I pause in the preparation of my culinary contributions to the Thanksgiving meal to share what I’m grateful for this year.
First, as David Copperfield says in the first line of the Dickens novel of that name: I am born.
I am so grateful to have been born mid-20th century in the waning days of a Jim Crow South. In that year that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the dismantling of segregated public schools “with all deliberate speed,” Emmett Till was lynched and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus. Without my knowing it then, seeking justice for the dispossessed and the downtrodden was my birthright.
Timing has been everything. When the cotton mill, a vestige of the era when cotton was king, closed in my hometown, many people were thrown out of work, including my father. But the town leaders in Conyers, Ga., vestiges themselves of the antebellum ruling class, were in the process of building federally-subsidized public housing. My family was among the first to move into beautiful brick dwellings named for Dr. Harvey Griggs, a physician and the mayor. My mother and my maternal grandmother had done domestic work for the doctor and his family for years. In that community of houses, which marked the first time many of us had indoor plumbing, we learned that being of low income did not mean low character, low self-esteem or low expectations.
I am grateful for that experience, which many of us recalled in Conyers a couple of weeks ago at the launch of an oral history and artifact retrieval effort. We alumni want to assure that, as those old buildings are demolished to make way for a new vision of government-subsidized housing, what was will continue to be through a permanent exhibit. I wish for current inhabitants of public housing what my cohorts and I had a half century ago. The need remains, as evidenced by the backlog of 14,000 applications in Baltimore. Without knowing it back in my childhood, I was stamped with a mission to promote safe, affordable housing for all and blessed with a model for communal living where each one really did look out for everyone else.
An advantage of being born mid-20th century is that I’ve been able to cross into the 21st to witness mind-blowing advances not just in technology, but also in historical scholarship, as evidenced in the New York Times’ 1619 Project. Oh, how grateful I am for the correctives we’re seeing to truthfully recount how black folks are the quintessence of the American story. A growing number of institutions are acknowledging the role slavery played in their development or how state-sponsored racism denied blacks full access to opportunity. Harvard has expanded its footprint in this area, as have other colleges and even old-line financial institutions. Bravo to them. But in Maryland, Gov. Hogan is resisting an equitable — and, yes, costly — resolution to a lawsuit that the state lost. A federal judge found that Maryland’s historic record has been worse than Mississippi’s in the devious ways it 1) restricted blacks’ access to higher education and then 2) underfunded and undermined black colleges and universities that came into being because of that old racism. I am thankful that young activists are keeping the issue front and center in Annapolis.
I have no interest in seeking public office and would definitely not want the job of mayor in Baltimore. But I am grateful that so many people are interested, even if I question whether some candidates are more blinded by ego than compelled by enlightenment. They run. And that’s a good thing. We have the right to vote, and that’s an even better thing.
I am grateful for civilian crusaders and public officials like State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby who are striking blows against mindless mass incarceration each time they help set free wrongly imprisoned men and women. Just this week three men were exonerated after decades in prison for the 1983 murder of a ninth grader at Harlem Park Junior High School.
I am grateful for the rule of law in such instances as well as in the excruciating process underway in Washington. As congressional committees make the case for impeaching President Trump, he does everything he can to impede them. Clothed in my right mind, as they say in many a country church, I am clear about one thing when it comes to the Trump era: This, too, shall pass.
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.