Why don’t we start off real slow? You all know I finished the James McBride book, The Good Lord Bird, this past weekend. And you know from my previous posts that it was a fictional account of John Brown’s incident at Harpers Ferry. Of course, that’s an understatement. But it has a direct bearing on what I want to say today about the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearings. We’ll get to that.
What I haven’t mentioned about The Good Lord Bird is a subtle little subplot that continuously breaks the surface of consciousness in the flow of the narrative, but in an unobtrusive way. The narrator of the story throughout is John Brown’s adoptee, whom he calls Onion. John Brown would have us believe Onion is a little girl he orphaned in a shootout with her slavemaster in which her father was killed by a stray bullet. But Onion is not a girl. He is Henry Shackelford, a 12 year-old boy, but he goes along with the deception, initially because he sees Brown as his new master, and, you know, you give white people what they want. As the plot thickens, Onion enters puberty, and while he wears a dress and a bonnet and accepts all the privileges of girlhood, he pretty much constantly struggles with the deception. Eventually, he falls head-over-his-heels in love with one of Brown’s daughters and reveals his secret to her as they part.
Meanwhile, every time Onion is in the company of black people, slave or free, they see right through the ploy, and go along with it, all except Frederick Douglass, who appears to have a small thing for prepubescent girls when slightly inebriated. But I’ll leave that story for your enjoyment when you read the book. Spoiler alert: Onion doesn’t die in the end.
Ok. Let’s put it in historical context. The subject is the Supreme Court case, Brown v Board of Education. ACB rightfully described Brown v Board as a super-precedent, a decision so overwhelmingly correct that it will never be overturned. OK. So Democratic senators tried to make a case that Roe v. Wade was similarly a super-precedent, to back ACB into a corner. Well, I ask, in no uncertain terms, how the fuck is there a similarity between Brown v. Board and Roe v. Wade?
Brown overturned a century of badly decided law. Yes, sometimes the Supremes get it wrong. Mind you, I am not a lawyer, nor have I ever spent a day in law school. President Frederick Humphries, when he addressed our honor society at FAMU in the mid-1980’s, mentioned three cases that all blacks should know. I made it my personal duty to get smart on those three cases.
Dred Scott made the determination that blacks, enslaved or free, “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The dissenter in the case, Justice Benjamin Curtis, at the time the only member of the Court with formal legal training, actually resigned his seat on the Court out of principled protest regarding the decision. The only one ever to resign a seat on the Court in protest over a decision.
Later, Plessy v Ferguson, also wrongly decided on several legal grounds, enshrined both a caste system and a type of racial apartheid that was legally enforceable throughout the country for the next 70 years, give or take.
As an aside, the Chief Justice on Dred Scott who died at the end of Lincoln’s first term while Senate was out of session, Roger Taney, was replaced on the very day that Senate came back into session. No, President Lincoln did not “wait and do the right thing” as claimed wrongly by Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, et.al. Senate was out of session for the election, and back in their states, and as soon as the senate reconvened, that very day, the antislavery attorney Salmon Chase was confirmed to the seat and appointed by Lincoln as Chief Justice.
Brown v Board overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and in some ways sought to remedy the Dred Scott decision, both wrongly decided by all accounts, and both of which had plagued this country for several decades if not centuries.
I know Roe is important. But Roe doesn’t overcome a provision in law that was universally applied to all citizens. Not even for all women, since not all women are seekers of the relief it grants. I have read accounts in the archives at Howard University of how medical doctors on the staff of their renown medical school were arrested, charged, and convicted for performing abortions in their off time in the 1950’s (though the biggest stink was only when they were caught performing abortions on young white girls, but that is another issue altogether). I have read about back alley abortions pre-Roe and how Roe made them unnecessary (even though they still continued). I am also aware of the number of black babies who have been killed since Roe was decided in 1973 but I won’t mention that here. Check out CDC figures at my August Wilson blog when, in King Hedley II, the wife of the protagonist was hellbent on aborting her baby. Also, Roe doesn’t overturn law that had been enshrined in the Constitution for decades. In fact, the Constitution never mentions abortion. Brown and Roe are not equal, not equivalent, not congruent, not even remotely similar on any grounds.
OK. That was a mouth full that it will likely get me in trouble. Good trouble. Come back and read this again later after I’ve had the chance to put in hyperlinks if you are one of the early birds.
Please feel free to comment in the comment box below. I’ll be watching.