Where Does It All Stop?

A little personal background, even though I was born and raised north of the Mason-Dixon line in Dayton, Ohio, my family roots are from the Carolinas. My father was born, raised and his ashes are buried in Charlotte, NC near his father and grandfather. My mother was born in Florence, SC and her ashes are buried next to my father.

I grew up on black eyed peas, pan fried okra, collard greens and sweet tea. My great, great grandfather’s Civil War musket hung over our fireplace in Ohio. While I didn’t experience white-black drinking fountains and restrooms in Dayton when I was growing up, I did experience them in Charlotte when we went to visit family.

The Internet has been abuzz with conversation of Charlottesville, VA. I believe it is a good thing. We need to keep having these difficult conversations. We need to learn from each other. We need to confront our ignorance, our denial, our racism. As Brene Brown, the vulnerability researcher and book author, stated in her recent Facebook Live“We have got to own the story so we can write a different ending.” Otherwise the stories own us and we feed our ignorance and denial. So… “Where does it all stop?” 

This was a question a friend asked during a recent email exchange that began with an op-ed piece he shared from the Washington Times,Confederate Statues Today, Book Burnings Tomorrow.

The article began with,

“A crowd of ignorant protesters pulled down a bronze Confederate statue that stood before a county government building in Durham, North Carolina — the angry national backlash to the Charlottesville brouhaha over the Robert E. Lee monument.”

What evidence is there that this crowd was ignorant? I listened to Takiyah Thompson, the woman who came forth and spoke with courage, intelligence and conviction, who was motivated to act with civil disobedience, knowing quite well what the statue stood for — white supremacy. Remember, these confederate monuments (including Asheville, NC’s monument to Zebuion Vance, a confederate military officer, slave owner and NC governor, dedicated in 1903) were erected during the Jim Crow era, to shore up The Cult of a Lost Cause, an era of subtle terrorism to remind whites and blacks who was superior and who dominated.

Step into her shoes. She shared she had climbed the statue and put the rope around the the neck of the statue like many Blacks had experienced in lynchings. She was promptly arrested. I do not condone the destruction, but I understand the roots of the crowd’s actions. At least they destroyed property and not lives. So… “Where does it all stop?” 

“Charlottesville brouhaha” – really!? Choice of words matters. Check the definition of brouhaha: a noisy and overexcited reaction or response to something. What happened in Charlottesville was far beyond a brouhaha. One person died and 34 others were injured by a white supremacist driver who drove his car into a group of counter protesters(plus two police officers died when their helicopter crashed on patrol during the protests). Was the May 26, 2017, attack by a white supremacist in Portland, OR who killed two men a brouhaha? Was the white supremacist who killed a 66-year- old Black stranger in Manhattan on March 20, 2017, a brouhaha? So… “Where does it all stop?” 

Fact: “The terrorist threat in the United States is almost entirely homegrown, as no foreign terrorist organization has successfully directed and orchestrated an attack in the United States since 9/11.” – New America

Further in the article, 

The problem with revising history based on a standard of “feeling offensive”— as this anti Confederate craze is rooted — is that someone, somewhere will always take offense at something.”

Those who don’t know history are fated to relive it. If nothing else, Confederate monuments should stand as a reminder of America’s history and an opportunity for passersby to reflect.”

While Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison did own slaves, they were not of the same mindset as Stonewall Jackson, Robert E Lee and the other Confederate leaders. They truly wrestled with the Declaration of Independence“that all men are created equal,”disagreeing with the cornerstone of the confederacy, “that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to superior race is his natural and normal condition.” – Alexander Stephens, Confederate Vice President

“African slavery, as it exists in the United States, is a moral, a social, and a political blessing.” 
– Jefferson Davis, Confederate President

Go back and look at history. Begin by what Robert E Lee said about monuments after the Civil War.

“I think it wiser,” the retired military leader wrote about a proposed Gettysburg memorial in 1869, “… not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”  

Listen or read New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s eloquent, truthful, thought-provoking speech of May 19, 2017, on removing four Confederate monuments. He revisits the horror of being a Black slave and the missing history of their lives. Where are the monuments to slave ships, slave markets, lynchings and slave pens? It has not been until recently we decided to remember and acknowledge this most unpleasant past with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington D.C. President George W. Bush reminded us at the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them.” 

So… “Where does it all stop?”  

It all stops when everyone beginning with the POTUS, Congress, religious leaders, corporate leaders, you, me take ownership of our nation’s story, its history, and write a different ending.

I have been asked to speak to a congregation about my journey as a privileged, white, right-handed, able-bodied, Christian, heterosexual, older male and how I am confronting my bias and using my privilege to help those who lack my privilege. Before I speak to this group, who will no doubt look like me, I will check my implicit bias and share the results with those in attendance. I am going to own my story. I do this not to shame myself, but to remind myself I have work to do and that I have not reached the needed destination of serving all with equity and inclusion, to truly live the second greatest commandment of my Christian faith. I am continuing to evolve and trying to leave this world better than I found it.

I am going to close this blog with a prayer from Rev. Jill Duffield, Charlottesville, Virginia

Sweet Jesus, what has happened to your beloved world? What darkness is on the loose when those who hate their neighbors pray in your name and ask for your blessing? 

You have told us, O Lord, what is good: to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly with you, and yet there are those among us who wield machine guns to intimidate and chant vitriolic rhetoric to terrorize, and ram cars intentionally into crowds to kill. 

Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.

We have no hope save in you. We have no hope to stop the violence and stem the racism and cease the destruction, save in you. Save us now.

Prince of peace, you tell us to pray for those who persecute us and love our enemies, but right now, in this moment, those prayers are not readily on our lips. Help us. Intercede for us.

May the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you even if, in this moment, they are colored with anger and weariness and questions about your presence during the storm.

What next, Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, when we are right in the middle of the chaos and the killing and the carnage? We know that justice will roll down like water and that crying and death will be no more someday, but we need to know what to do this very day.

This very day you have made. Creator God, Living God, God of the new thing, the very good thing, show us where to be and what to do and how to be the light and the salt and the leaven and the love you call us to be.

Precious Lord, take our hands, lead us home to the place you prepared for us and give us rest. Put us beside still waters and overflow our cups with grace upon grace until it spills into the streets and washes away the evil in our land. Wash us and we will be clean. Made new. Clothed and in our right minds. Together.

All powerful and promise keeping God, make it so. Sweet Jesus, make us so.  

– Prayer By: Rev. Jill Duffield, Charlottesville, VA