The Third Version Of America

My friends, I was born into the second version of America on April 9,1940 in Salem, New Jersey, the far southern part of the state, making it virtually a borderland region of the north/south national divide. In fact if one were to theoretically extend the southern border of Pennsylvania (the infamous Mason-Dixon line) eastward, Salem would lie about ten miles below it — but more about the second version of America momentarily.

The first America was President Abram Lincoln’s America in which the nation was half free and half slave. Yet even before Lincoln the nation’s founding fathers, some who did not own slaves and some who did, were nevertheless idealists united in their anticipation that one way or the other the institution of Black exploitation was on its way out, and it would be a national blessing when it finally expired. Thus they hopefully proclaimed such literal untruths of their own day like, all men are created equal.

Unfortunately for many non-idealists of the Southern Planter class slaves represented their main form of wealth and wealth equals power and power doesn’t give up power without a fight. And so a most bitter and bloody civil war ensued as Lincoln proclaimed that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” — that half free and half slave thing had exploded. Finally after all was said and done in the various state houses across the country and on the many battlefields scatter about the land, the free states prevailed to win the war in a formal sense partly on behalf of the notion of Black freedom.

The American Civil War extracted a cost of an astounding 600,000 lives in its prosecution from a combined population of a mere 31 million. The war touched nearly everyone painfully. And, still, Blacks were only technically free.

Overwhelmingly White America’s societies, both North and South, still saw America as essentially a White Christian nation with minorities, especially Black Americans, as being little more than loosely defined sets of “others. “ However, beginning in the mid 1960s a massive civil rights movement led by men such towering Black heroes as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and young men such as the late Representative John Lewis battered down the Jim Crow laws of the South and caused a rash of Federal laws to be passed to protect the rights of minorities. And when a Black man, Barack Obama, became president of these great United States of America had come to pass, it looked for sure that the nation had finally successfully passed through the hell of racial adjustment into the third version of America, the great multicultural America — but not quite.

The old forces of hate and division had at least one more comeback move as expressed in the somewhat accidental election of America’s national buffoon, but exceedingly dangerous near human, Donald J. Trump, as president. Of course if by cheating the authoritarian force of the current GOP and Trump manage to win the next set of national elections, the ultimate American goal of justice for all will, indeed, have slipped through our collective fingers. My second version of America on its ragged way to the third version of America will have crashed and burned. Our experiment in democracy will have turned out to be no different than a long list of nothing-special nations that have come and gone through the eons of human history.

Yes, my friends, despite a powerful new demand for social justice driven by the Black Lives Matter movement and super energized by the horrendous video death of George Floyd, perhaps a third version of America has always been nothing more than a pipe dream. Like visions of sugar plum fairies in a Tchaikovsky ballet and God’s Heavenly paradise, a land of cultural harmony may only exist in the desires of good men, yet remain far beyond the ways of nature, the ultimate ruler of men’s true intensions. The moment of truth, even for Donald Trump, though he will remain incapable of realizing it whatever happens, is less than three months off. Good luck to the chances for America’s third version.


Jim Ridgway, Jr. military writer — author of the American Civil War classic, “Apprentice Killers: The War of Lincoln and Davis.” Christmas gift, yes!

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James M. Ridgway, Jr.

Jim Ridgway, Jr. military writer — author of the American Civil War classic, “Apprentice Killers: The War of Lincoln and Davis.” Christmas gift, yes!