Civil Rights

I’ve recently been reading a trilogy of novels by author Greg Iles. Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree, and Mississippi Blood. While I have not yet finished Mississippi Blood, the first two have got me thinking. 

This series of books is a fictional account of some all true events in our nation’s past. Civil rights. The sixties were a troubled time in the history of our country, and while I was not alive yet at the time (I wasn’t born until 1977), I’ve always found the sheer nonsense of this time to be morbidly fascinating. Not in a way that I agree with it, but like an accident you can’t look away from. It was a horrible time in our past, when the racial divide was at the forefront of our nation. 

In the books, a black nurse, who had fled from Mississippi in the late sixties after the disappearance of her civil rights activist brother, comes back to Mississippi in 2005 to die after a long bought with cancer. Her sudden reappearance and the very unfortunate circumstances of her death, bring the hate crimes of forty years ago back into the light. In the late sixties, she was kidnapped, raped, and beaten by an offset group of the KKK to lure her brother, a prominent civil rights activist, out of hiding. She barely got out alive, and with the help of the white doctor she worked for, she escaped north to Chicago. By her coming home to die, the doctor and his family are plunged back into dealing with the terrible history that made her flee in the first place. 

I’m not going to recount the entire series of events of the novels, it is a thrilling read and I highly recommend checking them out. Instead I’d like to talk about the actual reality of this terrible tragedy in the past. 

Though the “race war” in the 1960s did not start then, it has been an ongoing struggle since the first blacks were brought to this country as slaves, it has been (in my opinion) a terrible blight in our history. Black people were brought over from Africa as slaves into a country ran by white men. No minority group (black, Latino, Asian, women, native American, the poor, etc.) were ever given equal rights. Rich white men ran the country and decided it’s fate, always in their favor. These men owned black men and women as slaves. They worked them to the bone, beat them, raped the women, killed them if they didn’t do as they were told, and delivered many other horrible punishments upon them. They were property, they had no rights, no say, and no benefits. They were lucky to be given enough food, water, and shelter to survive. 

Just prior to the civil war, a shift occurred. The northern states (for the most part) no longer treated black people as slaves, though they still had little to no rights. The south however, still held onto the owning and mistreatment of any person of color. Throughout the country, there were different classes of colored people (the term of the time, not mine), as many of the white slave owners had had illegitimate children with their black mistresses, spawning mulatto children who were a step above a slave, but still not treated equally. 

After slavery was abolished, blacks were still not equal. They spent another hundred years treated as second class citizens. Little rights were afforded to them. They were free, yes, but they were not equal. They had manual labor jobs, regardless of any skill they may have. The were paid less than their white counterparts. They were more or less herded into only living in certain areas, away from the white areas. Segregation was horrible. Blacks and whites had to have separate entries to buildings, different drinking fountains, different everything. Partly because the white leaders of the time feared what could happen if they were equal, but mostly these instances of segregation were to remind the black citizens of their place in the scheme of things in America at that time. 

The civil rights movement in the 1960s changed everything, and not always for the best, but it was a step in the right direction. We have all heard of the obvious voices of this movement, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks but there were countless people working to end the fight. People working to get black Americans to register to vote, to fight for equal pay, to go to public schools and institutions the same as whites, etc. We may not recognize all of their names, but every single step they took was a step in the right direction. 

Unfortunately, for every step a black man or woman took to ensure their equality, there was a white man or woman doing something to stop them or counteract their progress. We’ve all heard of the KKK, but there were people not in the Klan that felt the same. The white men leading our country at the time were not for progress, still aren’t in my opinion, but that’s another blog. There were a few that were for it, but the majority were not. A popular theory (a subplot in the books) was that president John F. Kennedy was active in ending segregation and was killed as a result….as was his brother Bobby. 

Here we are over 50 years later, and while segregation is no longer openly discussed, it still exists. Black Americans are not paid equally, are still profiled as drug dealers and criminals, still have trouble acquiring homes in better neighborhoods, and many other things. It is just not openly talked about. Black Americans have trouble getting health care, approval for housing, assistance for education, and even government assistance if they should need it. While white Americans do not have the same issues. 

Recent events in our country have proven that the struggle goes on. Most notably, the Black Lives Matter movement. Of course they should matter, ALL lives should matter. The color of the skin surrounding that life should be irrelevant. My personal belief is the media and government of our nation have told you what they think you need to hear, in order to keep up their low key racism. If you pay attention to the news, they spend a lot of time telling you about black criminals and white do-gooders, but very rarely the other way around. I’m not saying there are no black criminals, but there are an equal amount of white ones. And most of the black people I know would give you the shirt off their back if you needed it. The public perception is being guided by the media. 

Why does this bother me so much, you may ask? True, I am a middle aged white man, I shouldn’t have an issue, right? Wrong. Besides it being utterly, ridiculously wrong, it is an issue I do have to deal with as a gay man. The discrimination may be a bit different, but it’s still there. The white men who are still in power, after all these centuries, are using discrimination to help themselves. Against blacks, against gays, against immigrants, against different religions. The struggles are different in some ways, but at their core they are the same. We are discriminated against because we are different than a straight white man in public office. 

I don’t have a solution to end this discrimination and racism. I wish I did. But I hope that it will end. I doubt it will happen anytime soon, but someday. When our children are our age, and have children of their own. When the racists are no longer around to instill their hate into their own children, when we can elect officials with a more open mind to actually bettering the country and not just their wallets. When we as a society can concentrate on important issues like global warming and not being able to live off a minimum wage job…then and only then can we step away from the horrific events of the past. When children can learn about civil rights in history class and see that it was a horrible blight in our history, but feel proud they live in a country that can live up to the motto All Men Are Created Equal. 

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