It was beyond horrific: Lungs collapsing under the weight of their own resistance. Vibrant and alive by morning. Dead by night.
The influenza pandemic of 1918 did something else ever etched into the minds of those who cared for the dying. In many cases it turned white people black. Race: indecipherable.
Of course, at the time people couldn’t see a virus, either.
Not that many know about this. History books have been Cloroxed of it.
The college history book that long had been my go-to source for maps and charts and battle lines? Not a word about influenza. Another book on the shelf about transformative American moments? Zip.
Could someone have thought scrubbing from memory something that killed 50 million worldwide would make us safer?
Scrub, scrub, scrub. Is this how history will remember our moment in time?
Speaking of race: I doubt one in 100 Americans knew of what many are learning this week about a horrific date in Tulsa, Okla., as Donald Trump plans a COVID-soup rally there.
On June 1, 1921, a white mob gathered to lynch a young black man but met a black group assembled to protect him. Instead, the mob turned its fury on Tulsa’s Greenwood District, a thriving hub of black-owned businesses known as “Black Wall Street.”
In a hail of gunfire, a blur of flame, Black Wall Street burned to the ground. Three hundred died. Vibrant by morning, dead by night.
I’m a maven of history. I hadn’t heard of this until the nation was forced once again to confront its heritage of racism as people took to the streets to support Black Lives Matter.
Oh, the land mines placed on the paths of those who rejoiced their freedom one bright June day in 1865.
To them, slavery’s end gave them humanity. To others, it took away control.
So many stories swept under the rug: Take “Ax Handle Saturday” in Jacksonville, Fla., where in August the Republicans plan to convene a COVID cocktail party to nominate Trump.
There in another August, 1960, a group of black youths marched peacefully to protest all-white lunch counters. They were met by Klansmen and their sympathizers who chased them down the street, eventually turning ax handles and baseball bats on any black person they saw.
So much of the violence in incidents like this was attributed to “agitators” and “infiltrators,” when it really came down to privileged and empowered white people wanting any reason at all to crack heads. This tendency pertains to too many police officers.
It was somewhat of an abomination to hear news media reports continually say that the peaceful protests worldwide were about the death of one man at the hands of police. Hence, efforts by the MAGA crowd to make George Floyd appear worthy of harsh treatment at the hands of police.
Stop it. The protests aren’t about George Floyd. They are about generations of George Floyds.
What has happened with Floyd’s murder is that the viral video of his death while face-down on the pavement, his neck under the knee of a white policeman, hands in his pockets and pressing, and pressing, cannot be Cloroxed.
It has caused us all to stop and ponder injustices that have gone on since the first slave ships arrived on our continent: America’s original sin.
All those 400 years later, have we learned? Some haven’t. They are still clinging to the power they consider a birthright and the monuments for which they stand.
Oh, did someone mention a pandemic? We’re having one, and it’s stunning how closely the actions of our president match the play-it-down, way-down actions of President Wilson in 1918 as disease killed so many. Wilson had World War I to worry about. Donald Trump has his re-election to worry about.
Alfred Crosby, author of “America’s Forgotten Pandemic,” says that for those who experienced the 1918 disaster it was “in the individual memory” for life, “but it’s not in the collective memory.”
That helps explain why, of course, we now see that very history repeated today.
Individual memory, not collective memory.
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.