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My turn, Michael Stringer: Surround park with timeline of history

Columnist

Michael Stringer

By Michael Stringer

I stood on the library steps in Salisbury looking over the clearing of old-growth trees and ancient asphalt for the new community commons.

It would be a showplace of our collective spirit to interact and improve the lives of our friends and neighbors.

Several intense themes are etched in my mind. On one corner was a recognition of Andrew Jackson, who learned the practice of law in Salisbury. As the president of the United States he directed the forced removal and land seizure of Native Americans climaxing with the “Trail of Tears. “He was also a prolific enslaver of more than 150 men, women and children before his death.

Across the way is an artistic angel memorializing the fallen Confederate soldiers who valiantly fought for states’ rights — the right to own, torture, breed and traffick humans.  Piercing the sky, the old bell tower of the Presbyterian church, beneath which lies Maxwell Chambers.  He was an enslaver, human trafficker and, at the end of his life, an advocate of partial manumission.

I turned toward the fourth corner and there was something curious — nothing there. There was no mention of the enslaved who built the wealth of the city, the county, the state and the country.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it best: “Black Americans were a founding population. Africans and Europeans came here and founded this country together — Europeans by choice and Africans in chains.  That’s not a very pretty reality of our founding.  That particular birth defect makes it hard for us to confront it, hard for us to talk about it, and hard for us to realize that it has continuing relevance for who we are today.”

It begs the question during the design phase of this public place: Was it a sin of omission or commission?

Salisbury is the heartbeat of Rowan County. Its prosperity directly affects the ability to both attract industry and retain people.

Bell Tower Green park can reflect the historical significance of our town and our diversity.

Academic Robin DiAngelo says, “Whites hold the social and institutional positions in society to infuse the racial prejudice into the laws, policies, practices and norms of society in a way that people of color do not.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell admits to America’s original sin and of his family’s participation in enslaving blacks. He deflects first to the “that was then,” followed by the “it wasn’t me” defense. These are common mental memory responses to any mention of racism: deflect, distract and deceive. Much like McConnell’s obfuscation, white Americans seek to minimize their tacit compliance and continued culpability for racism.

“Everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it’s faced,” said novelist, playwright and activist James Baldwin.

When properly defined, racism is an embedded group’s racial prejudice coupled with the power to write and implement policy, and it directly impacts our community.

The real problem is how this climate of whites vs. people of color undermines the principle of our unique experiment in democracy: “All men are created equal.”

The U.S. Senate refused to even consider a nominee from a twice-elected president for the United States Supreme Court. The North Carolina legislature gleefully gerrymandered districts, denying 49% of the population a true voice in their governance. An architectural firm didn’t even consider the entire community’s composition of citizens while designing the city’s centerpiece.

This space needs to be a cornerstone that pulls together a timeline of Salisbury and, by projection, America’s “stone of stumbling” — a symbol of both immorality and reconciliation.  Imagine an auctioneer’s stone block where humans are examined and bid on like chattel.

First, tread toward Jackson’s memorial, the epidemy of the country’s cruelty in achieving it’s “Manifest Destiny.”

Then, it’s toward “Fame,” where men who died for an immeasurable evil are, through revisionist history, portrayed as heroes seeking the rendering of the Constitution.  Finally, you arrive at the grave of Maxwell Chambers — a man whose epiphany late in life, much like Scrooge’s, sought to turn back the clock and right an unjustifiable wrong.

Returning to the cornerstone of America’s wealth, two roads diverge. This journey through historic places illustrates, in context, all of what is great about Salisbury and its bright future.

Michael Stringer lives in Cleveland and is an Air Force retiree.

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