A friend recently shared a sermon with me from his daughter’s church in Columbia, Missouri. The title of the sermon was Generational DNA. The pastor referenced the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and asked the question: what should a white Christian look like?
He was not excluding Christians of color from his sermon, but he was challenging the white Christians in his congregation to view people of color through the lens of the Beatitudes. He challenged them to examine racial prejudice and the events that affect people of color not through their white person lens, but from the perspective of how Jesus would view people of color through application of the Beatitudes which direct us to be meek, mild, poor in spirit, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and to hunger and thirst after righteousness. He also suggested that we look at people of color through their eyes and not our own.
The preacher’s view is that our perspective of race and people of color is shaped by our own experiences. Racial prejudice is oftentimes generational. Columbia has had its own history of racial prejudice. Although slavery ended in 1865 and Missouri was the first state to abolish slavery before the 13th Amendment was ratified, “Jim Crow” laws in Missouri provided “separate but equal” education until 1954 when Brown v. Board of Education was decided by the Supreme Court. The first black student was not admitted to Mizzou until 1950 and the first African-American faculty member was not hired until 1969. James T. Scott, a black custodian at the university was lynched in Columbia in 1923 and no one was ever brought to justice for the crime.
Lloyd Gaines, a black man, was one of 70 African-American students denied admission to the law school. He filed a lawsuit against the university which led to a famous Supreme Court case decided in 1938 that MU had to admit Gaines to law school or provide an equivalent for black students. Thus, there is a long history of racial injustice in Columbia. Thus, when the black students protested in 2015 that led to the resignation of the chancellor of the university, it is important to view those events in an historical context.
The pastor’s sermon made me think about my own experience and as I reflected on my own family. Racial prejudice was not an option in our family.
My mother had 8 children in 15 years. The first Buckley was born in 1949 and the last one was born in 1964. My father loved “fresh ones” so my mother had eight of them. It must have been good for her health, because she is still alive and well.
But having so many children in such a short period of time meant that she needed some help, especially in the early years until my sister, Ann, was old enough to assist. Help came to her in the form of a black woman named Ivona Hambright. Ivona lived on Hocker Street behind Young School in Independence.
If you have not lived in Independence until recently, you may not know that Young School was the “separate but equal” black school in the Independence School District until the schools were integrated. Hocker Street, behind Young School, was a black neighborhood. We took Ivona home many nights without any concern. Ivona was very much a part of our family and before she died came to a Mother’s Day dinner at my parents’ house so we could honor her.
Two doors to our east of my parents’ home on Waldo Street was an attorney named Harvey Burrus. Mr. Burrus had a black man working for him named Curtis Shepard. Curtis did odd jobs around the house and was a fixture in the neighborhood. We all loved Curtis and never saw him as a man of color.
My father owned a commercial laundry which employed over 50 people. Many of them were black. My dad made us work in the laundry during the summers of my junior and senior high school years. Those years were valuable years in my development. Sticking my head in a dryer on a hot summer day was enough motivation to get an education, but the life lessons I learned from the people I worked with day after day helped form my generational DNA.
Racial prejudice was just never part of our family experience. The African-American community in Independence in the 1950s and 1960s was relatively small. Many lived within just a few blocks of our house in an area called the “Neck.” My parents were well-respected in the African-American community. My father donated a piano to the A.M.E. church and assisted in obtaining a donation of used choir robes.
My dad had a black friend named Poochie Buchanan who helped me start my car on a bitterly cold winter night. My dad and I drove to downtown Kansas City in Poochie’s tow truck to unfreeze the fuel line on my car buried in snow in a parking lot. I can clearly recall watching Poochie lying on the frozen ground and sucking gas from the fuel line of my car to get it unfrozen. My dad paid him for his efforts, but I am sure that Poochie came out on that cold winter night, not because he could earn a few bucks, but because he loved my father. My mother and father treated everyone the same and they instilled that character in us.
I am grateful that prejudice is not part of my DNA but all of us can do a better job trying to understand how racial prejudice has affected those around us. Epigenetics is the study of how environmental factors outside of DNA influence changes in gene expression. Some of us need some epigenetic changes. We can begin by remembering who Jesus blessed.
-- Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org