First class commemorative postage stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service in 1995. Source: D.C. Public Library.

Why are some people asking that question now? How do we consider a question like that? Well, let us put that question in a historical context.

The first African slaves were sold in Jamestown Virginia to English colonists in 1619.  Did black lives matter? Over the next 246 years, African Americans were slaves. Bought and sold. Often brutally treated with no recourse in the law.   Did black lives matter?

While Fredrick Douglas was a fugitive slave, he was considered stolen property. He was not a person in the eyes of the law. Harriot Tubman, who spent a lifetime fighting injustice, believed strongly in those hallowed words, “We hold these truths to be self – evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  It was her patriotic duty to fight injustice. Even though her life did not count according to the Constitution.

Fugitive slave Act 1850, Federal government to return slaves to owners. Dred Scott Decision, 1857. Chief Justice Taney, from Maryland, concluded Slaves cannot be citizens and are in fact, property. President James Buchanan agreed. Plessey vs Ferguson, 1896. Supreme Court decision. Segregation is legal. Jim Crow laws last 100 years. Housing, banking, education, churches, restrictions on voting. Do black lives matter?

The Tulsa race massacre, 1921. Did black lives matter? Black soldiers returning home from World War I and II, Korea and Viet Nam, who fought with dignity, still faced legal segregation in housing, banking, education, voting and even water fountains.

Addie Mae Collins. Cynthia Wesley. Carole Robertson. Carol Denise McNair. Killed in a Birmingham church bombing in 1963.

Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The Gospel of Freedom, 1963. Martin Luther King Jr. killed 1968. Congressman John Lewis spent a lifetime fighting injustice. That is what a patriot does. What he left undone. Falls to us.

Elijah McClain. George Floyd. How do we show that black lives matter to us today?

Paint the Mural on High Street.

Wayne T. Gilchrest is the director of the Sassafras Environmental Center at Turner’s Creek in Kent County and represented Maryland’s first congressional district from 1993 to 2009.