In the United States, no one is above the law.
No. That is not the truth. It is a wish, a dream. It is not reality.
It is a fact that the Constitution does not include those words. And never mind that Thomas Jefferson wrote late in his life: “The most sacred of the duties of government is to render equal and impartial justice to all citizens.” He said so, but he did not push for its inclusion decades earlier in the Constitution. Bad Thomas! Bad!
Of course, equality before the law is a just and moral goal; in everyday life, it is a pipe dream, an illusion worth pursuing, but still as elusive as a will-o’-the-wisp in a swamp.
We should not despair, the actual words of the idea that “no person is above the law” do not exist in our Constitution.
One scholar noted: “Such language is not necessary. The Constitution is intended to apply to the government, restricting its power and authority. In all senses, the Constitution protects equally, without distinction, the rights of all people. This fact alone defines total equality before the law, not putting any person above the law.” That scholar was obviously high on more than just Twinkies.
Most Americans, deep down, would like to believe in that concept: equality in all things that really matter, respect for honor, love and, yes, justice.
The very fact that the concept of equality, of being equal to one another in all walks of life, is a fallacy is… well, disheartening, sad, frustrating. And, we must admit, wrong in every sense of the human condition.
I grew up in a white community knowing that by association, by family upbringing, by peer pressure, by the social norms of the 1950s, I was superior to people of color. There were no sit-down conferences about white superiority; I just knew it by seeing examples of it every day.
Growing up, I had conversations with black people, mostly those who worked for my grandfather, who, without exception, treated them like friends. One of his friends took me fishing and another, when he was about 9 years old, took me squirrel hunting. After I shot a squirrel running up a truckload of trees, he ruffled my hair and told Dad George, “That boy has the ‘eye.’
I had the “eye”. Color me proud. It was a life lesson.
My school in East Texas was integrated a year after I graduated. Now it torments me to remember the harsh thoughts that went through my head, the most pleasant being burning down all the school buildings.
I was in college when I sat down and talked to a person of color. I was an aspiring track athlete, working hard to get my “880” time under two minutes; he was a world champion.
The late John Carlos (Dr. John Carlos) at one time held the title “Fastest Man in the World.”
Fifty-six years ago, the track coach assigned me to tutor John in English. We became friends. He taught me that skin color was just that, a color, that nothing mattered but individual human behavior and acceptance on an equal footing.
Even then, he preached equality, and to this brazen, thoughtless racist, his careful choice of words (who was instructing whom?) made sense. John knew that I was salvageable, he knew instinctively that he yearned for knowledge; I taught him about English grammar, structure, and writing techniques; he taught me about the human condition, about life.
In 1968, John won a bronze medal in the 200 meters at the Mexico City Olympics.
Carlos and Olympic winner Tommie Smith made headlines around the world by raising their black-gloved fists at the medal ceremony. Both athletes wore black socks and bare feet on the podium to represent the poverty of African Americans in the United States. In support, Peter Norman, the silver medalist who was a white athlete from Australia, participated in the protest with a badge representing solidarity on the issue of equality.
John began my education on the subject of equality, fairness, fairness, justice.
But my journey and quest for equality was far from over. I am a former director and editor of 10 newspapers; Being a reporter and photographer brought me very close to inequality in local settings.
Now, it’s hard for me to imagine that I was in a position at three newspapers to publish the first engagement and wedding photos of black citizens: Hope, Arkansas, 1973; Selma, Alabama, 1977; and Marshall, Texas, early 1980s.
In Selma, I took and published the first cover photo of a black citizen in a protest march or non-confrontational photo. It was a glorious, award-winning photograph of a little boy standing in front of an open fire hydrant, the water hitting him in the chest and forming an arching umbrella of liquid over his head.
That was a Wednesday; On Saturday night, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in my front yard.
Today I mean live and let live, do your thing as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.
I am truly blessed. I have a black son-in-law with whom I share mutual respect, trust, and love, and three bright, beautiful, strong biracial grandchildren.
I accept people for who they are, not for who they are, or what religion they follow, what political philosophy they espouse, or who they love.
What matters is what is in your heart and how you treat others, what lessons you are teaching, and the personal and professional legacy you are leaving to your children and those with whom you come in contact.
I look around me and am amazed that in 2022 cities are still divided by colored lines. Isn’t it time, now past, to stop immersing yourself in the historical “reasons” of divisions and start building bridges so that future generations can eliminate the abysses that separate peoples?
— George S. Smith is a former editor of the Marshall News Messenger.