Growing up in the 1960s, it seemed as though every evening’s TV news was filled with scenes of Birmingham, Ala., sheriff Bull Connor either turning fire hoses or police dogs on crowds of civil rights protesters. Whether it was Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley, the lead story of the evening too often recounted some horrific act like the assassination of the NAACP’s Medgar Evers or the discovery of the bodies of three murdered Freedom Summer voter registration activists in an earthen dam in Mississippi.
Even in then relatively lily-white Seattle, Urban League Executive Director Edwin Pratt was gunned down while standing in the doorway of his Shoreline home, a crime that remains unsolved. For a black man or woman, there didn’t seem to be a safe place anywhere in America.
Less than two generations later – a scant 39-years since the Pratt killing in 1969 – the political party most closely associated with the Jim Crow laws of the South has as its presumptive nominee for President of the United States a black man, Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Whether you agree with his policies or philosophy of government or not, it’s undeniable that his ascendancy in such a relatively short period since the days of “back-of-the-bus” is nothing short of remarkable.
The whole notion of how, in a historic context, this change has come swiftly was brought home to me as I was reading a piece by perhaps the most artful and deft columnist alive, Wall Street Journal writer Peggy Noonan. Routinely, she takes my breath away.
The whole notion of compression of time wasn’t her point – she was comparing the graceful Obama with what has become, for these purposes, the graceless campaign exit of his primary rival, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton – but it struck me in what she wrote.
It took some 350 years from the introduction of slavery into America in 1619 to get to the murder of Edwin Pratt, a period of time during which many argue the status of blacks in America didn’t change all that much, the Emancipation Proclamation notwithstanding.
But in not much more than 35 years, America finds itself in a situation where its next president might be a black man. We live in a country and era of massive change that comes about at an increasingly accelerated pace – you need way more than a scorecard to keep up.
“What hath God wrought?” were the words Samuel F.B. Morse sent in 1844 from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore in one of the first electrical telegraph messages sent in the United States. Today, when contemplating the cosmic significance of all of this, the more perfunctory comment would probably be, “Wow!”
But if anyone thinks they can stop and smell the figurative rose of this progress, think again. He who hesitates is lost – irretrievably, inconsolably and irrevocably lost. The instant you snooze, you lose, since everything and everyone else continues speeding ahead unabated – time and tide wait for no man.
If this Law of Time Compression (I just coined the phrase, so don’t try looking it up) holds true, then the next three and a half years ought to be a real doozy. We’re in for some interesting times, but there’s an old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.
Not all change is good; not all speedy movement is progress.
But it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not. So enjoy the ride, but hold on tight.
Scott St. Clair plays his bagpipe and looks at the world from his Kirkland home. Learn about him at www.scottstclair.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.