Happy Thursday, loyal readers, and thank you for opening today’s issue of The Highlighter. Five weeks ago, in Issue #299 , Prof. Matthew Karp argued that history isn’t a linear story with clear origins and defined root causes. He wrote, “We must come to see history not as what we dwell in, are prope
Happy Thursday, loyal readers, and thank you for opening today’s issue of The Highlighter. Five weeks ago, in Issue #299, Prof. Matthew Karp argued that history isn’t a linear story with clear origins and defined root causes. He wrote, “We must come to see history not as what we dwell in, are propelled by, or are determined by, but rather as what we fight over, fight for, and aspire to honor in our practices of justice.”
But who is doing the fighting over history, the fighting for history, and the aspiring to honor history? This week’s articles explore how history has shaped our actions (or inactions) today. “His Name Was Emmett Till,” which I urge you to read, examines the default tendency among many of us to deny, erase, or do nothing about the painful history that lives in our back yards. The other three pieces – “The Free State of George Floyd,” “Built To Keep Black From White,” and “The Problem We All Live With“ – extend this theme to the history of state-sanctioned violence, housing segregation, and school segregation. There’s a lot in today’s issue. I hope it provokes your mind and your heart.
+ Our 18th Article Club discussion is in the books! We read and annotated Caitlin Flanagan’s “Private Schools Are Indefensible” and participated in four rollicking conversations. Thank you to everyone who participated, including VIPs Elise, Telannia, and Summer for facilitating. I’ll reveal this month’s article this Sunday. (It’s going to be good, because VIP López and Sarai are involved.) I invite you to check out Article Club.
+ Want to share your thoughts or talk about what comes up for you? I’d love to hear your perspective. All you need to do is hit reply or click here.
A native of Mississippi, Jeff Andrews had lived in Drew for most of his life when he jumped at a chance to buy a home in town with a beautiful view of the bayou. Next to the house stands the barn where 14-year-old Emmett Till was tortured and killed the morning of August 28, 1955. “We don’t think about it,” Mr. Andrews said. “It’s in the past.”
But Emmett’s murder is not in the past for Wheeler Parker, his cousin and the last living witness to the kidnapping. It’s not in the past for Patrick Weems, who wants to include the barn in a memorial to honor Emmett’s memory. And it wasn’t in the past for Willie Reed, who was 18 years old and on his way to work when he heard Emmett’s cries and later risked his life by testifying in the trial.
In this intimate article, Wright Thompson, who also grew up in Mississippi, follows those efforts to commemorate Emmett. But he also uncovers how white people in Drew, over the past 65 years, have dissociated themselves from the lynching. First they distanced themselves from the killers. Next they didn’t teach the event in their schools. Then they destroyed the evidence of the crime. “One of the central conflicts for white Mississippians,” Mr. Thompson writes, “is whether to shine a bright light on the past or move on.” But how to shine a bright light? How to move on? (34 min)
+ John Lewis said, “Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland, and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me.”
Last month, the City of Minneapolis removed the barricades that framed George Floyd Square, opening traffic for the first time in more than a year. For some Americans, Derek Chauvin’s conviction provided closure to last year’s murder. But Jay Webb, along with many Black Minnesotans, worry that “when the flowers die, and the helium is gone from the balloons, people will forget the entire case.” Amnesia runs high in the progressive state, which ranks high among the best places to live in the country, if you are white. (26 min)
Eighty years ago, developers in Detroit decided that redlining wasn’t enough to protect white people and their home values from the Black people living nearby. So they built a 6-foot-high, 4-inch-thick, half-mile-long concrete barrier to separate the neighborhoods. The Birwood Wall (also known as the Eight Mile Wall) still stands today. “I don’t remember feeling any way about it except it was the same old, same old,” said Margaret Watson, 93. “I mean, I lived in Detroit all my life. Detroit has been segregated all my life.” (26 min)
Even if you’ve already listened to this podcast documentary by Nikole Hannah-Jones on the pernicious intractability of school segregation, I encourage you to revisit it. It’s a classic. “We have a system where white people control the outcomes, and the outcome that most white Americans want is segregation,” Ms. Hannah-Jones says. “White communities want neighborhood schools if their neighborhood school is white. If their neighborhood school is Black, they want choice.” (44 min)
+ 84% of Americans say they want integrated schools.
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