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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: Lessons About Juneteenth, And Other Things Some People Refuse To Learn

Juneteenth sign
Mark E. McClure
/
Flickr

You probably didn’t learn this in history class, but Juneteenth, celebrated this past weekend, commemorates the moment in 1865 when a Union general arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved African Americans that the Civil War was over and they were free.

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This was two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, and more than two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. I would say that news traveled slower back then. But it appears that, even in 2021, some people still haven’t received the full report about the true history of America.

The nonprofit Latta Plantation first lost its funding from Mecklenburg County and then was closed indefinitely after planning an event for Juneteenth called “Kingdom Coming.” The promotion for the event promised “stories from the massa himself.” The site manager at Latta Plantation, who is Black, says the intent of the program was misunderstood. Maybe so. But if they gave out Grammys for tone-deafness, this would be a lock.

Still, that’s one small nonprofit tripping over their bootlaces. What legislatures all over the country are doing when it comes to race and history is a lot more sinister.

Legislatures in both Carolinas are considering bills that would ban teaching elements of critical race theory in schools. There are many, many interpretations of what critical race theory means, and I suspect many of the legislators jumping up and down to vote about it don’t have a clue. Basically, to my understanding, the main idea is that we’ve built a society where racism is part of its structure and function. You know how they talk about one bad apple spoiling the barrel? Critical race theory says we built bad barrels.

This, to me, seems obvious – and I say that as a proud American. The power of America lies in its idea of liberty and justice for all. The simple truth is that we have rarely lived up to that ideal when it comes to race. That gap — between our ideals and our actions — is essential to understanding our history. And we can’t make our country better if we refuse to own up to those flaws.

Those seem like lessons all of us should learn, not just schoolkids. But so many people persist in believing in an America – and a South – that is heroic and uncomplicated.

The truth is a lot messier, and a lot deeper, big enough to contain all that space between Juneteenth and July 4. It’s a space that’s uncomfortable and powerful and rich.

There’s a word for all that. I believe the word is “educational.”

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.

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