In reflection of the “Trenton in the ’60s” article about Professor Alison Isenberg and her students, the gauntlet is being sounded to one inescapable fact — we as a nation cannot move forward until we examine and discover the truth behind America’s ugliest explosions of violence during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970’s. Once we get that, then we need to put forth honest solutions to change America from the inside out. The Kerner Commission report of 1968 began the discussion that the following factors contributed to these macro-bursts of anger, hatred and violence: 1) As blacks fled the racial killings and hostilities of the South from 1920 to 1970 and flooded into the Northern cities, the “town fathers” had no plan for their acceptance and inclusion. 2) The ghettos of American cities grew rife with no education, poor education and mis-education, drugs, illegal weapons, prostitution, illegal gambling, unregulated housing, speakeasies and dance halls and social activity that was an “unwanted” appendage to white America. 3) White America was vehemently opposed to learning anything about the new arrivals who were fleeing violence and abject poverty in the Southern states. (This is the same plight that the Latino Americans are experiencing that has prompted them to make the risky trip north to the United States.)
Consequently, the decrease in the distance of rural Southern black America from hundreds of miles to a few blocks has made our Northern and West Coast urban cities “uneasy” powder kegs that would explode at the least bit of agitation. The inner cities of the 1960s were “perfect bombs” — uneducated and poorly skilled people compressed into communities with no upward opportunities sandwiched between wealthier white neighborhoods. Both camps “equally estranged” and forbidden to learn of each other by the social constraints of a centuries-old racial history with no vehicle to “release” the simmering tension. City Hall, social services, juvenile halls, the police departments, white and black churches and civic groups were all total strangers to each other. Our educational system absolutely refused to teach whites about blacks, and whites and blacks saw no benefit of any effort to learn about the “other America” down the block, across the bridge and beyond your bus stop.
Fast forward to 2019: Only 26 school districts out of 36,000 in the United States teach African-American history and culture as a non-elective course. (This writer used to work for the Core Knowledge Foundation of Charlottesville, Va., experts in multicultural education founded by Professor E. Don Hirsch Sr., formerly of the University of Virginia’s (UVA) Curry School of Education where this writer was an associate dean of the Office of Afro-American Affairs (0AAA) in 1987). Unfortunately, the landscape has not changed much since the riots following the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as the same conditions that prompted those riots in the 1960s still exist today in every Northern and Southern urban area in this country. In every indicia of life in America, blacks, Native Americans and Latino Americans are still concentrated at the bottom According to The Wall Street Journal(July 2019), the wealth gap between blacks and whites is still growing despite 12 years of unprecedented economic growth that started in President Obama’s second term in office. White America is still fighting “integration” at the curriculum level by opposing any changes, additions or modifications of the basic Euro-centric teaching model of our educational system. This intransigent and antiquated teaching model which began in the early 1800s deprives “all people of color” of human dignity and equal cultural consideration.
The riots will continue until we learn from and acknowledge the mistakes of our past and confront our national prejudices based upon skin color, race, sex, religion and sexual persuasion. There is no other way to accommodate racism, as President Trump has in his refusal to condemn white nationalism and white supremacy, and then speak of a “united America!” This country shall never be united unless the evils of racism, sexism, homo-phobism, xeno-phobism and all other “-isms” be eradicated from the American landscape. In other words, no vestige of that “ugly America” can remain in this country, whether it is statutes, flags, civic and social groups, books, parades, festivals, hate films and music or any other form of prejudicial and discriminatory expression.
Professor Isenberg, I applaud your efforts to “clarify” one riot after another. I pray that others join your campaign, as that day that the black lambs can lay down with the white lions in harmony is still a distant hope of our future!