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The sign on Virginia Route 24 heading into Appomattox County proclaims “where a nation reunited.”
Even for a nation founded on dreams, that claim seems a bit far fetched.
I wheeled my Harley-Davidson into the lot of the Appomattox County Courthouse National Park — one of two places in Virginia where wars fought over freedom ended. The Revolutionary War ended in Yorktown, further to the East.
As happens often on my motorcycle rides, I ended up in Appomattox by accident. After breakfast with biker friends in Roanoke, I headed East on Route 24 with no particular destination in mind. Sunday dawned gorgeous and I wasn’t about to let a rare, warm November day pass without getting in some seat time.
So I stopped at Appomattox and took some time to walk around the old courthouse area where Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in 1865, a surrender that one historical marker claimed, “brought America back together.”
History is still debating whether or not America was all that together in either the days following the Civil War or anytime since.
The end of what my grandfather always called “the war of Northern aggression” may have brought an end to slavery but it did not end racism in this nation. If anything, it deepened some white hatred towards blacks and, sadly, that hatred lives on today, rekindled somewhat by the election of Barack Obama as President.
Since Obama’s election, membership in white supremacist groups has surged. Even the Ku Klux Klan is back with all its white sheeted cowardice.
Ethnic jokes about blacks can be heard more frequently in restaurants, bars and other social gathering places.
But racism is only part of today’s divided America. We are a nation divided by race, creed, religion, social status and philosophical extremes. We are a nation that thrives on hate, stereotypes and fear. Its not just blacks that scare the ignorant of America: They have plenty of fear and hate left over for gays, Jews, Muslims, Mexicans and anyone who isn’t part of their narrow-focus beliefs.
America may have been founded on the principle that “all men are created equal” but — at the time — that principle was limited to all white men of privilege who owned property. Blacks, women and others need not apply for freedom in the America of 1776.
Amendments to the Constitution corrected some of the short sightedness of our nation’s founders, giving women and blacks the same rights but some would like to also use the constitution to limit freedom by denying marriage rights to gays or women the right to choose.
Once again, abortion has become a defining issue in America, driving changes to health care reform to deny coverage of abortions under a public option plan.
Once again, religion drives decisive issues like abortion and gay rights. Somewhere along the line, this nation also forgot the founding principle that called for a separation of church and state.
Yes, America today is far from united. Deep differences driven by partisanship and extremism divide this nation as never before.
The Civil War may have ended in 1865.
But an uncivil war rages on and it may do more to destroy America than all the carnage from the American Revolution and the Civil War.