My father shared these thoughts via e-mail this evening. I hope he doesn't mind that I share them with you.
November 4, 2008
On the Eve of a Great Historic Moment in American History:
The Election of the first non-white man as president of the United States of America.
My great grand father, Philander D. W. Conger was born in the frontier town of Jackson, Tennessee in 1819. He was the mayor of Jackson, an inventor, the owner of a sawmill on the Forked Deer River, and according to family legend, the owner of over fifty slaves. The family was proud of the fact that PDW Conger was so prosperous that he was able to own so many slaves.
As a child growing up in Jackson I was a part of a totally segregated society in which Black people went to separate school, churches, shopped in different stores, drank at “colored” water fountains, sat on “colored” benches in the court square, and could not eat in the restaurants where the “white” folks ate. Black people had their place and had better stay there or suffer the consequences which could include physical harm and in some case even lynching although I never heard of any lynchings in Jackson during my life time. Granted this pattern of segregation and discrimination were worse in the states of the old Confederacy it also existed to some degree in almost every part of the county where there were any sizable number of African American people. I am certain that my grand children are unable to conceive of what Jackson Tennessee was like when I was a child and young person.
Even more deplorable, this pattern of segregation and discrimination was considered to be fair and just by the majority of Southern people I knew, as well as by many people in the North, with many good church people considering this to be a sound biblical teaching that there should be no “mixing of the races”. Anyone who had the courage to challenge this cultural consensus risked being persecuted by the cultural majority. Those who came to seriously disagree with this cultural ethos either kept quiet in order to survive or moved north, as I did when I became a young adult. There was much about the South that I loved then and still do but I left because I did not want to live in a society that discriminated against many of its citizens because of the color of their skins. However, when I arrived on the South side of Chicago in the early sixties, I discovered that prejudice and discrimination, although not as pervasive, were still rampant in Chicago. It was only when the Supreme Court in 1954 ruled that “Separate But Equal Facilities” was unconstitutional and later with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under Lyndon Johnson that this insidious pattern of segregation and discrimination began to change.
On Wednesday night when it become apparent that Barack Obama had been elected president of the United States of America in a decisive vote by the American people, I was overwhelmed with a strong emotion that finally we had become a nation that put into practice what we had declared long ago in our Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
I felt that by casting my vote for the first African American president that I had washed out some of the evil stain of slavery that my Great Grand Father had placed upon the Conger family over a hundred and fifty years ago. There were many other cogent reasons why I voted for Obama but this was the most important for me.
The greatness of America is that each one of us can cast his vote for the candidate of his choice according to the dictates of his own conscience. I affirm and support your right to vote for the candidate of your choice and hope that you do the same for me.
Although John McCain, a true national hero, lost this election his concession speech was a gracious moment when he pledged his support to our new president and called upon all the American people to work together to help solve some of the enormous problems that face our nation. If we want to avoid another deep Depression like the one in l929 that ruined my Father’s life and nearly destroyed our nation, then we had better heed his admonition and set aside those things which divide us, seek to find those things that unite us for the common good, and work together to find our way through this national economic crises regardless of political party or the color of our skins. We are not red or blue states but part of the United States of America.
God bless American, Land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her….”