The pages of The Post and Courier have recently been filled with ill-informed and often mean-spirited letters to the editor in the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict and of assistant editor Frank Wooten’s suggestion that the Confederate flag be moved from its present location in front of the Statehouse in Columbia.
Rather than responding to any writer in particular, I’d like to offer a little information to help future writers get their facts straight.
One writer noted that “The NAACP lost a great leader when Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered” and that “Many whites who cursed him while he lived, grieved when he died.” Dr. King’s loss was an American tragedy, but he headed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — not the NAACP — and many who opposed him in life celebrated his death in the heat of the mid-20th century civil rights movement. I lived through the era and remember the rhetoric.
Letter writers should also avoid naming those like the Reverends Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson as leaders of the NAACP — they head other organizations. Benjamin Todd Jealous is the head of the NAACP. Reviling African-Americans who advocate justice and equity without knowing their organizational affiliations is a sign of a misinformed critic.
Numerous writers argued that the NAACP wants to eradicate “Southern heritage.” Wrong. The NAACP economic sanctions to relocate the flag — which I helped to write — call for the removal of the flag from “positions of sovereignty,” because the sovereign Confederate States of America lost the Civil War and that nation ceased to exist — we live in the United States of America.
I usually tell those who make the “attack on heritage” argument three things. The first is that eradicating their “heritage” would mean demolishing more than half of the monuments in our state, and that makes no sense. The second is that heritage lives in one’s heart. If you have to impose your heritage on others by force of law, then you cheapen, demean and belittle your heritage. The third is that I encourage those who embrace Confederate “Southern heritage” to display their flags on their car bumpers and personal paraphernalia and in front of their homes and businesses. That helps some of us to know who to be wary of and what business to avoid.
Numerous writers imply by their tone that they believe — as alleged by right-wing media personalities in the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict — that black folk are dangerous and prone to riot if we don’t get our way. Wrong. Trayvon Martin’s family and their supporters, who protested a dubious verdict, displayed exemplary dignity and restraint.
I’d also note to the writer who said that George Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury of 12 of his peers that Florida juries have six members each — not twelve. I’d also suggest that those writers concerned about ugly words and the possibility of rowdy behavior look not at the African-American community, but at Tea Party rallies.
Some writers commended black voices that said things that suited their political sensibilities. Those writers have every right to do so, as long as they understand that they can’t choose African-American community “leaders.” We can choose for ourselves, and we learned from our ancestors to be wary of “black leaders” approved, promoted, revered — and sometimes paid — by those who promote policies detrimental to the black community.
Finally, a lot of writers urged — as usual — that black folk and black organizations address “black on black” crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and unstable families. We’re already doing that, and if those writers were closer to the black community, they’d know that. We’re also capable of doing more than one thing at a time. I’d urge those writers to address “white” crime, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and family instability, for I learned as a juvenile probation counselor in very white Lexington County that societal ills usually revolve not around race, but around economic circumstance.
I wish all of those writers well, and I pray for their enlightenment and eventual intellectual and emotional growth and maturity because, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wisely said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is presiding elder of the Beaufort District of the AME Church and first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.