America’s Unbridged Racial Divide

Last week’s killings of two black men by white police and the killing of five Dallas police officers by a black sniper exacerbated America’s racial tensions which have roots going back generations, recalls Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

Philando Castile and I share birthdays in July. This year, I celebrated mine with friends and family. But Castile’s friends and family are mourning his death, killed by a police officer in the St. Paul, Minnesota, suburbs after he was pulled over for a broken taillight.

He would have been 33. I am decades older — older now, in fact, than my own father when he died. And I am white.

Voting rights activists in Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964.

Voting rights activists in Mississippi during Freedom Summer in 1964.

My mother was from central Texas and my father from western New York, about 115 miles southwest of the small upstate town where I grew up. Their geographically disparate marriage was a product of the World War II disruptions that found men and women marrying people they met from far away instead of the boy or girl next door.

Part of my Texas grandfather’s family had come there from Alabama and I’m sure that if I dug deep enough into the genealogy, I would find Confederate veterans and very possibly slaveholders. My mother occasionally claimed that at least one family member had been in the KKK, but I have no idea whether it was true or simply said to shock her damn Yankee children.

Visiting relatives in Texas as a boy in the early 1960s, I remember seeing whites-only drinking fountains and restrooms in a local department store. I watched the civil rights struggle of the ‘60s on TV and in the papers: George Wallace standing in the door at the University of Alabama to keep two African-American students from enrolling; three young men disappearing during the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1963; the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery; the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jack and Bobby Kennedy.

Growing up in rural New York State, there was none of the overt public segregation I’d seen in Texas. Tolerance was taught at home, church and school. We even read Richard…

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