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Wade Hinton reads Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation during a Juneteenth Celebration in Miller Park on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Juneteenth commemorates the abolition of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865.

We attract people and companies from all around the world. Move here. Work here. Play here. Build here.

Wednesday's no-vote against a tax increase for schools sent another message: don't come here.

"It will set us back 10 years," one local leader told me.

When companies choose other cities — Huntsville, Knoxville, Nashville — over Chattanooga, remember this vote.

Or when school Superintendent Bryan Johnson is courted away to another town that bravely funds education.

Or when a civil rights lawsuit appears over what Dr. Ken Chilton has called "educational apartheid."

Without more funding, the chickens will keep coming home to roost: the backlog of building needs will grow even worse, hiring the nation's best teachers even more difficult, building workforce-ready graduates even tougher.

We cannot be the "Smartest Town in the South" without more funding.

***

Not long ago, a group of us traveled to Montgomery, Alabama.

We toured the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, memorializing the 4,400 African American men, women and children lynched from 1877-1950.

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Terry Richer performs with the group Young Gifted & Black during a Juneteenth Celebration in Miller Park on Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Juneteenth commemorates the abolition of slavery in the United States on June 19, 1865.

We toured the Legacy Museum, located near the grounds of one of the U.S.'s most noted slave auctions.

(The museum identifies Chattanooga as a major stop on the domestic slave trade route.)

I have visited powerful places: our nation's capitol, the Rockies, the California coast, national cemeteries.

Yet Montgomery is powerful in ways unlike any other.

Months later, I remain shaken.

Especially this week.

Especially the Fourth of July.

Twenty African Americans were lynched by whites in Shelby County, Tennessee.

Eight African Americans were lynched by whites in Coffee County, Tennessee.

Six African Americans were lynched by whites in Rhea County, Tennessee.

One African American was lynched for carrying a photo of a white woman in his hat. Another for voting. Another for asking a white woman for a drink of water.

American freedom was born through the midwife of slavery; the Founding Fathers created this free nation while enslaving others. Granting freedom, they also suppressed it.

If we are to celebrate American freedom, we must also acknowledge and mourn its very absence.

If 1776 made us who we are today, then so did 1619.

Scriptures say the sins of the fathers are passed down generations.

Slavery, passed down.

Lynching, passed down.

Jim Crow, passed down.

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David Cook

We are the heirs of our past, of both institutional freedom and institutional racism.

"I have grandparents and parents who lived through Jim Crow," said Ric Morris. "The wounds are still there and they are passing those wounds along."

Three African Americans were lynched by whites in Jackson County, Alabama.

Five African-Americans were lynched by whites in Whitfield County, Georgia.

In Paris, Tennessee, a 17-year-old was lynched and burned alive before a mob of 10,000 whites. In other towns, men were pulled apart by horses. Pregnant women were split open. Body parts treated like souvenirs.

Morris is the founder of the Chattanooga Festival of Black Arts & Ideas celebration, which culminated two weeks ago at Miller Park's Juneteenth service, which marks the end of slavery.

"Juneteenth is my ancestors' and forefathers' Independence Day," Morris said.

A graduate of Howard High, Tennessee State and Yale University, Morris, the special events manager at the Chattanooga Theater Center, was born in 1961, before civil rights legislation.

"I was not a citizen when I was born," said Ric Morris. "I didn't have all the rights of a full citizen."

Today, there is much talk about reparations.

To me, reparations are about the end of denial. The end of pretending.

We must stop pretending that the past — from slavery to segregation to exclusion from government programs, bank loans, voting booths and boardrooms — has no influence on the present.

"The truth hurts. Nobody wants the truth. Who wants that pushed in their face?" said Morris. "But it has to be. That is the only way we can ever overcome any of this."

Four African Americans were lynched by whites in Hamilton County, Tennessee.

African Americans were lynched in other nearby counties: Dade, Catoosa, Walker, Bledsoe, Warren, Meigs.

On one single day in Texas, 15 African Americans were lynched.

One man was lynched when a coat went missing. Another for walking too close to a white woman. Another for refusing to give his land to white people.

Let me be clear so I am not misunderstood: I do not wish to ruin your Fourth. Quite the opposite. Let us honor selflessness and sacrifice, let us praise democracy and freedom.

But to love this country, we must see it clearly. That is our duty. The beloved goodness alongside the wretched violence.

Honestly, writing this was difficult, knowing as I do how many of you will react.

That means something.

How free are we?

"What inhibits so many of us in the black community here in Chattanooga from being honest about how we feel and what we think and what affects us is the idea of retaliation," Morris said. "When we talk among ourselves, the conversation is so different. When we talk in public, there is going to be retaliation. Somebody is not going to agree. People are afraid of losing their jobs. Of losing whatever benefits they may enjoy. This is how Chattanooga works. This inhibits truthful and honest conversation."

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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