The Civil War and Racism in America

America is called “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” We claim to be the land of the free because men are free here to do whatever they wish. We are the home of the brave because we feel that Americans are courageous, as shown by the history of our pioneers who settled vast open lands. True individual freedom cannot exist where people are not brave enough to face the hardships in life and the prejudices and tyranny of men. Wars are fought many times for this very reason.

The Revolutionary War was fought to stop the tyranny of the king of England and ended in the formation of an independent nation called the United States of America. It proved that ideals mean something and are worth fighting for. Our freedom in the United States is built on the blood and effort of freedom-loving men throughout our history.

Nevertheless, in a healthy way with freedoms comes the responsibility of men and women to look critically at themselves and see where we have missed it as a society of free peoples. Recently in the news, three Minneapolis Police Department officers were seen kneeling on a black man George Floyd in an arrest that resulted in the death of that 46-year-old man. In the description of the incident, one officer was said to have his knee across his neck while Floyd pleaded “I can’t breathe, man,” Floyd can be heard saying in the video. “Please, let me stand. Please, man.”

Since the confrontation, the four officers have been arrested and they will be tried for the death of Floyd. Without pre-judging the motives of these men, I hope the truth comes out in the trial. As the attention of a nation is drawn to this incident it has resulted in an examination of racism in America by the media and much violence and deaths from the protests. As of July 5, 2020, at least 26 people have died during the protests, with 22 due to gunshot wounds. There have been over 14,000 arrests made and much damage of property by vandalism and arson. Much of the theft and destruction was motivated by personal gain and anger rather than ideology. Many of the protests have been peaceful but have been overshadowed by the ugly and repulsive action that prevails in times of anger and frustration.

Since the emergence of this nation this is one of the many birth pangs and growing pains of a 244-year-old republic democracy. It began with the ideals of the Declaration of Independence that stated clearly: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. All the while the forefathers of the United States refused the end of the egregious act of permitting slavery which is the ownership of another human being as property.

While many in early America were against this practice, they allowed it because they thought it necessary for the unity of the newly formed nation. This lack of urgency led to the emergence of the Abolitionist Movement which was formed in the 1830s mimicking some of the same tactics British abolitionists had used to end slavery in Great Britain in 1834. Though it started as a movement with religious underpinnings, abolitionism became a controversial political issue that divided much of the country in America. The divisiveness and animosity fueled by the movement, along with other factors, led to the Civil War and ultimately the end of slavery in the United States.

Abraham Lincoln the 16th president of the United States was the driving force behind the “Emancipation Proclamation” that legally freed the slaves on January 1, 1863. His Gettysburg address expressed the temperament of that proclamation and explains his fight against the Confederacy which attempted to keep slavery and succeed from the Union. President Lincoln delivered the 272-word Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863, on the battlefield near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives, that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The “cause” Lincoln was referring to was the preservation of the Union and the end of slavery in American history. While on paper the task was done, in the hearts of many men and women it was not. After the war, many people still harbored feelings of prejudice and fear against people different from them. So many times, we sinned as a nation both with people in governmental power and leadership positions. The personal bias against and disdain for people of color spilled over to everyday life. The historical accounts of prejudice are numerous.

The Native Americans by the close of what was called the Indian Wars in the late 19th century, there were fewer than 238,000 indigenous people remaining, a sharp decline from the estimated 5 million to 15 million living in North America when Columbus arrived in 1492. After slavery was abolished in the United States, Chinese laborers were imported to the South as cheap labor to replace freed Blacks on the plantations. Many of the early Chinese laborers came from sugar plantations in Cuba and after the transcontinental railroad was completed, California also contributed to the labor supply. These laborers formed communities in the pockets of the Southeastern part of the United States, encountering racist policies as people did in the African American community.

The internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II was the forced relocation and incarceration in concentration camps in the western interior of the country of about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most of whom lived on the Pacific Coast. A decade later, one of the most famous cases to emerge from the 20th century was Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision that struck down the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ and ordered an end to school segregation.

Not the least of prejudice against women was the fact that they did not get the vote till Congress passed on June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment which granted women the right to vote. This showed the signs of a nation that was still learning from ideals that benefit all of humanity. As it should this changed the statement in the Declaration of Independence understanding that all men and (women) are created equal. This is a good thing for a nation that calls itself the “land of the free.”

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested on a Montgomery, Alabama city bus for violating the city’s segregation laws. While she did not originally violate the law when she took her seat, the bus driver moved the dividing line between the black and white sections of the bus. He did so in order to give the white passengers more room to sit and to force the black passengers to stand. Rosa refused to move. This resulted in a successful Montgomery Bus Boycott, organized by a young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King Jr. which followed Park’s historic act of civil disobedience.

Martin Luther King Jr. soon became the figurehead for the movement to end the segregation law. They operated in peaceful civil disobedience to bring attention to their plight. Through his efforts and many others eventually, congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and made employment discrimination illegal. This document legally ended the segregation that had been institutionalized by Jim Crow laws.

As President Lincoln did in 1863 King had helped to bring attention to the need for a law to protect the rights of people of color from discrimination. As a minister, he also went further by addressing the spiritual condition of the heart of men and women. After all, the change in law was just a piece of paper, people still had their prejudices. Before his assassination in 1968 and before the Civil Rights Act in 1964 he shared “I HAVE a dream…”, on August 28, 1963, American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., uttered those words in his most famous speech. Using that captivating refrain, King expressed his dream, or hope, that one-day people would enjoy a life free from racial prejudice. Though his aspirations were addressed to an audience in the United States, his dream has been embraced by people in many nations.

One hundred years after the “Emancipation Proclamation” King ended his speech by saying, “When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every city and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men, and white men, Jews, and Gentiles, Protestants, and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.”

History shows us that good law can show man the ideal way to treat each other but it does not change the heart and the deep prejudices of humankind. Ideals work when men and women embrace them and make them part of their life. People are blind and do not see the state of bondage they are in with their disdain and even hate for different peoples. Diversity is not a bad thing and all individuals have worth in God’s sight and should be respected as a creation that He made for his purpose. Black lives matter and all lives matter and are precious in the tapestry of the peoples we call America.

The idea of the races of men is obsolete as far as this writer is concerned because we all are children of God. We are all Homo sapiens. The only difference is the pigment of the skin and how generations of people adapted to their environment. We all bleed the color red. We are the same in our desire for the freedom to live our lives as we see fit. Do unto others as you would have them do to you. Live as God intended and respect your neighbor and embrace the difference we see in humankind. Live with the understanding that we are all created equal but are affected by the environment and circumstances of our lives. It certainly does not make different people subordinate in any way.

The true war against prejudice is waged in the heart and the mind. Pure ideals and changed hearts are the answer to end racism in America. “A riot is the language of the unheard. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Martin Luther King’s quotes echo how he lived and how we should change our hearts with God’s help. Reach out to the heavenly Father and change your life and let him begin a work in you. May I borrow from Martin Luther King by saying that all we can hope is we end our life with the phrase “Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, I AM are free at last.”

We still live in the greatest country in modern times for freedoms, opportunity, worship and so much more. To think lesser of another human being is illogical and a slap in the face of all those who have fought for that freedom with their blood, sweat, and tears. Let us progress as a nation of peoples and regret the sin of racism and put it in the past. Let this begin with you and me and then we can change the spirit of anarchy and distrust into a transformation in the heart of men to respect and honor each other as God intended.

Author: WBStiles

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