News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Burning crosses should keep us vigilant, tolerant

In a classic Charlie Brown cartoon, Charlie and Linus stand on the beach. Charlie casually picks up a pebble and tosses it into the waves.

"Nice going," said Linus, thumb in his mouth. "It took that stone four thousand years to get to shore, and now you've thrown it back."

The crosses set afire in Durham, N.C., on May 25 had a similar impact. Those three blazing crosses tossed race relations back by years.

Over the last 100 years, blacks in the South have had good reason to fear whites. Lynchings, bogus convictions and church fires stare at us from their hiding place in the not-so-distant past. Like a trio of witches they watch and wait, looking for an opportunity to undo years of interracial progress.

Whites, who never knew the terror of racial oppression, have difficulty believing the witches are still there. Calls to eliminate discrimination laws, to end busing and to repeal hate-crime laws have a lot to do with a young generation that has not met the witches.

To young whites and many young blacks, the witches are a symbol of something foul but distant.

The older generation remembers, though. They remember when the witches were real and evil. They remember black children dying. They remember crosses of love becoming piles of ashes. They remember black men dangling and hooded white men laughing.

For that older generation, all the fears and hatred returned May 25. The younger generation gets an opportunity to see the witches face-to-face, lit by the crackling flames.

We can hope that, unlike Charlie Brown's rock, tolerance and understanding will not fall too distant from the shore. But the crosses remind us that the witches are among us.

We must remain vigilant.

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