Growing up in Memphis; Race, childhood, and ramblings about history
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were talking about issues facing our country, including race, and we still face these issues and seem to have made so little progress, as a country, in our lifetime. She was reminded of a story from her childhood. She, like me, grew up in the Memphis area. We were both 4 years old when on that fateful day, Martin Luther King Jr, was shot and killed, on the balcony outside of his room of the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis Tennessee, April 4, 1968.
The story my wife told was of when she was a child of probably 5 ro 6 years old. She recalled a birthday party she had when she was very young, and still living in Memphis. (Her family moved probably within a year of this event) Her mother planned a small birthday party for her in her back yard in their Memphis neighborhood, and invited a few children over that lived around their home. As the party got going, Anne wandered away, and out in to the front yard. She saw another boy from the neighborhood out playing, or walking by (she could not recall all the details) , and she walked over and invited him to the birthday party going on in the back yard. Her mom had come around the corner looking for her, and saw her bringing her new guest, and welcomed him, and the party went on. Everyone gathered around as she blew out the birtchday cake candles and played games. The child my wife invited was Black. The other children at the party were all white. This is very typical of the times we grew up in, and I would imagine in many circles this is still the norm. Here in 2022 and looking back in to the 1960s, although a lot has changed, some things are still the same in many communicites. Although we may be more open minded, depending on the community we live in , and how outgoing we are, many still live their lives in a small community, and especially since COVID. Many of us may not go to our places of worship as often as we used to, or we may not engage in other social activities that would normally bring people together of and from different comminities, whether we are talking neighborhooods, or different races.
Thie story my wife really struck home to me in a number of ways. Mainly, it got me thinking about how small my world is, and how my community, and I think probably most of the US still face the issue of racism today. Especially as adults that grew up in the era of the giant of the civil rights movement in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr, and his fight for equality, and then the tragic and untimely assassination of Dr. King. It seems we are headed in the WRONG direction, just because we are still seeing so many things that are still so wrong in this country as far as inclusion of all people of color. We have too many that are incarcerated and too many senseless killings of people of color. I thought we had made progress but it is hard to argue with the facts as they are now in 2022. Looking back, it is almost like we have just been ignoring these issues instead of really figuring this all out, and finding a way to move on and move forward without racism dividing us. It also seems like we can not move on because we never really dealt with this, and healed, so we can not really move on. Its a never ending circle, or cycle that we can not move out of or away from. I can not fathom that slavery, and the aftermath of that horrible sin is NOT the root cause of most, if not all of the issues surrounding race and racism in our country. It seems that the more we say it is not, is just further evidence that it is.
End of the Civil War and abolishment of the 13th Amendment
Our country fought a long civil war that resulted in the deaths of at least 620,000, and possibly upwards of 750,000 soldiers, depending on whose research you look at. The civil war ended just 103 years before the assassination of King in Memphis. But that was a brutally long 103 years for those that had been enslaved, as well as for the country . The abolishment of the 13th Amendment, and the passage of the 14th Amendment, granting citizenship and rights to those enslaved, was not enacted until 1868. Take a look at the history of the 14th Amendment, and the wording of the amendment (“excluding Indians not taxed” for example) , and the difficulty in getting it passed, and then take in to consideration that many states would not pass laws at the state level giving rights to those that had been enslaved, and when you look at all of that you will be hard pressed to NOT ADMIT we had, and still have a problem with really REALLY believing in equality in the United States. * Mississippi would not pass a state law abolishing the 13th amandment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery, and was ratified in congress in 1865 for 148 years, in 2013, and many say in part because of the movie “Lincoln.” Link to CBS Article about this.Take a look at the wording of the 13th Amendment where is worded to say that if someone is convicted of a crime, it is ok to enslave them. The exact wording is “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Why is it worded like that? What was the reasoning there and what was the outcome after the civil war because of this wording?
What was done to help assimilate EVERYONE in to active articiaption in our democracy, after the civil war? How did the assassination of Abraham Lincoln factor in to that lack of assimilation of former slaves?
The ability to fullly vote without hindrances would be a key way to help former slaves gain a foothold of power in our country, but the US Voting rights act took another 100 years AFTER the end of the civil war to get passed. And even after passage those rights were not a reality. In his article, Allen Guetzo ( referenced below ) says “ If the Confederates wanted amnesty, Lincoln, as he wrote in January 1864, could not “avoid exacting in return universal suffrage, or, at least, suffrage on the basis of intelligence and military service.” Even if the Confederates balked at trading amnesty for voting rights, there was still no practical alternative to black voting rights, since only the voting power of the newly freed slaves could offset the political dominance of unbowed whites in the South.”
What is it that moves us away from that childhood view of each other, just seeing each other as people when we are young, and in to adulthood where we have a problem with color? Is racism in the US by design, and if, why? What will it take to change this?
*Check out this article Allen Guetzo , the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of the Civil War Era Studies at Gettysburg College. His article in the Washington Post covers the history of the CIvil war era after the assassination of Lincoln.