I had this post in mind for a little while now, knowing July 8 was coming up soon and wanting to revisit the events of the Fires of 1860 for a little history lesson. Then the horrific events in Dallas happened last night, and put the history into a new perspective for me.
On this day, 156 years ago, another tragedy struck Dallas. A mysterious fire destroyed most of downtown, the causes of which no one is sure of even to this day. But what happened afterwards was even worse.
Fires spread across North Texas.
Fear took hold.
Blame had to be cast somewhere, so committees were formed to root out the “obvious” culprits–abolitionists and the slaves they were trying to free. Didn’t matter that there was no real evidence to support this. Someone had to be responsible. The country was in a tumultuous time, and the people around here probably had the abolitionist John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia–six months before–at the front of their minds. People took sides to protect themselves. One whisper of anti-slavery sentiment could mean death.
Seriously. Look at the declaration of the Chatfield Vigilance Committee of Navarro county:
They (members of the committee) are appointed for one sole and only purpose: to deal with abolitionists and their dupes: remembering that the abolitionists can only receive the punishment of death, or expatriation. Death if found guilty of tampering with [slaves]; expatriation upon well grounded suspicion of guilt.
Over the next few months, up to 100 innocent blacks and whites would be murdered by these vigilantes. Others were whipped, run out of town, their homes or livelihoods destroyed. A preacher who fled the violence with his family would be dragged back from Missouri to be lynched in Fort Worth.
These events, and the constant fear of an uprising, are what largely influenced and pushed Texas into seceding from the United States 7 months later.
I started studying all this while I was writing my book a few years ago, and I was constantly shocked–how could something like this happen? I read the news articles from the time, and their language of fear and racism, and was horrified at their words. How could anyone say such things?
Then there was last night. And the tragedies in the days before. And again and again over the past year, as people mourn our African-American brothers and sisters who are persecuted, brutalized or killed by bad cops, and for those who mourn officers whose lives are lost in the line of duty…
I read on social media this morning people saying we’re on the brink of “civil war.” I read the reprehensible tweet of former congressman Joe Walsh. And I consider the fires, the fear, the death 156 years ago, and the actual Civil War that followed…
There are those wanting to blame protesters for speaking out against racial injustice in the first place. There are others who want to blame all police officers. And everyone is scared. It’s easier, almost, to be afraid, to focus on blame–as if it’s the only way to make sense of things–to hunker down with those on “your side” and continue to divide while preparing for some kind of civil war. It’s easier to fight what you know frightens you than to face the uncertainty of how to move forward in peace, understanding, and community in a complicated and broken world. (And this goes for so many issues facing us today.)
Just stop. Don’t draw a line in the sand. Don’t take a side–unless it’s for love, peace, justice, and reconciliation. Don’t generalize the Black Life Matters movement and the protesters, and don’t generalize the police. The only ones responsible for last night’s horror were the individuals who did the murder.
Pray for our country, pray that this tragedy will bring us closer together, not drive us further apart. Don’t neglect anyone who’s hurting. Understand that those saying “Black Lives Matter” don’t mean that other lives don’t. Know that you can still “Back the Blue” and ask that they be held accountable for their actions when injustice happens. Stand up against those who are trying to spread fear, racism, and violence, or who are trying to blame and silence those voices crying out for justice. Continue to demand police reform, AND support and respect our good officers for serving and protecting us.
And for the love of humanity, remember our history. There’s so much we can learn from it. Don’t make the same mistake of letting fear rule us. We don’t need another civil war. We still haven’t recovered from the last one.