Racial Divides?

I am supposed to speak next Tuesday morning at the meeting of a group called One Montgomery, which was founded on the premise of making strides at racial unity. I decided to talk about the re-segregation of Montgomery’s public schools, which now have a student population that is overwhelmingly African-American. The four non-magnet high schools in Montgomery are 96% black, and two of them are 99.9% black. Amazing, considering the schools were completely and legally segregated until the mid- to late 1960s, with 100% white schools and 100% black schools.

And these statistics and facts might give me cause for alarm, like they do so many people in Montgomery, but I see something else going on, too. While the schools — especially junior high and high schools — may be unusually segregated racially, other institutions should be considered, too. There is an old saying that Sunday morning at 11 AM is the most segregated hour in America, but I am seeing a lot of churches defy that stereotype, especially among evangelical denominations. One church in Montgomery, Christian Life Church, seems to me to be exceptionally racially diverse. Many of the local Catholic churches, and even our local mega-church Frazer United Methodist, have reached out to newly arrived Hispanics by offering Spanish-language church services and social services. And that isn’t all. I was really impressed by the racial diversity at the vacation bible school where my daughter went last week at Eastern Hills Baptist Church in the middle of predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood.

But even more important than that, other venues make me wonder if it is really so “bad.” When I take my daughter to gymnastics practice twice a week at a city-run facility called The Armory, the racial diversity is quite obvious. Kids and their parents of every race you can imagine are all jumping and springing around together, while the parents sit side-by-side, chatting and watching. When I go out shopping, I see people of all races and backgrounds, minding their own business, browsing or buying, and no one is antagonizing anybody. And food, that thing we all have in common. I hear people asking me often, Have you tried the new Korean place? Have you tried the new Indian place? Have you tried the new Mexican place? I dare anyone to disagree with this: you have to really trust someone to eat their cooking.

I will admit readily that our local school board and city council seem quite racially divided in their political wranglings, which are exacerbated by selective local TV news coverage that focuses on the most aggravated situations, but there’s no sense in trying to pretend that our children have not become acclimated to segregated lives when the public school system is predominantly black and the private schools are predominantly white, but I see glimmers of hope beyond those things. I see the normal activities on a civilized society going on without the pre-Civil Rights antagonism, like the infamous stories of Montgomery’s mean-spirited bus drivers. Maybe I’m just not seeing it . . .

Next week, when I go talk to the folks at One Montgomery, I am not sure about what I am going to say. I was asked to speak for about 20 minutes then leave about 20 minutes open for Q&A. What I don’t plan on doing is using the statistics and facts at my disposal to charge up the audience with rhetoric and nuanced accusations, asking them want to look for a devil under every rock.

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