This is a repost from last year...
On Monday September 10th, 2001 I was knee deep in red tape. The real red tape that was wrapped around letters from Freedman’s Bureau agents in Kentucky to their superiors. I was helping Dr. M with his dissertation research in the National Archives in Washington, DC. Our strategy was to flag all of the interesting documents and then come back the next day to make copies. The stories I read made me want to weep – these agents used the word “outrages” to describe what was happening to former slaves in post Civil War Kentucky. These stories became the backbone of what I consider to be a pretty powerful work about the plight of freed people in Kentucky.
Tuesday morning, September 11th, as we prepared to leave our Maryland extended stay to spend the day making copies, we didn’t turn on the television. In the car on the way to the nearest Red Line metro station we listened to a music CD. And as we grew ever more frustrated with traffic and full metro parking lots, we just thought it was a part of the mania of Washington DC at rush hour. Finally, we gave up trying to get on the Red Line and decided just to drive down the Potomac and maybe stop at the Iwo Jima Memorial to take in the view. After that, we hoped to get parked at a Virginia metro station. We weren’t in a particular hurry, as the Archives stays open late on Tuesdays. However, I was feeling rather desperate to go, so we pulled off into a park where I could use the facilities.
I sprinted off & did my thing. Walking back to the car I saw a curious sight. Dr. M was sitting in one of our folding chairs watching one of the park rangers go through our car trunk. Let me just be a little politically incorrect here: as a college educated white couple with ordinary hair, no visible tattoos or strange piercings and respectable (if off the rack) clothing, we were not generally a target for random searches. This was a thorough search.
I asked Dr. M what was going on & he just shrugged. I asked the park ranger & he said that he couldn’t really tell me but that I should listen to the radio. “Listen to the radio!!” So after he finished with the trunk, and while Dr. M had his turn with the facilities, I got in the car and turned on the radio. And listened.
We didn’t go back to the National Archives that day. We checked out of our hotel and headed home. Not home to Ohio, but home to North Carolina to be with our families. I think we may have been in shock, a bit, but we were aware enough to notice the eerie silent skies above us.
In the last ten years I’ve run the gamut of emotions: patriotic fervor, worry & dread, horror at how innocent people were treated. I applauded war and abhorred war. I wanted retribution and I cringed from the actions of retribution. Deep down at my core I just want everyone to get along. Can’t we all just get along? Sigh. I guess not, and that makes me sad. I know, it’s not that simple, but that doesn’t keep me from wishing it was.
So in the end I’m left with feeling sad as I hold my little flag and listen to God Bless America during one more 7th inning stretch. How about, God bless us, every one? No?
If you'd like to read the Christmas poem that Dr. M wrote that year, click here.