Editorial: The spirit that sustains
“America today is assailed from without and within with problems and threats that are perhaps unequaled in history.”
That observation seems especially appropriate today as the nation inaugurates a president who ó as countless news stories and broadcasts remind us ó faces daunting problems on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts.
In fact, however, those words appeared 45 years ago in an editorial in the Salisbury Evening Post. The editorial, published on Aug. 28, 1963, bore the headline “Facing our problems,” and it focused on racial prejudice and bigotry as demands for social justice met with firehoses, police batons, attack dogs, lynchings and murders. The March on Washington had occurred that very day, with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. invoking his dream that America would one day live up to its ideal of liberty and equality for all. However, the Associated Press account on the Post’s front page, headlined “D.C. march orderly, affair’s air is jovial” made little note of the speech. Nor did an analysis inside the paper that suggested the march was unlikely to boost passage of President Kennedy’s proposed Civil Rights Act. The march “won’t dent the prejudices built up over lifetimes and generations,” the writer said. Perhaps not, but it did help stir the conscience of the country.
In addition to racial turmoil ó underscored by another story noting a large KKK rally planned that weekend near Dunn’s Mountain ó the nation on Aug. 28, 1963, was also in the grip of the Cold War. People were worried about the economy and jobs. Secretary of Welfare Anthony J. Celebrezze a few months earlier had warned that America faced an education crisis of “alarming proportions,” driven by illiteracy and a high dropout rate, with legions of workers whose skills were growing obsolete. The Salisbury school board fretted it didn’t have enough money to pay for a new elementary school. And, oh, yes, legislators in Illinois were discussing ways to counter an alarming new trend among the nation’s youth ó a fondness for tattoos.
The more things change, the more they don’t change?
It’s tempting to draw that conclusion, but it would be a distortion of humanity’s ability to learn, to rise above its own shortcomings, to make the necessary course corrections that help us tack through turbulent seas. If things don’t change, that would mean that the only problems we are likely to encounter tomorrow are the same ones we confronted in days, years or decades past; it would mean that we must remain captive to the errors of the past. It would run counter to the remarkable event taking place today in our nation’s capitol as our 44th president, Barack Obama, takes the oath of office.
Things really do change. They have to. As that same editorial noted 45 years ago, “a nation or society which is not able to or willing to solve its problems cannot endure …”
In many respects, that’s what change and progress come down to ó the ability to find solutions to our problems. That isn’t easy, as we know from the nation’s long ó and still ongoing ó struggle with the problems of race and assimilation. Finding solutions, that 1945 editorial noted, requires the ability to accept “compromise and avoid extremist tendencies.”
It requires “a spirit of give and take, a willingness to surrender self-interest to the public interest, to substitute humility for stubborn pride and understanding for prejudice.”
Those words are just as timely and true now as they were 45 years ago.