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Birmingham And Baghdad; The South In 1963 And The United States in 2007; African Americans And Iraqis.

By       Message Lawrence Velvel       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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            With appropriate substitutions of nouns, a powerful column written about the South in a Southern newspaper in 1963 is as applicable to the entire United States now as it was to the South then.


March 27, 2007

 Re:  Birmingham And Baghdad; The South In 1963And The United States in 2007; African Americans And Iraqis. From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel  

            I shall once again quote a long passage from The Race Beat, by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff.  This time the quote is of a quote that they quoted.  It is a column written by Gene Patterson, then the Editor of the Atlanta Constitution, after four little girls were killed in the bombing of a Birmingham church in mid September, 1963.  The bombing occurred in the midst of a long run of violence by white Southerners.  The violence occurred in good part because the “respectable” people of the South let it happen -- and at  times encouraged it, either tacitly or more openly. 

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            Patterson’s column was so powerful and moving that, after it was published, an Atlanta CBS station filmed him reading it and used the whole piece.  Walter Cronkite likewise ran the whole piece on national television on CBS.  Patterson, who normally would get no more than 20 letters about a column, received 1,200 about this one. 


            My purpose in “running” Patterson’s nearly 44 year old column is this:  If you substitute the words “United States” for the word “South,” the word “American” for the word “Southerner,” the name “Iraq” for the name “Birmingham,” and make some other necessary verbal substitutions, and if you remember that Howard Zinn has very rightly called our leaders thugs in suits -- I would place the emphasis on the word “thugs” and would include lots of Senators and Representatives -- then what Patterson wrote is in many unfortunate respects as applicable to the entire United States today as it was to the South in 1963.


Here is what Patterson wrote:

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“A Negro mother wept in the street Sunday morning in front of a Baptist Church in Birmingham.  In her hand she held a shoe, one shoe, from the foot of her dead child.  We hold that shoe with her.


Every one of us in the white South holds that small shoe in his hand.


It is too late to blame the sick criminals who handled the dynamite.  The FBI and the police can deal with that kind.  The charge against them is simple.  They killed four children.

Only we can trace the truth, Southerner -- you and I.  We broke those children’s bodies.


We watched the stage set without staying it.  We listened to the prologue unbestirred.  We saw the curtain opening with disinterest.  We have heard the play.


We -- who go on electing politicians who heat the kettles of hate.

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We -- who raise no hand to silence the mean and little men who have their n-word jokes.


We -- who stand aside in imagined rectitude and let the mad dogs that run in every society slide their leashes from our hand, and spring.


We -- the heirs of a proud South, who protest its worth and demand it recognition -- we are the ones who have ducked the difficult, skirted the uncomfortable, caviled at the challenge, resented the necessary, rationalized the unacceptable, and created the day surely when these children would die.

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Lawrence R. Velvel is a cofounder and the Dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, and is the founder of the American College of History and Legal Studies.

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