On Friday, the Confederate flag waved a final goodbye in the wind as it was lowered from a pole on the South Carolina statehouse grounds. But it was not without ceremony and controversy. An estimated crowd of over a 1,000 people gathered at the site and cheered the removal of the flag to its final resting place in a museum. Even as the flag removal was being streamed online and broadcasted live, the commentaries of “so what” were making headway on the information highway. There is nothing wrong with presenting multiple sides of an issue. This post is not a criticism of the dissonance but an observation of how some first steps have helped to advance our understanding of the incredibly complex issue of race in America.
History has aptly documented that legislation and legal authority do not change hearts and minds.
—The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolished slavery but did not provide citizenship nor equal rights.
—The 14th Amendment granted African Americans citizenship but not civil rights
—The 15th Amendment said that race could not be used to deprive men of the ability to vote yet voter suppression continues
—The Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson confirmed the principle of “Separate but Equal” and sanctioned Jim Crow laws
—The Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education ordered the desegregation of public schools yet 61 years later segregation is still commonplace for many American school children
We know that neither the South Carolina legislature nor the US Supreme Court can order the end of hate. And as other states examine their collective responses to the removal of racist and offensive monuments and images around the country, the debate will continue. Some will argue it is not enough to simply remove these images that honor intolerance and bigotry. We agree. More must be done to begin the long overdue journey to eradicating racism. But it is important to remember historic first steps that help make the journey possible.
With all deliberate speed has not worked in the dismantling of discrimination. The removal of the Confederate flag is merely a first step— it is not a giant step for mankind. It is a subtle reminder that first steps make impressions in the sand, no matter how long the journey. Without Jackie Robinson’s first step, there might not have been a Hank Aaron; without Althea Gibson, no Serena Williams; without Benjamin O. Davis Sr., no Colin Powell; without Gwendolyn Brooks, no Toni Morrison; without the first African American Senator Hiram Revels, no Barack Obama. So while there will be no victory battle hymn sung for the removal of the flag, it is worth honoring a first step in the march toward justice and equality. This is as good a time as any for people of goodwill and earnest hearts to recommit themselves to achieving fairness and opportunity for all Americans and immigrants whose contributions are essential to America’s future.