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All Lives Matter, When Did They Ever?

Jack Riordan June 10, 2020

 From Robert Ernst, a former speaker at OCCD:

All Lives Matter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that mantra since Michael Brown’s killing. When you do hear it it’s typically said by those who are opposed in one way or another to the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The question I have for people who identify as sympathetic to the All Lives Matter viewpoint is simple: At what specific time in our history did America become a country where All Lives Matter? That question is not frivolous. Since the colonies were created by European invaders who wrested the land from its previous indigenous owners and then tried to enslave them, and when that attempt didn’t work imported Africans forced into slavery for life, it is painfully obvious the colonialists were not All Lives Matter people.

Nor did our Founders believe All Lives Matter when they wrote a Constitution that boldly proclaimed all men are created equal and yet permitted humans to be enslaved for life. Of course, we can’t forget that as early as 1790 our newly formed country proudly proclaimed itself to be for whites only, excluding Native Americans, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians, whose lives evidently didn’t matter, at least not legally.

After the Civil War when the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, the federal government intentionally turned its back on the newly freed slaves and allowed the Southern and Border States to construct a state-sponsored system of terrorism we gloss over as Jim Crow, a system that in one form or another quickly spread to nearly all states. The U.S. Supreme Court also turned a blind eye to the painfully obvious fact that millions of blacks were being terrorized, attacked, assaulted, threatened, lynched, thrown into prison for non-existent crimes, and subjugated by the power of the states, local jurisdictions, and the entire white culture. So, until the end of the 20th Century and later All Lives Matter wasn’t on many Americans’ list of things to value.

How can we ignore actions the federal and state governments took to favor whites and disadvantage blacks? Those actions included redlining, creating racially discriminating government-backed mortgage loans and loan guarantees, deed restrictions that prohibited blacks from purchasing houses in white areas, preferential hiring of whites by governments and corporations, ensuring the Social Security program did not cover the vast majority of black Americans, exclusionary zoning that kept blacks out, etc. And we can’t forget the terrible race riots that destroyed black communities across America during which few whites were arrested and still fewer prosecuted: Atlanta, Omaha, Chicago, Tulsa, East St. Louis, Charleston, Little Rock, Rosewood and Ocoee, Florida. That list goes on and on.

Today, we live in a country of segregated cities and schools, a country where millions of black parents have to give “The Talk” to their kids about how to survive encounters with the police.

When did we as a nation turn the corner and suddenly become All Lives Matter supporters? Was it when we passed the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and then refused to enforce it from its passing until today? Probably not. Was it when we inaugurated the Affirmative Action program and saw it attacked from the get-go by ardent conservatives who found illegality in every hiring that favored minorities who had been intentionally disadvantaged by federal and state government actions for a hundred years? Nope. Let me pose a related aside: Why is it that conservatives so strongly oppose every aspect of Affirmative Action but were silent for many decades as the rights of black Americans were being trampled by every level of government and by the larger white culture? Is it because they enjoyed being favored by “their” governments and their culture but were outraged when that system of favor was modified?

But what I would really like to know is when did we become a country where All Lives Matter?


The opinion expressed by the columnist is the author and not necessary shared by the Executive Committee or the members of the Ohio Conference of Community Development, Inc.

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