Crazy Faith Ministries
The president’s behavior at the celebration in Paris for the 100th anniversary of World War I ending – not going to visit the American cemetery because it was raining and then showing up late Sunday for the continuation of the commemorative ceremony – was insulting to this nation and to all of the Americans who fought and died in that war.
Neither rain nor sleet nor ice nor barbed wire nor muddy, cold trenches stopped them. They fought to protect their country. They deserved for the president of this nation to recognize their service, weather notwithstanding.
This blatant disrespect of the military he claims to think so highly of was bad in and of itself, but there was an aspect of soldiering for this country that his behavior brought to mind – and that is how this country disrespected African American men and women who fought for and served this country. No matter their service, once they hit these shores, they were reminded that here, they were second-class citizens, period. They always had been and would always be.
It is a bitter memory.
History reveals not only that African American soldiers could not take advantage of benefits offered to returning White soldiers – like loans for homes, education and to start small businesses – but that they were often attacked by Whites who resented them, many times while they were still in uniform.
Everyone knows the story of veteran Army Sgt. Isaac Woodard, who – at age 26 and still in uniform – was beaten by resentful Whites after he returned to America from serving in World War II.
He boarded a bus in Savannah, Georgia, on his way home to Batesburg, South Carolina. When the driver made a stop, Woodard asked if he had time to go to the bathroom. The driver resented even being questioned by this Black man and cursed at him.
When the bus stopped a short time later, it was met by a mob of angry Whites. When he tried to tell them what had happened, they beat him and took him to jail where he was mercilessly beaten, led by the police chief who pounded him repeatedly in his eyes.
He lay in that jail cell seriously injured for several days before he was finally transported to a hospital. He lost his sight from that experience and was charged with disorderly conduct.
Woodard’s story isn’t the only one. African American veterans from every war were treated poorly by Whites once they returned home. Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, says that Black veterans were seen as a threat to Jim Crow because of their military experience, and they were regularly targeted by angry White mobs.
Not only were they beaten, but they were deprived of the ability to secure loans for education, housing and for starting small businesses, as the White soldiers were able to do.
In spite of being so poorly treated, Black people continued to serve this country. They fought and died and sacrificed all that the White soldiers did, but more, because once they returned home, their war was not over.
They were required to remain vigilant of the enemies against them in their own land. They sucked up their pain and anger and continued to honor the country that refused to honor them.
When people charge the people who kneel, they show either an ignorance of the service Black people have given to this country or a lack of respect for the service they rendered – or both.
Black people were treated worse than were Nazi prisoners of war, and yet they continued to serve this nation and to work to be included in this country. And the atrocities committed against Black soldiers during the war are seldom reported, such as the massacre of 11 Black soldiers who were killed and left lying on a field for days.
In spite of having no support or respect from this country or its military, Black soldiers served and suffered more at home than they had on foreign soil. There are many reasons why we kneel, and this is just one of them. To say we disrespect the flag is yet another act of verbal violence and an act of disrespect.
We kneel because we love this country, and we kneel because in spite of our service, this country has refused to grant us the dignity we deserve.
It is our way of saying that we will never give up or stand down to bigotry. We never have, and we never will.
Rev. Dr. Susan K Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.