Many Americans are proud that we now have a Black president – ignoring for a moment all those who are struck with apoplexy by the same fact.
I have been reading Howard Zinn's book about SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that fought the brutal reign of terror wielded by small-town police and sheriffs over the African American citizens in the states of deep South. They fought that tyrannical regime by sitting in at lunch counters, by demonstrating, by desegregating waiting rooms and buses. They helped many blacks to register to vote, often in counties where no black person had dared to register before. Most of all they fought by inviting arrest, knowing that once in jail they were liable to be beaten within an inch of their life, knowing that their houses were liable to be bombed, or shot up by drive-by attacks.
We owe it to them that we have a black president today. But our debt to them is rarely acknowledged. Every town in the eastern portion of the United States boasts a memorial to the soldiers of the Civil War—the war we still have not been able to get over. Every town has memorials for the soldiers who fought in World War I, in Korea, in Vietnam, and civic leaders are now getting ready for the next set of memorials for the soldiers in the most recent wars. But no one commemorates the brave black teenagers and college students to whom we are indebted for what ever easing of racial hostilities we are now enjoying.
We just recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's speech in Washington DC. Every pundit repeats the inane “I have a dream. . .” line. But Martin Luther King, however brave and powerful himself, did not win relative improvement for African-Americans himself. It was not Martin Luther King who reduced white America's shame for the oppression and exploitation of Blacks. That was won through the heroism of hundreds of young men and women, most of them black, and of their white supporters. To them we owe so much.
Today is Veteran's Day when we celebrate the veterans of foreign wars. It is high time that we also honor the veteran's of the wars at home in these ceremonies.