A few years ago, I had the opportunity to travel through the Deep South and meet some of the men and women who were foot soldiers in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. It struck me at the time that, if I were ranking people on their devotion to this country, no one stood higher than these heroes.
As Black Americans, they put their lives on the line to make this nation live up to its principles and promises, despite the violence and hatred aimed at them by people who fancied themselves to be “real Americans.”
I thought of these heroic folks again over the last few days as the centennial commemoration of the Tulsa Race Massacre was in the news. If you had not heard of this appalling event until recently, you are not alone. The story about a white mob invading Tulsa’s prosperous Black neighborhood of Greenwood, looting and burning it to the ground and slaughtering scores, and likely hundreds, of Black residents had been hidden from our history for most of a century.
The Tulsa story – and the stories of similar atrocities committed in other American towns and cities over many decades – were not, of course, unknown in Black communities. They were lived experiences, even if they were left out of history books.
President Joe Biden went to Tulsa on Tuesday and boldly seized the moment to point a spotlight at what happened there a century ago. “Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they cannot be buried, no matter how hard people try,” Biden said. “Only with truth can come healing.”
Biden said a truly great country faces up to its dark side, rather than denying it is there – a message I wish all those who rail about “America first” could get into their heads. To me, the most “real” Americans are not those who make flag-waving, ostentatious displays of simple-minded patriotism, but those who have been victims of America’s dark side, yet still strive to make their homeland a more perfect union for us all.
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