My Country Tis of Me

Mr. Obama, when you referred to your Grandmother as “a typical white person,” I held my ire, but it got me thinking about grandparents and other mentors in one’s life. When (as a theologian), I listened to the excerpts from Reverend Wright’s sermons, I bit my lip until it bled. But then you went one step too far. You came after Pennsylvanians.

As anyone who has listened to the latest news cycles have learned, you described Pennsylvanians as being bitter, clinging to God and guns and anti-immigrant sentiments to do what psychologists call “transference.”

That tipped my scales and sensibilities.

I have a message for you. As one does not mess with Texas, one ought also to beware of messing with Pennsylvanians.

One of my paternal Great Grandfathers arrived in Philadelphia in 1710.

Christian Juengling (or Yingling as the name became transliterated) produced eight children. Among his descendants are the famed architect, Norman Bel Geddes, and his famous daughter, Barbara, best know as Miss Ellie of Dallas. There are a host of us (less famous) descendants who have connected over the years. We hear from new ones all the time.

I learned about the depths of my Pennsylvanian roots when, just a few months before my paternal Grandmother died, a couple showed up on her doorstep. They had found her by using a 250-page Yingling family genealogy, written in 1957 by a distant cousin, Claude Rahn.

Grandmother’s sister gave me contact info after Grandmother’s funeral, in the early 1980’s, and I was soon off on an ancestry recovery adventure.

We are an American story that you, Mr. Obama, do not get at all. My ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War — with guns. We never owned slaves. We built churches. One still stands today in Trappe, Pennsylvania.

When Lutheran colonists reached a critical mass in Pennsylvania, the European Lutheran hierarchy sent Henry Melchoir Mulhenburg to organize the colonials. They had already begun to build schools to educate their own children and do other works of social import. My Great Grandfather was one of the men who built The Old Trappe Church. Mulhenburg worshiped there. I like to imagine he sat next to my Great Grandfather at some point.

In the 1990’s, my husband and I served on a Cabinet of advisers to the President of the Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg. It is inarguably the only seminary with actual canons on campus. These are remnants of the Civil War which is now remembered – via a high tech museum opened this very week in Gettysburg — on what that battle meant to the preservation of the Union and the eventual abolition of slavery in America.

My branch of this Pennsylvanian family eventually made its way to Maryland. My parents met singing in a Lutheran church choir in Baltimore.

In 1968, after the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., parts of Baltimore were going up in smoke. I still have the pass which allowed me to cross the police barrier — on the county/city borderline – to get to the hospital where I was then in training as a nurse.

In 1969, still clinging to God, I integrated what had been — until then — an all Black college in Maryland – Morgan State. All Caucasian universities were being forced to integrate back then. Morgan was told that, unless it opened its doors to white students, it would lose funding which paid for Black kids to take extra courses designed to repair the gaps in their public (lesser) education. Convincing white kids to integrate Morgan at that juncture was a hard sell. Harvard and Princeton were a limited option for Black students at the time.

The Mother of a dear friend, a civil rights activist and loving woman, asked me to sign on as the first full time blond day student at Morgan, in January 1969. I did not hesitate. My Lutheran family did not stop me.

For their open-minded stance, the windows of my parent’s home were regularly bombarded with eggs and fruit, and were sometimes broken.

Mr. Obama, if my family and I were typical white people – like your Grandmother – did our Pennsylvanian heritage make us “bitter?” I think not.

And may I ask, about what are we to be bitter? America still offers us all the same promise as it did our 18th century and subsequent ancestors, although big government often makes the paths to success more difficult. The immigrants whom you allege we hate are now a part of our family and we are proud (take note Mrs. Obama) to live in a blended world. We have intermarried with immigrant children from England, Scotland, Greece, and Pakistan, to name but a few countries. We say grace before meals. We contribute to our communities. We believe in America. We are not ashamed of it.

Your old paradigms are outdated, Mr. Obama. If you want to represent yourself as the leader of a new — color neutral — world order, you ought to look at the world which my family represents.

On the other hand, African American youth in the US drop out of high school at alarming rates. They have chosen to become a permanent underclass. They do not have hope-filled immigrant grandparents, nor apparently the right mentors. My Maternal Grandmother — who arrived in America in 1910 from what is now Slovakia — could barely speak English, but her 13 children and their kids and their kids… all respect the values we were taught. We were expected to get to the library faithfully as soon as we could walk there on our own. Bill Cosby got it right.

Rather than preach against America, why didn’t Rev. Wright mount a drive to get African American kids in Chicago to go to the library? How free are your cousins in Kenya to strive and choose to make a better world?

I have the impression that you are asking America to vote for some undefined change and, in the interim, to hold its collective breath until it all turns blue. Isn’t it ironic that we have turned politics in the United States into a color divided (red state vs. blue state) proposition?


View All