Taking A Knee For Truth

Ed Raymond

Tuskegee fighter pilot, Dr. Harold Brown.
Tuskegee fighter pilot, Dr. Harold Brown.

I’m A White Son-Of-A-Bitch Who Will Always Take A Knee For M/Sgt McNair     

In 1938 I entered First Grade in District 54 in Morrison County, Minnesota, a little white country school with a total of 23 students in eight grades and two two-holers out back. That’s where I was first introduced to white history, not real history. For the next 18 years, through high school, college, and graduate school I was exposed to white history in various courses, never getting a taste of real history unless I read and schooled myself in it. White history is still taught today at all levels, unless courses in black and other minority history are offered by university departments. These courses are mostly taken by the minorities themselves so they can study their real history. They have had enough white history to choke on.   

Jennifer Berkshire has spent much of her life as an education editor examining history books at all levels, but particularly at the American high school level. In checking all of the various history books used in high schools for teaching American History, she found black history and slave history totally neglected. In the most widely used American History textbook presently used in the U.S. there is one whole paragraph about race and segregation. Segregation in housing is covered in one simple sentence: “In the North, African Americans found themselves forced into segregated neighborhoods.” The state of Texas, one of the biggest markets in the textbook business, has more or less dictated what will be in textbooks through its very active book selection committee process. That’s why textbooks concentrate on white history. If the classroom teacher does not add supplementary material in real history to white history, the student will remain ignorant in a land where democracy demands an informed public that knows well the real history of the society they live in. The knee that Colin Kaepernick took during the anthem played before a National Football League game, even after a black president was elected to two terms, finally has revealed how much racial discrimination exists in this country today. We are still a deeply polarized nation based on race and religion because of what happened in 1619 when slavery in the U.S. was born. The act of taking a knee on a football field 400 years later announced this polarization still exists.

  My History Of Standing Or Marching To The Anthem And Flag     

As an athlete who has played in about 80 high school and college football games and about 200 baseball games in high school, American Legion, college, amateur, and semi-pro leagues, I have stood for many anthems. As a teacher, high school principal, and administrator for 36 years I have stood for thousands of events as a supervisor or fan. As a Marine Corps officer serving four years on Reserve duty and three years of active service I have stood and marched for many anthems and flags.   

My first real exposure to real history instead of white history came in living in the South during Jim Crow days and before any significant civil rights legislation. As a new lieutenant I was assigned to command a heavy machinegun platoon in the Sixth Marine Regiment at Camp Lejeune. My top sergeant and second in command was Master Sergeant Fred McNair, a black veteran of the Korean War who proudly wore a Bronze Star. He was my mentor, always gave judicious advice, and saved me many times from making an ass of myself. He was a scholar and a gentleman who as a black was forced to walk in the streets in the nearby town of Jacksonville instead of on the sidewalks where the whites walked. If he walked in the “wrong place” he would be beaten up. He used the “colored” toilets, if there was one. He and his wife led a segregated life in a segregated community. Jim Crow was all powerful in North Carolina during those days. I often think back about McNair and the other blacks in my platoon who had to live by both military and Jim Crow rules. In the current situation I will take a knee for McNair whenever I can.  

Why Did Kaepernick Take A Knee During The Anthem?     

The reason for picking protest spots is to gain attention for your cause. Kaepernick, a biracial quarterback with a $16 million contract, is a smart guy. He knew he would make many headlines by taking a knee during the flag display and the singing of the Star Spangled Banner at a Sunday NFL game. This protest is not against a football-field sized flag or the military. Kaepernick made it very clear it was about the treatment of his race, the killing of unarmed black men and children by police, the mass incarceration of blacks, and the Black Lives Matter protests.   

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich of the National Basketball Association has the best description of Kaepernick’s kneeing of the anthem: “Race is the elephant in the room, and we all understand that unless it is talked about constantly, it is not going to get better…People have to be made uncomfortable; especially white people. We still have no clue of what being born white means.” This statement is for those fans who didn’t want to be bothered by protests at athletic events. Is a game more important than resolving one of the major issues facing our society? Well, bless my pointy-head.  

Another Protester With A Mission     

For those veterans who are opposed to protests at games, please read the comments of Bruce Maxwell, a black rookie catcher of the baseball Oakland A’s who has kneeled during the anthem. Bruce was born at a military base in Germany and his father is a career soldier in the U.S. Army. He follows up Popovich’s statement with another one that makes great sense: “The point of my kneeling is not to disrespect our military. It’s not to disrespect our Constitution. My hand was over my heart because I love this country. I’ve had plenty of family members, including my father, that have bled for this country, that continue to serve for this country. At the end of the day, this is the best country on the planet. I am and forever will be an American citizen, and I’m more than forever grateful for being here. But my kneeling is what is getting the attention, because I’m kneeling for the people that don’t have a voice. This goes beyond the black community. This goes beyond the Hispanic community. Because right now we’re having a racial divide in all types of people. It’s being practiced from the highest power that we have in the country, and he’s basically saying that it’s OK to treat people differently. My kneeling the way I did it was to symbolize the fact that I’m kneeling for a cause, but I’m in no way or form disrespecting my country or my flag.”   

If you still feel a football, baseball, and basketball game is more important than the issue of race, I feel you are disrespecting races other than white and need help. While millions are watching football on a Sunday afternoon it makes perfect sense to remind them that institutionalized racism exists in this country and it is the absolutely the right time to get people to talk about it. Remember that it is common in the South to say that if you have one drop of Negro blood in that 1.5 gallons you have, you are eternally black. The geneticists say that everyone on the planet has some black blood because we all migrated out of Africa as Lucy’s descendants. You better examine your ancestry.  

For A Change, Let’s Review Some Real History, Not White History     

As a member of the American Legion I get a copy of the Minnesota Legionnaire, a newspaper that covers the activities of units within the state. It usually has a story about Minnesotans who fought in World War II. In the last issue it had an article about Dr. Harold Brown titled “A Kid From The North Side (of Minneapolis) Who Flew Fighter Planes.” His family moved from Alabama to Minneapolis during “The Great Migration” of blacks because of the segregated South. According to Brown, Minnesota had racial prejudice—but not as severe as the South. He couldn’t go downtown because he was not allowed to enter such places as the Nicollet Hotel. Brown fell in love with aviation and managed to earn enough money at age16 to take a couple of flying lessons at Wold-Chamberlin. At that time the government was following the dictates of a report “The Use of Negro Manpower in Wartime” which said Negroes had low intelligence and were cowards. They did not have the intelligence to fly airplanes. Finally in 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt succumbed to pressure and allowed a black squadron to be formed at Tuskegee University. At age 17 Brown went to Biloxi, Mississippi for flight training. His black unit was segregated in a corner of the field and the blacks were not allowed to use the Post Exchange.   

There was a rather amusing incident when he was transferred to Tuskegee in Alabama for further training. At the train depot Brown went to a window to ask directions to Tuskegee. The man at the window said he would have to go to another window around the corner to get an answer to his question. So Brown went to the window and the same guy was there and answered his question. It was the “Colored” window, not the “White.” Brown had gone to the wrong window!   

This article contains a great story of how Brown became a member of the famous Tuskegee black fighter group that never lost an Allied bomber they were escorting over Germany. Brown was later a prisoner of war when he strafed a locomotive which blew up his P-51 when he attacked it and knocked him out of the skies. After the war Brown decided to stay in the Air Force and retired after 23 years of service which included the Korean War. He later wrote a book about his experiences titled “Keep Your Airspeed Up!”   

In the same issue two veterans wrote letters about how the NFL protests were disrespectful of the military. What baloney. Protests are used to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted. We have millions of citizens who are still afflicted by racism every hour of every day.  

A Hint If You Want To Know More Real History     

According to estimates made by reparations researchers, between 1619 and 1865 American slaves put in 222,505,049 hours of forced labor, often working from dawn to dusk with one break at noon. In the middle of the 19th Century this work created more millionaires in little Jackson, Mississippi than there were in the big city of New York. Read all about it. Whenever in the mists of real history blacks have made progress, there has always been a violent backlash.