As a genealogist, DNA has intrigued me ever since its first promotion as a consumer product in 2003. That was the year Dr. Rick Kittles launched African Ancestry, a company that specializes in uncovering the genetic origins of people of African descent. It marked twenty-eight years into my personal research into a family tree that winds from the backwoods of Mississippi and Alabama through a Great Migration terminus in Chicago. All along the way, one thing I longed to know more than anything else was the root of my continental African origins. This was in spite of the tangled morass of genes that include a copious assortment of Europeans that resulted in me looking more white than many white people I know.
2015 has been, to say the least, rather momentous, and continues to be as it draws to a close. We at Beacon Press are so grateful to our brilliant authors who have offered their time and insights to analyze and comment on this year's events. Their posts—with topics ranging from race to cultural or class dynamics and to the environment—have been, if you will, a true beacon for the Broadside. Before we bid farewell to 2015, we would like to share a collection of some our most-read posts. This list is by no means exhaustive. Make sure to peruse our archives. You can expect to see more thought-provoking essays and commentary from our contributors in 2016. Happy New Year!
George Orwell’s 1984 taught us that language—and who uses it—truly does matter. In the case of educating Texan youth about American history, language matters a great deal. McGraw-Hill Education’s current geography textbook, approved for Texas high schools, refers to African slaves as “workers” in a chapter on immigration patterns. Other linguistic sleights of hand include using the passive voice to obscure slave owner’s brutal treatment of slaves. It appears we have a Ministry of Truth at work after all, just like the one where Orwell’s ill-fated hero Winston Smith worked, rewriting history. The fact is especially disconcerting, as Texas is the largest consumer of textbooks.
In 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer “testified” before the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The highlight of her remarks was when she exclaimed “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!” In so doing, the impoverished Mississippi Delta sharecropper secured her place as a leading light in the Civil Rights movement. Describing her home state as the antithesis of “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” she rebelled against that definition by calling it out as “the land of the tree and the home of the grave.”
So, here we are in 2015. As yet another round of racial animus erupts and national political conventions loom, I am compelled to echo Mrs. Hamer’s lament. I cannot even begin to tell you how sick and tired I am. It’s the same shit, albeit a different century.
On June 17, a white man named Dylan Roof invaded Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and massacred nine people engaged in studying the bible. Roof’s online manifesto “criticized blacks as being inferior while lamenting the cowardice of white flight.” It was illustrated with photographs, many of them showcasing him with a Confederate flag. I don’t know what chapter and verse the bible study group was concentrating on when Roof opened fire, but he obviously did not heed the sixth commandment that exhorts the moral imperative of “thou shall not kill.”
We embarked upon a journey to test whether two people could come to grips with deep, traumatic, historic wounds and find healing. We had no idea where we would end up.
I burst into tears in the parking lot of the Lowndes County Interpretive Center in rural Alabama. Tom and I were five days into the 6,000-plus mile healing journey that informedGather at the Table, the book we wrote about healing the many wounds Americans inherited from the legacy of slavery. We had just crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma where, in March 1965, John Lewis (now a 15-term U.S. congressman) and more than 600 protesters tried to begin a 54-mile march to Montgomery. On a day that came to be known as Bloody Sunday, Alabama state troopers confronted the peaceful marchers and viciously attacked them with billy clubs. I watched these events unfold on television as a 14-year-old child embraced in the warm comfort of my family home in Chicago.
My great-grandparents were enslaved in Lowndes County, Alabama, which is at the heart of the historic march route. They lived a lifetime of Bloody Sundays. My great-grandmother Rhoda Reeves Leslie was alive when I was a child. I knew her. I loved her. I had no concrete idea, until that very moment in the parking lot, what anguish she and other members of my family had suffered as slaves, and then as people who were terrorized by Jim Crow laws, disenfranchised from voting, and kept from becoming full citizens in the land of the free and the home of the brave. In 1965, there were zero black voters in Lowndes County because of voter suppression through poll taxes and intimidation. Even today, it is deeply impoverished. Tom's face morphed into a representation of all white people and everything they had done to people like me.
I didn't know what to say. So I said nothing. I sat in the passenger seat next to Sharon while she sobbed. Twenty minutes earlier, on the drive from the Voting Rights Museum, I had asked her, What would you do if you had lived here then?
I would kill them, she said, staring straight ahead as she drove, clutching the steering wheel in a death grip. I watched the first tear roll down her cheek.
I am often accused of being a Kumbaya kind of guy. I believe seriously in love and peace and want everybody to get along. I also believe that people are born with a basic sense of humanity that can enable them to changenot just themselves but the communities in which they live. I know Sharon shares that belief, but it is sometimes hard to keep the faith.
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 04: Hundreds of protestors gather at Foley Square in New York, United States on December 04, 2014. A Staten Island grand jury voted against criminal charges for New York City Police a white police officer Daniel Pantaleo who was accused of using a chokehold during an arrest of Eric Garner.
Let me see if I understand what just happened. Eric Garner was choked to death by a New York City police officer in July. The NYC Police Department prohibits the use of choke holds. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide. And the grand jury will not indict the officer involved. Is that about it?
“Again the system has failed us. “How? How? I don’t know how.” —Jewell Miller, who has an infant daughter with Eric Garner
All true. A New York grand jury failed to indict white police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, this past July. Sadly, I’m not surprised. After the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri failed to indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, another unarmed black man, it’s what I expected.
Rev. Al Sharpton (L), President of the National Action Network, Esaw Garner (C), widow of Eric Garner, and Emerald Garner (R), daughter of Eric Garner, hold a press conference December 3, 2014 in New York, after a grand jury decided not to charge a white police officer in the choking death of Eric Garner, a black man, days after a similar decision sparked renewed unrest in Missouri.
“Hell No!” That’s what Esaw Garner said in refusing to accept the apology of the policeman who killed her husband Eric in New York City. And that is what I am saying today. I would like to write something erudite and wise, but those facilities fail me just now. I am feeling great empathy for the rage Louis Head (Michael Brown’s stepfather) unleashed in Ferguson, Missouri when he yelled, “Burn this b**** down!”
Metaphorically channeling the 1969 recording by Miles Davis that “sent a shiver through a country already quaking,” I am at a loss for words to fully capture my “Bitches Brew” of feelings. Miles led the revolution for jazz. I see it as a soundtrack for society—the one where, in 1969, I was a mere five years into the modicum of Civil Rights that forbade denial of equal protection under the law. In 2014, I continue to yearn for those rights to be applied—equally.
Perhaps what hurts most right now is my lack of surprise about what should be surprising events. Eric Garner and Michael Brown are merely two names on a very long list; to which I hasten to add the more than two dozen black women who have also been killed by law enforcement officers in recent years. It wasn’t a surprise when Darren Wilson was not indicted in Missouri. Nor was it a surprise when Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted in New York. It is not a surprise that an unarmed black person is shot every 28 hours by police, nor that black men are incarcerated at ten times the rate of whites.
This week is the final week of this year's 30 Days of Love, a project sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association that aims to "harness love’s power to stop oppression" through a combination of community activism and outreach. The annual effort is an outgrowth of Standing on the Side of Love, a movement that began in the aftermath of a tragedy: In 2008, two Unitarian Universalists were killed and several more seriously injured in a church shooting in Knoxville, Tennessee. Targeted because of their "liberal" values of acceptance, the congregation was flooded with support and messages of love from the greater Knoxville community, cementing the movement's core idea that love is the key to overpowering oppression.
All month long, Beacon Press is offering 20% off and free shipping on all African American Studies titles purchased at Beacon.org. Use promo code FEB2013 at checkout. If you purchase two or more books, you'll also receive an attractive King Legacy Series tote bag.
In addition, Beacon will donate 15% of all purchases made through this promotion to the Young People's Project, an organization that uses Math Literacy Work to develop the abilities of elementary through high school students to succeed in school and in life.
Browse books in the categories above, or check out these suggested recent titles.
In The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Jeanne Theoharis masterfully details the political depth of a national heroine who dedicated her life to fighting inequality and, in the process, resurrects an inspiring civil rights movement radical who has been hidden in plain sight far too long.
"In the first sweeping history of Parks's life, Theoharis shows us…[that] Parks not only sat down on the bus; she stood on the right side of justice for her entire life." —Julian Bond, chairman emeritus, NAACP
"The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parkswill undoubtedly be hailed as one of the most important scholarly contributions to civil rights history ever written." —Melissa Harris-Perry, Host, MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry Show
"A much-needed book on the woman who is, arguably, the most important person in the last half of the twentieth century." —Nikki Giovanni, poet
"Jeanne Theoharis brings all of her talents as a political scientist and historian of the civil rights movement to bear on this illuminating biography of the great Rosa Parks." —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Read the introduction to The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks.
The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks revisits the life of the civil rights icon and argues that the quiet, shy seamstress is a reductive stereotype. Biographile spoke with Jeanne Theoharis about the importance of changing the image of the tired lady on the bus.
Watch author Jeanne Theoharis on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC
Written during the 1940s and early 1950s, when Baldwin was only in his twenties, the essays collected in Notes of a Native Son capture a view of black life and black thought at the dawn of the civil rights movement and as the movement slowly gained strength through the words of one of the most captivating essayists and foremost intellectuals of that era. Writing as an artist, activist, and social critic, Baldwin probes the complex condition of being black in America. With a keen eye, he examines everything from the significance of the protest novel to the motives and circumstances of the many black expatriates of the time, from his home in "The Harlem Ghetto" to a sobering "Journey to Atlanta."
Notes of a Native Son inaugurated Baldwin as one of the leading interpreters of the dramatic social changes erupting in the United States in the twentieth century, and many of his observations have proven almost prophetic. His criticism on topics such as the paternalism of white progressives or on his own friend Richard Wright's work is pointed and unabashed. He was also one of the few writing on race at the time who addressed the issue with a powerful mixture of outrage at the gross physical and political violence against black citizens and measured understanding of their oppressors, which helped awaken a white audience to the injustices under their noses. Naturally, this combination of brazen criticism and unconventional empathy for white readers won Baldwin as much condemnation as praise.
Notes is the book that established Baldwin's voice as a social critic, and it remains one of his most admired works. The essays collected here create a cohesive sketch of black America and reveal an intimate portrait of Baldwin's own search for identity as an artist, as a black man, and as an American.
Read the new introduction by Edward P. Jones for Baldwin's classic collection that creates a cohesive sketch of black America and reveals an intimate portrait of Baldwin's own search for identity as an artist, as a black man, and as an American.
"We embarked on this journey because we believe America must overcome the racial barriers that divide us, the barriers that drive us to strike out at one another out of ignorance and fear. To do nothing is unacceptable."
Sharon Leslie Morgan, a black woman from Chicago's South Side avoids white people; they scare her. Despite her trepidation, Morgan, a descendent of slaves on both sides of her family, began a journey toward racial reconciliation with Thomas Norman DeWolf, a white man from rural Oregon who descends from the largest slave-trading dynasty in US history. Over a three-year period, the pair traveled thousands of miles, both overseas and through twenty-seven states, visiting ancestral towns, courthouses, cemeteries, plantations, antebellum mansions, and historic sites. They spent time with one another's families and friends and engaged in deep conversations about how the lingering trauma of slavery shaped their lives.
Gather at the Table is the chronicle of DeWolf and Morgan's journey. Arduous and at times uncomfortable, it lays bare the unhealed wounds of slavery. As DeWolf and Morgan demonstrate, before we can overcome racism we must first acknowledge and understand the damage inherited from the past-which invariably involves confronting painful truths. The result is a revelatory testament to the possibilities that open up when people commit to truth, justice, and reconciliation. DeWolf and Morgan offer readers an inspiring vision and a powerful model for healing individuals and communities.
Read the introduction to Gather at the Table, and journey with two people—a black woman and a white man—as they confront the legacy of slavery and racism head-on.
An interview with authors DeWolf and Morgan on NPR’s Tell Me Moreaired Christmas Day.
The authors begin the West Coast leg of their tour this
weekend. The entire month of January, they’ll be making appearances in
Washington, Oregon, California, and Colorado. Check out their website for more info.
Booklist review, Jan
01: “Saulitis’ stunning and sorrowful ‘book of contemplation’ elucidates the
discipline, tedium, danger, and bliss of whale studies… Candid, transfixing,
and cautionary, Saulitis celebrates and mourns for a wondrous and imperiled
Intensive Care: A Doctor’s Journey by Danielle
Ofri (March 05)
Kirkus Reviews in print (Jan. 15) and online
(Jan. 01): “in sharp, take-no-prisoners prose, Khalidi maintains that the U.S.
and Israel… have conspired to deny Palestinians any semblance of
self-determination. A stinging indictment of one-sided policymaking
destined, if undisturbed, to result in even greater violence.”
“Drawing on his own experience as
a Palestinian negotiator and recently released documents, Rashid Khalidi mounts
a frontal attack on the myths and misconceptions that have come to surround
America’s role in the so-called “peace process” which is all process and no
peace. The title is not too strong: the book demonstrates conclusively
that far from serving as an honest broker, the US continues to act as Israel’s lawyer
– with dire consequences for its own interests, for the Palestinians, and for
the entire region. Professor Khalidi deserves much credit for his superb
exposition of the fatal gap between the rhetoric and reality of American
diplomacy on this critically important issue.” —Avi Shlaim, Emeritus Professor of International
Relations at Oxford and author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.
"Every denizen of wild places
from Laotse to St. Francis to Rachel Carson to black bears to field mice has
depended upon trails. But rarely have we considered the people, tools, or toil
that lay our favorite trails down. Dirt Work is a spectacular correction of
this omission. Imbued with a tough-minded, ribald reverence for honest labor
that brings to mind a female Gary Snyder or Wendell Berry (if you can imagine
that!), Christine Byl does epic justice to the whole-bodied satisfactions that
come of staying out in the weather, staying alert, and working one’s ass off
for others with love, tenacity and skill." --David James Duncan,
author of The River Why and Sun House.
“Christine Byl has been summering
on trail crews for more than a decade and a half. A first-rate storyteller, she
details the techniques and tools, and the spirit of fellowship and feel of the
woods. If you love getting into the back country, or even if you're an armchair
backpacker as I am now at age eighty, you'll love Dirt Work.”
--William Kittredge, author of Hole in the Sky and The
Nature of Generosity
“Byl’s is not a world of groomed
nature, inert tools, or nostalgic rituals, but a vibrant landscape inhabited by
people and animals and layered by idea and history. She means this book as a
love song, she writes, and it is, not only from her to her fellow laborers, but
from the mind to the body, the hand to the tool, the human to the wild.” —Sherry
Simpson, author of The Accidental Explorer: Wayfinding in Alaska
Whether your Thanksgiving dinner is a small affair or a feast of epic proportions, you probably have a favorite dish or two (or eight) that you look forward to eating this Thursday. I asked around the offices of Beacon Press for cherished Thanskgiving recipes and got several tasty replies. The most intriguing came from Crystal Paul in editorial, who teased me with: "I’ve got a killer sweet potato pie that I am the only one in my family who knows the recipe to (my grandma passed it down to only one lucky kitchen devotee). So I’d share it, but clearly, it’s a secret…" Thankfully, others weren't so mysterious.
½ cup butter
½ cup sugar (white)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup corn meal (yellow)
4 cups corn (whole kernel sweet, frozen)
1 tbs paprika
CREAM butter and sugar together
ADD eggs slowly & MIX well ADD creams & MIX well
ADD corn meal & MIX well
ADD corn & MIX well
TURN batter into a buttered cooking casserole
SPRINKLE with paprika
BAKE @ 325F for about one hour, until custard is set
Kate Noe in Production sent a newspaper clipping of this Harvest Bake, which she has adapted to be vegan by subsituting Earth Balance spread for the butter.
Harvest Bake (6 servings)
1 23-oz can sweet potatoes or yams, drained 8 TBSP unsalted butter 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed 1 TBSP flour 1/4 tsp ground cardamom 2 TBSP chopped pecans 1 apple, cored and thinly sliced
In 1-quart round casserole, mash sweet potatoes until smooth. Melt 7 tablespoons butter and stir into sweet potatoes.
Mix brown sugar, flour, and cardamom in small bowl. Cut 1 tablespoon cold butter into mixture. Stir in pecans and sprinkle 1/2 mixture over potatoes. Arrange apple slices on top. Sprinkle with remaining mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees 35 to 40 minutes or until apples are tender-crisp.
Rachael Marks in Editorial sends her recipe for Hummingbird Cake with this note: "The original recipe appeared in Southern Living in 1978 courtesy of a certain Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, NC (my hometown… yes, I’m clearly biased). I’ve always been a fan of Southern Living’s updated (read: less artery-clogging) version. It can be either 3-layers or 2-layers but should *never* be made in bundt pan (that would be ridiculous and borderline offensive)."
3 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 teaspoon salt 2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 3 large eggs, beaten 1 cup vegetable oil 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained 1 cup chopped pecans 2 cups chopped bananas Homemade Cream Cheese Frosting (see below) 1/2 cup chopped pecans
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. (Do not beat.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup pecans, and bananas.
Pour batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cakepans. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.
Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake; sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top. Store in refrigerator.
Cream butter and cream cheese. Gradually add powdered sugar, beat until mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.
*I always double the frosting recipe because I simply won’t tolerate a lightly frosted cake.
Abby Mayer in Production sent us a link to this recipe for Apple Salad from Emeril Lagasse, about which she says, "I make this every year, and it is a HUGE hit. No one thinks salad on Thanksgiving… until you force them to with (gasp) blue cheese-encrusted croutons."
As for me, my responsibility at Thanksgiving is the stuffing, or really "dressing" since we never stuff the two Kosher turkeys my mother-in-law prepares for our two nights of feasting: Thanksgiving evening and Shabbat leftover night. Let us know if you try any of these recipes yourself, or share your favorites below. And have a wonderful Thanksgiving! --Jessie Bennett, Blog Editor
Challah Stuffing (serves a bunch of people)
1 large challah 2 TBSP olive oil 1 large sweet onion, diced 2 green bell peppers, diced 3 stalks of celery, diced 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried) 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried and crumbled) ½ tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped (or ¼ teaspoon dried) 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots 1 cup of apple cider 2 or 3 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
Rip or cut the challah into small pieces and set aside. You can do this a day or so ahead of time.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until slightly carmelized. This will take a while. When the onions are nicely browned, add bell peppers, celery, and herbs and saute until softened.
Rub olive oil around the inside of a large baking pan. Add the challah pieces, sauteed vegetables, and apricots and mix. Mix the broth and the apple cider together and pour over the bread and vegetable mixture until all of the bread is completely saturated (use more than I indicate if you need it). Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour, until the top is browned and crispy.
Two people—a black woman and a white man—confront the legacy of slavery and racism head-on.
Thomas DeWolf—a descendent of slaveholders—and Sharon Morgan—a descendent of slaves—come together to openly discuss how the legacy of slavery and racism has impacted their lives. Together, they disclose the various difficulties and rewards they experience as individuals striving to heal. Gather at the Table is a timely, candid, and deeply relevant book that offers an engaging model of restorative justice.
Gather at the Tableis an extraordinary story of an honest, meaningful conversation across the racial divide. At times it hurts to read. And well it should. Centuries of injustice and trauma that face us every day in this country have no place for half-truths. Sharon and Tom took the harder road-searching for healing, they literally walked together into painful histories and found authentic friendship.”—John Paul Lederach, co-author of When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Soundscape of Healing and Reconciliation
“Sharon and Tom take us on a heart-opening journey of awakening. As a nation, we owe them a deep bow of gratitude as they help us navigate the deep divides of race and otherness.”—Belvie Rooks, Co-Founder, Growing A Global Heart
“Gather at the Table is an honest exploration into the deep social wounds left by racism, violence and injustice, as the authors work through their own prejudices in search of reconciliation–and ultimately find friendship.” —Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate
“What a courageous journey—communicated in an engaging, readable style, with candor, humor, and deep feeling. This book shed light on the thoughts, questions, and feelings I have about race, society, culture, historical, generational and structurally-induced trauma—and the human ability to transcend. In reading it, I realized there are questions I'm still afraid to ask about race, things I'm afraid to say, and yet I realized anew the power of acknowledgment, mercy, justice, and conflict transformation. I'm grateful to DeWolf and Morgan for not just taking the journey, but for sharing their story with us.”—Carolyn Yoder, Founding Director of STAR: Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience and author of The Little Book of Trauma Healing: When Violence Strikes and Community is Threatened
“The authors’ accomplishment stands on its own, but their book also serves as a great introduction to a shared past that ought to be better known.”—Kirkus Reviews
Independence Day celebrations began this past weekend, with picnics, parades, and fireworks displays all around the country. In honor of the holiday, we asked several of our authors to share their feelings about Independence Day and what it means to them-- good and bad. Three authors who grapple with the complex history associated with the holiday quoted Frederick Douglass from his speech, "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?" We've grouped their responses for today's post.
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a long-time racial-justice, labor, and international activist, scholar, and author. He has served in leadership positions with many prominent union and labor organizations, including the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union. Fletcher is currently the director of field services for the American Federation of Government Employees. He is the author of the forthcoming book "They're Bankrupting Us!" And Twenty Other Myths about Unions.
The 4th of July is always a complicated holiday for me. That is largely because it has a complicated historical significance. When I think of July 4th I immediately think about how my African ancestors were largely ignored-- except with regard to labor power and some soldiering--in the course of the events that were transpiring at that moment, and particularly ignored in the context of great minds thinking about the future of the new nation that they wished to create. I also think about how the War of Independence was in part ignited by the indignation of the settlers over restrictions imposed on them by the British regarding going further West-- into the lands of my Shawnee ancestors and other Native American nations.
As a result, I cannot uncritically celebrate July 4th. I consider, of course, the ideal that is contained in the Declaration of Independence, and am aware of those among the colonial settlers who may have had a more egalitarian vision of the future. I am equally aware of the ideal that July 4th is supposed to represent. But I am saddened each year that there is little historical examination of the contradictory nature of the War of Independence, and that for entire populations the War of Independence came to represent yet another stage on the road to their annihilation.
In the 19th century the great Frederick Douglass posed a question in a now famous speech "What to a slave is the fourth of July?" I would expand that and pose the question that today needs to be asked and answered: For those of us who believe in democracy, justice and equality, how do we disentangle the web of myth that surrounds the Fourth of July?"
We live in fearful times. War, racism, social, economic, employment, environmental, energy, health and food security issues are on the long list of things to be worried about. And I do. Worry.
On July 4, 1776, the day America declared its independence, one fifth of the population was in a state of bondage. Seventy-six years later, in 1852, abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass, articulated, “There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
Although legal freedom came in 1865, when four million people were released from slavery, evidence of true emancipation did not come until 143 years later, when Barack Obama was elected the first African American President of the United States. In his inaugural July 4th address, he extolled, “That unyielding spirit [that] defines us as American... It is what has always led us, as a people, not to wilt or cower at a difficult moment, but to face down any trial and rise to any challenge, understanding that each of us has a hand in writing America’s destiny.”
This July 4th, I will be thinking about history and destiny... And celebrating my commitment to be an agent of change in the world independence has wrought.
Celebration of Independence Day ain’t what it used to be for me. What I’ve learned along the road I’ve traveled the past decade-- much of which is horrible, shameful and has been deeply buried or glossed over in America’s collective psyche-- has led me to reevaluate how I view myself and my country. On July 4, 1852, Frederick Douglass said, “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.” The deep wound of racism-– the legacy of slavery-– about which Douglass spoke has never been fully acknowledged and healed. I no longer celebrate “independence” that resulted in the annihilation of millions of indigenous people and the enslavement of millions of Africans. I don’t celebrate drone strikes in the name of freedom. I celebrate truth-tellers and peacebuilders. I celebrate the progress we have made and continue to make in the face of strong resistance. Mostly, I celebrate hope – the hope that one day we will live up to the ideals upon which this great country was founded.