I went to Georgia last January. I had read a book and become inspired and flown away to a land of history and richness and cultural pride. My God it was a beautiful place to be.
Before leaving Atlanta for Savannah, I went to the MLK museum. I saw the sad little row of houses where they put the blacks. I threw a penny in the wishing pond where a thousand wishes have been made that are, each of them, still waiting for an answer.
I sat beside a homeless person and I cried. I lit his cigarette for him. He had the kindest eyes.
In the church where MLK once preached, I cried again. Behind the rows of little boys and girls in burgundy coat jackets and patent leather shoes. They gave me funny looks. But I wasn’t afraid being the only white one in the room. That’s called privilege.
In Savannah, I rented a house on the outskirts of the “black part of town.” The Uber driver warned me to be safe. I smiled at little girls weaving braids on dilapidating front porches. Boys playing hoop in the streets overgrown with foxy tailed crabgrass. A black man asked me if I was afraid of him because he was black and I really don’t know the answer because I’m kind of nervous around men in general but I couldn’t tell him no outright. That disappointed me. He thanked me for my honesty. I chided myself for subconscious infiltrations of Judeo-Christian hypocrisy. Not that I can help them all that much. They’re just there. I’m trying to erase them.
Savannah has 22 squares. Once 24, now 22, they’re full of Southern Live Oaks draped in Spanish moss, except in places where innocent blood was spilled. Where the black men were strung. The moss won’t grow upon those boughs, or so I’m told.
Orleans Square was laid out in celebration of Andrew Jackson’s victory in the Battle of New Orleans. Forsyth Park, the Golden Gate Park of Savannah, is named for John Forsyth, the man who spoke against abolitionists in the case to free the men of La Amistad. He is known to have said that society has the right to exclude free people of color, “to eject them, and to limit their privileges, when we admit them to reside with us.”
Confederate Memorial lies within the confines of the park, topped with a bronze statue of a confederate soldier.
I wonder what it’s like to walk through the park, past a memorial for a hundred thousand men who wanted you enslaved. What do you do with this? Do you spit upon the stone fountain? Do you utter silent prayers of gratitude that the North long won that war?
Some things belong on a pedestal, and some things belong in a museum. The magic of Savannah is the charm of the town; but there is a menacing darkness lying just beneath its surface. In a town where blacks and whites live side by side, but never intermingle. Where each stays on his or her own side of town.
You can feel it. The tension. You can feel the bristling of fear in raised, goosebumped flesh. You can almost hear the hairs rising on the skin.
The man beside you in the bar tells you to use caution and be safe. To not travel after dark. To keep an eye out. You edge away, not for his warning or your fear of any man whose pigmentation’s different than your own. No, you shift away because the silver glint of a handgun sparkles from the lining of his coat. That makes you nervous. And you wonder who the enemy is.
But you’re nowhere near as frightened as the darkly colored people who walk by monuments dedicated to the men who wanted them to bow before them. You don’t know a fear like that you never have how could you?
But you feel compassion. You empathize. You hope for change and you throw that penny in the pond and wish upon every force here in this world that goodness and love are still possible.
Friends, some things belong on a pedestal. And some, in a museum. Choose wisely. What you promote now becomes the future to the listening ears of children who have known no better. Want to be progressive? Want to be loving and forward thinking? Tear down the things that inspire fear. Is the beauty of their gilded forms that much more important than the safety of the man beside you? I think not. Take. Them. Down.