By Jim Holladay
As much as I wish it were not so, I am child of a racist culture and heritage. I cringe when I remember telling and laughing at racist jokes and using racial slurs. It is a part of me of which I have long-since repented, but whose scars I still carry.
I was not quite 13 years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. Dr. King was not a popular man with most of the people of Carrollton, Ga., my home town. To most of us, and I am ashamed to be included in the us, Dr. King was a Communist-inspired racial agitator, supported by the Soviet Union to undermine the social order and bring down the government of the United States of America. He was a trouble-maker who disturbed the peace of our perfectly-ordered society, where everyone knew their place, and at least until he came along, seemed perfectly happy to stay there.
I do not remember much about the day he was killed. To my recollection, nobody that I knew celebrated his death. While no one thought he should have been killed, many believed he got what was coming to him.
Few tears were shed in my social circles, or even my church, over his death. The fear of blacks exacting revenge on whites, though, was palpable, even in my small, West Georgia hometown.
Racism was the air we breathed and it polluted even our understanding of Christian discipleship.
A year later, in 1965, 11 years after Brown v. Board of Education, desegregation came to the Carrollton City Schools as a handful of students from Carver High School were enrolled in Carrollton High School. Desegregation came slowly, in phases, so as not to create too much of a shock to the white community. Over the next four years, more and more students came from Carver to Carrollton High until eventually Carver High School was emptied of students and teachers, of its life and heritage.
Desegregation meant blacks were to be integrated into a white world. No white students were asked, much less forced, to enter a pre-dominantly black school.
Being forced to go to school with black people did not seem particularly onerous, perhaps because there were vastly more of us than there were of them. It was at this point the first pangs of conscience over the inherent wrongness of the situation began to stir in me.
Something did not seem right about an arrangement that called for the eventual closing of Carver High School. I began to understand that integration was a one-way street that meant the loss of history, traditions, and pride along with the assimilation of Carver’s student body into Carrollton High — and resistance was futile.
I was struck with the inherent unfairness of a situation where students who would have been elected Homecoming King/Queen, class president, captain of the football team, or even Drum Major at Carver would be relegated to observer status. Leadership, recognition and honors would stay with the white majority.
The white community in Carrollton, GA took great pride in how peacefully we had managed to desegregate the schools. We even dared to believe that black students were now better off. Little did we consider that desegregation is a far cry from integration. Desegregation allows the dominant culture to feel good about itself simply because it makes room at our table for people who are different, as long as ‘those people’ will follow our seating chart, eat our food, and enjoy our dinner conversation. Integration means changing the ownership of the table, the menu, and the conversation — a laudable goal.
Yet, Dr. King’s dream for the human community is more radical than desegregation or integration. He calls us to join the Lord at the banquet table of the Kingdom, spread in the midst of the forces of evil and oppression, to bear witness to a new human community based on Jesus’ prophetic vision of equity, justice, and love. Those who choose to live into this vision will indeed be disturbers of the peace.
Jim Holladay is pastor of Lyndon Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
This column is Part 7 of the Dr. King and Beloved Community series here at CBFblog. Check out other posts in this series below:
Part 1 — ”Dr. King and Beloved Community — A CBFblog series” (by Aaron Weaver, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship)
Part 2 — “The The Spiritual Discipline of Martin Luther King Jr.” (by Doug Weaver, Baylor University)
Part 3 — “Celebrating Dr. King and the Separation of Church and State” (by Charles Watson Jr., Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty)
Part 4 — “‘Tell Them About the Dream, Martin!’” (by Patrick Anderson, Christian Ethics Today)
Part 5 — “Little boxes on the hillside — Dr. King’s Dream as part of God’s Dream” (by Lanta Cooper, Park Avenue Baptist Church)
Part 6 — “MLK Day of Service at First Baptist Church, Decatur Ga. (by Sharyn Dowd, FBC Decatur)