Failure to Recognize

Burton Holmes was an African-American soldier fighting at World War II. He and his fellow soldiers were confronted by a surprise attack from the German army. Burton’s gun malfunctioned. Wounded, Burton returned to the base camp. He refused treatment and returned to the front line with a new rifle. He was subsequently killed while encouraging his fellow soldiers to advance.

His fellow soldier, Freddie Stowers, embraced the try-or-die attitude of all of Company C. He was mortally wounded but continued his advance. He would die as he led the unit. Freddie Stowers was also African-American.

Both Holmes and Stowers were recommended for the Medal of Honor. Holmes’ recommendation was denied even though his white comrades in Company C gave testimony to his bravery. He was awarded a lesser medal, the Distinguished Service Cross. Stowers’ recommendation was “lost”.

General Pershing, the head of the U.S. forces had given instructions to the French on how to handle the African-American troops. Basically the instructions were a perpetuation of the Jim Crow laws of the south.

Freddie Stowers recommendation was “found” 73 years later and he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. Holmes has yet to receive the Medal of Honor although Senator Tim Scott, an African-American, from Holmes’ home state has agreed to “research it more”.

Was this situation equitable? Of course not!! A person’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or other biological traits should have nothing to do with the recognition of their contributions to society. But the failure to recognize Holmes and Stowers for their valor in the early 20th century is still a problem in the 21st century.

How do we ensure equity? We’ve tried legislation, and it has been partially successful. But legislation is static. Society seems to create new ways (e.g. a person’s hairstyle or improper responses to the National Anthem) to make decisions about how we judge people.

We have yet to realize that equity is a matter of a person’s conscience. And you can’t legislate that. How do we make equity a matter of conscience? Certainly faith should play a role. Parental guidance and education should be helpful. But the challenge of developing equity as a part of our moral conscience has become more difficult as we see our society moving back in time when it comes to what we believe is equitable (e.g. voting rights).

Just imagine how we might develop a sense of what is equitable? What role can each of us play? Just imagine how we can channel our outrage at inequalities in a constructive way? Just imagine how technology might be useful in developing a universal conscience of equality? Just imagine how each of us can become a daily role model for equality?

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“Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact no liberty without it.”

– Frances Wright (social reformer)

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