Race, Patriotism and American memory

Memory is a funny thing. It’s really tricky. Here’s an exercise for you.
If you’re a Millennial or Gen-X American, you’ve grown up with certain patriotic images. One of them is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. telling us about his dream. A dream he gave us. That could make us better. If you go to the National Constitution Center and see their powerful “Freedom Rising” exhibit, Dr. King and his friends and their activities have a lot of prominence. Of course they do. They were heroes and they protected our Constitutional rights. They’re justly celebrated today.

But were they celebrated then?

Ask your parents or grandparents  if they supported the marchers. Do they remember thinking those marchers were justified? If you’re old enough, what do you remember about whether or not you supported the marchers?

I’m willing to bet most people who lived through it would tell you today that they supported the marchers then.

Sadly, that would be a grave misrepresentation of the time.

David Lawrence, the founder of “U.S. News and World Report,” called it a day of disgrace. Some of his criticism echoes through today’s rhetoric.

“But could not the merits of the civil rights “revolution” have been presented effectively to American Audiences without street demonstrations?

He wasn’t done.

“Also, would it not have been better if the leaders of the march had not by their tactics incurred some unfavorable publicity. What shall be said, for instance of the Gallup Poll which indicated that 68 per cent of the American people disapprove of the march and thought it unnecessary?

It’s worth pointing out that you should look at that poll number. That’s a vast majority of Americans not supporting a march that is now one of the great symbols of American patriotism.

There’s a grand misconception about the popularity of the Civil Right’s movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Well, there are a lot of misconceptions about race relations during that time – and in every American era. Most people assume the march was popular at the time. Even people who lived through the era seem to forget that large numbers of people fought it, through active measures and indifference.

We talked recently about the idea that it’s easy to be for something that happened years ago, but not easy to be for it when it happens. That’s what takes courage.



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