On the morning of Sept. 15, 1963, four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted a box of dynamite under an African-American Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. At 10:22 a.m., as a group of Sunday school children walked into the church, the bomb exploded. The blast killed four children.
The day after the bombing, then-editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Gene Patterson, published a column entitled, “A Flower for the Graves,” laying the blame of the tragedy not on the four men who planted the dynamite, but on the entire white South for creating such a culture of hate where four men could think that they had pleased white southerners by killing four children.
Patterson wrote, “Only we can trace the truth, Southerner — you and I. We broke those children’s bodies ... We — the heirs of a proud South, who protest its worth and demand it recognition — we are the ones who have ducked the difficult, skirted the uncomfortable, caviled at the challenge, resented the necessary, rationalized the unacceptable, and created the day surely when these children would die.”
This past Sunday marked the 50-year anniversary of this tragic event, and I’m glad to say this country has come a long way since that day. No longer segregated, Americans embrace the notion that everyone is allowed the opportunity of equality — no one race is superior.
However, America still has a long way to go on the road to equality.
With the ever-increasing population of immigrants, particularly of Hispanic descent, flowing into the country, racial tension is starting to creep back up. Some might argue that racial tension never really went anywhere; it was just hidden until a new target rose.
Our generation was taught from an early age that racism is bad. The message is carried in thousands of books, television shows, movies and other media until it is forever ingrained into our brains. The movements have ranged from the “Great American Melting Pot,” to “being colorblind” and now to the recently popular, “salad bowl.”
So why is racism still around today, 50 years after four children lost their lives because of the color of their skin?
The truth is, racism creeps into our lives everyday. It comes in the form of an off-color joke that you know is wrong, but you just can’t help but tell anyway; an assumption you make about a stranger’s life, solely based on his skin color; the stereotypes that are perpetuated in Hollywood and other media.
It is time for Americans to take a good long look in the mirror and confront the notions and prejudices that deal with race.
We cannot go back and change the past. We cannot stop the dynamite that killed those four children. We cannot change history.
We can create it.
Patterson wrote, “If our South is ever to be what we wish it to be, we will plant a flower of nobler resolve for the South now upon these four small graves that we dug.”
The flower has been planted. It is up to us to keep it growing.
—Sarah Lane is a junior from Rome majoring in communication studies