Call upon our ‘better angels’

Published 10:39 pm Wednesday, April 15, 2015

April 9 marked the 150th anniversary of the Confederacy’s official surrender to the Union, and the end of the American Civil War, the most violent chapter in this country’s 239-year history. But the effects of that war have reverberated since.

Within a week of that victory, President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated. His death took away any influence he would have had in healing the nation and setting the course of relations between blacks and whites on a constructive path.

Instead, what developed in Lincoln’s absence were decades of restrictions and sanctioned terror on the newly freed slaves, which came in the form of Jim Crow laws, the Ku Klux Klan and lynchings, to name just a few injustices.

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Then the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-20th century. But a sniper’s bullet cut short King’s guiding hand to nurture the progress that was being made in his time. Out of that tragedy, though, came the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other laws. These legally ensured the privileges, protections and rights due to all Americans.

Ideally, it should follow that in a newly enlightened age, relations between blacks and whites would improve and only continue to get better with each generation.


Here we are 150 years later, and violent incidents of late seem to belie any progress made from both sides. Consider last year’s incident in Ferguson, Mo., and the recent shooting in North Charleston, S.C. Both victims were unarmed black men shot by white police officers. Both incidents have inflamed passions on both sides of a racial divide many thought was already gone.

What can be done to heal such fresh wounds or seething mistrust?

To paraphrase Lincoln from his first inaugural address, we should access the better angels of our natures. We should continue to talk with and listen to one another, then take proper action.