Child Watch® Column:
America — What Do We After Do Charleston?

Release Date: July 2, 2015

Marian Wright Edelman

"For in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him. This is so true, that of the proprietors of slaves a very small proportion indeed are ever seen to labor. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever . . ." – Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII

“The Negro race in America, stolen, ravished and degraded, struggling up through difficulties and oppression, needs sympathy and receives criticism, needs help and is given hindrance, needs protection and is given mob-violence, needs justice and is given charity, needs leadership and is given cowardice and apology, needs bread and is given a stone. This nation will never stand justified before God until these things are changed.” –“Declaration of Principles” of the Niagara Movement, a forerunner of the NAACP’s founding

I am a native South Carolinian. Charleston is my maternal ancestral home. My great grandmother was born during slavery. My great grandfather I have been told was a plantation overseer. Never have I been more proud and more ashamed of my dueling ancestral heritages than in the aftermath of the terroristic murders of nine Black Christians engaged in Bible study at Charleston’s historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a young White man infected by what Dr. King called, after President Kennedy’s assassination, “a morally inclement climate.”

The young White visitor to the weekly Bible study came with a troubled spirit and racial rage inflamed by a White supremacist website. He was enabled to become a mass killer by readily accessible and largely unregulated guns – over 310 million in citizen hands and only 4 million in America’s law enforcement and military hands. But his dastardly deeds were bathed in an amazing spirit of forgiveness among the victims’ families.

I hope this latest chapter in America’s pervasive history of domestic terrors against millions of Black citizens victimized by slavery and Jim Crow terrorism, denied full citizen rights throughout our history, relegated to subhuman three-fifths status in our Constitution and treated like beasts of burden to fuel our unjust economic system can be squarely confronted. Until the United States sees and cures its profoundly evil birth defects of slavery, Native American genocide, and the exclusion of all women and non-propertied men of all colors from our electoral process, these birth defects will continue to flare up in multiple guises to threaten our Black community’s and everyone’s safety, our nation’s future, and render hollow our professed but still inadequate commitment to ensuring equality for all.

Slavery was followed by thousands of lynchings and racially instigated terrorism through hate groups like the KKK during the Jim Crow era. And it continues to be reflected in the unjust racial profiling and killings of Black boys and men by law enforcement agents and a mass incarceration system. Millions of Black and Latino children and people of color are trapped in a cradle to prison pipeline lodged at the intersection of race and poverty. That Black children are the poorest, most miseducated, most incarcerated, most unemployed, and most demonized of any group of children in America is a continuing legacy of slavery and Jim Crow that must end now. Let’s seize this latest tragic racial terrorist act to confront our history and how we teach our history. And we must all act together to reject our present day racism in all its structural, cultural and hidden manifestations with urgency and persistence. We must pass on to our children and grandchildren a more honest and just nation and a future free of the violence of racism, poverty and guns.  

I believe we are called in the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, the latest in a long and egregious history of unjust Black deaths, to confront the realities of our true history so that a new generation of White youths does not carry forth the poison of racial supremacy and White privilege. We also must act so that millions of Black, Native American and Latino children, soon to be the majority of our country’s children in a majority nonwhite world, do not have to continue to struggle against overt and covert culturally ingrained racism. We must firmly reject all symbols glorifying slavery and hatred that divide us. We must reject all efforts to subvert fair and democratic election processes including the precious right to vote. We must end mass incarceration and ensure equal justice under the law for all. We must confront massive inequality of wealth and income and end poverty, beginning with child poverty now.

It is time to commit America to become America and to close the gap between creed and deed. On this 4th of July let’s send a ray of hope throughout our nation and world that we are committed to honoring our dream of equality for all. What an amazing grace moment we have been given to help our nation move forward together.

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Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Doc at: July 6, 2015
In my small community (25,000) we need jobs for young people. Is there a solution other than the feds?

Submitted by Harlemcanary at: July 5, 2015
Powerful!!!! It must start with the re-education of all students. In schools that serve children of all hues.

Submitted by Patty at: July 3, 2015
I'm retired from teaching, lost my lectern, and now short of money, though I contribute to NAACP LDF and to CDF. Charleston sickened me. What can I do? You are so right about guns and sentencing. How could I help?

Submitted by garyjminter at: July 3, 2015
Beautifully written.

Submitted by Anquasia Johnson- Servant Leader of Freedom Schools at: July 3, 2015
When the days of my ancestors resurface right before my eyes, I know… I know that there is a movement that my nation must undergo. A movement that has for so long been avoided and underestimated; a movement where peacefully crowding the streets is not outdated but instead overpopulated. A movement that evokes the memories of our leaders and the lessons they taught us. A movement such as Rosa Parks who took her stand at causing a “fuss” by sitting on a bus. A movement where we get up out of our “cells” and forget about ourselves, A movement where we pull every gender, race, and religion off of the shelves…. to fight, ignite, remind people that it’s NOT alright to sit tight until the movement incites. We are in need of a movement. A movement where we gain control of hate crimes, gun violence, and police brutality. A movement such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. where we fight to make OUR dream a reality. A movement where NOT ONLY black lives matter but instead we shatter this idea of unity without accepting EVERY individual that makes up our community. A movement that makes the church safe again, where discrimination and condemnation can’t get in. A movement where the ONLY person who is casting stones is the one who is without sin. A movement where the act of terrorism becomes a long lost fear, no longer here because it’s clear that this generation is FIRED UP, READY TO GO and suited in their gear, standing near because… We, are in need of a movement.

Submitted by Peter : ^ ) } at: July 3, 2015
Amen, and thank you Marian. There is momentum now for stopping the systemic oppression you have pointed out for so long. I believe the American people are noticing the difference between personal prejudice and institutional oppression, so there is hope for positive change. But we must be ready to redirect our resources from the most violent, wasteful sectors of the oppressive system (weapons of mass destruction) to ending child poverty, as the US Conference of Mayors has demanded.

Submitted by Karl at: July 3, 2015
I applaud what you have said

Submitted by Karl at: July 3, 2015
I applaud what you are doing.

Submitted by Karl at: July 3, 2015
I applaud your statement and am looking forward to reading the comments

Submitted by Richard at: July 3, 2015
Thank you for this. You have articulately stated the legacy of our original sin and how it continues to manifest itself in the very fabric of our everyday lives. White people in particular bear the greatest burden in clearly seeing, acknowledging, accepting and working to change the way we (white people) have profited from this racist and oppressive history. We have barely begun; but perhaps we will be given the grace and courage to do so. We need to look within as much as without to see the seeds of racism in our own lives and to begin the process there. It is long past time.

Submitted by Ching Goya at: July 3, 2015
Thank you for your voice. After 446 years her in US from the Philippines, I pray that prejudice of any kind and and form be erased as they are in children. Let your God whoever it is be your model of love?

Submitted by Sarah at: July 3, 2015
Thank you Ms. Edelman. I am furious. I am full of a furious love for our nation. As a youth, I questioned in my mind why my parents had not participated in the Civil Rights movement. Recently my mother voluntarily excused herself, saying she was in Midwest so it did not reach her. I reject that. I am now almost four decades old and the persistent, incessant racism in my home community against our Native American sisters and brothers remains. As it was during the Civil Rights movement and before. Or, perhaps, worse? And now I am told that the Charleston murders weren't related to race. That the young man was just crazy (No doubt of that...what better way to describe the KKK). And still, there is a suffocating silence about these ongoing terrorist acts. There is a shaming and neglect of those who need love and solidarity. Looking to those most aligned with my political views, witnessing their silence, I call them Lazy Liberals. This racism is everywhere and is all of our problem. Ms. Edelman, thank you for your words. I am listening. I am White. I am not silent. Much love.

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 3, 2015
This is a sobering thought for such an intoxicated time in the history of our beloved USA. God's heart has to be really sadden at all of the violence and injustices that continue to raise their ugly heads. May we all commit to be a committee of one to continue to fight for peace, equality and justice for all.

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 3, 2015
Thank you Ms. Edelman. These words and thoughts are so important to us, to this country, to move forward to a future of peace, respect, fairness, justice - a democratic future.

Submitted by Anonymous at: July 3, 2015
I love this woman!

Submitted by Suzanne at: July 3, 2015
Thank you, thank you, thank you for these informative and, inspirational words to be shared across the land on this birthday of our country. Yes indeed we must close the gap between creed and deed!

Submitted by Craig Spinks at: July 3, 2015
Aretha had its right fifty years ago: R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Submitted by QueenBeaQuest at: July 3, 2015
"How long",.will we sit around, twiddle our thumbs, and remain silent? "How long", will we partake in the "Paralysis of Analysis" and do nothing? "How long", will we continue to "Ask not what our Country can do for us, but what can WE do for our Country"? "How long"? I hope that the answer is "Not long", but a resounding RIGHT NOW!!! Amen???

Submitted by Kate at: July 3, 2015
Thank you for this powerful and clear declaration of what must change and what has to be addressed for equal rights for all. I pray, I hope but most of all I promise to do my part to challenge those that seek to continue modes of slavery, demonize minorities and hinder the advancement of oppressed individuals.

Submitted by CD at: July 2, 2015
Marian's comments capture my outrage and my hope after Charleston. As a nation we must free our children, white , black, Latino, native American and Asian from the myth of white supremacy.. Until we do we will never be reconciled and achieve the great potential envisioned by the country's founders and those who have been persecuted and killed to help America achieve the dream