by Robert Wilkinson
I read an op-ed piece in the WaPo today with that title, and it reminded me of just how segregated and passively racist America was in 1966-68.
Titled "Bearing the cost of doing the right thing" by James Rupert, it is the story of his father, a preacher who stood up to the overt pandemic passive racism in his little segment of white Amerika. The reason it caught my attention is that a very similar thing happened to a Methodist minister in the little church of my childhood at the same time in history.
Around 1966-67, our pastor spoke up a little too strenuously and a little too often about civil and human rights for the “good people” in that church, and they had him transferred somewhere. The next preacher was a windbag who went back to the same boring drone that put people back in their comfort zones. It seemed that no one in our very white church wanted to talk about the very real problems being exposed in the US concerning the civil rights of millions of Americans.
It’s not like our little community was overtly racist. This was in a part of Florida that had already been integrated for years due to the presence of several military bases in that part of the world. They cheered the black running back on our high school team, and no one I knew expressed any racist sentiments during the course of their day. We had too many servicemen of various races whose wives and kids shopped in too many stores for that to happen.
But while there wasn’t overt racism, there was certainly passive racism. When I was a teen there were too many adults who were more than willing to turn a blind eye to the very real injustices going on both across the river and across the state. There were no protests, no news stories, no public discussions, no civil rights commissions where we lived. It was only when I left and went to college in another state that I became aware and active in working for a better world.
I suppose this article awakened these memories due to the ongoing global discussion about how much the new Pope was complicit, if only passively, in the murder of priests and tens of thousands in Argentina by the military junta back in the 70s and 80s. That calls all of us to question what we would do in the face of such massive violent violations of human rights. That can be known only by us in the depth of our hearts in the heat of the moment.
Humanity continues to learn the great truth expressed by the immortal Doctor Benjamin Franklin, that “we must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Or as it was expressed by the 18th century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
For those who ask how much one clergyman, whether small town Methodist minister or future Pope, can do to speak out against injustices in the face of widespread kidnappings, torture, murder, and other crimes against humanity, I will leave you with a quote from Martin Niemoller that we ignore at our peril:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Catholic.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Please read the article linked at the top of this one. It seems southern New Jersey was just as hostile and racist as anywhere in the deep South of my youth. The new Age will not resemble this dying one in many ways.
© Copyright 2013 Robert Wilkinson