Getting Back to ABCs

Sometimes I can be a bit naive, and there are certain moments when it is crystal clear to me how much I do not know.

All of this talk of statues has brought on another series of aha moments which I will describe here.

The first involves recalling the time I actually saw one of these statues. On one of our visits to see Meagan, we went to Manassas National Battlefield Park. It is a beautiful park well worth seeing. But I remember being perplexed by the statue of Stonewall Jackson. I walked around the statue, read the plaque, and took pictures. But the whole time I was saying, “Huh?” I didn’t quite understand why this guy was literally being put on a pedestal. 

Aha moment #1: I should have been more bothered by and more questioning of that statue.

The statue talk also motivated me to finally get around to watching I am not your Negro written by James Baldwin. 

 

What a beautiful writer and speaker James Baldwin was. There are so many poignant quotes in this documentary that are still applicable to our times now. 

People question whether racism is still a problem in our country. I firmly believe it is. Here is a quote at the end of the movie (and included in the trailer) that I think is worth thinking about.

The question you got to ask yourself, the white population of this country has got to ask itself, is why was it necessary to have a nigger in the first place?

Because I am not a nigger. I am a man.

But if you think I’m a nigger means you mean it. 

The question you’ve got to ask yourself: If I’m not the nigger here and you the white people invented him, you’ve got to find out why. 

And the future of the country depends on that.

Most white Americans know better than to use the n-word.

However, do we ever think it? In some form? Even as a fleeting, most private thought?

If so, we still have a problem.

Aha moment #2: Why did I not know of James Baldwin before now?

In I am not your Negro, Baldwin talks of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, and Medgar Evers. This made me recall a project I helped Nicole with back when she was in middle school. It was an ABC book. An ABC book is a book report that describes a book by going through each  letter of the alphabet. The book she was reporting on was a biography of Medgar Evers.

That was the first time I had heard of Medgar Evers.

Here are some of the contents of her book report:

  • I went to Alcorn State College of Mississippi. Whites encouraged us to become teachers, but I wanted to choose my own profession. I wanted to stand against segregation and have African Americans have equal rights.
  • My eduction was not as good as a white child’s because they had warm class rooms, new books, and got to ride busses to and from school.
  • My unit fought to take France back from the Germans in World War II.
  • I quit high school to join the army in 1943.
  • Nine African American students in Jackson walked into a whites only public library to sit down and read books, but they got arrested and sent to jail.
  • President Kennedy sent an army unit to Jackson to help police protect African Americans from white protestors who threw rocks at them.
  • I gave speeches all over the state, and after each meeting I passed a petition around for parents to sign that piece of paper to show that they wanted to end segregation.
  • I met many sharecroppers who worked on farms owned by white landowners. The sharecroppers borrowed money from the landowners to get through the growing season. Most sharecroppers and their children had never gone to school, which meant they didn’t know how to read or write or do math. That made it easy for landowners to cheat them. I noticed how poor they were, and I noticed their shacks with no electricity or doors or windows. Every Sunday my wife Myrlie and I went to visit sharecropper families. We knew we couldn’t do much to help, but I really wanted to find a way to help the families. I knew we couldn’t quit or give up.
  • I joined the NAACP. Many African Americans were afraid to join the NAACP because of what whites might do to them like take away their jobs or bank loans. I needed to fight for a better life for my children and go against racism.
  • Mississippi did not let us African Americans vote.
  • Byron De La Beckwith is the person who killed me, and he was part of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • Citizens of the U.S. should all have the right to vote and have equal rights.

Aha moment #3: So why is it I knew of Stonewall Jackson but not of Medgar Evers or James Baldwin?

I think we need a few more statues.

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