After a second Boston Massacre


By Joe Nathan

We’ll come back, sadder but stronger.  That’s what I’ve predicted, in talking with youngsters about the second Boston Massacre – the one that just happened.  Acts of horror often have the reverse impact of  what was intended by those who produced them.No one should defend any of these horrible acts, committed by cowards.  They are terrible tragedies.

But look what happened after the first Boston Massacre, in March 1770.  According to Wikipedia, “British army soldiers killed five civilians and injured six others.”  People throughout New England were infuriated.  This helped bring the colonies together, eventually resulting in our freedom.

Not quite 50 years ago, in September 1963, a Birmingham, Ala., church was bombed.  Four innocent little girls died, and many were injured. Horrific.  But this helped unify millions of Americans to support civil rights legislation.  Again, quoting Wikipedia, “The explosion at the African-American church, which killed four girls, marked a turning point in the U.S. 1960s Civil Rights Movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Award-winning author Langston Hughes wrote a poem, “Birmingham Sunday,” which reminds us of the tragedy, and looks forward hopefully to a better world.  Part of the poem reads:

“First little girls
Who went to Sunday School that day
And never came back home at all –
But left instead
Their blood upon the wall…

“Four little girls
Might be awakened soon
By songs upon the breeze
As yet unfelt among
Magnolia trees.”

American history is not just names and dates.  It’s also about the successful struggle to expand opportunity and freedom. Sometimes it’s been difficult.  Sometimes we’ve had to deal with tragedy.

But we have moved ahead.  Quoting the remarkable Mr. Hughes again, in his poem “Mother to Son,”

“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
 But all the time 
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions welcome – please post comments below.