Marion Brothers

Marion Brothers

Monday, June 29, 2009

Man in the Mirror: The Alien

By Eddie G. Griffin

Monday, June 29, 2009

When I cut off all my hair, including my black militant beard and mustache, I was trying to show solidarity and empathy with my grandson who has just started his treatments for colon cancer. Indeed, I was so torn up inside that, in the pain of my anguish, I vowed to cut off my hair so that he and I could be baldheaded together. But when I got up out of the barber’s chair and looked in the mirror, I was shocked.

Suddenly, the man sharing at the man in the mirror was not the same man. I looked my age, all 62 years of it, and I was trying to become acclimated to the new look. This was not me a few moments ago. I hardly recognized the alien staring back at me.

Even worse, my own 84-year old mother did not recognize me, and neither did my sister. Nobody in the family recognized me. It was, all of a sudden, they had to get used to a new man- a new brother, a new uncle, and a new grandpa. They each were devastated. They were looking at the man behind the caveman that they had known all of their lives, and they did not know just how to react.

When I went to church on Sunday, everybody was trying to figure out who was this new man sitting in Brother Griffin’s usual seat, on the front row. Some thought I was a visiting preacher. The minister was even bewildered in the pulpit. So, when I got up to serve the communion, I felt compelled to reintroduce myself to those who did not recognize me.

The transformation in my appearance made me feel uncomfortable going back out into the public eye. But I had to question myself, was it worth it? Then I remembered why I did it in the first place. My grandson had cancer, and it pained me to my heart. Sure, it was worth the sacrifice of hair.

The face of the man in the mirror may be different. But the heart is still the same.

Friday, June 26, 2009

From Zen State to Deliverance

By Eddie Griffin

Friday, June 26, 2009

It is unfortunate that men in prison are not allowed to make a greater contribution to the sciences, because I witnessed some of the stunning acts of brilliance while incarcerated between the years 1972 to 1984.

You see, men in prison are given so much idle time to think, devise, and scheme. Unfortunately, most of their mastermind skills are devoted to criminal enterprises. Nevertheless, they often come up with some of the most inconceivable notions and ideas.

I learned a lesson from a prisoner at the U.S. Prison at El Reno, Oklahoma, who faked his own death and escaped from the morgue. Faking his own death required that he enter into a zombie-like Zen state, at the highest level. He actually made his heart stop beating and the prison doctor pronounced him dead.

We were in the process of mourning his death when the television news announced he had escaped. We were wondering how an inmate playing softball get hit in the head with the ball while trying to slide into home plate, all of a sudden dies.

The fact is, as he lay on the ground, pretending to be unconscious, he was thinking, plotting, and scheming, while his teammates and prison officials were trying to revive him. He was not responding because he was willing his heart not to beat and his body not to react to stimuli.

It was a great act, because he fooled the prison doctor, who happened to be a hippy-style female.

They carried him on a gurney to the infirmary and laid him on the table. The doctor was trying to detect a heartbeat. There was no pulse but, instead, a manly erection when he discovered who straddled him on the table.

“They stuck a tube down the canal of my penis, and I almost cracked,” he said. “It was the most painful thing I have ever felt in my life.” Still there was no sign of pulse or heartbeat. They pronounced him dead and later wheeled him into the city morgue. Later that night, he escaped and was recaptured about a week later at a girlfriend’s house, somewhere in Oklahoma, in the summer of 1980.

They returned him to the same prison and the same dormitory where I had met him before his escape. The above account was what he conveyed to me.

I had never thought it possible that a person could use the power of the human will to stop their heart from beating. But then I thought about the zombies of old folklore, and the supra-phenomenon known as the Zen state. It caused me to ponder how to reach this deep meditative state, where a man was totally oblivious to pain.

When I came face-to-face with a would-be assassin with a pipe in his hand, intent upon killing me, there was no apprehension at all on my part, because I had seen this movie before, Déjà vu. The pipe in the kid’s hand was real iron and as certain as death. What was uncertain to the kid was how I would react.

This element of the unknown gave me the mental edge. The element of surprise was on my side. I was going to do the unexpected. I was going to step to him, bum-rush style, take the pipe, and break his arm at the elbow. That was my intent. That was my state of mind. I had trained all my life for this moment. It was my epiphany, a déjà vu phenomenon that I saw coming before it happened.

I was mentally prepared to the letter to meet it.

Go into a crouch and give him your arm. My sensei would say during our gladiator rehearsals. He will be tempted to try to break your arm. Then, as soon as the club starts coming down, come up out of your crouch, straighten out your arm, and step into him.

During this training session, my sensei was preparing me to block a baton in the hands of a guard in case of another prison riot. Never did I think that, in real life, the baton would be in the form of a pipe, and that instead of a prison guard, it would be another inmate trying to crack my skull.

It happened at the same prison, U.S.P. El Reno, some time after the escape.

The kid with the pipe wanting to take my life was only 21-years old. He had been raped and humiliated by other inmates. A Muslim brother encouraged him to stand up for himself. “Eddie and I got your back,” so he said. In actuality, Eddie said nothing. It was just a silent assumption that I would defend a man who had the courage to stand up and defend his manhood.

So, one day the kid and his pimp paid me a visit and caught me by surprise in the prison shop where we manufactured army bunks. The pimp gave the kid an ultimatum.

I never will forget the words of the pimp. “I’ve had this kid since he was a little boy. Don’t you know that you cannot take anything out of the devil’s hand if this is what he chooses?” With that said the kid made his choice and came at me with the pipe.

No problem, I thought. I had seen this movie before.

... as soon as the club starts coming down, come up out of your crouch, straighten out your arm, and step into him. His arm will slide down the outside of your arm and you will have the inside position. Wrap your arm around the elbow joint and yank elbow upward and lock it under your arm pit. His arm is useless. At worse, he can only tap you on the back. But put enough pressure on the elbow and he will release the baton. You can break the arm at the elbow joint, my sensei instructed me.

Everything worked perfectly in practice, except on little minor detail. My sensei kept cracking me over the head with the rolled up newspaper that we pretended was the guard’s baton. The problem was that, in my haste, I exposed my head outside of my perimeter.

Always keep the adversary outside your perimeter. If you step outside of your perimeter, you can get your skull crushed.

Again and again, I failed the test, never thinking this minor flaw was a big deal. But, in real time, it was happened again.

I pretended to reach down for a trash can to fend myself and gave the kid my forearm for a target, as my sensei had instructed. And, as soon as he came down with the pipe, I stepped into him, as instructed, with my arm extended. But I stepped outside of my perimeter and took the full brute of the pipe crashing upon my head. I was shocked. I was hit, wounded, and bleeding profusely.

I did manage to hook the elbow and hang on for dear life until I shook the pipe loose. As I turned and calmly walked away, my adversaries did not pursue. From the shop to the infirmary, I left a trail of blood on the prison compound.

From the beginning of the ordeal, I had gone into a Zen state. Otherwise, I would have possibly taken the cowardly way out by running away. But knowing somewhat what was going to happen before it happened was reassuring and gave me a sense of cocky confidence. But I put too much faith in myself and my combat skills.

In the end, I called out in my heart-of-hearts, “Lord, save me.”

My power had failed me like Sampson, and here I was at the hands of the Philistines. The pipe fell on the ground and the Lord allowed me to walk away still alive. From that time on, I began reading the bible, non-stop, trying to find the Lord I had called upon so many times, the same One delivered me.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Organized Crime World and the 13-Year Old Hit Man

When I picked up the paper this and read the headlines, “Cartels promise riches, lure teens into life of murder”, it utterly broke my heart. Here was the story of a 13-year old who became a hit man for a Mexican drug cartel. Normally, he would be in middle school, still a baby. What possible use could he be to a cartel?

Rosalio Reta is nineteen now and in prison serving, what amounts to, a life sentence. His ink smudge tattooed face makes him look like a hoodoo man from the aboriginal outback or a tribal Indian wearing war paint. It makes him look fierce and frightening. But this is just prima facie for an underlying crippled personality, marred by the depravations of his youth.

Nobody knows how the young man feels inside, but I have noticed others like him with the tattoo of a teardrop on their face. And, in this cover story, Reta doesn’t look happy at all. He must feel like his life is gone to the devil.

The Organized Crime World is ritualistic and satanic, and purposely so. At the top of the food chain is the man so rich and cruel that his underlings think of him as the incarnation of the Devil, and they his worshipers. Once a young man has sold his soul, he cannot redeem it. It’s one way into the Organize Crime World and no way out.

Young Reta probably realizes that by now and regrets it.

I have seen the bait and hook used by Organized Crime, and I know the rules of the game. The bait is the illusion of wealth and pleasure. Young men are enticed by money, fancy cars, and women. The hook is when the master gains ownership. The only way out is death.

There is a rule in the crime world that prohibits me from trying to rescue someone from the clutches of the devil. The rule is this: I can do everything within my power and crusade all I wish to save a kid from a life of crime. But once snared, I cannot forcefully remove him against his will. This was made clear to me when I met face-to-face with a would-be assassin in hand-to-hand duel.

The rules say that it is not healthy to snitch on a kingpin who has the child in his grasp and under his power. Neither is it healthy to try and cut off the syndicate’s cash flow. This is the job of law enforcement. It is especially dangerous for civilians because they have no idea that sometimes law enforcement is infiltrated and some officials may be on the devil’s payroll. A wrong word to the wrong person can turn a do-good act into a tragedy.

I can crusade like a man crying in the wind without fear of retaliation from gangsters. In that respect, I live on the other side of the parallel universe oblivious to the Organize Crime World. But I cannot cross the line, especially knowing what I know about the other side.

Reta talks about his experiences as a teenage hit man, how he was given a new $70,000 Mercedes for a job well done. He describes the lifestyle and incentives in the drug trade, the glamour, drugs, women, and lavish allurements that only a poor kid could taste in his dreams.

How can you tell him not to want? Do not touch? I remember how stupid we sounded when we pitted our revolutionary ideologies against neighborhood drug kingpins. We had nothing to offer. They did. We decried materialism, but we were no match for the fancy clothes and good times. In the end, this was how our community went from the Black Panther age, from revolutionaries seeking political power, to a generation of pimps, players, Crips, and Bloods. We lost the propaganda war at the street level. The struggle boiled down to “Money, money, money”, and poor people would do anything for “the almighty dollar.

It amazes me how the same tricks and traps can work repeatedly on our kids. More than 10,000 Mexicans left dead in the last 18 months. Before that, it was the drug wars between the Crips and Bloods, same inducement, same pattern.

I admit that I don’t know who’s killing who. But I do know that gang violence and shootings are more about selling guns and bullets, than it is about revenge. It is a profitable trade when every hood rat on the block wants a Glock. Just pull the string and they’ll shoot somebody. The designated target is usually a rival gang or gang member. The same gun dealer sells to them both, and no doubt foment the tension between them by contract killings on both sides. This pattern fuels the sell guns and bullets, while those who pull the strings get richer and richer than those who pull the trigger.

Youngsters like Reta are only cannon fodder. But there is a part of his story that gives the reader a brief glimpse of what happens behind the scene.

[Note: This portion of the story is included in the Star-Telegram but edited out of the New York Times version of the story]

“Reta also told police that he had attended a training camp in Mexico for six months, where he learned to shoot assault rifles and engage in hand-to-hand combat. One of the instructors, he said, was an Israeli mercenary. Reta was also proud of his marksmanship.”

Here is a training camp for hit men, much like terrorist training camps of al-Qaeda. These teenagers are acclimated to their assault rifles and trained by individuals familiar with the weapon.

Where did these guns come from? Who sold them to the cartels? Gun running has always been a side business for those who profited from war and conflict, such as the time when they sold guns to Indian and fire water whiskey to give them courage to use them. The Crips and Bloods was a good underworld market for gun runners during their long bitter rivalry. As long as a war goes on, there will always be a market for illegal weapons and ammunition.

It is said of E.I. DuPont that he sold munitions and explosives to both sides in every war.

The Organized Crime World realized long ago that if a child commits murder at a certain age he would be treated as a juvenile under the law. But Poor Reta, even with his fierce satanic looking tattooed face, he looks more like Bozo the Clown than he does a gangster hit man.

How could he, as an immature child, know that after his first hit there was no way out of the game? Didn’t he know that someone was pulling his string, that he was simply doing the devil’s bidding? It was not he who chose the target, but the target was chosen for him.

Didn’t he know that dirty cops were on the payroll in Mexico, if not also in the United States, that judges and lawyers are bought and sold by the underworld syndicate?

Didn’t he know that he was expendable? Why didn’t his single mother teach him these things? Why didn’t they teach him these things in school? Why didn’t law enforcement forewarn him?

Does anyone know?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

From Paper Panther:

The First Leg of Rediscovery

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

There was a time when men in prison turned their captivity into centers of learning and prisons into universities. It was the same period of time when they invented the phrase: All the Black Panthers are either dead, in prison, in exile, or in hiding.

In the federal prison system, we had access to libraries across the country through the inter-library loan system. College students and professors visited the prison for exchanging knowledge with intellectual inmates who spent most of their time reading, studying, and teaching. Prison administration didn’t like it, but these were rights we had won through the courts.

Inmate Victor Lindsey broke a record by receiving his bachelor’s degree from Southern Illinois University in a year and a half. This started a wave of college professors coming into the prisons, conducting classes with inmates. One college professor, Dr. Walt Robinson, head of the Black Studies program at SIU, used the opportunity to use inmates to conduct historical research.

He told us that we had something that people on the outside world did not have. We had all the time in the world. We could take advantage of that time by contributing to black historical research.

Dr. Robinson was the preeminent black historian in the country. He sat on the President’s Council on Aging. And yet, he chose us to do his bidding. It was an honor to be recognized as some worth. If left to the prison administration and the government, we would have been forever stereotyped as a bunch of low IQ criminals. We needed Dr. Robinson as much as he needed us.

Our biggest assignment was to find the “40 acres and mule” that had been promised to freed slaves. It had been a claim handed down in Negro folklore for ages, but there was no document, no history left behind.

During those prison classroom years, we never found the truth. But we discovered other things. We discovered that some historical documents were sealed. Newspaper accounts of events excluded the contributions of Negroes. Therefore, we had been excluded from history altogether, except for what was handed down orally, from generation to generation.

During the Free Speech Movement of the early 1960s, students began to demand truth from the government. Black students began to demand the truth about history. In response, Black Study programs began cropping up on every university and college campuses around the country. This was how Dr. Robinson had come to head Southern Illinois University Black Studies Department at Carbondale, just outside of the federal prison at Marion.

The government allowed inmates to take college courses at the time. One wing of the federal prison at Marion was dedicated as the Education Department. It was in these classrooms that prisoners studied academic courses and conducted classes on their own. But prison officials were not keen on inmates gaining an education and getting degrees, because many guards themselves were high school dropouts. And some inmates had no inclination for books.

Some of our fellow inmates derided the Black Panther as “Paper Panthers” because of our devotion to education. We were accused of talking revolution while hiding behind books. We would have to prove that we had the fortitude to stand up as men in the harsh and brutal environment. Therefore, we were constantly challenged physically, sometime at the point of a blade. Prisons were no universities, claimed the more brute inmate. They were gladiator schools.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Black Bourgeoisie?

I found it interesting that Shawn P. Williams writes in “Why” Part Two: Why I celebrate Juneteenth:

In my adult years as I began to rub elbows with the black bourgeoisies, many of them scoffed at the June 19th holiday. “Why would you celebrate slaves in Texas spending an extra 2 ½ years in bondage?” they would ask. I have to admit, it’s a pretty good question… As we’ve gotten more and more educated, we get further and further away from the wisdom born out of the struggle of our people.

I don’t know what “black bourgeoisie” means anymore. Back in the day, it meant something negative like that of a black person whose thinking was whitewashed, or someone going through an identity crisis, or someone who thought themselves to be more educated and elite than the common everyday Negro. We used to think that they acted and thought themselves to be better than the rest of us... maybe so.

Ignoring the French historiography and Marxist class categorizations that give meaning to the name of this group of people, I want to go straight to the psycho-sociological aspect of the issue... that self-contradictory, mismatch phenomenon of being sociologically black and psychologically alienated from an appreciation of black heritage.

“Why would you celebrate slaves in Texas spending an extra 2 ½ years in bondage?” they asked blogger Shawn Williams. Notwithstanding the writer's thoughts, note how the question was formulated in their minds. True to its characteristic, the so-called black bourgeoisie sees the cup half empty, instead of half full. To them, Juneteenth is not a celebration of Freedom, but rather a “black thing” to be disdained, because the very thought of slavery turns them off. After all, there are many whites who would rather not think about it, along with the guilt and shame of it. And also, how many non-Jewish Germans memorialize the holocaust? The so-called black bourgeoisie are escapists who would rather inculcate more pleasant thoughts.

It may not have ever dawned on them that Juneteenth is a celebration of Freedom, like the Fourth of July. What say, in celebrating the Passover, are Jewish people celebrating 400 years of Egyptian bondage, or the blessing of Emancipation?

The so-called black bourgeoisie sees only what it wishes to see, thinks only what it wishes to think, and choses to see no more and know no more than they already see and know. Therefore, black is an inappropriate descriptive for this bourgeoisie- thinking people. Being bourgeois is what it is... a colorless attitude of people who thinks of themselves as more highly favored than their peers and contemporaries, and thereby different, even better than they, and a little more holier than thou.

Juneteenth, with them, will probably never find merit, because they will remember only what they have been taught about it in integrated schools by teachers who were uneducated and unappreciative of black history. Hence, they will never seek to know otherwise. They even avoid contact with any knowledge that would burst the bubble of their brainwashing.

They are alienated from their common identity and estranged from their heritage... like a cow with the head of a goat.

“We, the colored soldiers, have fairly won our rights by loyalty and bravery -- shall we obtain them? If we are refused now, we shall demand them.” Sgt. Maj. William McCeslin, 29th U.S.C.T. (Source: Appomattox Court House National Historical Park)

Friday, June 19, 2009

What I Never Learned in School about Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth, the day upon which the last Negro slaves were set free. I use the term “negro” because I am the last generation of the people called Negroes. It was the identity imprinted upon my birth certificate, but I thank God that I will die as an African-American.

Explaining the concept of a segregated school system to my 9-year old grandson is as futile as trying to explain why there is air. Utterly perplexed, he repeatedly asks: Why? Why did they have schools for blacks and schools for whites? It didn’t make sense.

His heritage is not the heritage of a Negro. He was born by mixed marriage and he has always considered himself an African-American. Jim Crow means absolutely nothing to him. There is nothing in his mind that can grasp the meaning of Race, let alone an understanding of Racism.

I doubt that his mother can properly teach him the history of Juneteenth, seeing that she is white, and the black holiday raises mixed feelings about her own ancestors and heritage. As they say in Texas, “Blood is thicker than water.” Dixie still loves Dixie, and simply because great-great-great-grandpa was a Confederate, does not mean she is going to hate him because he owned slaves.

More of us should be like child that asked: Why?

As an elementary school child, I never knew there were Colored soldiers in the Civil War. It took nearly a lifetime of work and demands for records and the unsealing of classified documents did we discover the existence of a large force of black troops who fought in the Civil War. And, during the 1950s, Texas had every reason in the world to keep this fact hidden from Negro children.

We heard the wild tales of black heroism in the Civil War handed down by the ole folks at Juneteenth picnics. It sounded like typical old Negro boasting. For it seemed to me that if we had played such a significant role in the Civil War, they would have put our ancestors into the history book.

In my essay, “Why the slaves in Texas were not set free until Juneteenth”, I sought to answer one of the questions that plagued me all my life. WHY did it take two-and-a-half years for the Proclamation to free the slaves in Texas?

On Emancipation Day, January 1, 1863, the Confederates staged a magnificent counteroffensive against the Federal forces. First, Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder retook the port city of Galveston, Texas. Second, a new Texas Division was formed under the command of Maj. Gen. John George Walker.

Walker's Division contained three brigades commanded by Brigadier Generals Henry E, McCulloch, Hawes and Horace Randal. The plan was for McCulloch to attack Milliken’s Bend, J. M. Hawes to attack Young's Point, several miles downstream from Milliken's Bend, and Randal to remain in reserve in Richmond.

Left to defend Gen. Ulysses S. Grant storehouse at Milliken's Bend were 1,250 newly recruited Colored Regiments---The First Mississippi (African Descent) and the Ninth and Eleventh Louisiana (Corps d Afrique, or African Corps) and two companies of the 10th Illinois Cavalry, under the command of U.S. Col. Hermann Lieb.

At stake in the contest: A Union victory at Vicksburg would essentially give Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant control of the Mississippi River, and cut off the Confederacy West of the Mississippi from its capitol in Richmond, Virginia and Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Sunday morning, June 7, 1863, while nearing Milliken’s Bend, the Texas regiments encountered fire from Union troops. Col. Richard Waterhouse's 19th Texas Infantry was deployed to the right, Col. R. T. P. Allen's 17th Texas Infantry in the center, and Lt. Col. E.P. Gregg's 16th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) on the left, while Col. George Flournoy's 16th Texas Infantry was held in reserve.

Confederate Gen. H.E. McCulloch described the battle: “The line was formed under a heavy fire from the enemy, and the troops charged the breastworks, carrying it instantly, killing and wounding many of the enemy by their deadly fire, as well as the bayonet. This charge was resisted by the negro portion of the enemy's force with considerable obstinacy, while the white or true Yankee portion ran like whipped curs almost as soon as the charge was ordered.”

JUNE 7, 1863
The enemy attacked Milliken's Bend; commenced driving the negro regiments, and killed all they captured. This infuriated the negroes, who turned on the rebels and slaughtered them like sheep, and captured 200 prisoners. I also hear they captured five pieces of artillery. The Choctaw and Lexington were there--- DAVID D. PORTER, Admiral

“…the rebels drove our force toward the gun-boats, taking colored men prisoners and murdering them. This so enraged them that they rallied and charged the enemy more heroically and desperately than has been recorded during the war. It was a genuine bayonet charge, a hand-to-hand fight, that has never occurred to any extent during this prolonged conflict. Upon both sides men were killed with the butts of muskets. White and black men were lying side by side, pierced by bayonets, and in some instances transfixed to the earth. In one instance, two men—one white and the other black—were found dead, side by side, each having the other's bayonet through his body. If facts prove to be what they are now represented, this engagement of Sunday morning will be recorded as the most desperate of this war. Broken limbs, broken heads, the mangling of bodies, all prove that it was a contest between enraged men; on the one side from hatred to a race, and on the other, desire for self-preservation, revenge for past grievances, and the inhuman murder of their comrades.” Harper’s Weekly, July 4, 1863

It is understandably why the Battle of Milliken’s Bend would not be featured in Texas History books. But excluded also was the history of the U.S.Colored Troops who fought at Appomattox and were a principal force in cutting off Gen. Robert E. Lee’s retreat and forcing him to surrender to Gen. Grant on April 9, 1865.

Thinking the war was over, Sgt. Maj. William McCeslin, 29th U.S.C.T. issued this ultimatum: “We, the colored soldiers, have fairly won our rights by loyalty and bravery -- shall we obtain them? If we are refused now, we shall demand them.” (Source: Appomattox Court House National Historical Park)

Confederate President Jefferson Davis abandoned Richmond before it was captured by Union forces on April 3, 1865. He met with his Cabinet and dissolved the Confederacy while in-flight, and was subsequently captured on May 10, 1865 in Irwin County, Georgia.

Six days after Lee’s surrender, on April 15, 1865, Republican President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Democrat Andrew Johnson became President.

The town of Marshall, Texas was made the capital of Missouri's Confederate government-in-exile and flew the flag of Missouri in addition to the other six flags and was, therefore, nickname as the City of Seven Flags. It had become the seat of civil authority and headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Postal Department after the fall of Vicksburg.

The fifth flag over Texas was the CSA Naval Jack, which flew from 1863-1865. When Negro students arrived at Arlington State College in 1961, this was the flag at the top of the flagpole on campus. Below it flew the fourth flag belonging to the Republic of Texas which flew from 1836 to 1845. Missing was the sixth flag of the United States of America, which flew from 1845 to 1861 and from 1865 to the present.

Technically, the confederacy of Texas was never defeated. It collapsed upon itself. (See

A black-led student protest from 1965 to 1967 would bring Ole Dixie Down on the campus of ASC and would end the school’s Confederate tradition of Old South Week. A coalition of students won the vote that placed the school under the University of Texas system. Today, Arlington State College is the University of Texas at Arlington.

If there is one reflection, I remember we went into college as Negroes, but emerged as liberated African-Americans.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why the slaves in Texas were not set free until Juneteenth

By Eddie Griffin

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Texas is full of tall tales, folklore, myths, and lies, and the story is Juneteenth is one of all of the above.

Why were the slaves in Texas the last to be set free? What really prevented them until June 19, 1865?

Some speculate that slaves lived behind a veil of ignorance in a Dark Age Confederacy throughout the Deep South and therefore knew nothing of their freedom until it was handed to them on a silver platter. Some, on the other hand, believe that the word of the Emancipation was delayed by the still raging Civil War.

Most historians highlight the fact that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1, 1863. By contrast, the slaves of Texas were not set free until Gen. Gordon Granger reached Galveston on June 19, 1865. This is the premises and origin of the celebration that became known as “Juneteenth”.

What history lies between the dates January 1, 1863 and June 19, 1865 remains much of an unappreciated mystery.

On New Year’s morning of Emancipation Day, the Confederates staged one of the most brilliant counteroffensives in history.


In October 1862, Galveston was all but a ghost town. The gas company was closed, so the few remaining civilians made do with candles and oil lamps. Food was in short supply. The waterfront was occupied by some 260 Massachusetts infantrymen, who arrived in the city on Christmas Day. Otherwise, the town was held by six Union ships that patrolled the harbor.

WATCH NIGHT-December 31, 1862, Freedom's Eve- On that night, black people around the country came together in churches, gathering places and private homes throughout the nation, anxiously awaiting news that the Emancipation Proclamation had become law. When the bells toll at the stroke of midnight, it was January 1, 1863, and according to Lincoln's promise, all slaves in the Confederate States were legally free.

In the early morning hours of January 1, 1863, John B. Magruder and William B. Scurry staged a New Year’s invasion, leading several thousand troops across the abandoned railroad bridge from the mainland and surprising the Union garrison at the Galveston waterfront.

At the Battle of Galveston, Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder took back Texas before the Emancipation took effect under Union control, thereby making the state the last stronghold in the Confederacy.

For the rest of the comprehensive history of Texas during the War through June 19, 1865, see the Texas State Library and Archives Commission at

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Holy and Unholy War

By Eddie Griffin

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting on yesterday is a reminder that are people out there who wants to destroy and kill us. If it is not a racial bigot on the rampage, it is al-Qaeda’s terrorist plans and attacks. They have declared war against us.

For now, I will consider the museum shooting as a random act of violence, so as not to appear alarmist. Terror is what terror produces: Fear in the mind. Why add another log to the fire? If men march into hell with their arms wide open, their torment awaits them.

Of course, my reactionary friends will hear the bells go off in their heads and jump out of their emotional comfort zones to contrive to do something, anything, just not let this thing go without vocal condemnation and protest. Their first impulse is to ask: What should we do about this? The question implies the answer must be a reaction to the tune of tit-for-tat. And this, no doubt, would play into the enemy’s hand, because it keeps the war alive.

As a 62-year old black man, my primary concern, is putting one foot in front of the other to keep from stumbling and falling and breaking my old bones. I avoid jaywalking because any car in view is faster than I can get across the street. So, I walk to the corner and get the assistance of a green light in my favor. If I have to hurry, then I would have to take a timeout after crossing to catch my breath. And, in the end, I will lose whatever gain I made by my hurry.

Oh, about the museum shooter. I casually glanced at it on television and read skimmed it in the newspaper. It appears that this 88-years old guy James von Brunn is more agile than I, besides his being a race hater. I guess that would make me a member of his endangered species list because my skin is black.

It feels like its deer season again, and my black pelt is worth more dead than alive. Some might tell me not to even contemplate it, because there are more people who love me than hate me. Some comfort this is. The von Brunns of the world is not hunting elk, but deer. People with white skin are immune to danger.

It is no wonder why some people scream like babies for their bottles and pacifiers when you talk about gun control. These guys want no controls. Every man has the right to bear arm to protect the contents of my mind and imagination. They just want to go out and shoot whomever they wish, whenever they get the trigger-happy urge, and wherever they decide to flip out.

How can I tell the difference between a gun in the hand of an evil man and a gun in the hand of a good man? If smoking gun could talk, it will tell me that there are none that is good… no not one.

Therefore, there is no such thing as a holy war, except contrived in the minds of unholy men. Al-Qaeda is no different than the Aryan Brotherhood. The Taliban is no different than Neo-Nazis. And, Hezbollah is no different than the Ku Klux Klan, with an equal amount of legacy to exist.

The fact that evil exists in the world is no more threatening to me than the speeding car that would run me over. It is the mind of the man behind the wheel, the mind of the man behind the gun, and the mind of the people who wear blinders and condone excessiveness in speed and power. A man driving his pickup at breakneck speed, zipping in and out of traffic, cutting people off and giving them the bird is more dangerous to me than al-Qaeda.

I need no advice on how to cross the road. I simply watch the traffic. The highway is full of selfish, mindless people, who have sold their souls to hell. They are on a suicide run and they want everybody to die with them. They hate so much that only the balm in Gilead can heal them.

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered? (Jeremiah 8:22)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Criminal Intent or Reasonable Doubt: The Brandon McClelland Case

On Monday night, September 15, 2008, Brandon McClelland was walking along FM-2648 in Powderly, just north of Paris, Texas, when he was struck and killed and his body dragged 70 yards down the highway. When his body was found around 5 am, the family was told that he was possibly the victim of a hit and run accident, perhaps by a gravel truck traveling at a high speed.

This speculation would later plant a seed of doubt that this could possibly be a murder.

James Mitchell Laster tipped off the authorities that Shannon Keith Finley had boasted to him that he had intentionally run over McClelland. Finley and Charles Ryan Crostley were the last two people to see McClelland alive. They were arrested and charged with his death.

But from the very beginning, the case has been shrouded in mystery. Was it murder? Or, was it an accident? And, if it was murder, was it a hate crime as defined by the law?

Last week, special prosecutor Toby Shook moved that the charges against Finley and Crostley be dismissed for lack of evidence.

An initial examination of Finley’s truck reported findings of human DNA remains. But that story was quickly retracted when an Arkansas truck driver came forth and claimed that he “may have” accidentally struck McClelland.

As a result of the dropping of the charges, the parents of Brandon McClelland took to the streets of Paris in protest, vowing to bring the attention of the case to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Watching the demonstration in Paris from across the way, and waving a Nazi Iron Cross, was Rock Banks, Grand Titan of the East Texas Ku Klux Klan.

Eddie Griffin Commentary

Where reasonable doubt may be sufficient for some people to dismiss this case, the investigation is far from exhaustive.

We must look at the related actions of the principal suspect, Shannon Finley, before and after September 15. Finley was an ex-convict who had been released from the Texas prison system, a system where literally all white inmates are recruited and initiated into the Aryan Brotherhood or Aryan Nation, an avid white supremacist group, most noted for drug trafficking and murdering blacks and Latinos. They usually wear a tattoo designating their affiliation.

It was members of the same racist prison group that carried out the dragging death of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas in 1998. The group is widespread throughout the state and federal prison system, and is becoming more and more dispersed throughout society. It began as a self-protection group against the prison dominance black inmates, but later itself became more aggressive and murderous. Compared to the KKK, they are more vocal and direct in preaching racial hatred and advocating murder.

Shannon Finley’s prison affiliation could not be as fickle relationship, for once inducted into its ranks, a white inmate was a member for life.

The second point that doesn’t add up is Finley and Crostley going to the home of McClelland to invite him out on a drinking spree. The plan was to go across the state line to Oklahoma and purchase some booze.

This presents an incomprehensible scenario in several respects. First, Paris was once known for lynching. It was written in blood throughout the city’s history.

Second, why would a known white supremacist go to pick up a black man and take him down a dark lonely highway to Oklahoma and get drunk on the way home?

Most crimes are carried out under the influence of an intoxicant. And, boozers sometimes get so drunk that they don't know what they are doing or appreciate the consequence of their action. They are literally too intoxicated to even know the nature of the spirit within them. Their reality is a blackout. How can they then remember something they never knew they did?

The records show that, somehow, an argument broke out on the way home over Shannon Finley’s drunken driving. That being said, it is not hard to imagine Finley scaring McClellan to death in his pickup truck with his reckless driving. Maybe it was Finley’s intent to scare the hell out of the black man. In any case, McClellan demanded to be let out on the highway. He would rather walk the rest of the way home from Powderly to Paris, which would be no short walk. Nevertheless, it was probably better than staying in the truck with Finley behind the wheel.

At this point, some say that McClellan was hit by a gravel truck traveling at a high rate of speed. What they do not say is if the gravel truck was the first or second vehicle to run over him.

Fourth, why would Finley return home, wash his truck, and then leave town after McClellan's body was discovered? Why did he leave and go to Wichita, Kansas, instead of helping the authorities solve the mystery of his death? If he were such a friend, why would he not come and comfort the family after learning of his friend's death?

Summarizing, here is a white supremacist and his friend, picking up a black man, to take on a boozing junket across state line, down a dark and lonely stretch of highway. The black man protested the erratic driving of the driver and demanded to be put out on the highway. Someone runs over him and drags his body down the highway. An informant tips off the authorities that the truck owner boasted over running over the victim. He goes home, washes his truck, and takes off for Kansas as soon as the body is found, rather than helping the authorities or comforting the family?

It just doesn’t add up.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Drop-Dead Year

2009 was dubbed "Drop-Dead Year" for Polytechnic High School

“It’s a moving target,” a frustrated Braudaway said. These were the words of the principal of Polytechnic High School.

SOLDIER, how do you hit a moving target?

In 1998, the Texas Education Agency adopted tougher standards in all subjects and imposing more stringent passing criteria in a new test known as the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS. Each year the rate rose for passage.

Polytechnic was losing ground arithmetically by not achieving the basic academic numbers, and geometrically by falling behind each succeeding year. In short, the high school was sinking faster that it could swim. It was set on a doomsday course for the ultimate sanction under the No Child Left Behind Act.

Betty Brink of the Fort Worth Weekly described 2009 as Poly’s “Drop-Dead Year”.

Gary Braudaway, Principal of Polytechnic High School, Fort Worth in 2006:

He faced a demoralized faculty and a hardscrabble student body, with test scores that were too low, drop-out rates that were too high, poor attendance, poorer morale, and an ongoing exodus of good teachers. The once-mighty 100-strong Poly marching band had shrunk to seven members. And most crucial, the storied school, built three-quarters of a century ago on one of the highest points on the East Side, the alma mater of some of Fort Worth’s most prominent names, was failing its students academically. Passing rates on state-mandated achievement tests were putting the school at risk of serious, perhaps fatal, sanctions…

“Most of our kiddos’ parents are so busy trying to make ends meet that we have to be their family,” Braudaway said. “For these kids to succeed, we have to give them a sense of pride in their accomplishments, their school, and the knowledge that they are part of a family that cares for every one of them. … We get them to believe in their own possibilities.”

“May be too little too late”, writes Betty Brink. “The school, despite its recent progress, has been rated “academically unacceptable” by the state education agency for four years in a row. One more year at a low rating, and by law the school must either be closed permanently or completely restructured academically, perhaps even receiving a new name. This is Poly’s drop-dead year”


Polytechnic HS Prevails

Poly did it.

Based on preliminary data in the academic core content areas, Fort Worth ISD's Polytechnic High School has achieved the academic status it needs to stay open.

Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Melody Johnson and Poly Principal Gary Braudaway made the announcement a little before 9 a.m. this morning to an assembly of students and faculty. Official ratings have yet to come out, but the District is projecting a positive result.

"I said all along we were betting on Poly - and we were right!" Dr. Johnson said, praising the hard work of students, teachers and administrators in raising TAKS scores in a year in which the bar for acceptable achievement is at the highest it has ever been in state history.

While the Fort Worth ISD is still awaiting TAKS data, the Texas Education Agency had promised that Polytechnic would receive early results because they faced closing if they failed to make academic gains.

After Mr. Braudaway made the announcement, the auditorium curtains parted to reveal balloons in Poly colors of orange and black along with a congratulatory sign as the song "Celebration" played over cheers.

Poly faculty members received orange carnations as well as personal congratulations from Dr. Johnson, Mr. Braudaway and other administrators.


"Class of 2020: My Stroke of Insight/Hindsight
Dropout Summit: Part 2"
By Eddie Griffin

Published Friday, April 03, 2009

I saw him with 2020 hindsight, Michael Sorum, Chief Academic Officer for the Fort Worth Independent School District, bringing up the rear in the buffet line at the Dropout Summit. I noticed his name tag first, though I should have known him now by sight. In lieu chicken breast, I chose rather to chew on Sorum. Either that, or we were going to chew the fat together.

“What’s our mission?” I asked.

Mission Impossible, sir,” he replied...

Congratulations to Mike, not only did he show up with Dr. Johnson’s executive cabinet at the Dropout Summit, but he was back in the trenches on Tuesday night, at the Poly High School forum.

This is 'hood turf, not a place for the fainthearted. Nevertheless, here comes the general, Dr. Melody Johnson, with her army onto the battlefield of ‘hood turf.

My footprint is upon this turf. I walk this beat here.

So, I was compelled to look at Poly High School which is threatened with terminal sanction. One more bad academic report... no telling what the state was going to do. And, closure was the almost certain option.

But during the program and pep rally motivated to save Poly High School, I heard teacher team leaders talking about their team-building efforts and collaborative teaching methodologies, and an all out mental assault to reach academic achievement. I saw and heard testimonies to the effect: all-hands-on-deck.

If they fail, I thought, they will at least go down with a great fight.

During the entire Poly forum, I sat next to Michael Sorum, our Chief Academics Officer, who was sitting, as it seemed, still in an uncomfortable hot seat.

As I departed, I shook his hand and said, “You got a winner here. I love the effort.”

Got a Winner here

Excerpts from "Solving the Poly Puzzle" by Betty Brink

Senior Davion Thornton and other students interviewed by Fort Worth Weekly are convinced they will come through. “We will make it,” Thornton said… who is so adamant that Poly will make the grade this year, ranks fifth in his class academically and has a full scholarship to Texas A&M University next year.

Texas A&M has deemed Poly a “priority one” school — a sort of “adopt-a-school” designation that means A&M will have recruiters on campus, provide scholarships, and encourage kids to excel. The principal said he’d been told A&M is so pleased with the performance of recent Poly graduates that the college wants more of them.

“We believe in the kids there now,” Kelly, 71, said... Alumni group’s scholarship program... gives out two $1,000 awards each year.

Krina Rodriguez, a junior and a member of the softball team, joined the chorus of optimists. “We will pass this year, I’m sure,” she said. “School is better now — we’re ready.”

“We motivate the parents [to get involved] through the kids,” Braudaway said. “And we keep them informed about what their kids are doing and what’s going on at the school. We call with good news, not just the bad. We involve the parents and the community.” Braudaway shows up at every sports game; his teachers are active in the school’s extracurricular activities, and they also work with the parents through the neighborhood churches, he said, setting up after-school tutoring sessions, for example. “Each of my teachers is a mentor,” he said.

“Experience is important, but it’s not always what a school needs,” he said. “In a school like Poly, you also need teachers with fresh bright eyes and a ‘change-the-world’ attitude, and I have found them.”

“The teachers put more effort into teaching than they did before Mr. Braudaway came,” he said. Johnson told of one teacher who, working after school as a volunteer tutor, started crying as she told her students how badly she wanted to help them pass the tests.

“It was never like this before,” said Damian Thornton, Davion’s younger brother. “Not many seemed to care about us and the [former] principal never came out of his office.”

Damian, a junior, said that the students will pass the TAKS because “We’ve become a part of this school now. It’s the spirit of the school that motivates us. We know we can do it.”

Braudaway and his staff also invest major effort in assuring that kids get to class. When attendance is checked and the absentees are identified, Braudaway and a crew of vice-principals and coaches call to see why each kid isn’t in school. If there isn’t a parent at home, or if there’s no good excuse for the student’s absence, “We go get ’em,” he said.

“They actually come to our homes and knock on our doors to see why we’re not there,” Johnson said. “That makes us feel like they really care about us. We respect that.”

Associate Superintendent Sherry Breed is the director of a new district initiative begun last fall that the administrators hope will make a difference at Poly and 15 other schools that are in academic trouble. It is called PEAK — Public Educators Accelerating Kids. Breed is giving Poly “extensive support” in implementing the program, she said. “I’m at Poly so often discussing the plan with the dean of instruction that I need an office there,” she joked.

PEAK is a pilot program with money from the state and matching funds from the district that financially rewards teachers for their students’ academic growth. But Breed was quick to point out that, unlike other incentives, the program encourages collaboration between teachers, not competition, so that the whole school benefits. Pluses for the teachers include five additional days of pay per school year, more clerical support, and mentoring and master-teacher coaches for new teachers. Poly is getting even more intensive help with the addition of campus test coordinators and additional instructional support for each academic content area through teacher specialists assigned to Poly to “teach teachers,” Breed said.

Fort Worth legislator Marc Veasey has filed a bill this year to give local school administrators some of that flexibility. Supported by State Rep. Lon Burnam, whose district includes the Poly attendance zone, the bill would prohibit the state from changing Poly’s name and would extend the time that a school has to pass the TAKS as long as the school raises its scores each year, as Poly has been doing.

In late February, State Sen. Florence Shapiro, chair of the senate education committee, and Rep. Rob Eisseler introduced legislation that addresses the fairness and flexibility issue. If passed, it will replace the state’s current school accountability system based on annual standardized testing with one based on charting individual students’ progress over time. The problem for Poly and most of the low-performing schools is that even if it becomes law, the measure won’t be implemented until 2011.

But the 800-pound elephant is still in the room: Why did the district wait so long to take drastic action on Poly? [betty brink]

And a new anti-drop-out program called Project Prevail has just been unveiled that is designed to pull the whole community together to keep kids in school. It enlists businesses, parents, churches, students, area colleges, and social service organizations in an “It takes a village to save a child” approach.

All of the programs seem innovative and progressive, designed to bring long- needed reform to a system that one former district administrator called “teaching 21st-century kids in 19th-century schools.”

Eddie Griffin, former president of Trimble Tech’s PTA and a mentor to minority kids, said Poly could be turned around quickly if it uses the model of Tech, the only high school in the city that allows open enrollment.

Trimble Tech started as a technical-vocational school to teach trades to kids who weren’t considered college-bound. Up until 1996, Griffin said, it was “low-performing, low-scoring” academically because academics were often sacrificed for the technical programs, which had also been neglected. Machines and equipment needed to train kids were “antiquated or broken,” and there were no computers, he said. Griffin, whose kids went to Tech and whose grandkids are now students there, complained to Tocco about the neglect. Tocco responded by pulling together a 100-member team of parents, educators, and business representatives, including Griffin, and they were given the job of coming up with a plan to turn the school around.

They did. A curriculum was developed that improved the school’s academic performance because it was geared toward the knowledge needed by the kids who were pursuing technical careers, whether they were going on to college or not. College-related courses were expanded. Computers were put in every classroom, and state-of-the art machines were installed to train kids for mechanical jobs. The business reps developed curricula that would allow certification in technical fields so that a student was job-ready as soon as he or she graduated.

“We didn’t intend for these kids to not strive for college, but we did recognize that the majority of the district’s students are from low-income families. With good jobs, many are now able to work their way through college,” Griffin said. The plan was built around the needs of the students, with flexible hours for those who had jobs and programs for older students who had dropped out and come back, he said. Drop-out and teen pregnancy rates have since gone down.

Within one year of the plan’s implementation, the school’s test scores rose dramatically. “We have had 14 straight years of acceptable or above,” Griffin said, “and two years of exemplary or above.” He gives high marks to former principal Sue Guthrie for the school’s success.