Last week, I traveled to Virginia for a wedding. For history nerds, Virginia is nirvana because it’s literally everywhere, from the story of the country’s birth, to the Civil War, right up to the tragedy at Charlottesville.
As I sat in a hotel eating breakfast, it suddenly occurred to me: “You’re in the cradle of the Confederacy. This would not have been possible, even 50 years ago.”
That quickly was followed by a second thought:
“You are not in the cradle of the Confederacy. You are in America, and this is always how it always should have been.”
I looked across the room at a group of white and Asian teenagers eating and chatting together. I wondered if they had even an inkling of the progress that had been made; if they understand the reason they could even socialize is because America is a nation that moves forward, always forward.
America has always been as much an idea as a sovereign country, which means it’s in our national DNA to pursue that which we have not yet achieved.
That we’re still arguing over the merits of Robert E. Lee and the Civil War is absurd because the Confederacy was built on an irredeemably faulty foundation, namely that one human has the right to own another.
It was bound to fail.
The Founders knew it, but were too beholden to the free labor that ensured their personal wealth. They could not summon up the moral courage to press ahead and demand the new nation start out with a clean slate of freedom for everyone. Thomas Jefferson accurately predicted that such reticence would be paid for in blood.
This current romance with a past that never should have been does disservice to the countless Americans who sacrificed for this country, who understood that America has always been a nation of unlimited potential and promise.
They were people of all races, religions and creeds who held fast to the belief that, regardless of our challenges, shortcomings or failures, America’s best days always lay ahead.
For 243 years, we have been the embodiment of hope, progress and opportunity. The only way that changes is if we lose our long-held resolve to be better than we have been.
Forward, always forward.
If we forget that our redemption has always been in our deep-seated desire to make our wrongs right, we will find ourselves casting about in a quicksand of cynicism and despair.
As we all know, the problem and danger of quicksand is you often don’t know you’re in it until it’s too late.
Let’s be clear: We need history. It’s a map, showing us how to move ahead. We need history because, as the saying goes, “past is prologue,” but it’s only useful if we take heed of its warnings and lessons.
If we abandon our belief in the future in order to put a false sheen on an inglorious past, we will suffer the kind of undoing that no enemy ever has been able to achieve.
The wedding, by the way, was performed by Levar Stoney, the mayor of Richmond, the former capital of the Confederate States of America.
Mayor Levar Stoney is black.
Forward, always forward.
Reach Charita M. Goshay at 330-580-8313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.