When we hear the word “Holocaust,” we tend to think of Nazi Germany. But a local organization known as, America’s Black Holocaust Museum, invites us to look at that word and concept in a different light.
The museum was founded by Dr. James Cameron, a lynching survivor, who dedicated his life to advancing the rights of Black Americans and preserving the history of his community. But the head griot of the museum, Reggie Jackson, says the Black Holocaust isn’t in the distant past.
“The Black Holocaust is not something from the past, it’s something that’s past, present, and future, as well, because these things are not going to be resolved in any short measure of time. They will continue to be part of our lived experience for the foreseeable future,” says Jackson.
It started in 1619 when the first African slave was brought to the United States. Jackson says since that day, systematic racism has always been about controlling Black people. For example, the current structure of police departments in the United States evolved from slave patrols and for many Black people, that full control lingers when they see police in their community and why so many protests are sparked by police misconduct.
He cites the Kerner Commission Report, a seven month investigation in 1968 into the race riots of 1967, which found that police brutality was the spark for almost every incident in 1967.
“That’s very similar to what we are seeing today. The murder of George Floyd set off protests around the country which in some respects were no different than the protests that occurred in Milwaukee after Dontre Hamilton was killed by a police officer or after Ernest Lacy was killed by a police officer in 1981 or what happened in Baltimore after Freddie Gray died in police custody,” says Jackson.
When he lays out the historical connections, he often faces push back — especially from white Americans. They claim that these events are not linked, and the 246 years of slavery do not affect Black Americans today. Jackson says this is a fault of our education system focusing on the positives of American history and not adequately teaching the shortcomings of the nation.
“People can’t draw the connections between this consistent line of discrimination and racism against Blacks that has never ended. It started with slavery and it has continued through every period of American history, up to and including today there’s been an unbroken line of racism,” he says.
That gap in education is what makes him the most pessimistic about change in America. Unlike other countries like Germany or South Africa, he says the United States is not willing to take an honest look in the mirror.
“As long we continue to live in a society that refuses to acknowledge the errors of its past, refuses to acknowledge the ugliness, then you’re never going to see changes,” says Jackson.