SEARCY -- Harding University celebrated Black History Month with, among other things, an American Studies Distinguished Lecture Series panel discussion on race.
The Church of Christ college integrated in 1963, and two of the three black students -- Howard Wright of Atlanta and Elijah Anthony of Birmingham, Ala. -- returned to campus Feb. 9 to join college president Bruce McLarty and Fred Gray, a civil rights era lawyer for Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and others.
The panel discussion was preceded by a reception at McLarty's home and dinner for about 150 in the Founders Room inside the David B. Burks American Heritage Building. Those folks then joined perhaps 1,000-2,000 students at Benson Auditorium for a pretty frank discussion of race. It was Wright who quickly set the tone.
"I don't think race is a problem because of our skin color. I think it's a problem because we are different," he said.
In the 1960s, he said, there were three photos a person could find in most any black person's home -- King, President John F. Kennedy, and "a white picture of Jesus."
"Who in the world told us, proved to us, that Jesus was white? Jesus was the champion of poor and oppressed people, and the last time I checked, most of the poor and oppressed people who grew up in this nation have dark skin. If we were the dominant society, all of the pictures we would see of Jesus, drawn, written, painted by artists, would be black."
Gray and Anthony concerned themselves a bit more with remembrances of the Jim Crow South. Wright offered vivid memories of integrating schools and social mores from the '50s and '60s as well, but he took the occasion to decry contemporary fissures. For instance, he is a grandfather, and he speculated that white grandparents do not worry for their grandsons when they get into a car to drive across town.
"White parents don't pray for their male children to have to get back home safely without getting shot in the back, but black families do."
This, he says, explains the Black Lives Matter campaign. "Yes," he said, "all lives matter in theory, but in practice, we trumpet a cause that says black lives need to matter because of how they're taken away."
He thanked McLarty and the university for this "frank discussion" and hoped it served to advance understanding.
The complete panel discussion video is at bit.ly/1Xo0fkI.
High Profile on 02/28/2016