Fifty Years Later: Just How Far Have We Come?


As I reflect on the meaning of today, the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I can’t help but wonder just how far we’ve come.

Here’s a brief re-cap of that day.

Martin Marches

On March 7, 1965, the first of three marches that were to start in Selma and finish in the capital of Montgomery, took place on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The marches were organized to bring attention to “the desire of black American citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote.”

selma3This day later became known as Bloody Sunday when 600 unarmed marchers were attacked by state troopers using billy clubs and tear gas.

The sequel to The Red Kimono takes place from 1957-1963, and although that precludes the story of these marches, the backdrop to the book is the Civil Rights Movement.

In my research for the book, I’ve read about many historical events such as Bloody Sunday, and it has caused me to look at current events and wonder about how far we’ve really come.

I admit to being a naïve optimist. Before I started paying close attention, attempting to see current events in the eyes of others (as I try to write through the eyes of others) I thought:

“What are you complaining about? Look how far we’ve come.”

Then, a story like Ferguson comes out. The recent Justice Department findings were a real eye-opener for me–again, forgive my naïve optimism. One might be able to justify away the statistics reported by CNN by attributing it to the high percentage of African-Americans living in the area:

  • Ferguson is a town of 21,000 that is 67% African-American.
  • From 2012 to 2014, 85% of people subject to vehicle stops by Ferguson police were African-American, 90% of those who received citations were black, and 93% of people arrested were black.
  • In 88% of the cases in which Ferguson police officers reported using force, it was against African-Americans. From 2012-2014 black drivers were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops, but 26% less likely to be found in possession of contraband.

But there is no way you can justify away the emails that were found as part of this investigation, and that’s where my eyes were opened. According to USA Today, here is a summary of just a couple of those emails, written by two police officers and a court clerk:

  • A November 2008 e-mail stated that President Obama would not be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”
  • A May 2011 e-mail stated: “An African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.'”

In reaction to these emails, a recent guest on CNN stated that the exchange of such emails on the city’s email server is proof of the city’s tolerance of such attitudes. In other words, those sending such emails had no concern that they’d be disciplined. Excellent point. Sickening point.

So, my conclusion is, yes, we have come a long way. We elected our first black president. Many wondered if it would ever happen. Though admittedly, I was one of those disappointed that my candidate didn’t win, I remember feeling a reverence for that day in history.

Selma1

But, there is no doubt we have a long way to go. There are still too many who are truly prejudiced, even racist, and there is a difference. When I see photos or watch video of the terrible violence against other human beings, solely because of the color of their skin, I’m horrified that we treated (and sometimes still treat) fellow Americans–fellow HUMAN BEINGS–that way.

Maybe someday, I’ll look at words such as those in the emails sited above and think, “I can’t believe we ever thought of fellow human beings that way.”

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6 Responses to Fifty Years Later: Just How Far Have We Come?

  1. If you think about it, 50 years isn’t a generation and it can take more than a generation for this sort of change to occur. Prejudice is often passed on and if the original prejudiced person is still alive, often so is the prejudice. The next generation hopefully has more opportunities to see the “other” group (and that doesn’t mean just black) as more similar than different and for ideas to change. So yes, I think we’ve come a very, very long way in fifty years. Of course, there is still much progress to be made. But you can’t legislate that sort of change and no matter how much change there is, prejudice will always exist, hopefully just in much smaller amounts. Unless people become perfect, we’ll always be fighting this and other fights, but we should always keep trying.

    janet

    • Jan Morrill says:

      I understand what you’re saying in your last sentence, Janet. But I think it’s not so much that we need to become perfect as it is we need to become more accepting of our differences. And to do that, we need to have more open communication. Unfortunately, social media inhibits that in a variety of ways.

      • I agree, Jan. Most often, getting to know the “other” is the best way of overcoming prejudice. Social media, as with all media, can be helpful or part of the problem. My last sentence wasn’t meant to imply that anyone will become perfect, just realizing that there will always be prejudice, but we need to keep trying to overcome it and lessen it.

  2. I am amazed in this day and time how one political party appears to be fostering racism again by passing voter suppression laws, limiting early voting, and restricting forms of acceptable identication at the polls. The greatest treat to our democracy is not from foreign terrorist, but from within. Americans who fail to understand the lost of rights and freedoms for groups of citizens they do not like or disagree with will eventually lead to the lost of those same rights and freedoms to themselves.

    • Jan Morrill says:

      I agree with your last sentence, Jim. What I am most amazed (and disappointed by) is that so many apparently believe we should all think the same way, and those who don’t are ostracized. Only when we accept our differences will we overcome racism, or any other form of prejudice, whether, religious, cultural, sexual orientation, political affiliation, etc., etc., etc.

  3. Mustang.Koji says:

    This is a tough subject to write about, isn’t it? I had been planning to write about what is being written in our kids’ history books… It is filled with subjects dealing with slavery, for example, or discrimination. When was slavery abolished? A long time ago, yes? The civil rights actions you described were 50 years ago. But when these textbooks talk about the sacrifices Americans made during WWII just 70 years ago, it ignores the sacrifices and heroism. Instead, for example, the textbooks elaborates on how Blacks were discriminated against. Isn’t this part of the wound? And I do feel media is part of it. It is a tough topic indeed…

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