Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Hero Ain't Nothin' But a Sandwich

It's House Resolution 360, introduced January 23.

I suppose it's about time.  Certainly, maybe, it's a nice gesture.  But it's also both worthless and dishonest. 

It's a resolution
To award posthumously a Congressional Gold Medal to Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, in recognition of the 50th commemoration of the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where the 4 little Black girls lost their lives, which served as a catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement.
Because of their "extraordinary sacrifice."   Which I suppose it was, since they died.  And their murder - a hate crime, an act of terrorism - did in fact jump start Congress into actually passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which was one hell of an achievement.

It is right that they should be remembered.  As a constant prick on our collective conscience.  We did this to them.  But we did it to countless others, too.  We're big on hatred and violence.

Because really, they didn't sacrifice.  Oh, they gave their lives.  But it was unwitting.  They were part of a ritual they didn't know existed and weren't aware of while it was happening.  And, of course, they had no idea that anything - good or ill - would follow.

If there was a sacrifice, it was by the murders, the terrorists.  Not a sacrifice to the gods but to hate.  Not to end suffering, not to propitiate, but as a promise of more to come.

And so now, after 50 years, they want to give them medals.  

Of course, they can't collect them personally.  But there are others, and they're apparently not of one mind.  Verna Gates has the story for Reuters.

Sarah Collins Rudolph is the sister of Addie Mae Collins.  Like her sister, she was in the church when the bomb went off.  She was 12.  She lost an eye, says she was nearly blinded in the other.  She spent two months in the hospital.  She suffers from PTSD and memory loss.  She doesn't want a medal.  She wants restitution - for her injuries and for for her sister's.  She thinks maybe five million dollars.
"I am not going to go get the (medal) until justice has been fulfilled," said Rudolph, now 62, during an interview on Friday at her home in a Birmingham suburb.[*]
Cynthia Wesley's brother, Fate Morris, agrees.  Gates reports that he "remembers helping to pick through the rubble after the bombing to look for his sister."  A medal's worthless, he says.  He can't pin down a cash price, but he does know one thing he wants  He wants his sister to get her name back.
Morris also wants his sister's name corrected in the history books. He said she was living with a family whose surname was Wesley at the time of her death, but her real last name was Morris.
Denise McNair's family, though, or at least some of them, are happy about the medal.

McNair's family is hoping Congress will approve the medals to bring attention to the tragedy. More than 20 other members of the church congregation were also injured in the explosion.

"We feel that this honor given by Congress means that our great country recognizes the sacrifices made for freedom in our country," said Lisa McNair, 49, the sister of Denise McNair.
As I said, the girls should be remembered.  Not for their sacrifice, but for what was done to them.  Because their deaths shamed a nation that, for at least a brief moment, seemed capable of shame. 

But a medal?  A Congressional trinket?

Here's something.  Congress could pass a resolution urging that Obama pardon Denise McNair's father, Chris McNair, who's about 86 years old now and has a five year sentence in the federal pen on a conviction of public corruption.  A man of uncommon decency and generosity of spirit.

Nah.  No self-satisfaction in that.  No neat sound bites and noble words about sacrifice and how they gave their lives for a cause.  Which is, once again, bullshit.  They didn't give their lives, and they didn't die for a purpose.  They were murder victims of random chance.  There's nothing noble about them.

We should remember them not for who they are but for what their murders say about who we are. 

H.R. 360 has 296 co-sponsors.  It will, apparently pass the House.  My guess is that the Senate will go along.  Because they can all feel good about themselves then.  How nobly they acted.  After 50 years.  Fate Morris again.
That medal won't do us any good. Only the politicians will get anything out of it.

   H.R. 360


*Randolph may not think justice has been done, but the resolution disagrees.  Paragraph 6 of the Congressional findings so declares.
(6) Justice was delayed for these 4 little Black girls and their families until 2002, 39 years after the bombing, when the last of the 4 Klansmen responsible for the bombing was charged and convicted with the crime.

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