The Independent has been published several stories about race lately. Hal Crowther's fine "White denial" (July 30) asked us to acknowledge history but move beyond guilt. That provoked Ned Kennington to insist that white guilt is appropriate; Alex Jones, on the other hand, rebuked Crowther for remembering Robert F. Williams, North Carolina's black apostle of "armed self-reliance," but for rejecting the National Rifle Association (Back Talk, Aug. 13). My book, Radio Free Dixie, Jones claims, proves that Robert Williams was an NRA member.
First, though Williams kept guns to protect his family from Ku Klux Klan terrorists, so did Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Daisy Bates and most other politically active black Southerners of the civil rights era, at one time or another. Welcome to the real world, where we dream of redemption and also keep our powder dry. But Radio Free Dixie does not prove that Williams was a member of the NRA: There is no evidence that the NRA accepted his application for membership.
I have to side with Crowther on white guilt. It is not helpful or healthy to embrace collective guilt for 400 years of history. It is, however, our responsibility to change that history, and our shame only if we fail. Better, I think, to ponder what kind of communities we want our children to enjoy, and to think about how to get there from here. When my kids don't get a solid education and a decent job, your children will inevitably pay for their incarceration, drug rehab and so on, and also endure whatever idiots they might elect to public office.
Some readers say we should forget our painful racial history. I am glad the Independent knows better. This conversation is long overdue and just getting started. It need not wallow in a fruitless nostalgia of pain, but instead can redeem the multi-racial democratic vision that generations of Southerners have fought to make real.
The writer is a senior scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and holds other professorships at Duke's history department and Divinity School, in addition to UNC's American Studies department.