So lately I’ve been staying up until 2 a.m. reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett—a beautiful novel set in Jackson Mississippi during the civil rights movement. (I noticed in Thursday’s comment section that several of you were reading it too!)
Whenever I read books like these, I am reminded of the fact that it really wasn’t that long ago that in many states…
- Interracial marriage was illegal
- White restaurant owners could refused to serve black patrons
- African Americans had separate water fountains and bathrooms
- Public schools were segregated
- The governor of Alabama himself “stood in the door” to block black students from entering the University of Alabama
- African Americans were forbidden from using public libraries
- Black protestors were hosed down for peacefully protesting
It’s hard for me to believe that I am just one generation removed from this world. And I can’t help but wonder, Would I have marched on Washington? Would I have allowed my reputation among my white friends to suffer because I supported integration? Would I have spoken out against Jim Crow?
Most of us like to assume we would have done the right thing—that it would have been incredibly clear to us and we would have risked our lives and reputations in support of human rights.
I think we give ourselves too much credit.
We forget how many cultural assumptions were at work, how often the Bible was used to support segregation, and how tough it would have been to take a stand when it could destroy a person’s reputation and career.
American history is full of such scenarios. It wasn’t that long ago that…
- Peaceful Cherokees were forced from their homes to the Trail of Tears (in violation of a Supreme Court ruling that forbade such actions)
- Jewish Americans had their own swimming pools
- Women were not allowed to vote or own property
- Human beings were shipped across the ocean like cargo and purchased on city streets
- Treaties with native tribes were signed and then ignored
Anyone who says this country used to be more reflective of Christian values is flat-out wrong, and it worries me when people advocate a return to the “good old days.”
But the one thing that frightens me more is the question, Would I have done the right thing then, and am I doing the right thing now?
Will I be able to tell my grandchildren that I did the right thing even when it was hard?
This is why I finish reading at 2 a.m., but stay awake until at least 3.
Do you ever worry about being on the “right side of history”? Can you think of any present-day situations that are comparable to segregation and Jim Crow?