Most everyone knows something about the Jim Crow era when black people freed by President Abraham Lincoln were anything but free. We are justifiably ashamed of those nearly 100 years in our democratic republic.
The next president to have a serious positive impact on black lives was Harry Truman. Against all odds, Truman began the slow process of integrating our military services. When I joined the Marine Corps in 1958, blacks were few and far between. Many organizations had none. My battalion had three, I think. None of the three was ever promoted above private first class.
The next up was probably Lyndon Johnson, who signed the Civil Rights Act, beginning the slow process of actually integrating the country. We’re still working on that one. Hopefully we’ll get there soon.
Looking back on these men who had a positive impact on black people and black lives, I imagine each of them and all presidents since LBJ have either acted in blackface “minstrel shows” or witnessed them and laughed at the insults and juvenile antics.
I grew up in the Midwest and remember doing both. Did I at the time understand the repercussions and hurt such shows entailed? Of course not. Had I understood, I would not have acted in or seen those shows. To this day I am ashamed of my childish ignorance and wish I had not participated. I cannot change my history. I could lie about it, but I’d still know.
Perhaps it is just part of our nation maturing, but I think many politicians being vilified for these same actions are just as embarrassed and just as chagrined about their actions as I am. They cannot change their history either. All they can do is admit culpability and try to be better people.
I am culpable and I am trying to be a better person.
Gunnery Sgt. Marine Corps (Ret.)