Our progress since Gettysburg

Published 10:39 pm Monday, December 9, 2013

By Joseph Bass

A little less than a month ago, we remembered Abraham Lincoln’s words spoken at the consecration of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg 150 years ago. Let us assess our progress toward achieving the challenge he presented.

In his speech, Lincoln remembered that America’s Founding Fathers “brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

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He challenged Americans to dedicate themselves to strive toward making that proposition a reality.

How have we done in completing the unfinished work? A reasonable assessment indicates we have made progress, but it has not been easy, and we have a ways to go.

Following the end of the battlefield Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan guerrilla war started. The North was able to enact the 13th (no slavery), 14th (equal rights), and the 15th (all can vote) amendments and attempted to enforce them with the federal army stationed in southern states.

But the South won the guerrilla war with the Compromise of 1877. In the contested presidential election, the compromise allowed the Republican Hayes to become president based on the agreement he would withdraw federal troops from the South, and the federal government would no longer enforce the three Civil War amendments. This began the Jim Crow Era in our history.

The Jim Crow Era reached its peak when Woodrow Wilson, the first southern president elected since the Civil War, went about re-segregating federal government employment and carrying out other bigoted policies.

Only with the advent of the civil rights movement and television news in the 1950s, showing the ugliness and brutality of southern, racial repression, did the federal government begin to enforce the Civil War amendments. Since then, we have integrated many aspects of our society, including employment, shopping, public education, liberty, equal access to government facilities, eating in restaurants, voting, and so on.

But we still strive to create a nation based on the “proposition that all men are created equal.”

Unfortunately many cling to our segregated past, not striving to achieve Dr. King’s dream that all people, “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Some groups apply peer pressure, discouraging others from actively participating in mainstream education and employment. Many private organizations such as churches continue to be segregated. Some publicly-financed educational institutions continue to strive to maintain the historic nature of their segregated past.

Those that pursue this path often do not thrive in our economy and continue to be unsatisfied.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at ABetterSociety1@aol.com.