Recently Reflections, the Yale Divinity School’s biannually published magazine of theological and ethical inquiry, crossed my desk. The spring theme of 2013 Reflections is: The Future of Race. Gregory Sterling, Dean of Yale Divinity School, writing From the Dean’s Desk, observes that the last election season “virtually ignored race as an issue. It is naïve to think that we have moved beyond race . . . (race remains) a contentious field of resistance and hope”. Dean Sterling notes that the “dehumanizing history of slavery is still with us. A weary reluctance to face it remains with us too.” The dean points to tensions between black and whites, demographic shifts with the eclipse of the white majority and increase Latino and Asian-American numbers. Spring Reflections contains some thirty contributors with their take on contemporary issues regarding race.
On the home page of this website under FRED’S STORY is a piece I completed in January, 2008. Shaped By History is introduced as: “Living in the deep South during the Civil Rights Revolution. Learning to distinguish between American Ideal and American Reality. A Historian’s reflections of personal experiences in developing and teaching African-American and Women’s American History”. The essay optimistically concluded: “The morning after the January 6, 2008 Democratic presidential caucus in Iowa the Minneapolis Star Tribune featured a political cartoon. Pictured is Martin Luther King, Jr. reading the paper headline Obama Wins with a background sign I HAVE A DREAM. King is musing Somebody Pinch Me! What a remarkable path America has journeyed . . . when the front running Democratic Party presidential candidates are an African-American male, Barack Obama, and a female, Hillary Clinton! Questions of race or gender no longer disqualify anyone for consideration for presidential candidacy. Without question the American ideal of freedom, justice, and equality is closer to reality today than it was forty-seven years ago. . . . Having lived through the Civil Rights Revolution and the struggle for political, economic, and social equality during the Sixties I am confident regarding the ultimate closer achievement of that struggle. Study of American history has shown the redemptive nature of American reform tradition urging American reality to reflect more clearly American idealism.”
Shortly after completing Shaped By History I came across an essay questioning overly optimistic assessments of the Civil Rights Revolution. The article asserted: “It is a false idea that there is unity in progress and that things change in one big step'”. With progress, perhaps, I noted, comes, backlash. 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, fifty years after the March on Washington, and the recent reelection of the first African-American president is it naïve writing in 2008 that American racial, gender, and equality “reflect more clearly American idealism”. I concur with that view but have come to be more cautious in assessing progress. Results of the Civil Rights Sixties has resulted in American reality reflecting more clearly American idealism. Reform movements, however, urging racial, gender, and social justice do not change “in one big step”. Constance vigilance in championing the American Reform tradition is essential.