Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro is a much needed lesson in our history

The following post was written about eight years ago, but seems even more relevant today as there are too many who do not want the bad part of our US history taught. This is not a new phenomenon, as a key part of our history is to mask these ugly truths. I am in my sixties, but I never read or heard about what happened in Tulsa, OK and Wilmington, NC until the the last few years. Names like Emmitt Till and Rosa Parks, must be remembered just like those of Martin Luther King and John Lewis.

Yesterday, I had some free time in the Greensboro, North Carolina area and decided to revisit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Why Greensboro? For those of you are old enough to remember or know your history, the museum incorporates and builds off the actual Woolworth’s lunch counter where four African-Americans started a movement of non-violent sit-ins. The story of this daily sit-in helped bring about change along with many other efforts. Our tour guide whose mother used to bring her to Woolworth’s to shop, said the operative word they had to overcome was “separatism.”

In an attempt to protect the whites from the significant misconceptions about African-American citizens, “separate, but equal” laws were passed to allow discrimination to continue under the guise of the law. These Jim Crow laws, as they were called, came about to show that society need not have to integrate to give rights to its African-American citizens. The ugly truth is separatism was not very equal and continued to put down and discriminate against African-Americans in perceived legal and moral ways. There were some whites who spoke out before the overt discrimination became more apparent, but we had far too many leaders in business, government and faith communities who perpetuated this maltreatment.

The list of examples in the museum of discrimination and the fight to alleviate it are significant in number and impact. It makes you feel ashamed, disillusioned and angry that our fellow citizens were treated this way. The bombings, the lynchings, and the beatings are well documented and illustrated. The separate, but very unequal, train station terminals where whites had bigger waiting rooms, restrooms and easements are eye-opening. The separate, but unequal restrooms in stores, where our guide said her mother would tell her to go at home before they went to the store, are indicative. Sitting in the back of the bus, yielding your seat to white person and even the leather straps for standers in the back of the bus versus cushioned straps in the front showed the lack of equality. The Coke machine with two sides, one for whites at 5 cents with the opposite side for African-Americans at 10 cents is separate and very unequal. The voter laws that made it so very difficult for an African-American to register and vote were definitely not equal. And, so on and so on.

Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) pushed through the Civil Rights Act in the United States. The next year he followed up with the Voters Rights Act. These key pieces of legislation changed the long term and horrible course of inequality America was on. Forced busing to allow for fair and equal education was passed in 1970 sixteen years following the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. LBJ helped change the future in response to the efforts of many from Martin Luther King to John Lewis to Rosa Parks. It was critical that LBJ, a white southerner working with a coalition across political parties was able to shame leaders into doing something for America.

We are much further along than before, but our work is not done. We each need to be mindful of our biases and prejudices we have to various groups of people. We need to be active to voice our concerns over recent state actions by conservatively led states (ironically and sadly like the one in NC) to limit the voting rights of people who are primarily African-American, under the disguise of doing something against voter fraud. Rampant voter fraud has been proven not to exist, even as recently as last week with touted data in an attempt to show it does. Some of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional and others are being sued for such as of the time of this post. Make no mistake, these laws are designed to suppress voters who tend not to vote with the conservative side of the ledger. This is masked cheating, which is straight out of Jim Crow book.

What makes this further disturbing is our Supreme Court ruled that parts of the Voters Rights Act are no longer needed. This is one of several decisions made by this court which puzzle and frustrate me. What country do they live in? I see or hear examples of discrimination almost every day. It often is masked with code words or followed by words like “but, I am not a racist.” It would surprise these folks to learn most food stamp recipients are white. Even Congressman Paul Ryan parlayed that misconception in some of recent speeches and interviews. The bottom line is it should not matter, as poverty knows no color. I use this as an example of unstated racism in America. It is those people who are in need of aid, so it is OK to cut benefits.

There are Civil Rights museums in several cities. Please frequent them with your children and friends. If you’re near Greensboro, please stop by and tour this well crafted museum. I was pleased to see two bus loads of school children of all stripes leaving the museum when I arrived. This stuff really did happen and discrimination still exists today. Use these occasions as opportunities to discuss what is happening today with others. Per the play and movie “South Pacific” bigotry has to be carefully taught. The converse of this is also true. Let’s carefully teach that discrimination is not right.

Here is a link to the Greensboro Civil Rights Museum. http://sitinmovement.org/

Here is a link to information on the Greensboro sit-ins. Greensboro sit-ins – Wikipedia

Please do not rewrite history – there is too much to learn (a still needed reprise)

The following post was written about six years ago. Unfortunately, the white washing of US history continues as would typically be done in more autocratic regimes. If we do not bother to know history, we are destined to repeat it, especially by some who do not want us to know.

In the US, a few states have acquiesced to the push by some conservative funding groups to whitewash history. The target is the Advanced Placement US History curriculum. The problem the group is solving in their minds is we do not pat ourselves on the back enough and discuss American exceptionalism. I will forego the word exceptionalism as I can devote a whole post to this, but when we try to hide our warts and how we have protested or overcome those warts, we are missing a key part of our greatness – our ability as citizens to protest and right a wrong.

I have written before about May 35 which is a real reference to an imaginary date. Per the attached article in the New York Times, it is a reference to what happened in Tiananmen Square in China on June 4, 1989, which has been expunged from Chinese history, including internet search references to that date. So, to make sure the Chinese kids remember this protest which was brutally squashed by the Chinese army, historians established a May 35 web link.*

I mention this extreme, as we must know our history, the good, the bad and the ugly, to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Here are few things we must never forget and constantly remind ourselves and question the why, the where, the what, the when and the how around these issues. If we do not, we will repeat the same mistakes.

– our forefathers did not give women the right to vote in our US Constitution. This was not remedied until 1921 after a significant and building level of women protests.

– our forefathers did not disallow slavery, but to give the southern states more clout agreed to count slaves as 3/5 of a person. Slavery was not outlawed until near the end of the Civil War in 1865.

– our ancestors conducted a war on Native Americans who would not play ball to let settlers live amongst them as we seized their land. These tribal leaders were constantly lied to, mislead and slaughtered in some cases. Eventually, we made tribes move to designated areas for their own protection.

– during the industrial revolution, business tycoons exploited everyone and everything to make their profits. These folks were called Robber Barons and it took a concentrated effort of President Teddy Roosevelt to make sure Americans got a Square Deal. The traits of these Robber Barons can be found today in major funders of political elections who want to win and do away with those pesky regulations around job safety, pay equity, and environment, etc. that get in their way.

– one of our greatest Presidents in FDR confessed later his chagrin over having to place Japanese Americans into guarded camps during World War II. It was a malpractice on the rights of Americans and leaves a bad taste in many mouths.

– we remain the only country to ever drop a nuclear bomb on people and did it twice. While we may understand the rationale, as bringing a Japanese surrender would have been a horribly bloody affair, we need to learn from this and never, ever let it come to this again.

– although slavery ended 100 years earlier, it took a major effort of protests and marches to bring codified rights of equality to African-Americans ending a long period of Jim Crow laws and the killing and maltreatment of people of color. This racism still festers in our country, but we need to shed a spotlight when we see poor behavior, such as the masked Voter ID laws that usually carry Jim Crow like provisions.

– one of the reasons Iranians do not trust Americans is in 1953, the CIA helped overthrow a Democratically elected leader to establish the Shah of Iran who was supportive of the US. The Shah was overthrown by rebellion in 1979. My guess is over 95% of Americans are not aware this happened. Why do they hate us so much, many may ask?

– one President came very close to being impeached, only saving himself from this fate when he resigned. President Nixon used to say “I am not a crook.” Mr. Nixon, you are wrong. You are a crook and ran a burglary ring from the White House, had a dirty deeds campaign to discredit Edmund Muskie forcing him to resign his campaign, and had an enemies list who you spied on with the help of J. Edgar Hoover.  While you did some good things, you got less than what you deserved as you dishonored the White House and dozens of your compatriots went to jail, including your two key advisors.

– we supported folks like Osama Bin Laden to help repel the Soviet army from Afghanistan (watch “Charlie Wilson’s War”). Once the Soviets left, we left these folks high and dry and the country fell apart. After 9/11, when we had a chance to get Bin Laden, we let him get away. To save face, President Bush led the invasion of an old nemesis in Saddam Hussein under the premise he possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. This information was fabricated from misdirection that Hussein used to let his enemies think he was more powerful than he was. We have been paying for this invasion for twelve years and will still pay for it with ISIS, who was formed from the police force we helped fire. Our weariness from the wars also led President Obama to pull troops from Iraq leaving the country less stable and underestimate the problem in Syria. A historian notes we overreacted to 9/11 and underreacted to Syria, as a result..

I could go on, but we need to remember all of these moments. We have a great country, but it is an imperfect one. We must learn from these events and avoid repeating mistakes and instead emphasize the equality of all Americans. If we forget our history, then we will not learn from our mistakes and do them again. A good example is fighting an elongated unwinnable war in Vietnam. The same thing happened in Iraq. We owe it to our soldiers to have a set strategy and a definition of what winning looks like. This is their message to our leaders – we do not mind fighting for our country, but give us support and an end goal.

Do not let anyone whitewash history. We need to know the good, the bad and the ugly, as all three are there to be found. We need to avoid the need for May 35th.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/24/opinion/global/24iht-june24-ihtmag-hua-28.html?_r=0eal