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 led the elders to revoke my invitation to the black minister. I said 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 elsewhere in town.
This is not to say that all the town was racist, but better people allowed it to happen. It is a 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.