Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

LET’S SEE: THIS MONTH IS…

    …Black History Month or, what white folks call, “February.”
    Few persons use this time to find out things they don’t know. What was Jim Crow? Who was Frederick Douglass? How on earth did this country, “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” come so soon to tolerate slavery? Does anybody read a book anymore?
    Some people still think blacks should stop whining and thinking they see racism everywhere; after all, wasn’t there an Emancipation Proclamation, and a war to defend it? And just to re-make the point, didn’t we have a Civil Rights movement a hundred years later? What escapes them is why, indeed, we had to re-make the point a century after.
    My previous blog post was on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (“Long Live The King), regarding my experiences, with three young black men, all members of the NAACP, on our way to Atlanta for the King funeral in 1968, with harrowing excursions into Baltimore and a dead-of-night Virginia countryside.
    Let me that on our return to Pennsylvania, people found our reports hard to believe: they believed first, and only, the media and even then harbored suspicions.
    Of course Southerners like me knew and understood because we were, and are, used to racism as a thing writ large, having seen beatings or knew even of lynchings, right up to mid-20th century America.
    Northerners seemed not acquainted with racism up close. They were still surprised, when King marched in Chicago, that all those adorable fonzies turned out to pelt him with rocks, bricks and bottles. But that’s why King went there–otherwise Chicagoans would have denied their racism.
    Such has been my experience since migrating north many years ago. People knew of early segregation in Boston and the whole ugly integration-and-busing controversy, but few knew the face of racism up front and personal.
    As a young clergyman in Missouri, and not far from my own hometown, my very suggestion of a pulpit exchange with a black minister for a single Sunday–after the church board had approved it–occasioned my being met on the street and in public buildings with a hail of fists and spittle, including by members of my congregation.
    A clergyman newly arrived was always met with instant respect, and could risk that only by gross betrayal. Preaching racial equality was such a betrayal and you had to see to believe the change in faces that go from friendly to the hardest cast of expression imaginable.
    Local threats to burn the church finally induced the elders to revoke my invitation to the black minister. I suggested that if it burned we would wear such disgrace like a badge of honor, for there could be no denial of what our town was really like. To no avail: hearts went out to the lovable old building, though a visit several years later found it filled with junk and replaced by a new, flat, tasteless place of worship in another part of town.
    This is not to say that all the town was racist, but better people allowed it to happen–viz, the truism that evil triumphs when good people do nothing.
    Racism is a deep and insidious sickness of the human heart and soul. When I heard, after the church bombing in Birmingham in the 60s, some northerners say that the perpetrators must have regretted that children were victims, I could but marvel. That kind of racist absolutely doesn’t care. They believe that “little ones turn into big ones” and the age and time of their demise is of little consequence.
    During this month, among my reading is the autobiography of Frederick Douglass. Though brief, it is more than instructive of a way of life that really wasn’t all that long ago. If you read nothing else, read that, and remember.
    I have walked my local Ward with petitions and each time have been surprised how many black persons live nearby. One always spoke with me through a crack in the door, her face not showing. To all of them I said that I was delighted to have them as neighbors and wished I saw them more frequently on our streets and downtown.
    Then I remembered: regardless of all that we think has changed, racism hasn’t gotten up on little hind legs and walked away. We need to assure our African American neighbors that they are at home in our town.
    If they don’t feel that way, whose fault is that? After all, it’s easy for us to forget, but not for them.

3 Responses to “LET’S SEE: THIS MONTH IS…”

  1. John, Having come from the same hometown, a distinction we share with Rush Limbaugh and Terry Jones, we share some early cultural influences of racism. The fact that the four of us share the same roots but have branched into such different directions on race reminds me of Lincoln’s comment when it was reported that Confederacy President Jefferson Davis had promulgated a death sentence for runaway slaves. Someone said to Lincoln, It’s..incredible to think that you and Jeff Davis were both born in the same state.” Lincoln replied, “Well, my home state of Kentucky is an agricultural wonder—it can produce just about anything.”
    Apparently the same can be said of Cape Girardeau, although you and I graduated from Central High about 14 and 16 years ahead of those two, and I left town when they were infants. I do remember events from those early years that profoundly influenced my own views on race.
    My expereince as a pastor, however, was quite different. After seminary I was called to be pastor by a Baptist Church in Providence, Ky, in 1961. It was in the same county of Clay where Eisenhower had to send in the National Guard to quell a riot over school integration and only 14 miles from Sturgis, KY where the same thing happened. Providence was scheduled to integrate their school a year after I became pastor. The issue came up in my conversation with the pulpit committee and I decided to speak up and state my position and where I though the church should stand on race and the impending integration of the school. Given the context, I really did not expect the congregation to call me; but to my surprise they did. I still anticipated trouble and would not have been surprised to have expereinced the kind of conflict that you did in Missouri. But I did not. I found people who agreed with me, although many did not. I saw people’s views change.Fortunately the school superintendent was committed to a successful outcome. Our newly integrated basket ball team going to state was a bonus. While there were incidents along the way I continued as pastor until I was ready to move on northward to Indiana. Like you I found the racism in the north to be more hidden and therefore more difficult to address. In the south it was so obvious, but farther north it ran deep and there was little awareness.” What race problem? We have no race problem.” But in Indiana I encountered the KKK [that was where they were formed], and “private” beach clubs and camp grounds that, unlike the state parks were “clean, and kept the colored out,” I also lived in Chicago when King marched there and knew what was going to happen. They denied racial discrimination and said that was a southern issue. But the not so well hidden racism raised its ugly head when the march began.
    Rev. David L Middleton

  2. Thanks for a very thoughtful post, as always. I have to smile thinking about growing up in the same town and even the same church as Rush. Friends are astonished when they make the connection.

    I am grateful to see others from Cape who think more like I do. It is true we have made some progress but racism is all too alive and well. It is alive and well regarding not just blacks but anyone who is not like “ME”_”US”, whatever that means. I have many friends who are greatly offended when I use the term *white privilege”, they seem to be oblivious to the fact that being born has given them some privileges that are not afforded to all.

    Thanks for the posts.

    Emily Simpson Wigger
    I

  3. John,

    I’m writing not just in admiration of your post, but also because I’m curious about the community in Southeast Missouri when you were forced to rescind a decision.

    Audrey Reynolds
    .


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