man001002. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada. http://n2t.net/ark:/62930/d1nv9dr13
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THANKS BY ROOSEVELT FITZGERALD
I remember thinking: "There were some good Indians.Sfteral1." All of my short life, up until that fateful day, I had believed as General Sheridan had said: "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." I had gotten that way from watching cowboy and Indian movies. In those movies the Indians were always evil savages. If they were not attacking a fort, they were attacking wagon trains, towns, settlers or>Jany lone defenseless person riding through the countryside. If that wasn't bad enough, they were notorious for scalping people, kidnapping children and raising them to be Indians and raping women or forcing them to kill themselves rather than be kidnapped, taken off and raped by those barbarians. I used to feel so sorry for those women. After- all, those who killed themselves committed suicide and suicide was the one unforgivable sin. The message those films sent to me was that it was far worse to be taken off by Indians and raped than going to hell. I had always thought going to hell was the worst thing that could happen to a person. My childish mind told me that if the Indians ever tried to capture me that I would kill myself first and go to hell and be happy. What did I know. I was only a kid.
The day that I had to reevaluate my thinking I was in grade school--! don't know for sure which grade--second or third grade perhaps. One of the stories in our Reader was about the first Thanksgiving and it described how the colonists just about died from starvation and exposure and would have all perished had it not been for the Indians coming to the rescue. They brought food and all sorts of stuff and helped the settlers survive and because of that the latter gave thanks for their salvation and that was the beginning of Thanksgiving. That's the way I remember it anyway.
I suppose I could go and look it up to see if that is in fact the way it happened but if I did it wouldn't matter now. What matters is all those
years ago that is what I believed and that belief still colors my perception
of that holiday.
As a child and an adolescent I particularly liked Thanksgiving because it meant not only a day out of school but also a day of great eating and wonderful food. One would have thought that we had experienced a "starving time" as had the early settlers on that day. We would just gorge ourselves. It was as though there was not going to be a tomorrow, we ate so much. I should say that unlike what those book writers used to write in their descriptions of "poor negroes in Mississippi" we always had food. We might not have had much money but there was always enough food. No, we didn't have steaks and all that but we had real food every day. I never had a sandwich until I came into civilization. We had real food. Food that was cooked from scratch and in great amounts and served on the table in huge crocks and the food was hot. Steam rose from those crocks--you could warm your hands over it. I don't see much of hot food any more. I miss that.
Sometimes we would have turkey and sometimes duck. There would always be cornbread dressing and potato pies and vegetables and cakes and ham and fhied sweet potatoes and potato salad and breads and shuck tea, lemon tea, clabbered country milk and all sorts of stuff and we would just eat until we stopped.which would be just before self-induced suffocation.
We couldn't vote back in those days and, in my family at least, we didn't even know that we should've been allowed to I We had to sit in the balcony of the movie house, enterrthe segregated wafting room of the doctor's'office, and all the rest. Our lives were not worth a plug nickle and any klansman type could come along and "snuff" us out at any time and no one would do anything about it. Still, we were thankful for that little which we had.
If you cannot find anything to be thankful for, you haven't looked. Sure, I know things are tough--they1ve always been tough and they're going to
get a lot tougher but, sometimes, things have to get worse before they get better.
Consider the 1860 Presidential election. The big ticket campaign issue was slavery. There were many who believed that the major contenders had as the centerpiece of their campaigns the life or death of slavery. Abraham Lincoln was thought to oppose slavery and, upon his election, South Carolina iniatiated a secessionist movement in late November which led to the beginning of the American Civil War and ultimately, although not originally an objective, the end of slavery in the United States. That was one Thanksgiving season we had a lot to be thankful for.
With the close of the war in 1865 and the adoption of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, we were officially set free of slavery, made citizens and extended the ballot and we were thankful for all of that but less than a dozen years later all except the 13th had been taken away. We lost the right to vote and with it our citizenship. I say this because citizens are allowed to vote and one who has not the right to vote is not a citizen. And no, one does not become a second-class citizen. There is no such thing as a second- class citizen. Citizenship cannot be prorated or taxonomized. If you subscribe to the notion of second-class, then what about third, fourth, fifth and sixth class and what rights are lost at each level? See what I mean. Even though we lost those rights we were free--more free in some parts than in others--and we were alive and we set about to take steps to retrieve that which had been lost. We are thankful that those generations did not just give up.
Thanksgiving Day of 1910 was one to remember. One third of a century following those losses and an equal amount of time in which our treatment deteriorated, the NAACP came into existance and galvanized us in the long, hard struggle toward full citizenship. We are really thankful for that. It has been through their efforts that much has been regained. When we look at the second half of the Twentieth Century at the subject of racial progress in the United States we can quickly see the worth. The Brown Case of 1954 and
subsequent efforts to bring about "one nation under God," we see that organization. Those efforts carried over into the 1960s. The 24th Amendment outlawed the poll tax which had been used for years to disfranchise blacks and other groups. The Civil Rights Act of July of 1964 outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, set up an Equal Opportunity Commission to end employment discrimination and an array of other things. On October 14, 1964 Dr. Martin Luther King, at the age of 35, became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 came on the scene on August 6, 1965 and the Miranda vs. State of Arizona decision was rendered by the Supreme Court that same year. On November 7, 1967 the first blacks to win seats in state legislatures of Virginia, Louisiana and Mississippi since Reconstruction were elected.
Oh, there's a lot to be thankful for. I could go on and on and on but I will not. I will say this, however; even though there is much to be thankful for there is much yet to do. Being thankful should not suggest contentment. We're thankful for what we've got and whomever says we can't have it all is our enemy.
M. C. won't hurt you. Don't let that turkey.