Monday, August 10, 2009

I Write This as a Warning to the General Assembly


Question? What do Arthur Whitfield and Nat Turner have in common? They are forever to be remembered as 2 VA Negroes made famous by important milestones that flared into American consciousness in the historically heated month of August. And like many men of the colored and enslaved class both Nat and Arthur were ... are part of a system that has always positioned particular people of certain hues and views to be bred, borne and broken from cradle to grave and beyond. Furthermore, because this system of government took its first breaths on the shores of Virginia in the year 1607, 400 years later, doesn't it make sense that it here in Virginia where the leadership must be found to guide the nation in understanding how to move forward in the work of giving all citizens the right to share in the American Dream?

Answer No. 1: The first battle to claim victims in the Civil War was named after Nat Turner who lived from 1800 and died by hanging in 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia. Nat was called "Prophet." In 1831 the town of Courtland, VA was known as New Jerusalem It was said that Nat taught himself to read with the only book that would be found on a farm in 17th century America and he traveled from farm to farm preaching fire and brimstone. He often spoke of hearing God's voice commanding him to prepare for the time to slay slaveholders. It is very important to understand that back in the year 1800 when Nat Turner was born the United States of America was only 13 years old!

Additional Background: The Constitution was signed and ratified on September 17, 1787 after a raucous month of August that marked the birthing pains of the world's greatest democracy. And even today in 2009 America is still a young country. In the days of Nat Turner she was an infant. In 1831 if a household of any of the 60 men, women and children who died by Nat's command between August 21 - 23, 1831, had one book in it that one book would have been the Old Testament. The only other printed words to be found on those 19th century farms would have been a newspaper copy of their new nation's birth certificate which started with the following 38 word preamble: We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings in liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Answer No. 2: Arthur Whitfield is a 52-year-old Black man currently in need of health insurance. Six years ago in 2003 Mr. Whitfield was released from the Commonwealth of Virginia's prison system after being wrongfully incarcerated for 22 years. During the special convening of the Virginia General Assembly on August 17, 2009 the issue of compensation for Arthur Whitfield will be taken up by that august body.

Additional Background: The Virginia General Assembly dates back to the House of Burgess es that first convened in Williamsburg and gave voice to early leaders like Patrick Henry who is most famous for that rallying cry, "Give me Liberty or Death" in those first battles that began to define what we, in the 21st century, have come to know as the American Dream. And during the upcoming special session it is hoped that our leaders understand that their leadership is needed far beyond fixing a dollar amount to Arthur Whitfield's pain and suffering. The State needs to make right the wrong that stole a man youth. The Commonwealth of Virginia needs to lead the nation in healing the wounds left by injustice and oppression.

Solution: The JuneteenthVA Commission's mission will be to guide audiences in the work of looking back without shame or blame as diverse communities come together in the goals of reconciliation and progress. The time to do this is now. JuneteenthVA is doing this work now. Just like Health Reform is being addressed on the federal level in this August 2009, so should be the establishment of a JuneteenthVA State Commission.

Evidence: Please see the following community discussion with members from Sons of the Confederacy, a descendant of one of the victims of the Nat Turner Insurrection and the cast members from this February 21, 2009 presentation at Riddick's Folly Museum located in Suffolk, VA of my play "Abolitionists' Museum."

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