Many have worked to bridge racial divide, but one has not
by Roger Hines
November 11, 2012 12:15 AM | 1875 views | 3 3 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By Southern standards, Meridian, Miss., is a fairly big city. Though mostly empty, its one skyscraper, the Two Penny Building, still catches the eye of travelers on Interstate 20. Meridian has produced one Miss America, Susan Akin, as well as the beautiful actress, Sela Ward, who can be seen Friday nights on CBS’s CSI: New York.

Perhaps lost on most people, even on some lovers of country music, is the fact that “the Father of Country Music,” was a Meridianite. Jimmie Rodgers, the tubercular brakeman, crooner and yodeler, was born in Meridian in 1897. One of country music’s first commercial successes, Rodgers moved country music from a poor man’s entertainment to an outright industry. However, even though Rodgers was one of the nation’s first recording stars and appeared in shows with humorist Will Rogers, he was of little interest to Meridian citizens for the five years that I lived and taught there.

Meridian was much prouder of her school superintendent, Dr. L.O. Todd. Todd, a native of nearby Newton County, received his Ph.D. from Columbia University, had served as a college president, and was providing visionary leadership for the Meridian public school system.

Toward the end of my first year of teaching, in the spring of 1967, Dr. Todd asked for volunteers to teach the next year in a school of a different race. His goal was to get a jump on an inevitable federal court order that would require schools to desegregate. He also preferred to begin desegregation slowly and peacefully.

Todd’s appeal garnered two volunteers out of Meridian’s 600 or so classroom teachers. The following fall I was welcomed by the faculty of all-black George Washington Carver Jr. High School, and Melba Clark, a veteran Carver teacher, assumed my schedule at all-white Northwest Jr. High.

The response I received for trying to do something so small to help race relations was simply embarrassing. At church and around town I was hailed as a pioneer. Incredibly, even at Carver, the stellar, highly educated faculty viewed me as a courageous agent of change.

My year at “Mighty Carver” is a precious memory. When Martin Luther King was assassinated in the spring, I grieved with and for my 12 and 13- year-old students as well as my new faculty friends. On the day of King’s funeral we cancelled class and somberly watched King’s funeral on television from a big, faraway place called Atlanta. I was 24. The Vietnam War was raging, the civil rights movement was ablaze, and I knew that I was standing in the middle of some history.

Fast forward 41 years to 2008. I could never have voted for Barack Obama because our world views were so starkly different, but I have to say that like many other Americans, I felt a measure of pride when he received his party’s nomination for president. While Obama was emerging as the nominee, he never rattled the old bones of America’s racial past. Unlike Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and other so-called black leaders, he steered clear of overt, racist rhetoric. I began to believe he was a centrist, a real, post-racial Democrat. His writings and speeches, which I followed and studied assiduously, indicated that if elected, he would be a healer. Perhaps, then, my keen memory of the hurtful “Whites Only” signs which I grew up seeing (and which partly drove me to Carver) would be assuaged.

But Obama was not a healer. During his first year his rhetoric became incendiary. Class and race became his province. His every proposal served to divide the country on the basis of economic status. Drill down into the man’s psyche and you will find class consciousness which, I believe, is the cause for his entire first-term assault against achievers, whether bankers, small business owners, or “millionaires” who make $250,000.

But that’s not all. Obama’s attitude itself has been totally lacking in magnanimity. He showed that he could chastise and ridicule Republicans one day and call for civility in political discourse the next. His enjoyment of the perks of his office has been shamefully obvious. Such ego-centrism does nothing to build bridges of any kind, least of all bridges between races or between citizens of different economic strata.

Talk about a lost opportunity in leadership. Proof of this loss lies in the fact that the recent election did not increase Obama’s support. He is the only president to win a second term with a smaller percentage of the vote than that of his first term.

The whole business, though, has reminded me of something of value: one must continue in small ways to help and heal in his own small world. It doesn’t matter if a president is not helping.

Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school teacher and former state legislator.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
Mo Blutarsky
November 12, 2012
Roger is 100% correct in his thought regardong BO.

Race relations in this country are worse now then in the past 20 years. He used his race to protect himself from criticism and anyone that does not agree with him is a racist. His wife hates white people. She said after his first election

"I am finally proud of my country". What she doesn't remember that without the equal rights ammendment that was pushed for by many white people she would have never has the opportunties she had for higher education.

The same goes for her husband.
November 11, 2012
I think we find what we look for. I found Republicans attitude toward Obama and his win hateful and destructive to democracy. And I still think it is hateful and destructive. But, then, those on the other side think the same of Dems.

For each anecdote you have that seems to say one thing, someone will have another one that proves the exact opposite of what you think you proved with this. What good is done by this article except to feed whatever ill feeling you have and want to spread around?
Give me a break...
November 11, 2012
Say what you will about his political policies and platforms, as reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which government should assist those who have fallen through our society's safety nets and the obligations of the privileged to assist through governmental systems, but claiming that Barack Obama has not handled his groundbreaking Presidency with racial adeptness, grace, and humility -- in spite of an onslaught of outrageous, racially-directed attacks against his very being, then you Roger should have your eyes examined for partisan blindness, your ears checked for tone-deafness, and your heart checked for signs of any discernible pulse.

Much like Jackie Robinson, yet with an order of magnitude greater significance, the President has handled this onslaught with the same grace and humility as the much acclaimed career of the great Dodger. Unfortunately, I think due to a form of partisan tunnel-vision or tone-deafness from too much time in the echo chamber of right wing rage, you don't recognize that amongst our generation, Barack Obama is among the very few, when viewed many scores from now through the less chaotic prism of history, whose name & legacy will truly belong to the ages...perhaps not through any single political accomplishment, but simply through enduring with dignity and charity for his fellow citizens, including even his harshest critics.

You count yourself opposed to him -- fair enough. I count myself with him. May history judge and judge wisely our choices & may we have the clarity of thought to soberly look back on & assess our choices as we grow older and hopefully wiser.
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