By Terri Lee Freeman, Museum President
Our issues of hate are killing our country… still. Last fall, we witnessed NBC Today Show host Megyn Kelly state, “…when I was a kid that [using blackface] was okay if you were dressing up as a character.” Uh…no, Ms. Kelly, it wasn’t okay then, and it isn’t okay now.
And now, the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s racist exploits, either as Michael Jackson in blackface, or as the KKK in full garb, on his medical school yearbook page no less, are being exposed.
So, on top of the hate problem we clearly have an ignorance problem when people whom we assume are educated see black people as “characters” who are to be impersonated.
More disturbing is the increase in recent noose incidents. The incident involving actor Jussie Smollet made national headlines. The racist attack which included hate speech, violence, a chemical attack and the placement of a noose around Mr. Smollet’s neck is horrifying. But this incident, while certainly garnering more attention because of his celebrity, is but one of too many incidents of hate used to intimidate, specifically, African-American people, in this second decade of the new millennium.
And, closer to home for me, this weekend, a noose was found hanging at the Shelby County Schools Teaching and Learning Academy in Memphis, Tennessee. Incidents of nooses found at GM plants, a Chrysler plant in Toledo, Ohio and a LaFarge plant in New York were all 2018 occurrences.
The National Civil Rights Museum devotes one of its 23 exhibits to Jim Crow. In that exhibit we show pictures of a blackfaced Al Jolson, lynchings that were attended as family gatherings, and an authentic KKK robe and hood. None of these representations were ever meant as a sign of endearment but was meant to intimidate and terrorize. They were and are material representations of hate.
In 2017, the Southern Poverty Law Center saw a growth in hate groups for the third straight year to a total of 954. The FBI’s Hate Crime Statistics revealed a one-year, 17% increase in reported crimes in 2017 to 7,175. The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
As our country continues to debate over how we secure our borders, whether or not to build a wall to keep people out of our country, we might consider taking a closer look at those who are born within it. Hate is killing our country! And we should keep in mind that a house divided cannot stand.
“Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
– Martin Luther King Jr., 1957