Consumed with a love and passion of the history of the South, the American author William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It is not even past.” With that said, it is my conviction that we, the American people, have allowed the harmful legacy of slavery, racism and Jim Crow to linger, creating a climate and perception where black Americans are viewed as having less value, thus, giving voice to the current “Black Lives Matter” movement.
The historical basis for the “Black Lives Matter” movement goes back some eight generations ago in 1857, when my great-grandfather Cato Sutton, a slave, was just four years old. In 1857, the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision made it quite clear that black lives in America did not matter, with the Court ruling that black people had no right the white man was bound to respect. What a despicable notion, and it was the law of the land.
Of course the Dred Scott ruling was eventually overturned, but the emotional damage had already been done, further cementing the perception of black inferiority which still lingers in many minds today.
As a lifelong resident of Sampson County, I grew up in a time and place where the laws treated me as though my life mattered less than my white counterparts, creating special burdens I had to endure or face dire consequences, just because of the color of my skin. So, yes, the lives of black citizens in this country historically have not mattered, with blacks being discounted and devalued.
Going forward, as we face our history, we will come to better understand the essence of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, as it gives us renewed hope, showing us what we can become as a unified nation, always striving for justice for all. Additionally, this can be an exercise in character building, and it will allow us to help make each other better.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” So, what should matter to us, living here in Sampson County? Well, it’s time to see a greater difference being made in the lives of all Sampson County residents in closing the racial disparities in healthcare, education and school discipline, employment and criminal justice, making Sampson County work for everybody.
In Sampson County, we must be about the business of creating a sense of hope and optimism, providing everyone an opportunity to build a better life, helping them overcome obstacles that stand between them and personal success. We must be mindful of our most vulnerable county citizens, especially those who are adrift and desperate, helping them to get on a path to success, while inspiring them to assume greater personal responsibility.
Finally, our goal must be to create a peaceful society, with a community ethos of fairness and justice for all, moving past those things that keep us fearful.
Larry Sutton is a retired teacher from Clinton High School.