Friends of Padre Steve’s World
I am back from Gettysburg and recuperating from the trip. I took my wife Judy to get the staples removed from her abdomen following her surgery and things are looking really good. She will be monitored and tested regularly every three months for the next two years to ensure that the cancer has not returned but the odds are it will not.
Anyway, while I while I was at Gettysburg something happened that took me aback. It was not anything from any of my students who were absolutely awesome, but it was something else.
I always end the staff ride by taking the students to the National Soldier’s Cemetery. There we talk about terrible human cost of the battle and I introduce them to a number important topics related to the cemetery. I talk about the rural cemetery movement and the Greek revival in America in the 1820s, which is culturally important to us. Then I move on the dedication of the Soldier’s Cemetery. I discuss the layout of the cemetery and how it was designed so that the grave of every soldier is of equal importance and then I read some of the comments of the keynote speaker, Edward Everett. Following this I discuss the writing of the Gettysburg Address, the way Lincoln used it to universalize the Declaration of Independence and then I recite it, and remind my students, especially my American officer students why this is so important to us as we remember our oath of office and our duty.
Violence Against Chinese Immigrants in Denver 1880s
While we were gathering near the spot where Lincoln gave his address, an elderly white couple, which appeared to be in their early eighties, was on a bench where my students gathered. I invited them to stay if they wanted and let them know why we were there. They were very attentive as were my students and when we concluded and my students began to head back to our vans or to their own vehicles for the trip back to Norfolk, the man approached me and asked directions on how to get to the Chambersburg Road which I gladly gave him; and then he said: “You know that when they say that “all men are created equal” that some are more equal than others.”
I was stunned and attempted to deflect the man’s obvious racist comment with humor, referring to the rivalry of UCLA where I did my Army ROTC training about thirty-three years ago with that of the University of Southern California. The man looked at me and said that he was from Georgia and wished that California would just drop off into the ocean, and then walked away.
I thought to myself: “you corpulent old racist bastard.” I was really tempted to follow him and confront him, but I backed off. I realized based on his age, and that he probably opposed everything about the civil rights movement and supported Jim Crow and that there was nothing that could change his mind. He was old enough that he may have actually taken part in some of the anti-civil rights actions of the 1950s and 1960s. I don’t know, but it is possible.
The Flag of the Know Nothing Party
Sadly, there are a lot of people in this country who believe exactly what that man voiced. Some are racist, and not just towards African Americans but to Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, Arabs and others. There are those who believe that women and gays are not equal. Many of these people are leading politicians at the federal, state and local levels, media personalities and corporate leaders who have significant political and economic clout and if they ever had complete power would overturn or nullify every law that protects the civil rights of those they believe are less than equal, in some extreme case even less than human.
There are many reasons that people use to justify these attitudes; some pseudo-scientific, some religious, some economic, and many based on a crude Social Darwinism emphasizing the “survival of the fittest.” I heard someone else in a restaurant this weekend say exactly that when they were talking about the poor. Again, lest we want to simply use this to beat on Southerners, this is not simply an attitude confined to the South; it is all over the country, and that was the often the case throughout our American history.
It really does grieve me when I see this. The ghosts of our past intrude on so many parts of our national life, condemning the living to have to relive them in our own time. Historian George Santayana said it so well: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Have a good night.