The president’s speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge by persons of color to secure voting rights was nothing less than magnificent. If you did not hear it or see it I urge you to do so.
The irony in the name of the bridge “Edmund Pettus” is not lost to history as the bridge is named after a general in the Confederacy and a distant cousin to the Confederacy president, Jefferson Davis. In addition to that “illustrious” career, Pettus was named Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan and dedicated himself to the crushing, literally, of blacks in their quest for equal rights. It is strange irony, indeed, that the commemoration of that march 50 years later is recognized in our time on that bridge named for a racist and that our first president of color delivered his speech on it. It is, for me, immensely satisfying!
I thought, too, of my own trajectory to this day and waxed incredulous at the long road I and many who share my political views have traveled as well. My earliest Civil War understanding was at age 10 when I learned the Confederacy wore a grey uniform and the Union a blue one. At age 10 I won a trip to Disneyland in California. In Disneyland they were selling Civil War military caps colored Union blue and Confederate grey. I urged my parents to buy one for me but I could not decide on the color I wanted and did not understand the significance of it. Incredulous to me now I believe I chose grey.
At age 15 during the riots in the black urban ghettos of the mid-sixties I was told and believed those riots were inspired by Communists. It could not be, of course, those riots were fueled by vicious racism and centuries of discrimination against blacks the etiology of which was fueled since the nation’s founding by deep racist principle and the money that could be made on the backs of slaves. I never questioned what I was told – not once – during those years.
It was not until the late 1960’s that my educational experience at Boston University opened a window onto the national madness. Our nation was founded on the backs of slaves, brought here chained against their will from Africa and treated not even as well as one would treat a beast of burden. It was not until this time that one of my black professors told of his experience fighting in WWII only to be denied service at a “whites only” lunch counter when he returned home. It was a rude awakening, indeed, one prefaced by an African American high school classmate running for class secretary. She told me she did not have a chance. When in my naiveté I asked why she said “Because I am colored.” I did not believe her then but, clearly, she was right. She could not win and did not. Four decades later a black man named Barack Obama won the presidency against John McCain, a white military man.
It has been a long road traveled through 1965 Selma, Alabama transcending the history of the slave trade to the first African American president of our time; a very long road, indeed!