Conversations on race encouraged

DEAR EDITOR:

Recently Americans watched horrific news videos of a car plowing into demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va. Our hearts go out to friends and colleagues in Charlottesville.

Ohio Humanities condemns all efforts to discriminate, intimidate or marginalize our residents.

The divisive racist rhetoric currently on display across the U.S. should not be tolerated in a democratic society. Ohio Humanities has a long tradition of supporting discussions to help citizens grapple with difficult ideas. Only together can we explore the past to build vibrant communities that promise equitable futures for every U.S. resident.

We cannot allow ourselves to believe white supremacy is a “southern problem.” The man accused in the car attack in Charlottesville is from Lucas County.

A Westerville neighborhood last week was leafletted by white supremacists who attached candies to the flyers, as though a sugar treat could sweeten their message of bigotry. Reports from other towns reveal that communities are quietly removing the graffiti of hate left by vandals on synagogues and mosques.

History is filled with contradictions and conflicting perspectives.

Ohio can proudly point to its history for ending a system of repression and slavery based on color and creed. During the Civil War, Ohio contributed more men and material than any other state to defeat the Confederacy, thus ending slavery in the U.S.

And yet, the music and lyrics for “Dixie,” the de facto Confederate anthem, were penned in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

The Underground Railroad criss-crossed the state, yet, Ohio’s legislature enacted a Black Code to discourage free blacks and runaway slaves from settling here.

Home to several Union generals who later became Presidents, Ohio is the birthplace of one of the Civil War’s notorious criminals, William Quantrill, who was born in Dover.

In the 1920s, Ku Klux Klan membership swelled as Ohioians joined to protest influx of southern blacks and East Europeans seeking jobs in industrial cities. As late as 1955, a cross-burning in Hillsboro was meant to intimidate black children seeking equal education.

White supremacists would have us believe it’s simply a matter of black and white. They lack the fundamental courage to parse our nation’s complicated history or to face contemporary facts of changing demographics. How sad that these hate groups cannot appreciate the invaluable richness that every ethnic group and religious tradition contribute to our communities.

Democracy demands wisdom. That wisdom can be gained only by the participation of individuals willing to explore historic fact and civility debate differing interpretations of historic events.

Ohio Humanities offers grants and guidance to foster conversations that explore difficult questions. If we can help your community hold a conversation about race and ethnicity in light of current events, please contact us at ohc@ohiohumanities.org.

PAT WILLIAMSEN

Executive director,

Ohio Humanities

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