By Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— The study of history is difficult enough, but acknowledging our own personal history can really cause discomfort. Yet we can’t run from history. Halfway through the January program I attended on integration of public schools in Middlesex County, it hit me there were few white natives present.
“Why aren’t white natives here?” I asked myself throughout the program? Of course, NFL football games were on TV and it was a beautiful sunny day after weeks of rain. There were plenty of reasons why whites couldn’t attend.
Yet the courthouse was packed with African-Americans who came to the program on the struggle for public school integration that occurred right here in Middlesex County, including a number of black ministers. But only a sm attering of whites. Why?
Whites who remembered integration of the public schools some 50-60 years ago also have uncomfortable memories. After the program I asked a native what integration was like at Gloucester High School. She remembered some African-Americans were “aggressive and mean, wore Afro hairstyles with picks in their hair, and were fighting all the time in the hallways. “One day a black girl passed me in the hall and punched me hard just out of the blue,” she recalled. A teacher saw the incident and the girl was suspended for three days. But it was still a painful memory and she didn’t want to talk about it.
How do we recover from the trauma of this chapter in history if whites and blacks who experienced traumatic events as children don’t acknowledge the pain they caused each other? How sad children were caught up in social upheaval that earlier generations had caused. Can we acknowledge mistakes we made, forgive each other and move on? Can we offer everyone alive today a blanket of forgiveness for all grief from the past?
I agree with those who told the audience that love and forgiveness can solve problems. Even if our neighbor refuses to love and forgive us, we are called by higher command to love and forgive him.
Other painful chapters in Middlesex history come to mind. The evil of slavery that so poisoned our society, the tragedy of the Civil War suffered by all with almost a million casualties to atone for the sin of slavery in America, and Yankees who came to this area and burned, pillaged, killed and took livestock from starving, innocent citizens. Many native families, both white and black, have ancestors who still live here and hold vivid, dark memories passed down from grandparents of those bitter times. After which the horror of almost 100 years of “Jim Crow laws” that further suppressed blacks.
No one alive today is responsible for the past. Yet if we continue to harbor angry and bitter thoughts from past history we are surely responsible for continuing that misery. The truth is we will not recover from the scars of yesterday until we learn how to let go of the past.
Abraham Lincoln saved our Republic and freed the slaves. But he did not live long enough to implement his reconciliation plan for the nation. If his beautiful recovery program . . . “with malice toward none and charity for all. . . .” had shaped our future there would have been rapid recovery in the nation from wounds of slavery and war. But, unfortunately radical Republicans insisted on taking revenge on the “white south,” and Democrats eventually regained power and enacted cruel Ji m Crow laws. Then, the next tragedy, Republicans deserted blacks and left them to fend for themselves. As the program ended in Saluda at the old historical courthouse, I looked on the walls and saw many portraits of judges and clerks of the court that served our county throughout these years. I knew many had helped implement segregation. Yet every one of them had felt he was doing his duty to his fellow man in following the laws. It’s difficult for us who live today to understand concepts of right and wrong change with passing times. What was accepted years ago is not accepted now. (And what we accept today as right and wrong will not be accepted in future generations.) My eyes finally rested on the portrait of Middlesex Sheriff Josh Holmes. I smiled. So much progress has been made. We can each do our part to ensure that it continues.
But I hurt. Two hours on a hard courtroom bench left my back aching and my le gs stiff. I stood up and, the gracious Pinky Holmes, who was sitting behind me throughout the program, asked me for a hug. “I liked you before, Mary, but now I love you,” she said.
We held on to each other as if our very lives depended on it. Then the miracle. My pain just disappeared. If love and forgiveness can help crusty old me, it can help everyone.
So can we recover from our past, dear readers? This One Woman’s Opinion writes . . . yes we can!