Looking at the Past and Seeing the Present

I recently visited The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. I encourage everyone to visit, especially young folks who will soon be the teachers, politicians, ministers, and activists. They need to know America’s history. The Museum includes slavery, lynching, and the Jim Crow era of discriminatory laws, sharecropping, and other ways the American system re-enslaved many black people. What I found especially difficult was the present-day pictures of young people caught up in the criminal justice system. Mass incarceration is the new form of slavery.
My most poignant experience happened when I walked down the ramp and stopped before the “slave pen narratives.” Through the magic of video, the figures appear lifelike. I listened to the first person speak about his experience, but as the crowd was filing in quickly, I moved to the two children, a boy, and a girl, who were standing together calling for their mother. When the boy asked, “Have you seen my mother?” I backed away tears welling in my eyes. It is still sad even though it has been 153 years since President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery. Many mothers and children were sold to different owners and they would never meet again.
In an instant, I was back in the present time. I thought about the separations of children and mothers on the United States – Mexico border. The immigrants must be feeling the same emotions as the enslaved black people and their children – sadness, emptiness, helplessness, fear, pain, and hopelessness. How many generations will it take for these children to come to terms with their American experience? How many detours will they take on their paths to adulthood?
Freedom is not guaranteed. Not even in America “the land of the free.” Maintaining freedom requires constant struggle. Notice what is happening to our right to vote. Yes, the right that many marched and died for is now threatened. If you decide to skip a few elections and fail to respond to election officials, your name can be purged from the voting rolls in at least one state.
I was encouraged by the number of young people, black and white, that I saw at the Museum. Young people view the world differently from their parents. Perhaps they will not share the ignorance, fear, and greed of their parents and ancestors. Maybe they will have different views of Capitalism and Globalism. They may well realize that the environment is worth cleaning and saving.
School student should go on field trips to the Museum with preparation beforehand and time afterward to discuss and digest the experience. We need them to understand and to advance the cause of peace and justice. Let them learn about the horrors of slavery, the long-term damage that has passed down through the generations. They need to know and to understand so they will not repeat it. If you think, it cannot or will not be repeated, then look, listen, and pay attention to what is going on in these United States of America. I encouraged my grandson to always stand up for victims of atrocities no matter who they are. They are not different from you. They are you. Their struggle is your struggle.
Be inspired for good.