“Racial segregation had a long and enduring history in America, supported by courts, laws, and elected officials. The pervasive effects of that legacy are still felt today.”
That quote is from the new “Segregation in America” website from the Equal Justice Initiative in my hometown of Montgomery, AL. The site features their report on the subject, an interactive map of Confederate monuments, a list of prominent segregationists, and more.
I took time to read through the segregationist list. Each person has a short bio and a quote. Some names I recognized for their role in being on the wrong side of history – the prominent ones like George Wallace, Strom Thurmond, “Bull” Connor, Bob Jones. Many of the names were new to me.
Myself and most of my peers were born after the days of segregation, after the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act were the laws of the land. We never experienced separate water fountains, mandated segregation in schools, or “whites only” signs at businesses.
It can seem like it was all so far in the past.
But it wasn’t.
Many of my friends’ parents grew up experiencing this level of hatred directly, their grandparents even more so. As little as one generation away.
When reading through the hatred in the segregationist list on the website, I looked at the lifespan of some of them – the latest death year I saw on the list was 2010.
Some died as recently as eight years ago. And the ones who still held the racial hatred in their hearts and took it to their deathbeds… I don’t understand. And I don’t want to understand.
I don’t want to understand how a human can hate an entire group of other humans simply based on skin color. But the history is important to learn and to acknowledge. Here’s a quote from a KQED interview with the founder and executive director of EJI, Bryan Stevenson:
“I don’t think any of us are free, to be honest. So rather than thinking that there’s something discretionary about the teaching of this history. I think it’s essential. I think you do a disservice to children of all colors and races and ethnicities by allowing them to be ignorant of the ways in which our country has yet to deal with the history of racial injustice.”
The reason I titled this post “the hate continues” is because while reading some of the quotes from the segregationists, some of that hatred seems so familiar. We’re seeing viral videos of it on social media. We’re seeing the coded language in tweet form from politicians. It’s current, not some distant past.
Philosopher George Santayana is quoted as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Let’s learn from the past, and do better.