Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Sunday Story to Inspire

I have long harbored the belief and hope that people can change in profound ways. Today, Great Blue Heron carries an amazing story about the transformation of a racist, former Ku Klux Klan supporter, and violent hater, who acted upon his hatred, into a man humbled by love and faith.

According to Great Blue Heron's post, 72 year old Elwin Wilson, a former segregationist from South Carolina, publicly apologized to Congressman John Lewis, a former freedom rider during the Civil Rights movement, for blocking his way and beating him up at a bus station in Rock Hill, SC during the 60s. Wilson has taken his message of racial reconciliation and his quest for forgiveness into black churches and prayed with former civil rights activists. He has openly embraced black men his own age at the very lunch counters where they sought the right to equal service and Wilson sought to prevent it.

Here's a description of Wilson's transformation and its effects among former civil rights activists from that era:
One civil rights worker called Wilson’s apology “a testament to how the world has changed and how hearts have changed.”

Wilson said he gave up drinking in 1976. He is not sure when he gave up hating blacks.
He might not be sure of the exact time and date. But the important thing is that he gave up prejudice and hatred. It's one more inspiring example that America and the world are changing in positive ways. We have set backs and there are times when it is tempting to give up and throw in the towel. But our efforts do produce change every day in both large and small ways.

So, on a lovely spring Sunday go out and enjoy. But know that our efforts make a difference, sometimes years later and in ways that we never expect.


J. Tyler Ballance said...

Elwin Wilson apologized for focusing his anger on his Negro neighbors.

For decades Southern Whites and Southern Negroes were pitted against one another in a political game that incited violence between the two groups. Little is written about the mobs of Negroes who attacked, robbed, and raped their Southern White neighbors, or the increasing levels of Black on White crime we still see today. The Northern Press instead preferred to highlight the plight of the Negroes in poverty, while ignoring the forty-four million Whites (a number greater than the entire Negro population) who also live in poverty.

Former Atlanta Mayor, Andrew Young, in a speech made at Mary Washington University, told the audience that it was wrong to have pitted these two segments of society against one another and that he believed that if institutions (such as Universities and government agencies) paid more attention to the plight of the White poor, then much that fuels racism between both the Black and White communities, would be substantially eliminated.

Perhaps the Obama Administration may heed Ambassador Young's advice and help to finally end the source of racism in America.

A good first step would be to eliminate all reference to race and gender on official documents. To be regarded as anything other than a Citizen, is an affront to our Republic. We are now in the Twenty-first Century and we can move forward, united together as Citizens of America.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I know you are going to accuse me of being politically correct (which is not always a bad thing to be), but I believe in respecting people by calling them by the name by which they prefer to be known. So, I will refer to "Negroes" as blacks or African Americans.

I also don't buy that there were organized mobs of blacks attacking, mugging, or raping their white neighbors down South. I do, however, believe that there was a rise in black on white crime, especially in urban areas both in the South and throughout the country, especially in urban, industrial areas, during the seventies and eighties.

There were a lot of sociological factors, including poverty and drug abuse that caused this. Some crimes may have been racially motivated but I don't think the majority were.

Having said all that, you are right about the amount of poverty among whites. You also are right that black and white citizens were pitted against each other as they competed for an ever shrinking piece of the pie.

We don't agree on methods for eliminating poverty and growing the economy. I believe that you have more faith in free trade, the wisdom of the markets, and laissez-faire capitalism than I do.

I think we need an economic stimulus package, greater regulation, health, safety and labor laws, a higher minimum wage, and health care reform to strengthen the middle class and lift both black and white citizens out of poverty.

Divide and conquer has been a tactic used by conservatives in the South, who have played the race card to keep whites and black from joining hands to fight for economic justice. It's one of the unspoken reasons it's been so hard for unions to organize factories down South as well.

But some of the old racial animosities are dying and the old hatreds are being replaced by a recognition that we are all in this together.

the devil from georgia said...

let's all smile for just a second.

J. Tyler Ballance said...

The attacks by Black gangs happened all across the South and in some areas of the North. In Norfolk, during the mid-1960s, one of my sisters was assaulted at Maury High School, merely for having red hair. She was just one of many victims of the Black on White attacks during that period. Attacks increased in frequency as the rhetoric from politicians, and public figures like King and Malcom X's followers grew more inflammatory (or in some cases were merely interpreted by the masses as inflammatory). Some of the Norfolk teens began carrying guns and knives to school. My sister completed her Senior year, while every day, carrying a Derringer in her purse to class.

Hopefully those days are behind us and this period is not merely a hiatus. We will all be tested as this economic depression progresses.

As for economic policy, I am not a free market theorist. Although I have supported some Republicans over the years, I have helped more Democrats and Libertarians, for the last decade. I support "good governance" programs that include creation of a national health service (such a service would help citizens and businesses alike), preserving the social safety net, restoring quality neighborhood schools under locally elected Boards, and efforts to restore our strategic domestic manufacturing base.

Since we are at the beginning of a new century, this period presents most people with a mental incentive to make positive changes, Many of our citizens believe that the time is right to remove all reference to gender and race on government records, so that we can move forward as a People, with a merit based society. Race and gender labels are divisive, especially in view of the fact of the increasing numbers of multi-racial families and transgendered citizens.

There is no greater office in our society, than, "citizen."

We face challenging times. If we can unite as citizens of the United States (and at least agree to work together on common ground issues) then we can leave a much brighter future for all of our collective offspring.

Americans need jobs, education and a national health care service. The Republicans refused to help the citizens, so the People have been running away from the GOP in droves. The Democratic Party could resume their role as the Champion of the Working Class, by supporting policies that treat all citizens equally, and by again using strong anti-trust measures against the giant multinational corporations, to restore competitive domestic markets that will promote real job growth.

spotter said...

Dr. King consistently preached non-violence, no matter the cost. If you found him inflammatory, you were not listening.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thank you Spotter.

You know, guys, I originally posted this because I thought it would be inspirational to report how one man overcame his personal hatred and brought about a certain amount of healing and reconciliation in his hometown.

Kinda a nice Palm Sunday/Easter/Passover sort of inspirational tale. I never expected to get controversy out of it.

Who knew?

cvllelaw said...

When I read the story on Yahoo News, my reaction was, "What a complex man!" A psychologist would be working overtime trying to figure this guy out.

Anne said...

Well, I liked your post, Karen.

If a man can sincerely go to those he has offended, embrace them as brothers, and say "forgive me," then there is cause for joy and hope.

J. Tyler Ballance said...

Spot, I realize the post was a bit long but you must have skimmed over the point.

It didn't matter what King's intentions were. You no doubt have only listened to the carefully selected quotes offered by the media, like so many.

For those who lived through that era, any speech by King, Malcolm X or other self anointed leader of the Negro community of those days, gave citizens pause, because there would be some degree of violence and vandalism directed toward both the White and Black community, by mobs who would use some phrase in the speech, as an excuse to go on a tear.

Back in those racially charged times, it didn't even take a political leader to incite a crowd to violence. In Norfolk, when James Brown performed, afterward, mobs of Blacks ran through the streets chanting Brown's "Say it loud, we're Black and we're proud" while they smashed store and car windows.

Spotter, you are woefully ignorant of the history of the 1960s. You and others seem so happy to parrot the rubbish that King was always for "non-violent" protests, when in fact, it wasn't until he was given the firm counsel by the late, Dr. James L. Farmer, did King recant violence and adopt the tactic of publicly claiming to be an advocate of peaceful resistance. Many who were part of the "Civil Rights" movement of that time, including Ambassador, Andrew Young have said that Dr. Farmer, not King, deserves the credit for steering the movement toward using the tactic of peaceful resistance.

The key point to take away from this discussion is that we have, in fact, moved forward beyond those very racially charged days. The lesson learned, is that even when a public figure may espouse peace, his followers may selectively take what was said out of context, or otherwise use words meant to heal, to instead inflict harm.

As we celebrate Easter, and Passover, we can certainly reflect on how people have used the words of religious leaders to harm others, especially anyone deemed infidel or perhaps not pious enough.

This Easter and Passover season, we can all be thankful that Americans weathered the strife of the 1960s, and that we are strong enough as a nation to endure this economic depression, without turning against one another.