"As for me, I don't go places I'm not wanted," Ruth Lambkin, high school student, 1954.
"You cannot force a man to love another but they can learn to love one another," Dresden activist Hugh Burnett, 1954.
"This is a confusing time of conflicting emotions...Only the Christian way will lead to peace in our own hearts and in our nation," Ken Wright in a Letter to the Editor, Chatham News, 1947.
I have been at this writing business now for more than 50 years and I have arrived at a place where I think I understand my readers pretty well. When it comes to history-related topics I have found that people tend to develop their own interpretations. It is much the same with religion where personal views are generally based on a degree of comfort.
Current beliefs, social trends and racial background cannot help but play an influential role in how we perceive a past event or period in history. The passage of time does soften the harsh reality of the past in many cases. Then too, human nature often dictates that we suppress, or turn a blind eye to certain historical facts that tend to complicate or compromise our beliefs and remembrances.
It is interesting to note that there are a number of different traditional views of history, i.e the cyclical or fatalist view, the providential view, the spiritual or progressive view, the philosophical view, the cultural view and the materialistic view. There is also the disinterested view, which is unfortunate and more common than we may like to acknowledge.
Last week I uncovered an old National Film Board of Canada film produced in 1954 seeking answers to a long-standing colour-bar racial discrimination issue in my hometown of Dresden. The 30-minute production graphically illustrated the prevailing concerns and attitudes of the period, some of which were quite disturbing by today's societal standards. I asked readers of my web sites if they thought an apology from the municipal council of Chatham-Kent, in lieu of a town council today, was due our Black black friends and neighbours of that period. To date I have had only one response on the subject and that was from a former newspaper editor-publisher who had a distinguished lifelong career behind a news desk in Dresden. I know others have views, but are reluctant to go on record.
It goes without saying that the racial discrimination issue was and is a sensitive subject in the Southwestern Ontario town of approximately 2,700. A generation has passed, as has the colour-bar issue (thanks to legislation and litigation of the 1950s). Life has carried on, a little more freely and humanely for some; others never fully understanding what all the fuss was about in the first place. The matter is, as they say, history.
My worry is that a serious racial wrong has never been properly and publicly acknowledged and that Black people of that troubled period deserve an official apology for the rights that were denied them and members of their families, many of whom have long sense passed away. To me it is a classic case of man's ignorant inhumanity to man. I do not condemn nor condone the eight or nine Dresden business owners who denied service to Black people; they were otherwise good citizens who simply held fast to what they believed were "rights" of their own, as prejudicial as they may have been.
What I advocate now to all Dresdenites is to take a moment to put themselves in the shoes of their Black neighbours and to ask how they would react under similar circumstances if roles were reversed and what it would mean to them and the memory of late loved ones, if their community collectively said "we are sorry!" There is no better way to understand than to assume the yoke of another.
An apology which is sincere and real will always make things better, heal wounds and resentment, and strengthen and lengthen relationships. I have felt "sorry" for first-hand deep hurt and embarrassment ever since my friend was refused a butterscotch milkshake in a Dresden restaurant one hot summer evening 56 years ago and I've never known how to relay those feelings.
To my friend now, and all others whose rights were similarly denied and thusly relegated to second-class citizen status because of the colour of their skin, I for one sincerely apologize.
How about the rest of Dresden?
Better late than never!?