The Falcon and The Winter Soldier six-part series is bookended by Sam visiting the Captain America exhibit commemorating Steve Rogers’ service during World War II and his continued adventures. In the first episode, Sam Wilson walks through the exhibit, remembering Steve and their friendship. As the series progresses, we get introduced to Isaiah Bradley, a Black man who, along with other Black soldiers, took the super soldier serum before Rogers; however, their stories never get told. In the last episode, Sam takes Isaiah to the exhibit and shows him the a statue commemorating his service. Sam tells Isaiah, “Now they’ll never forget what you did for this country.”
What and how we teach history is important, and Isaiah’s arc in The Falcon and The Winter Solider shows us just that. The fight for control of the historical narrative is nothing new, and today, with the push, through numerous bills in numerous states, to deny funding to a school, K-12 or college, that go against the”true” American history by pointing out and talking about the invisible narratives, people, and events, we must fight to provide students and the public with historical truths. There are so many things that I did not learn in school, K-12 or college. If I did learn these things, maybe my perspectives would have been different as I grew up; however, I didn’t learn about the Tulsa Massacre, the MOVE bombing, the Black Panthers, the Bossier Massacre, Reconstruction, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight against police brutality, the Poor People’s Campaign, and on and on and on.
Before I learned anything, I experienced a severed history, one that worked to get rid of the baggage of the past, tossing it aside because, as the history goes, racism and oppression happened in the past. We beat it decades ago, so we don’t need to teach our kids about any of it. Right? These thoughts and more ran through my head as I read the end of “Good Trouble, Bad Flags” in Nate Powell’s Save It For Later. Powell talks about teaching his five-year old daughter about the atrocities of the past and the present and really asking how to navigate those discussions, especially surrounding police brutality and violence. Most people want their children to remain “innocent” for as long as possible, but that innocence isn’t available to everyone. Powell knows that his daughter has an advantage because of her skin color, but he also knows that she needs to know that everyone does not have access to the same safety she does.
“White adults,” as Powell puts it in a panel where he shows his daughter immigrant children in cages at the border, “across the political spectrum grumble that (their) kids shouldn’t have their fun spoiled by these frightening times.” Everyone does not have to opportunity to take that position for their children, and as Powell points asks, “Who wasn’t born with an assumed right to innocence, the joy of not needing to know about these social dangers, symbols, and subtle behaviors? Who is taught from an early age about how to stay alive in the presence of police? Does their situation matter to you if they’re not your kids?”
Following these questions, Powell flashes back to hisself as a five-year old in 1983 as him and his family drove through Anniston, Alabama. Driving through the town square, they see the Ku Klux Klan and members burning a cross on the town square. As a young child, Powell notes that he had “no way to process it, but [he] was struck with a primal, occult fear.” Here, four panels accompany the narration. The first is a closeup of a Klan member’s hood, eyes peering outwards, the next is a closeup of Powell’s young face, eyes wide as he stares in shock, the third shows the charred cross, and the fourth returns to the Klan member, this time showing his arm stretched upwards in the air in salute. These panels show that Powell, even though he did not understand the scene completely understood, on some level, the fear it was meant to cause and the cultish nature.
Powell notices that his parents exchange a look, asking one another how to explain the scene to their children in the backseat. He narrates, “That look between my parents, knowing a window in their kids’s innocence had closed.” How do they explain the Klan to their sons? How do they explain the hate, the violence, and the fear that the Klan embodies? How do they explain the long history without shattering their sons’ “innocence.” They turn around and Powell’s father merely says, “that’s . . . the Ku Klux Klan.” That was it because, as Powell points out, his parents taught him about their experiences during the Civil Rights Movement, about segregation, and “they starkly identified the Klansmen’s evil.” Yet, they still carried within them things that they had not “unpacked or questioned.”
While the Klan was evil, something I learned in school and childhood as well, the Confederate Battle Flag or “monuments” or other things were merely heritage. As the family drive on, the family comes across a battle flag, and Powell’s father tells gum, “Those are prolly some good ol’ boys.” What he doesn’t tell Powell, though, is that the flag saw a resurgence during the Civil Rights Movement, particularly following Brown v. Board of Education (1954). While Mississippi’s state flag incorporated the battle flag in its design as far back at 1894 (another period of white backlash), Georgia’s flag didn’t incorporate it till 1956, two years following Brown. I never learned about the white backlash to Brown and the Civil Rights Movement. I never learned about the rhetoric. Rhetoric which sounds so much like the rhetoric of today.
Powell points out that “Many Southern boomers still struggle reckoning with the rebel flag’s legacy. After all, the Klan were villains, but neighbors had that flag, right? Ne’er the twain shall meet.” The positioning of an enemy, whether it be Nazis or the Klan, makes it easy for someone to never reflect on themselves. They say, “I’m not like them. I’m not bad.” Yet, this failure to look into the mirror and examine ones own self causes the baggage to become heavier, weighing a person down until it becomes nearly impossible to unload it. It presses down on the psyche, even stretching tentacles into the soul, so that extraction becomes painful.
What Powell’s parents didn’t tell him, and what the perhaps did not know, was that the Freedom Riders were brutally attacked in 1961 in Anniston, Alabama. He learned this while researching for March. As he remembers the drive in 1983 and his research, he states, “I was horrified to conclude that some of those same faces [who attacked the riders] were likely present that day in 1983.” But, as his mother said, “It was a different time.” To that, Powell simply states, “22 years in nothing.”
We can’t act as if history and events all of a sudden end. The start and end of periods are arbitrary, they are there to help us contextualize, and that contextualization hinders us in many ways. We need to remember that the Civil Rights Movement was the 1950s and 1960s. It started before the 1950s, and it continued after the 1960s. Even if we think of those two decades, though, that means the movement occurred between 50 and 70 years ago, within the lifetimes of people we know, people we see, people we interact with everyday.
As well, we need to know the full scope of events. We can’t just say King had a dream. We can’t just say the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. We can’t just say school desegregation ended with Brown. We have to remember the backlash, the rhetoric, the violence. We have to remember that Brown led to segregation academies. The point is we need to know the whole history, not just the “good” things. We need warts and all, because without everything we will never move forward. We’ll recycle our baggage onto our children and future generations, failing to address the baggage we carry. It’s our job to get rid of that baggage, not our kids’ job. It’s our job to look at ourselves before it’s too late. If we wait, those we love, in 2042, will drive down the road and wonder where we were in the summer of 2020 and what we stood for. They’ll say, “22 years is nothing.”
Next post, I’ll continue looking at Powell’s Save It For Later. Until then, what are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.
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