For example, several days ago I participated in a fascinating online conversation centered around the question, “When did you first learn about the post-Reconstruction era in the American South?” This was an era of terrifying violence and repression, the era that implemented Jim Crow, and the era that ultimately helped trigger a massive “great migration” where millions of Black Americans fled their homes in the South for cities in the North and West.
I did not learn about these events in my Kentucky public school education. I didn’t learn about, for example, the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 or the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898 until I was well in my 40s.
Had I rooted my love of country in the greatness of American history—and there is undeniable greatness—then learning the sheer extent of post-Civil War violent racial oppression would have been deeply disorienting. And it is often disorienting to those who are not taught to stare history in the face, to confront evil and cowardice even as we celebrate virtue and courage.
The terrible realities of 1619—when colonists first brought slaves to American shores—do not negate the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, but they were in direct and often violent tension with each other. And in many ways we live with that tension today.