Letter to my grandchildren – Daily Local
On this 57th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and the Selma, Alabama march, where black voters were trying to win their right to vote, I feel the need to tell you something about race. We make every effort to maintain your safety and protect you. But one needs to understand the danger to society. As Larry Wilson said; “The truth will make you free, but first it will make you unhappy.”
I thought I lived in crazy times when I grew up with the assassinations of two Kennedys and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as with four of my military services in Vietnam, long queues at a gas station and AIDS.
You survived a pandemic that killed a million Americans and personally lost two great-grandparents. You see man-made climate change when we lose millions of acres of farmland and seashore due to heat and melting ice. There is a technological explosion and globalization that are destroying jobs.
Americans are bad at it, going into their own bubbles without listening to each other. And now the European war with Russia and Ukraine. Three of you were born and live in Europe. Yes, these times are really crazy!
One problem that I would like to see is not as bad as it is in my day – it is racism. You can’t really understand American history without understanding slavery, the Civil War, Bloody Sunday, Lyndon B. Johnson’s Civil Rights Act, and the destruction of the Civil Rights Act by the current Supreme Court. You cannot understand the world you live in today without seeing how racial inequality is still a part of our lives.
Subjects such as race are difficult to teach in school. You should have seen what happened when Unionville’s parents learned that high school sex education was taught at the school. It took Kenneth almost a year to walk on the eggshell to introduce sex education.
I am proud of Kenneth for teaching Eli Wiesel’s book “The Night” about the Holocaust and George Preston’s presentation in Aunt Jessica’s high school class about his time in Auschwitz (Arbeit macht frei). I remember the question of a young guy from her class; “Did you feel guilty for surviving?” George said; “Yes.” These are subjects about which a well-educated young person should educate both respectfully and diligently.
Racism is called America’s original sin because it was part of that country from the beginning. One of the great gifts of our American ancestors is the U.S. Constitution, which shows what kind of country we could be and what we have become. It was a wonderful experiment and it exceeded our wildest expectations.
At the same time, the Constitution was aimed at men who owned land, and did not include slaves and even women as members of society with the right to vote. This has built racism into our legal system. It said that a slave is worth three-fifths of a free man. And you should also know that not only slaves could not vote. Your great-grandmother Ruth was born in 1921, the first year her mother, Nellie Yokum, was allowed to vote.
The principle we live by today is from the Declaration of Independence; “All men are created equal.” (I would add “and women.”) It is important that you develop empathy for others and understand that your experience may be different from theirs. I am a member of the public advisory board of our local South Chester County Police Department, and our task is to make sure that all our citizens feel safe. When I started working at the board, all the police officers were white people. This is changing to include diversity in our community.
Kenneth was better than most communities in fighting race. Recently our TV channel PBS showed; “The Underground Railway at Kenneth Square.” The progressive Quakers of the 1800s brought here to perform Frederick Douglas and Sojourner Truth. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Unionville High School when I was growing up.
My brother Chris and I were in college when Dr. King was shot, and we went to Atlanta for his funeral. My brother Bill’s high school class president was a black boy who later became mayor of Kenneth Square. (Kenneth had several excellent black mayors.) He is now running for the state legislature. If he loses, it will be not because Chester County is racist, but because people feel that the woman he is fighting against is doing great and she has experience working with Harrisburg.
Some people said we had a black president, and that shows that we went beyond racism, but President Obama was attacked as a Muslim and born in Africa. Then the president was elected a man who attacked him with these falsifications.
One thing I don’t want you to worry about is “critical race theory” or CRT. It is hypothesized that racism is still embedded in our legal system and policies. If racism is behind, the CRT should show it.
Just know that after the 2020 election, 42 states passed laws to suppress voter turnout. They said it was to protect the voting process, but the voting process is safe. Only two-thirds of eligible voters voted, and another third experienced obstacles. Pennsylvania is trying to get rid of the ballot papers by mail that were used by four members of your family in 2020.
If racism arises, you are against it. If anyone wants to talk to you about race, listen. When someone mentions CRT, he probably doesn’t understand it. If they bring up herrmanding, then they probably don’t understand what it’s like to be disenfranchised. Changing districts on the basis of a race to accommodate the influence of minority votes is unconstitutional. Ask them to watch.
This is a great country and a great world. Enjoy the ride, but there will be bumps on the road, and racism remains a challenge.