Dating back to at least the 1860s, there have been several variations for the maxim about getting things done and not worrying about receiving credit for them.
Former President Ronald Reagan liked the concept so much that he kept on his desk in the Oval Office a small plaque with these words: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”
A couple of Mississippi politicians — Gov. Phil Bryant and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson — could use replicas of that plaque.
The two got into a distracting tiff this past week over who deserved credit for the bill, signed into law by President Donald Trump, that designated the Jackson home of civil rights martyr Medgar Evers as a national monument.
Bryant sent out a tweet praising the Republican president and Mississippi’s two Republican senators, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith.
That didn’t sit right with Thompson, the state’s lone Democrat and lone African-American in Congress, who responded in a tweet that he had worked on the national monument designation for 16 years.
Then Bryant, instead of doing the gracious thing and acknowledging Thompson’s role in the designation and apologizing for overlooking him, made matters worse with a defensive, over-the-top response to the congressman’s irritation. “His anger and hatred are the very characteristics that separated our people in the civil rights era,” Bryant said of Thompson in a TV interview.
Cool off, gentlemen, or you are both going to blow what should be an opportunity for further racial reconciliation.
The focus of the moment should not be on who was responsible for the monument designation, but rather on why Evers’ home deserves memorializing in the first place.
Medgar Evers was a brave soul who knew that opposing racial segregation in Mississippi during the 1960s was a dangerous thing to do. He paid for his courage with his life when he was assassinated in the driveway of his home, with his wife and young children not far away.
Evers’ martyrdom was among those tragic but pivotal events of the civil rights movement that helped pave the way for other men and women of color, including Thompson, to break free of the second-class status that Mississippi had imposed on its black citizens. His assassination also spurred a greater awareness among whites of the indefensibility of segregation and the violence it engendered among those who defended it most fiercely.
It would be an insult to Evers’ memory to let the historic designation of his home produce more division rather than greater harmony.