Yesterday evening, #ImVotingBecause was trending on Twitter, and I decided to participate as such:
— Ben Lewis (@benelou) November 7, 2016
I received a number of kind responses, but in reading them this morning, a recurring theme struck me that I believe to be worth highlighting. This particular response captures the spirit of a many of the replies:
@benelou He deserved much better treatment than that! Not just because he was a war hero, but because he is a human being.
— Charles Beach (@ergoking) November 8, 2016
This person, as did many, focused just on my dad, which is what the words I used led him to do. Twitter’s 140-character limit sometimes makes it difficult to convey multi-layered meaning, and my post was an example of that. I didn’t intend it to be merely about my dad’s experience. It is a call to remind all of us about the sacrifices and indignities faced by a myriad of black soldiers during and after World War II, and as such an encouragement to all of us–black, white, yellow, brown, whomever is an eligible voter–that we not flippantly dismiss what they went through because exercising our right to vote might be inconvenient today. (Yeah, there’s no way I’m going to fit all of that into 140 characters, dear Twitter…)
I believe it’s worth taking the time to highlight the timeline and historical context of those post-war indignities, as it might help foster a greater understanding. My dad was one of roughly 125,000 black soldiers who served overseas during World War 2, which ended in 1945. Korea ended in 1953. Consider those dates in juxtaposition to these events occurring stateside:
- The Brown vs. Board of Education decision that declared segregated schools to be unconstitutional was in May 1954.
- 14-year-old Emmitt Till was kidnapped and murdered in August 1955, and his killers exonerated in September of the same year by an all-white jury.
- Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus in December 1955.
- The first Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in was in February 1960.
- Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was given in August 1963.
- The Civil Rights Act that, among other things, made illegal such indignities as segregated public water fountains, parks, and pools, was signed into law in July 1964.
- The Loving v. Virginia decision, which overturned laws against mixed-race marriages, occurred in June 1967.
So, to recap, black soldiers fought for freedom against some of the greatest evil the world has ever known in the 2nd World War, and then a few years later against what was considered at the time to be our nation’s mortal ideological enemy–Communism–in Korea. Many of them (perhaps most), like my father, lived in the South. When they returned to their homeland, they could not send their children to adequate schools, sit near the front of a bus, go out to eat and be treated with respect, drink from a public water fountain, swim in a public pool, or marry the woman they loved if she happened to be white. And like Emmitt Till, some of these ex-soldiers were even brutally lynched and no one convicted for killing them.
Some of them were, understandably, bitter. I can’t sit here from my mostly-comfortable 21st-century vantage point and say that I can blame them for that. I would hope that if placed in those circumstances, I could respond with Christ-like forgiveness and compassion, but I’m not going to claim with any certainty that I would. However, I am exceedingly blessed to have been raised by one of those soldiers who stood up for his rights and those of his children, yet was able to live a life that exuded a kind and forgiving spirit. May I follow in that legacy.
Sometimes we forget these brave soldiers who came home and were subject to Jim Crow. One way to remember and honor their courage and sacrifice is by voting today. The polls opened a few minutes ago here on the East Coast. Let’s do it, America.