February comes, and with it, presumably, in places and corners all over the nation another chapter in recounting the history of black Americans.
The month was designated "Black History Month" years ago and that notion began to get more focus 40 and more years ago when the struggle for civil rights was going on.
In this view, it should never be made light of, because the reason it exists at all is because of perhaps the greatest crime in human history.
Maybe the Holocaust outdoes it. I don't know. It is very difficult to weigh horror when it reaches the magnitude of mass murder. The German business happened in our time.
Anyone who was alive and aware in 1945 and has the least shred of the concept of human decency had that crime forever burned into his and her consciousness. I am glad that we are constantly reminded of it.
The problem with these beyond belief events is that they tend to become abstractions. One person, held on a leash by snickering GI seems to draw more gasps of horror than the mind boggling number of six million human beings mechanically, business-like, sent to their deaths on an assembly line.
All the horrors of slavery that existed in this land for more than 200 years has become an abstraction, too, I think.
Slavery is part and parcel of this country, just as germane to its founding and development as the idea of free speech, exercise of religion, right to a jury trial, etc. so forth and so on.
The price of gaining the Constitution in 1787 was the continued toleration and yes, encouragement, of slavery. Those heroic men who did found this country had to have had their hearts in their throats when they made that compromise.
It seems that the only argument that can prevail to justify that price -- a union of states into a nation in exchange for continued slavery -- is that of the greater good.
That is, it was important to establish the United States of America regardless of cost. And so it was done.
I heard a schoolboy argument the other day about the idea of "three-fifths of a person," the designation and description given slaves of 1787 and imbedded in the Constitution.
Contrary to the idea that one youth was pushing -- that this was a demeaning of Aframericans, reducing them to something less than a human being -- it had nothing to do on a personal level with people.
The southern states argued for this proposition very vigorously for the sole purpose of gaining numbers in representation in the Congress.
In other words, the southerners wanted to count the black slaves for the purpose of boltering their own power in Congress, but the blacks would have nothing, in fact, in return. They went unrepresented. Northern politicians knew this, but swallowed hard and went along with it. Not to do so would have meant a fragmented group of states on the east coast of the continent, and this would have been disastrous.
When the time came to make amends for this monstrous crime with the elimination of slavery after the Civil War, no advantage was taken of the situation. Blacks were kept in bondage by Jim Crow laws and social mores for another 100 years. As a nation, we are just beginning to make progress to undo what began so tragically almost 400 years ago.
When you have a moment, think of what it would mean to be chained, branded, whipped, worked without mercy, to have your family torn apart.
The wrong can never be undone. The damage can never be repaired.
What we can do is remember and never forget and never let that crime become an abstraction.
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