Super Bowl 57 provided a number of poignant moments. For the first time in the one-hundred-three year history of the National Football League the two opposing quarterbacks in the championship game were African-American athletes. Prelude to this historic match-up were several songs that honored America and Americans. The National Anthem of the United States was performed by Chris Stapleton and during its conclusion four US Naval women aviators passed overhead in F-16 aircraft. Its lyrics are familiar to us all as we hear them frequently but just prior to the anthem we heard “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” whose words are less familiar and offered a contrast and tribute to our sixteenth President Abraham Lincoln.
James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is a powerful tribute to Abraham Lincoln and a celebration of the United States of America. The song is full of hopefulness and optimism, and is a reminder of the promise of the nation. In contrast, Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” is a poignant depiction of the aerial bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Key’s poem captures the emotion of the moment, and serves as a reminder of the courage and resilience of the nation. Both songs honor the United States of America and their authors, James Weldon Johnson and Francis Scott Key, represent two very different eras of American history. While Johnson was a 20th century civil rights activist, Key was a 19th century lawyer, amateur poet and slaveholder. Despite their differences, both songs give us a glimpse into the history, struggles, and triumphs of America.
I came of age in the 1960’s. When I learned American History in high school we read that Lincoln freed the slaves. We didn’t learn about “Jim Crow” or lynching or about how Black Americans were routinely brutalized and killed. The Tulsa Race Massacre was never mentioned. We didn’t learn about “red lining.” American History was my favorite subject. I took enough American history courses in college that it could have been my major. I took the GRE in American History and scored high enough to be awarded 30 credits. I never heard about Emmett Till until a couple of years ago after George Floyd was brutally murdered.
In the summer of 2020 while much of our country was locked down from the Covid-19 pandemic I had the opportunity to be part of course at Houghton University called “Racism and American Christianity.” Our professor was the first black person I ever had in any educational setting in my life. Julian Armand Cook, an ordained Baptist minister and member of Houghton University’s faculty provided us with facts and insights that had been neatly avoided in the first 65 plus years of my education. We read books like “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”, which exposed a telling of American history that had been neatly avoided in my earlier readings. I was appalled at the systematic racist brutality visited upon the black people of the United States and fully condoned by our own federal government until the late 1950’s. One of the most appalling of those hate crimes was the murder of fourteen year old Emmett Till who was visiting his family in rural Mississippi in the summer of 1955.
Emmett’s crime was that he allegedly whistled at a white woman while shopping in a general store. For that transgression Emmett was beaten, brutally murdered and his body dumped in a river weighed down by heavy equipment. Emmett’s killers were acquitted. Sound familiar doesn’t it. This is some of the history that some folks in our country don’t think our children ought to learn. Emmett’s murder helped galvanize the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and led to some of the civil rights legislation that have been written into law. Unfortunately laws can’t change attitudes and bigotry which all people of color continue to endure in the United States.
This week I had the privilege of watching the movie “Till” which is available from Amazon, YouTube, AppleTV and elsewhere.
Saw this on Representative Mike Thompson’s Twitter feed this morning. Mike Thompson represents California’s 5th Congressional District. This letter from a Catholic Priest friend says it all about Arch Bishop Cordileone’s latest misguided decision:
“Bishops, priests, etc. are neither the hosts nor the bouncers nor the ones who wrote the guest list. The Eucharist is the resurrected body of Christ given for the life of the world…
Jesus Christ is the one who invites the guests (“all you who labor”); he is the host of those who come; he is the setter of the table; and he is the feast which is shared (“Take this, all of you. this is my body, this is my blood”)…
We are guests at the meal, and sometimes (by his calling) servers. So stay in your lane, please. The wait staff doesn’t get to exclude those who want to come. If you don’t like the company Christ calls (and, admittedly, it is a rag tag bunch of sinners, one and all), it’s… you who need to leave the table, not them.”
This week a catholic cleric in the state of California has stated that Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi cannot receive holy communion because of her stance on abortion rights. Pope Francis openly suggested that American catholic clerics not politicize the abortion issue. The catholic church is the only entity in the western christian world that has had this stance. Not all catholics are anti-abortion. Many practice birth control and have for years. How does a celibate make policy for the rest of us including those Americans who are not catholic. None of these doctrines of birth control or abortion are included in any of the gospels. Neither is celibacy, nor the college of cardinals, the appointment of archbishops and the provision of ostentatious houses of worship and residence for these pretentious pricks. If you really believed the eucharist is the body of Christ and you thought Nancy Pelosi needed spiritual uplift then you’d insist she receive it more often.
Yesterday on Vietnam Veterans Day I had the privilege of listening to a lecture from a guy who’s pissed that Joe Biden is president and that gas prices are high. In the spring of 1972 I registered for classes that coming fall. I went home like all the other kids expecting to see them in August or September. When I got home there was a notice of pre induction physical for the draft. There was no sophomore year nor junior and senior year either. In August when my former classmates were slapping each other on the back and shaking hands I was in recruit training at Great Lakes, Illinois.
I don’t regret my naval service. I’m proud to have served this country. I still have my dress blues even though they don’t fit. There was a time I prayed that my brother and later my son wouldn’t have to serve in the armed forces but I’ve come to believe compulsory national service would be a good thing. A recent poll of Americans revealed that only 55 percent would come to the aid of the country if we were invaded.
We’ve spawned several generations of folks who think they’re entitled to life on their own terms no matter what. On the world stage we’re witnessing the brave people of Ukraine fend off invaders and the disruption of life as they knew it by a bunch of lawless thugs led by the man who tried to subvert our democracy. I’m sure they’d be willing to endure high energy prices for some peace and freedom.
Freedom isn’t free. Doing what you want when you want how you want with no regard for others isn’t citizenship. It’s lawless and childish. If you’re still driving a gas guzzler 50 years after the energy crunch we lived through in the 1970s then you’re not too bright. End of rant.
Gasoline is $1.53 a liter in Ontario adjusted for US dollars and Joe Biden isn’t president either. Gasoline has historically cost more in Canada and the rest of the world. According to my brother gasoline is $8.88 a gallon in Zurich Switzerland. It’s long past time to find other modes of transportation. If you aren’t a farmer or a construction worker you don’t need a 1/2 or 3/4 ton pickup truck with all wheel drive. That’s ego and it will always cost more. My parents lived through WWII when gas was rationed. In 1974 after the Yom Kippur War gas prices doubled and tripled. I had to plan my leave and liberty around the calendar because in NYS you could only buy gas on even or odd days based on your license plate numbers. The national speed limit was set to 55 mph. In the past 40 plus years we’ve listened to politicians and others who convinced us we could drive like maniacs,own SUVs and Humvees that got atrocious mileage and live large otherwise. It just isn’t realistic. Electric cars and sustainable fuels are the future. Don’t let politicians and pundits bullshit you into believing it’s not possible. We won WWII. We put people on the moon because we believed we could. It’s time to reimagine our world and worldview.
I’ve been reading The 1619 Project. It’s an enlightening book. The author describes plantations as work camps. I’ve never thought of Monticello, Mount Vernon and the like in the same light as Ravensbruck and Birkenau but they were. Enslaved African Americans were forced to work, brutally treated and in many cases killed to keep them towing the line. They were bred like livestock and treated the same or worse.
I learned in school that Lincoln freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation but it took the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendment to codify that into United States law. A new era emerged after the Civil War until the the end of the Reconstruction era when federal troops were withdrawn from the southern states. Then all hell broke loose as vigilante rule took over and Blacks and other people of color were systematically subjugated. Voter suppression and intimidation was the norm. Four thousand blacks were lynched between 1880 and 1940. Teenage Emmet Till was brutally murdered in 1955 for smiling at a white woman. People of color really weren’t free until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965.
Native Americans were forced off their lands and put on reservations. Schools were created to forcibly destroy their culture and they the original owners of the Americas were not granted the right to vote in the United States until 1925. Following World War 2 white American servicemen and women qualified for the GI Bill which helped many including my father to attend college and pursue professional lives. The GI Bill was denied to soldiers of color. There is so much that is not understood by whites about people of color and how our society is not color blind at all. Our lives as white people is skewed to benefit us while disenfranchising our brothers and sisters who are darker.
I don’t like the term racist as there is no such thing as race. It is a social construct that was created to justify the repression of people of color. We are all the same race, the human race. Paradoxically we are all prejudiced. It is normal and natural to feel more at home with those that look like us.
I know I’m prejudiced. I don’t want to be prejudiced but I am. I work to overcome that on a daily basis. What’s most distressing in this country is that we have systemic prejudice that many fail to recognize and accept. Many of our presidents owned slaves. When our founding documents were written in the 18th century Black people were enslaved, Native Americans had their land stolen and were routinely murdered.
We have a lot of work ahead of us to truly become the United States of America.
“How do you tell your all-white mother that your all-white “friends” just dragged you into their big all-white house in all-white Southampton, past an untouchable all-white room, just to corner you and call you the dirtiest thing in their all-white world? Nigger.”
— The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey
I’ve long been a fan of Mariah Carey. I remember I was driving home from graduate school when I first heard “Vision of Love” on one of the local radio stations. There was a unique quality to her voice and reading this book about her life has that same spark. She is a great communicator. The book provides evidence of the ever present racism that pervades our culture even today. The debate in our nation rages over how to honor our past without glorifying the scourge of racism and misogyny.
Recently there has been discussion of removing the statue of Thomas Jefferson from the legislative chamber of New York City. Does the removal of the statue solve the problem. How about saving the statue but sharing the history of Jefferson and others who raped their slave mistresses and fathered children whom they also enslaved?
Our one dollar, two dollar and twenty dollar bills bear the images of men who supported the institution of slavery. Both Jefferson and Washington had biracial children. There is no evidence of Jackson fathering any children with his slaves but he was a slave master nonetheless. Why is it so difficult to acknowledge that we are a less than perfect nation?
Can we get past the meanness of our past and provide some real meaning for our future? Can we heal the wounds of racism by acknowledging their presence in our present and past?
Peril by Bob Woodward
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Excellent book with lots of keen insights and interviews with individuals involved in presidential politics in the past five years. The book confirmed for me the grave danger our republic is in from the forces of evil that have come to dominate the Republican party in the United States. I wasn’t initially in favor of a Joe Biden presidency. I didn’t think he was progressive enough to lead the country forward. Now, however after seeing him in action of the past nine months and learning much more about his history and character through this book I am convinced that he is the right person for the job.