Our Nation’s Defining Moment: one hundred and sixty years ago (1861)—the Rise of the Civil War

“Slavery”—seems like just yesterday…..because it (kind of) was. It was just a short time ago, the day we were forced to fight a war with our fellow countrymen: brother against brother; father against son; South against North. It may seem long ago, the days when slavery was a business and a way of life—but 160 years is not that long. My great grandmother was born a slave in Mississippi. She was born the property of slaveowners. She was born with no freedoms, no rights, no civil liberties. Slaveowners believed they should be allowed to own slaves as chattel. Whip, beat, rape, violate, torture, abuse…..that is what the South wanted to maintain—as a way of life. Free, hard labor. That’s what they fought for. The North, with outspoken abolitionists, fought to end slavery. They knew it was inhumane and unconscionable. They wanted to uphold the premise of the Constitution: that all men are created equal. But the South didn’t agree. Whites are superior—in every way—they believed. The South established: “Our new government is founded upon…its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.” The goal of the Confederacy was the protection and expansion of slavery. They refused to accept black people as humans who deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. Torture (of blacks) was a way of life. There was a sadistic mentality pervading the South. That is the legacy of our nation. And, it’s not pretty. We need to reconcile the crimes against humanity committed on this land. We need to be that promise of America, with liberty and justice for all—not for just a few. Minorities are left behind. Equality has never actually come to be. Systemic oppression is built into the system. It is designed to keep some people down and bereft, while elevating others. The Civil War ended the lives of more than 620,000 men, but it did not end the vitriol in people’s hearts. No. The seditionists created a type of hell for black people. In retaliation, they established black codes, Jim Crow, the KKK and freely committed lynchings. And when slavery and lynchings were prohibited, they continued their reign of violence in other ways, burning down a thriving, prosperous black community—killing hundreds, displacing thousands; homes, businesses destroyed. A massacre with no accountability. And the malice continues. Nowadays, if you’re an abuser, a racist, a pedophile, etc.—there’s an occupation where you can victimize others with little or no consequence (police, law enforcement, priest, etc.). The institutions will protect you, enable you and hide your crimes. Our country has always been a place of subjugation. Yet still—black people, in many ways, have overcome. They aren’t waging war, burning down cities and committing mass murders. My great grandmothers survived the brutalities of slavery without becoming bitter and vengeful. They passed on strength and love to their descendants. Rising above. But still, we are witnessing the reluctance of the dissenters to overcome: overcome the hate and acrimony; overcome the belief that blacks (and other minorities) are inferior; overcome the need to keep others down. “We shall overcome”, said Dr. King. And when….? What will it take for us to overcome the toxicity in our hearts and in our minds. We are still confronted with the same mentality that led us into war with our own countrymen 160 years ago. Sentiments don’t just disappear because an army is defeated. We’ve never had this idea of: now that the war is over—let’s just all get along. How are we valuing the blood, sweat and tears that built this incredible nation? Our (Union) victory meant that we were to live up to this promise of America: upholding the unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The problems we continue to face today are remnants of the same issues we’ve always had. Because, we have not overcome. We continue to find ways to victimize and discriminate against others. We are seeing an upsurge of hate and division. Anti-semitism is again on the rise. We need to decide: what kind of America do we want to be? America, this great experiment is being tested, over and over again. Democracies come and go….will ours be able to survive? Can we live together as one nation? The South didn’t think so. They wanted no part of this “United” States of America. So, we still have very different ideas about how we wish to live in this grand ol’ country of ours. What will it take for us to get along? Is that even a possibility? We are still writing our story—and in my chapter I want to let my ancestors know that all of their pain and suffering was not in vain. America the beautiful. I stand with her and will do whatever I can to be part of creating a more perfect Union.






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