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The Journal Gazette

  • Shilts

Friday, October 11, 2019 1:00 am

Legacy fund

Century-long educational endowment can help blacks overcome nation's racist legacy

Perry Shilts

Perry Shilts is a Fort Wayne attorney.

Several months ago, I was discussing race relations with my 23-year-old son, and he pointedly remarked, “That's on your generation, Dad. It has nothing to do with mine.” Shortly after that statement, I heard Tucker Carlson of Fox News agree that African Americans “need to move on” from slavery.

My conclusion: My son was never taught and never learned what the old white men of this country did to our African American brothers and sisters, and Carlson wanted us all to forget that subjugation.

The first slaves were brought to the American continent in 1619. President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the American slaves on Jan. 1, 1863, and the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865. Notwithstanding, the effects of slavery continue to this date.

Immediately following the end of the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan was formed and spread hatred and fear through numerous states, including Indiana. Untold numbers of young black men were convicted of minimal offenses and sentenced to years in prison in order to maintain a profitable convict-leasing program to white plantation owners; this continued until 1928. The Jim Crow laws mandating “separate but equal” public facilities and transportation were enacted in the late 1800s and continued until 1965. Public, nonjudicial lynching was common.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, informally known as the National Lynching Memorial, was dedicated last year in Montgomery, Alabama. This memorial identifies and commemorates the nearly 4,400 African Americans who were lynched from the Civil War's end until 1950. In Indiana, two African Americans were lynched in Marion as recently as Aug. 7, 1930.

Following World War II, our federal government sanctioned segregation in housing notwithstanding the many African American men who were returning to this country after having served in our armed forces. This policy led to redlining and concentration of African Americans in urban centers, which led to ghetto creation.

In my lifetime, separate-but-equal schooling systems segregating white children from black were permitted until 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education determined that system unconstitutional. Brown was followed by 20 years of resistance and violence in opposition to the ending of this segregationist policy. In 1962, James Meredith became the first African-American student admitted to the University of Mississippi, but only after the courts ordered the arrest of the state's governor and lieutenant governor. Meredith had to be accompanied by 500 U.S. marshals. Rioting by whites ensued nonetheless.

In 1964, almost 100 years after the Civil War ended, Congress enacted several “Great Society” laws – including the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act – because discrimination against our African American brothers and sisters continued.

Today, 150 years after the Civil War, white-controlled legislatures are enacting laws to suppress voting by minorities and/or purge their voters rolls for poorly disguised reasons. Worst of all, my beloved America has a president who white supremacists believe is one of them because he has deemed them to be “good people.” It does not matter whether Donald Trump is actually a racist; his base thinks so.

Our 400-year history of mistreatment of our African American citizens needs to be taught in all of our schools forever so that my son will understand why there was and still needs to be specific protections and assistance. The reality is that white America has created roadblocks preventing African Americans' participation in mainstream America by denial of education, employment, housing and advancement.

The African Americans who are perceived today to be successful are examples of what could have been the case for all African Americans in this country starting in 1865. Their parents were heroes for placing their children in a position to succeed in America. Their grandparents were even more so, undoubtedly. Given that the people of this earth have 99.9% of the same DNA, there is no reason that over the past 150 years our African American brothers and sisters could not have been as successful as their white counterparts – namely, you and me.

When I was 10 years old, my genuinely wonderful father, a maintenance worker in a small factory, harshly and excessively disciplined me for a bad grade card because, “No son of mine is going to work in a factory.” That same father two years later challenged me to not only be the first person in our family to go to college but to become a lawyer, to change the laws and help people.

Education is the key to repairing the damage delayed over the past 150 years and to bringing equal American opportunities to all.

I propose a nominal corporate tax to fund a state-supported college or vocational education for every African American child for the next 100 years, starting today. Why 100 years? I imagine my Lord saying, “To heal a wrong, do the right thing ... and then do more of it.” I imagine a mother of a newborn telling that child, “This is America! You can be anything you want to be,” knowing it to be true because of the educational opportunity.

I imagine that in 100 years, white America's mistreatment of its African American brothers and sisters will not be taught as a part of its history, but rather, its ancient history.