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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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Black South Carolinian finds the article interesting
Jonathan Pait
March 6, 2003

Thanks to those in the community who responded to my recent article. I’m looking forward to sitting down with you to enjoy some coffee and some fellowship. I was certainly heartened to receive the following E-mail from a young man whom I trust will continue to stay in contact with us here at CommonVoice.com. The subject of his message was, "Black South Carolinian finds article interesting."
I am a black South Carolinian (from Williamsburg County) studying at a law school in Virginia. I intend on living and practicing law in South Carolina. I have voted for both Democrats and Republicans in the past, and I was a page for Strom Thurmond while in high school (1995). I would consider myself pretty conservative on most issues. In fact, I will probably vote for George W. Bush in 2004.

The reason I am emailing you, however, is because of your article concerning forgiveness and the MLK holiday debate in Greenville County. I will keep my comments brief. First, I agree forgiveness is important. But in order to truly forgive, we must confront the sins of the past. The gospel consistently tells us to recognize and confess our sins to the Lord. In fact, it is counterproductive to run away from those sins as if God didn't see them at all.

This leads me to your debate about the King holiday. Certainly King was not perfect, but his bravery freed not only black people but also the entire South. Just look at how our standards of living have all been raised in the South because of the end of a legalized caste system in this country. Recognizing a day for him would offend some, but it would give the rest of us a chance to recognize wrongs that were done and to seek Christ's guidance for forgiveness of those offenses.

Certainly, you did not personally enslave or persecute anyone. But we all inherited a society from our forefathers that did those things. We, therefore, can either wash our hands of that history and stay stuck with bitter feelings, or we can begin the process of recognition, confession, and forgiveness. Only then will we truly be able to move on and make South Carolina better for all of us.

Not only white folks, but black folks as well must do this. Joining the rest of the state, the nation, and even Ronald Reagan and creating a King holiday can be a good start for folks in Greenville County in this healing process.

I hope I did not bore you with my email. Take care.

Here is where I have to comment on the recent shenanigans at the County Council meeting. Folks, it is getting extremely embarrassing—and I’m talking to both sides of the issue! I have to agree with Beth Padgett’s take on the whole deal. Let’s back off and let the committee do its work. I for one am confident they are going to hand us a workable solution. Then again, it will only be a workable solution if we want it to be.

Now, back to the E-mail. My original article was not aimed at the MLK day debate. I purposefully by-passed whether it is the right or wrong thing to do. Why? As I said, “our community must not depend upon the existence of or lack of these symbols that give the facade of harmony.” Sure, it would be the quick and easy fix to the issue in the headlines, but do you really think it would make a difference in the relationships between the people who were at each other’s throats Tuesday night?

However, my new friend has hit on something. He says, “We all inherited a society from our forefathers that did these things. We, therefore, can either wash our hands of that history and stay stuck with bitter feelings, or we can begin the process of recognition, confession, and forgiveness.” Now, I could respond to this the way some have and call out, “I never enslaved your daddy!” All of a sudden I am defensive and striking back.

So, how do I respond?

First, I recognize that this is an honest issue for many blacks. From my perspective I can’t understand why something that did not happen to them personally could have such a hold on them. I guess it is kind of like some of my fellow southerners that can’t get over the fact that the CSA lost the war or get beyond the wrongs we suffered during reconstruction. I don’t understand but it doesn’t make those feelings any less real.

Second, I respond by asking to meet halfway. I am more than willing to recognize the wrongs of the past. They should never be whitewashed nor forgotten. We know the saying about reliving history. I am even willing to confess any wrongs that I personally have done and seek forgiveness for those things. However, I ask for understanding that it is not even possible for me to ask forgiveness for something I have not done.

Does it concern me that there was a time in our past where people were enslaved? Yes. Does it concern me that there was a time in our past where our government treated people as inferior? Yes. It concerns me enough to make sure that I do not repeat those errors. Can my black brothers accept that in place of seeking for forgiveness for people long dead? Can we join together in denouncing those wrongs?

This brings us full circle to the MLK day. There was a quotation in The Greenville News that should open our eyes to a different perspective. “It’s not about him,” Virginia Burgess said pointing at a sketch of King. “It’s about me.” When something becomes this personal, it is important that anyone with an opposing view recognize it and approach the issues with sensitivity. That has not happened in our community.

For many opposed to the day, it is a matter of “the day”, “the man”, or “the money.” For many supporting the day, it is about so much more than “the day”, “the man”, or “the money.” It is about “me.” They, like my new found friend, are calling out for recognition of the past and an acceptance of the negatives of that past as well as of those who have made things better.

Can we step back and make this a matter, not about “the day”, “the man”, “the money” or even “me” and turn it into an issue about “us?” Could we not find a compromise that would allow for recognition of our past—both negative and positive—while taking into account certain concerns about a single individual receiving that recognition and then call for action to build beyond that past for a better future?

Personally, I don’t have a dog in the fight. While I do not want to see another paid holiday for anybody or anything, I won’t think the world is coming to an end with an MLK day. If it helps some get beyond their concerns about Greenville’s race relations, then I guess the money is a small price to pay. The problem is, I am concerned that the passing of the day won’t save the day for our community. It can simply ratchet up the levels of bitterness.

With the response I have seen so far, I am encouraged. Things look much brighter over the rim of my coffee cup.

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