Before the Civil War there were great disagreements between groups of white people about what to do with black people. Some religious people thought it was a sin to embrace slavery. Others thought it was their God-given right to “own” another human being. After nearly 700,000 Americans died trying to sort that out, the 18th Amendment was passed outlawing one person owning, buying or selling another.
The echoes of the basic disagreement linger still, but it seems that every time there is a significant move toward promoting equality between races and ethnicities, there is a great lurch of pain, violence and agony before those movements are accepted.
Today, for example, it is hardly noticed that black men play professional baseball. There are black coaches, managers and executives throughout professional baseball. Other professional sports have had a much easier and swifter journey in accepting black people into their games. There is one anecdote that sticks out in my life that pre-dates this acceptance.
My best friend in high school was an honorable mention all-American football player. He was swamped with scholarship offers from all over the country. He originally hailed from the Cumberland Gap region of Virginia. It doesn’t get more rural Southern than that. Anyway, after much thought, he opted for Florida State.
I asked, “Why there”? He said he chose the SEC because they didn’t allow blacks (he used a much different word) to play. Then I said, “Oh."
Today, I see how backward we were in 1960 with regard to race relations. Every SEC team now has at least half of their members from races other than white.
In 1952 Henry Aaron and his team were barred from playing baseball in Jacksonville, Fla., because the local law forbade blacks and whites from playing on the same field. They even padlocked the ballpark and posted guards. Jackie Robinson had already been playing for the Dodgers since 1947, so what was Florida’s excuse? I think it was simply fear of the unknown.
The landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ruling didn’t happen until 1954, so baseball actually advanced integration before our courts did and set the stage for the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
When schools were integrated in the South and New England, great shouts, hatred and prejudice spewed out of whites who felt that blacks were still inferior. Each time some new action, like busing, tried to bring blacks and whites closer together, there was painful, embarrassing resistance from people who thought God was on their side.
The brave men and women of all races involved in these movements risked their lives and their well-being to promote what has proven to be the right thing for our country’s best interests. Some paid with their lives.
In 2008 the people of this country elected a man who is part white and part African. He is also all American. Once again there is a great hue and cry. Oh, the protesters aren’t coming right out and saying it, but the coded racism from pundits and demonstrators is clear enough to those of us who participated in upgrading the intellectual component of our society.
The Tea Bag “movement” seems to be primarily made up of those people who stood on the sidelines during civil rights demonstrations and marches. Now, they are in their 60s and 70s and have come back, bringing with them the next oldest generation of malcontents to join them in their protests to “take back our country."
The question then, is what country are they talking about? Who do they want to take it back from? And, what era and time do they think is best?
I think the answer is, they don’t know.
The protests have nothing to do with taxes. We now have the lowest per capita tax burden of any industrialized nation.
It seems to me, therefore, that we are in another mid-lurch to the next level of social development. It used to be news that black and brown people got elected to public office. Now, nobody even blinks. Someday there won’t be any hiccups or birthers or any other nonsense when a person of color runs and wins a presidential election. But right now, President Barack Obama has to endure what Jackie Robinson and Henry Aaron did in order to change things for the better.
Turner is retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls.