For all but two years of my childhood, I lived in Southern California; but we did move around within the state. In several towns people cautioned our parents “Watch out: be careful if you have to drive through [a certain part of] town. Lock your doors!” Ethnic prejudice prevailed; but as a child I rejected it, and it never took hold in my mind.
There were not many black kids in my schools, but the ones who did attend were usually lonely, and I chose to befriend them. Several times I saw adults insult people of a different ethnicity, and I disrespected them for their ignorance. Although dad was born and raised in South Texas, he taught me that we all are equal in God’s sight – and that was good enough for me.
But living in Charleston, S.C. in 1963-1964 presented an eye-opener for me. In my senior year in high school I was in the school band, glee club, and in the senior play.
But my life changed around 1:45 PM (ET) on Friday, November 22, 1963 when an uproar broke out throughout the high school. It sounded like our football team had just scored the winning touchdown.
President John Kennedy had just been murdered in Dallas, Texas.
I was flabbergasted, stunned, and didn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it! Why would anyone want to murder the president of the United States? And why would any American citizen cheer when our president was killed? Even Christian kids were cheering!
My feelings of disbelief quickly changed to hatred of those who would raucously cheer over our President’s murder. The only animosity toward a people I had ever experienced previously was in reading about the Nazis and Japanese whom we fought in WWII, and the Communists – although I never disliked them personally.
But now, I experienced a deep-seated hatred for some of my own countrymen. Not black, but white! At seventeen years of age, being raised in Church and in the military, I disdained anyone who treated human life as a disposable item. Voicing my feelings, my reputation took a turn. You see, I also had the stigma of being a Californian, and California supported the North in our Civil War. But President Kennedy, a Northerner, was hated by many in the South because he had been endorsing ethnic integration which the Deep South rejected.
My black friends in Charleston had been nervous about being seen with me. But now several of them took me aside and said: “We can’t spend any more time with you. You are not one of us, and you being with us is making our life harder. We are going to get hurt if we don’t stop being with you.”
I said, “I don’t understand. You are my friends, and I will fight anyone who tries to hurt you!”
Then the clincher. One of them said, “But next year you will be gone, and we will still be here. Who will protect us then? Don’t come around us anymore!”
THAT is when ethnic bigotry and prejudice took on a new – and contemporary – meaning for me. I viewed the American Civil War in somewhat of a different light. It broke my heart to be deprived of friendship with the black kids. It broke their hearts, too, for apparently, I was the first white kid who ever wanted to spend time with them. I was still in the band, glee club, and the senior play, and I still got along with most the white kids, but my life had changed.
When that school year was over, I rode the Greyhound Bus back to Southern California. At midnight, I was the only passenger from Charleston to Atlanta; but from Atlanta to New Orleans, the bus was as full as a sardine can.
With only two seats available (one in the middle of the bus near a white woman, the other in the back near a black man), all eyes were on me as I walked to the back of the bus. The black man told me that I couldn’t sit there because that was the black section; but speaking so that everyone could hear me, I informed him that this was America and I could sit anywhere I chose. When he said, “You could git awful hut if you sit heah.” I said, “I’ll take my chances.”
I couldn’t see them, but in retrospect, I am sure that several Angels were accompanying me on that bus ride.
On our way to New Orleans, that black man taught me, a naïve teenager, a college course on the plight of black Americans – a lesson I have never forgotten. Prejudice is a manifestation of ignorance at best, and demonic hatred at worst – depending on how people act – and I dedicated my life to teaching truth; for it is the truth of Jesus Christ that sets people free.
Jesus said in John 8:33; “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”