Editor’s note: W. Robert Pearson is a member of Chatham’s Community Remembrance Coalition; the CRC-C will host two events on Saturday to remember both tragic and glorious parts of the county’s …
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Editor’s note: W. Robert Pearson is a member of Chatham’s Community Remembrance Coalition; the CRC-C will host two events on Saturday to remember both tragic and glorious parts of the county’s history. Before his retirment, Pearson — who lives in Fearrington Village with his wife, Maggie — was an innovative diplomat, leader and crisis manager at the top levels of the U.S. government. He was U.S. ambassador to Turkey and completed a 30-year career in 2006 with the Department of State as Director General of the Foreign Service. He is a frequent writer and speaker on diplomacy, foreign policy, Turkey, NGOs and development, and served under six presidents (four Republican and two Democratic) and 11 secretaries of state. In this essay, he shares thoughts on the emphasis of Saturday’s events.
Truth, Justice, Reconciliation.
Noble words. Lofty principles. Universal hopes. The lion lies down with the lamb. Our swords are beaten into plowshares. But it doesn’t work that way. It’s not so easy.
To make judgments, instead of thinking it through, we use stereotypes. White people are like this. Black people are like that. Hispanics think this way. White police officers are like this. Black voters in large cities are like that. Young people think this way. Old people think that way. And so it goes. We pick up that familiar image, and we apply it. With social media, and media generally, now we can actually see only what we agree with.
But things that have been hard for many to accept are pushing through. That’s where Truth emerges. George Floyd’s murder on live video in 2020 galvanized the nation. The tragedy of Breonna Taylor was swept up into Floyd’s story. The meaning of Black Lives Matter burst into the consciousness of millions of white Americans. Young whites, white women, white men, corporations, TV advertising, sports leagues, unversities and many others suddenly saw a reality that changed their thinking.
Here in Chatham, on July 12, 2020, our rally by Black and white leadership attracted many young local Black and white students to join. Demands for reform across the entire spectrum of race awareness have increased and solidified. Like the lifting of a fog, the methods within our social, education, economic, legal and political systems that discriminate are coming into view.
We no longer have to be shackled by the past. “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done,” says Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. If we see a thing we can measure it, and if we can measure it we can make it better.
Once Truth is acknowledged, then Justice has space to grow. Here in Chatham County, we can see the good things that have happened and are happening. The county is changing in its focus on equal justice in government, in health care, education, and police reforms. We are better — but more is expected. Our standard county history, written in 1971, is hopelessly outdated, silent on Jim Crow, silent on lynchings, with patronizing treatment of “the Negro.” Our Historical Association would make an enormous contribution with a new history for the 250th anniversary that tells the whole story of our county. The focus of our business community emphasizes statements and symbolism when what is needed is action that helps the Black community increase its wealth.
Chatham is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Businesses are flooding in; where is the visible justice in economic growth for our Black businesses and workers?
This coming Saturday, two things are going to happen that have not happened in the last 250 years of Chatham’s history. These events offer Truth, light the path to Justice, and give us the view of Reconciliation. In the morning, there will be a ceremony to remember and memorialize the last lynching victim in Chatham County, Eugene Daniel, forever aged 16 years and 8 days. In the afternoon, there will be a recounting of the Black history of the county, music, and speeches by political and community leaders to highlight the victories and struggles of Black Chathamites over the past 250 years.
Chatham’s white and Black leadership deserve commendation for joining hands to make this possible. This is a great step forward. It represents an acknowledgement from the whole community of the failures of the past. It provides the opening for the Black community to keep on pushing to move ahead. It offers all our community the inspiration to build the county its brighter future.
Our common experience and the science of human behavior teach us that together people can overcome their differences to find benefit for all. Psalm 85:10 has given us a timeless lesson, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” With truth comes mercy, with righteousness comes peace. My hope is that this Saturday will be a new departure point for Chatham County on our path to Truth, Justice and Reconciliation.
To attend: RSVP at https://www.crc-c.org
The six lynching victims in the years between 1885 and 1921 in Chatham County were Harriet Finch, Jerry Finch, Lee Tyson, John Pattishall, Henry Jones and Eugene Daniel. For more information from the University of North Carolina about the history of lynching in the state, go to http://lynching.web.unc.edu/