Pharos-Tribune

Opinion

August 26, 2013

HAYDEN: Racial tension still a topic today

(Continued)

“Americans always turn a blind eye to our own,” says Whitaker’s character, during a visit to some former slave quarters. “We look out to the world and judge. We hear about the concentration camps, but these camps went on for 200 years in America.”

During the war that brought an end to slavery, Indiana mustered a massive number of volunteers — about 210,000 men — to serve in the Union forces. That’s easier to acknowledge and celebrate than the fact that racial segregation remained a critical part of our identity for decades after.

During the 1920s, the most powerful Ku Klux Klan organization in the nation was in Indiana. The Grand Dragon moved the white supremacist organization’s national headquarters to Indianapolis in 1922, the same year that Klansmen in the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill that created “Klan Day” at the Indiana State Fair, complete with a nighttime cross burning. By 1924, a Klan-backed slate of candidates had taken control of the Indiana General Assembly and the governor’s office and had set their sights on the state’s congressional delegation.

The organization based on the premise that native-born whites were superior in character to all other races started to lose its popularity only after its Grand Dragon was convicted of raping and murdering a young white woman. The national organization officially disbanded in 1944 – just three years before the teenage Bill Garrett broke through IU basketball’s color barrier.

The real ignorance of that university official I met those many years ago was her failure to understand that the world only spins forward.

Consider this: Within a decade, the majority of people under 18 in the U.S. will be minorities. Like the rest of the nation, Indiana is on trend toward greater diversity as the numbers of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities are rising at a faster pace than whites. New census data released earlier this year showed the trend may accelerate in the years to come as the most racially and ethnically diverse age-group – Hoosiers under 5 – grow up.

It’s up to us to decide: Will we see diversity as a threat to our seemingly secure world? Or embrace it as a strength?

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com

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