June is a good month for equal rights. On June 12th I celebrated the day when it was ruled that states can’t prevent people of different races from marrying. In 2013 the Supreme Court struck down prohibitions against gay marriage in Windsor v. Obergefell that I wrote about here. A few days ago later in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County the court ruled that you can’t be fired because of your orientation.
And today we celebrate Junteenth. I have to confess that I didn’t learn about this day until I was adult but I’m glad I know about it now. On January 1, 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It stated that the slaves in all states in rebellion against the United States (ie, the Confederate States) were now free. To nobody’s surprise, slave owners in those states declined to inform their slaves. When the South surrendered on April 9, 1865 word did not get out right away.
Union troops then began to travel the South to liberate slaves. On June 19, 1965 word was proclaimed in Galveston, Texas. From that day forward, June 19th has been known as “Juneteenth.” since 1980.
Long time readers of my blog know how much I love June 12th. It was on this day in 1967 that the Supreme Court ruled that states could not criminalize marriages between people of different races. Richard Loving (1933-1975) wished to marry Mildred Jeter (1939-2008).
But they lived in the Commonwealth of Virginia where I grew up. Oh yes, Richard was white and Mildred was black. In 1958 they drove to Washington D.C. to get married. When the returned home they broke Virginia’s law and were arrested.
They soon got the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union who representative their appeals. Eventually their case made its way to the Supreme Court in the case (and I’m not kidding) of Loving v. Virginia.
On June 12, 1967 they ruled that Richard and Mildred could marry.
I know it’s been 53 years and it’s easy to see that people of different races should be able to marry but it wasn’t true then. But it wasn’t at the time. Most Americans opposed this because they felt that God didn’t want people of different races to marry.
Fast forward a few decades when most Americans thought God didn’t want people of the same sex should marry. The Supreme Court case of Obergenfell v. Hodges ruled that in the same way that states can’t prevent marriages between whites and blacks, they can’t prevent marriages between people of the same sex.
I admire Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter because they fired the opening salvo in the quest for marriage equality.
The death of George Floyd continues to bring into focus how people of color face different scrutiny and that makes them more vulnerable to police violence.
I’ll be the first to say that I’m a 60 year old white man who lives with white privilege. I’m a hospice chaplain who (frankly) looks like a doctor and I’m able to take respect for granted.
But when I was about 14 I went on a bike ride with my next door neighbor Andy who is black. It was a hot day and we stopped at a convenience store to buy a soft drink. There was a sign on the door that stated that only one teenager at a time was allowed in the store but we ignored that and went into the store together. The woman behind the counter demanded that we stop immediately and one of us needed to leave and pointed to the sign.
Enraged, we both left. I couldn’t believe that this woman, who knew nothing of us, looked at us as possible thieves. She knew nothing about us. She didn’t know that we were both honor students with strong moral compasses who were guilty of nothing more than thirst. She didn’t know that my friend was a boy scout who, a few years later, would blast classical music when he worked on his car in the driveway.
I’ve thought about this a great deal in the last 46 years. As an adult I know that I can enter a store and not be followed by an employee who wants to make sure I’m not there to shoplift. I know that even if I do something suspicious they will assume I’m OK.
But here’s the thing: my black friend never had the luxury. My bike riding companion who became an Eagle Scout is now a 59 year old black man who now knows that if he tries to spend a $20 bill that turns out to be counterfeit he may die.
This is wrong. I haven’t seen him in nearly 40 years but I think of him whenever I hear about black men who are killed by law enforcement for actions that would have been different if they were white.
I pray he’s OK.
Two years ago I made the hard decision to donate my 2006 Toyota Prius. It served me well for 270,000 miles but a repair bill drastically outpriced the value of the car and we donated it to the San Diego Zoo.
Knowing that I would still need a car with good gas mileage I bought a Honda Clarity. Two years later the odometer tells me I’ve driven 35,966 miles. It’s essentially a Honda Accord with a plug in battery and I found a learning curve in driving a car that big.
But I drove my last car for 12 years and I hope this is my last car. If it lasts 12 years I’ll donate it in 2030 when I’m 70. But I hope to retire in the next few years and drop my annual mileage dramatically. I’m not sure when I’ll decide that I’m not safe to drive but I hope I’ll donate my Clarity.