When your heritage represents our pain

This imagine of kids playing  together in 1950s Detroit should help us remember that we are one.

This iconic photograph of children playing in Detroit should remind us all that we are one. The flag that divides us should not fly on public property.

First a painful truth: the Confederate flag flies all around the South. I’ve seen it in Jackson, Miss. and in Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery, where black people — and the white people who helped them — were beaten and murdered for trying to fulfill their humanity and gain equal protection under the law.

Here in Georgia we see the flag on porches, at places of business and on the license plate of a car that seems to be following you way too closely.

Now the debate about the flag is focused on South Carolina, where a 21-year-old man pictured with the Confederate flag killed nine people in a Charleston church two weeks ago and admitted he did so because he hated African-Americans. The pastor of that church, Clementa Pinckney, was among those slaughtered. He served in the South Carolina state legislature, the very body that will take up the flag issue next week.
The Civil War may have ended 150 years ago, but this battle over the Confederate Flag rages on. For me, the flag represents oppression and hatred. I get a sick feeling in my stomach whenever i encounter it. My mind goes back to a time when black people were killed just for being black.

Earlier this week I asked Rev. C.T. Vivian about the Confederate flag and the burning of black churches throughout the South in recent weeks. Vivian, who turns 90 this month, fought for voting rights in Selma. As a young pastor and divinity student in Nashville, he took part in the Nashville Student Movement and the Freedom Rides in the early 1960s. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded Vivian with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“The flag is representing the death, the murder and the misuse of black life before and after slavery. That’s why they talk about heritage,” said Vivian. “Well I would not want to be a part of heritage that talks about hate as a basic part of my lifestyle. They have to understand the hanging and the killing and the beating of black people by Christians and the Klan was a basic part of a good deal of what the white church did in the south. Racism was a part of the lives of the Southern Baptists.”

As Dr. Vivian noted, the flag is deeply engrained in Southern culture.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw the flag outside of my workplace. It was 1989 and I’d moved from St. Petersburg, Fla. to take a reporting job in Atlanta. When I walked into the newsroom, I asked why the Confederate flag was flying outside my new workplace. It’s part of the Georgia state flag, a colleague said.

And here I thought I was moving to “the city too busy to hate.” The black Mecca. The cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. Welcome to Georgia, where every other neighborhood has “Plantation” in its name and there is an entire museum dedicated to revisionist history.

It would be years before the Confederate emblem was removed from Georgia’s state flag. It was a bruising battle that ultimately came down to economics and image.  In the South, you see, one of the justifications for slavery is that it was an economic institution.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery often speaks about how Southern culture and ideals come into play with current day issues, such as the need to appoint more black judges in Georgia.  Much of the resistance stems from the refusal of some state legislators to let go of the past, he contends.

“They are still fighting the Civil War,” said Lowery, who in 2009 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work in civil and human rights.

So display the Confederate flag if you choose. But do so with the knowledge of the hurt and pain it brings to many Americans who helped build this country.

But it should no longer be displayed on public property.

Let’s honor the nine men and women who died at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Take down that flag.


Murder and hate in God’s house will not prevail

These people lost their lives in a shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.

Nine beautiful and talented people, including the church’s pastor  lost their lives in a shooting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, where they were having Wednesday night bible study.

His picture is all over the Internet. Reporters are looking into his sick, tortured background. His father bought him a .45 caliber hand gun for his 21st birthday. He hated African-Americans. He plotted murder. He left three witnesses to tell of his wicked deed. He believes he succeeded.

He killed nine God-fearing men and women in a beautiful, historic church in Charleston, S.C.  Emanuel A.M.E. Church is sacred ground. It was once burned to the ground by white supremacists.  This latest twisted soul claims he had to kill black people because they were taking jobs from white people and raping women. Complete and utter nonsense.

Twelve people had gathered to study God’s word. To pray and to seek God’s favor. They welcomed him in as Christians are called to do. Love your fellow man. Minister to those in need. Be a comfort in a time of storm.

He sat in their midst for one hour before he stood up and began to shoot.  The storm raging in his body would not be quieted. I will not dignify his acts by speaking his name.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch declared his act a hate crime. But this 21-year-old monster will not get the victory. Hearts are broken, as they were in Sandy Hook, in Columbine and in so many places where gunmen have inflicted their rage upon innocents.

The church’s pastor, S.C. state senator Clementa Pinckney was among those killed. He was leading the bible study. Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctory, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Rev. Sharonda Singleton and Myra Thompson were all murdered.

In processing the evil of this deed, one can’t help but draw a parallel to the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. On that September morning five little girls were in the ladies room preparing for Sunday services when a bomb exploded, killing 11-year-old Denise McNair and 14-year-olds Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley.  Sarah Collins, Addie Mae’s younger sister, was badly injured and lost an eye.

The message that morning: “A Love that Forgives.”

But the Klan members who planted the bomb didn’t realize their act would backfire. When people saw dead children being carried from the rubble, the Civil Rights Movement was galvanized. What those men meant for evil, God meant for good.

Hate never prevails.

Four lives snuffed out; one deferred


BIRMINGHAM — They were five little girls looking forward to the rest of their lives.

Sarah Collins Rudolph lived to tell their story. She was 12 years old at the time; now she is 62. She and her sister Addie Mae walked to church that Sunday morning as they had done so many times before. Their Sunday school lesson that morning, “A Love that Forgives,” would test everyone in their town.

Addie Mae, the big sister who liked to draw and play baseball, would never come home again. Sarah would never be whole again.
A flat gray tombstone marks the spot where 14 sticks of dynamite, rigged into a bomb, were planted just outside the ladies dressing room at 16th Street Baptist Church.

It reads: “Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963. 10:22 a.m.” There are four roses on the stone with the names of each murdered girl: Addie Mae Collins 14; Denise McNair, 11, Carole Robertson, 14 and Cynthia Wesley, 14.

“Ye thought evil against me but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Genesis 50:20.

The bomb was planted by men who hated people they didn’t even know. They were men who believed they shouldn’t have to share schools and other public facilities with people they didn’t consider to be human.

Led by the Rev. John Cross, 16th Street Baptist was one of several churches in Birmingham where African-Americans gathered to plan protests against segregated conditions. Across the street at Kelly Ingram Park, children and adult protesters were sprayed with high pressure water hoses when they would not leave. Police dogs were turned against them. Hundreds were arrested. But Birmingham’s business owners and city leaders held fast.

That morning at 16th Street, Addie Mae, Denise, Cynthia and Carole didn’t have a care in the world. They were fixing their hair and making sure their dresses were perfect. Addie Mae and Sarah were preparing to sing in the choir.

The last thing Sarah Collins Rudolph saw before she was blinded by glass and other debris was her sister, tying a sash on Denise McNair’s dress.

In that instant, Sarah called for her sister, “Addie, Addie.” Then she called on Jesus to help them.

Everything went dark. Later, at the hospital she overheard someone say her sister Addie was dead. A few weeks later, doctors told her she would lose her left eye if her right eye was not removed.
To this day, she still has trouble performing simple tasks. When she drives, she worries that someone is going to ram their car into hers. She never had children and is on her third marriage. She still bears the facial scars from that day, which she covers with make up. She misses her sister.

At least four men were believed to have constructed and planted the bomb ¬– “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss, Thomas Blanton Jr., Bobby Frank Cherry and Herman Cash. They were members of the Ku Klux Klan, a group that promoted violence and white supremacy. It would take decades before all three of them were convicted of murder. The last man went to prison in 2002. Cash died before his case could be brought to trial.

Birmingham attorney Doug Jones was the U.S. Attorney who convicted Blanton and Cherry. The men were heartless and bragged about what they did.

Fifty years after the murders, only one set of parents remain. Maxine and Chris McNair joined Rudolph and her husband George in Washington Tuesday where they received Congressional Medals posthumously for their loved ones.

The medals signify the sacrifices of the girls and their families. Denise’s parents remember what was then their only child as a busy little girl who loved to know everything that was happening around her. In Spike Lee’s documentary “Four Little Girls” her father talked about the pain he felt explaining to his daughter why she couldn’t drink out of the same water fountain as white girls and why she couldn’t get a hamburger at a lunch counter. That pain cut deep, Chris McNair said in the documentary.

Cynthia Wesley was a girl known to everyone as compassionate and caring. She would do anything for a friend. Carole Robertson was looking forward to playing the clarinet in the band.

You can’t come to this spot and not be moved to tears thinking about what happened here 50 years ago. Had I grown up in Alabama instead of Kentucky, I could very well have been in the ladies dressing room that day with my sister.

On Saturday, a bronze statue of four little girls will be placed at the entrance of Kelly Ingram Park. It will overlook 16th Street, where the Civil Rights Movement was galvanized like never before at 10:22 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963.

the cornerstone


the church