[The American Vision] …
Lyon Tyler, Jr., social change, and The Problem of Slavery. . . . |
From my Preface. . . .
In December 2010, I assisted in a private interview of a very interesting fellow: Dr. Lyon Tyler, Jr., living grandson of John Tyler, tenth president of the United States. Hard as it may be to believe, Lyon’s Grandpa, President Tyler, was born in 1790, the first full year of George Washington’s presidency. Tyler’s son, Lyon, Sr., was born late in life, in 1853. In turn, Lyon, Sr. fathered Lyon, Jr. late in life, in 1924, making just three generations span the unusually long period of 227 years now and counting. With this panoramic perspective in mind, the interviewer—a highly educated historian and economist—began to discuss the amazing technological change that had occurred in that time span. After mentioning the advance from quill-and-ink communication to telegraphy to smart phones, horse-drawn carts to automobiles and airplanes, the vast expansion of electricity, etc., he asked Dr. Tyler:
What are some of the things in your life, that you lived through, that we can now look back and say, “That was a huge amount of change” . . . that would certainly not have been believable to your grandfather, but probably not even believable to your father?
Dr. Tyler has a Ph.D. in history and taught at The Citadel. He is familiar with all of the issues. We awaited his educated answer. But the answer came back on a completely different wavelength. The old man, without hesitation, answered:
I think the most important thing was the change in the way we treated black people.
Dr. Tyler had grown up in Charles City County, Virginia, which he said was almost 80 percent black, during the era of segregation. In the early 1960s, he had moved to Montgomery, Alabama, were he and his wife took part in some of the civil rights work of that era. He had lived his life right through the middle of some of the most crucial changes in race relations, and had a front row seat the whole way.
On the way home from that interview, the interviewer and I marveled at that answer. Considering the grand sweep of social change that took place throughout this man’s life, the single most outstanding change, which would have been unbelievable to Lyon Sr.’s and certainly President Tyler’s generations—the Antebellum era, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow—was the social and judicial equality of black people. . . .
I was born in 1974, a decade after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Yet I suppose nearly everyone from even my own generation can recall overhearing, perhaps even participating in, overtly racist discussions. Many can tell stories even today, even if only of the variety, “I can’t believe that in this day and age someone would still talk like that.”
I can recall numerous experiences of such racism even in just my own brief life, from childhood until even today. Among my earliest memories was a racist comment from myself, and for no good reason at all. I was probably four years old and was infatuated with trucks because my father briefly owned a coal trucking business. Any time I would see a truck, I would make the hand-pump signal to prompt the driver to blow his horn. One day a tri-axle dump trump rolled past us at a gas station. I immediately raised my arm through the window, and then, just as quickly drew it back. I remember the words coming out of my four-year-old mouth: “I don’t want to wave at him—he’s black!” My mother immediately reprimanded me. It was from her I heard the words long before I even knew about Martin Luther King, Jr.: we do not judge people by the color of their skin, but by their character. . . .
My parents divorced when I was almost five, and both remarried soon after. I left Indiana with my mother and a step-father and ended up eventually in Fort Smith, Arkansas. There, I started second grade and would eventually stay until I got married at age 27. The demographic in Ft. Smith overall was different: only 69 percent white and 9 percent black. You would never know this, however, from experiencing the side of town on which I grew up. It was not much different from my early childhood. My elementary school had probably somewhere around four or five hundred students, and I can recall only one black. The same was true in middle school, with only two or three blacks out of seven or eight hundred. . . .
High school was even more interesting. In Fort Smith, there were two: Northside and Southside. Almost all the blacks lived on the north side of town, and thus their children went to Northside. Southside, my first year, had probably about 1,200 students and only about four or five blacks in the whole school. The division between the two schools had been made in 1963, in the wake of school desegregation, when the single high school in town was divided into two. Northside, originally just “Ft. Smith High School” was the first, and Southside was the new split, and it would be 99 percent white. It could not have been scripted to be more symbolic—except it was not symbolic at all, it was as real as can be. To make matters even worse, our Southside school mascot was “Johnny Reb”—a stylized confederate soldier wielding the flag and the whole bit—and the fight song was “Dixie.” I can still remember pep rallies in which the greatest cheer came when the school principal played it on his harmonica. This occurred as late as 1993.
Common sense did finally begin to chip away at this astonishingly long-lived insult. In my sophomore year, protests had led to the Confederate Flag being banned from all official school use. We still had Johnny Reb, and students themselves could still freely wave the flag, but the school was forbidden to do so. Later, in 2000, they finally prohibited students from displaying it as well. Finally, in just the past couple of years, the school finally got rid of “Dixie” and the mascot altogether.
Yet not even this final step transpired without a small rebellion of its own. A local lawyer led opposition to the removal of “the rebel,” and allegedly hired an airplane to fly a banner over the school’s graduation ceremony: “Rebels forever. Remember in September” (September was the next school board election). This resulted in an emotional board meeting with gasps and tears shed as one public official resigned and others rebuked selfish publicity stunts.
Perhaps most shocking of all, however, was the reaction when a local news anchor posted the news on his Facebook page. Comments came back mostly hostile to the board’s 7–0 vote to change the confederate rebel mascot:
THEY ARE COMPLETE MORONS.
My doctors last name is Rebel, are they going to make her change her name…….This is awful. I graduated from Southside in 1998 and thought it was a great school, now our school system is loosing there damn minds’
PC Sheeple every where…whats next…
political correctness erases decades of history
So what’s the new name… Transgenderites?????? A Bathroom With No Name….
Sad deal if u ask me not right at all.
To the people who thinks the rebel flag is about hatred and racism re-read history . It’s about the civil war and our heritage . The first slave owner was a African American not whites . I’m sick of my heritage being run into the ground over lies and assumptions . All u are doing is causing. Race war . Shit needs to stop NOW
I sure did not want to see this happen
When is Cracker Barrell going to change its name I take offense to it, or MLK Blvd in Fayetteville, or any of the schools that have a BLACK Panther has a mascot see how ridiculous this could continue….geez people it’s tradition good grief when will the madness stop when do we say enough is enough, they are taking all of our rights away… the right to fly any flag we wish, play any song at school oh wait you can’t play Dixie it’s offensive…Good Lord don’t you see just how ridiculous people are
Let everyone one who dislikes Political Correctness… Spend Whatever it takes to get the Superintendent FIRED and the Board members Recalled /Defeated in Election!
Let’s get rid of the NAACP, Black Alumni, Black etc. because it’s racist and offends me!
There does not seem to be a lot of reflection on historical facts, sensitivity to offensive symbols, genuine racial offense, or much else, but instead a general sense of being under attack by liberals. There was an immediate expression of a polarized society in which the racial issue meets with a defensiveness of “tradition,” alleged hypocrisy, and the encroach of political correctness. . . .
Addressing Racism and Slavery in American History
As with the vast majority of historical subjects, standard education about racism, slavery, segregation, and much of black history in America is greatly limited. From the standard account, average Americans probably have retained about this much of the basic story: American whites instituted slavery. They enslaved blacks and their children permanently for life. Slaves were treated badly. Northern states eventually abolished slavery, but Southern states did not. Disagreements over slavery led the South to try to secede from the Union. The Civil War was fought over this secession over slavery. In the end, the North won and—probably the one fact all remember if they only retain one fact—Lincoln freed the slaves.
The standard account continues: but Southerners continued rebelling in a different way. They passed segregation laws, making blacks sit in the back of the bus and drink from separate water fountains. In some cases, blacks were lynched, hanged, burned to death. This stuff was slowly ended during the 50s and 60s. Brown v. Board of Education desegregated the schools. Then the Civil Rights Movement eventually ended segregation altogether. While it has been slow coming, with each new generation of students being taught that racism and discrimination are wrong, we have almost eliminated racism.
While the majority of these basic facts are all true and vital, they honestly make up only a marginal part of the relevant reality. Yes, the vast majority of us now admit that American chattel slavery (ownership of another person as personal property) and Jim Crow segregation was wrong, right? So why can we not just move on? We cannot just move on, because what is left out is so important to developing the consciousness we need today, as well as the awakening needed to develop that consciousness. The mainstream is always the safe stream: stick with the basic, accepted, establishment account, and everyone remains calm. But also, nothing changes. The kinds of moral and institutional issues that demand addressing in any given era will require you to explore waters outside of that safe stream. Few citizens liked the abolitionists in their day; even fewer would openly associate with them (yes, even in the North). Yet in hindsight, virtually no one today would confess the abolitionists were wrong about American slavery, even if we disagree with the unorthodox theological beliefs and associations of many of them. The emulation of that example on virtually any issue in any given era will require us to explore facts, ask questions, entertain uncomfortable perspectives and answers, and then often undertake the gruesome surgeries of history and humanity that require reopening wounds, examining, cleaning, cauterizing, sewing, and lots of pharmaceuticals and therapy afterwards.
This process can only begin with education. So the following chapters [of the book] begin by giving you a closer look at the processes of both racism and slavery (two separate issues that became inseparably related very early) in American history, the forces behind them, the forces that normalized them, the fights to overcome them, the role of the churches, the role of the special applications of theology made by these churches, the creation of myths and ideologies to serve tragic ends, the social reactions of historical denial, the perpetuation of racism after the Civil War, the legacies we still have today because of it, the pervasive nature of this racism in both North and South and the consequences of it, and more. It is my goal to provide Christians and conservatives with a view of how bad it really was, and why, in an effort to stimulate the level of empathy for the black cause that will lead to getting something righteous done about it.
It is not enough, however, just to get “something” done. We need to understand the problems in such a way as to be able to suggest what must be done and why, as well as what must not be done from a biblical, Christian perspective. This part of the program will involve as much awareness, consciousness, and Bible-and-soul searching on the part of black Christians as whites. But the first part of that particular problem is to get the whites to the table, informed, aware, willing to listen, and ready to participate. If I can facilitate only that much with this book, I will consider it laudable progress, but nevertheless, not a full victory. In the end, I desire to see social change regarding race and criminal justice so full and so radical, that were he to continue his grand long life, Mr. Lyon Tyler, Jr. himself would not believe it. . . .
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