‘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.