Viewpoint: Great, The Way We Were

By Hattie Alexander

Our new President promises to "Make America great again." Greatness, I think, is a matter of perspective. Mr. Trump was born into the privileged, wealthy class. From his perspective America used to be great, before all of the liberal laws and freedoms messed it up.

I am writing from the perspective of one who was born to a working class, Black family and has lived through the years that Mr. Trump calls great. So what were those years like? Why cringe when I think about the way we were? Let me take you on a stroll down memory lane.

I was born during the Presidency of Mr. D.D. Eisenhower. Segregation was the law of the land. Voter rights suppression, substandard housing, unfair labor practices, and sundown towns were the order of the day. What is a sundown town, you might ask? It is any city, town, village or neighborhood considered "all white" and off limits to any person of color after sundown. Interracial marriage was illegal in 29 states. Angry mobs of white citizens could take up arms and beat,lynch and mutilate any Black man, woman or child that the good white citizens considered "bad" without fear of reproach. Many would say those times were far from great.

Gay men, lesbians and the gender non-conforming, were considered mentally ill and/or criminal; committed to mental hospitals where shock treatments and lobotomies were performed. The LGBT citizen could be dragged out of their homes or clubs and arrested, beaten or imprisoned. Housing and jobs could be denied. Children could be taken away from parents seen as unfit due to their sexuality alone. Great?

Women who wished to terminate an unwanted pregnancy had to risk infection, hemorrhage and sterility at the hands of uneducated, unlicensed practitioners. Until the Roe v Wade ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court allowed some reproductive freedom. And anyone seeking medical care with a pre-existing condition could be denied coverage by the insurance company. Great.

When seeking employment, citizens who were non-whites had to walk past signs that read "Whites ONLY need apply." If a man and woman applied for the same job, it would be the man who was hired. A woman was not considered the head of a household (even if she was!) Civil rights, voting rights and other civil liberties were signed into law in the 1960s and 1970s. Is it those civil liberties that have made America weak in Mr. Trump's eyes? Would we be great again by refusing education, credit, housing and equal opportunity to those once considered "other?"

In 20th Century America, we saw the economy grow along with our cities. More of the disenfranchised were given educational, job and housing opportunities. Civil rights battles were fought by Blacks, Latinos and the LGBT communities. After the 1970s we began to see more women and ethnics in leadership positions in business and government. All of this came with a cost. Many died or were imprisoned in the fight for fairness.

In this month since the inauguration of Mr. Donald Trump as President of the United States of America, we have seen unrest in many communities. People are fearful that all of the rights we have won will be denied again. We have seen denial of travel freedoms, mass deportation, abuses of power, lies and deception. I can only wonder if everything separate and unequal, the way we were, is what he and those who voted for him want. Is this really the "Great America" that Mr. Trump wants to make us again? Great!

Hattie Alexander is a native Detroiter, nurse by profession and Deacon at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit.
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