Published May 27, 2016
I picked up my April 2016 Smithsonian Magazine and read an article about the history of Zoot Suits: "It was June 1943 when the riots broke out. For over a week, white U.S. soldiers and sailors traversed Los Angeles beating up allegedly Ďunpatrioticí Mexican-American men, identifiable by their conspicuously voluminous attire." Holy cow, I thought, is that when America was great?
I thought about the history of America, starting with a country that had slavery.
Now that certainly was not when it was great, right? After slavery was abolished, black people in America were often lynched. The Tuskegee Institute has recorded 3,446 blacks being lynched between 1882 and 1968. St. Augustine, itself, arrested MLK in 1964 and arrested black children at the Woolworth lunch counter. That was during my lifetime. Was that when America was great?
As a child I recall my divorced mother being told by the bank she could not obtain a mortgage or a credit card without a manís signature. I remember my father and his wife being told by neighbors he was not allowed to sell our home to a black family who wanted to buy it. Women in my grandmotherís era were not permitted to go to law school. Were those the decades when America was great (or "greatest")?
Then today on the front page of The Record is a photo of a groovy-looking teenager holding up his fingers in a peace sign. He is the valedictorian of St. Augustine High School, and the article states he learned to rap on the school bus and he raps part of his graduation speech. Wish that had happened at my graduation in 1980. What a cool guy!
This is today. This is who we are today in America -- multi-cultural, accepting, compassionate, technologically advanced, courageous, non-discriminatory -- and we have the smartest, best student in the high school holding up a peace sign with his fingers. We have indeed arrived at the best time in America. This is it, today, now. Itís getting better every day.
Congratulations America, you have grown into something admirable (and "great"). There is no going back to any former time ... I hope.
Megan Wall, a graduate of Levin College of Law at the University of Florida, is managing attorney for the St. Johns County office of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (www.jaxlegalaid.org).