Throughout the history of the United States, those of African origins, particularly those transported to America as part of the international slave trade, have interacted for better or worse with the millions of Irish Americans brought to this country by the forces of famine, revolution, and want.
Oppressed and unschooled, they often fought for the same dead end jobs afforded by the industrial system of the 19th Century. That Henry Louis Gates Jr is related to Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge, Mass., police force is not all that surprising to those who know the tangled roots of our peoples.
Daniel O’Connell, the great liberator of the Irish poor, hosted Frederick Douglass in the late 1840s as Douglass travelled in Ireland. Both O’Connell and Douglass recognized the somber and horrific effects of slavery and colonialism; and both found in the other traits to admire.
The most famous of all books about the south, “Gone with the Wind”, names the lost plantation Tara, the holiest of the holy places of Ireland. And Scarlett’s surname O’Hara is known throughout the Emerald Isle.
When the Derry civil rights protesters marched against the injustices of Northern Ireland, it was “We shall overcome” that they sang. and Martin Luther King Jr sent his trusted lieutenant Ralph Abernathy to observe the protests of Ulster.
Whether black, brown or white, the forces of economic oppression yield remarkably equal results. The unfortunate incident between a Harvard prof and a fine police officer brings the parties together, and one can hope that the apparent differences of the two protagonists will soon illustrate the common humanity of the two.
Jim Vincent is an associate professor of English studies at Robert Morris University. He is currently traveling in Ireland.