Monday, October 12, 2009

Fighting, Literally, For Civil Rights

The more I learn about the Civil Rights Era, and the struggles therein, the more impressed I am with our country. We truly have come so far. I've written enough on related topics that there's a "discrimination/race" link (well over 200 posts as I write this), but I've written specifically about the Civil Rights struggles in posts as diverse as this one mentioning the Woolworth's lunch counter, this one mentioning a protest in Wichita, this one discussing the Little Rock Nine, and several posts referencing Rosa Parks and Dr. King (two people I respect immensely).

I just learned of another event, and it's not a pretty one. The link is 7 years old, but the story will always be vibrant:

Forty years ago on that day, in the early morning, a force of nearly 30,000 American combat troops raced toward Oxford in a colossal armada of helicopters, transport planes, Jeeps and Army trucks.

Their mission was to save Oxford, the University of Mississippi and a small force of federal marshals from being destroyed by over 2,000 white civilians who were rioting after James Meredith, a black Air Force veteran, arrived to integrate the school...

The first troops to reach Oxford found over 100 wounded federal marshals at the center of campus, 27 of them hit by civilian gunfire. Packs of hundreds of rioters swarmed the city, some holding war dances around burning vehicles.

Snipers opened fire on the Army convoys and bricks struck the heads of American soldiers. Black G.I.'s in one convoy were ambushed by white civilians who tried to decapitate them in their open Jeeps with metal pipes...

The Army troops restored order to the school and the city, block by block. A girl watched a team of infantrymen under attack on the Oxford town square and, according to a reporter at the scene, wondered aloud, "When are they going to shoot back?" Except for a few warning shots, they never did...

What the troops did in Oxford was so courageous that their commanders nominated them for scores of medals. But an internal Army memo from May 1963 states: "The focus of additional attention on this incident would not be in the best interest of the US Army or the nation. . . . decorations should not be awarded for actions involving conflict between US Army units and other Americans." Memories of what the troops did then faded away.

Our American military on the scene showed excessive restraint and professionalism. Their mission was as difficult as it was important and righteous. It's good that the troops were commended, even if that commendation came 40 years late.

I think it's entirely too easy to say, "We've come a long way regarding civil rights, but we have so much farther to go." Perhaps, but there isn't much more that government can do to further those ends. The legal hurdles are gone. Any remaining steps are individual ones.

If you disagree, I ask: what more can government do to eliminate racism? How does your answer compare to what government did in Little Rock, or in Oxford?

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