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Column: We lose history about as fast as we gain holidays
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

In the next few days, we will observe the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on what would have been his 93rd birthday. While we have seen many of the old guard of the civil rights movement both age and die, our image of King is fixed on the 39-year-old man who was shot down on a motel balcony in Memphis.

Holidays are a good thing; however, we have turned most of them into days for mattress, appliance and car sales. The King holiday is the first one that I saw take effect and have watched it diminish into just another day.

Last year, Congress established June 19 as a federal holiday. It is called Juneteenth and commemorates the day that the last slaves were freed in Texas. News did not travel fast and this happened nearly two years after President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

I wonder how long it will be until there is a furniture sale to mark Juneteenth.

We are losing our grip on history. So many students today have no concept of historical events in state, national and world history. As we have lost so many of King’s associates, we have lost that first-hand institutional knowledge of the struggle to end the mistreatment of black people during the Jim Crow era.

The same is true for World War II. We are quickly losing many of our uniformed soldiers and sailors from the war. Those who are living are in their mid-90s and unfortunately have fuzzy memories of the events of battle.

We now have one holiday to remember all of our presidents. We once observed both Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays in February. We seem to devote much of our historical news coverage to what presidents did wrong.

I cringe when I see people being interviewed about Independence Day. They answer questions with whatever comes to mind. When asked from whom we are declaring independence, I have heard people answer France, the communists, the South or the North depending on your home turf. Only a handful can recall that it is England.

Ask people about who came to the first Thanksgiving meal and you’ll get all sorts of answers. Ask them where the Pilgrims landed and you might hear New York City or Boston. Ask them about Plymouth Rock and they think you’re either talking about a radio station in Massachusetts or a car made by Chrysler.

Folks have all sorts of thoughts about Christmas. They prefer Santa to Jesus, but they do favor baby Jesus over adult Jesus. I attended the Radio City Christmas Spectacular in New York several years ago. The program concludes with an amazing nativity presentation with all kinds of live animals. Also, the wise men are not wearing terry cloth bathrobes.

I heard a woman at the end of the show say, “I didn’t know it was so religious.” Well, ma’am, believe it or not, it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

Today, schools are measured by a series of standardized tests. I bet there is not one about Juneteenth or even Arbor Day. One day, someone will be dusting off the back shelves of a library and find some of this stuff in a history book.

They’ll either say, “Wow” or “Oh, well.”  Sadly, my money is on the latter.


Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly. 

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