THINKING OF AMERICA


‘Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force.’

MAKING AMERICA WHITE AGAIN, Toni Morrison

 

Twenty five years ago – the year of the First

Gulf War, the launching of the World Wide Web,

the repeal of South Africa’s Apartheid Law,

and the ‘End of History’ – one August

Saturday in Godfrey, Illinois –

a town on the Mississippi bluffs –

I watched the wooden New England style

Church of Christ at Monticello cross the road,

on hydraulic jacks, to the Lewis & Clark

Community College campus. The crowd

was affable, and overwhelmingly white.

A marching band played ‘Tie a yellow ribbon’,

and Old Glory was in abundance.

To cheers the steeple bell was rung and rung.

 

The college had been the Monticello

Female Seminary, founded in

1835 by Captain Godfrey –

a retired fisherman from Cape Cod –

for whom the town was named. He believed,

‘When you educate a woman you

educate a family’. He admired

Thomas Jefferson – Founding Father,

president and conflicted slave owner –

so named the finishing school after

his primary Virginia plantation.

 

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark –

U.S. Army officer volunteers –

were commissioned by President Jefferson

to map the West, mind the French, impress the Sioux

and expand the concept of the thirteen states

beyond the confluence of the great rivers.

They set off from the banks of the nearby

Wood River and crossed the Mississippi

to sail up the Missouri to its source

two thousand miles away in the Rockies

across the lush and pristine Great Plains.

 

*

 

In the small town on the limestone bluffs

where bald eagles nest above the river

Adams, Washington, Franklin et al

would have felt at home that August day,

recognising most present as descendants –

collegial,  patriotic, Anglophone,

Protestant and white. Now, across the vast

darkling fields of the republic, they would hear

incessantly Jefferson’s prescient

‘…the knell of the Union…this act

of suicide…of treason against the hopes

of the world…a fire bell in the night…’

clanging, clanging, clanging.

 

 

 

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