Summer is cooling into recent memory, but an article in the New York Times Magazine by historian Douglas Egerton provided important background information on Emmanuel AME Church in North Charleston, SC, where nine people were murdered almost three months ago. This church’s history includes Denmark Vesey and the killing of SC state representative Reverend Benjamin Randolph during Reconstruction – both of whom challenged the status quo of slavery and white oppression, and paid with their lives. Professor Egerton reminds us that the date on which these horrific murders occurred in 2015, was the anniversary of Vesey’s unsuccessful uprising. Is it coincidental that Roof acted on this particular day and in this historic place? Probably not.
Murder, violence, in any venue is despicable. Many are outraged because it took place in a church, at a prayer meeting, in a place of worship. For them that was the last straw eliciting outrage and sympathetic response. There were others who indicated their disgust with an interview in SC when a Black person stated that Dylan Roof is forgiven. Roof’s supporters are paying into a defense fund. Around the country, especially in the South, there were rallies to support the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern heritage, while others demand that the stars and bars – a war flag of Virginia – be removed from all public grounds and buildings. Unfortunately in America violence is a powerful catalyst – at times it makes us “do right.” The human response is to strike back (fight), remove oneself (flight), or develop a strategy to make change – the 1960s Southern civil rights movement is a prime example. Our ancestors used all of the above at various points in this nation. Now we need to figure out what we are going to do.
For those of us working with the MPCPMP, it is another indication that history is important. The back story, the why, informs us. We need to make sense of what is happening today. Hatred and fear are fueling responses on both sides. That this should bubble to the surface repeatedly across the nation during the tenure of a Black president is not unexpected. An entire way of life is being challenged and the standard advice offered is to pray, to be patient, and to proceed within the boundaries of lawful activity. Someone asked is there a Mau Mau group in the U.S. In the direction we are heading that may be an eventuality. If systemic change cannot take place, peacefully or violently, within or outside of legal constraints, then the nation is doomed. For us to vent and then do nothing enables this hatred and viciousness to continue and spread. We have been basically spectators and observers, not actors. Each side will become more desperate unless we act for change that improves all of us – jobs, education, health care, and decent neighborhoods. We all know what is needed, yet we allow our politicians in Congress and others to posture, pontificate, and spout ideologies that restrict options to improve the country’s quality of life and extend social benefits to everyone. It is easier to dramatically address and spend resources on terrorists than infrastructure, jobs, and education. Simply listen as the various candidates ramp up for the 2016 election.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in his ruling on gay marriage and the civil rights of a specific group of citizens stated that slaves and people placed in internment camps during World Ware II are examples of persons who lost their liberty but not their dignity. He argues that it is inappropriate to assign to government the role of change agent. He went on to state that slaves did not lose their dignity or humanity because the government allowed them to be enslaved. WHAT! Who and what does he define as “government?” The Preamble of the Constitution clearly states, “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union….” Let’s get to work, folks, and come as close to perfect as we can. Get the back story first and then get to stepping! “Coincidence” occurs when we don’t have the full picture. History will repeat itself. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is detrimental to our very existence.