Hugh Masekela, a jazz singer and human rights advocate from South Africa, had a song in the early 70”s with the lyrics as follows; “I am in jail in here and I am in jail out there.” Concrete walls, iron bars and barb wire do make a prison, but there are prisons without walls, bars or razor wire. It can be quite beneficial for the mind and the soul to revisit old songs, old speeches and old sermons. Such was the occasion when America recalled fifty years ago the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s I Have A Dream Speech. With the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial I also went back into the annals of time and reviewed the words our 16th president recited in June 1857 some three years before he was elected president.
The burning issue of slavery generally was cloaked in the debated over what the founding fathers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution meant some eighty years earlier, much like the same debate to date as scholars, statesmen and Supreme Court justices attempt to interpret what the founding fathers meant by life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “In those days our Declaration of Independence was held sacred by all and thought to include all; but now, to aid in making the bondage of the negro universal and eternal, it is assailed and sneered at, and constructed, and hawked at, and torn, till, if it framers could rise from their graves, they could not at all recognize it.” Lincoln said.
Lincoln went on to talk about how the deck of card was stacked against the Negro, much like it is today. Back then like now every one talked about race relations, America’s problem with dealing with racial issues and that elusive problem of what to do about our people of color. “They have him (The Negro) in his prison-house; they have searched his person, and left no prying instrument with him. One after another they have closed the heavy iron doors upon him; and now they have him, as it were, bolted in with a lock of a hundred keys, which can never be unlocked without the concurrence of every key;” Lincoln said. He went on to explain how the hundred keys were given out to a hundred different men all dispersed in different and distant places so as to make the Negro’s escape impossible.
There has been a call for a national discussion on race and this clarion call was really echoed when America revisited the 1963 March on Washington. But America has never addressed the affect of slavery on the master and the slave, both whom were enslaved by this “peculiar institution.” Slavery left the one with a false feeling of “superiority” and the other with a false feeling of “inferiority.” This was the case back then and is also the case today. The prison-house may have been constructed and designed for “the Negro” but in actuality the prison-house now contains “all of us” locked in and bolted by the keys of our mind, still enslaved to yesterday and unable and unwilling to face tomorrow.
Slavery, Sin and Me. A century and a half later, three burning issues that no one wants to talk about, think about and dire not write about. Hmmm.