Saturday, January 14, 2017

Clemson Football...Dr. King...President Obama

photo by Hector Alezandro / flickr

This morning I watched Clemson celebrate the winning of the National Football Championship. 75,000 peopled gather in 15,000 tiny Clemson to welcome the team and celebrate their victory. It was quite a day of smiles and yells and wonderful hoop-la.  As I sat watching that long line of 2017 gladiators—I noticed that many, maybe most were black. And as the cameras fanned through the crowd—there were black faces everywhere. And at recognition time—black Mamas and Papas were also recognized and the crowd cheered. 

It wasn’t always this way. Integrating Southern institutions like schools and athletic programs was no small accomplishment. Along the way there were Governors standing in school doors, ugly confrontations toward black folk. There were churches burned and bomb threats and even lynchings. Pastors were hounded out of many pulpits simply because they said the church doors should be open to everyone. But slowly, ever so slowly schools down South reluctantly opened their doors. Athletic programs slowly admitted black players. Pulling up the rear, as usual the church finally came around—at least on paper. 

Monday we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday. Interestingly, this week we also say goodbye to the country’s first black President. Even after eight years when racism reared its head again and ran not only through the streets of Washington—but through much of our country—President Obama served us with grace and dignity. Despite the venom from politicians that knew better—I think when it all shakes down—our outgoing Commander-in-Chief will be known as one of our great Presidents. Like Jackie Robinson in baseball—the President was the first black man to hold that office—and being the first is no small thing.

I was proud when he was elected and marveled that we had come so far. Little did I know that his election would really uncover a stream of racism and hatred that we thought was behind us. And yet—twice we still elected this man and the country is the better for it. The Southern Poverty Law Association keeps track of the hate groups in this country. During the Obama years the groups who fan the flames of discrimination have risen by an alarming degree. 

And yet on this Martin Luther King week-end—we need to remember that the progress we
photo by Lesley / flickr
have made would not have happened without the great King. Most forget today the rage and hatred he stirred  up all over the country. He gave his life to the cause of “a justice that would roll down like waters…and righteousness like a mighty stream.” 

Many are disturbed at the prospects on the political horizon. Black folk are scared. Immigrants are frightened.  Muslims here do not sleep well. A little black boy told my teacher-daughter: “We go be sent back to Africa.” We do not know what the future will hold. Yet—we need to look at our tortured history but also remember Dr. King. We need to look at the long line of black athletes who helped Clemson win the national championship. We need to see John Lewis again still standing after all his hard years. 

Those of us in despair need to remember how far we have come. No—we have not come all the way by a long shot. But the distance from the Montgomery years of Dr. King and 2017 is long and wide and joyous in many ways.

I watched the film, “Fences” the other night. It was a play which has been made into a fine movie. The title reflects the story. The fences that black family had to overcome were many. And as I sat in that South Carolina theatre there were black folk and white folk sitting side by side in the darkness. We have not torn down all the fences that separate us and we may have a President who tries hard to unpack that old lumber and nail the boards up again.

But remember Dr. King. Remember his great dream. Remember how far we have come—and very far we still need to go. We owe the Reverend a great deal. For he can teach us that one day little black and white boys may play football together. Little white and black girls may stand side by side as cheerleaders. And wonder of wonders—we say goodby to a black President who left our country so much better than he found it eight years ago.

(You might want to read Dr. Will Willimon's fine article and prayer on our current situation.)

—Roger Lovette /

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this, Roger...It's helpful in what could be a dark time..I actually met the King family not long after Martin's death. The children went to The Galloway School where I was a young teacher. Martin III liked to shoot hoops just outside my classroom window. I'm sure that activity was comforting to him..I talked with Mrs. King a few times and sat with that family when Martin III graduated from high school...I thought of that when you mentioned white and blacks sitting in the theatre together....