Look away. Look away. Look away.
It is that perspective that troubles me so mightily today.
It is very important today to remember how we treated Dr. King when he was among us. He was considered such a threat that the FBI conspired to defame Doctor King as sexually debauched and a Russian agent. A tremendous amount of effort was spent to discredit him; nothing was spent to protect him. When he came to Chicago, one of us hit him with a brick. He was despised with a raging hatred because white people believed he was going to lead a race war against them; regardless of how he preached non-violence, they could not imagine a situation other than dominance and repression; they could not comprehend the co-existence he dreamed of. Many of those people are alive and still voting today; the person who threw the brick could be in their 60’s or 70’s now.
The lens of African American history showed me that the path of progress is not straight; many times times progress has been made and painfully lost. After the Civil War there was a decade of reconstruction in the South during which black men could vote and hold office. Reconstruction era rights were enforced by the federal government; during this period more schools, hospitals, and roads were built in the South than at any other time. Still, whites chafed at seeing blacks in positions of authority and before long there was coup in North Carolina; blacks and whites who had been working together were killed or fled from the mob. The federal government did nothing. Reconstruction had become “Restoration” and in the restoration of white male supremacy (Local papers referred to the murderous riot as “White Men’s Day”). “Jim Crow” laws fell into place and the progress of Reconstruction was obliterated. Doctor King led a movement nearly sixty years later that restored and enshrined the progress lost after Reconstruction.
If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times,
history doesn’t repeat, it rhymes,
then somebody told me that’s one of Twain’s lines
but he ain’t here, so now it’s mine
We are living in a moment very much like the beginning of the Restoration Era. When Newt Gingrich chortles about undoing everything Obama accomplished it is an echo of the men who enacted Jim Crow; in the eyes of those screaming about “making America great again” are reflections of segregation. There are very few people with living memory of the so-called “Tulsa Race Riot” of 1921, which was when the neighborhood of Greenwood, then the wealthiest African-American community in the country, was burned to the ground by rampaging whites. Over 300 people were killed and 35 square blocks were destroyed. It was such an effective act of terror that nobody black or white spoke of it for years. The silence was so thorough that researchers found the microfilm record of the Tulsa Tribune for that day had been tampered with; many people had recalled that it had announced a lynching of a young black man accused of rape (the evidence as presented in the news accounts was nonsense). They also recalled that the police and national guard participated on the side of the rioters. That was 94 years ago when my grandmother was a year old infant.
January 16-19, 2017