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Letter to the editor: African American citizens’ struggle continues

I spent two days in the National Museum of African American History and Culture the last week of April with Paul my husband, and François Clemmons a good friend. It’s a visit I will never forget nor will I forget the impressions it made on me. Much was not new to me since the South is part of my heritage and I grew up in a loving, caring, giving family that believed in equal rights and the dignity and worth of all people.
One of the first things to impress me was to see this huge building where the African American has his whole story from the capturing of and the slave ships right up to today, including the election of President Obama. All my life I have lived, seen, read, heard, studied bits and pieces of the history of slaves and where we are today; but here for the first time it was all brought together step by step as you climbed out of the slave ship and walked your way up through their history — their terrible torment and their amazing accomplishments and determination that reached all over the globe despite the hell everybody put them through.
It makes for an impact one can never forget, to see it in this way, pulling it all together step by step so you can’t help but be impressed with the important role they played in all ways to the development of our country. And constantly it hits you that in the role they played in helping us to become a great country, they were always, always also having to fight for their rights as human beings.
As you pass through the story you can’t help but hold your head in shame that as a people we could be so uncaring and cruel no matter how much good they did. You can’t help but shed a tear for babies torn out of their mothers arms, men reduced to studs, and families torn apart and man’s general inhumanity towards these people who they brought to this country to serve only one purpose — economics. Making money, acquiring material goods always was a step above humanity.
Next to impress me was the lack of white heroes. They were there but they weren’t made a big deal of, they were just part of the story. And this is important because to play up the white individuals takes away from the African American story. Too often the white individuals want to take the higher road, step up and say, “See this is what we did or are doing” and it can so easily and unfairly become their story. And obviously we whites have done a pretty lousy job of telling the African American story and facing up to our inhumanity and the damage we have caused to many of our black citizens.
It’s not that I am against our white heroes and the important roles they played in African American history, and certainly we want to give them credit when and where it is due. It makes me think of our souring on Thomas Jefferson and other famous men who we know had slaves, had sex with slaves, disowned their own children (they had with a slave) and even sold them. We want to discredit them, say they were not good people, they should have known better or not had slaves.
Well, simple to say in the 20th and 21st century — not so simple in the 1600 — 1800’s. They weren’t all bad people, they were good people doing a bad thing and they also did great things for our country, and you must realize they were part of a whole; a whole that at the time reached well beyond our country.
It was in this museum that it hit home with me how much Europe and South America along with us, the Caribbean, and of course Africa were all in this together. Everybody in lots of countries wanted to sell slaves — it was a good business to flourish in. Everybody wanted the goods that slaves in great numbers helped to produce and they were willing to overlook the inhumanity of slavery to get what they wanted We in the United States were not the only “bad guys.” We, white people the world over, were the “bad guys.”
But then reality really started to sink in as I saw the progression that followed the end of slavery. We never gave it up, we never accepted our children that were part negro. It was always you’re black if you have even a drop of negro blood in you. We would never acknowledge the half-white or drop of white, and let them enter our white world.
We only let our black children have free public education with whites after the courts said we had to do it. But we fought it all the way; causing misery and violence every chance we got. We let black men fight in wars for our country — we never really considered it theirs too. We pushed them aside with as few rights as possible when they came home. We tried to convince ourselves we could have separate but equal. The list is a mile long of all the restrictions we placed on blacks to keep them from being equal. The list is a mile long of all the things blacks could be blamed for so we could hang them or put them in jail.
And that brings me to my last impression — that actually started developing before I went to the museum — and has been fortified by my visit. We have never set our blacks free, really free. We have never given them equality in the real sense. The rights and freedoms we have given them through the Supreme Court, U.S. Congress and state governments have come about because the blacks have fought so hard and battled for so long that we as whites have had to give a little.
But in our giving we have also taken — still. Look at the black men in prison, look at the black population in poverty, look at the black children in poor schools, look at hidden agendas that keep blacks out, look at the attitudes that still exist. We still as a nation give our acceptance when and how we want to. So, here we are today — black American citizens still fighting for and insisting they get the same rights as white American citizens do to equality and opportunities with the respect and dignity they so richly deserve.
Frances L. Stone
Orwell

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