In response to the article "Facing down racism: Lynchings on the Singing Bridge to be remembered at August ceremony," published in the June 7 edition of The State Journal, my immediate response is this: What good can come from digging up and displaying the unpleasant past and trying to blame white people today for what happened to African-Americans way back then, as if they bear some sort of responsibility and need to apologize for it? It will only cause more ill feelings between the races, fueling the flames of racial tension that we're now witnessing across the nation.
What particularly upsets me is Mr. Ed Powe's rather arrogant remark concerning starting a dialogue about the history of race relations in Frankfort, saying that "ancestors of white perpetrators of racial injustice and black ancestors of victims have to accept the past in order to have an honest and civil discussion."
The implication here is that the white ancestors are somehow "guilty by association," that they bear some sort of responsibility for the actions of their ancestors — "collective guilt," "inherited sin." What utter nonsense! (If this is your starting point in a racial discussion between blacks and whites, you'll get nowhere.)
It is this sort of thinking and attitude that exacerbates racial tensions and inhibits much-needed, meaningful race discussions (advocated, we are told, by Focus on Race Relations), not just here in Frankfort but across the country. (I really don't see a major race problem here. In fact I think we have a good record, better than many other communities.)
In reality, a person is only responsible for himself, his own actions, not what others do now or have done in the past. I have no control (or responsibility) over what my ancestors did in the past any more than Mr. Powe or anyone else has. (If one of Mr. Powe's ancestors murdered one of mine, should I blame him and expect him to come to terms with it and accept it and apologize for it? Should I blame and hate all black people, some of whom are my friends?)
The past is really not something that can be accepted or not accepted. It is what it is and can't be changed or altered in any way, whether we like it or not. Therefore we should learn from it and move on, focusing on the future and positive aspects, making the world we live in now a better place.
But what can be changed is the present, which I think is what should be focused on, promoting and teaching "by example" (concrete actions, not just by windy words spoken in group discussions or church services) the basic virtues of love and kindness, compassion, understanding and forgiveness among all races of people, focusing on the positive, not the negative, which, like these unpleasant long-ago Singing Bridge incidents, is so popular today and only causes further racial discord, which, sadly, some people seem to thrive on these days, even make careers out of, easily seen on television and heard on the radio.
The fundamental question, it seems to me, is not how to "come to terms with the past and accept it, and apologize for it," but to move forward with constructive conversations and positive actions and make the tense racial situation in our country today better, treating each other as fellow human beings (not as members of different races — we're all related to each other) traveling the same road together, helping one another as best we can while heading toward the same destination.
Bob Gullette, of Frankfort, is a retired state government employee. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.