Generally Speaking: Pray for peace and healing


It was 57 years ago this fall that 31,000 National Guard troops rolled into Oxford, Mississippi to facilitate the registration of the first Black man at the University of Mississippi. I was a fifth grader at Lockard Elementary, but I remember it well. The sleepy little college town up in the Northeast part of the state was a hotbed of tensions.

It was always hard for me to understand the furor that integration caused.

I am a true child of the 1950’s. I cut my teeth on the words, “civil rights.” Every morning from my earliest memories, my mother and father read two newspapers at the breakfast table – The Clarion Ledger and The Commercial Appeal. They read aloud to each other, and they discussed national news and politics constantly.

Clearly, they were not sheltering me from their adult conversations on the chaos of the world although I did not know how to interpret most of it.

Still, I picked up on the names of the powerful political leaders right along with the names of the characters in my Little Golden Books.

At age 4 or 5, I named my Christmas doll Ike after President Eisenhower, and we weren’t even Republicans at the time.

We had an African American housekeeper who was also our cook and our nanny, and I loved her as I loved my closest relative.

Her name was Jessie Mae, but my sister, as a toddler, had taken to calling her “Bay,” and that is who she became for the rest of her life.

She had full charge of me much of the time, taking me with her all over town on foot visiting her nephews and nieces or stopping by the Mount Beulah Missionary Baptist Church where she served on the usher board. It did puzzle me, however, why whenever she took me to a movie, I sat downstairs and she sat upstairs.

In the showroom of my father’s automobile dealership, I also remember a water fountain that had a big “Colored” sign on the wall above it. I did not see why that was necessary either, but I just accepted the status quo of the day because I was a child, and what did I know?

It was in the 1960’s that I occasionally caught the evening news clips filled with scenes of marches and state troopers and policemen dragging black and white protestors toward a waiting paddy wagon. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s picture made the front page of the newspaper most days, and depending on who was reporting, he was either called a courageous leader or a “rabble rouser.”

I was in the eleventh grade when the news came across the air waves that Dr. King had been assassinated. For the first time, I realized the ugliness of racism without knowing the word. It hurt my heart.

Dr. King’s message sounds timeless and quite reasonable here in 2019. The right to vote, the right to be recognized as free and equal in the public square echo the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence as well as in God’s Holy Word. It is hard to understand why the resistance of that time was so strong. It is impossible to justify though many tried to do so.

What I wouldn’t give for a half hour conversation with a few of the city fathers, my own included, of all those years ago.

Might it be a bit more difficult to create the constant accusations of racism today had a few leaders been more willing to work at positive change 57 years ago?

I am deeply bothered at the moment over the way much of that history is being rewritten, or at the very least, “tweaked” to support a narrative that is not 100% accurate.

I am weary of hearing the word, “racist” every time there is a difference of opinion on any topic no matter how unrelated to race.

Whether it’s climate change, immigration, second amendment rights or voter identification, when someone has no real facts to share, he reaches for the “r” word. What ever happened to civil discourse and respectful dialogue? Stop the vitriol. Just stop it.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God,” (Matthew 5:9).

I visited our new Civil Rights Museum when it opened last year. It was a sobering experience to see that side of our state’s history up close, unvarnished, and in living color – documented in all of its embarrassing reality. It was a reminder to me that humanity does indeed need a Savior.

Telling ourselves the truth is a good thing. Healing can’t happen unless one understands the disease. I am so grateful for the collaboration between black and white who poured their energy into the museum. It took humility and courage on the part of all involved to expose the sins of the past and to leave the visitor with a real sense of hope for the future.

“Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” is a profound quote. It is sometimes attributed to George Santayana and sometimes to Winston Churchill. Either way, it is worth remembering.

The real challenge is in acknowledging the wrong, naming it for what it was, and being willing to let the past be the past. That’s how we move forward.

I still believe that Jesus Christ is the great reconciler – He is the one who heals our hearts and transforms us from the inside out.

The beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold.

Martin Luther King, Jr.


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