Whittle: Will victims' death help end violence?

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Our nation's psyche of well-being was shattered with the assassination of nine fellow Americans at a South Carolina church.
The assassin bragged he did it to foster a war between blacks and whites.

When the daughter of a murdered minister stood up in front of America's TV audience to tell the confessed assassin - "I forgive you" - did that act of "forgiveness" help to cool the nation's jets of hatred?

Is that daughter's act of "forgiveness" the difference of what's happening peacefully in Charleston, as opposed to the rioting and looting in Ferguson and Baltimore?

When she stated "I forgive you" to the confessed assassin, it took me back to my most tear-filled day of life five years ago, when great-grandson Beckett, due to a caregiver's negligence, sustained severe head trauma.

Words can't describe the anger I felt for the caregiver, when Beckett's parents, Patrick and Amanda Amick Nelson, stepped into the hospital waiting room with the following instruction: "We need to pray for Beckett, and we need to pray for the well-being of the caregiver who made a horrible mistake."

Those words from young parents in their early 20s, instantly deflated my 65-year-old anger-filled soul for the caregiver. Today, Beckett's damaged life is serving as a courageous beacon of inspiration for hundreds, due to miracles from God and caregivers at Murfreesboro's Special Kids.

Will the "Civil War" ever end in America?

I wasn't born a bigot ... in fact, Rosie and Reuben, who called themselves by the "N" words as sharecroppers on our farm, helped "raise" me as a newborn and toddler. My being of dark complexion, they gave me my first nickname: "Little Black Boy."

And I loved being called that in the cotton fields back home, because Rosie and Reuben loved me, and I adored them.

I would giggle joyfully, when Rosie would playfully pretend she was rubbing "some black" from her skin to mine.

But later, I evolved into a bigot while conforming to adult attitudes in my own family, and listening to some preachers of my youth. More about those preachers later in this forum.

When asked by my current newspaper publisher to do this column about racism in America, it triggered some painful soul-searching.

I hope every presidential candidate will have to clarify how they feel about flying a Confederate flag over government buildings. That was one thought that came to mind. I know it's an American right to have such a flag, but if it insults my neighbor, I'm not flying it.

Put it in an existing museum, if it's a history preservation issue. One presidential candidate came out saying if a majority of South Carolina residents want the Confederate flag flown over the state capitol, then do it.

Former Cannon County Executive Harold Patrick, now the mayor of Woodbury, remains one of my personal heroic public office holders, because he faced heated political opposition in the early 1990s, when he refused to fly a likeness of the Confederate flag over the courthouse.

In the 1920s, more than 60 years after the Civil War, the KKK opposed construction of the first Catholic church in Murfreesboro. Friend Bobby Glanton-Smith recalls the KKK parading through the "Black Bottoms" community of Murfreesboro "for kicks and giggles" as recent as 1965.
"They terrified me as a young black boy," confirmed Glanton-Smith.

I recall the words "Learn baby learn, not burn baby burn" being espoused by the late T-Ninety Scales, a leading city councilman in Murfreesboro, who happened to be a black gentleman.

During the past decade, there was opposition locally for the construction of a mosque in a nation founded partly on religious freedom.

Growing up in the "Bootheel" cotton-growing country of Southeast Missouri was the equivalent of growing up in the Deep South, culturally speaking.
Adult members of my family's generation ahead of me instructed firmly, that "morally, blacks and whites don't mix." And I heard those words more than once from Southern Baptist preachers.

I get nervous today when I hear holier-than-thou politicians broadcasting their brand of values, while attempting to take away the voting rights of Americans with less economic means.

My old farm daddy was right, when he had this firm rule: "When a person comes on our farm bragging how saintly he is, go lock our smokehouse."
At age 9, I was proud being the only kid on our farm road to be chosen to tote small bottles of whiskey out to black cotton choppers, to encourage them to load onto the back of large flat-bed trucks to be hauled to multiple polling places on election days in New Madrid County, Missouri.

Was I morally wrong to participate in the exploitation my fellow neighbor black citizens? Yes, but I didn't know that, since my parents and other white adult role models instructed us that was the way things were done in Southern Missouri of the 1940s and 1950s.

My personal bigotry didn't start ending until integration came to our high school in 1961-62 school years. And I was the white kid most responsible for nearly starting a race riot at our newly integrated school.

It was in art class, when a friend advised a black male student had made sexual remarks to the sister of a white male classmate of mine. Since the classmate was not there to defend his little sister, I took it upon myself to confront the black student.

Screams of female art students possibly saved my life there in the back of the art classroom, for I had not seen the switchblade knife being brandished by the black student. Mercifully, the art teacher got between us before any blood was spilled.

The next day, Superintendent of Richland High School Robert L. Rasche called my would-be combatant and me to his office to instruct: "We must get along and be civil to one another."

To which, I replied with my smart-aleck young mouth: "Sir, I'll meet them half-way."

To which, Supt. Rasche instructed bluntly: "You'll meet them all the way!"

His words were like a dishpan of cold water being thrown in my face. Out of my great respect for Mr. Rasche, his firm instruction against my racism helped jolt my consciousness about racism. It was a fledgling step, but it was a step.

Fast forward four years in the mid-1960s, after I began my professional writing career at a small daily newspaper in Sikeston, Mo., the site of Missouri's last lynching of a black man named Cleo Wright in 1942. Remember, this was "Deep South," culturally speaking. No one was ever prosecuted for taking Mr. Wright out of a jail cell, binding his legs to the back of a truck with baling wire to drag him through the streets, before burning him alive.

As recent as the 1960s, my fellow newspaper editors were firmly told by the Sikeston newspaper publisher: "No n_____ news on the front page, it only encourages their demonstrations."

In 1969, it was understandable when black citizens of Sikeston threatened to torch the newspaper building, when editors, due to firm instruction from the publisher, ran Martin Luther King's assassination as a news brief buried on an inside page of the newspaper.

However, that old bigoted Southern newspaper publisher's iron-clad rule of "no n_____ news on the front page" helped end my personal bigotry. I regret it took me so long to change my own racist views.

Smyrna Parkway Baptist Sunday school teacher, Dr. I.N. Sheffield, helped me Sunday, when he quoted from the NIV Biblical book of Matthew: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

Bible scholar Sheffield also quoted Romans 12: 20-21: "Evil will not win."

Let us help one another be better citizens of America that was founded on personal freedoms.


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Dan Whittle
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