I already didn’t much like 2021. My dog had been mysteriously ill for days, not eating, never moving off the sofa. A buck mistook the side of my moving car for a toreador’s cape. I longed to talk to friends who were struggling with impossible family situations, but understood that they didn’t need my meddling.
I was stressed.
And that was before the insurrection that has roiled our U.S. Capitol building since early afternoon. Today, our president incited mob violence that spilled into our halls of governance, where Republican members of Congress were arguing that an election certified by all 50 states was fraudulent. A woman who was shot has died. Our elected officials were whisked to bunkers or barricaded in offices. As evening falls, some of the mob has dispersed, but officers of the law are still working to secure the area.
Our nation is even more broken than most of us can grasp. It will not be fixed in 2021. It will take patient, united efforts from government officials and citizens alike over a very long time.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus rages on. Yesterday we once again recorded the highest number of deaths and hospitalizations since the beginning of the pandemic. Over the holidays, friends and relatives across the country avoided family members rather than gathering in quiet celebration. Some couldn’t hold the hand of an aged parent. Couldn’t race to the emergency room with a spouse. Had to initiate difficult conversations via phone.
Here in Kentucky the damp gloom seems to have settled permanently over our lives. 35 degrees. Drizzling. Without end. I have found myself sapped of all purpose, feeling helpless amid the continuing horror.
Then, as the drama unfolded at the U.S. Capitol, we learned that Georgia voters had successfully finished the job that we voters in Kentucky couldn’t: breaking Mitch McConnell’s grip on the U.S. Senate.
Glory be, they did it.
They did it despite ongoing voter suppression in Georgia. They did it thanks to an enormous commitment by a dedicated few to register new voters and trumpet the importance of these elections.
In November 1872, Samuel [George] Hawkins, a Black Kentuckian working to register voters in Fayette and Jessamine counties, was accosted by a mob of white men associated with the Ku Klux Klan. Hawkins, his wife, and his daughter were all taken from their home and murdered by the mob, leaving behind six younger children.* Newspaper accounts vary as to whether their executions were by hanging or by drowning. Whatever the grisly tactics, white Democrats weren’t going to allow Black Republicans to “steal” the election from their candidate, New York newspaper publisher Horace Greely. Despite their efforts, incumbent Republican President Ulysses S. Grant won.
In November 1900, three men in Bourbon County, Ky., carried out a scheme on behalf of the local Democratic party that lured Black men into games of craps. Over 60 Black participants were then arrested and jailed long enough to prevent them from voting in the November 6 presidential election.** The Republican won anyway, when incumbent President William McKinley defeated his Democratic challenger, William Jennings Bryan.
And in 2021, despite newly creative efforts at voter suppression—including, perhaps, allowing a pandemic to race unchecked through minority communities—the voices again could not be extinguished. They could not be hidden under a bushel. The people have spoken.
Amid the shocking images we have watched today, perhaps there are still glimmers of the hope that we are all searching for in 2021. The sun is still hiding, but if our nation can navigate the next 14 days, perhaps we can finally shift course. We can try something different. Perhaps this year we can try compassion, humility, and respect while serving others.
Earlier today, I foolishly imagined that might be enough. Tonight, I’m clinging to the idea that this change in leadership may at least present a first step toward gluing together the shattered pieces this administration will leave behind.
*George C. Wright, Racial Violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940: Lynchings, Mob Rule, and “Legal Lynchings,” Louisiana State University Press, 1990, p. 51.
**“Conspiracy to Oppress and Injure the Negroes,” Morning Herald (Lexington, Ky.), November 2, 1900.