Learning History for Healing
Bonnie Wanglie is a member of the ECMN Racial Justice and Healing Commission and a
parishioner at Trinity, Hermantown for the past 15 years. Bonnie has been a resident of Gnesen Township outside of Duluth all of her life. The Rev. Devon Anderson serves as the Commission's project manager.
In an interview below, Bonnie speaks about why history is an essential part of racial justice and healing.
Devon Anderson: Bonnie! Tell me, how long have you been an Episcopalian?
Bonnie Wanglie: All of my life—or almost all of my life. I was baptized Lutheran because one of my parents was Lutheran and the other was Episcopalian. When I was little we switched each week—one Sunday we’d go to the Lutheran church, and then the next we’d go to the Episcopal church. But this became a problem for me when I was little because in one of the churches, each child received a gold star every time they went to Sunday School and at the end of the year if you had a lot of stars you’d get a prize. I never got a prize because I only went to that church half the time and didn’t have enough gold stars. My parents told me that I made myself very clear to them: “Pick one church and stick with it,” I said. I wanted the gold stars and the prize! So we picked the Episcopal church, and stuck with it.
DA: Why did you want to serve on the ECMN Racial Justice and Healing Commission?
BW: Jane, the deacon at our church, sent me the notice about it and suggested that I apply. I thought to myself “what would they want with an old white woman?” But it kept nagging at me (I think it was God pushing me), so I decided to apply for it. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be chosen. But I’ve always been interested in justice for people, it’s part of who I am. And I wanted to learn more.
DA: What has your experience been on the team? What have you learned through your participation in the ECMN Racial Justice and Healing Commission?
BW: All people have their own unique perspective, experience, and knowledge. Different people bring different things to share when we come together. For example, I knew that redlining was a discriminatory problem, but [RJHC member] Edwin taught me that redlining still goes on. I thought it was over in the '60s. I knew that people could be rude, like if a person of color moved into the neighborhood up here that white people might protest. But the talk that Edwin gave to our team helped me understand how much the injustice of redlining is still going on. Another learning for me was when [RJHC member] Jackie sent a video to all of us that I watched called “The Road to Forgiveness.” It is about the ill treatment of Native Americans both in our history and today. These things continue to happen, even though they should have ended.
DA: Tell me a bit about the history piece that you wrote and shared with the RJHC. How did it come about? Why is it important or meaningful to you?
BW: I had attended an ecumenical services here in town. One of the participants read a statement before the service that I thought was really powerful. One night I sat down and wrote a statement of my own. It poured out of me. It just came to me, all at once, as I thought about it. I wrote it all down, then put it away. I decided to bring it up at our RJHC meeting—because I think it’s important to make some statement about what we believe.
My parents raised us to be fair. When it comes to things that I see, my first thought is always, “is this fair?” And there are so many things I see that are just not fair to people. We don’t seem to learn from the past. In the recent past—children were taken away from their parents at the US borders. But I don’t know if they’ve been returned to their parents. We just don’t seem to learn.
I think it’s important to understand how our past, how the history we share, has shaped who we are—what we believe, see, overlook, or understand. We can learn from that. We can change.
Below is the piece that Bonnie wrote, shared with the RJHC, and will be used to write pieces of the liturgy for the upcoming retreat.
Statement of Acknowledgement
We acknowledge this land that we claim was once occupied by the Ojibwe/Anishinabe people. The land was often seized by violent means, or through treaties that were often ignored when it suited the white society. The Native people were moved to lands not of their choosing, but where the white man wanted them to be. However, if the land was later determined to be valuable, the Native population was again moved, breaking the treaty rights. Many Native peoples were forced on marches to the reservations across many miles of land with improper clothing, little food and water. The old, the young, and the sick were forced to walk. Many died on these marches and were left where they died.
We acknowledge the taking of Native children from their families to be placed in boarding schools, where they were to assimilate into the white society. At these schools their culture was not respected, their braids were cut off, they were given clothes and shoes that were not familiar to them and uncomfortable. They were to learn English and could not speak their own languages, often being punished if they did. These children were abused, mentally, physically, and sexually. Many died and were buried in unmarked graves. They were not even given the right to a burial within their own cultural requirements.
We acknowledge the sin of racism. That men, women, and children were taken from their homes and villages to be chained in the holds of ships with little food and water and having to sit in their own filth. They were brought to the Americas to work as slaves for the white master. Many worked under intolerable conditions. They were beaten and abused. If they tried to escape they were brought back and flogged in front of the other slaves, sometimes they were maimed—but not so that they would not be able to work. The women were raped and bore children who were not acknowledged by their white fathers and also became slaves.
Families could be ripped apart. Husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, children sold away from each other never to be seen again. The people were not even given the dignity of a name in the household records but were listed by gender and age. Even after being freed they continued to be discriminated against. They were promised “forty acres and a mule," yet no one received that promise. They were kept from getting the same education as the white children, were not able to attend colleges, unable to get good paying jobs, or get a loan for housing. A Black person could be killed by a white person with no consequences to the whites.
They were discriminated against at every turn. The Jim Crow laws, enacted after the Civil War, enforced racial segregation. Black people couldn’t buy groceries or gas at the same places as white people, couldn’t rent a hotel room where whites could, they couldn’t eat at the same restaurants, they couldn’t even drink from the same water fountain. These laws were finally declared unconstitutional in 1968.
We acknowledge the continued discrimination against people of color. Young men of color, whether they be Black, Latino, or Native are more likely to be arrested, convicted and to serve time in prison. A white man being charged with the same crime may get a fine or probation, whereas a man of color will get a prison term. People of color are more likely to be killed by the police.
This discrimination continues today and it is time for us to be educated, it time for understanding and for a reckoning of these past sins. It is time for justice and healing of these past sins. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr gave his “I have a dream” speech 60 years ago. In that speech he said, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.” Now it the time.