Monday, April 14, 2014
|March in support of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act|
Every now and then I sense a breakthrough and that I'm on a different plane of thought somehow ... and this weekend was another of those rare times.
Though our park has experienced a rising though inconsistent flurry of visitation by people of color, it still has not "caught on" with the local black community. Not really. Those who happen in for whatever reasons, leave touched and grateful for the work that we're doing here, but -- for the most part -- our penetration in the community is pretty shallow. I have to keep reminding myself that - if the population of Richmond was only 23,000 in 1941, this city is 20 years younger than I am! That figure rose during the war to 130,000 and is only 105,000 today. That's a lot of strangers coming together to merge lives under tumultuous circumstances. It's still a community sorting itself out and finding its identity.
I find myself watching the current stormy and often outrageous city council sessions on the public access channel, hoping for some indication that there is a growing consciousness of the National Park System's presence in the community, and of an indication that we're making a difference. I know that we are, despite the absence of any mention week after week, but it's hard to see through the wild encounters that occur each week.
Then came that flash of insight over the past few days ...
Why on earth would anyone of color want to remember those years of continuing and persistent painful rejection of the African American Home Front experience? I certainly didn't clamor to find my place in that narrative. It found me, but only after a dogged determination on my part to connect with it.
That the National Park Service came to town to unearth that heroic history of Rosie the Riveter, "women's emancipation into the non-traditional work force;" the "Henry J. Kaiser, the Bunyan-esque shipbuilder industrialist" saga; and the genesis of groundbreaking social progress made at the time -- it's bereft of stories of the involvement of blacks except in a negative context. Why on earth would anyone want to be reminded of those struggles that would last for at least two more decades? And then, only after many lives would be sacrificed in the struggle for equality.
I suspect that this work has only barely begun, and that other stronger black voices will be needed before the gains made can be incorporated into our continuing strides toward full equality. Recognizing the advances made through our work-- supported by the mission of the National Park Service -- may be the most we can achieve. By so doing we may continue to serve as a model for the rest of the nation that still lags behind in the social progress set in motion here over 70 years ago, and that still radiates out into the rest of the country from the Greater Bay Area.
Maybe that's what I need to hold in mind in order to continue the work without suffering disillusionment and burnout.
Every now and then I see a light go on behind the eyes of some young African American in the audience, and feel the warm glow of success.
... Just need to continue to look for that, I guess.