Margaret Townsley and Ernie Lewis

Margaret Townsley and Ernie Lewis

Once again we are treated to Bob Gullette’s opinions about race and history (“Guest columnist: Writer has bad case of 'racism-itis,'” July 17-19).

In it he accuses Ed Powe, the chair of Forum on Race Relations (FORR), of being condescending and arrogant. He laments that Powe is “trapped in the past” and that he brings up such inconvenient truths as lynching, systemic racism, and the fact that “ancestors of white perpetrators of racial injustice have to accept the past.” Gullette contends that “no one living today is responsible” for events that happened long ago.

First, let’s look at the matter of Powe’s alleged arrogance and condescension. Powe is thoughtful, compassionate, and dedicated to improving relationships and communication in our community. Powe has given Frankfort a great gift in the creation of FORR and in his work to educate us on Frankfort’s two (at least) lynchings at the Singing Bridge. He leads discussions between races about our past and our future, providing opportunities for racial healing. In helping us to understand our history and providing a forum to encourage two-way communication, he is helping to ensure that our community does not suffer the kinds of unrest that have occurred in other communities.

Second, let’s look at Gullette’s approach to history. When it comes to lynching, he doesn’t like it, doesn’t believe he is responsible for it, and doesn’t want to be reminded of it. Fair enough. Yet, isn’t this the same Gullette who just a few weeks ago (“Guest columnist: Beshear busy playing social reformer while Kentucky families struggle,” June 23) wrote of our governor’s taking down the Jefferson Davis statue, saying, “And now, among other things, including increasing racial tensions, he wants to alter, hide and destroy our history and heritage. He doesn't seem to realize that you can't change history or simply ‘sweep it under the rug.’ You must preserve it, study it and learn from it.” 

So, let us get this straight. Gullette doesn’t want to look at the history of racism or slavery or lynching when it offends him. But when it comes to taking down the statue of the treasonous Davis, he condemns the governor for seeking to destroy history, and wants us all to “study it and learn from it.” Which is it Gullette? Perhaps he just wants to glory in Davis’ past without the reminder of slavery, segregation, lynching and inequality.  

Third, let’s address the present racial reckoning. Gullette doesn’t believe anyone alive is responsible for slavery, lynching, or racism, and he complained in a letter (“Letter: Beshear should avoid religious, political, social comments during press conferences,”June 3) about our governor’s linking the coronavirus with slavery and racism. The coronavirus is having a disproportionate impact on persons of color in Kentucky and throughout the US. The reality of African Americans having shorter lives, more diabetes, more heart issues, less accumulated wealth, more incarceration, and more discriminatory arrests is well documented and attributable to decades of systemic racism denying people of color equal access to the kinds of education, healthcare, housing and other advantages white people have enjoyed.

A racial reckoning is occurring across this land. We have ignored the facts of our enslaving millions of Africans, breeding them, raping them, selling their children, breaking apart families, torturing them, and the like. We have swept aside the fact that slaves built the wealth of the South and North through our first 250 years before slavery ended. We look away from segregation, lynching, Jim Crow, convict leasing, voter suppression, the role of the federal government in building white segregated suburbs after World War II — 401 years of inequality. 

Yes, Gullette, we should study history. We ignore that history to our peril. 

Finally, Gullette wants Powe to “look deep into his own heart and do some serious self-examination.” Perhaps Gullette needs a good mirror. Frankfort owes Powe a hearty thanks for his outstanding work on our needed racial reckoning.

While no one living today may be directly responsible for events that happened long ago, we are responsible for eliminating racism today and doing all we can to promote reconciliation and healing for a more just tomorrow.

Ernie Lewis, of Frankfort, is executive director of the National Association for Public Defense. He can reached at Margaret Townsley, of Frankfort, retired from KET and is involved in community service and civic engagement. She can be reached at Lewis and Townsley are married and have four children.

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