The Milwaukee Independent has asked several people to reflect, in 272 words or less (the length of the original speech) the significance today of the Gettysburg Address, which was originally given on November 19, 1863. Here is my submission, written in my vantage point as President of the Milwaukee Turners.
When Will the Promise be Fulfilled?
Lincoln’s Gettysburg address in 1863 recognized the promise but not the reality of our new nation’s pledge of “Liberty,” based on “the proposition that all men are created equal.”
After a union victory but still in the midst of an uncertain war that would claim the lives of 600,000 troops, Lincoln’s dedication concretely recognized the iconic words of his prophet Frederick Douglass: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Only that military struggle ended the rebellion and slavery based on color.
Some seven score and 14 years later we see the promise of the Emancipation and the 13th Amendment overtaken by mass incarceration (over 2 million currently confined, and 70 million carrying criminal records with deep, often lifelong deprivations). As our recent “Confronting Mass Incarceration” series revealed: this is a unique and tragic experiment, limited to our one “exceptional” nation, and only the past 40 years. Beyond that, Wisconsin imprisons twice as many people as our neighbor Minnesota. We rank number one in the country in racial disparity (jailing Blacks at a rate 11.5 higher than whites compared to their population). See our “Confronting Mass Incarceration” Facebook page.
In 1911, as white supremacist rebels were being honored from the Jim Crow South to Princeton, the Milwaukee Turners erected a monument to our 26 members who gave their lives at Gettysburg and elsewhere to bring truth to the promises that Lincoln extolled. We demean their sacrifice if we fail to recognize and confront the fact that today we again have the promise but not the reality of Emancipation.