It was a steamy, uncomfortable day as I was walking between classes on the campus of Albany State College (now University) in Georgia, one of four HBCUs in the state. Suddenly the skies opened in a deluge and I dashed into the campus library. I roamed the stacks while waiting for the rain to stop and came across the multi-volume NAACP library.
Curious, I picked a volume on the history of lynching and started reading. I was not only stunned and aghast with the details, but seriously angry that this aspect of My American History had never been presented, even mildly, in what I thought had been a good public education. I felt deeply betrayed by people who should know better.
American history that ignores, or worse, intentionally distorts and lies about, events as they really occurred harm all of us. Slavery was condoned and practiced in all 13 colonies at the time of the Revolution. Ten of our first 12 presidents owned slaves. At least two are known to have fathered children from women enslaved. The Civil War didn’t end slavery; the 13th Amendmenttransferred slavery from private ownership to state-sanctioned slavery through incarceration. Anyone who reads knows these uncomfortable facts.
When legislatures seek to delete honest inquiry and study of our founding myths, the damage is incalculable and sets the stage for people easily manipulated by propaganda. We, as a people, will never be better until we honestly and earnestly present our history so we can learn, grow and improve on the dynamic vision and dream of living in a functioning democracy.
Our ancestors in this governing experiment were flawed human beings. But they managed to gift us with a dream, anyway. We can thank them for that gift while being brutally honest about our foundational constitution and legal structures built on white supremacy. It was a foundation where First Nation people didn’t count at all and slaves were only three-fifths of a person. It gave rise to laws and judicial decisions that were clearly racist. It is a document rewritten by the 14th Amendment, Section 1, yet to be fully implemented or realized.
Let us keep the dream alive and honor the vision that is still a beacon of hope for the world, by embracing critical inquiry with honesty, openness and compassion.
Rev. Elaine Silverstrim