SOME REMARKS REGARDING RACE
At the risk of rushing in where angels fear to tread, this week I offer some very personal remarks regarding matters of race. I do not do this to further “stir the pot” that has been boiling in our country over the past few weeks following the senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by rogue policemen (or at least policemen who, for the moment, lost their sense of responsibility as public servants). As a Christian, I should not have to say that I find that deed both despicable and unconscionable. Regardless of why he was in police custody, no person should be treated as George Floyd was treated by those policemen.
- I am unalterably opposed to the abuse of police power, or any other legitimate power. (And police power is legitimate and needed in an orderly society [see Romans 13:1-8]).
- I am opposed to white policemen killing unarmed black men and unarmed white men.
- I am opposed to black policemen killing unarmed white men and unarmed black men.
- I am opposed to blacks killing blacks and whites killing whites.
With that said, I want to share some of my own personal thoughts, feelings, and actions where matters of race are concerned. Once more, I remind my readers that these are “Hugh’s News & Views.” You may not agree with them. They may not match your views. They may not match your experiences. They may not match what you like or what you prefer. You are free to set forth in whatever venue you deem appropriate your “News & Views” about these matters. Here are some of mine.
I was born in the Deep South at the tail end of 1937, not in a hospital, but in my paternal grandfather’s farm house near the little town of Samson, Alabama, only 12 miles from the Florida state line. My daddy told me that after Dr. Brunson delivered me he handed me to Lela Dickens, a black woman who did some work for my grandparents, and that she is the first one to slap my back side, eliciting a loud cry from me and the sure sign that I was alive. I have now been in this world 82 years and have seen a few changes in my time—changes both good and bad.
The society I grew up in was segregated. I did not attend a school in which there were black students until I enrolled for some courses at the University of Louisville in the fall of 1958. Black students had been enrolled there since 1951. I later studied at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. UT integrated in 1961 and APSU in 1958. In spite of my segregated upbringing, I was often around black people. As young children, when our mother worked outside the home, my sister and I were cared for by Ruth Carr, a wonderful black woman whom we both loved. My sister and I would sometimes be taken to the home of Ruth’s in-laws where I remember enjoying “Miss” Ella Carr’s wonderful pancakes. My parents often hired an old black man with a mule to “plow up” our garden spot and get it ready for planting. Occasionally, my mother needed help at home, especially when it was time to can fruits and vegetables, and a dependable black lady would sometimes be hired to help. We most often spoke of these as “colored people.” (This term is obviously quite acceptable to people of color since it is a part of the name of their national association, the NAACP). The “N” word was used by some in the white community, but was seen as a crude corruption of the word “Negro” and most often used that way. (A history professor I had at a state university used the word “Niggra”). “Wheel-Bar” Gilbert was an older colored man who rolled his wheelbarrow around our town, picking up odd jobs wherever he could find them, and he was viewed as highly trustworthy. The blacks had their sections of town where they lived and the whites had their sections of town where they lived. Each had their own schools. That is the way it was where I was born and raised, and I was a child of my times.
In elementary and junior high school (what is now called Middle School) we put on plays every year featuring the songs of Stephen Foster. A particular white boy with dark complexion and thick lips always played the part of “Old Black Joe.” Students sold tickets to the Disney movie, “Stories of Uncle Remus and the Song of the South.” Classes shut down and the entire student body had the opportunity to go see “Gone With the Wind.” These all paid respect to historical events and were part of a distinct culture that in my judgment does not need to be destroyed. The culture of one people is just as valuable to them as the culture of another people is to them.
My first paying job was as a paperboy when I was 11 years old. On my bicycle, I delivered the Pensacola News-Journal on both a morning and afternoon route. Much of my route was through a heavily populated black part of town. My black customers knew their little white paperboy and protected him from their bad dogs. There were a couple of black-owned grocery stores on my route where I often would stop and buy a “cold drink” (soda) or a popsickle and visit with the owners. On Saturday afternoons I would go over my route, collecting the week’s subscription rate from my customers. I interacted with black people on a regular basis, sometimes having to go into the Jolly Spot cafe, a black juke joint, to find one of my customers and collect the pay for the paper. (These experiences helped a young boy to grow up, to mature, and to learn how to accept responsibility. I highly recommend it).
In the summer of 1954 I worked as a counselor at Camp Shiloh in Mendham, NJ and had both black and white boys in my care. I baptized five young people that summer, two of whom were black, including the first one I immersed. I have picked cotton with blacks on my grandfather and uncle’s farm in the panhandle of Florida. If you have never picked cotton with a field of black folks you do not know how much fun you have missed! You learn much about their vernacular, their sense of humor, and their way of thinking. Let one of them cry “snake,” and see how fast several good size stalks of cotton can be torn down in a matter of seconds! (I am not making fun of them, I am telling you what I have experienced, and how I got along with them on several fronts and in various settings). In Louisville, KY I spent a summer afternoon helping Wilbur Littrell, one of our church members, and his crew of hired black workers cut orchard grass on his large farm. We all drank from the same water dipper, and, as you can see, I am still here to tell about it! That was in 1958 or 1959.
In 1968 I was the minister of the Madison Street Church of Christ in Clarksville, TN when the Main Street Church of Christ, a small black congregation of 35-40 members, successfully merged with Madison Street. This may have been one of the earliest such mergers among churches of Christ. It was not publicized in the Christian Chronicle or any other brotherhood publication, but it was accomplished without any fanfare and without any real difficulties, and the black members participated fully in the life of the merged church. The year before the merger—in the spring of 1967—we had the great evangelist Marshall Keeble speak in a Wednesday evening county-wide service at Madison Street attended by both blacks and whites. Over 1000 were in attendance. (Note: As a gentle jab toward his white brothers and sisters in Christ, brother Keeble would sometimes refer to them as his “colorless” brethren! Fair enough, brother Keeble; bless your wonderful and sainted memory).
In my semi-retirement years I preached ten years for the LaGuardo Church of Christ in Wilson County, TN, an integrated congregation. Our main song leader was a black man. We had his brother come and hold a gospel meeting for us. Their parents—George and Billie Offitt—were faithful members of the congregation. I hugged and kissed Billie Offitt on the cheek every Sunday morning and called her “Hollywood.” She was (and still is) a beautiful black woman who always wore a stylish hat to church and always had on her sunglasses. How many Sundays did George, Billie, and Chico Offitt join Jan and me and Harold and Elizabeth Young, white Christians, for Sunday lunch at a Gallatin, TN restaurant where brother George would regale us with stories from his pre-conversion days about playing the trumpet for various black nightclubs in Sumner County and how much money he could make, especially how much he made one Christmas Eve! Sometimes it was hard to get through Sunday lunch because of the number of people (both black and white, including police officers) coming up to our table and visiting with brother George and talking about some of the escapades in those night spots.
When brother George was no longer able to drive to services one of our white brothers went by their house every Sunday morning and drove him and “Miss Billie” to services. Billie would get out of the car and with a nod to Jerry Massengille, her chauffeur, she would say, “He’s driving Miss Daisy”! When brother George died, to accommodate the crowd (he had been a highly respected school administrator in Sumner County, TN), his funeral was conducted in the large auditorium of the predominantly white Hartsville Pike Church of Christ in Gallatin, TN. Though no longer preaching at LaGuardo, I was asked to have a part in the service, along with his two sons and brother Amanzo Jones, an African-American minister.
Folks, if I may be permitted to say so, this is the way to handle matters of race, especially where the church is concerned. We all are equal in the sight of God and we all should be equal in the sight of each other and treat each other equally, in spite of our racial and cultural differences, which, again, should all be valued and respected.
Over the past 50 years, tremendous strides have been made in race relations in America. Equal opportunities exist for all, all the way to the White House. Let sanity, common sense, common decency, and the spirit of Christ prevail in all aspects of race relations in America. Let us not allow a harsh and calloused event to create turmoil in our country and set back racial relationships by several decades. As we demand our rights, let us also demand our responsibilities and step up to them. Let us all (red and yellow, black, brown, and white) strive to be productive, law-abiding citizens, not looking for a handout or special treatment, not engaged in immoral behavior, not carrying a chip on our shoulder, not shunning our civic duty, not shunning our duty to God and to our fellowman. Good and productive race relations are a two-way street, not a one-way street. Discrimination of any kind is wrong, whether toward blacks or whites, rich or poor, educated or uneducated.
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, you also do to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). We know this as “The Golden Rule.” Rather than just committing it to memory and thinking of it as a beautiful idea, let us commit it to a faithful and diligent practice by all of every color, to all of every color!
June 23, 2020