On this, a momentous Election Day in the United States, I can think of no better photos to share than those I took last month at the African-American History Monument in Charleston, South Carolina.
To get to that monument, I first had to walk by this one:
It’s a memorial by “the Women of South Carolina” to the Confederate Soldiers of the Civil War. Tributes on two sides of the base to the “truth, courage and patriotism” of those who died fighting for the right to enslave their fellow human beings. I just shook my head and walked on around the side of the State House till I found the better monument.
The foreground is a scale model of a slave ship, and those tiny white lines are actually outlines of bodies as they were chained into the hold for transport across the Atlantic to Charleston. And by confronting us with the inhumanity of that, the monument begins to unfold the history of African-Americans in the United States.
A series of bronze panels tells the story, from being sold at auction to working as slaves on plantations…
Fighting for their freedom during the Civil War (while many tried to escape and fight for the North, some in the south, still in slavery, were forced to work for the Confederate soldiers or the industries supporting the war) and then, the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation in the middle of that bloody war.
From post-war laws that made ill-defined “vagrancy” a crime punishable by being sold to mines and plantations to Jim Crow, the next few panels show the aftereffects of the Civil War were complicated and punishing to many African-Americans. It took until 1954 and Brown vs. Board of Education for our government to finally admit that “separate but equal” was not equality at all.
And still the fight continued, through the Civil Rights movement of Evers, King, Lewis, and so many more.
The last panel ends on a positive note, highlighting the contributions of African-Americans in many areas of American life. Books have been written, many of them, about the struggles between 1954 and the 1964 Civil Rights Act and today; the fight continues, and for many, equality is still a dream being fought for every day.
On this, Election Day in the United States, let’s reaffirm our commitment to equality, to justice, to opportunity, and to voting rights for all. We can make a better country, vote by vote, and election by election.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!