Lest We Forget

Monday, August 23, 2010

Here's another idyllic sight that isn't as idyllic when you know the story.

The year was 1830, and the place was Georgia. The Cherokees lived in log houses and farmed their land. Many Cherokees spoke both English and Cherokee, and they even had their own alphabet and newspaper. And they wanted to live in peace with their white neighbors.

But some of their white neighbors didn't see it that way. As more settlers poured into Georgia, they wanted the prime farmland that belonged to the Cherokees. The white man's greed increased when gold was discovered on Cherokee land.

The State of Georgia tried to force the Cherokees out, but these Native Americans didn't put on their war paint. Instead, they took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court--and won.

An illusory victory. White men wanted the Cherokees off that land, and the white man in the White House held the power. As President Jackson is reported to have said, "Marshall made his decision, now let him enforce it."

When the U.S. government offered to relocate the Cherokees to Oklahoma, some thought it better to give in and move out peacefully, while others wanted to stay and resist. So the first group left "voluntarily," if not happily, and the second group stayed until 1938, when soldiers came and forced out the more than 16,000 who remained. Most of these Native Americans were interred in a stockade for the winter, where approximately 500 died from illness. Then the soldiers forced the survivors to march 800 miles under harsh conditions, losing another 4,000 people before reaching Oklahoma.

I took the picture at Missouri's Trail of Tears State Park, which is located where most of the Cherokees crossed the Mississippi River on their forced march from Georgia to Oklahoma. Majestic and peaceful as the site is now, it nonetheless reminds us that white Americans are no better than anyone else. The number of deaths from the Trail of Tears may not come anywhere near the number from the Holocaust, but the prejudice and greed that caused them are the same.

And it could happen again, especially if we forget and grow complacent.

As George Santayana said over 100 years ago, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

I shudder at the thought.

1 comment:

Caroline said...

OH, my, Kathryn, so true, and what a vivid post. Thanks for the reminder not to take what we have for granted & to fight for what we believe in.

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