Long arc that bends toward justice

Theodore Parker, a controversial Unitarian minister in the early 1800s, wrote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Parker was a transcendentalist and friend of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau in New England. He was also an abolitionist (according to Wikipedia). Parker’s metaphor about justice was used by Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists in the 1960s.

Metaphors about government and social change continue to be the central focus of my column this week. Last week I suggested that voters may not always want to “drain a swamp” or wetland, and this week we will focus on the idea that the long arch of moral history wobbles a bit as it makes its way toward justice. In daily life moral wobbling is caused by the pull of tradition and fear of change as we come in contact with the liberal ideas of a new generation.

This week I started the process of joining the John Hart Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). My grandmother was a charter member of the local DAR chapter in 1907, but I have been conflicted about joining an organization that would not host Marion Anderson, an African American opera singer in the 1930s. However, I am convinced that current members of the DAR would not support such bigotry now.

The process of social change is slow, but the original founding principles of American democracy continue to push society beyond the limits of the behaviors of our ancestors. It is hard to deny the fact that some founding fathers had slaves, and we know that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with a slave — an idea would have amazed my grandparents.

I believe that the founders of the DAR John Hart Chapter were struggling to overcome the conflicts that divided people in this valley after the Civil War. The Harts supported the Union, and the Logans (my family) supported the Confederates. Nevertheless, in 1907 the women of Beverly wanted to affirm ideals that originally united all Americans.

The injustice that these women could not vote themselves did not stop them from reuniting with their neighbors who had been their enemies during the Civil War.

Now if we think that the United States is too divided to work effectively, we should look at the early twentieth century to see how people found common ground then. I am thankful that the principles of democracy seem stronger than animosity and fear.

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