Readers Write: Wrong to judge people’s past actions on current standards


Those who wrote the U. S. Constitution were really smart guys. They wrote it with the knowledge of the Magna Carta and the system of government of most other countries. They debated and compromised, and finally came up with a system that was morally right, and agreeable to all the varied segments of the country.

They include in the Constitution (article 1, section 9, paragraph 3), a prohibition of only two classes of laws, the first being ex post facto laws, which outlaw punishment for acts committed before the law prohibiting those acts were performed, and the second being Bills of Attainder, which declares someone guilty of a crime and assesses a punishment without providing a trial to prove the crime.

These prohibitions were written by people who did what was, to them, morally and ethically right in letter and also spirit.

Now, I feel, people are being convicted in the courts of public opinion of violating social laws that hadn’t been enacted when they committed those acts, and also before a trial.

Case in point: Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Yes, he appeared in blackface in his 1984 medical school yearbook.

I don’t condone him doing that, but it wasn’t a socially unacceptable act at the time.

I remember Ross Perot running as a third-party candidate for president in 1996. He spoke to a group of African Americans, and used the phrase, “You people.”

After his talk, someone on TV told him that it was not acceptable to say that. He was taken aback, said that he didn’t realize that it was insulting, and immediately apologized for using those words. He said that if he knew it was in bad taste, he never would have said it.

When I was young, my parents took me on a road trip from Brooklyn to Florida. I think that it was in the summer of 1954, or thereabouts. We were in a town in Florida, stopped at a red light. I looked out of the window and saw a hardware store with a rifle in the window. On top of the gun was a sign reading, “N___er Geter.”

Under it was another sign, “Get a n____er with this, and we will give you your money back.”

My parents never instilled in me the concept that any race was better than any other. Sure, I saw the difference, but the idea that anyone was better than anyone else because of their race never occurred to me.

That sign, and that it was allowed to hang there, was too heavy for me, a 14 year old, and I think it might have changed the direction of my life in a way, but that was OK in Florida in the ‘50s.

What I am trying to say is: Don’t judge the Founding Fathers by today’s social laws, and don’t convict them by social laws written just for them.

If not, you and I might then be, in the future, convicted of a crime that doesn’t exist now.

Fred Harber


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