On the Passing of Ted Kennedy: Fighting No More Forever
by L. Arthalia Cravin
Shortly after turning on my television early Wednesday morning and hearing of the passing on Tuesday night of Ted Kennedy, I went outside to gather squash and hoe weeds from my garden. For some reason the morning seemed much quieter than usual—primarily because of the return of the noisy neighborhood children to assorted school houses. Instead of children, the only sounds I could hear were roosters crowing from my neighbor’s yard, the clucking gaggle of guineas that typically roam around shortly after daybreak, and the sound of my hoe whacking weeds. It was amid this hush-ness that I thought about the passing of Ted Kennedy. The one phrase that entered my mind was “fighting no more forever.”
It was Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Native American tribe of Northwest Oregon who spoke these words of surrender on October 5, 1877. In 1877 as part of the “clearing” of the west for white settlers, the Nez Perce, whose name means, “The Real People,” were ordered to go to a reservation. They, along with millions of other original inhabitants had been told the same thing, “move—or be moved” in order for “Manifest Destiny” to be accomplished. Almost from the time of the arrival of the first white colonial settlers, removal and extermination of the Native Americans began. President Andrew Jackson took the hostilities to a new level in the early 1830s. Jackson’s policies included blatant defiance of a Supreme Court ruling regarding the rights of Native Americans in the South. The manifestation of Jackson’s defiance culminated in the “Trail of Tear,” where thousands of Native Americans who had lived in the South were forced to move to Indian Territory, what later became Oklahoma. This federally enforced, westerly removal of the Native American still was not sufficient. As more foreign whites arrived and eastern land became less available, their eyes turned westward-and west they went. Their arrival and encroachment on the land and lives of Native Americans eventually led to outright war against Native Americans.
Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce were some of the last to fight the US Cavalry to stay on their homeland. Instead of going to Indian Territory, the Nez Perce chose to head to Canada. They did not make it. Instead they were trapped less than fifty miles from the Canadian border. After all their valiant efforts to resist removal, of the 800 or so of the original tribe fewer than 450 remained to fight. On October 5, 1877, in what is now Montana, Chief Joseph, realizing that they were beaten, made his speech of surrender.
“I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed. Looking Glass is dead. Toohulhulsote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead.
It is cold and we have no blankets. The little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are–perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children and see how many I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead.
Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”
Ted Kennedy fought the good fight—for the rights of the poor and downtrodden. Born in 1932 to privilege and wealth, Kennedy became a senator in 1962. During his 46 years of public service he spoke for those who often had no voice. But he was not alone. Kennedy often allied himself with those who could not find entry or acceptance in the halls of Washington. Those who maligned his “liberalism” saw him as a rich “do-gooder” whose privileged life should have led him in a different direction.
In looking over America today, many of Chief Joseph’s remarks about his own beaten tribe still ring true. All across America people are cold and hungry. Many of the elderly are dying early for lack of healthcare and food. Too many children are dying young or giving up on life. Too many young men are lost to prisons, jails, and early death. Similar to the Nez Perce, there is a strong feeling among so many that we are beaten. Many of those who stood with Ted Kennedy in the early 1960s to fight injustice have been silenced by death. Others have simply surrendered to comfort or apathy. One person can only fight for so long before the baton must be passed on to other warriors. With the passing of Ted Kennedy we should all wonder who will be left to fight the good fight of justice. Who will lead the charge? Ted Kennedy fought a lot of battles—both private and public. In his passing, in the words of Chief Joseph, he will “fight no more forever.”
Copyright 2009 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.