The Measure of our Stride

As the events of Charlottesville unfolded I became despondent.  Is the United States I have been praying and fighting for the last 52 years backsliding into the abyss of white-supremacy?  I substituted in a high school history class Friday and fielded questions from students afraid of what is happening in the world around them.  I told them that my generation tried to deliver a country free of racism and bigotry.  Unfortunately, I guess, some issues are so strong that each generation must face and deal with them.  Such is white-supremacy.  They must now pick up the mantle.  Feeling dejected, I read this article by Bruce Hartford of the Bay Area Civil Rights Veterans.  Bruce gives me hope and something to consider any time I think that the U.S. is slipping.  This is not the 1960s and our world has changed for the better.

Bruce Hartford:  As we watched Charlottesville on TV last weekend I’m sure we all shared the same emotional reactions — outrage, anger, trepidation, and disgust. Yet as subsequent events unfolded I confess to experiencing a quiet sense of satisfaction and yes, of pride in a popular response the revealed the shape of what the Freedom Movement of the 1960s actually accomplished. We changed America for the better — irrevocably.

I remember the 1950s and 60s, when KKK, White Citizens Council, and John Birch Society were normalized and accepted components of our political fabric, when white politicians nationwide regularly and consistently espoused blatant racism that was far worse and more explicit than Trump’s inane utterances, when derogatory racial “humor” was a staple of our culture, and when the reaction of mainstream media, society doyens, and leaders of business was most often uncomfortable silence or — at best — some form of disdainful “tsk tsk, tut tut, cluck cluck.”

Now, today, 50 years on from Greensboro, Greenwood, Birmingham, St. Augustine and Selma a white-supremacy march, mob violence against nonviolent advocates of racial justice and the blatherings of a race-baiting politician are met with:

  • Almost universal condemnation from the mass media, social and political leaders, and even some staunch conservatives.
  • Led by the CEO of the 7th largest pharmaceutical corporation in the world — a Black man — and the CEO of Pepsi — an Asian woman — the most powerful leaders of industry and business turn their back on the president and resign in protest.
  • The country’s top military leaders, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issue an anti-racism statement of leadership and principle that openly rebukes their commander in chief.
  • The descendants of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson support the removal of monuments to their ancestors from public spaces.
  • Mass protests against white-supremacy surge across the nation including the South. One example being 40,000 standing witness against racism on the Boston Commons. And more to come.

Yes, the KKK and homegrown Nazis are still with us, they’ve been in our midst for generations and that’s not likely to change. But the Freedom Movement of the 1960s forced government and society to constrain and contain their violent acts though not their thoughts. And the reaction we are seeing now to their re-emergence gives me hope that we will do so again.

When I was a kid in the ’50s, memories of World War II were still strong among us. I remember a Bill Mauldin “Willie & Joe” cartoon of the two “dogface” foot-soldiers standing on a hilltop next to a destroyed German tank looking back towards a column of smoke in the far distance. “Gawd Joe, here they wuz and there we wuz.” They knew the war wasn’t over, but they were measuring the distance they had come. So too do I measure the distance we have come from the 1950s and ’60s. A luta continua!

The events surrounding  Charlottesville, VA,  left me troubled and sad.  I substituted in a high school history class and was faced with questions about what is going wrong in this country.  I often feel that 52 years of my life’s work may be wiped out because white-supremacy is back with a boom.  I have not been seeing the total picture, however.  A wiser voice has spoken and I include his article here.  The following was written by Bruce Hartford, member of the Bay Area Civil Rights Veterans.  His is one of the few voices I have heard that give me hope.

From Bruce Hartford:

As we watched Charlottesville on TV last weekend I’m sure we all shared the same emotional reactions — outrage, anger, trepidation, and disgust. Yet as subsequent events unfolded I confess to experiencing a quiet sense of satisfaction and yes, of pride in a popular response the revealed the shape of what the Freedom Movement of the 1960s actually accomplished. We changed America for the better — irrevocably.

I remember the 1950s and 60s, when KKK, White Citizens Council, and John Birch Society were normalized and accepted components of our political fabric, when white politicians nationwide regularly and consistently espoused blatant racism that was far worse and more explicit than Trump’s inane utterances, when derogatory racial “humor” was a staple of our culture, and when the reaction of mainstream media, society doyens, and leaders of business was most often uncomfortable silence or — at best — some form of disdainful “tsk tsk, tut tut, cluck cluck.”

Now, today, 50 years on from Greensboro, Greenwood, Birmingham, St. Augustine and Selma a white-supremacy march, mob violence against nonviolent advocates of racial justice and the blatherings of a race-baiting politician are met with:

  • Almost universal condemnation from the mass media, social and political leaders, and even some staunch conservatives.
  • Led by the CEO of the 7th largest pharmaceutical corporation in the world — a Black man — and the CEO of Pepsi — an Asian woman — the most powerful leaders of industry and business turn their back on the president and resign in protest.
  • The country’s top military leaders, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issue an anti-racism statement of leadership and principle that openly rebukes their commander in chief.
  • The descendants of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson support the removal of monuments to their ancestors from public spaces.
  • Mass protests against white-supremacy surge across the nation including the South. One example being 40,000 standing witness against racism on the Boston Commons. And more to come.

Yes, the KKK and homegrown Nazis are still with us, they’ve been in our midst for generations and that’s not likely to change. But the Freedom Movement of the 1960s forced government and society to constrain and contain their violent acts though not their thoughts. And the reaction we are seeing now to their re-emergence gives me hope that we will do so again.

When I was a kid in the ’50s, memories of World War II were still strong among us. I remember a Bill Mauldin “Willie & Joe” cartoon of the two “dogface” foot-soldiers standing on a hilltop next to a destroyed German tank looking back towards a column of smoke in the far distance. “Gawd Joe, here they wuz and there we wuz.” They knew the war wasn’t over, but they were measuring the distance they had come. So too do I measure the distance we have come from the 1950s and ’60s. A luta continua!

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One response to “The Measure of our Stride

  1. We here in Charlottesville were horrified by these clearly disturbed and angry outsiders who marched with torches on the UVA grounds and in town the next day in cammo with automatic weapons.
    But they’re gone and we’re still here. We’re happy the ACLU, which siccessfully fought the city’s attempt to move the permitted “rally” to a large public park away from downtown with its narrow old streets and small businesses, has done some soul-searching and decided that in future, they will NOT support such actions.
    While we’re sorry to lose our rather anonymous persona as a diverse and tolerant small southern city, I think many are not sad that CHARLOTTESVILLE is now shorthand for a display of bigotry and violence. There was a huge service for Heather Heyer at The Paramount Theater (where I’m a volunteer usher) and her mother has now announced a foundation in her name.
    And I said, they’re gone and we’re still here singing our peace songs, supporting diversity and having our usual festivals in Emancipation Park — Vegetarian, World Cultures, Gay Pride, of the Book, of Film, etc. etc.

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