April Moore: Race and the golden rule

April Moore

I hope that my heartfelt wish for mutual respect and regard between the races is shared by most Americans. (I hope it’s just a fringe that relishes the idea of racial hostility and conflict.) But everyone knows that the historical reality is that “race” has long been a difficult part of the American moral and political landscape.

Part of my education in this came from my public schooling in Jacksonville, Florida, from seventh grade on. I was in ninth grade there when my school was integrated.

Many of my fellow white students were heirs to a lot of history, and a lot of cultural training, that made that transition challenging. I lost contact with one friend whose father -finding it intolerable for his daughter to sit in class with black students — sent her off to a private, newly formed “whites only” academy. But mostly, the students adapted.

Many years later, when I attended a class reunion, I got a glimpse of challenges still unmet.

The story might begin with the name of my high school: Nathan Bedford Forrest.

As a high school student, I thought of Forrest as just one more Confederate general after whom schools in the South were named.

That naming went along with a whole panoply of ways that our public school system trumpeted its devotion to the old Confederacy: the high school newspaper was called the Rebel Yell, for example, and the award for the best all-round senior athlete was the Johnny Reb Award (whose recipient, in my senior year, was a black student!). And at my junior high – named after Jefferson Davis — the girls’ chorus was called the Confederettes.

Eventually, I learned that Nathan Bedford Forrest was not just a general (a “military genius” he’s called in Ken Burns’s famous “Civil War” series). He was also a founder of the Ku Klux Klan (as well as apparently being responsible for what would nowadays be called war crimes for executing black Union prisoners of war).

One can imagine what it was like for the black students to attend a school named to honor such a man.

Living years later in Virginia, I heard about a struggle going on back in Jacksonville over whether the school should be renamed. Eventually, the change came: the school is now called Westside High.

(Along with that change came the elimination of all the other trappings of the Confederacy: a nation formed, and which fought — as all serious historians now agree — for the specific purpose of perpetuating the enslavement of black people.)

At a class reunion, I commented to several old classmates that it was a good thing that all those Confederate symbols had finally been swept away. Not one of them agreed with me. Why change, they asked, since “The black kids don’t care about that stuff anyway.”

Many of my old classmates in Jacksonville are serious about being good Christians. I’m sure they would all say they believe in Jesus’ teaching, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

That teaching is hard to follow. One reason is that we don’t always love those “others” as ourselves. Another, apparently, is that we are not always aware of just what we are “doing unto others.”

My classmates may have believed that “the black kids don’t care” about how the signs of white supremacy surrounded them in their high school years – in the school’s name and all those other forms.

But then, I wonder how they’d explain this striking fact: in all the class reunions I have attended, not one of our black fellow-students has returned.

April Moore is a Shenandoah County resident.