Do you really see us or just our skin color?

Do you really see us or just our skin color?
By Johnny Waller

On October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York City’s harbor, a gift from France to celebrate the Unions victory and the abolishment of slavery. Lady Liberty or her proper name: The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, stands 305 feet tall from pedestal to torch and is a towering beacon of freedom known throughout the world. At her feet lays broken chains and hackles meant to recognize the liberation of slaves in and their new found freedoms in America. The idea of celebrating the abolishment of slavery and new freedoms for African-Americans never caught on so in 1903, the phrase "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” was placed on a plaque and America turned a blind eye once again to the struggles of the African-American people.  

It’s no coincidence the ideas of new freedom the Statue of Liberty was meant to represent never came to be. Six months prior to Lady Liberty’s dedication 23 African-Americans were killed inside a courtroom in what is now known as the Carroll County Courthouse Massacre. The massacre was the result of two African-American brothers who accidentaly spilled some molasses during a delivery to a saloon owner. One of the saloon owners friends confronted the brothers and they ended up shot. When the brother decided to press charges, the town became so enraged that a black person had the nerve to press charges on a white man that 50 armed men stormed the courthouse and killed 23 people. No one has ever been brought to justice for this massacre and the case remains cold.

There are many stories like the Carroll County Courthouse Massacre through out Americas history. Stories like that of Ed Johnson who was murdered with the help of the local sheriff and 16-year-old Jesses Washington who was hung from a tree over a fire with his fingers cut off so he couldn’t climb up to avoid being burned to death while he hanged. During these deaths and the thousands more that followed the dedication of Lady Liberty in 1886, African-Americans were really never seen as people, many were never seen at all.

It would take another 78 years before Jim Crow, discrimination and segregation was outlawed in the United States with the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And, despite gifts like the Statue of Liberty to celebrate African-Americans new freedoms or the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act the problems that plague African-Americans face continue to this day. Let’s look back Twenty-Two years ago, in 1998, a father of three named James Byrd Jr. was abducted, beaten, chained to the back of a pickup truck and then dragged down a country road. His body was later found decapitated and dismembered. As recent as May 2020, three black men have been found hung and star race car driver Bubba Wallace found a noose in his garage.

Is this the America we envisioned? Have the Ed Johnson’s, Will Brown’s and Jesse Washington’s of the past become today's Trayvon Martin’s, George Floyd’s and Tamir Rice’s? Do you really see us or just our skin color? Has the meaning behind Lady Liberty faded so far that we are stuck in this perpetual cycle of hate and racism? No! We all have a responsibility to come together for the common good and love one another. Just like Lady Liberty the shackles of the past do not have to dictate our future. Cast aside your doubts and fears and see US. See us for who we really are: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, Americans, humans as real as anyone else, just like you! See us for who we really are and who knows, you may just make a new friend or two.

By Johnny Waller