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Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Race Debate

by Paul Findley

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In an era of deep-rooted race issues and increased publicity over white police shooting at unarmed blacks in America, former U.S. Congressman Paul Findley, asks why the race debate hasn’t yet been settled. It comes as US President Barack Obama urges young black Americans to consider the progress since the Civil Rights era following a spade of nationwide protests.

The sudden national tumult in America over race relations and particularly white police brutality against African- Americans may seem strange if not incomprehensible in the Arab world. In my frequent travels there I have never observed racial bias. Jesus Christ had dark skin, perhaps very dark, despite Western art that usually presents him white.

In a conversation several years ago with a young man in Saudi Arabia I was told that racial discrimination does not exist in the Arab world, where skin pigmentation ranges from very white to very black.

Sadly, slavery of blacks in America was extensive long before the United States came into being. A number of the Founding Fathers of America, curiously, owned slaves at the time they signed the Declaration of Independence and led the drafting of the U.S. Constitution, both of which proclaimed rights of all human beings.

Racial discrimination in America remains an ugly relic of slavery. The current protests against racism here brought up memories of talks over Saturday pancakes with Rev. Samuel Stuart.

Sam and I arrived in Jacksonville about the same time 30 years ago. He had retired from a long career as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Florissant, Missouri, a St. Louis suburb. Within months two years ago, Sam and I became widowers and began to enjoy frequent restaurant meals together. Declining eyesight forced an end to my driving, so he, happily, became my driver.

Over the years, I gathered bits of information about Samuel’s leadership in race relations.

When he began his Florissant career, his church had 1,500 members, all white. Early in his pastorate, he began welcoming African-American families to membership. As this developed, several white members’ ceased attendance in protest. Total membership remained steady.

When a local funeral home refused to serve a black family, Stuart warned the management its biased policy would be given wide publicity. Thanks to Stuart, a month later all Missouri funeral homes were instructed by the state government to post a notice that funeral services were open to all, regardless of race.

Soon after arriving in Jacksonville, Stuart founded Diversity Dinners, a monthly multi-racial potluck supper that flourished for more than a decade. He partnered with Wallace Jeffers, prominent in the local black community.

Stuart served as chairman of the Jacksonville Human Relations Commission and never misses participating in the annual parade to City Park where the community marks the anniversary of Rev. Martin Luther King’s birth.

Each time I attended a party at the Stuart residence, African-Americans were among the guests. Sam takes great pride that one of his daughters adopted three African-American infants. They are now star pupils in elementary schools in nearby Bloomington. He relates with pride that his son-inlaw, Morgan County Sheriff Randy Duvendack, has never fired his police revolver during the 40 years of his law enforcement career.

Sometimes Sam and I persuade Jeffers, a former alderman, to join us for breakfast. I rejoiced when he won election to the city council, representing a ward with a strong majority of white citizens. He retired after three productive terms.

Racial turmoil in America may not disappear completely until most of us follow Stuart’s example. Within both races are bad apples, but that reality should not deter interracial civility, harmony and friendship. Whites and blacks must begin to welcome each other into their churches, homes and, yes, families. We must all acknowledge that the only real difference between races lies in the pigmentation of skin. It’s time for all to recognize that black and white are beautiful colors in the rainbow of humankind.

Whites and blacks need to discover each other face to face. Like Stuart, both should reach for opportunities to sit down together and enjoy a civil conversation.

Paul Findley resides in Jacksonville. A Republican, he served as a representative in Congress from 1961-1983. He was a principal author of the War Powers Resolution and is the author of six books, the most recent being “Speaking Out.”

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