This past weekend, I watched a remarkable documentary on public television. It was titled “Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance” and was produced by the University of Virginia Center For Politics along with WCVE PBS Richmond. The program follows the legal, civil and personal battle for school integration in Virginia.
As I watched, I felt disoriented and sucker-punched. Why? The ugly, ugly words coming out of the mouths of Virginia’s leading politicians, law and order types, teachers and just regular citizens took my breath away. As if those times weren’t bad enough, I felt as though I was re-living that prejudice and ignorance today as I listen to the tenets of the Tea Party, militia groups and still and yet, our leading politicians.
To hear speakers from 60 years ago espouse defamatory words about American citizens who just happen to have dark skin made me wince. There were politicians in high office, i.e. the Governor, who swore that, even after the passage of Brown v. Board Of Education of Topeka in 1954, integration would never happen in Virginia. If it took armed state militia and a closing down of all public schools, so be it. It did, but the state government had to bow to the new federal law. However, to hear mainstream, elected leaders calling integration “not democratic” or saying that segregation was one of the mainstay founding principles of this country was reason and justice twisted about as far as discrimination and hatred would permit. The argument for states’ rights in support of segregation was as lame then as the states’ rights platform is today for gun ownership or against mandatory health coverage. Show me one major issue or event where the cry for states’ rights was actually made FOR rights, rather than AGAINST them.
My stomach turned over and over as I listened, but also because today’s Tea Party and militias condemn our government in its entirety using the same anti-government catch phrases. Even the GOP, in all of its offensive whining and sore-losing tactics over health care reform, has echoed similar foul responses that demean and distort our Constitutional principles. “Repeal and reform” is just a cover-up for saying, “Get that Darkie out of the White House.”
You know that is their ultimate purpose, proven once again when Senator Mitch McConnell continues to accuse the administration’s attempts at fiscal overhaul to be just another way of bailing out the large banks. McConnell continues to rant about how “un-American” financial reform is. Nah. He and his cronies want to see President Obama go down, back to the plantation.
I urge you to find a copy of this documentary and watch it. Perhaps the part of it that had the greatest emotional impact on me was to watch these “locked out”children repeat the lessons taught by their parents, lessons calmly, reasonably, yet persistently encouraging their children to walk up that hill to that new school. Yes, they instructed the children to say nothing, just keep on walking. The wisdom of those parents is really what won the day for all minorities trying to get a fair and equal education. There was such strength, quiet as it might have been, in the teachings of the parents.
Frank Rich, in his Op-Ed article in the New York Times this past Sunday, confronted this same issue of prejudice disguised as Americanism, only difference being he cited these blatant examples from recent days. Today, a giant of an educator and civil rights activist, Dorothy Height, passed away. Her 98 years on this earth should be honored by instructing those who deem their biased, militant America to be the America of all of us, to take their narrow, self-serving ideas and stick it where the sun don’t shine. We should never cave in to these reactionary, self-loathing, miserable people. Ever.
Rent it, buy it, watch it: “Locked Out: The Fall of Massive Resistance”. Then, thank your lucky stars we have such an intelligent, calm President who is without a doubt, the product of all the battles for equal rights that came before his time. There is no better antidote than President Obama for what ails us.