Confessions of a Racist
Image: Joseph M. Arseneau / Shutterstock.com

When news came over the intercom system that President John F. Kennedy had been shot, students in my high school stood and cheered. They cheered because he was the President who had proposed civil-rights legislation and had then backed it up by forcing the University of Mississippi to integrate. To our comfortable enclave of racism in the suburbs outside Atlanta, Georgia, Kennedy represented an intolerable threat.

In 1966, when I was graduated from that school, no black student had ever set foot on campus. Black families had moved into the neighborhood, and whites on all sides were fleeing to Stone Mountain and other suburban points east, but no black parents dared enroll their children in our school. We all believed then, and I have no reason to disbelieve now, that Gordon singlehandedly kept them away. Gordon, a tenth-grader reputed to be the nephew of the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, had put out the word that the first black kid in our school would go home on a stretcher.

The Ku Klux Klan had an almost mystical hold on our imaginations. It was an invisible army, we were taught, a last line of defense to preserve the Christian purity of the South. I remember as a child watching a funeral procession for a Wizard of the KKK. Caught trying to turn left across traffic, we had to wait until the entire motorcade passed. Dozens, scores, hundreds of cars slid past us, each one driven by a figure wearing a silky white or crimson robe and a pointed hood with slits cut out for eyes. The day was hot, and the drivers' bare elbows jutted from open car windows at acute angles. Who were they, these druids reincarnate? They could be anyone-the corner gas station attendant, a church deacon, my uncle—no one knew for ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

May
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
Read These Next
Current IssueHow to End Sibling Rivalry Like a Christian
How to End Sibling Rivalry Like a Christian Subscriber Access Only
No teasing, no favorites, and hours and hours of time with one other.
Current Issue
Gleanings: May 2017 Subscriber Access Only
Important developments in the church and the world (as they appeared in our May issue).
RecommendedMartin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.Subscriber Access Only
No Christian played a more prominent role in the 20th century's most significant social justice movement.
TrendingForgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians Do the Unimaginable
Amid ISIS attacks, faithful response inspires Egyptian society.
Editor's PickTogether for the Gospels
Together for the Gospels: Unprecedented Unity Among Bible Translators Transforms Giving
Lessons learned from illumiNations initiative could help other causes.
Christianity Today
Confessions of a Racist
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

January 2000

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.