Groceries. (Amy Scott for The Washington Post)

For Rhodes, who served in the Marines before starting a family, going to culinary school and then getting a degree in history, the war for natural resources has long been an apt metaphor for the black American experience. “African Americans have been subdued because we don’t control any natural resources,” he says, pointing out that black Americans have consistently been denied access to land ownership throughout U.S. history, first through slavery, then tenant farming, then redlining. The impact of these systems remains clear to Rhodes, a century after black farmers were massacred in Elaine, Ark., and as residents of Flint, Mich., still don’t have reliable access to clean water, 50 years after redlining was officially banned. “They dropped bombs on our farmland: That’s why we got liquor stores on every corner. That’s why we got convenience stores on every corner. Those are the nuclear bombs on all of our communities.”

The communities Rhodes describes are commonly called “food deserts,” usually densely populated neighborhoods marked by a severe lack of fresh produce coupled with an often devastating abundance of alcohol and processed food. But Rhodes and other food justice advocates around the country consider the term a misnomer. A more accurate phrase, they say, is “food apartheid,” because while a desert implies an organic state of bareness, an apartheid is the result of deliberate, systemic racism.

According to Karen Washington, co-founder of New York City’s Rise and Root Farm, calling it apartheid allows us to “look at the whole food system, along with race, geography, faith and economics. You say ‘food apartheid,’ and you get to the root cause of some of the problems around the food system. It brings in hunger and poverty.”

Liz Abunaw named her Chicago-area food equity start-up Forty Acres Fresh Market with food apartheid in mind: “It’s an homage to the unfulfilled promise to African Americans of 40 acres and a mule. … The issue of not having access to healthy food where we live particularly hits our communities hard. And I find it to be a cruel irony that the people that basically built this country, who were our country’s first farmers, who were so tied to the land, now live on land where they can get nothing from the land.”

Employee Wayne J. Bell helps customers. (Amy Scott for The Washington Post)

Covid-19 has disproportionately laid siege on black Americans, something Rhodes sees as inseparable from food apartheid because of the interconnectedness between urban blight, food insecurity and health-care inaccessibility. The pandemic expedited his team’s plans. When states started shutting down in March, Indigo closed for a few weeks and then, like many other restaurants across the country, pivoted to groceries when it reopened. Unlike most other restaurants, though, Broham Fine Soul Food and Groceries isn’t a temporary endeavor. Rhodes is seizing this opportunity to do his part to dismantle food apartheid, through a sustainable, community-oriented, black-centered soul food market.

For now, Broham resides in the same 819-square-foot space that houses Indigo, where many of the familiar ingredients from the restaurant’s menu are available, though now at a more affordable price point, which is important to Rhodes, since Indigo’s $125-per-person dinner price has been a barrier for many locals. With Broham, he says, “you can deconstruct the experience and still get the quality.” And despite the change in name and setup, the educational mission remains the same: to offer insight into the history that brought us to this moment, by letting the food tell as much of the story as possible.

Among the 375-plus items you’ll find at Broham is the “vegetable ham” featured in Ten Toes Down — a dish on Indigo’s Herbivore menu — which is made from turnips or rutabagas that have been cured, hung, smoked and pickled to evoke the flavor and texture of meaty smoked ham. For Rhodes, the product provides an opportunity to offer both a vegan option and a history lesson: Preservation was a big part of the ancestors’ food traditions, because slaveholders and farm owners tightly monitored enslaved people’s and sharecroppers’ access to food. The only food black folks were allowed was typically the spoiled or otherwise unwanted remains — so they had to find ways to improve flavor and to make what they had last. If you’re lucky, another product you might find at Broham is clabbered milk ice cream, a subversive interpretation of the spoiled leftover milk that black people were limited to during slavery. To fill the gaps of what they don’t produce on-site, Broham uses its space to amplify local, black-owned purveyors such as Me & the Bees Lemonade, which features a photo of the brand’s young founder, Mikaila Ulmer, on the label. “Imagine walking into a grocery store in your own community with people on the containers who look like you… Now a possibility,” says the caption on an Instagram post showcasing the lemonade’s shelf in the store.

The store’s “vegetable ham,” made by curing, hanging, smoking and pickling turnip or rutabaga. (Amy Scott for The Washington Post)

For Rhodes, this moment is ripe with possibility: Earlier this year, he and his team purchased six acres of land just outside the city so they can start farming on a larger scale. (Always resourceful, they’re repurposing the wood they’re clearing for cooking, building fencing and growing mushrooms.).

The farm and the community it serves, Rhodes says, are the foundation for the real mission, so he’s going all in. “I write this with so many tears in my eyes. This all started with an idea & a dream of simply being free,” he wrote recently on Instagram, reflecting on the past two years of running the restaurant. He went on to announce that Indigo will close permanently next year as the team prepares to focus their efforts on the future of the farm and grocery store. In the meantime, as the restaurant prepares to possibly reopen later this month (with covid-19 cases surging in Houston, delays are likely), Broham is temporarily operating solely as a community kitchen serving free food to the neighborhood.

Real success for Rhodes may ultimately mean putting himself out of business entirely — but running a business was never the goal. “In my perfect world, my idea is to empower people to grow their own food, on their own land. Because if we can feed ourselves, that’s freedom.”

Marin is a Brooklyn-based reporter, writer and digital content producer.

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