My Turn: Fairness and respect isn’t a one-way street
By Shari Keller
Civil rights pioneer Octavius Catto, Army major during the Civil War, intellectual, educator, athlete and civil rights activist, was recognized on Sept. 25, 2017, with a bronze statue at the corner of Philadelphia City Hall. In the midst of all ages, gender and diverse ethnicity, protest, racial disparity and civil unrest was absent.
A 19th century abolitionist, Catto was recruited as one of very few black ordained and licensed Presbyterian ministers, and was the first president of the Institute for Colored Youth. He worked to support the Union effort by raising over 11n regiments of “Colored Troops” to fight. The war provided him opportunity to press for freedom, equality and later enfranchisement, crusading for ratification of the 15th Amendment, which granted black men the right to vote.
The statue provides a history lesson for all who pass. Prominently located, it is a constant reminder of resilience, dedication and sacrifice. It would be divisive to say that statues depicting those supporting the Confederate effort be moved to less conspicuous locations for public view. Equality, fairness and respect cannot be one-sided. Catto’s statue unveiling could have met with chaos likened to Charlottesville. In a time driven by divisiveness, the public displayed eagerness for knowledge of the past.
Soldiers were men, sons, husbands and fathers. They should be recognized, not from the perspective of divisiveness, but those longing to better themselves, provide for their families and protect their homes as each one shared a willingness to lay down his life in pursuit of that goal.
Catto was an American hero, like many nameless Americans who donned blue or gray, standing up for what they believed during a time of civil, social and financial unrest. History is being pushed from the public eye by a culture convinced that “out of sight — out of mind” will help bridge the gap of divisiveness. This only fuels divisive mentalities. Statues, archeological remnants associated with wars and unending horrors are preserved worldwide, a constant reminder you cannot look to the future without understanding and learning from the past.
With many accomplishments left out of history books, Catto’s identity is obscure, just as the soldier lying in the arms of “Fame,” the winged muse. Erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1906, “Fame” stands adjacent to the former U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse built in 1911 on West Innes Street in Salisbury. Looking at the lifeless body, the uniform is timeless. It could represent blue, gray, or Army green. In recognizing Confederate sacrifice, “Fame” has become a symbol of profound loss and compassion for ALL who lost the battle of survival in wars, past and present. We honor those lives without division, for they are one, united in a shared belief, and all can be seen lying in the arms of “Fame.”
As ashes rained down in New York on 9/11, people looked the same. The ash turned everyone into a sea of gray, with red being the only variable. We all bleed the same color. Good Samaritans emerge with daily tragedies, oblivious of color or divisions, but tragedy should not be the catalyst needed to ignite compassion. A parable from the Bible tells of a man who was beaten, robbed and left for dead on the side of the road. Passers-by of his own ethnicity crossed to the opposite side, ignoring him, while the man who aided him was of a different culture. This lesson is still lost on humankind 2,000 years later.
We appear different outwardly, but inside, we are created the same. We have free will to make choices, right or wrong. People choose to be divisive and get on that train, even without knowledge of where it came from or where it is going. Divisiveness is more popular than looking for truth behind the rhetoric. We are cultivating a nation that looks for and expects the “easy way.”
Our flag represents a vision and all those who died protecting it, as freedom comes with a great price. The Pledge of Allegiance clearly states “indivisible.” In paying respect to the flag and saying the Pledge of Allegiance, we are acknowledging every ounce of bloodshed in the defense of freedom. As Americans, we have the right of free speech, the right to assembly, the right to disagree. Nevertheless, without that flag at the forefront, leading the charge, none of those rights would exist. So in the end, those who choose to take a stance, lock arms, take a knee, be the divisive force that demands respect without giving it, are showing nothing but disrespect to ALL who went before them. Studying, working, suffering or dying was payment by our forefathers for the freedoms our flag represents. The only stance I see displayed today is hypocrisy.
Shari Keller is from Salisbury, a writer and retired RN, CRRN.
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