"Said it's the misery of inequity/ Said it's the history of inequity/ When it all, it all falls down..." - Lauryn Hill, "The Mystery of Inequity," 2002.
112 years ago, W. E. B. Du Bois, the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard University and one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, published his seminal text The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois powerfully propounded in that text that the "problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." Truthfully, Du Bois' words not only defined America's existence up to 1903, but they readily define America's existence ever since. Ours continues to be a problem of the color-line, a problem that appears in many manifestations.
America is a nation constructed upon the shifting and unstable fault lines of racism. Racism has permeated every aspect of our nation's existence in every era of its existence. It has been an unrelenting and unyielding stain, an oozing and infected sore upon our legislatures and our economy, upon our judiciary and our public policies, upon our educational systems, yes, even upon our religious assemblies.
Therefore, much of our nation's history can be defined by social movements to emancipate our land from the chains emergent at its founding. Ours has been a long, ongoing struggle to extend the inalienable rights once narrowly defined as the inheritance of male European American property owners to all persons resident upon these shores, both native and foreign born.
That a nation built upon racism was given a faulty foundation was not without warning. There were early voices who cried aloud that by constitutionalizing racism our nation was on shaky ground. From William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe to Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fannie Lou Hammer to The Dream Defenders and Black Lives Matter, and to countless others in each generation, there have been prophets to our nation who have called our nation to account for its sins against God and humanity. As a nation, we have paid a great price for not heeding their warnings.
Now, new voices have emerged calling forth for equality and racial justice. These voices are strong and their determination is sure. All across America, these new voices are demanding change and for this change to come to our nation swiftly.
Today, because of the growing masses of the disenfranchised and the dissatisfied, the societal structures that have given sanctuary to systemic racism in our nation are beginning to fall down. It is falling down not only under the weight of its own shoddy construction, but it is being aided in its fall by a generation that refuses to take such gross injustice anymore. From college campuses to our neighbors next door, there is a new cry for justice.
As we celebrate these new voices and these new movements for justice, we must never forget what gave fuel to our present struggle. This new cry has arisen from the blood of new martyrs - men, women, boys, and girls - who died unnecessary deaths, whose names have been added to racism's enormous body count. Their blood still cries forth for justice even as Abel's blood cried out to the heavens when he was felled by his brother Cain.
This is a special and revolutionary time to be alive in America. From Confederate flags to historically inaccurate text books that conspire to cover-up America's sins, it is all falling down. What is most critical in this hour is not just that these troubling hegemonies of injustice continue to be toppled, but that we erect something more just in its place.
In the Book of Nehemiah, the walls surrounding Jerusalem had been razed. Once a great nation, Israel had forgotten about the God who liberated them from their oppressors. Israel failed to live fully into God's divine imperative that they love all, both neighbor and stranger, as themselves. In their failures, Israel oppressed the weak, denied justice in their courts, and spilt the blood of innocents in the streets. As a result, it all fell down and Israel was forced into exile.
At a later time, as the prophet Nehemiah began to rebuild the wall, there were threats made against him by those who would not benefit from a stronger and more unified people in the land. Disturbingly, these threats remain present with us today for there are many enemies of progress who have long benefited from our nation's maladies. Still, in this great and glorious hour, we are witnessing time and time again the power of a unified people strengthened and organized in pursuit of a just and noble cause.
So let the structures of racism in our nation continue to fall, and fall swiftly. Let us ready ourselves to build the foundations of a new America, a more just and beautiful America. Out of our painful past, let us finally build together an America where liberty and justice for all is more than just a pledge, but it is our shared reality.