Of course, I’m referring to America’s original sin, slavery. Nothing more poignantly defines our history.
That’s what I preached about last Sunday, honoring black history. Civil rights has been a passion of mine all my adult life. But in this sermon, I didn’t merely want to remind the congregation of the past, of the exquisite and unrelenting brutalizing reality. I didn’t want to dwell much on the sit-ins, the marches and court rulings.
I wanted to remind folks of the unfinished task of redeeming America’s soul.
Lincoln, in the Gettysburg Address, offered the battle deaths as an atonement for the cruelties, unimaginable, visited upon this entire population imported to our shores against their will and sold as property. Matchless eloquences.
But in whatever form, white penance wouldn’t school those who had been whipped and beaten just for attempting to learn to read. White guilt wouldn’t buy decent jobs or a life without fear of lynchings or other terrors.
I mentioned that the abuse meted out to blacks was unique. There was no fugitive slave law invoked against Irish immigrants. There was no Jim Crow that forced Italian immigrants to sit in the back of the bus. Swedes weren’t told to drink from a separate water fountain and to use a separate restroom. You have to understand this unique treatment of an entire people to fully grasp the plight of so many blacks today.
Reconstruction couldn’t fix Jim Crow. Never tried. Even when the civil rights movement crushed legal segregation. That couldn’t lift the millions out of the oppressive heat of the ghettos. Funny, today you don’t hear anything about the ghettos. Drive expressways through any large city, you’ll see them. They haven’t disappeared. Nor has the poverty of the ghettos disappeared.
Police can’t break up the gangs. The preachers and the social workers can’t stop the murders of kids peddling dope. Very few schools have found a way to get more than half of the African-American kids to graduate. Our prisons pack ’em in, so often on drug charges, which hasn’t solved the country’s drug problem.
We don’t need more white guilt. We don’t need nice speeches. We don’t need only one month a year to talk about what blacks have been through and what, despite that, many have achieved.
We need white advocacy. We need to press educators to teach. We need to challenge writers to write. We need to tell employers to hire. We need to demand political leaders open the doors for the descendants of slaves.
I want to say to America, my fellow citizens, celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. anniversary, reading about black history all of February, “Hey, you forgot something.”
We’ve left a bunch of fellow citizens still standing at the station. Isn’t it about time we helped them climb onboard?