Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Reconciling ourselves with our past

Scott Roehm is studying human rights law at Fordham University School of Law and is currently serving as a summer intern for the GTRC. Reflecting on a recent trip to Mississippi, he wrote:

"A week ago yesterday I had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia, Mississippi and attend the final day of the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, the man accused (and now convicted) of organizing the killing of three young civil rights workers for their attempts to register black voters in 1964. Listening to closing arguments, I began to think about the respective roles of trials and truth commissions in addressing legacies of human rights abuses. The former have the power to punish, but aren’t primarily concerned with establishing a rich or balanced historical record. The latter have the ability to acknowledge a variety of voices, and to build shared histories, but lack the power to legally sanction. While both can be effective mechanisms for confronting past injustices, it is important to recognize the ways in which they differ."

Given recent events, figuring out a way to reconcile ourselves with our past seems to be on our collective national conscience more now than it has ever been in my lifetime. I'm not sure if anyone has found the best way to examine our past so that we can move forward as a stronger community, but we certainly have many different models--corporate apologies, government apologies, legal actions, TRCs and other inquiries, etc.--from which to choose and learn.

posted by Jill Williams, Exec. Dir.


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