By JAMES J. CARRIGAN
Am I a bigot? Of course I am. But hopefully I am evolving to a better place.
The effects of racism and bigotry cause great harm and hurt to recipients and make America a less happy and productive country. I always think of bigotry from the point of view of a parent. Would I want to see my beautiful child subjected to the meanness and ridicule that flows from racism? No. So why would I want anyone else’s child to suffer from the effects of hate? I wouldn’t.
I first learned of bigotry at family gatherings. My grandfather arrived at Ellis Island in 1892 from Ireland. He moved to Massachusetts where he faced those awful signs: Help Wanted “Irish need not apply.” It is not just the reality that getting a job would be more difficult, it was the horrifying recognition that an entire class of people did not respect the Irishmen, like my grandfather. Why? They didn’t even know him. He was a kind, wonderful man with a beautiful smile. He raised eight children who became nuns, school teachers and successful business people. So why would a large group of people take the position that Irish people were not worthy of employment? These same cliches have been expressed about virtually every ethnic group and class of people in America. They are mean and serve to deny jobs and put down whole groups of people.
Cruel jokes are endless, sometimes funny, but always hurtful to people on the receiving end.
The United States of America is the best. I don’t need to extol its virtues, but it is also evolving. The Declaration of Independence says in part: “All men are created equal.” But that was an ideal not a reality. Only white men who owned property could vote. Not African Americans, not women, and not poor persons. We had to fight a civil war in order to emancipate black people in 1865. It took another 100 years to enact the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Women had to march in the streets and hold rallies before they could achieve the right to vote in 1920. It wasn’t until 1906 that President Teddy Roosevelt appointed the first Jew and the first Catholic to the cabinet. The first African American was not appointed to the Supreme Court until October 1967. Was it really smart of us to deny all those women, blacks and others the right to serve our country? Would not Abigail Adams have made a great political leader for our early nation? What about Lynn’s own Frederick Douglass, who met with President Lincoln, and also would have been an even more powerful political leader?
I am evolving as well, but despite my son-in-law’s influence, I still hate the Yankees.
At the request of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and under the guidance of Mrs. Virginia Barton, I organized a group of activists, including former U.S. Rep. Chet Atkins, former state Rep. Jon Rotenberg, national pollster Pat Caddell, and my Lynn friends, attorney Fred Latour and Joe Casey (not the attorney), to train newly-registered voters to run for political office.
To conduct this training, we lived in Mound Bayou, Miss. One of our meeting places was the home of a family whose house had been bombed. One could see the scars from the bomb on the front porch.
One of our potential candidates was the mother of a young woman who had been named valedictorian of her high school two months before we arrived. She was shot and killed on the way home from graduation. Did her black life matter? Could she have gone on to college and then on to a career?
In 1933, FDR interviewed Frances Perkins to become the first woman Secretary of Labor. Her most important contributions surrounded the federal law banning child labor; the introduction of a 40-hour work week; implementation of the minimum wage; unemployment compensation, worker’s compensation; Social Security and health insurance.
“Nothing like this has ever been done in the United States,” she is quoted as saying.
She would have to overcome opposition from the courts, businesses, labor unions and conservatives. She was subjected to criticism and ridicule by men. They called her a “girl.” She witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that killed many young girls and women because of poor safety regulations. Workplace safety was firmly implanted into her DNA.
Imagine what the New Deal and the safety net used by so many millions of Americans would have been like had she not been appointed Secretary of Labor.
To paraphrase Elie Wiesel, he said that first it was jokes, then teasing and, finally, bullying, which in 1938 led to Kristallnacht, the destruction of Jewish businesses in Berlin.
In meeting with The Item’s Editorial staff recently, I learned that The Item’s Mission Statement is, among other things to “provoke thought.” Based on my conversations with Item readers this week, I believe that The Item has done that.
When Ted Grant, Darrell Murkison and I met to discuss this series a couple of years ago, we hoped that it would inspire dialogue and improvement in human relations. We’ll see.
In the inimitable words of Cesar Chavez, “Everything is possible.”
James J. Carrigan is a Lynn attorney and host of Lynn Community Television’s “The American Dream,” broadcast on Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. and Mondays at 1:30 p.m.