As we approach the “Juneteenth” holiday marking the emancipation of slaves in 1865, I reflect on how a race of people became “emancipated”.
I was born and lived in the state of Maine until I graduated from high school in 1961. Since then I have lived in Alabama, Georgia or Florida. For the past 39 years Dothan has been my home, both physically and in my mind and heart. I am truly a “born again” Southerner. I don’t speak or think “Yankee” although I am sometimes called that.
By 1964, some 99 years after emancipation, very little progress had been made in establishing anything resembling “equality” or accepting blacks as equals. I know it first hand. The ink was barely dry on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when I joined the Dothan Police Department. I served for several years while waiting for a police station in Florida.
My heart still aches remembering the “colored” toilets at gas stations, the “colored” fountains serving hot water next to the “white only” fountains serving chilled water. Motels with signs that read “No Colored” and restaurants serving take-out only to black people through the back kitchen door. The prisons were separate, as were the schools. “Separate but equal” is an oxymoron!
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The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a tool developed by President Lyndon Johnson to further segregate our country. “Welfare” was provided to mothers with children and fatherless homes became the norm because married families were off the welfare circuit. Single motherhood became the norm and persists to this day.
Johnson’s “great society” was a failure in almost every way. The political goal was stated in his own words: “I will make this #@% vote Democratic for 200 years.” It was a rude statement from a rude man, but it turned out to be true.
We are now several generations into the “Great Society” with little progress in establishing true equality.
During the time of slavery, black people worked on the plantations and were provided with housing, although often unsanitary, and food for their families. Emancipation did little to improve life for a slave family at the time, and the status quo did not change much. The former slave remained on the plantation, living the only life he knew. In most cases, he could neither read nor write. He was still a slave.
Today’s “plantation” is a housing project where we “store” people and meet basic needs. Free or reduced rent provides housing, a “benefit” card for food, and a monthly check for other expenses. The only thing missing is dignity. Breaking out of the cycle of poverty is difficult. I admire those who have done it and gone on to great things. Most black doctors, lawyers, educators and other professionals have a story to tell. We must listen!
So, this June 19, ask yourself how far we have really come in the 58 years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act.
A “great society” is possible; we just need to take politics out of the equation.