I attended the South Hamelton Elementary School for my first eight grades of school, located North of the Mason Dixon Line and integrated. For my high school years I went South of the Mason Dixon to the Eastern Mennonite school at Harrisonburg, Virginia. EMS had a student-run Young Peoples Christian Association that distributed “The Way,” held meetings in the local jail, and in homes for the elderly, etc.
This led me to try a stumbling witness to a ninety-year old southerner. He asserted that blacka had no souls. Like monkeys, he said. Remember, this was about seventy-five years ago. It was my introduction to the racism of the old, old south.
A few years later I was in Gulfport, Mississippi as a member of the CPS unit for conscientious objectors to war. Unit members were advised that drivers who faced the problem of running into either a cow or a woman, hit the woman. Drivers would face fewer legal difficulties if a black woman were injured or killed.
Still more years later I found myself as the bishop of Mennonite churches in South Carolina. One of the churches was composed of all African American members, including the pastor. The pastor and his wife were natives of the area, but while living in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania they were converted in a Mennonite Mission. White friends sometimes visited the black pastor in his South Carolina home. This was not easily understood.
The pastor showed me a brief note he had received from the KU KLUX KLAN It advised him to “Go back to your mother. Your daddy has nothing for you.” The note assumed he had a white father and a black mother. Such sexual encounters were common in the racist old south. The pastor took the note to the local Sherriff and explained his activities, and his strange guests. The Sherriff listened carefully, and then assured the pastor that he would have no more difficulties. The sherriff may have been a member of the KLAN.
One night the pastor and I were driving through a wooded area of South Carolina. We came unexpectedly on a KLAN rally along the road. The men wore hoods and gowns, and were burning a cross. We sped by without displaying any curiosity.
LAST NIGHT ON THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW ON MSNBC I HEARD OUR BLACK PRESIDENT LEAD A CONGREGATION IN SINGING “AMAZING GRACE.” IN MY HEART I SHOUTED, “AMEN.” TIMES ARE CHANGING!