Last Thursday a week ago as I was getting ready to come to work, I heard the sirens. Fire trucks sped past my house and I assumed that there had been a bad accident on the interstate. If so, they would be setting up a helicopter landing zone on the front lawn of my church.
Then I walk outside to feed the dog and saw the black smoke billowing and heard the reports. St. Paul Lutheran Church, the church where I have been a lifelong member, was on fire. Losing something so sacred and dear to fire is a painful, tragic process in many ways.
I was still in shock as I drove to the office, and during the drive I heard something on NPR about the upcoming presidential inauguration on Martin Luther King Day. Though I was not alive when protesters marched at Montgomery or Selma, Ala., suddenly black and white images came to mind.
Images from the “Eyes on the Prize” PBS video series documenting the Civil Rights Movement that we had watched during an honors history seminar I took as a junior at Newberry College. I thought about scenes from those videos of other cases of church burnings, but burnings set to intimidate, threaten, coerce and silence people who were working for equal rights for all.
As a white man, I can’t relate firsthand to being discriminated against because of the color of my skin. I realize this. But, suddenly, that morning I felt as if I understood more about what those brave men and women had risked and sacrificed many years ago. I had a new found respect for just what they laid on the line, including their very lives. They stepped out on faith in the power of a people’s collective voice and in the power of the Social Gospel movement to call for change.
Though we have more progress to be made on both sides of the aisle when it comes to race relations, consider where we are now in 2013. The progress is not limited to Democrats or Republicans in South Carolina. Love her or hate her, but in Nikki Haley we have a female governor who is the child of Indian immigrants.
And for all of his stances that can be polarizing, nonetheless, we are led by a two-term African American president in Barack Obama. Of course, turning on cable news networks or the radio reveals a more polarized political environment and American’s approval of Congress remains quite low. Real challenges lay ahead of this nation when it comes to gun control, health care, the debt ceiling and national credit rating, and national defense spending, not the mention the economy.
At the risk of sounding a bit naive, for that brief moment on a commute into work, I was reminded of a time when this nation came together in spite of what divided it. And I hope that kind of action for the common good could happen again for the good of this country and its people.
Kevin Boozer is a staff writer for The Herald Independent. He can he reached by email at email@example.com or 635-4016 ext. 14.