Over the Hill

Passage of time still hasn’t buried slavery’s bitter legacy

Black Lives Matter demonstrators march on Broad Street in Philadelphia on Tuesday during the second day of the Democratic National Convention.
Black Lives Matter demonstrators march on Broad Street in Philadelphia on Tuesday during the second day of the Democratic National Convention. AP

The hostility between white and black Americans is now boiling again. We keep hearing about shootings and killings.

I’m a white American, but I don’t feel the deep-seated emotions that drive such violence. Maybe that’s because none of my ancestors lived in the United States before or during the Civil War.

All four of my grandparents immigrated to America in the 1880s, about 20 years after the Civil War. My father’s parents came from Holland and my mother’s from Ireland. They didn’t lose any sons in the Civil War, nor any property. And the Ku Klux Klan never terrorized them.

I grew up in a rural farming area in western New York state. No African-Americans lived anywhere nearby. I only saw them in the movies. I don’t remember my parents ever saying anything about African-Americans, good or bad. The subject never came up.

The only African-American I saw in-person lived next door to my grandmother in Rochester, N.Y., and I seldom saw him. I remember him being well-dressed. I was told he was a porter in a downtown bank.

I finally became actually acquainted with an African-American after I graduated from high school and worked in a Rochester department store. He and I were both teenagers, but we had little in common. He always talked about religion.

I finally met a few more when I was drafted in 1950. The Army was no longer segregating its African-American soldiers, so we lived in the same barracks. I served with even more when I went to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. I didn’t notice anything different about them except skin color.

But I noticed something different about nearby Columbus. It was a segregated Southern city. Its gas stations had three restrooms — “Men,” “Women” and “Colored.” Its movie theaters had separate entrances and sections for “Colored.” The white people of Columbus just couldn’t accept African-Americans as equals, and many white Americans still can’t.

Former President Jimmy Carter explained the Southerners’ mindset in his book “An Hour before Daylight.” They had lost the Civil War. They’d been invaded, conquered and shamed. The cash value of their slaves evaporated when the slaves were emancipated. The value of their slaves had been more than twice the value of their land.

Many, maybe most, Southerners also couldn’t accept the idea that their former slaves were now their equals. The whites did all they could to keep the African-Americans subjugated. There were lynchings and terrorism. The schools for African-American children were vastly inferior.

When the 13 original colonies formed the United States of America in 1776, slavery was legal in all 13.

Slavery was America’s original sin, and we are still being punished for it.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.