Patriotism in the U.S. a bit cloudy

Published 8:56 am Friday, November 18, 2016

The missing link. . . . No, this is not really about evolution, though in a way it may well be a consideration. The missing link is patriotism. Sometime back I came across this flier and want to share it, in the vague hope that it will stir some good feelings.

In March 1890, a newspaper, The American Tribune, ran these words, beginning with the word Patriotism printed very large at the top:

“Patriotism is that love for country in the hearts of the people which shall make that country strong to resist foreign opposition and domestic intrigue — which impresses each and every individual with a sense of the inalienable rights of others and prepares him to accept the responsibility of protecting those rights.”

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With that before me, I looked for events that were significant in 1890 that might have prompted such a publication. That Idaho and Wyoming gained statehood might have a ripple effect. Not to be overlooked is that Wyoming joined as the first state in the country that allowed female suffrage. It would take many years before women were given that privilege and responsibility in all states.

A darker shadow relating to voting was down South. In 1890, Mississippi became the first state to incorporate requiring a literacy test as a qualification for voting. To ensure that uneducated white could still vote, a grandfather clause was enacted, ensuring that any voter or descendant who had the right to vote prior to 1866 could still vote without the literacy test as a qualification. Those affected were poor uneducated blacks who had no right to vote prior to 1866.

I easily recall the beautiful spring day in 1956 when I went with several pals to the courthouse to register to vote. At some point one of us asked about the literacy test.

We were almost jokingly told we didn’t have to take it because the chancery clerk knew we could read.

Consider our part of the world in 1956. A fellow named Presley’s recording of “Hound Dog” made the top of the sales charts for 11 weeks. The home of Martin Luther King, Jr. was bombed. A university in Alabama suspended an African-American student named Autherine Lucy, claiming it could not longer provide for her safety. And to distract everyone from the real world a new television series went on the air: “As the World Turns.” In May the U.S. Methodist Church disallowed racial separation.

Perhaps you see my point. The American Tribune served up a compelling definition of “patriotism” at the same time society continued to prove that the words just weren’t true.

A half century separated 1890 from the world of Elvis. Another half century or so has passed between my registering to vote and my voting earlier this month. I wonder which one of those half century chunks of time show us getting close to what the newspaper said is patriotism. Let us hope that Martin Luther King, Jr. summed it up best: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

TJ Ray is a retired professor of English at Ole Miss.