Eugene Williams, Martin Luther King Jr., And George Floyd. These three names should be remembered throughout American history. The middle of the two most or all recognize, and our country’s current state of affairs has made everyone aware of the last name. So let’s take a moment to discuss the first name.
Before I delve into who Eugene Williams was, let me set the scene. There’s an economic slowdown that is causing fierce competition for the small pool of jobs available. Coincidentally, there is a menacing pandemic ravaging the globe with no cure. As usual, unemployment is impacting the black community more than other groups.
A young black male is killed by a white man while swimming in Lake Michigan in front of scores of onlookers. When the black beach attendees reported the murder of Eugene Williams to local police, they refused to arrest the killer. A melee ensued followed by days of incursions between white and black neighborhoods. Then Illinois Governor discussed bringing in the National Guard to quell the violence due to large portions of the economy shutting down. If this story sounds familiar, it should. However, Eugene Williams was murdered in 1919. The subsequent events are recorded in history as the Chicago riot of 1919. Furthermore, the summer of 1919 is remembered as the Red Summer due to the riots that consumed the country due to racial injustice suffered by blacks.
In 1968 Martin Luther King Jr., the paragon of rectitude, was assassinated. There were scores of black people killed and lynched during this period, but his murder was the loss that again set this country aflame. Once again the country was engulfed in riots, looting, and civil disobedience.
Which brings us to the summer of 2020 and Minneapolis, Minnesota. George Floyd is murdered by a police officer while being filmed by a random person who posted the video on social media. And while there had been several recent murders of black people, his was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
In each of these situations you have the same sides. In 1919 one side blamed Eugene Williams for floating into the White area of the lake. In 1968 one side blamed Dr. King for being a communist and stirring up racial strife. Again in 2020 one side blamed George Floyd for passing a counterfeit bill. In all three cases the victim is blamed, but in all three the public reaction is the same, and again we are blamed.
I am not a sociologist, but I cannot fathom why it is so incomprehensible that a group of people who are subjected to violence day after day, year after year, decade after decade would respond violently. These three riots are just a few examples of the social uprisings that have occurred in this country.
The response is always the same: let’s regain law and order and then we can calmly and rationally discuss some solutions. The sad fact is that we keep putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. The bleeding subsides, but the underlying infection persists just under the surface until a random act sends us back to the emergency room. We have layers upon layers of band-aid on the racial wounds of this experiment called America, where all men are created equal. E pluribus unum. Indeed. Lofty ethereal ideals only experienced by the progeny of a few.
What can be promised is that this latest eruption of dissatisfaction will not be the last. This will happen again and again. Black people will not be pacified or satisfied until and unless we are treated equally. Is that so hard? Equal treatment under the law, the Constitution that you laud, deifying its authors, while marginalizing the descendants of a stolen people upon whose backs the realization of those words on parchment were transformed into an unshared wealth and prosperity.
This country, dare I say mankind, has only ever understood money and violence. Until the pulchritude of the ideals of this country’s founding document are enjoyed by all, the day is soon coming when there will be little left to share.
Today’s union in the streets of America across race, gender, and class give me hope. Black people have had to rely on that ineffable emotion for far too long. I hope our hope becomes reality.