The Four Spirits sculpture, unveiled at Kelly Ingram Park, September 2013
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When people lack a critical understanding of their reality, apprehending it in fragments which they do not perceive as interacting constituent elements of the whole, they cannot truly know that reality---Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
Sometime in 2006 and 2007, independent bookstores and the public libraries in the Madison Library system in the self-proclaimed progressive state of Wisconsin decided that texts on history and social justice, particularly if written by black authors, no longer had market value and were simply taking up valuable space on library shelves. That is how I came to possess my second copy of the socialist E. Franklin Frazier's classic Black Bourgeoisie. I owned a copy of the book in my late teens. Another throw-away book was the late black journalist Louis E. Lomax's The Negro Revolt. There were others. Thrown into the mix was the historian Eric Foner's Reconstruction. Today, who needs to read a classic historical work on Reconstruction?
In 2006 and 2007, America was in the thick of the "post racism" era. Those ridding Madison of those troublesome authors with their reminders about the past and it's legacy were thinking in terms of their children, mainly white children in K -12 and in college, attending the two -year tech college and the University of Wisconsin Madison (where the department of African American Studies, at the time, shortened the faculty list and, of course, course offerings). In yet another capitalist crisis, the desperation of some white parents to see their children "succeed" isn't troubled by matters of slavery's legacy ( that is, the reality of children privileged by race )nor is it troubled by 150 plus years of officially legal and unofficially practiced disenfranchisement and discrimination.
So in 2006 or 2007, who talked about healing ? If anything, it was white America that had been wounded. White Americans suffered from "lazy" blacks on welfare. And the immigrants (meaning the Mexicans and Haitians stealing jobs from white Americans) are such a menace to what it means to be an American. Liberal Americans have done enough for "whinny" African Americans and people, as Trump succinctly labeled countries with predominantly African and Indigenous descendants recently, from "shithole countries".
And most of America believed this to be true in 2006 and 2007.
How far has America traveled from Barack Obama's first election as president in January 2009 and his last day in office in January 2017? How far has the country traveled from days when the "Founders" desired freedom from the British and the retention of the Northern and Southern colonies "property"? All of their property the land and the human labor that tilled the soil!
There had been other bombings, but for the children, the four little girls, in particular, it was another Sunday. A day to dress up and look pretty. After all, they were children that happened to live in an area of Birmingham, Alabama called Dynamite Hill where the target of white terrorism encircled black homes and churches.
Earlier in the year of 1963, on May 10 th , some of their fellow mates, children and teens, marched in the streets under the leadership of Rev. James Bevel and others in protest against the policies and laws that encouraged Alabamians, working class men and women, housewives, pastors, politicians at the state and local levels, and law enforcers to engage in a practice of violence against the blacks. Children joined the protest, walking out of classrooms to fill the streets, marching in protest of injustice only to be greeted by grown men with fire hoses, blasting full on their small bodies while other children faced charging dogs. Under the leadership of Eugene "Bull" Connor. it was all about "safety" not justice for the elected Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham. By day's end, nearly a thousand children, behind bars, sang "We Shall Overcome."
"You must understand," Chris McNair, the late father of Carol Denise once explained, "that a Bull Connor can not exist without the nods of the status quo people. You know, the big boys in any town. He can't exist without them. He may be the person who actually does the talking; but believe me the Bull Connors have the blessings of someone else."
McNair could have made this statement ten years ago, last month, last week. Yesterday. This is America where the violence of collective nods toward inequities inflicts wounds. It's not a matter of African Americans "playing the race card," or holding an "ancient grudge." The wounds, as foundational as the violence of conquest and enslavement, follow even little children as they play on the way to church.
I doubt if they knew anything about another child, the 14-year old Emmett Till, murdered in 1955. In this year, 2019, appearing on the Internet, is an Instagram photo featuring two young white men each sporting rifles and each standing on either side of Emmett Till's Memorial plaque at Old Miss. The memorial plaque is riddled with bullet holes.
The image went virile: Americans couldn't believe their eyes! Only "official," swastika wearing and Confederate flag waving "white supremacists," or only the "sick," that is, as Trump chimed in, "the mentally ill," could possibly do such a thing in a country. But in 2016, educated white women joining working class men in lines at the polls voted for Trump. What had these young white men, been taught to think about black people ? What had they been taught to preserve at all cost? What history had been deliberately held back from their home and classroom education?
On this morning of September 15th, 1963, the little black girls wouldn't have thoughts about the body of that boy child, recovered from the Tallahatchie River, showing evidence of how he was tortured, forced to endure the hate and savagery of adult men honoring the ideology of white supremacy.
And Americans asks themselves today, who would think of hurting children? Who would think of detaining and caging children? Babies? But so much forgetting is an American way of being. A virtue: forget and move on. Children were captured too. For sport, some were bayoneted by French or Spanish slave merchants in front of horrified mothers, like so many babies snatched from their mother's breast today. Horrified mothers witness to the spirit-killing practice that is just as inhumane as the one's practiced by Europeans with bayonets.