The 14th amendment became law 150 years ago in July 1868 and over night, 4 million former slaves became citizens. Opposition to the new law became a broader campaign against the federal government. One of the states that resisted the most was California.
California was a free state but refused to ratify the amendment in the 1860s. It wasn’t until 1959 that the 14th amendment was ratified by California legislators. I did not know this until recently, that my home state took almost 100 years to say, “Yeah, we think it’s okay for former slaves to be citizens.”
When I hear people say things like, “Slavery was a long time ago; people should just get over it,” it is exceedingly revealing about them. Slavery ended in 1863, but Texas kept it from slaves being held until 1865: June 19th, 1865. Do we really think the end of slavery also ended generations of perception about black people and white people?
California was a free state and had a very small black population. Why was there so much resistance and lack of political will to say that black people could be citizens? Xenophobia, fear of the outsider, and white supremacy combined to be powerful instruments in the California political machine. Chinese immigrants were particularly vulnerable to violent attack. In 1871 a mob of 500 massacred 18 Chinese immigrants. Most of them weren’t charged and the handful that were served one year. If you weren’t white In California, you were considered an outsider and other.
It appears times have changed somewhat, but the legacy of slavery still lingers. Red lining, keeping people of color from purchasing property or renting in certain neighborhoods, has been a problem as recently as the 1970s and one could say it continues with something called “gentrification”.
The ministry of Reconciliation is a core value for Christians. Our own Reconciliation Ministry seeks to address the root causes of racism. Racism is a result of the lingering impact of slavery in our country. Compassion is at the heart of this ministry. Developing compassion for another person’s lived reality is a core value of the Christian faith. For those of us who walk through the world with white skin, our lived experience is very often very different from people we know who walk through the world with skin of color. History and even current events demonstrate that there are burdens associated with living when one is a person of color.
As followers of Jesus, it is incumbent on us to develop compassion for people whose lived reality is different from our own (see the story of the Good Samaritan) and seek to understand the daily hurts of people we know more than we seek to be understood.