Sometimes, it seems as if our country has spent its entire history grappling with the after effects of the original sin of slavery.
In his great Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865 — just 41 days before he was assassinated — President Lincoln saw the Civil War in some way as punishment for slavery. He said that the nation prayed for the end of the war, but added:
“Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword as was said three thousand years ago so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”
After the Second World War, in the 1940s, President Truman finally desegregated the armed forces, in part in recognition of the sacrifices of Black soldiers during the war.
As the website History.com wrote: “The event marked the first time a U.S. commander in chief had used an executive order to implement a civil rights policy. It became a crucial step toward inspiring other parts of American society to accept desegregation.”
Two decades later, in response to the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, President Johnson pushed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act through Congress, unleashing a new world of change in the country as Blacks and other minorities claimed their rightful place in the worlds of politics, government and business.
Now, we are once again wrestling with vestiges of white racism. Here in Frederick, in our state of Maryland and around our country, we are recognizing the reality that — though we have come a long way toward racial equality — the work is not yet done.
Last week, Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner received seven recommendations from the Equity and Inclusion Leadership Team to improve diversity and inclusion in county operations.
Major recommendations include conducting a study of disparity in the county’s procurement process and reducing health disparities among the county’s minority populations.
Other areas where the team said the county can improve are: Improving the ethnic and racial diversity of the county’s workforce to better reflect the county’s community; enhancing and expanding support for minority and woman-owned businesses; and establishing and maintaining professional development opportunities and requirements.
At the city government level, Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor’s proposed fiscal 2022 budget includes an equity program administrator in the mayor’s office who would help coordinate programs across the city for diversity, equity and inclusion — a step recommended in a disparity study conducted by an outside consultant.
The consultant reported that minority- and women-owned business were at a substantial disadvantage in securing contracts with the government, and recommended several measures including the hiring of an equity administrator.
At the state level, the General Assembly session, which ended this week passed several measures with the goal of expanding equality.
The Washington Post concluded: “The 90-day session was largely defined by fixing long-standing social unfairness in education, health and criminal justice. In addition to a landmark policing overhaul, lawmakers sought to bolster civil rights and aid for immigrants and assist those most devastated by the coronavirus pandemic.”
The Post went on to quote Senate President Bill Ferguson as saying: “We’re at a moment where we’re deciding: Where do we go as a society?”
The invention of an unlikely but powerful new tool — the smart phone with a video camera — has thrust the evidence of mistreatment of Black people by the police into the face of America. Now, through police reforms and criminal trials, we are starting to cope with the reality we cannot ignore.
Lastly, we are now facing a rising threat from white supremacists who are intent on halting and reversing our racial progress. The attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — led by white nationalist groups such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers trying to overturn the defeat of President Trump — was another milestone, a foreboding one. The federal government has a huge task on its hands, to find and root out the radical groups willing to destroy our national institutions.
This is part of a long, painful effort at racial reconciliation. Sometimes we do better and sometimes we slip back. Progress is never easy, but we have to believe that we are going in the right direction.