By the Rev. Norman Franklin
There is trending the idea that we need to be selective about the history we want to learn, that there are certain things that should be dismissed and certain things that should be reframed, polished and offered for study in glowing narratives of national inspirations.
Monuments are erected with narratives that present the person or event with exaltations of wisdom, foresight and triumph against overwhelming circumstances. If the monuments are erected in the premises of selective history, they are mythopoetic and misleading.
America has an abhorrent history fostered in a loathsome ideology of divinely ordained ethnic privileges. A grotesque system that for nearly four centuries subjected enslaved Africans to murder, rape, destruction of family, robbery of self-esteem and the value of their humanity.
The idea of superiority and privilege based on race didn’t end with the abolishment of chattel slavery, it metastasized into the social construct that colored life in America well into the mid-20th century and, indeed, even now.
White America is embarrassed by its sordid transgressions of the past, and, since authority rest in their hands, there are legislative initiatives to hide the dirty linens on the back shelf of the closet, or in the farthest corner of the attic and out of sight, out of mind. We can reframe it, revise it, polish it up, focus only on the positive things of history.
There is merit to the philosophy of positive affirmation. There also is merit in knowing the truth, particularly pertaining to seeding the minds of the generation of leaders now progressing through the education system. If the truth of history is not laid out for them to process and to consider the flaws of our political and social systems, they will not perceive that there is a need to remove the injustices inherent in the system and correct the flaws revealed in the study of history.
The attitudes of the era of Black Codes and the Jim Crow South were most poignantly exacted in August 1955, in a faraway corner of the Mississippi Delta. The obscure town of Money, a bastion of the social construct of White Supremacy, became the place of uncovering, the place that revealed to the nation and the world, the ugliness of race hatred.
President Joe Biden has designated monuments to the remembrance of this pivotal event. Three sites are designated memorial monuments to remember the killing of Emmitt Till, remember the arrogance, the attitudes, the presumptions that led men to think it was all right to kill Black innocence and boast about it.
Memorials are to remind us of a time, an era, an event that changed the course of human history – when Jesus instituted the observance of the ‘Lord’s Supper’ He said, “Do this in remembrance of Me – remember how I have suffered for you.” In the case of Emmitt Till, we are challenged to never again allow the consciousness of the nation to acquiesce to the social construct that prevailed in that era.
The three sites are Graball Landing, where the disfigured body of the 14-year-old Till was recovered, the Tallahatchie County Second District Courthouse, where the sickle of race hatred decapitated justice for the grieving African American family, and the Roberts Temple Church of Christ in Chicago where the nation was forced to reckon with the consequences of a system of injustice placated by indifference to the sufferings of a people striving to exercise their equal rights as citizens of this great nation.
The church, the site of Till’s funeral, is a monument to the courage of a mother who shared her appall, her grief, her pain and her tears with the world, and gave her son’s grotesque, disfigured body as a monument to sear the conscience of America and to energize the Civil Rights Movement.
These monuments stand against the tide of aggressors who would push a redacted history. “We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know. At a time when there are those who seek to ban books, bury history – we’re making it clear, crystal clear,” Biden said.
Editor’s Note: The views expressed in commentary piece do not necessarily the express the opinions of The Cincinnati Herald.