On Monday the nation will pause to observe the annual holiday honoring the life and legacy of iconic civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Yet too many Millennials and members of their younger cohort, Generation Z, consider civil rights history as ancient history at the dawn of a new millennium.
However, there are profound and poignant lessons which today’s young people need to learn. The most important lesson is how to make major changes in society through the type of peaceful means championed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his fellow civil rights leaders of the time.
Is this the beginning of a revolution that finally addresses racism honestly?
Part 2: The Present and A Way Forward
The continuum of violence against African Americans and the Black Community
What has happened in the past is not different from what continues to happen today because racism is generational. Racists who have committed crimes use all the tools of systems of privilege built in their favor to avoid being held accountable. In doubtful circumstances, lawyers have changed venues for trial to predominantly White communities where their White accomplice juries can unconsciously and consciously exercise bias.
It’s been two years since the shooting and subsequent riots in Ferguson. One year after that event, I wrote about having the dubious honor of witnessing three generations of protests related to race, inequality and injustice. In the 1960s, protest marches were televised nationally, inspiring many of us. Yes, some protests became violent riots, but some gave rise to long-term institutions promoting racial equality. Those of us deeply invested in the movement shared a vision and were committed to making a difference through advocacy, education, politics, and, as I did, urban planning. However, after the shootings of unarmed African American men in Baton Rouge and St. Paul, the killing of police officers in Dallas, the numerous street protests, and the ongoing threats, I am less hopeful than I was coming out of the sixties.
Our world is burning up from within. We need action – now – to lower the earth’s temperature, to stop mass incarceration , child abuse, and human trafficking. And what about self-harm and self-hate? Why does our own spirit twist against us so violently?
Searching for more answers – or at least some deeper insights – I turned to the lives of three people burned by hate, and burning with love. The first is Vietnamese monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh.
When I started teaching civil rights in graduate school, I developed a timeline of Black History in the United States. I included positive ones as well as tragedies, and tried to include more than African-American connected events, to represent a fuller picture of American history than is usually represented. I also included some world events to provide context and some removal from a “calculus of suffering” so often indulged in by one group comparing its history with another. The timeline makes no promises of completeness, and is a work in progress. It is generally referenced, and is fairly reliable. This timeline proved to be popular with students, who mostly had been raised and educated on the myth of progress, American Dream, and City on a Hill themes. They were surprised by the uneven progression of social equity in American history, with its frequent “one step forward, two steps back” meme. I’ve chosen some examples from just one year in this timeline for Black History Month.
In case you missed it, the month of September marks the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Division (CRD) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The CRD, which opened for business in 1957, has a noble mission and rich history which has helped to effectuate equal opportunity for all Americans, especially African Americans and other minority groups.
“On September 9, 1957, President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, creating the Civil Rights Division,” according to DOJ. “The 1957 Act was the first civil rights law passed since Reconstruction, and was a first step leading to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act the following year, and numerous other civil rights laws enacted in the years since that are enforced by the Civil Rights Division.”
Long before The New York Times had its first woman Executive Editor, Ruth Holmberg was the Editor of The Chattanooga Times. Holmberg is a member of the family that founded both newspapers and she has shared her compelling life story as friends and admirers gathered to hear her speak. Holmberg is a former director of The Associated Press and of The New York Times Company, a former president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and of the Southern Newspaper Publisher Association and a member of the Board of Directors of the Public Education Network (PEN). The petite, soft-voiced woman is also a member of one of the nation’s most prominent publishing families.
Editor’s note: Publishing icon and Chattanooga civic leader Ruth Holmberg passed away at age 96. In her honor, here is the ADR interview with Ms. Holmberg several years ago.
It was an honor to share my perspective as a Jew and diversity professional at Chattanooga’s MLK interfaith service commemorating The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. My passion for diversity is a legacy from my father, a US World War II military intelligence officer whose letters describing Nazi Germany reside in Cincinnati’s American Jewish Archives. Having dedicated decades to tikkun olam, Hebrew for ‘repair of the world,’ I resonate deeply to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel words, “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”