Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Influence of the Emancipation Proclamation

Tonight I will lead the second Emancipation Discussion at the Princeton Public Library from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. If you are in the area please join me for what should be a great evening of fascinating discussion. Thanks to the gracious invitation of Janie Hermann of the Princeton Public Library in Princeton, New Jersey, my father, a person who knew and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I, several weeks ago, facilitated the first discussion on the many different influences that shaped President Lincoln’s views of emancipation and the Civil War. Our discussion, with a standing room only crowd, turned out to be the kind of conversation on race and class that rarely takes place in America. My father wrote the following after the discussion:

  A "Review" of the discussion on the Emancipation Proclamation led by a father and son team; Dale G. Caldwell and Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell at the Princeton Public Library in New Jersey on January 15, 2013

By Gilbert H. Caldwell

My South Carolina born and bred grandmother had many "sayings" that reflected the influence of South Carolina's Black Culture on her. I think of her saying, "Self praise has no recommendation" as I write this. She meant, we who praise ourselves are on thin ice and what we say about ourselves has little to recommend. Yet, I dare to review a discussion of which I was a lead participant with my son Dale.  "What fools (we) mortals be".

Our discussion last evening at the Princeton Public Library, made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities attracted over 40 persons and the discussion that ensued had a fervor and quality that I have seldom experienced in my many years. I believe that the kind of discussion held last evening is essential to meeting our national need to break through the "gridlocks" of all kinds, of these times. The National Endowment has in the past expressed through funding and programs, a concern for deepening our capacity to engage in civil conversation. Last evening was a living embodiment of that.

Harvard's Henry Louis Gates has said; "The African slave who sailed to the New World did not sail alone. People brought their culture, no matter how adverse the circumstances. And therefore part of America is African."

This year (2013) is not only the 150th anniversary year of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, In August we will acknowledge the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech at the March on Washington. I was not living in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but I was 29 when I attended the March on Washington.

In Christian Scripture Jesus is described as "the stone that the builders rejected who became the cornerstone". I suggest that new, fresh and different discussions about race, history, culture, government and the USA could become one way to reverse the polarization, anger and distrust of these times. We have avoided candid conversations about race because it too often becomes divisive.
We remember President Bill Clinton's effort to have the nation engage in discussions about race that proved to be less than positive. The finger of blame should not be pointed at anyone, rather it could be that there is a readiness in 2013 to begin those discussions again.

Two devastating events in 2012 have created a sense of unarticulated "togetherness" that we may have missed. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy on the coasts of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have made those who suffered, remember the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and recognize possibly for the first time for some, the solidarity that is theirs, despite race, between residents on the Gulf Coast and residents on the Atlantic Ocean in the above mentioned states.

And the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut cannot help but remind us of the deaths of 4 black girls in a church in Birmingham, because of a bombing, 50 years ago, this September. It is when we realize that the tragedy's we have known in the places where we live are similar and related to the tragedy's of people in other places, that human solidarity cannot help but emerge.

I suggest, not with tongue-in-cheek, but with seriousness, that the chemistry between a father who was a "foot soldier" in the Civil Rights Movement and an Ivy League - educated son who share with others, the differences, yet similarities of their respective experiences, can excite and involve others in conversations they may not have had before. Dale and I saw and felt that last night.

I have dedicated the remaining years of my life to keeping the history and the reality of the Civil Rights Movement alive. In so many ways, with its belief in the potential and possibilities of the nation, its nonviolence, its respect for the humanity of those with whom we disagreed, it/we represented the best of America. I have wondered how best to pass the baton of the CR Movement to new generations. Last night I experienced as a father/son team, leading a discussion, the best way to do what I have wanted to do.

I look forward to the next time and the next time.

Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell of Asbury Park, New Jersey. I would like to further the discussion. If you care to, please feel free to contact me at caldwellchurch@aol.com