A few decades ago a member of a local high school basketball team came up with an idea following one of the day’s two practices.
“Why don’t we go downtown for a movie?” he asked. “We’d get back to school in time for practice, so what’s the problem?”
He’d noticed his teammates lukewarm reaction.
They were black; he was white. And after growing up in a mostly black neighborhood, a face-to-face confrontation with racism had largely been avoided. Athletes, even those in junior high and high school, don’t often see the people they’re playing with as members of a race — they are simply members of a team.
So his black teammates, though shy about doing so, set the young man straight.
“We can’t go to the movies with you,” one said.
But why not?
“Because they won’t let us in.”
But why not?
“Because we are Negroes.”
It was 1961 in Louisville, a city which at the time had a reputation for racial tolerance.
The truth is the team could have gone to the movies that day decades ago. They could have attended at least one particular movie theater, but they wouldn’t have been allowed to sit together. The black team members would have to sit in the balcony.
Racism was alive and well in Louisville in 1961; it’s alive and well all across the country today.
The terrorism tragedy in Charlottesville, Va., is just the latest example. You could make a whole list of racially-motivated incidents in this country’s recent history that would fill a page in this newspaper. And it is still happening.
We should be proud that our Catholic Church has been at the forefront in opposing racism and bigotry. During the open housing demonstrations in Louisville in the late ’60s, for instance, the church was consistently at the head of the line of those calling for housing equality.
In fact, today the church and its remarkable Pope Francis continue to lead the fight against the ignorance of racial and religious bigotry.
A year ago Pope Francis, considering the plight of political refugees and the acts of terrorism and racially-motivated violence that plague our world, applied reason, logic and the truth of God’s love while looking for answers.
“What kind of world do we want to leave our children?” he asked. “Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions. The urgent challenge of protecting our home includes the effort to bring the entire human family together.”
The faces of the “white nationalists” marching and threatening and fighting in Charlottesville were filled with hate. They carried symbols of hatred — Nazi signs — and chanted Nazi slogans. They apparently don’t care about the millions of people who suffered and fought to keep that politics of bigotry and hate from conquering the world.
They apparently believe that only one race of people — those with white skins and white backgrounds — are fit to rule this country and others.
And they are dreadfully wrong.
Even more than that, their actions are dreadfully evil. It didn’t take the killing of a pedestrian to illustrate that evil, either. The day before the killing, they marched with torches around a church, trapping people inside who feared for their lives.
Granted, counter protesters fought back, but the causes of the violence rest at the feet of those hate-filled people who came to Virginia to spread their vile message.
The rest of rational, religious and responsible America took notice. Messages of condemnation poured from all corners of the religious and political spectrum. In the aftermath of such mindless evil, it didn’t matter if a person was Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, Christian or Jew or Muslim or any other faith that makes up the patch-work quilt of American society.
All the voices were in unison, and their messages, while expressed differently, were all the same. This hatred must not stand. We must unite against such an obvious evil.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz has called on the faithful to take concrete action to combat hate and foster peace. And he emphasized that it is the responsibility of each one of us.
“We begin by looking into the eyes of every person we encounter in our families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and the streets of our community and seeing them as Christ sees them,” he wrote in a statememnt after the Charlottesville violence. “We build on this through our participation in the many community-wide efforts to embrace solidarity and build bridges among all people.”
He added: “Times like this can be discouraging and overwhelming. I invite each of you, however, to consider what one step you can take, with God’s grace, to make our communities places where all people flourish.
Former President Barack Obama brought a quotation from Nelson Mandela to everyone’s attention. And in case you missed it, those words are worth repeating here:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Record Editor Emeritus