I remember as a young child how respectfully my father spoke of an African American co-worker at the Steel plant who was also a part-time Baptist minister. However, from the same period in my life, I remember the Sunday another member of our congregation brought to church a Black man who we later learned was a visiting African graduate student. When my father saw the student on the street he locked the car doors, something we never did in those days. It was only years later I understood the meaning of his actions.
I remember Eddie Harris. Eddie and I were in the same class for one year when my family moved to a new neighborhood. Eddie and I both played trombone and sat next to each other during rehearsals and concerts. At the end of the day Eddie went to his home in the “projects” and I went in the other direction to my home. I never really got to know Eddie. I can’t say he was my “friend.” The following year we went our separate ways to different junior high schools. I wonder what happened to him.
I remember moving into seminary housing at LSTC more than 40 years ago. We were tired having just driven half-way across the country. We knew no one and there seemed to be no one around to offer to help unload our meager possessions from the rented truck – except a few neighborhood kids. I remember to my embarrassment feeling uncertain whether it would be wise or safe to accept their offer.
We are not white supremists, neo-Nazis, or members of the Klan, yet we too need to confess that we are tainted by “America’s original sin.” As Bishop Miller reminds us in his recent response to the events in Charlottesville, we cannot be naïve about “the pernicious forces of racism, violence, and hatred that infect our souls, individually and as a society.” You and I have been taught, perhaps only by silent example. We too are infected.
As we begin a new school year with the blessing of teachers, students, and backpacks, we find ourselves with a unique opportunity to consider again what spoken and unspoken lessons we offer our children about race.
Pastor John Schumacher