Fort Sumpter's Legacy

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The Civil War began at 4:30am on April 12, 1861. From the distance of 150 years, we should reflect on the meaning of the War Between the States and evaluate whether or not we have lived up to the legacy of all those who fought and died to preserve the union.

Regardless of the many original causes of the war, we know now that it was a war for the soul of the United States. Would we begin to live up to the ideals of our founding documents – ideals of freedom, equality and opportunity for all people? Would we continue to have two societies – one black and one white; one free and one slave? The Civil War has been called The Second American Revolution, the finale to the unfinished work of the first American Revolution, finally creating a single society.

Our ideals are lofty, good and just. They reflect our highest natures and deepest held beliefs about ourselves as individuals and as a nation. We believe in freedom. We believe in equality. We believe opportunity should be available to all. We are willing to go to war, not just with each other, but with other nations in order to promote and ensure these ideals. Our national mission has grown beyond our borders and is now part of our global mission to "make the world safe for democracy.”

So where are we, 150 years after the start of the Civil War? We have our first “black” President. African Americans have become successful in business, sports, entertainment. Oprah has her own television network, magazine and production studio – a media empire that has made her worth at least $3 billion. Martin Luther King, Jr. is honored with a national holiday and Malcolm X appears on a stamp.

At the same time, African Americans are more likely to die of heart disease and homicide and suffer from diabetes and hypertension. African Americans are paid less than whites for doing the same jobs, even when controlling for other factors such as educational levels. As a result of continuing racism, African Americans more likely to be poor, to be imprisoned, to drop out of school and to die asinfants. Unfortunately, the blood spilled on the battlefields of the Civil War and on the frontlines (and backwoods) of the Civil Rights Movement have not created a fully equal, just and free society for all.

Also troubling are the ways we have moved away from our ideals. Our government is hampered by partisan politics and petty in-fighting that have gotten so bad we have been threatened with ashut-down. We have been deporting US citizens as part of our attacks on immigrants. Synagogues are still being attacked. Cross burnings continue, as do hate crimes against gays and lesbians.

Despite of all of this, we no longer have legal slavery. We do not have two governments – Union and Confederate. Constitutional Amendments have extended freedoms to African Americans, women and others excluded by our Founding Fathers. That the North would persevere and the Union would be preserved was not a foregone conclusion at the start of the Civil War. Both sides fought long and hard – and suffered massive casualties from disease as well as cannon and gunfire. One hundred and fifty years later, our imperfect nation still stands.

But in the midst of our celebrations and congratulations on how far we’ve come since 1861, we should remember how far we still have to go.