My recent vacation in Ireland included a day trip to the Peace Wall in Belfast. It was a sobering experience that brought up many memories and emotions.
The Peace Wall runs between two neighborhoods and has gates across the streets. The gates were all closed and locked the Sunday we visited.We walked along Falls Road, looking at murals that commemorate the troubles in Northern Ireland—and also murals that depict troubles in other countries—oppression around the world.Shortly before I left for Ireland we had marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Detroit riot. I was fifteen at the time of the riot, and I have vivid memories of that week in July 1967.
Some people are now calling the riot a rebellion or uprising, and while I understand their reasoning, I feel resistant to change. After the riot, my parents moved us out of Detroit, and riot captures my experience and the aftermath of upheaval in my life.
I had watched the documentary, 12th and Clairmount, that places the riot in a broader historical context, which was helpful for me. It also stirred up memories and emotions.
Standing there in Belfast, remembering the riot, I felt a mix of emotions—wanting to honor my experience and my memories, wanting to respect the experience and memories of others—and also wanting to find a way to move forward.Three years after the Detroit riot, I moved to Norfolk, VA, and I was unprepared for the reception I received.
More than once, white southerners told me to “Go home,” once my accent revealed that I was not from there, that I was a Yankee.
White southerners talked about “the war,” and it took me a while to remember that they were as likely to be talking about the Civil War as the Vietnam War. My protestations that my ancestors did not even come to the U.S. until the early twentieth century made no difference. I was a Yankee; therefore, I was somehow responsible for the Civil War.
Gobsmacked is the word I remember using to describe the experience. Over and over again, I encountered a hatred aimed at me because of where I had lived.
How could people hold onto something that happened more than a hundred years earlier? How could keeping Civil War hatred alive be helpful?
The wall in Belfast brought back that “we will not forget…” sentiment.
And that brought up my own I will not forget attitude. I can see that my resistance to look at the events and aftermath of July 1967 is similar to the white southerners who held on to anger about the civil war. I, too, nurse my grudge.
Looking at the Peace Wall and murals, I felt invited to let go of my anger and resentment, to be more compassionate toward the white southerners who had despised me and the Detroiters who changed my life. I felt invited to move past my resistance and onto the path toward reconciliation and peace.