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…
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent in this country, I’ll stand.”
Colin Kaepernick can’t play professional football because he took to one knee rather than stand for the national anthem? What happened to freedom of expression? What happened to free speech? Is this still America?
I’m glad Mr. Kaepernick is socially conscious and courageous enough to take a stand (pun intended) by kneeling to protest the political climate that is negatively affecting many Americans — police shoot and kill unarmed black men in the streets of America and go free. Kaepernick protested in a respectful manner. That is not what happened in Charlottesville where a variety of white supremacists groups gathered for a rally. Heather Heyer was killed by one of them for standing for the rights of the oppressed. Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates died in a helicopter crash while on duty monitoring their violent event. We need protest. We need police protection. We don’t need another civil war.
I believe each of us should take a stand for a worthy and just cause. We should take a stand for our own rights and for those who can’t stand for their rights. Now is the time for all people in prominent positions who have a voice and a following to use their status for the good of the nation. I am not for speech which promotes and encourages violence. I deplore hate speech. However, America allows free speech for all. People can choose what side they support. I am slightly encouraged by some Republicans who have taken a stand against the racists’ violence on Facebook, Twitter, television, and other forums. Will their actions back up their words?
President Trump encouraged violence during his campaign. He continues to divide Americans each time he speaks. The majority of the Republican Party supports the president regardless of his objectionable behavior and divisive speech.
NAACP called for a boycott of the NFL, telling people to boycott game attendance and television viewing. It seems that a clearer message would be sent if all NFL players agree to take a stand by taking a knee at their game openers, that is, all players who are socially conscious.
There are people who stand for the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance, yet they teach and preach bigotry? There are those who stand for the national anthem yet stand against health care, immigration, voting rights, equal protection under the law, and a living wage?
What about those who stand for the national anthem but will not stand against police brutality? And those who stand for the flag yet stand against a peaceful protest by Black Lives Matter? Many of them are in the clergy, congress, state houses, and the white house. Some who fight against their fellow citizens probably stand for the anthem. They may even consider themselves patriots.
Colin Kaepernick is not what is wrong in America. There is too much ignorance. Ignorance breeds fear of “the other.” Hasn’t that become apparent over the last two years? If Kaepernick cannot get a job with the NFL, perhaps it is not because no coach wants to work with him. Owners want players to help them get to the Super Bowl, win the trophy, gold ring, and prestige. If Kaepernick doesn’t get a job because he is not good enough on the field, that is another matter. However, if it’s because of his social or political activism, then maybe it is someone higher than the owners, someone who “owns” the owners keeping Kaepernick off the football field. “Be Inspired”
Indict the American System, Not the Dupe
I do not believe that the fraternity boys should have been expelled from the University of Oklahoma. Nor do I believe that all should suffer for the actions of a few. I do appreciate the president, David Boren, seeing the need to expedite corrective matters. However, expelling two immature boys is not going to change anything concerning race on that campus or anywhere. Indict the system that separates and divides us. The system needs changing. We cannot change history, but we can change the racist system that has led to this and many such acts throughout the country. Why are we so afraid to confront racism in real ways, in ways that will help us understand one another? With knowledge and understanding, we can learn tolerance. We can live together in peace or continue suffering conflict. What will it be? America keeps missing its teachable moments. Why? We need to take out the emotion and have a real dialog on race matters. There is so much that we can do to foster learning, understanding and respect among our youth to help change the racial climate. Too many Americans will die with long-held biased beliefs about race, but there may be hope for the young. Race prejudice is learned. All racist beliefs are fear-based. What is the fear?
I am so grateful to have been part of your “Journey,” feeling truly honored.
Wayne South Smith
Your book is exciting. I’m half way through and learning information about our family for the first time…highly recommend to anyone interested in a well written, thoughtful book about personal growth and family interactions.
Congratulations! I am enjoying your book, so proud of you. It is just remarkable, the history, the family, your childhood and your life, so happy to read your book.
Love your book!
Mel and Pearl Shaw
I devoured the book in about two settings…I could not put it down. I now more understand why you are the wonderful person that you are. Thanks for sharing your Journey so beautifully!
You did it. Your book arrived Tuesday and I almost finished reading it. What a great job in sharing your life journey. Being born in the 1940s makes your experience understandable and one that I can relate to in many ways. It ties together your experiences and the times and history as well. Thanks for the book and sharing your story. Your honesty and courage are admired. I think that it is a reminder and a teacher that our history has evolved and some changes have been made. Thanks again, and I hope that many people will read your story. I plan to share your book with several people.
Thanks and rich blessings always,
Thanks for including your friend in your memoir. I’m enjoying reading your book, especially your homemade ice cream, “Bluebell.”
I am enjoying reading your book. I remember some of the comments in the book. Mrs. Gray is in my heart. Also, may god bless and keep you.
Thanks for the book. I am enjoying reading it. I didn’t know you had a farm life like me.
Congratulations on your book!
The book is awesome! I am so inspired by it and want to write a biography about my father’s mother. Thanks for writing your journey and sharing it with us.
Thanks for blessing me with a signed copy of your beautiful book! I have enjoyed it and will cherish this memento forever. I’m adding this to my bedtime stories for Nicholas and baby Preston so they can appreciate it as much as we do. God bless you for keeping our rich family history alive.
I love you,
Angela McClendon Johnson
Congratulations on this great accomplishment!
I received your book…Thanks for all your work, endurance and perseverance.
Two wonderful occasions to celebrate – a book launch and your 70th birthday. Congratulations on both!
Joanna and Alan
Congratulations on your book launch and Happy Birthday! What a wonderful birthday blessing!
I am very grateful for our friendship and for your life. You inspire me!
Happy Birthday and Congratulations on your book!
Mike and Mary Lou
Congratulations on your recent accomplishment—publishing your book.
I enjoyed reading your life story. Thanks for taking the time to share. May all who read it reflect and know who you are.
My memoir is now available at Abbott Press and on Amazon. Honoring My journey is a slice of my life that I wanted to share with my children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, other relatives, friends, neighbors, former class and school mates and the general public. I believe it has something of value for all people regardless of age or race.
I spent my youth during an exciting and interesting time in America. The country was comprised of a majority group (white) and a minority group (black), two polar opposites. The two groups have had to design and redesign ways of coexisting peacefully. The civil rights era brought change as black people struggled for equal access under the law. I write a little about what was happening in the country during that time. Yet, this is a book about my family for four generations.
They were ordinary people, not far removed from the slave experience, trying to make good lives for themselves and their descendants. They understood the value of education and landownership and took seriously the four-letter word WORK. They knew it was their responsibility to make it, to make a living and a life regardless of the opposition that segregation and Jim Crow, brought.