Have We Truly Overcome?
By Todd A. Smith
In the same year that we celebrated the historic inauguration of the nation’s first African American president and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) celebrated its 100th anniversary, the dream of racial equality in America seemed to have come true.
However, as many debate the relevance of groups such as the NAACP, instances that prove true racial equality is still a dream deferred are constantly grabbing headlines across the country.
This week, members of the New Black Panther Party, the Nation of Islam and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) gathered in the East Texas town of Paris to voice their opinions on a judge’s decision to drop murder charges against two White males, Shannon Finley and Charles Crostley, accused of murdering their Black friend, Brandon McClelland, by running him over in a vehicle and then dragging him to his death. The case has drawn comparisons to the dragging death of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas in 1998.
Paris, Texas and its 26,000 residents are no strangers to the negative spotlight when it comes to a perceived lack of racial equality. The town, which is approximately 73 percent White and 22 percent Black, made national headlines when a Black girl was sentenced to seven years in a juvenile prison in 2007 for pushing a teacher’s aide by Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville, while the same judge sentenced a White girl to probation for burning her parents’ house down.
“Caucasians in Paris must understand that they are the reason for Paris being the center of unsavory attention,” said Jimmy Blackwell, a Black protestor. “We welcome the KKK because we want the world to see how real Americans act.”
However, many White residents of Paris sympathize with their Black counterparts. “I guess I am like most of people in Paris. The majority of people in Paris don’t agree with the way they do things. Most people are not happy about the groups, about the people who are coming,” said Marva Joe, chairperson of a diversity task force to address the perceived lack of racial equality in the town.
The charges against Finley and Crostley were dropped because of a lack of evidence and because a truck driver came forward and said he may have accidentally hit McClelland and caused his death.
Regardless of the circumstances of McClelland’s death, Small Town America has to get with the program and realize that a lack of racial equality will only lead to further conflict and controversy. In the same country where we can have enough racial equality to elect a Black president, should be proof enough that minorities in small towns across the South should receive the same treatment as their White counterparts.
Towns such as Paris, Jasper and Jena, La., will only find themselves as black sheep in a country that should be determined to move forward, not backwards, when it comes to race relations. If a country is intelligent enough to put a man on the moon, then forty years later that same country should have enough common sense to realize the importance of racial equality and the destruction that can occur if we do not come together as one.
Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.