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He was an ordinary pastor, Brother Palmer, the sort of pastor you would expect a Methodist bishop to send to our south Arkansas town.

South Arkansas in the middle of the twentieth century was unprepared to face the present, much less the future. The Civil War hung like a heavy shroud on this declining railroad town. Less than one hundred years before, Yankee soldiers had unceremoniously marched through our swamps to Vicksburg. To our shame, no significant resistance was offered, except a brief skirmish at Boggy Bayou.

Perhaps this was the genesis of the unspoken guilt, or perhaps it was earlier when Zulu warriors were chained and transported up the Mississippi River from New Orleans and forced to chop cotton. But, whenever and however the guilt arose, it permeated our life.

A pastor distinguished only by his mediocrity, Palmer seemed committed to irrelevance. Despite the fact that desegregation was fracturing our fragile community and some of our neighbors and relatives were warring with ...

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