Editor’s note: This commentary is by Bob Stannard, a former lobbyist, who is still an author and musician. This piece first appeared in the Bennington Banner.
Picture this: Sit on the floor with your knees pulled up halfway to your chest wearing nothing more than your underwear. You can’t sit up straight because the space is only 3 feet 3 inches high. How long can you sit like this? Five minutes, 10 minutes, maybe half an hour? Try sitting like that for 17 days, chained to the floor so that you can’t possibly move. Your feet are touching the person in front of you. You’re on a slave ship bound for America so you can play a role in making America great http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/slaveship.htm The early economy of our great nation was founded and supported by slave labor, black slave labor.
Last week I had the occasion to pay a second visit to the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. I went back to take my wife, Alison, to see it. If you’re ever anywhere near Memphis, go to this museum, because it’s important that we understand our own history if we don’t want to be doomed to repeat it.
For hundreds of years one race was treated worse than any animal. As time went on, we ceased the practice of slavery, but we have yet to resolve the issues of race in America. Some may think we have, but we’re not there yet. We need only to look to the likes of people like white nationalist Richard Spencer, the man who’s fighting back to keep the Confederate flag flying in Virginia.
“Fifty years have passed and yet the struggle for minorities in this country continues much in the same way as it always has.”
This behavior is unacceptable to many of us, but sadly not all of us. Cretins like Spencer not only exist today, but are feeling more empowered than ever thanks to our president and his appointment of former Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions as our U.S. attorney general. Jeff is only five years older than me and although we were raised in the same country, we’ve had very different lives. In 1961 I was 10 and he was 15. The five years between us are significant. When I was 10 the only black people I knew were those who worked at the Equinox Hotel. I could tell they didn’t look like me, but I don’t ever recall harboring any ill feelings towards them. They could come and go as they please if they chose to, but they rarely chose to.
At 15 Sessions’ take on black people was much different. Where he grew up, black people were not allowed to mingle with white people. They were not allowed to go to the same theaters, restaurants, schools, use the same fountain or ride in the front of bus like whites could. Jeff was very much influenced by his environment, just like I was by mine. I never feared or hated black people. I don’t think the same can be said for Jeff, the man who now, at 70, is our attorney general.
Why does any of this matter? Look at the direction in which some are trying to lead us. In 1965, when Jeff was 19, a very impressionable age, John Lewis and others were beaten senseless on the Edmund Pettus Bridge while marching to Selma, Alabama, fighting for civil and voting rights. After all of the hard-fought gains think about how now Congressman Lewis must feel today having Jeff as his attorney general.
Currently there is a move afoot to make voting more difficult primarily for minorities. Fifty years have passed and yet the struggle for minorities in this country continues much in the same way as it always has.
Our lives are based on choices we make. We can choose to ignore what is happening or we can choose to stand up and shout down those who would continue the crimes and sins of the past. There’s a new slang word for this. It’s “woke,” as in “are you woke yet?” If you don’t know what that means go here. It’s time we fight for the rights of all Americans.