After Charlottesville, Read this Book

I watched the events unfold in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend and I was sickened and saddened.

But I was not shocked. A simple reading of books like, “The Devil in the Grove,” will prove that. More on that book in a moment.

But first, anyone even tangentially familiar with race relations in this country knows that the divide between whites and blacks, while improving, still has miles to go before we can truly say we’ve embraced the meaning of these words in the Declaration of Independence — “that all men are created equal.”

It’s debatable whether the framers of that document and many of the fathers of this country believed those words, as a number of them were slaveholders. And that’s just part of the historical baggage that we deal with when it comes to race relations in the 21st century. Sure, there have been victories — civil rights, voting rights, anti-discrimination laws — but it feels like for every large step forward, there’s an equally large step backward.

The conflagration in Charlottesville centered on the removal of Confederate symbols, something many communities, including my own in Florida, are dealing with. Are those monuments, street signs and statutes an ongoing endorsement of hatred and bigotry? Or are they historical markers that our communities can learn from instead of pretending those events didn’t happen?

Those are the battle lines.

As we deal with the fallout from the latest tension in this centuries-long saga, it’s instructive to look at our past. I recently read an important and searing book on this topic called, “The Devil in the Grove” by Gilbert King. It focuses on a case involving the supposed rape of a white woman in Lake County, Florida in 1949 and the arrests of 4 black men for the crime on trumped up charges and confessions that followed severe and prolonged beatings.

The four young men arrested became known as the Groveland Four, and only two of them survived the ordeal, one was hunted down by a posse and killed and the other was shot to death by a racist sheriff who claimed self-defense. The book chronicles life in that Florida county under that racist sheriff and the influence of the KKK. It is a book that will anger you and, hopefully, motivate you to make your voice heard on this emotional and meaningful topic.

The book is important for another reason — it chronicles the time period just before the push for civil rights in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It is that period of time when cracks in the Jim Crow laws that had dominated this country were beginning to show and when some in this country were beginning to stand up for what was right, instead of what was easy. One of those titans in the fight was Thurgood Marshall, the charismatic NAACP lawyer who helped defend the Groveland Four and eventually became a Supreme Court justice. The book discusses his monumental efforts on the Groveland case as well as his efforts at slowly, but consistently chipping away at the inhumane injustices practiced against African-Americans for centuries.

The Groveland case along with a myriad of other hateful, mean-spirited and downright disgusting acts against blacks over the course of my lifetime and long prior lead me to a sad conclusion — that bigotry and injustice like we witnessed in Charlottesville will be part of the fabric of this country for decades and centuries to come. There is simply too much bitterness fed by the insecurities of a group of white people who see their grip on power eroding and a reluctance or an inability to accept the reality of the changing demographics of this country.

But by enlightening ourselves about the history of the struggle we can understand it, denounce it and make sure our children and families learn to act a different way.

(Photo credit: Susan Melkisethian via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND)

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About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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