Every morning at 7:15, the doors of our school open wide to a line of bus riders ready to come inside. "Hello, Jaheem. Hi, Kiara. Hey, Imani. Hope you're having a good day, Omar," I call out as the students walk past me to the cafeteria for breakfast. I stand at the doors for a moment and watch the big, yellow buses puff their diesel exhaust and chug their way to the garage until it's time for their afternoon run.
Is there a more universal symbol for public schools than a big, yellow school bus?
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness (The Declaration of Independence, 1776)."
These words are some of the most familiar and beloved in the English language, as they offer a moral vision for humanity, and a standard to which the United States of America should strive.
While such expressions of freedom should indeed be cherished, we often forget the harsh reality that many contributors of the Declaration of Independence were also active participants in the brutal act of slavery. As the English abolitionist Thomas Day wrote in 1776: “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”
In addition to racial inequality, while Abigail Adams reminded her husband John to “remember the ladies” during the Constitutional Convention of 1787, her warnings were mostly disregarded, and as a result, women were also marginalized, and they were relegated as dependents of men, without the power to own property, make contracts, or vote. In other words, John Adams’ reply to Abigail’s challenge was far from considerate: “As to your extraordinary code of laws, I cannot but laugh …”
In June of 1998, three presumed white supremacists from Jasper, Texas severely beat and then murdered James Byrd, Jr. by tying him to a pick-up truck and dragging his body for miles. This incident has made the town infamous and, unfortunately, the racial divide continues to linger. According to a report in The New York Times, the city’s first African-American police chief has been fired by a predominantly white city council, prompting the former chief to take legal action and the NAACP to seek a federal investigation.
Even more shocking are the sentiments expressed by some of the town’s leaders.
Over lunch last week, during the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict's Fletcher Summer Institute, I had the chance to talk with civil rights movement leader James Lawson with a recorder on. It wasn't hard to get him going; he had been talking about organizing and nonviolence training all week.
[Editors' Note: Former state trooper James Bonard Fowler plead guilty this week to a misdemeanor manslaughter charge in the 1965 shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson in Alabama.
[Editor's Note: In anticipation of the anniversary of the March on Washington on August 28, 1963, God's Politics will feature a series of posts on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King.