Author Topic: Liberation's hard to trust, just ask Southern blacks  (Read 73 times)

Damon X Reppin ATL

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Liberation's hard to trust, just ask Southern blacks
« on: April 18, 2003, 05:24:39 PM »
Liberation's hard to trust, just ask Southern blacks
 

 

 
Who wasn't riveted by the sight of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's idolatrous monument to himself being toppled over into the square in Baghdad last week?
Seeing Iraqis beat the statue into pieces with shoes, hammers and anything else handy gives hope that these people who have been oppressed by Saddam for decades will throw off that yoke in more than symbolic ways. How deep that current runs remains to be seen, however, since, according to one press account, a few hundred people rushed to kiss the feet of the real Saddam that day as he made an appearance outside a Baghdad mosque.

For the Iraqi people to accept that they are actually liberated will take some time. In fact, what they are being called upon to do - and their mixed emotions of elation and trepidation - reminds me of how blacks in the rural South reacted when their liberators arrived in the form of civil rights workers in the 1960s and 1970s.

Even as late as the 1980s, I found blacks who were afraid to test the relatively new freedoms they had been guaranteed after marches and lawsuits and the creation of anti-poverty programs.

As a law student, I discovered in Dawson, Ga., that the rest rooms in the county courthouse were still segregated by race. The group of lawyers and law students with whom I worked that summer also discovered that the public swimming pool was for whites only. Some restaurants would not serve us because the group included blacks.

Finding a hotel or motel room was impossible for the same reason. Blacks didn't work in the bank or in the stores. Voter registration was low, in part because so many people thought that they could not register unless they had advanced education, and many of them were semi-literate.

This was in 1977, long after many Americans had presumed that this apartheid system was a thing of a past.

Why, we young whippersnappers wondered, hadn't blacks demanded more? Among the reasons we were given were that too many people remembered the perils that befell their fellow citizens when Terrell County, of which Dawson is the seat, became an ancillary battleground during the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s ultimately unsuccessful campaign in Albany, Ga. Three churches were burned down; people were terrified and threatened and beaten.

While not totally satisfying, that answer had to suffice until I returned to Dawson six years later. That's when I discovered the segregated waiting rooms at the medical clinic and the dentist's office. Outraged, I wondered how this could be. And I was told this: Black people had lived under the old system much longer than they had lived under the postcivil rights advances. They would proceed with extreme caution before being convinced that the new regime had staying power.

In the collective, passed-down memory, they knew the promises of freedom followed by the reality of reprisal. Reconstruction at the end of the Civil War, complete with elections that included blacks in 1866 and 1867, were followed by the return of white supremacy and the yoke of oppression that was still being tossed off not 30 years ago.

The blacks of Dawson did not take to the streets in furious rioting and looting, as it seems so many Iraqis are doing. But the anarchy on the streets of Baghdad and Mosul and other cities is not so much evidence of liberation as it is mindless acts of temporary euphoria. Iraq won't be liberated until its people decide they can build a society without Saddam and his secret police - and without the crutch of foreign troops.

The new Iraq, British Prime Minister Tony Blair assured the Iraqis in a joint telecast with President Bush, "will not be run by Britain or by the U.S. or by the UN. It will be run by you, the people of Iraq."

A worthy goal. But no matter how many billions the U.S. and the rest of the world pump into Iraq, liberation has to begin in the hearts and minds of Iraqi people who will risk everything - even reprisals from the last Saddam loyalists.

Originally published on April 13, 2003
 
 

TheSheriff

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Re:Liberation's hard to trust, just ask Southern blacks
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2003, 05:30:27 PM »
Interesting article, and nothing much to quibble with, just a matter of degrees. Good spotting.