Crushing the spirit of freedom: When history won’t stop repeating

In 2016, Black Americans continue to struggle for justice and equality.

Unarmed men and women are denied all constitutional rights when they are murdered [intentional use of the criminal term] by law enforcement officers – most of whom continue to go unpunished. It’s an absurd denial of basic human rights that we see in the United States. And it’s so deeply embedded, so deeply rooted, that you can point to almost any year in the country’s history to find similar examples.

What has changed in the 151 years that Black people have been “free” in the United States? Not nearly enough.

Jackie Robinson, 1945
Jackie Robinson, 1945

In 1958, Jackie Robinson wrote an important letter to President Eisenhower. In response to Eisenhower’s weak denouncement of pro-segregationists and expectation of patience among Black Americans who sought equality, Robinson explained to the President some basic principles of frustration and impatience that continue to resonate among many of us today.

Letter courtesy of Archives.gov
Letter courtesy of Archives.gov

Here’s a sample:

My dear Mr. President:

I was sitting in the audience at the Summit Meeting of Negro Leaders yesterday when you said we must have patience. On hearing you say this, I felt like standing up and saying, “Oh no! Not again.”

I respectfully remind you sir, that we have been the most patient of all people. When you said we must have self-respect, I wondered how we could have self-respect and remain patient considering the treatment accorded us through the years.

17 million Negroes cannot do as you suggest and wait for the hearts of men to change. We want to enjoy now the rights that we feel we are entitled to as Americans. This we cannot do unless we pursue aggressively goals which all other Americans achieved over 150 years ago.

As the chief executive of our nation, I respectfully suggest that you unwittingly crush the spirit of freedom in Negroes by constantly urging forbearance and give hope to those pro-segregation leaders like Gov. Faubus who would take from us even those freedoms we now enjoy.

For lack of a better term, Mr. Robinson was a bad ass. And if he were here today, he’d be shocked to see we’re still having the same conversations. Or maybe he wouldn’t be shocked at all.

For Robinson’s complete letter and other historical documents, visit Archives.gov.

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