And here we are again. A piece of human garbage decided it would be a good idea to start a race war, so he went to a Wednesday evening Bible study in Charleston, SC and killed nine people. Just to make sure his intentions were clear, he left one church member alive with instructions to tell the world what he’d done and why he did it. It’s easy to see what he thought would happen – a racial explosion that would achieve critical mass and spread across the country. Ferguson and Baltimore times nine. Thankfully, it appears that the little waste product failed, and that his death will be as empty and futile as his life.
The rest of the nation, in throes of self-righteousness, point fingers at South Carolina and the rest of the Deep South from atop their moral high-horses, decrying what they see as a deeply ingrained, nearly genetic racial hatred in the local population. If Mr. Roof ultimately prevails, however, it will be the result of influences from outside Charleston. His success will be due to the efforts of those whose money and power come from discord and civil unrest. Charleston has risen to the occasion and shown reason instead of emotion, love instead of hate.
On a personal note, my wife and I have lived in McKinney, TX for eight years, and I went to college in Charleston and stayed there for a couple of years after graduating. It’s where we plan to retire (feel free to pause here, go to Amazon, and purchase a copy of Cropper to help us reach that goal a little faster). I’m proud of the way both of my adopted cities have responded to controversies that would have torn other communities apart, as we’ve seen too often this year.
In my last post, I suggested that making our students read more literature might eliminate many of the attitudes that lead to these tragedies. When he confessed to the murder of nine people, Mr. Roof proved my point. According to news sources, he told police that he almost couldn’t go through with his plan because, “…everybody was so nice.” How might a little bit of empathy on his part – just the tiniest glimmer – have changed the outcome?
From what authorities have learned, the young man’s home life was, at best, chaotic, and his education was significantly less than average. But imagine how different things might have been if, in that moment of hesitation, Scout had whispered something to him from the pages of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. What if he had read Richard Wright’s Native Son, or Richard Price’s Freedomland? Anything is possible, but I don’t see how anyone can read those books without a change of perspective. Even reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn might have given him just enough humanity to make a different decision in that instant when ten lives, including his, hung in the balance.
On the other hand, some folks are so consumed with anger and vengeance that they won’t let the furor die down. The problem is, healing won’t truly begin until calm returns. Maybe it would happen more quickly if the rest of the country even remotely understood the Deep South. If those who want to fight the Civil War all over again had read Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain or Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, perhaps they would speak with some degree of understanding and make their words relevant instead of purely inflammatory. Even a scant familiarity with the works of Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, or Robert Penn Warren would shed some light on a world of which “furiners” are almost always ignorant.
Is it a good world? That depends on your perspective. Some say it’s heaven. Others believe it’s hell. If you see the South, or any part of the country, as all good or all bad, though, you really need to expand your mind and broaden your horizons. The question is, does the good outweigh the bad. For me, watching the city where I stumbled my way into adulthood stand tall and spit in the face of racism and hatred makes the answer an easy one.
My fear is that political correctness and a government based on emotion, instead of reason, will make truth and, along with it, our great works of literature illegal, so that we forget not only the mistakes of our society, but the beliefs, actions, and circumstances that led our ancestors to make them. Then, ignorant of their past and blind to the future, our children will charge boldly ahead into a brave new world, ready to perpetrate the same evils all over again.
What books would you add to this reading list? Comment below.