We are at an impasse over race because we cannot forgive, declared Spencer Perkins in what became his last public statement. Speaking at a conference on racial reconciliation last January, the activist and writer confessed his past struggles in dealing with "white folks" and how he discovered a radical way forward in healing our racial divide. The following week he died of heart failure at the age of 44. Perkins, along with Chris Rice, directed Reconcilers Fellowship in Jackson, Mississippi, coauthored More than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel (IVP), and coedited Reconcilers magazine.
It was winter 1970, and my mother was taking my seven siblings and me to visit our father in the hospital. No auto accident or natural illness had landed him in this life-threatening condition. Rather, it was the nightsticks and fists of white law-enforcement officers that had nearly beaten him to death for his civil-rights activities.
My sister Joanie, then 14 years old, took one look at my battered father and stormed out of the room repeating angrily, "I hate white people. I will never like them!"
My mother tried to convince her that her attitude was not very Christlike. But at that moment, with my father lying bruised and swollen, I could tell that even though my mother knew the right things to say, her heart was not in the words she spoke.
Not that it would have mattered. My sister was having no part of those tired, old words—love and forgiveness—anyway. Those white people were not going to get off that easily. All of us siblings wanted those men to get what they deserved. To our knowledge, they never did.
Today, to the casual observer, my sister looks as though she has reneged on her vow. She has white friends, ...