From the comfort of my screen-porch glider, I watched the backyard flutter of red, white and blue. Our flag andour history have endured tattered times. Yet with all the ugliness and uncertainties swirling, I still hummed “God Bless America.”
Our nation is far from perfect, but we shouldn’t give up. Since 1776, America has been a work-in-progress republic. Citizens peacefully exercising their rights through protests underscore the freedoms that we cherish. During this pandemic, I’ve had time to reflect and pray that we will never stop trying to make our country better.
As we look back—with today’s perspective and through a 2020 lens—our flaws are glaring and shameful. Consider these three horrific examples that are impossible to justify on July 4, 2020:
Trail of Tears
If I were in charge of educating America’s children, I would mandate that students watch Unto These Hills, in person or on video. What happened to the Cherokee Nation is just one historical snapshot of the travesties forced upon multiple tribes of Native Americans. Even as a grade schooler, I was embarrassed to learn how Dutch traders swapped a handful of glittery trinkets for the island of Manhattan.
Traveling west, the story turns more tragic. It’s a fact that many tribes were brutal in their attacks on settlers. But we must remember that we—the newcomers—were the invading aggressor, trampling Native American cultures and slaughtering their food supplies. Imagine how you would react under similar circumstances.
The Nazi death sentence of 6 million Jews did not happen on U.S. soil, but millions of Jewish Americans grieved as their loved ones perished in Auschwitz, Dachau and other hellish concentration camps. About 10 million people live in Georgia. Imagine 60 percent of our population starved or murdered and then tossed into a ditch.
As a Baptist boy—growing up in a 1950s small-town bubble—I knew less than one dozen people of Jewish faith. I had no idea what had happened in Europe, several years before I was born. My father, uncles and aunt were among the brave Americans who helped save Old Glory, crushing the Nazi regime and thwarting a Japanese invasion.
I have visited the WWII Museum in New Orleans several times. Students should be required to take virtual tours of that incredible collection, including the Holocaust exhibit. In the Nazi genocide initiative, an estimated 11 million “undesirables”—by Hitler’s standards—were killed.
Biblical and historical accounts tell us human bondage had existed thousands of years before America’s birth. Nonetheless, we added our share of regrettable chapters. Some say Christopher Columbus brought enslaved Africans to the Americas in the 1490s. Slaves did arrive in Jamestown in 1619. And for almost 250 years, until 1865, enslavement continued.
We should insist that, as in these three examples—Native Americans, Holocaust and slavery—history and America’s textbooks do not gloss over the real stories.
Again, using a 2020 lens for hindsight, there is no way to rationalize the inhuman practice by which one person has ownership of another. I have Black friends who can trace their roots to ancestors who were chained and hauled out of Africa.
No one living had anything to do with the buying or selling of Black men, women and children. But today, we know that slavery was wrong, horribly wrong. History is what it is. We cannot change and should not sanitize what happened.
In 2020, the question for the United States is: “Can we find a solution-minded dialogue that will lead to reconciliation and forgiveness?” The other option is to continue the destructive path of hate-filled polarization to make “united” in our nation’s name a cruel joke.
I think that we should use an understanding of past wrongdoings to fortify our resolve to make sure tomorrow’s history reflects that we learned and improved from our mistakes.
For our nation, that is my hope for now and forever.
God bless America.