Amid the current protests, grief, and calls for equality and justice for all, I am thinking about my father. Born into a blue-collar family in 1921 and raised in the deep south, he was a child of the Depression. He never forgot the hard-won struggle to better himself. He lived with gratitude for the benevolence of a childless great aunt and uncle who recognized his potential and saw that he was educated. They afforded him with many opportunities that enabled him to become the man that he was. He was a proud World War II veteran and a passionate patriot. He chose to live in Dallas because he thought it was the best city anywhere to be in business and raise a family.
One of the things I remember about my father is that he was the most colorblind person I have ever known. His eyesight was perfect, but his heart and mind simply did not recognize black or white, brown or red. He chose to be a person who would, “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). Though my father was not a saint nor was he by any means perfect, he did not tolerate racism or bigotry of any kind. He lived in the conviction of faith that we should “love one another” (John 13:34 NRSV). Everyone. No exceptions.
My father was a civil engineer and owned a commercial construction company. Many of his buildings are still standing in Dallas today. I never heard him say a disparaging word about anyone who worked for him. He valued each employee, skilled worker, and common laborer equally. He made a point of encouraging those who worked for him to do better and be better, especially the promising young black men who needed only the same helping hand up that he had received in life. I remember his disappointment when a particular protégé was caught stealing some tools. Though my father was dismayed by the breach of trust, he was a man of compassion who did not unjustly judge or condemn. He always looked for a way to be constructive.
I remember an especially beloved employee, Mace White, a tall, well-muscled African American who came to our house every Saturday morning to mow the lawn. We considered him a member of our family who came to do a weekly chore just as we all did. He ate lunch with us then sat in the den and watched sports on television with my father. Together they enjoyed a friendly rivalry as they rooted for different teams. Those were happy days, colorblind days, that taught me love by example rather than loud words. After my father died, I found plans he had drawn to build a house for Addie White. My father loved Mace and wanted to provide for his widow.
Another was a black Cajun named Resté. My father called him Rusty. Physically, Rusty could best be described as scrawny, yet he had an almost superhuman strength. I often heard my father say that he was “as strong as an ox”. Though he could neither read nor write, my father trusted Rusty to drive the heavy company truck. More than once he was stopped by the police because he could not read the street signs and was going the wrong way. My father would receive a call, explain the circumstances, and resolve the matter with an assurance to the police. Rather than chide an abashed Rusty when he returned to the yard, my father would gently remind him where he was supposed to go, tell him how to get there, and send him on his way again. In doing so, he not only respected Rusty’s manhood but also honored his personhood.
I remember, too, childhood visits to the Dairy Queen in the small East Texas town where my maternal grandmother lived. At the time, the homegrown goodness of fresh vegetables and hot cornbread served for dinner had little appeal for a city girl who did not understand the historic reason for having a hot meal in the middle of the day and could not understand why lunch was called dinner. The Dairy Queen was the only place within miles of the small rural community that served more familiar fare, so we were evening regulars whenever we were in town. Yet it was a place with an overtone of unfamiliar attitudes and restrictions that unsettled my naive spirit. I remember asking my father why there were two water fountains and two restrooms. Each had a tin sign that said “white” or “colored”. I had no idea what this meant and felt my father's pain as he struggled to answer my question with honesty and integrity. I will never forget how visibly disturbed he was by this evidence of segregation and the remorse he expressed as he explained racial injustice in the world in a way that was age-appropriate and understandable for me.
My father served for several years on the Board of Bishop College, an institution founded for the education of African American Baptists that subsequently closed. The former Bishop College campus is now home to Paul Quinn College. My father was committed to higher education for African Americans and looked for opportunities to serve and improve the quality of life in the underserved communities of Dallas. He supported several small African American churches financially and took joy in building facilities and playgrounds to grow and enhance the faith life of black families.
In the aftermath of recent incidents of violence and senseless death, beyond the obvious need for a sea change in the historic disparity between those divided by issues of race, public consensus is that the best hope for real, lasting change is that we must all be better and do better—together, now. Change starts with learning how to be truly colorblind as a society. We must teach our children to be colorblind by what we say and how we act and live. We must be unfailingly polite, whether in person or on social media. We must model kindness, civility, and respect for each person who looks different from the one we see in our own mirror. We must learn to love and practice being loving. We must change our generational conditioning as well as our habits of thinking and doing until at last our love for each and every living human being conquers hate and overcomes evil in the world.
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
Deuteronomy 9:7 NIV