Highway markers, we’ve discovered, make great reading. Posted by state and regional historical societies all along State, US, and Federal highways, they provide lessons and insight into what happened right there, where you’re standing, in earlier American history.
But reading them, one can’t help but notice the brutal history of the American West (where we just were), won by the White Man backed by the US Army and Government through acts that can only be described as dishonest, treacherous, and murderous — and especially dishonorable.
Reading these well-told stories of the not-so-distant past was revealing and, frankly, embarrassing.
Before leaving home on this recent trip, I read obituaries of the legendary B.B. King (1925-2015), of how he was energized and directed early in life by the sight of a just-lynched man being carried through his rural Mississippi town. “I couldn’t turn the fury into hatred,” he said. Instead, “I worked off my fears.”
Reading that, I became more aware of the context of pain, brutality, and terror that so many Negro boys and men and girls and women of the time grew up in. The challenges faced by their children and grandchildren can easily be explained by the post-traumatic stress they endured and inadvertently passed to their families. That the White Man can express no shame, and can still refuse to act from Christian kindness says much about his level of development.
And, then, on the way home, reports of the massacre in a church, of all places, in the still proudly Confederate city of Charleston, SC took everyone’s breath away for its brazen and violent act of pure and self-admitted race-hatred. Even more stunning for the world to see was the explicit and genuine forgiveness expressed toward the despicable killer by the victims’ families.
Seeing that, I became more aware of the dignity with which such atrocious indignities are borne by our African American brothers and sisters. I could sense both urgency and opportunity.
Black folks respond with dignity; White folks respond with rage and violence. This truly is a racially hurt, unhealed, troubled, and traumatized nation. The vision still expressed by White supremacists, whether shrilly in the media or quietly by unassuming neighbors, that theirs is the morally superior race, must fade away soon in the light of day, one can only hope.
In a fine summary, Alex Daniels writes (Chronicle of Philanthropy, June 2015) that both the White House and institutional philanthropy, coming from a sense of urgency, are redoubling efforts to deal with issues of racial equity. But he also reports skepticism. There’s no easy cure, and the structures and habits of institutional philanthropy are not conducive to sustained helpfulness.
What’s a foundation board and staff to do when it confronts an emergency? That’s the question that I’m intending to address on this site. As with all emergencies there is urgency and opportunity. Check out our other posts in the Social Justice section, as well as the Effective Philanthropy section. See our Pathways to Progress.
Steven E. Mayer / Effective Communities Project
June 29, 2015. Slightly revised August 29, 2019