Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The long (and not-so-long) arc of history

On this day in 1994, Byron de la Beckwith was convicted -- 31 years after the fact -- of killing civil rights leader Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi.  Evers was slain in his driveway; his wife, Myrlie, and three children were inside the house.  Last month, Myrlie Evers-Williams delivered the invocation at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama.  Nineteen years after her first husband's killer was finally convicted.  Fifty years after Medgar was slain, at a time when the lives of African Americans living in Mississippi (and many other parts of the nation) were severely circumscribed by prejudice and outright brutality.  Much remains to be done, but even so I'm struck sometimes by the power of numbers as they chronicle years.  Sometimes they become so large as to obscure the relevancy of history, but deeply considered they begin to place context around historical events and make them tangible.  It took just two years less time than I've been alive to prosecute someone for an atrocious crime.  My college freshmen were born and have lived since then.  But in just fifty of those years -- my life, plus theirs, less a couple years (anyone have a toddler to toss into the equation?) -- we've moved from desperate conditions of segregation to the point where a woman whose husband was slain as a rabble-rouser is not just present, but praying at the inauguration of the most powerful person in the world.  Who happens to be black.

Wonder how long it will take before the children of the inner city in the capital where the inauguration took place have an equal chance at life?  How will that math play out?  Time will tell.  I hope they are calculations of the years of the young and not of the very old.

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