Indiana rejoins the Union: Klan no more!
Its a little eerie looking at the electoral map today. Not simply because Indiana is strangely blue. I can't help but notice that the Midwestern demarcation of the Mason-Dixon line is back. Indiana has rejoined the Union. Once Indiana farm boys proudly fought alongside Ohioans, men from Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and Michigan. We fought against slavery. The Underground Railroad ran right up through this state.
Probably more slaves crossed the Ohio river in front of Louisville than any place else from the mouth of the Wabash to Cincinnati. The black settlements at Jeffersonville, Clarksville and New Albany were the reason for this. The crossing at these places were all conveyed to Wayne county, Indiana, and on to the Lake. Wayne county had a large community of Quakers and the belief among fugitives was, that if they made it to Wayne County, the prospect of finding them was very remote. It was said that the old house built by Levi Coffin at Fountain City, Indiana had sheltered ten thousand runaway slaves.
When I was little and first learned about the Civil War, I was dumbfounded to learn that Indiana was once at war... with Kentucky! We share so much; common landscape, accents and family connections. In this century both states have been conservative 'red states,' solidly Republican. But it wasn't always that way. Once we were on different sides of a violent, ideological divide.
I cannot even express in an essay - there are no words - for what it means to see voters of Indiana flood in record numbers to the polls, and cast their ballots in favor of Barack Obama. This state hasn't turned blue since 1964. This is a traditionally red, conservative state -- the most reliably red of all of the red states in the nation. It also has a long dark history of Klan activity.
My parents were involved in both the Peace Movement and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Indiana University was very active during the Vietnam War, and just north of us... so too were the vestiges of the Indiana Klan. It was a bad mix. When I was very little I saw a Klan march and was terrified. I was Catholic; I knew they hated me - they hated everyone who wasn't just like them. They also hated Bloomington, IU, and everything we stood for as a community. I also knew that these people were of the same ilk as those who were lynching African Americans in the South.
Over the years I (and many other Hoosiers) have had unnerving run-ins with virulent racists in pockets of this state. I am still proud and a bit amazed that so many people charged into the rural Indiana landscape, going door to door to spread the message of change for Barack Obama (and for all of us.) For a long time I was very afraid to canvas here. I had to overcome many memories from my childhood, and remind myself continually that the message was just too important to deny anyone; rural or urban.
Yesterday I worked the polls in a very conservative county of the state. It was fine. Everyone was wonderful, the weather was spectacular, and my Republican counterpart admitted that even his parents were voting for Barack. No klansmen showed up. No sheets. No crosses. Just friendly Hoosiers, excited to be taking part in a historical election. And no one left the line.
The road to this victory began long, long ago. Barack Obama stands on the shoulders of giants. I saw one of them weeping in the crowd, just another emotional face in Chicago's Grant Park last night. I thought about all that the Rev. Jesse Jackson has suffered in the last 50 years. He has endured. And now he has overcome.
When Indiana turned blue last night (around 3 am in the morning) I sat and cried. I never thought I'd see this day. Indiana too; today we are all 'free at last.'
"I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest -- quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed."
"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
"I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice."
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."
"I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."²
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with."
"With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.
With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true."
"And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California."
"But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring."
"And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
- Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Hey Martin... Hey Jesse! The dream came true last night! Let freedom ring!
It makes my heart proud to see that the state of Lincoln's boyhood has once again remembered its pre-Klan history and embraced diversity and the highest democratic ideal of freedom for all. That includes freedom from fear. Maybe soon we can be a nation undivided, healed, made whole.
There will still be some pockets of racism, fear and hatred. But the majority of Americans - including Hoosiers - have responded to Barack Obama's message with a resounding "YES WE CAN."