Recently, lifeless symbols of oppression fell to the ground like bayonetted soldiers. They have littered the American landscape for too long. They should never have been given places of honor in the country they seceded from and fought against in the Civil War. Why were the losers allowed to propagate racism through statues and monuments? Were Americans cocooned in a state of complacent apathy from the Civil War era until now? Statues and monuments of honor should go to people who worked for the country’s betterment not its destruction.
Confederate statues and monuments resulted from southerners’ desires to hold on to a past created with malicious intent. There was nothing honorable in the southern way of life with slavery as its centerpiece. They displaced and disrupted Indigenous people. As cargo, they imported Africans to raise their children, plant, harvest, and cook their food, clean their homes, build houses, cities, fortresses, and to service their unrestrained desires for sexual gratification and physical violence. Throughout the South, confederate statues have stood—and some still stand—as a reminder to white people of their “heritage” and to warn African descendants of their “inferior” status in America.
White Americans—even some black Americans—will not understand the slogan “Black Lives Matter” or the reasons to remove statues until they know the meaning of racism and its progenitor—white supremacy, a construct designed to insure black subjugation. To hold on to the myth of white supremacy, white people must see and treat black people and people of color as inferior.
It seems that statue removal proceeded without much thought. There was no plan, just the rage resulting from the murder of George Floyd times 400 years of black Americans laboring, suffering, and trying to live and thrive under white supremacy. As a black woman who lived during Jim Crow, I feel that rage, yet, I believe in knowledge and the right actions for correcting history.
I was surprised when protestors destroyed Grant’s statue. Grant was the Union General who won the Civil war and later became President. He was not a proponent of slavery. Grant grew up in an abolitionist family but married into a slave-owning family. His father-in-law gave him a slave named William Jones, whom he worked alongside for a while. Grant did not sell Jones, but manumitted, or freed him from slavery. Still, no human should own another.
General Grant accepted the surrender from Confederate States of America General Robert E. Lee at the end of the Civil War. General Lee acknowledged that the Confederate States would pay taxes and support then-President Johnson and the U. S. government. Lee was not in favor of erecting Confederate monuments. He said it would “keep open the sores of war.” He understood that such “honor” would be an impediment to the South and would add to its difficulties. He knew that it was undeserved. Yet, over time, confederate statues appeared in 31 states and Washington, D.C.
They erected those symbols in the late 1890s with a spike between the 1900s and 1920s. The timing is not ironic. Following slavery’s end in 1865, free black people focused not only on surviving but also learning how to thrive in the country where they now had a stake and could see a future. Black towns sprung up all over the country. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were upwards of 200 “Freedom towns” or All-black towns in 19 states. The most noted was the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma with its “Black Wall Street.”
White fear and envy destroyed the prosperity of Greenwood, as well as Rosewood in Florida and other all-black towns. The alleged motivation for white men destroying black towns was to protect the “virtue of white women.” The real reason was to hold on to power through white supremacy. How could whites continue the myths and stereotype black people as Mammy, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Tom, lazy, illiterate chicken- and watermelon-eating darkies, if free black people were learning, working for themselves, banking, building, raising families, and prospering like white people?
The first confederate monument was erected 80 years after the Civil War. More racists symbols arose in the 1950s and 1960s with Brown v. Board (1954) and the beginning of the Civil Rights era. Again, white fear and the need to show black Americans “their place” spoke through those symbols of white supremacy.
Perhaps no president deserves a statue. They are all flawed humans elected to serve their country for a short time. Should they be venerated for doing a job? Or should we assign them to the history books and write and teach the truth – good, bad, and ugly of who they were, but most importantly what they did to and for America.
Unlike monuments and statues which are easy to remove, Mount Rushmore and Stone Mountain seem to claim permanence in America. Mount Rushmore displays four United States presidents, Washington, and Jefferson, who both owned slaves, along with Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Stone Mountain shows three figures of the Confederacy—Generals Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, and CFA President Jefferson Davis. Should those seemingly indestructible monuments of presidents be erased, or can other people of distinction be added? Perhaps a collage of faces from different races who have contributed to the good of humanity can be added to Mount Rushmore?
In 1912, Helen Plane had the idea to put a Confederate monument on Stone Mountain. Plane, a charter member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), suggested to the first sculptor Gutzon Borglum, “I feel it is due to the Klan, which saved us from Negro dominations and carpetbag rule, that it be memorialized on Stone Mountain.” Carving began in 1915 and was completed March 3, 1972. The state of Georgia bought Stone mountain in 1958 from Samuel and William Venable “as a memorial to the Confederacy.” Plane’s letters to Borglum are among her papers (1915-1925) at Emory University. Plane and her group are responsible for many of the Confederate monuments erected.
We should remove symbols of white supremacy. No state should continue to sanction racism. Those who cherish the Confederacy could have removed their heroes before the wrath of protestors did. They could have them in their museums. Counterfeit heroes that perpetuate the myth of white supremacy have no place in America. No more tax dollars to maintain and promote racism. Take them down!
However, removing the symbols will not remove the longings from southerners’ hearts. Nor will it prevent them from passing on their “history and heritage” with its racist myths to succeeding generations. Will America finally stand in the present for all Americans, or will the myth ever end?
Something has happened to humanity. The atrocities police commit upon black citizens continue despite the civil rights gains, religious teaching, education, previous cases, etc. There is something inhuman about the police officer, who had his knee on George Floyd’s neck. He was deaf to Mr. Floyd’s pleas and repeated statement, “I can’t breathe.” He closed his ears to Mr. Floyd’s cry for his mother — his mother, who had already transitioned. In just eight minutes, the officer forgot his (own) humanity. Even the small crowd of concerned citizens gathered at the scene could not call him, or the three other officers with him, to their collective humanity.
I, a law-abiding black woman, have experienced unwanted and unnecessary police attention. The first time it happened, I was an eighteen-year-old college student. I spent one of the scariest nights of my life on the side of a Tennessee highway, wondering what was going to happen as the white officer harassed and belittled my father in my presence. I thought we were going to die.
The police stopped my son as a suspected burglar when he was a skinny, undeveloped high school student as he was riding his bicycle home from the tennis court; racket slung over his back. He came into the house, shaken by the encounter. I was angry, but mostly I was scared by the thought of what could have happened. It was then that I became anxious about my son’s survival as a young black man in America. I became fearful of the police and overprotective of him. I prepared him on how to respond when such occurred again.
Each incident where police officers shoot or choke African Americans leading to their deaths affects me. I feel for their families. It could have happened to several members of my family and me. Picking on black people has always been “sport” for them for generations.
I believe that those police officers’ actions were deliberate. Officers who kill black people are acting out of some individual and collective racial animus. They haven’t let go of inherent biases and environmental conditioning through their training. They view black people in the same manner as their ancestors did, which is less than human. How can such attitudes and actions be overcome? When those officers find their humanity – love, compassion, empathy, mercy, tolerance, etc. — then they can see humanity in black people and act accordingly.
Sadly, POTUS sanctioned racism in 2017 after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when he spoke of Nazis and white supremacists as “good people.” He continues to perpetuate systemic racism through his tweets, rallies, and policies. People of goodwill have struggled and died to correct much of the systemic racism in Ameri
I used to wonder if there were any good police officers. I know that there are some, but why does it seem that the good cops are never around when the killings happen? If there had been one good cop on the scene, she could have possibly called that rogue cop to his senses, his humanity, and prevented the death of another black man, George Floyd.
How much can a nation take? We are not like “the Greatest Generation,” a strong group who fought the Germans, freed the Jews and secured America’s freedom. They built communities and factories, had a strong work ethic, and valued family and civic responsibility. I was born during that war. Although “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair,” I have seen better days where the government is concerned.
Remember, when Michelle Obama said, after her husband won the presidential election, “For the first time in my lifetime, I am really proud of my country.” I was in my sixties then, yet I had never felt that America was my country, my home. I never felt like I belonged here until Barack Obama became President. As I was shivering in the enormous crowd on that cold, cold January Tuesday, in Washington, D. C. listening to the newly elected President speaking about the founding fathers as though he was a direct descendant, I got it. I felt the connection and started to think that I do belong here. America is my country.
Today, any day since the coronavirus appeared in America, I am unsure as to who and what America is. This country was shaken to its foundation in 2016 when the Electoral College put an unfit and unqualified person into the Oval office. This administration is steadily redefining America. It no longer wants to be the dominant power in the world. Its economy before Covid-19 was still number one, but its leadership has faltered, slipped, bowed, bent, and kowtowed to China. And for reasons unknown to Russia/Putin.
I watched daily briefings for a while. The experts say one thing, and the President says another. There has been much incorrect information from the beginning. I do not look to the government to save me from the coronavirus; however, I do expect sane, sober, and informed leadership.
I watched the President appropriate airtime, allotted to the coronavirus updates, to offer pipe dreams, settle scores, take swipes at perceived enemies, and rally his base. I tuned in to stay informed, but most of what I heard was gibberish; I tuned out. I trust my instincts to stay safe. I donned the mask and gloves before the government told me to. I pray that I will see real leadership in America again soon. These four years of foolishness and ineptness have taken a toll.
I cannot say that I long for the “America of old” because I am a black woman; America of old did not treat black people well. Yet, I pray for a time when the government respected the rule of law to some degree. I remember a time when scholarship, knowledge, experience, and excellence were valued and sought after. I pray for a time when the government operates on some measure of truth.
This Nation founded by immigrants, is now turning its back on them. This Nation, built mainly by enslaved Africans, has never paid their descendants the debt owed. This Nation that once ran the world now runs from it like a timid little puppy. This mighty Nation that set the standard for world leadership in times of crisis now shrinks into the background chanting “America First” as China steps in to fill the void.
I know that the President cannot do anything to bring Kobe back. Perhaps he cannot do anything about the impact of the coronavirus either. The President decided to believe much too late to take adequate measures in combatting the virus. He agreed that it was a hoax when he heard about it in January, or before. America needs leadership that is conscious, competent, capable, and caring. Is that too much to ask?
The 45th President of the United States of America has been impeached. The question that remains is will he be removed from office?
For three years now I have been mystified by the Republican Party’s acceptance of the lawlessness of their president. I say “their” because he has not addressed the majority of the country, only those who voted for him and those who have given him their allegiance. I understand their devotion to him in return for what he is giving them: Supreme Court judges and federal judges that are on track to change the complexion of America; tax cuts for the wealthy; changes in abortion laws; removing regulations affecting the air, land, and water; keeping immigrants of color out of the country. The federal government is understaffed. The USDA is eliminating inspectors. School lunches will now allow more fun foods like pizza, burgers, fries instead of fruits and vegetable. This is just a few concerns.
If I was getting most of what I wanted would I be concerned about his immorality and lawlessness? It is policies that matter, right? Would I care about his ugly and often violent language? Would I close my eyes to his personal financial dealings at home and abroad? Would I ignore his cowardly demeanor in the presence of Putin (Helsinki)? Would I question his relationships with America’s longtime enemies and ignore how he speaks against his military and FBI? Would I care how he and his daughter are earning wealth because of their positions in government?
If impeachment had happened as a result of the Mueller Report or the first time POTUS showed treasonous behavior, V-POTUS could have stepped in and taken over. However, it is too late for that. He is nearly as deep in the morass of wrongdoing as the president. What a dilemma for the Republicans. I cannot imagine them elevating a Democrat to the presidency. Remember, the Speaker of the House is third in in line for the presidency. If POTUS is removed from office, the second and fourth in line would also have to be removed. That only leaves third.
I can’t think of any other reason why the Republican Senate will not do its job and remove this rogue president from office. Can they be that afraid of a tweet? Or is it about losing their seats. They have relinquished their moral authority and their power to serve as a check on the presidency. They accept lies from their leader when they know the truth. That group of Senators is perfectly groomed for this new era of government we appear to be moving toward, whatever they call it. Maybe it will work for many of them and the wealthy. But I have a strong feeling that the masses will rise from complacency, lethargy, and the comfort of the couch and hit the streets demanding their rights as citizens. Why should this country only exist for a few?
I don’t want civil unrest to the point of war. I’m thankful that the white nationalists’ second attempt at starting a race war in Charlottesville, Virginia failed. Thank God for the FBI and all the National Security workers that to keep America safe from domestic and foreign terrorism. I don’t see a winning side in another civil war.
How long will the American populace put up with this corrupt, incompetent, understaffed administration? How long will Americans tolerate foreign intervention in elections? How long will Americans sit idly as America’s Democracy is demolished? How long will Americans accept the swap of ally nations for enemy nations? How long will Americans allow their tax dollars to go into the pocket of the president through unconstitutional emollients?
“Rule of Law” is already an idea that I look back at wistfully. It has fallen into the era we refer to as “the good old days” or as some say “back in the day.”
I have been tuned in to the political scene since 2007, but most especially since 2015 when I witnessed a spirit of division descend upon this nation. I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears at times as relationships, values, behaviors, respect for law, and decorum declined. Back then, I was on the same page as Lindsay Graham, Ted Cruze, Romney, and so many other Republicans who saw the truth of the man they would later elect as their leader. Now they see the reality of what is — Trump/Putin or Pelosi?
I have watched most of the Impeachment trial thus far. The Democrats have put up a good fight for Democracy. They have skillfully used the Constitution, early American history, recent history, prior impeachments, the president’s own words and actions, witnesses, Republicans statements, and much more. It has been educational. So much preparation has gone into the proceedings. However, I believe it is all for naught, zero, zilch.
When it was time for the defense, all POTUS’s lawyers could do was complain, criticize the Democrats’ process, and throw in nonessentials. They have also brought in Obama, Clinton, Bidens and Barisma. They have no defense. How can they defend the indefensible?
The Republicans don’t have to do anything, unless the people demand it, but deny the Democrats everything they are requesting, and go back to the Senate to continue doing nothing until they are removed from office. They have already told us that this POTUS is a keeper. Unless there is some new revelation that they absolutely cannot ignore, the deal is done.
Do we still have a Democracy or more specifically a Republic — a representative government of, for, and by the people, where the people get to choose their leader (President) and their representatives (Congress = Senate and House of Representatives) – where the people rule through their representatives? Or do we have something bordering on a Monocracy, Autocracy, or Dictatorship?
As I wrote in a previous post, perhaps it is time for a new era of governing. The Founders put all the constraints in the Constitution, but if it is ignored, then what do we have? what can we do?
When Ben Franklin was asked whether we have a republic or a monarchy, he answered, “A republic if you can keep it.”
Empires rise. Empires fall. Is Democracy falling? What is going on in America? Is it time for a new form of government?
I admit that I was largely ignorant on the subjects of politics and government prior to 2007, when then Senator Obama, ran for president. Since that time, I have stayed tuned in to discussions that affect the future of this country. I took Democracy for granted, just thought it would always exist. After all, wasn’t it the best form of governing — of, for, and by the people? I have come to appreciate America’s representative government where citizens participate.
I listen to liberal media and read
Instead of only reporting on healthcare, the environment, education, housing, the homeless, veterans, and the military, voting rights and voter suppression, immigration, foreign relations, and all other areas that affect us; the liberal media concentrates on the president’s faux pas. Some want to see him perp-walked out of the White House and into a jail cell. What has happened to the White House press briefings? Don’t citizens have a right to know what their government is doing? We need the media in every era, especially investigative reporters.
Some Americans like the direction of the country. They are the minority of the electorate. They wanted and got conservative Supreme Court and federal judges. They wanted and got fewer regulations on the environment, banking, energy, and more that affects the bottom lines of businesses and corporations. The 1% who got big tax cuts may be happy with this administration.
The Make America Great Again base doesn’t necessarily fall into the 1%, yet they support the administration because of its efforts to resurrect the era when government defined the parameters for black and brown people. For some, America has become too diverse. They support the immigration policies. Many MAGA citizens want America to look and feel like it did in the 1950s and before. I don’t want to go back to Pre: Roe v. Wade, women and gay rights. I don’t want to return to that apartheid/segregated system where I was a second class citizen.
When I expressed my fears concerning the administration, shortly after the inauguration in 2017, as it began disregarding the Constitution, a student of history and government said, “This is America. We have the rule of law.” I took some comfort in that at first, but since that damning “Muller Report” was released, I have again returned to fear. I found it to be a doozy. It made me doubt the existence of the rule of law. Does it exist anymore? I am concerned that America has given up on democracy and the rule of law. What will demonstrate to the masses that Democracy is dying?
What I don’t understand is how the administration can disregard the Constitution and the rule of law, which makes possible their lifestyle. Don’t they appreciate the freedoms that they have and the wealth that they have acquired under this United States American Democracy, which allows capitalism to flourish? Or do they think that the majority of citizens will accept what they are offering – an oligarchy, a government in which a small group exercises control, especially for corrupt and selfish purposes. Or any other government in opposition to Democracy –·despotism, autocracy, tyranny, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, absolutism, fascism. Whatever the name, they are all oppressive, repressive, suppressive. Look at Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar. Or is America becoming like Russia or a dictatorship such as North Korea? How about a dynasty? A king?
Though the forecast is cloudy and uncertain from where I sit, I want to believe that the impending storm will fail to materialize as the Senate rises from paralysis and saves the nation from a despot before it is too late. Will the Senates save Democracy and Rule of Law? Or, must the people rise (as in Hong Kong) and take to the streets to save Democracy?
What a beautiful sentiment we extend to all mothers and women who take on the role of mother – adoptive mothers, foster mothers, aunts, friends, godmothers, and play mothers – all who take care of children. The holiday’s founder made it singular possessive, a greeting from a child to her own mother.
I don’t remember celebrating Mother’s Day when I was a child growing up in Tennessee. In fact, I was a child who did not fully appreciate my mother. I think I knew that she had my best interests at heart as she raised me to be a moral, hardworking, independent woman. That bit of wisdom dawned on me as I got older. I resented much of her admonition at the time.
My mother, Ophelia Jefferson Gray (1922 – 2001), came through the Great Depression of the 1930s with a fierce determination to get an education and become a school teacher. She remembered the Depression as a time of hardship and struggle. Since she lived on a family owned farm, she did not go hungry. However, there were lean years that she never forgot. Those years continued to a great extent into the 1940s during World War II when rationing was a way of life. My mother never completely overcame that mentality of lack. On the plus side, she always knew how to make do. She could make a delicious meal out of slim pickings. She could grow a garden filled with vegetables and preserve them by canning and later on freezing enough to get through the winter months. My mother made pickles out of watermelon rinds and even canned cooked chicken. She sewed clothes for herself and for me her only daughter. She went to cosmetology school and learned to hot comb/press/straighten, curl, and style hair in the fashion of Madam C. J. Walker, so that she would always have an income, even during the summer months when school was out. She lived with her parents, after separating from my dad, until she could buy property and build her own house, which she did in 1958.
My mother suffered indignity, which came with being black in America, during her youth. She taught me how to face the world with dignity and grace. She gave me a sense of value so that I would never allow myself to feel less than others. She wanted me to experience life differently than she. Nothing came easy to her. That kind of life leaves much emptiness inside that is not easily filled. Yet, she enjoyed having her own home on land that she had bought. She remained curious throughout life. She enjoyed gardening, reading, learning, and travel.
Anna Jarvis founded Mother’s Day to celebrate her own mother, Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis for all that she had done for her children and the community. Due to a lack of sanitary conditions and childhood diseases, only four of her 11 to 13 children survived to adulthood. Mother Ann Jarvis responded to the needs of her time by becoming a social activist and community organizer. In 1858, she started Mother’s Day Work Clubs with other women to improve health and sanitation among the populace during the public health movement in the United States. Though she lived in Virginia, a southern state, she and her club members remained neutral and provided help to wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil war.
Daughter, Anna Jarvis said that a mother is “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” Why not set aside one day during the year to acknowledge her. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed an official document designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. It is celebrated as a national holiday in the United States.
What would Anna think of the ways we honor our mothers today? Actually, we know. Her idea of how to honor your mother was simple; each child should write a letter or visit her own mother. To Anna, it was a time to express sentiment and appreciation. Anna wanted mothers to wear white carnations on Mother’s Day. To her, they symbolized a mother’s love. Today, people wear white carnations to honor a deceased mother and red carnations for a living mother.
Anna fought against commercializing Mother’s Day. She filed lawsuits and signed petitions to rescind the holiday because it had been misused and was far off from her intent. Anna never had children. The irony is that Anna did not want the holiday to be associated with commerce/money; yet, she spent all of her money fighting to end it. In 1948 Anna died in poverty. Anna Jarvis could not stop the momentum that the holiday had gained throughout the United States. When an idea becomes zeitgeist, it takes on a life of its own. Mother’s Day has continued to become more commercial as Americans have become more prosperous and materialistic. Each individual must choose how to honor his own and her own mother on Mother’s Day and every day.
In honor of my mother, Ophelia Jefferson Gray (1922-2001), Educator
Happy Mother’s Day!
Gov. Northam was photographed in either “black-face” or dressed in a KKK robe when he was attending Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1984. If the incident had occurred at a private party, then perhaps we would not know about it. The governor admits in his apology that his behavior was “clearly racist and offensive.” Cell phones and social media were still distant creations then; however, there were cameras. The governor actually posed for the photograph alongside a buddy. Was the picture taken for school’s yearbook? One wonders how the picture got past the editorial staff. What was the prevailing racial climate at that school? Were there any black students enrolled there? Did the yearbook staff have a faculty advisor? (If the picture is the governor and he doesn’t remember taking it or remember who the other person is, then what does that say about him? If it is him but he doesn’t remember the occasion, then what does that say? Was this ordinary and frequent behavior for him and his friends?)
I don’t know why we continue to register shock when we discover the racist pasts or present of a leader (Congressman Steve King, R-IA). There was a time when it was not only acceptable to be racist; it was taught and encouraged. White supremacy was the acceptable way. A war was fought to preserve that way of life in the South. Southerners erected monuments to their Civil War heroes who tried in vain to preserve their way of life. Those monuments are an affront (as intended) to black people of African slave heritage. Yet, we have to endure them in the public spaces as we go about our lives. There have been some efforts to remove them since the violent racist uprising in Charlottesville, Virginia that killed Heather Heyer. Most still stand.
Some of us thought that that time ended with the passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws of the 1960s. Those laws were passed after much struggling and fighting and dying for those freedoms. But laws cannot change who we are at our core. We can obey the laws of the land without making a conscious effort to change who we are inside.
The governor is getting constant calls to step down from his position. I think that if we call for all the people in government with racism in their backgrounds to resign, then we would have many new elections taking place. It takes time and effort to come to terms with racists’ beliefs and behaviors. We have to root out the causes of such and learn new and different ways of being and behaving.
I am not saying that Gov. Northam should resign his position. His policies seem to be in the best interest of Virginians. However, if he tries to stay in his position he probably will have no chance to further effect change in Virginia. He is a Democrat. For that reason I would like him to step down. One party has to hold on to some vestige of morality. America needs a moral standard. Enough going down the ways of debauchery, thievery, extortion, lying, cheating, and stealing.
Perhaps the governor will have resigned by the time I post this. If he has, then that is the right thing to do. If he hasn’t then I understand. America is at a crossroads. What is good has been made to look bad and the bad has been turned into what is winning.
We cannot remove racism from the country by removing people from political office who have held or still hold racist views. Yet we see how racism leads to policies in voting rights and criminal justice laws and others that still negatively effect African Americans. Perhaps we need to investigate candidates more thoroughly before voting for them.
Governor Northam has presented us another teachable moment on the subject “Race in America.” Will we seize it and learn from it, or will the lesson dissipate as a vapor in this partisan political atmosphere? And again we start from square one.
When these incidents happen in this country, leaders and others rise up and say, “That’s not America.” I disagree. That is America. We must stop whitewashing (no pun intended) America and pretending she is something that she is not. Look at what is happening to brown and black immigrants who are coming to this country for a better way of life. Look at how black African Americans continue to be treated in their own country. America is still a work in progress. We are yet working toward “a more perfect union.” Remember?
We often go through life on automatic honoring certain traditions, celebrations, and customs with little or no thought. I decided to stop doing that starting with the National Anthem. Do you find its lyrics meaningful, inspiring? Do the lyrics make you feel a kinship with the people, a connection with the land, and cause you to appreciate the military? Does it make you appreciate freedom? Have you read it in its entirety?
I never thought about the lyrics until the fallout that ensued after professional football player Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the playing of the Anthem to protest racial injustice. Now that I have tuned in and woken up I want to share some history on the Anthem’s lyrics.
The lyrics were written by Francis Scott Key, a slave-owning lawyer who represented his fellow slave owners in court battles. In 1814, Key wrote a poem entitled “Defense of Fort McHenry.” It became the “Star-Spangled Banner” or America’s National Anthem. Key was inspired to express his feelings of gratitude the morning after he had watched “bombs burst in air” over Fort McHenry. The British were putting up a good fight during the battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. It must have looked terrible to Key from his position on a ship in Baltimore Harbor. Yet, “at the dawns early light,” he saw “the star-spangled banner yet wave.” That flag must have been a beacon of hope and a source of pride and inspiration for Key as an American citizen and patriot.
As an American of African heritage, I know that my ancestors were not celebrating as the bombs burst in air. They were toiling for a country that exploited their labor. There was no win and no freedom for them. They didn’t view America as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
What’s sung at sports gatherings and on other occasions is the first verse which is a literal account of the battle and its aftermath. The song is limited in its scope. It glorifies the flag (freedom) and military might, but says little about the country, the land that is the United States, or the people.
In verse three, Key turns his attention to the slaves who joined the British to fight against America. Those slaves wanted freedom for themselves and their families. Key disparages them and disregards their desire for freedom. That flag, the literal Star-Spangled Banner, represented their capture and continued imprisonment in a system from which they had few options to escape. Therefore, if we honor our ancestors, can we, in good conscience, stand and show reverence for that symbol. I think a national song is a good thing, but not the current one.
The current Anthem is violent and obsolete and should be replaced by a song that is inclusive of all Americans and one which celebrates the beauty of land, the military and freedom. “America the Beautiful” by Katherine Lee Bates has been suggested by some. Bates was a professor who was inspired by this beautiful countryside as she traveled by train from Boston to Colorado Springs. People will probably not object to her background or her lyrics. “God Bless America” is a beautiful solemn prayer written by Irving Berlin during World War I. It was revised prior to World War II and considered for the Anthem. Some objected to it because Berlin was a Jewish immigrant.
I think “God Bless the USA” written by Lee Greenwood in the early 1980s would make a good Anthem. It has been suggested. It expresses love for country even after tragedy where everything is lost; sees the flag as the symbol of freedom; appreciates the military for gaining that freedom; and encourages patriotism among all Americans in each region of the country. In this current political and racial climate does it matter what the Anthem is? What does the flag as a symbol stand for anymore? What do you think? Be inspired for good.
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.
Last Saturday I found myself watching the funeral services for former First Lady Barbara Bush. I didn’t set out to do that, but I turned on the television and there it was. Mrs. Bush served honorably and admirably as First Lady from most accounts I’ve heard; her farewell celebration deserved viewing by the populace. So I sat and listened.
I wasn’t tuned in to politics when George H. W. Bush was in the White House and Barbara was the First Lady. However, I remember President Bush’s 1,000 Points of Light initiative which encouraged volunteerism because I did volunteer work during that time and was part of two organizations that received the Daily Point of Light Award.
Each First Lady has a project that she promotes which becomes part of her legacy. Mrs. Bush believed that people had a right to be literate. Her foundation focused on teaching adults to read. Yet, from what I heard during the service, her legacy was more than literacy. It was about her many roles in life — wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. She cherished her family.
The service honoring Mrs. Bush was an interesting look at her life; however, what I was witnessing was the passing of a time, an era when leaders had some knowledge of government and the world, sophistication, dignity, patriotism. (They were not perfect)
The longer I live the better I understand why America’s Greatest Generation was the one that Barbara Bush was part of. My parents and teachers were part of that generation. They were flawed humans, but they understood sacrifice, service, commitment, and duty. They had a strong work ethic; self-respect and respect for others; they valued truth, a good name, and family.
Are those values null and void today? Is the younger generation aware of them? Actually, it was not the youth that I thought about as I watched the service. It was those in government, those in power who show such poor examples of behavior and decorum. They are the people who cause me to ask what happened to encourage discord in the public forum. Why are we so blatantly rude, hostile and mean-spirited? What has happened to decency?
I know times change, but for the worse? I used to believe that humankind was steadily evolving from a lower state to a higher one. Now, I’m not sure. To me, this time feels like a car with its gear in reverse; the brakes won’t work; it’s heading backwards towards a cliff…