Forty years 10.31.2008
Forty years is not a very long time. In the grand scheme of things, it is a blink. In the history of western civilization, it is only but a couple of generations out of the hundreds. Yet, in the history of this young country, it seems so long ago.
Forty years ago, give or take a few, my mother was in a jail in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Her mother was in jail too. They were in jail for a horrible and criminal act – sitting at a lunch counter. You see, only forty years ago in many parts of this country sitting at certain counters in too many parts of this great land was illegal for a number of it’s citizens. They sat at that counter, bravely, with many others for the purpose of being arrested. Their intention was to fill the jails. To make a point. To prove how futile such barriers were in the face of common sense, decency and justice.
Forty years ago, that justice did not include in many of it’s citizens. If you were, say, African-American, that justice did not guarantee you the right to vote, the right to live in many parts of your city, the right to send your kids to any school or even the right to sit at any old lunch counter and grab a sandwich. That justice did not extend to you if your were Black or Brown or Red, “just us”. Justice for all is one of the cornerstones that this country was founded upon. Yet for the first two hundred years it was only guaranteed for some. This is made even more ironic when you consider that it was an African-American that was the first to die for that very cause some two hundred years earlier.
Forty years ago, I was just barely one year old. I was African-American. I was born in the south. History tells me that, had it not been for the extraordinary efforts of countless others before me, including my Mother and Grandmother, I would likely not have the life I live today. I certainly would not live in the places I have lived. I likely would not have the jobs I have had. I would not have been able to marry the women I have married. Therefore, I would not have had the beautiful children, we have made together. They being a product of many races and colors. Their very faces are the embodiment of the American promise.
Forty years ago, if you had asked my parents if they thought I could grow up to be anything I wanted one day, even president, they might have said “yes” but they likely would not have believed it would happen in their lifetimes. They knew how many challenges were faced. Not just by African-Americans or other people of color, They knew the challenges that the country faced in just having the very conversations and conversions on this topic we call “race”. It could not be solved in forty years any more than it had been undone in the previous four hundred.
Forty years later, we all seem to look back on this with a kind of amazement. We all talk about it as if it is long ago and in a far away land called history. We forget what an amazing thing it is, and in how short of time, that we have come to this point. This is not to say, that many problems do still not exist. They do. Yet here we are. If someone now asks me if I think my sons or my daughter could be able to be anything they want in this country, even president, I will not only know the answer – I will believe.
Forty years on, the very possibility of being able to elect an African-American to the highest public office in this great land is a jaw dropping accomplishment – as is the very fact that I am able to cast a vote. There have been many who have fought and died, even within the last forty years, to ensure it. I think we as a people, and as a nation, forget that.
Forty years from now, I pray this moment is not lost in history on my sons and my daughter. Although, I imagine they will look back on it with that same certain amazement. Amazed that it had to be so hard, for so long, over something so simple, yet made so complex. Perhaps by then they will be consumed with other issues just as important as liberty and justice and the way in which we guarantee it to our citizens. Whatever those fights may be, if there is any lesson to take away from this time in history, it is that anything is possible. Do not give up no matter what the cost as it is no higher a price paid than by countless others that came before you. And, if you must give up everything, in order to see a cause through, never give up this…