Over Valentines weekend, my husband and I left Arundelle Green for a quick overnight stay in a Franklin, TN hotel. It’s a favorite getaway for us, close to home but still feels touristy. In the center of town on the Franklin square stands a carefully sculpted soldier. We were just around the corner from the USCT Statue and we wanted to see it again. His eyes look ahead to the future with hope and fierce determination. At his feet are broken shackles, chains that have fallen as he marches bravely forward to ensure freedom for every enslaved person he left behind.
We were there the day it was unveiled. The statue was surrounded by hundreds of people from every ethnicity. Many wept, some danced, all sang…together.

His story was being told and it was past due.

During the civil war, more than two hundred thousand African-American men enlisted in segregated United States Army regiments. Known as the United States Colored Troops, they served in every Army branch where more than 2,700 of them died. History, as we have traditionally taught it, had seemingly forgotten the sacrifices of these courageous men. Throughout the years of slavery and into Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the marches for civil rights led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., black men, women, and children were often treated inhumanely. Subjected to abuse, torture, lynchings, forced labor, ridicule and dehumanizing portrayals in entertainment, (not to mention laws that ensured they stayed “where they belonged”) they have had to fight harder and longer to advance than most.

And fight, they have.

What do you see when you look into this soldier’s face? What was said about men who looked like him when you were growing up? I will not share many of the words I heard here. I remember though, and I lament the racism that marked the lives of too many people I love and respect. But today I have hope that things are changing–slower than we often think, but changing nonetheless.

Freedom, liberty, equality. Amen.

This time, there were not crowds of people pressing in. The street was silent on this chilly morning. We held hands and stood next to him, taking in the details, reading the historic story told on a plaque mounted behind him. A young family approached, a husband and wife with two blond-haired, blue-eyed toddlers. Both children were dressed up in bright, Valentine red. The little girl smiled as they came near, but the little boy stopped. His eyes widened and his smile couldn’t be contained. He pointed at the soldier and his two-year-old voice rang in the pregnant silence with these three precious words:

“Look! A man!”

Look. A man.
Tears filled our eyes.

Look. A man.
That little boy knows what countless adults who often claimed to know the God of the Bible refused to admit. In three simple, but profound words, this child unknowingly spoke, in an act of Holy war, against the hate that has filled the streets of our nation.

Look. A man.
A fellow sojourner. A brother created in the image of God. A man valued by his Father, dearly loved by Jesus.

Look. A man.
A soldier, brave and strong who was willing to die for freedom. A man, a husband, a father, a brother, a son.

Look. A man.
The Imago Dei housed in dark, weathered, work-calloused flesh. A heart that beat faster as he ran. Blood, as red as yours and mine, that spilled on the ground so that all people, ALL who call this country home, could be free at last.

Look. A man.

We walked away, barely able to speak. Our passion for unity and reconciliation, renewed. Our gratitude for this most unusual family God gave us and all He has taught us through them, running over.

We walked away with hope.

What do you see when you look into the eyes of someone who does not look like you? I hope you see what that little boy saw.

And I hope you speak it loudly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s