Robert Cooper’s Reflections on The 1619 Project

by | Mar 16, 2023

March 1, 2023

Dear America, 

I don’t have my gaze on being the next Black martyr – dead. 

turn your guns the other way.

keep your promise,

never again a black martyr.

And, I have something to say

and, I’m saying it:

I don’t go anywhere without invitation. I’m neither a separatist nor an integrationist. I’m the promise of humanity fulfilled.

Living from that place of fulfillment, I will fulfill the 1619 Project reading group’s request to write and share from my response, stirred by the poem “Other Person,” by Reginald Dwayne Betts.

They – Laura, Donna, Amy, Elizabeth, Lillian, Leslye, and Steve – were all there, with faces pulling for my courage to speak and to continue speaking nodding “You are heard. Your voice is welcome and important…continue bringing light.”

Laura acknowledged the difference my speaking made for her and Rabbi Donna asked me to write something, if I liked, and she would publish it in the Charter Oak newsletter. Of course, I’ll write something, though it may not capture what I spoke about on the 1619 Project reading call. 

Laura is the shero. Betts juxtaposes Cruikshank and Jim Crow. I heard of Jim Crow as a young adult and, to this moment, is shaped by the “Noble silence”, numbness, that is my response to Jim Crow. 

But Cruickshank? Never heard of it and apparently no one in the conversation has heard of it. After I pointed to its implied importance by being paired with the word Jim Crow, one participant mumbled Shawshank. Someone replied, “no that’s not it. That was a movie.” Rabbi Donna did an internet search and, apparently, came up with the same list of Scottish names as I did. Several of us thought it was odd that only a list of names came up in the search.

A hit! Laura found the word, having searched Cruickshank and black history. Laura read the short article: a massacre of 100 and an acquittal. The article’s content and Laura’s manner of reading began to dislodge an emotion – the numbness that I’ve shared with the group several times since we began reading The1619 Project, around July 2022, Torah Style, on Wednesdays at noon, on Zoom.

The Project’s articles and poems presented fresh news, which provoked shock, dismay and sympathy from some of the readers. I didn’t experience or feel anything in particular. Reading the history of crime, violence and dDemocratic injustice against me – us, all of us. That was my life we were reading about, not new news that started in the 1600s. I called my reading and listening experience numbness, until today.

Hearing Laura read the outcome of the Cruickshank massacre and hearing Betts’ poem come out of Laura’s mouth, “…drugs turn some people into three-fifths of what they were before a crack pipe,” the numbness dislodged and I spoke:

Cruickshank points to my numbness. I would expect the acquittal after the massacre. In fact, I would expect no trial before the massacre. After George Floyd was killed some were elated because the murdering cops were sentenced to prison. The trial and the outcome of the trial went the way they expected, the way of justice. I was shocked because the outcome wasn’t what I expected. My expectations and the expectations of generations before me were along the lines of the outcome of the Cruickshank Massacre – nothing happened that called for justice.

I spoke: I’ve never touched crack, nor seen a crack pipe. I am beautiful and intelligent and I’m just as dead as the crack pipe addict. I’m a zombie. That’s what I’ve called numbness. 

Having researched the symptoms of drug addiction, there are two symptoms I will address immediately: 1) failing in my attempt to stop using the drug, and 2) experiencing withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop using the drug.

I’m saying now: with Laura’s reading and those wide open Zoom faces, I felt a new emotion, an emotion I could give a new name – forgiveness,; gratitude, humanity fulfilled.

America I promise: I will not be stopped by the drugs called violence, democratic iInjustice and various “isms.” I will continue to speak from humanity fulfilled.

America, I too, like you, will keep my promise.

Robert Cooper

Related Articles