Justice


“The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards Justice.”

– Theodore Parker, 19th century abolitionist and Unitarian minister.

The name of this site comes from the quote above, with a different spelling for Ark.  Naturally, Justice is one of the fundamental principles of the Ark of History.

Of course, Justice just by itself  is wholly unsatisfactory.  If one was blessed with Justice but not Love – well, that’s empty.  If that was a marriage, what kind of a marriage would that be?  Maybe it would be like not fighting with your spouse.  That’s a critically important part of a happy marriage – but without love it
would be wholly insufficient. At the Ark of History, just like a marriage, we must reach beyond Justice and grab tightly to Love and more to thrive.

When it comes to Justice, it is critical to point out that Justice is a fundamental element of American society.  The Declaration of Independence mentions Justice three times.  In it, Thomas Jefferson makes claims that the British King showed a pattern of depriving the American colonists of justice, and thus they no longer owed him allegiance.

If there’s one phrase that jumps out from the Declaration of Independence that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, it is “…Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  How do you have those without Justice?

No really.  How?

Brother, can you spare some Justice from your pocket?

One can use Visa or MasterCard to pay a debt in Euros, GB Pounds, Japanese Yen, or US Dollars.  But how is a debt of Justice paid?

In fact, it probably isn’t something you would want to receive. Have you ever “gotten” justice?   How does one “get” Justice?  Is it fun?

One way to receive Justice sounds terrible. Say you were convicted of  a crime, and then you got punished.  While that might be deserved, few would “get” justice if it was entirely a voluntary choice. But the next is worse:  Suppose instead you were the victim.   In this case, and when the perpetrator receives justice, so do you.  Now you both “got” Justice.  Once the victim accepts that the crime happened, I’m sure they want Justice.  But more than that, they probably wish they had never suffered injustice in the first place.  Naturally.

Think about this.  If I wish someone much happiness, everyone would agree I said something nice.  There is no doubt.  It is unambiguous.  Now….If I wish you tons and tons of Justice….are you glad I did it?  Would you want to receive it?  The only person who would want tons of justice would be someone….who had suffered tons of injustice.

“May you live a blessed life, free from injustice.”

If you live a life free from injustice, then perhaps you can spend your time concerned with Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

But what about this example?

Nellie Bly was an inventor, an investigative journalist, a writer, a world-traveller, and a successful muckraker who created social change.  Her journalism changed American sweatshops, mental institutions, and Mexican society.

But in the middle of her career, after becoming one of the first investigative journalists going undercover and writing a transformative expose on women’s working conditions in sweatshops, she was demoted.  She was one of the original Muckrakers, before anyone called them that.  She was demoted from Muckraker down to a lady who wrote for the “womens pages”.

What!?!

Collectively, the society she lived in barely shrugged their shoulders.  After all, in 1887 it would still be 33 years before women could vote.  Elizabeth Cochran (Bly was her pen name) was an amazing woman.  Heck, she was an amazing person!  People still use the idea she patented – the 55 gallon drum.  She was the first person awarded a world record per Guiness for travelling around the world in 72 days.
That was 125+ years ago! As a woman in a time when many countries might involve extra risks for women!   Maybe she was demoted because her sweatshop expose stopped some powerful elites from exploiting women.  And to silence her, the Pittsburgh Dispatch demoted her.  Or something.  It feels like they traded Babe Ruth.  Obstacles were put in her path on her way to being the best and most amazing person she could be as determined by her God-given talents.

Injustice.

Here’s another story – One of a young teenager from Chicago who traveled out of state to visit with his aunt, uncle, and cousins.  He and his cousins were playing hooky from Sunday church service and playing dominoes near the center of town.  History is unclear how much they talked, but the young man from Chicago met a beautiful young lady behind the counter in the convenience store where he bought some candy.  Shortly thereafter she claimed he was inappropriate towards her.

While they left downtown shortly thereafter, the incident was not forgotten.  Three days later, when the shop owner and husband of the beautiful lady came home, he heard about the incident, and became enraged.  He asked questions until he found which local family the visitor from Chicago was staying with, and at 2AM that night, barged into the house where he was staying and took the young man from his family at gunpoint and drove off.

Days later, the mutilated, beaten body of the visiting teen was found floating in the Tallahatchie river.  He was but fourteen years old.  It was difficult to recognize him, but Emmett Till  had been brutally pistol whipped, beaten, shot, and tied to a weight to be forgotten in the river.  All for what – allegedly flirting with or speaking inappropriately to the shopkeeper’s wife?

The shopkeeper was initially charged with abduction and the cousin who helped him commit the crime was charged as an accessory.  Due to some evidence challenges, and perhaps the times, the pair were not convicted in the subsequent murder trial.  It was an all-male, all-white jury that deliberated for 67 minutes.  The local Sheriff was keen to segregate the courtroom – even blocking the right of entry of a US Congressman who was black.

In 1956, during an interview with Look Magazine, the assailants admitted that their intent was only to scare him, but that the kid insisted he was just as good as them, and that he had been with women like her before, and in a rage, they shot him and tied him to a heavy object and thew him in the river.  Due to double jeopardy prohibitions, they could not be tried again.  They were never convicted.

In Mississippi, in 1955, when a white woman claimed that a black youth had spoken to her inappropriately, the black youths had to run for their lives.  They did.  The assailants felt they could show up with a gun and abduct someone at 2AM and threaten the local family that they’d be dead if they spoke up.  They did just that.  As press scrutiny rose and the trial was approaching, many of the locals felt they could
find fault with Emmett Till’s behavior, choices.  They did just that.

Maybe they felt he should have known “his place”.  As if anything he did warranted kidnapping, assault, and murder.  They did blame him in some of their comments.  That was just reality for a black kid in Mississippi.  It didn’t matter if he was from Chicago and he had regular friendships with white people in Chicago.  It only mattered that he was black and in Mississippi in 1955.

Even though I’ve known this story for decades, the research – the photos of his open casket – made me want to vomit.   But you might choose to read more about him here.

Injustice.

In a 2008 interview with historian Timothy Tyson, the ‘beautiful lady’ Carolyn Bryant admitted that all of the sensational details of her claim were fabricated.  Even if the family of Emmett Till “got” justice, would they be satisfied?

Here’s another story.

A quiet, reserved man decides to run for elected office.  As a political newbie, he is soundly defeated.  He builds his relationships in the local community, and undeterred, he runs again.  The second time, he, well, he loses again.  But this time, it was very close.  And then the third time, he actually wins the election.

His platform consisted of childcare, housing, police review boards, and of course, given his power base, a civil rights bill.  In fact, the city passed it and it was the strongest civil rights bill ever for protecting the rights of gay people.  The quiet, unassuming man had transformed himself into a champion, a leader, and the first openly gay non-incumbent ever elected to public office in the USA.

Then within ten months of being elected, Harvey Milk was assassinated by former San Francisco City Supervisor Dan White.  Mr. White smuggled a .38 past the metal detectors and shot Mayor George Moscone several times, and then walked over to Harvey Milk’s office and shot him several times in the head, chest, and back.

Harvey Milk, advocate for gay people and their rights, was gunned down.  Why?  Well things went badly between Milk and White when Harvey changed his vote on an issue that was key to White, and they never voted the same again.

Before the murders, White resigned his seat to pursue a business opportunity,  When that didn’t work, he asked Mayor Moscone for his old job back.  When the Mayor refused, White shot them.  Both.  Multiple gunshots.  Head and back.

Injustice.

No Justice, No Peace.  Know Justice, Know Peace.

When Theodore Parker first used the expression about the moral arc of the universe bending towards justice, he was obviously talking about Slavery.  Theodore Parker was a minister, an abolitionist, and lived in the 1840s, and Slavery was one of the most terrible injustices.

Today, there is more “Justice” in the world than there was in 1840.  And while the progress has been great, in some ways, it has been insufficient.  In other ways, it has not been great at all.

Not because there isn’t enough Justice.

Not just because injustice exists.

But rather, because the injustice that is out there is distributed in a way that is the result of inequality.  Or that the distribution of injustice creates the inequality – sometimes due to systematic reasons.

The Ark of History does not believe that people who have lived lives mostly free of injustice need to feel guilty about historical injustices of the past.  If you weren’t alive to participate in the injustice, why should you feel guilty?  If your ancestors committed the injustices, the Ark of History still doesn’t believe someone should feel guilty for it.

  • This is not about making people feel guilty.
  • This is not about making white people feel guilty.
  • This is not about making anyone feel guilty.  Did you personally enslave someone?  No?  Then you’re good.
  • This is not about repenting for something your ancestors did.
  • This is not about making anyone feel less than.
  • Or bad.
  • Or as if they owe a debt.

Should everyday Germans born after WWII feel badly about the holocaust?  Well, did they do anything personally?  No?  Then No.  In fact, if someone lives a life free from injustice, that’s a good thing, right?  If more people start living lives free from injustice, that’s good, right?

If some people are suddenly freed from the shackles of injustice, does that mean that others who have been free will now be imprisoned by a curse of injustice? No.

Is there some cosmic balance that requires a constant level of global injustice, so that I might suffer if others went free? No.

No.

Regardless of whether your life has been free or riddled with injustice, all that is asked of you here is to acknowledge that throughout history, some people have been dogged by injustice.  Or cursed by it.

That’s mostly it.

Just acknowledge that some people out there have had a whole boatload of injustice, and it has been inequitable due to some rules or policies or norms or beliefs or traditions or just because we do it that way.  And some have had less.  And some more.

And that you agree that it is undesirable for people – any people  – to have injustice.  That it is undesirable for people to have to suffer historical injustices.  And that continuing to leave rules in place that cause injustice to continue is undesirable.

And one more thing – to feel a responsibility to advocate for less injustice.

Can you do that?  Of course you can.  Will you choose to?  I hope so.  will you ask your fellow man and woman to do that as well?  I hope for that as well.

Speak up when people you know perpetuate injustice.  Tell them, “No, please don’t spread injustice.  We don’t do it like that.”

The Ark of History is worried about two things:

  • Understanding, explaining, and communicating what the historical injustices are, and
  • figuring out what can be done about them today.

May you and all of your descendants live a life free from every injustice.

-SoaHP, @sonofahistorypr