George Aiken wrote, “If we were to wake up some morning and find that everyone was the same race, creed and color, we would find some other cause for prejudice by noon.”
I grew up in the deep south. When I was growing up, racism and prejudice seem to have been the accepted norm. I remember standing at the Tastee Freeze one afternoon as a small boy, ready to order an ice cream cone. A black man approached the counter and asked for a coke. He was told, “We don’t serve blacks here.” I remember thinking in my heart, “That’s not right. The man just wanted something to drink.”
While I was in high school, the public schools in my community integrated. There was tension, mistrust and a high level of stress and anxiety. I grew up in the time when sports were integrated. I watched Martin Luther King on television give his “I Have a Dream” speech.
While my parents were certainly not without their prejudices, because my dad owned a local drug store, he told me always to treat the customer like you want to be treated—no matter who they are or the color of their skin. When I saw human beings denied service, something in me said, “That’s wrong.”
I have a letter in my files from one of my grandfather’s first cousins. She told me about how my grandfather, who was an insurance agent, state legislator and state senator, would help poor people and many African American families in the 1920s and 30s when it was not the thing to do. He risked his business and reputation to do the right thing. He offered financial assistance to poor black families in the community and never charged them a penny. He did it because, as a Christian, he believed the ground was level at the foot of the cross.
I’ve seen prejudice in various forms. I’ve seen it in all races, shapes and sizes. It’s one of the most ungodly attitudes we can have. If all men are created equal, then who am I to judge another person by their skin? If we are all descendants of Adam, what’s the fuss about? We’re all sinners in need of a Savior.
I can’t begin to walk in the shoes of some of those who have been affected, impacted or suffered under prejudice. I’ve never been denied access to a bathroom or a restaurant because of the color of my skin. Narrow-minded people develop their opinions in the dark-room of prejudice.
Understand, I am a student of history, and I particularly love Civil War history. I love to study the leaders and characters of the war. For most of the nation, especially for the soldier, I don’t believe slavery was the driving issue. I believe, in my opinion, it was more about states’ rights. Remember, we weren’t that far removed from the Revolutionary War, and the colonies were held together in a fragile, immature coalition. Any effort that reminded them of England trying to run the colonies was met with opposition.
While slavery was an issue, it wasn’t the only issue. I think anyone would admit that slavery is wrong. It was wrong for the founding fathers to have slaves. It was wrong to bring slaves from Africa. It=s wrong today that the United States in general, and the church in particular, is silent on the world-wide slave trade that exists even as I write these words.
The south is not the only part of the country that has its share of prejudice. I remember talking to a lady in the Northeast. She said, “We don’t have a problem in Rhode Island with prejudice because so few African Americans live there.” I thought that was an odd observation. When I lived in the Midwest, the issue wasn’t black and white, it was white and Native American Indians. In some parts of the country, it’s whites and Hispanics or Asians.
A little prejudice goes a long way. It is often a loose idea, firmly held. Some can’t even explain why they are prejudiced; they just are. Ambrose Bierce wrote, “A prejudice is a vagrant opinion without visible means of support.” D. Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “You do not take up a prejudice. It takes you up, and controls you.”
There are things I don’t understand. I don’t understand, for instance, how a person can be anti-Semitic. For years the Catholic Church took a strong “Christ killer” stance toward the Jews. If you read the story of the founding of Israel, you will see what a God-thing it was in light of how little support the Jews received from the world. If it weren’t for a Jew named Jesus of Nazareth, I wouldn’t be saved today. We owe our salvation to the Jews.
If it weren’t for men of courage like Billy Graham, we still might be dealing with segregation on a larger scale in this country. To Graham’s credit, he refused to have a crusade where all races were not welcome. The platform had to be multi-racial or he would not participate. My first exposure to the beauty of a cooperating community of believers was when I served on the Billy Graham counseling team at the crusade in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1975.
©Michael Catt, 2007
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.