By Peter Brooks
Special to the AFRO
Including some 15 million people, 8 million square miles, over the span of 401 years and counting, the genocide committed against the Native Americans is unprecedented in both size, scope, and duration. While no longer deliberately given infected blankets, or rounded up and executed in mass graves, the war for survival of indigenous people has shifted partially into a cultural realm. I say partially because as I write this, Native women are missing and murdered at an alarming pace and Native American men are being killed by police at a higher rate than any other group in the country. For many, it’s hard to believe that the citizens of Baltimore City, and its current government share complicity in this unexplainable and unjustified horror and victimization, but its true. This denial of historical relevance is just one example.
It’s hard to imagine a person coming from the depths of Baltimore’s poorest neighborhood to become an international sensation. No one would believe that a kid from Druid Hill Avenue who never got his H.S. Diploma emerged to impact our popular culture at the highest levels. That two people, a brother and a sister did it from one house is shocking, unprecedented, and has never been seen in human history.
Peter Brooks, the grandson of the legendary Cab Calloway (pictured), attempted to have the Calloway home on Druid Hill Ave. preserved as an historic landmark. Without that designation, the home is scheduled to be demolished. (Photo Credit: Portrait of Cab Calloway, Columbia studio, New York, N.Y., ca. Mar. 1947. William P. Gottlieb collection at the Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
To go from last to first is an epic journey; that there is no landmark or passing down of this story from generation to generation may be because they are not white people. That their house is going to be demolished and this history erased is the cultural expression of genocide called “ethnocide.” I say that because all the white people who impacted the culture in a similar or even lesser extend have their homes preserved in Baltimore.
Ask any Baltimorean to point to a Native American historical site, preserved structure, artifact or landmark in the city, and chances are, they will be unable to do so. That is because they don’t exist. By erasing the culture and the history, the city of Baltimore has thus erased the people themselves, rendering Native Americans invisible. That is because for the people of Baltimore, and particularly the government, the eradication of the American Indian is complete.
In 2019, for example, two Lumbee Indian girls were victims of homicide in separate incidents. In one case the girl was listed on her police report as “black” and in the other the girl was identified as “white.” The attending city officials did not recognize them as indigenous. Thus, without a culture, sanctioned by the city, they are, according to Kerry Hawk Lessard, Executive Director of Native Lifelines, “denied their heritage in life as well as death.”
On the Official website of the city for tourism “Visit Baltimore” https://baltimore.org/ultimateguide/festivals-baltimore you will see the official cultural festivals in the city. There is an African American festival and a Caribbean, a Greek, Polish and even a Christopher Columbus parade, but you will not find a Native American anything. The fact that Baltimore even has a Powwow, organically organized by the Indian community goes unrecognized as no city politicians show up or issue proclamations. Yet, in nearly every other jurisdiction in the country, politicians use the Powwow introduce themselves to the American Indian community.
That the city has both a statue and parade celebration for Christopher Columbus serves as a firm reminder of where the city stands in the history of genocide against native people. Yet, Baltimore is not averse to recognizing holocaust. In some of the most prime real estate, the Inner Harbor, there is a huge Jewish holocaust memorial on land donated by the Baltimore City Community College. Ironic isn’t it, we remember genocide that took place on the other side of the world while actively participating in one at here at home. It should therefore be appropriate that the city solicits Berlin or Leipzig or Hamburg in Germany for memorial to the Native American holocaust.
Thus, it makes perfect sense why the city would deny historical status to Cab and Blanche Calloway, and yet extend it to a streetcar factory. To extinguish their history is a part of the natural order for this country, as evidenced by the neglect and ruin of the Calloway home that has brought it to thus.
I often wondered how they make these decisions and this incident is instructive in that for this city, preservation is about convenience, and political power. We could use preservation as tool for economic development, to right past wrongs to inspire future generations, but instead under the jurisdiction of Councilman Leon Pinkett specifically, preservation is a method to garner votes. In order to pre-empt any negative impact from the Calloway demolition, he flew my cousin in from Portland, Oregon for a press event so that he could say someone, anyone, in my family supports demolition of our now ancient homestead.
The operating philosophy to justify Native genocide in America is called “manifest destiny.” It roughly states that our “inherent racial superiority” means that God or destiny has given consent to the taking of land, kidnapping humans and forcing them into slavery and the rape, murder and systematic elimination of indigenous people and culture. It is prescribed by the thought that “because I have a gun and you have a bow and arrow; God loves me more because he has given me the power to kill you.”
Manifest destiny extends to include their right to prioritize, interpret and dictate our history and place in the universe. It is in full display in the current American holocaust along our Southern border today, with the separation of children from their parents, because they are indigenous. Baltimore’s decision to grant historical status to a streetcar factory over the history of Blanche and Cab Calloway and the Mutual Brotherhood of Liberty is layered within this type of thinking. The city in this decision illustrates that black or native history and creativity is inferior and less significant when compared to the history of streetcar manufacturing.
Yet, it begs the question why preserve a streetcar factory or the home of inventors and miracle makers in the first place? Why should we preserve native or African American history and culture? Why should we create legends? This case, I believe shows that we preserve and grant mythical status only in as much as it amuses the people in power. There is no unbiased triage or evaluation rubric by which they decide what to preserve, I know, because I have asked. It is arbitrary decision by two or three white men.
Therefore whites, and other authorities caught up in their power system, decide for us and dictate what of our history is important based on what gives them pleasure. For Native Americans in the city of Baltimore, the answer is “none of it.” It pleases them for example to have a German holocaust remembrance in the city, but it does not please them to have a Piscataway one. Thus, since they are not pleased with Native American culture, then we are forbidden from having a festival, parade or celebration on par with those ethnic groups with whom they are pleased.
Ironically, Cab and Blanche Calloway gave the world an awful lot of pleasure, but not so to the city fathers of Baltimore. It is undeniable that they laid the foundation for much of our entertainment today in music, animation, dance, fashion, literature and language. That they were not white and came from an impoverished background displeases the government, and that is why their legacy has been ignored to this day and why their childhood home will soon be erased forever from the face of the earth.
This is the desired conclusion and consistent with acts of ethnocide, continued genocide and a so called “cleansing” of an ethnicity. Why they wish this upon us I do not know, but I believe it is because our presence proves that a great injustice has been done by the white man’s hand.
We also show that while we have changed a great deal over the years since 1492, they have not. The white man of 1520 is pretty much the same as the white man of 2020 as far as his superiority complex is concerned. Their tools, words and technology have changed, but their ambitions have not. They still do not respect that we are human beings, that our lives have meaning, and that we should be treated in a decent way.