It’s Black History Month, a time when we think about a huge group of immigrants who came here — not to improve their own lives, but those of others — because they came as slaves.
Watching the movie, “Twelve Years a Slave,” provoked a lot of pondering for me. One man works 12 years and gains nothing personally for his time and labor. Although he is freed at the end of his story, millions of others never were. Their entire labor went to enrich people who considered them property.
For some descendants of slave owners, that enrichment goes on today. For some descendants of slaves, the American dream has become a reality, but for others, there are still big discrepancies.
While the movie was still being shown in theaters, The New York Times reported that 15 Caribbean nations, all populated by descendants of slaves, had joined in writing a letter to the European nations that brought their ancestors to those islands demanding reparations. We’re talking about events which had occurred more than three centuries ago.
In the United States, there have been some attempts to redress past grievances concerning slavery. In a book edited by Richard America: “The Wealth of Races: The Present Value of Past Injustices,” there is a statement that to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves would cost so much the country would have money for nothing else.
It is clear that God’s time frame is not the same as ours. Psalm 90 tells us people are like the grass which flourishes in the morning and fades and withers in the evening. (v.6) Longfellow observed: “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small, though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”
We know through the study of history and psychology that the past is never past. It is always present. No matter how much time goes by it is not possible to deny the past. We cannot live just for today and pretend the past did not happen. To do so is to be diminished as a human being.
As individuals we’re called to grow into adulthood, where we take responsibility for our own actions and do what we can to help others do the same. And human beings are concerned with justice. We don’t always agree on what is just, but we know when things are not “right”. There is some unfinished history here.
It seems to me that in learning more about the lives of African Americans during Black History month we can celebrate where endurance has led to gains. Justice has not prevailed completely, but some gains have been made.
It occurred to me that in these times of economic struggle for most Americans that all of us can be guided and inspired by those descendants of slaves who’ve persevered and made gains in the midst of scarcity. We’re ONE nation, after all.
The Rev. Dorothy Price Knudson is retired from active ministry in the Presbyterian Church, but still preaches regularly at various local churches and Presbyterian churches in the Eastern Oregon Presbytery. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com.