It is 1619. A Dutch ship carrying 20 or so Africans arrives in a Virginia colony. Destined for indentured servitude or slavery, these Africans are joined by others who gradually populate the new country, organized 157 years later as the United States of America. For 200 years, the Africans are aided in their struggle for liberty by whites who abhor the suppression of the human spirit, the abuse of the physical body and the degradation of the soul.
Then comes the Underground Railroad, where black conductors ferry the enslaved to liberty and dignity by making stops at depots operated by white Southern station masters. Having escaped their official bondage, the newly emancipated begin the journey toward self-sufficiency with homes, employment, and education often provided by Northern whites. The success of countless future endeavors -- from the Niagara Movement that led to the creation of the NAACP in 1911 to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 -- is due in part to the support provided by whites who embrace the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.
As marchers cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma tomorrow, the human rainbow that they form will rival the human rainbow of 50 years ago, a rainbow devoid of the martyrs of the movement -- Jimmie Lee Jackson, who was black, and James Reeb, Jonathan Daniels and Viola Liuzzo, who were white. The marchers should remember that the affirming federal legislation enacted just four and a half months after their forebears reached Montgomery was championed by a white Southern president. It passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 336-78, and the Senate by 78-20, with whites casting 409 of the 414 "yea" votes.
That said, who are African-Americans to lay exclusive claim to civil rights? Who are we to quarantine the right to fair and equal treatment in our own little social abodes? Who anointed us as sole custodians of human dignity and self-worth? These questions arise not from any doubts about our entitlement to the fullness of the American Dream. Instead, they arise from our contribution to the nightmare faced by other groups seeking their places alongside us in the struggle, specifically gay Americans and immigrants.
African Americans have customarily accepted their gay brothers as teachers in classrooms, on the benches of church organs and pianos, on the riser in front of the school or church choir, and at the helm of marching bands. The same fate may not have attended African-American women who were gay, in part because, until recently, they concealed their true selves far more often than gay men. Today, however, it is incumbent upon African Americans especially to oppose -- in word and deed -- mistreatment of gays because they are gay.
"Immutable" describes both skin color and race; it can also describe sexual orientation. Thus, blacks, of all people, should never lend their voices to the chorus of hatred of gay people. Nor should African Americans oppose gay marriage on the same religious grounds used by racists to deny basic civil rights and citizenship to blacks.
Fifty years ago, people justified segregation and anti-miscegenation laws by reference to God's curse upon Cain. Today, those same people proclaim God as their reason for condemning gays and gay marital partners. As victims of that first crusade, African-Americans should reject this latest one.
Similarly, given their centuries-old struggle for civil parity in this nation, African-Americans can hardly afford to align themselves with the xenophobes who believe that the country belongs exclusively to them. Generations after their ancestors' immigration, they rage against the settlement of others on America's soil -- but only certain others.
Blacks know all too well how it feels to plant America, till America, build America, fight and die for America while being denied her blessings and opportunities. Loathe should we be to watch another group experience the same fate, much less advance that fate by our advocacy or, worse, our silence.
The civil rights secured by the 50-mile walk 50 years ago were the seeds of our political equality in America. We honor the original marchers by encouraging those seeds to germinate for the benefit of disenfranchised white Americans, gay Americans, and immigrants who desperately want to be Americans.
Vanzetta Penn McPherson is a retired U.S. magistrate judge for the Middle District of Alabama. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.