During the “12 Days of Blackmas,” we bring you the absolute best of theGrio Daily. The top downloaded episodes from your favorite Wypipologist Michael Harriot.
“Most of the violence that has been committed on this continent has been committed by white people.” We’ve all seen the Montgomery Melee, the Alabama Beatdown, or the Bama Brawl at that riverfront in Montgomery, Alabama. It was a sight to see, but there is more to it than you think. Michael Harriot is here to tell you the historical significance of that beatdown.
Read full transcript below.
Panama Jackson [00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.
Michael Harriot [00:00:05] Hello. I’m sure you’ve heard about it. It’s been called the Melee in Montgomery, the Bama Brawl, the Lay Down Some White Folks Down by the Riverside. And there’s been meetings about it. There’s been lots of discussion and tweets on Black Twitter. I’m not going to ever call it X or Zeeter or Skeeter. I think, you know, the Ying Yang twins own skeet, skeet, so we’ll never call it Skeeter. But I want to discuss this more in detail. And that’s why I want to welcome you to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that will tell you that the Melee in Montgomery was part of Black history.
Michael Harriot [00:00:49] Before we get into this episode, I guess we need to talk about what actually happened. So I’ve been on this tour a million times, not a million times, but a lot. I went to college in Auburn, Alabama, which is about 40 minutes from where this big brawl took place. I lived for 15 years in Birmingham, Alabama. So I’m just realizing now, as I was recording this, that most, more than half of my adult life has been spent in Alabama. And so here’s what happened. This boat usually takes off and there’s usually like a couple of river tours. The river runs through Montgomery and it runs, like most rivers do, to the sea. So a couple of times a day, maybe sometimes more on the weekends in the summers, they have these tours where make a group or rent it out, like for a wedding reception or a high school reunion or a fraternity party or just a regular day of people just buying tickets to get on a boat and they go out for a couple of hours and then return. It’s just as simple as that. It’s just like renting out VFW hall for a party, except it’s on a river. So on this day, a Saturday, August 5th, a group went out and when they returned, they saw that a pontoon boat was basically in their parking space.
Michael Harriot [00:02:18] And I don’t know if you noticed, but like pontoon boat white people are like a different breed of white people. There’s two kinds of white people you don’t want to mess with pontoon boat white people because that’s like, you know, where white people get enough money. They do two things. They put really, really, really big wheels on their pickup truck, or they get a pontoon boat. And so these were pontoon boat people. They’re like Confederates. They like sea confederates, ocean confederates, you know, the white supremacist of the sea. They like I was going to say, white pirates with their pirates were white. They’re like, if the Klan was also, they like the naval Klan, really. And so this group was parked in the parking spot of this riverboat, coincidentally, it’s named the Harriott II. And people keep asking me if there’s some relation, maybe, I don’t know, like, you know, the name of the white people who owned my ancestors. So, who knows? Well, the co-captain of the riverboat, the Harriott II, just got off the boat and was like, Hey guys, ya’ll parked in my space, and the pontoon boat people were pontoon boat people. So they did what pontoon boat people did. They got mad.
Michael Harriot [00:03:29] First of all, there were two other kind of white people, too. The second kind of like people I forgot to mention were the white people who don’t wear shirts. You don’t want to mess with white people with their shirts off. White people who just walk around without shirts on, that’s like pontoon boat people squared. That’s the reason the Klan wears those robes. They don’t have their robes over clothes. They have them over their bare chest. Where white people are at their most racist they take off their shirt. The racism doesn’t come. That’s why they say, you know, God knows their heart because the racism is really in their Chestol Epidermis. I think is the medical name for it. That’s why they say they don’t have a racist bone in their body, too. Because most of that racism, people don’t know this, but I’ve done research, most of the racism is in their skin, on their chest and upper shoulders. Right? And, like, sometimes it even spreads to the neck area and, you know, engorges the neck area, the neck skin, if you will, with blood, which is why they call them rednecks. I’m pretty sure that’s right. Maybe not, but I’m pretty sure that’s right. You know, and so these redneck and I’m not calling them that as a pejorative. I think that’s the medical term for exuding racism. Overall abundance of racism is called redneckness. So the redneck people swung on the Black boat captain of the Harriott II. And the people who were there, I don’t know if you know this, but Montgomery is a majority Black city, so that was the wrong place to do it. And there was a big brawl. There was a guy with a chair. I think he was listening to that old Paul Robeson song Swing Low. With a chair on them hoes. Get somebody to carry them white folks home. I think that’s the original lyrics.
Michael Harriot [00:05:14] Well, anyway, so when that happened, a brawl ensued. A dude jumped in. A 16 year old guy jumped into the water and went over there to offer some fade to the beleaguered white rednecks. Again, a medical term and Black Twitter was overjoyed about it. Now, the reason they were overjoyed is because, like, this was really an explicit example of what is rare in America, like justice, white people effing around and getting to find out immediately. It was a high tech finding out. The videos were just everything we imagined every time we wished a motherfucker would. And we got to see it in living color and high definition. And that is what people were happy about. Like not no violence, because again, the white people started. Again. Most of the violence that has been committed on this continent has been committed by white people, by genocide-ing the natives, by whipping enslaved people. Most of the lynchings were done by white people. We’re not even going to get into the violence part of it.
Michael Harriot [00:06:19] But there is one part of the violence that we often leave out. That little port on the river is a slave port. Now we often talk about the international slave trade. You know, I call it human trafficking because it was human trafficking. We’ve talk about it all the time, but we don’t really know the specifics of that. We don’t talk about the specifics of the trade of enslaved bodies enough. And one of the things that we often really leave out is the intra-national slave trade. Enslaved people would be brought to this country, we think, we always see from Africa. But most of the time it was from the Caribbean, from Mexico. The original enslaved people, remember, the people who came here in 1619, came from Mexico. That boat was coming from Mexico, where it was hijacked by pirates. So that’s important to know. Well, the intra-national slave trade was the trade of enslaved people inside this country. Right? So there were a few routes, right? So from Virginia to South Carolina, from South Carolina to New Orleans, and from New Orleans to Mobile, and all of those things went up that same river into Alabama. Remember, for most of enslavement; there weren’t trains in the South. There were very few airplanes, if any. So they weren’t shipped FedEx. They were literally. That’s why we call it shipped because they weren’t ships. And it wasn’t just oceans; it was rivers to take enslaved people from the coast to the inland. That’s why Mississippi had so many slaves because they could import them on the Mississippi River. And the same with Alabama. From 1848 to 1860. So the 12 years before the Civil War, right? The city of Montgomery, which still runs that little riverport, offered 146 licenses or what they call probates for slave traders to come in that exact spot where that pontoon boat was parked and load and unload slaves.
Michael Harriot [00:08:26] They would sell them right there, They would trade them right here, they would auction off right there. That was the slave spot. That was where the enterprise of owning Black people was centered in the state of Alabama. And we also have to remember that Montgomery was the first capital of the Confederacy. When all of the racists that together said we would rather leave America if we can’t continue to beat, whip, murder and rape Black people. They asked themselves, Well, if we’re going to do that, though, where would be the center of this white supremacist new nation? Like we got to have a spot that is the most racist. Because that’s where the capital is, right? It was going to be the capital of white supremacy. And the capital of white supremacy was Montgomery, Alabama. And on that spot, a pontoon boat shirtless redneck confronted a man who was just doing his job, not knowing that he was surrounded by people who were both buck and willing to knuck. Now, those two things are inseparable. You can be buck, but not be willing to knuck. Because all buck people aren’t good knucklers. But all people who can knuck aren’t necessarily buck. So most of those people actually weren’t buck, but it turns out that they could all knuck and the white people found out. And that’s why we got to see this explicit example of justice that gave us so much joy.
Michael Harriot [00:10:02] This is also the place, remember the capital of Alabama and the poll of the lawmakers who just said, Nah, we don’t care what the Supreme Court says. We drew a racist map. The Supreme Court overturned it, but we going to do it anyway. So this is what the environment was. There’s also a study that shows that places where Trump has rallies in the hours in the days after Trump has a political rally, they experienced more hate crime. Well, guess who was in town the night before this happened? Former President Donald J. Trump. And all of that, that history, that current events, all of that came together on Saturday on the shore of Montgomery. Alabama. And so when we look at this, we be like, you know, it just a thing that happened to them white people. But you have to realize, like when you’re living in a place that surrounds you with oppression politically, economically, socially, and you get your chance to offer a little dose of medicine to the people who have been dishing out pain.
Michael Harriot [00:11:12] If you look at that video right there, two guys really are in it. Well, if you notice, those two guys are wearing two identical t-shirts from a Montgomery area high school that says Class of 75. Now, if you think about it, being in the class of 1975 means that they would have been about 18. In 1964, they would have been about, you know, 11 years old. Well, what happened in 1964? Well, remember where those marchers were marching on Bloody Sunday from Selma? They were marching to Montgomery, which brings up my last point. When we see so much stuff about racism in Alabama, from the civil rights movement, from Bloody Sunday, from the Children’s March, from the bombing of Birmingham Baptist to the fire hosing to the Freedom Rides. People think that it’s because the white people in Alabama are more racist, but it’s not. They are not more pontoon boats per capita in Alabama. What Alabama does have is more Black people who are buck and willing to knuck. When you see all of those things, that’s because those Black people were fighting. They fought against segregation. They even sent their children out there. They fought against inequality. They fought against oppression. And they eventually won because white people could not knick. Oh, they were buck, but they could not knuck.
Michael Harriot [00:12:41] And so what this event shows us is that when it comes to Alabama, you have to consider the ratio of buckness to knuckability. And that’s just science. That’s just English. That’s just Black history. And that is why you have to subscribe to this podcast. That’s why you got to tell your friends about it. That’s why you got to download that Grio app. And that’s why we always leave you with a Black saying. And today’s Black saying is, “Knuck if you buck, and even if you not, grab a chair.” If you like what you heard, please give us a five-star review. Download theGrio app, subscribe to the show and to share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions and compliments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[00:13:34] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified.
Star Stories Podcast [00:13:39] I’m Touré. Join us for crazy true stories about stars who I really hung out with like Snoop, Jay-Z, Prince, Kanye and the time I got kidnaped by Suge Knight. Don’t miss my animated series Star Stories with Touré from theGrio Black Podcast Network.