The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees its citizens freedom of expression and to right to peaceably assemble. This amendment adopted into the Bill of Rights in 1791. This amendment was superseded however with reference to the freedom of African Americans in this nation by the 1857 United States Supreme Court decision led by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney. At that time, Taney wrote that negroes according to the framers of the Constitution, “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect”. It appears that as late as the 21st century, Taney’s opinions carry weight.
The Black Codes enacted to during the enslavement period, controlled every aspect of black life. Blacks must at all times be submissive, they could never contradict or raise their voices at a white, and striking a white brought certain death. But in addition, three or more black males could not gather. The possibility of a rebellion or revolt by the enslaved engendered fear in the minds of whites. As a result, Black Codes remain part of the collective consciousness of many white Americans. African Americans have never had the freedom to fully express their grievances in this country. Those freedom fighters who fought against enslavement were vilified as murderous savages. It can only be assumed from this stance that since the enslavement of Africans and African Americans was legal, that the immorality of the system did not matter. If enslaved people had no right to fight for their freedom, how dare modern-day African Americans believe they have the right protest their treatment in this country.
Yes, Americans pat themselves on the back and proclaim all of the progress that has been made in race relations since the Civil Rights movement. Most forget however, that black protests were met with unmentionable violence from beatings, setting buses on fire with passengers within, brutalizing school children with fire hoses and dogs, the bombing of a church in which four African American girls were slaughtered, and of course the murder of civil rights workers. No, the first amendment does not guarantee to African Americans the same right of freedom of expression as others in this society, history proves that fact.
Even peaceful protests like those of athletes such as John Carlos and Tommie Smith were controversial. The men simply raised their black gloved fists during the playing of the national anthem. For their human rights protest, both Carlos and Smith were suspended from the U.S. team, banned from the Olympic village and faced a barrage of death threats. It might be noted that Avery Brundage, who was president of the Unites States Olympic Committee in 1936, had no objection against Nazi salutes during the Berlin Olympics.
Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the playing of the national anthem to protest racial injustice and systemic oppression in the United States in 2016. This of course led to his being banned from the National Football League. Twenty-first century, “post-racial America” Black Codes were imposed upon Kaepernick, just as they were on Carlos and Smith. Kaepernick, a black man is, not protected by the First Amendment and as in earlier years had no right to protest racism in the United States. It is interesting however, that the flag is not considered to be desecrated when carried during white supremacy marches or planted steadily in the earth when black men were lynched.
Most recently, a Florida teacher was forced to remove a poster of Colin Kaepernick on February 27, one day before the end of Black History Month. This action raises questions about African Americans expressing opinions, choosing heroes, or even the way in which they are allowed to celebrate Black History month in “post-racial” America.
The now deceased and revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was castigated as a villain, a communist, and harassed by the FBI. From freedom fighters like Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner to modern day athletes, African Americans cannot choose who they will honor as heroes. There are no schools named for these heroes, yet Americans honor slaveholders and those involved in the extermination of Native peoples.
Freedom fighters such as the Black Panthers whose goal was the social uplift of black people through the first school breakfast program, health clinics, and self-defense were declared enemies of America and subsequently assassinated or jailed. Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is considered to be a terrorist organization.
Will there ever come a time in United States history where true freedom fighters will be recognized? Will the enslavement of human beings ever be considered an immoral rather than peculiar time in American history? Will African Americans ever be able to protest racial injustices in this country or must they abide by the Black Codes of being submissive and not assembling? Will African Americans ever be able to choose their own heroes? Will African Americans without fear of demonization and violence be able to enjoy the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to other citizens of the United States?