More than 60 years have passed, and today, we need to be stronger than the forces that conspire to break us apart and place us on either side of a great divide, with the issues of race, religion, gender or class cutting across the middle.
History offers us lessons for learning, not weapons to be wielded against one another. Bull Connor sicced attack dogs on civil rights protesters and their children and enabled the KKK’s violent attacks on Freedom Fighters. Jim Crow laws codified the horrific notion that one entire race of people was inferior to another and not entitled to basic fairness in life or even in death. A barely concealed assault on the integrity of D.A. Boston and her colleagues even went so far as to argue that the Nazis would have embraced their position.
While this particular attack is one of the more egregious examples, it is unfortunately not the first time that newly elected, African American prosecutors have seen racism used to combat their attempts to enact the very criminal justice reforms they were elected to bring forth. It is becoming an alarmingly common tactic in cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Orlando and others. Perhaps more troubling is the notion, if not the likelihood, that many of these bigoted attacks at the municipal level have drawn inspiration from the highest levels of our federal government.
As soon as the pain of the past is manipulated like a blunt cudgel to malign or harm, we open those scars, reversing decades of progress and risking everything that we’ve accomplished since Dr. King and Rosa Parks inspired a movement and a generation with the belief that peace — not conflict — lies at the true heart of lasting change.
Instead of trafficking in divisive rhetoric and tarring opponents with the crimes of the past, which does nothing and moves us nowhere, we must live up to the legacies of our heroes by carrying their inspiration into a vision of the world that is better and brighter even in the face of fierce debate.
Rev. Raphael Warnock is the senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta; Rabbi Peter Berg is the senior rabbi of The Temple, Atlanta’s oldest Jewish congregation.