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John Hope May 18, 2009

Posted by Afflatus in History.
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While driving through Martin Luther King’s historical district this weekend I passed a park overflowing with children. The children – all of whom were African American – were running jumping screaming sitting laughing playing. I focused on a circle of kids around a parachute each holding onto a section of it. On the teachers command the children begin madly shaking the parachute upanddown. Balls spring up, popping out of their hidden restfulness of the moment prior. The kids laugh and smile.

The scene in the park sends my mind back to a memory that took place at my elementary school, The Children’s School (do names get better than this?). An all-time favorite activity in gym class among my classmates and me was the parachute. Coach Rob would tell us when to begin, just as the African American teacher instructed her kids, and instantly a raucous wave of movement instilled laughter, happiness, and good memories in us all.

The stoplight turned green, and reluctantly I drove off; though I seriously considered parking and watching the kids play for a little longer. I took my last glance at the park, which, nestled in the shadows of Martin Luther King’s former Baptist church, was brimming with happiness, life, and memories-in-the-making.

As I crept away in my silent Prius, I noticed the teacher’s shirt: “Hope is Back” it read. Whether the creator of the shirt intended it or not, the shirt instantly compelled my mind to Obama, and his message of hope. Then, to MLK, and his message of hope. Like Moses, MLK’s eyes had seen the “promised land”, but, he said, he wouldn’t get there with us. Have we reached the “promised land”? Is this it? Obama a “black” man has indeed been elected president.

To answer my own question: No, this is not the “promised land.” I was quickly reminded of this fact when, a few blocks later, I was immersed in the glaring poverty common in the old Fourth Ward of Atlanta (not to mention the extreme poverty in countries that are not the richest and most productive in the world). The residents of the impoverished old Fourth Ward are nearly totally African American, while wealthy, white Atlantans in Druid Hills live nearby. Economic justice became MLK’s focus in his later years, and he would certainly not be satisfied with the huge racial income inequality that is typical in Atlanta and the rest of the United States.

Despite the enormous amount of progress that has been made there is still work to be done, as President Obama often exclaimed during his presidential campaign. But, thanks to MLK, Obama, along with the thousands of other men and women (Dubois, Garrison, Douglas, Tubman, Lewis, Truth etc.) working tirelessly to reach the promised land, we are progressing. Maybe the progress is slower than some of us would like, nevertheless we are progressing substantially. Everyone should do all they can to help us all reach that glorious land. MLK, Obama, and numerous other famous names are granted credit in the historical narrative. This credit is undoubtedly due to these great men and women, but their dreams and their efforts would be impossible without the help of countless others, whose names historians have forgotten, but upon which the hinges of history equally rest.

P.S. When I drove away and noticed the name of the elementary school was John Hope Elementary School, the teacher’s shirt carried new meaning.


1. incognito4peace - May 18, 2009

Great post jflack – I really appreciate your thoughts. Your concern over progress is important and worth addressing. When I read this I thought back to public opinion in America and how it has fluctuated over time. Fortunately, opinion in America has gradually shifted towards a trend of civil liberty and equality. In 1950, just 20% of white Americans believed that schools should be integrated. More than 50 years later, that number has grown to almost 100% support. We have come a long way – BUT – vast inequalities still exist. Racism has evolved into a new, less overt form of modern racism. Also, gays, women, and Muslims have yet to receive the same sort of acceptance that African Americans have gained over the years. As more and more suburban areas are built in the US, homogenized groups are becoming greater in size. Indoctrination is common. Adolescents are taught to accept traditional ideals that stress “family values” and religion. Theses rural environments are often breeding grounds for racism and prejudice. Hope may be back, but what’s the future of Prop 8? Of immigration reform? Of the role of women in society? We are on the right track – but the rail is unfinished. Thus, it is our responsibility to finish laying down the foundation so that one day we can truly live in a world where the people enjoy “liberty and justice for all.”

jflack4prez - May 19, 2009

I totally agree with what your saying. I have two questions for you. The first concerns self-segregation: Is it natural? Is it a problem? What should be done? The second question concerns your final thought: What is the first, tangible step that you or I can take to engender that world of liberty and justice for all?

incognito4peace - May 19, 2009

What do you mean by self-segregation? Do you mean the natural formation of groups among people that share similarities in race, religion, etc.? I’m not sure someone or a group could be self-segregated. Segregation implies an unwanted separation of a group. But I think I know what you are getting at. Humans seem to form groups amongst each other, and it comes as no surprise that these groups can be based on social patterns. But what African Americans endured was something different – it was dehumanization, demoralization, and subjugation. Also, because of the way the education system works in America, “separate but equal” did/will never work. This brings me to your second question. Around the time that Truman began desegregating the US army, public opinion in the armed forces strongly neglected the idea of desegregation. But in just a few years, that opinion drastically changed to be muuuch more supportive of integration in the army. (Think back to what I was saying about suburbia) Through social programs that both aid minority groups, but also “assimilate” and “integrate” all people, we can alter the balance of equality. President Obama has started to tip the scale – now it is our turn to help what has been started in this country. Equality and peace for all.

jflack4prez - May 19, 2009

I’m saying that self-segregation (or self- separation) is based on race, ethnicity, or language. Either way it is not integration. It is very clear from the neighborhoods of Atlanta, Boston, New York, Chicago, and others, that self-separation is pervasive throughout America; rich neighborhoods are predominantly white, and poor ones are mainly comprised of minorities. I know the African American situation (i.e. slavery) was different because it was forced, it was not imposed by the “self”. Regardless, self-segregation (or self-separation) exists and it is a sad fact of society in 2009. Realtors encourage it, common people of all races accept it because its comfortable; in short, self-segregation is ubiquitous.

I think self-segregation or self-separation hinders diversity and harms a society striving to be pluralistic. I understand the socio-economic factors that facilitate decisions to self-segregate, but I believe it is an unfortunate (but possibly inevitable) result of newly integrated society.

incognito4peace - May 23, 2009

Interesting points. I think that “self-separation” exists everywhere in the world from the tribal level to the economic separations in developed countries. So is it all bad? Maybe. I think integration is a social construct that has become highly popularized after people sought to end vast prejudice and bigotry. I agree with your thought on economic disparities, but I think there are advantageous, or maybe “natural” self-separations. Thanks for the feedback jflack. I hope to meet you some day!

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