Equality, fairness and goodness can be elusive. But those traits are persistent. In the 2012 movie, “Lincoln,” a hard hitting side comment was that women did not have the right to vote in the 1860s. Nor were any women holding seats in Congress. Emancipation of slaves and a constitutional amendment that would ban slavery was being heatedly debated in 1865, as portrayed in the movie. Women were players behind the scenes only in a patriarch-dominated society. The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which was Monday, primarily draws attention to the Civil Rights Movement and the contributions of African-Americans. But King’s crusade was for the equality of all people and fairness in general. Plenty of work remains. I do not wish to diminish the significance of the Civil Rights Movement to African-Americans and all of America. Platte County’s ties are awkward. We did not have bus boycotts and service counter sit-ins like the 1950s and 1960s because we had no buses and few drug store counters. But the Northland had more than its share of racism, including a lack of job and educational opportunities. Both the written and anecdotal histories that I’ve come across show references of white people choosing to forsake prejudice for fairness in our county. But there are also references to hangings in the distant past. We had our share of intimidation. School segregation lasted into the 1950s. The separate-but-equal (in theory only) school buildings still stand in Parkville, Platte City and Weston. Two are now homes and one is a community building. Platte County is observing 175 years of history in 2014. The look back into slavery, Jim Crow and lingering tensions is not pretty. We can only truly celebrate progress. Perhaps this year, during the King Holiday week, we would add a decimal point and ponder how we can all contribute further to progress in race relations during the next 17.5 years. Yet the principals behind the King holiday are even bigger than race. Women did not get to vote and run for office nationwide in the United States until 1920. But in the 1980s and 1990s, stories were appearing in The Kansas City Star about the first women elected to certain offices in the metro area, or perhaps more than usual were holding office. Women gaining influence in local government still was new in the news. In December, Sarah Snow passed away at age 91. Snow was a Kansas City Council woman from 1967 to 1975. In 1975, she became the first woman to run for Kansas City mayor. Snow lost, but went on to be elected as a western district judge in Clay County, the equivalent of today’s county commission positions. While Snow lived in Clay County, she served on the Kansas City Council when those representing the First District served all of Kansas City in both counties north of the Missouri River. She was a pioneer, but one in our time and for our county. Society is not going backward. Women work, manage businesses, own businesses and serve in office. But issues remain. Studies have shown inequalities in pay for both genders remain. America and the world wrestles with other issues, too. The battle for gay rights will someday seem as distant as women getting the right to vote. Fairness and freedom will eventually win the battle to accord the gay community equal rights. Economic fairness is now an issue for all races. The gap continues to widen between the rich and a middle class that finds paying for basics difficult. A white working class that once took upward mobility to middle class for granted now finds the path steep. Take a glance at rental and purchase prices for places to live in Platte County and you’ll realize we have an affordable housing issue. The King holiday is proof that equality and fairness endure beyond centuries of inequality. More progress will be made when more people realize how broad those issues loom for all.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.