Statue Limitations

 

 

There’s a statue of a man on public display in a major American city. He was a successful white man who owned slaves. He raped one of his teen slaves repeatedly and she bore his children. He committed treason when he rebelled and  fought against the country where he grew up.

So is anyone demanding this statue be removed? Not that I’ve heard of. The man is Thomas Jefferson, founding father, author of the Declaration of Independence  and third President of the U.S.

So why is the statue of a rapist slave owner, the centerpiece of  a national  monument  in Washington, D.C. acceptable while  the statue  of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville is not?

Honestly, I don’t know if the statue should stay or go. I can understand both sides of  the issue. I understand why it is offensive to some people to see a statue of a man who fought for enslavement of their ancestors. But I also understand why people see the statue of Lee and other southern generals as a part of our history and culture, the  same way Andrew Jackson,  a brutal soldier who practiced genocide, is remembered. Have there been any calls for his portrait to be pulled from U.S.  currency or off the walls of the White House and other government buildings? Nope.

Think about your own life, about something  from your past that you  desperately regret that you did. You’d like to go back and undo it, but you can’t. You’re stuck with it, ashamed of it, don’t  like  to think  about  it. Overall,  you’re probably a good person who made a bad mistake. What you can do is learn from it and not make that mistake again. That’s the way  it is with our country too.

You’ve heard of slippery slopes? This issue is the monster mountain of all slippery slopes. Just for example, there was once a country that practiced slavery from its founding  until it was  forced to free its slaves by use of military force.  What was this evil country? No, not the CSA.  I’m talking  about Texas. But while the Confederacy is so evil, statues of its leaders are being taken down, the statues of leaders of the slave country of Texas  are revered. This makes no sense to me.

It gets worse. The United  States of America was founded  as a slave nation.  Slaves were quantified  in the U.S. Constitution as 3/5 of  a human being. Think about it. The United States was a slave nation during the 18th and 19th centuries. George Washington, the father of the country, owned slaves.

You know who else practiced slavery? Every country that’s been around a few hundred years. Slavery used to be an acceptable situation. The Bible endorses  it.  So I guess we have to condemn most of the countries on earth for their slave nation past. And  if  you can’t  fly  the Confederate flag because it was a slave  nation, you also shouldn’t fly the flag of the U.S., Texas or most of the countries on earth.

You know, I don’t much care if the statues stay or go. It’s not that important to me. I wasn’t  planning  any  statue  tours anyway. I wouldn’t  mind if they stayed, I wouldn’t miss them if they’re gone. 

But I do think we need to all calm down and realize you can’t erase our racist past. And we need to realize that nearly all countries  have a racist past, practiced slavery, bigotry, and used violence and even genocide against  people  of color. If we can balance the evil side of Jefferson,  Jackson and Sam Houston against  all the good they did, maybe the anger over the southern generals is overblown.

As a country, the problem is that our racist past is still alive. That racists, neo-Nazis, and White Supremacists are turning violent on our streets is an alarming warning that the thinking that denigrated  some people to lower status in our history is alive and kicking, and punching,  and ramming people  with a car.

Why don’t we just accept that our country has a racist history, and  try to make  that a thing of the  past?  We  can’t  change what happened, getting  rid of statues is slim comfort, and  the only thing we  can do now  is try to stop  racism and prejudice of all kinds in the present. Let’s not forget  the lessons of our slave nation past so  we can have a better future for  all our people.

 

 

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A Change Is Gonna Come

Not the lynching I was told about, but probably similar.

Not the lynching I was told about, but probably similar.

I was sitting in my car in the Walmart parking lot watching people walk toward the store. Sometimes when Ann and I go shopping together, and I’ve been in the store too long, I get this claustrophobic otherworldly feeling and I have to just get out of there. It’s silly, I know, to fell claustrophobic when you’re in a giant barn of a building, but that’s how I feel.

But I’m fine when I get outside and I really enjoy watching the shoppers coming and going while I wait for Ann to finish shopping. It gives me hope. You see, I’ve lived long enough to witness some major changes in things. My oldest memories go back to the fifties, a time when the American rural South was largely white bread. Many small towns had signs warning minorities not to let the sun go down on them in their town. Many counties in the state where I live had for more than a century successfully kept minorities out and none of this really began to change until the 1950s.

The people I see in the Walmart parking lot these days are a diverse mix. I watch a group of young college guys heading into the store, some white some black, hanging together. A big Mexican family is getting out of a mini-van. A couple of gay guys walk for their car, one white one black. Another black guy is walking by holding hands with a young white woman. An older Asian lady walks slowly toward the door.

When I’m sitting in my car watching this parade of all kinds of people, it usually dredges up a memory from a yard sale I went to a few years ago. The sale was at the end of a rutted dirt track and when we pulled in, it was obviously a former farming operation. Some of the stuff being sold was old farm equipment, the kind that was pulled by horses or mules. There was lots of old stuff to look at and I remember buying something, but I can’t remember now what it was.

Like the stuff being sold, the woman I bought it from was very old. I ended up talking to her for a while. Older people are repositories of stories and history you often can’t find anywhere else, so when I have a chance, I try to get them to talk about what things used to be like. On that day, the old woman told me a story I’ll never forget.

It turned out she came from a little town called Pettigrew, Arkansas, a little country village to this day, about fifty miles off in the sticks from the bright lights. She started talking about when the railroad first came to Pettigrew. I wish I could remember the exact year, because she still remembered it, but I don’t, but it was sometime early in the twentieth century, maybe around 1910 or 1920.

One day, she said, not long after the trains started running, a young black man decided to ride the train down to Pettigrew just for fun. He got off and walked around the town, just looking around, sightseeing.

“They hung him,” she said. I understood immediately from living with the dark heritage of the South that “they” were the citizens of Pettigrew.

I was shocked. I guess I shouldn’t have been. The Tuskegee Institute recorded 4,473 lynchings, most frequently in the South, between 1882 and 1968.

I knew lynchings took place back then in Arkansas, but I’d never actually talked to someone who’d witnessed one. I could tell from the tone of the woman’s voice that she was haunted by it and probably had been for all the years since.

That pretty much ended our conversation that day. I didn’t know how to respond to her story. I didn’t have any words that would relieve her of that memory or ease its pain.

Now, when I sit in my car and watch the mix of ethnicities and types happily entering and exiting Walmart, I can’t help but think how much things have changed in the last hundred years.

Don’t get me wrong, I know racism and bigotry are still around. I know the South and the rest of the country have a way to go yet. I know intolerance and discrimination are still in some hearts.

But things are better than they used to be. There has been movement in a positive direction. You can walk the streets, no matter what you are, and not worry about being murdered by an angry mob. You can go to college, eat at restaurants, have a job and a career, love who you want, have a good life and not have to live in fear, and I take some comfort in that.