Our whole nation seems to be consumed in name-throwing. When I think that it will end in rock-throwing or worse, I remember that we have been arguing similarly since recorded time. We have always been afraid of people not like us.
I think of my childhood and remember the song I learned at Bible school. “Red and yellow, black and white. All are precious in his sight.” I believed the words and saw no problem, but I knew no red or yellow people, only white ones. It was Clarkesville, Ga., in the 1940s.
My mother’s only black friend at that time lived in an old house behind our neighborhood. They regularly exchanged flower clippings. In my parents’ earlier life in Gainesville, my father worked with the family minister and sometimes visited black churches. In Clarkesville, I happily helped one of my high school teachers one summer as she taught Sunday school in a local black church. I also greatly admired a local black man I heard about who was important to the progress of our area.
But we didn’t have contact with Chinese people, Mexican people, or others not like us. The only such contact I remember was when the military son of a neighbor came home from World War II bringing his new Asian wife. His parents invited the neighborhood women to meet her at an afternoon coffee. Mother took me with her; I was about 9, and our hostess ushered us into the living room where we all sat quietly in a circle. No one could talk to her, and she didn’t open her mouth after introduction. We all were afraid.
Jesus, the name I heard constantly, once said that loving our neighbors was his second most important commandment right behind the first most important to love him. A man on that long, long ago day asked Jesus who his neighbor was. Jesus told about a man with a different appearance walking a well-traveled road where he was beaten and left for dead. A preacher, called a priest back then, saw him but left him to die. Another man, like neither the injured man nor preacher, approached, picked the man up, bandaged his wounds and took him to a hotel or inn, promising to pay all charges incurred in his recovery.
The kind and merciful man treated the injured man like his neighbor. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus said.
My parents were not activists, and I never heard them speak an unkind word about any other person. If they constantly told us we needed to honor and respect all people, I don’t remember it. However, I once used disrespectful words toward black people, and my father addressed me with emphasis.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and my parents were taking me and other children on a church trip to Mercer University in Macon. We were in a station wagon full of white Clarkesville kids. As we drove through Macon, I saw the sidewalks filled with black people and black children about the age of me and my friends. I was mesmerized by all the dark skins. I stuck my head out the car window and hollered, “Hey, little chocolate drops.” My father slammed on brakes and said, “Don’t. You. EV-ER. Do anything like that again.”
I wonder how my parents would react if they heard all that is happening today, including the words “Go back where you came from.” They would be as astounded and saddened as I am, but would pray for racial tolerance as our elected officials sought major reductions in government spending, strong solutions to climate change, and much more.
Alma Bowen is a longtime Gainesville resident and former editor of The Times.