Eight years ago, I pressed a button that unleashed an ire that I honestly was not expecting.
Maybe I was naive to think that this community was ready to remove its Confederate statue from the Daviess County Courthouse lawn.
After all, we had a Black president in office and it had been 48 years since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.
Surely we were over our racial biases and prejudices.
Boy was I wrong. I was called everything from a left-wing agitator to a communist. (And all that time I thought only people who didn’t like bacon were communists.)
I received hateful voicemails — one ominous-sounding person even telling me to leave town.
And the letters to the editor poured in. “Find something important to write about,” “Let sleeping dogs lie,” and “Why is he promoting division?” were among the letter writers’ views about my column.
But the main argument was that the Confederate statue was “just history.”
I guess that depends on perspective.
I doubt many Black Americans would agree with such dismissive reasoning when it was their ancestors who were raped, murdered, tortured and treated less than animals.
But in hindsight, I should’ve started my 2012 column with why I’m sensitive when it comes to race relations and the plight of Black Americans in this county, state and nation.
You see, I grew up on McFarland Avenue, a neighborhood mixed with whites and Blacks. Many of my friends were Black — only they weren’t my “Black” friends and I wasn’t their “white” friend. We were just friends.
And while hanging out, I witnessed both subtle and overt racism toward my friends.
I could give multiple examples but I will share the one that changed my life.
There was a biracial girl who rode my school bus in middle school. And just about every day one particular white boy would bully her and call her “zebra.” Other kids would join in the name calling.
Over the past weeks, I’ve engaged in debates on social media about this very topic of systemic racism that has plagued this nation from its start and continues today.
I have thick skin, but the one comment that got to me was from a woman who accused me of having “white guilt.”
At first, I took umbrage.
But the more I thought about it, the woman was right.
Call it guilt or regret, but I have it.
Although I didn’t join those kids as they hurled the racial “zebra” slur, I regret that I never stood up for her or said or did anything to stop them. It was because I was afraid those kids would turn on me next.
I can only imagine the mental torment that little girl went through before and after stepping off that school bus.
But no longer am I afraid and no longer will I be silent about the racism that contaminates the melting pot of this nation.
And the Confederate statues that still stain its landscape are part of the greater problem of racism that we’ve all by now witnessed in its full tragedy and heartless, evil nature.
So to call them “just history” is being blind to the fact that Confederate statues honor an immoral cause that inflicted suffering on a race of people for financial gain.
It’s true that removing these Confederate statues won’t change people’s hearts, as I’ve also heard argued.
But it is part of the heart-changing process.
Just because anyone agrees with the removal of Confederate statues doesn’t make one a left-wing agitator or a communist for that matter. It makes them a human being.
So maybe, just maybe in 2020 this community is ready to remove that Confederate statue from the courthouse lawn.
For that little girl on my school bus and all those who have been hurt, scarred or killed because of racism, I sincerely hope so.
Don Wilkins is features editor at the Messenger-Inquirer.