By Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
As one of the co-founders of the evolving environmental justice movement worldwide, I am always interested in how some people today who have amassed billionaire financial status view racism, slavery and the issues of diversity and inclusion. But first, let me state for the record, I believe in economic empowerment and freedom for all people. Especially for people of African descent that have experienced centuries of oppression and economic injustice, we should be always aware of the challenges and responsibilities to advance the cause of freedom and human dignity.
Usually the standard principles of preservation and conservation are used by people who are committed to caring for the protection of natural resources. Also conservationists and preservationists are supposed to help people to enjoy and appreciate the magnificent bounty of all of creation. Wow, these are lofty terms.
So how is it that there is a billionaire named Louis Moore Bacon who prides himself as a conservationist, but yet finds himself now at center of expanding allegations of racist actions in the Bahamas as well as in the United States? Why would a very successful businessman whose family was involved in the founding and funding of the Confederacy prior to, during, and after the Civil War take unprecedented steps to “preserve” and “conserve” former slave plantations?
In fact, the National Audubon Society, one of the world’s leading conservation organizations, is now weighing an urgent request to strip New York hedge fund giant Louis Bacon of an Audubon Society award that he received in 2013 for his work in the Bahamas. Bacon had attempted to preserve a historic slave plantation in the Bahamas and the Audubon Society originally thought that Bacon was up to something positive and good.
But in a recent letter to Audubon CEO David Yarnold, famed civil rights and high-powered African-American lawyer, William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr., has challenged the Audubon Society and demanded that the unjustified award to Bacon be rescinded. Attorney Murphy represents Vivian Whylly, a 53-year-old native Bahamian of African descent whose ancestors were brought to Bahamas in slave ships and then worked and died as slaves on the former Whylly Plantation at Clifton Point.
A relevant note is that Murphy also successfully represented the family of Freddie Gray this year after Gray died horrifically in Baltimore City police custody. According to Murphy, Bacon misrepresented the facts in getting the award and he also made racist comments in his acceptance speech at the Audubon ceremony. Allegedly Bacon went so far as to praise the slave-justifying novel “Gone with the Wind” as his “holy book.”
“It was Mr. Whylly and a handful of other local activists who spearheaded the 1999 movement to turn the plantation into a heritage park,” Murphy wrote in his letter. The truth is that many Bahamians took to the streets back in 2013 to protest the Audubon’s actions concerning Bacon and his public proclivities to trivialize the legacy and horror of the slavery of African people.
To my personal surprise as a result of some independent research about Louis Moore Bacon, I also found that he is spending a lot of money in the state of North Carolina to “preserve” and renovate the Orton Slave Plantation in the southeastern region of the state. Orton Plantation at one time was one of the largest and most brutal slave plantations in North America.
Bacon’s motives are not only questionable, but also as more and more research is conducted by Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates and other scholars about the quantitative impact of the Transatlantic Slave Trade on Africans and African-Americans, we have to be vigilant and concerned about any scheme to desensitize, trivialize or to downplay the actual genocidal realities of African slavery.
The Audubon Society should immediately rescind the award to Bacon and should itself repent for improperly vetting what was actually happening in the Bahamas. Yet there is the larger looming issue: Racism, Slavery, Injustice and Inequality must be forever challenged. Each generation must rise to the occasion of advancing the cause for freedom, justice, equality and empowerment. No matter how much money someone may have, there is never a justification for the trivialization and preservation of slavery and racism.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is the President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) and can be reached for national advertisement sales and partnership proposals at: email@example.com; and for lectures and other professional consultations at: http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.