Hope for Unity Day by Day

Divisiveness is a word I’d never paid much attention to until I officially became an adult and began teaching school in Cambridge, Maryland, following my graduation from Frostburg State College (now University) in 1968.

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You need to understand that I grew up in a Christian home where I was taught that all people are equal in God’s sight. My father served as a minister in Farmville, Virginia, for the first eight years of my life. He left that pastorate in 1955 because he foresaw what was coming and knew his congregation would never tolerate his loving, tolerant attitude towards people of color and even shut down the school system to avoid integration.

When we moved to Norfolk in 1959 I ran into the effects of prejudice more personally. Mayor Duckworth–I referred to him as Duckworthless because I resented him so much–refused to let the schools open that fall for several months in opposition to integration. Once the schools finally opened, we had to attend classes on Saturday for a while to make up some of the lost days.

Integration was in, but in my six years in Norfolk, I don’t think I knew a single black person.

When my father took a pastorate in Cumberland, Maryland, I began attending the local community college which, incidentally, was meeting in what had previously been the black high school, I had at at least one good black friend. Neither of us had any reason for prejudice. We viewed one another as individuals, not members of different races.

During my senior year at Frostburg and during the summer, I started applying for teaching positions throughout the state. When I heard back from Dorchester County–Cambridge–I didn’t even have to return from my summer job in North Carolina for an interview. They were desperate, and I got the job over the phone.

Yes, they were desperate, but little did I know why. I’d been in school, isolated from any knowledge of the race riots there in 1963 and 1967.

Teaching in 1968 brought me into the remnants of hatred and prejudice, even though I’d been brought up to oppose such things. Things were still tense, and I couldn’t escape the reminders of what had gone on several years before, including the burning of seventeen buildings.

The tension reached a high point for me personally in 1970 when H. Rap Brown was to be tried in absentia for inciting the riots.

After dreaming I’d heard a gunshot during the night preceding the trial, I learned from my landlord’s daughter that my dream had actually been the dynamiting of one corner of the courthouse, which was just a block or two (as the crow flies) from my apartment. Was recent history going to repeat itself so soon?

I don’t recall the names of any of my less lovable black students, but I can still remember many of the ones who were as accepting of me as I was of them. Much to my pleasure, one of them has become a good friend on Facebook.

I had one extremely close black friend during my teaching days. Close enough that he and another friend were happy to drive to Illinois to participate in the wedding to my first wife.

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I hate the racial divisiveness that seems to have come back into America stronger than ever during the last eight to ten years. It’s so unnecessary.

That’s one reason I so enjoy walking at the mall, where I see an equal number of blacks and whites and no obvious signs of prejudice on anyone’s part.

I usually see two particular black ladies, one of whom is pushing a double stroller with two of the cutest little kids. We–the kids as well as the ladies–are so used to my coming over to speak to them that they realize I’ve grown to love those children in a special way. No matter how squirmy they were, the boys didn’t object to my taking this picture.

Although the smaller boy in front can be quite shy at times, he’s usually willing to give me a handshake. He obviously doesn’t know what prejudice is, and that gives me a sense of hope for much-needed unity, if only for the duration of that day.

But I know I’ll see those kids again, and I pray that–as they grow older and are no longer being pushed around the mall–they’ll grow up to be among the best of the best, helping to replace divisiveness with true unity.

Feel free to comment about this or any of my other posts.

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I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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Boldness or Cowardice?

Perhaps you’ve heard of Prince Edward County. If so, chances are you think about it with horror. I do, even though I spent the eight happiest years of my childhood there.

As a young child, I didn’t know what was going on. Although my father was a fine Christian minister who taught me that  equality crossed all racial barriers, I didn’t have any black friends. In fact, I’m not sure I even knew any black people.

Not in Farmville, anyhow. My contacts with people of color were limited pretty much to Minnie and Lizzy. One was the cook for my paternal grandmother in Richmond. The other helped out my maternal grandmother in a small town in North Carolina.

Not until we’d moved away from Farmville during the mid-1950’s did I learn that my father had seen what was coming in Farmville and didn’t want to be any part of it. He knew his congregation would be on the wrong side of the issue. The highly prejudiced side that eventually led to the closing of the public schools and the creation of private schools for the white kids.

As horrible as it sounds, some black kids missed out on up to five years of their education before the county was forced to reopen the public schools in 1964.

I recall my parents telling me that Dickie Moss, the son of a local judge and someone I knew just slightly, was the only white kid to attend the public schools once they reopened.

But I know which side my father was on. If we’d remained in Farmville, I would’ve been the second white kid in public school.

We didn’t remain in Farmville, though. My father knew that the church wouldn’t tolerate his taking the stand he would’ve had to take. So finding a church elsewhere seemed like a better thing to do for his ministry and his family than being booted out for preaching and practicing Christian love.

Was his decision to leave an act of boldness or one of cowardice? I’ve never been able to decide. Probably more important is the question, “Would I have stayed or left if I’d been in his shoes?”

Although I’d like to believe I would’ve stayed and fought for what I knew was right, I honestly don’t know. It’s easy to make strong moral decisions from the safety of my living room fifty-some years later.

I’ve wanted to write this blog post for a number of months, but I wasn’t sure I could or should. My father has been dead since 1993, however, and I assume that most–if not all–of the people involved in the troubled times of the 1950s and 1960s are gone, too.

But if any of them are still alive, I pray that they have experienced a drastic change of heart.

What do you think? A comment would be welcome.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website.  Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My newest novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Go HERE for links to those places.
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Best regards,
Roger