Monday, January 19, 2009

Interesting talks

Last night my son and I were watching a History Channel show on Martin Luther King Jr. It seemed to me, as I watched the black and white footage of the first attempt at the Selma march, that I was watching an America from 100 years ago. An America I didn't know. I was trying to give my son a frame of reference, explaining a world and a way of thinking that he has never known.

One of the things my son wondered about was why it took more than 100 years, from the end of the Civil War until the Civil Rights movement, for southern blacks to truly gain equal rights? That was, and still is, a good question. A question I am not sure I or anyone can answer.

I told my son that the worst blow made to the newly freed slaves was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Without the leadership and vision of Lincoln, the nation tore it self apart again as factions fought over the reconstruction of the South. President Andrew Johnson, a southern Democrat, was no match for angry northern Republicans incensed at the assassination of Lincoln by a southerner, and he fared no better with southern Democrats who saw him as a traitor to the confederate cause. With the divisions in the federal government and impeachment of Johnson, the southern states slowly and deliberately enacted laws to deny blacks the freedoms won by those who fought and died in the Civil War.

Lincoln would have had a tremendous task, insuring the newly won rights of the former slaves, and no doubt there would have been more bloodshed, setbacks and even compromises, but the foothold of government sanctioned racism would have not been allowed to become a 100 year yolk around the neck of our nation. I told my son that had Lincoln lived, a 1960's style Civil Rights movement in the south may have happened before the turn of the 20th century. But what do I know?

The next two days offer two examples of how much this nation has changed since March 7th, 1965, and that Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama. If you asked one of the marchers or one of the march protesters if they thought somewhere out there, a four year old son of black Kenyan father and white Kansas mother would grow up to be President of the Unites States, I don't think either side would have thought it possible.

The great thing about this nation is its ability to change, grow and evolve. As Bill Bennett points out in his book, America - The Last Best Hope, one of the best milestones in race relation we experienced was not when Frank Robinson was hired as the first black manger in the major leagues, it was when he was fired. It proved more than anything else that we were ready to judge people on their performance, not on the color of their skin.

As President Obama is sworn in amid the fanfare and celebration, I can tell my son that America has come a long way in my lifetime and I hope it goes even further in his. While I will still vigorously disagree with policies and legislation I believe to be harmful to our nation, I will continue, as I did at church on Sunday, to pray for our new President. I would like to see Barack Obama remembered, not as the first African-American President, but as capable, successful President. I want him to succeed because I want America to succeed.

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