Willie Mae Samuel

Willie Mae Samuel, founder and director of the African American Connection for the Performing Arts in Rome

The community is looking forward to Thursday with eager anticipation, knowing that there is no magic wand to make discrimination disappear or appear. For four years now the One Community United has been inviting teams and/or individuals who are ideal examples for others to get to know and understand as it relates to discrimination. One year we hosted two young men who had learned to get along and were traveling across the country spreading wisdom in spite of their racial difference. Another year we had a Christian from South Carolina to come share with the community that forgiveness is hard but possible. This year we will meet Peggy Wallace Kennedy, who will come and ask forgiveness for her father George Wallace, herself and others who supported her father’s way of thinking and behaving. As she moves throughout this country, those of us who will be impacted must realize that this whole process of forgiveness is not done by waving a magic wand or by having speakers come by and say that it can be done. Discrimination can only be eliminated by individuals intentionally taking steps to chip at it piece by piece.

The world must realize that people of color are the most forgiving human beings on this side of the sun. Our problem as black people is our inability to forgive each other and ourselves. Hopefully, the rest of this year, after Peggy has come and gone, people of color will begin to work on that aspect of human development. That is an area that is almost always ignored. I do not think that is an area in which much research has been done. One might ask, “Well, what is it that the black man must forgive himself for?” That is a very good question, which is very hard to answer. The answer deals in the spiritual, physical, emotional and social arenas of human life and only a few people want to labor there. One cannot linger on the surface and answer that question. The partial answer will be dealt with in another essay.

In the meantime, One Community United reminds me of a group that was here years ago. The Human Relations Council was created for such a time as that when similar conditions existed. This is not the first time that Rome has experienced a great racial divide. The last great racial divide was during the 60s and it lingered on into the 70s. I am not sure when the Human Relations Council actually faded from the scene, but it did. I believe that it served its purpose. When I came to Rome in the 60s several community individuals with whom I connected were members, and I might have attended some of the council meetings. Several names that I still recall were a part of the organization, Kennedy, Regis, Bell, White, Levin and a couple of teachers from the colleges. The local organizer was Franziska. Unlike the HUGS group, only one church allowed the Human Relations Council to meet in their facility and that was First Episcopal Church. That later changed, and a few more doors opened like Metropolitan United Methodist Church and Thankful MBC. The organizers of OCU can call any church leader today and get permission to meet and will face no regrets.

Peggy Wallace Kennedy has become a symbol of racial reconciliation, therefore Peggy Wallace Kennedy has been invited by HUGS to come to Rome and share with the community what she now sees as having been gross injustice and abuse inflicted on people of color by her father and people who believed as he did and gave him their financial blessings and moral support. She now believes that the time is long overdue for reconciliation.

For those of you who are not aware of Peggy’s coming or who she is, I will introduce her by way of her father. Rome will get to meet her by way of herself Thursday. She is the daughter of former Gov. George W. Wallace of Alabama, who was one of the staunchest racists in the South. He used every powerful tool to his disposal as governor to carry out his beliefs concerning the separation of the races. He called on his brutal policemen to use bully clubs and dogs that were actually allowed to attack and bite individuals. Water hoses connected to fire hydrants were used, and it is said that the water was so powerful coming from the hoses that it tore the clothes off the individuals, and when they tried to hide and protect themselves behind trees the force of the water tore the bark off the trees. He condoned lynching and beatings of blacks who did not stay in their place. He worked arm-in-arm with the Klan. Wallace used the Klan as his battling arm to put fear in the hearts of blacks, even to the point of death. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described George Wallace as a “vicious racist whose lips were dripping with the words of interposition and nullification.” George Wallace did ask forgiveness for his mistreatment of blacks before transitioning.

It took James Brown singing over and over “I Am Black and I Am Proud” before we, too, began singing it and partially believing it. Maybe it will take the “Peggies” of the world to say to everyone that black lives matter in order for us all to accept it as the whole truth and nothing but the truth without coming back with all lives matter. Discrimination damaged all of us involved, but it did irreparable damage to the black man.

Willie Mae Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome.

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