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GUEST COLUMN: Have we overcome?

Willie Mae Samuel

Willie Mae Samuel, founder and director of the African American Connection for the Performing Arts in Rome

Have we overcome? Will we overcome? Shall we overcome? Can we overcome?

It matters not what semantics or syntax is used to create the question, the answer will always be “no.” The answer to those questions and any questions similar to those will always be the same. It is almost like taking a trigonometry class after dropping general math because it was too complicated. It has only been in recent years that I realized why singing that song is becoming more and more troubling to my spirit. You see, its troubling because I can remember being the first one out front in South Carolina leading the line as we fought for the right to get registered to vote. It is as fresh as if it happened yesterday, how I bellowed the song with my three younger sisters, along with many other others from the community, as we were being arrested for refusing to leave the Allendale County Courthouse.

Just in recent years, I get negative vibes when I sing it or when I hear others sing it. It just seems as if something is missing. It just leaves a kind of void or some kind of emptiness. One day I asked myself why, and was able to come up with the answer. I became aware that we, as Americans, have apologized for the Civil War, but do you realize that America as a whole has never apologized for slavery. Blacks sing that song at every We Have a Dream gathering during the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations. At the end of the celebrations no one can state what it is that Blacks have overcome. The pain, the neglect, the degradation and the bitterness brought on by slavery are ever present, if not in our lives, then in the lives of our neighbors and some of our relatives.

So the realization of who we are as a country will never be fully realized until we as a people recognize that if there is no remorse, no shame, no regret and no apology for a behavior, that action is apt to repeat itself. Why do you think parents insist that a sister or brother apologizes to the other after some sort of injustice has been done? There is something about an apology that serves as a ‘balm in Gilead.’ Every day since 2016 we seem to be headed to a return to, as Trump and his followers call it, the ‘good ole days.’ You do remember the good ole days, lost in “Gone with the Wind,” and the return of the good ole days that America returned to so quickly in “The Birth of a Nation” after the five year Civil War?

You are also aware that the Civil War cost the lives of 750,000 Americans, mostly whites. We lost more Americans in that war than all the other wars put together. What would urge us to apologize for the war but never feel the need to address slavery as the cause of the war resulting from the greed and the willingness of men to justify the human sacrifice of lynching and racist massacre? Do you think maybe the apology came easy because of damage done to white people and not necessarily what damage was done to Black families during the many years of slavery? Think about it!

Even after that war, we created statues and emblems and flags and stars and stripes and all kinds of memorabilia in an attempt to bring honor to a mistake that can never be rectified or justified. The return to the status quo is very apparent as we approach the birthday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 15. As Americans we must all wake up from the dream, and face the reality that as a country we are not living up to our potential as a nation who can shine her bright beaming light on the darkness looming ever before us. We sing the song of hope, but one that is ahead of its time and especially the mindset of its people. Both Black and whites must sing that song with true meaning and a mindset of actually working to overcome.

In this year, 2018, let us bring true meaning to the last stanza of the “Star-Spangled Banner” — “O thus be it ever when freemen shall stand, Between their loved home and the war's desolation! Blest with victory and peace may the heaven rescued land, Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation! Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto — "In God is our trust," And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave. Let us all sing it together with one voice.

Willie Mae Samuel is the founder and director of the African American Connection for the Performing Arts in Rome.