February 19, 2001
Panel attempts to start
By Elaine Justice & Michael Terrazas email@example.com
A crowd of about 100 gathered in Winship Ballroom Feb. 12 to act as explorers, in the words of Associate Professor Thee Smith, into the world of racial truths and cooperation, as Emory held the first of its Hearings for Healings: Testimonies on Racism and Reconciliation.
The programs format featured testimonies from civil rights pioneer
C.T. Vivian and former Georgia legislator Dan Ponder, along with student
testifiers from Emory (senior Katie Kilborn), Agnes Scott, Clark Atlanta,
Georgia State and Georgia Tech. Johnnetta Cole, Presidential Distinguished
Professor of Anthropology, moderated the event, and President Bill Chace
Smith and Cole kicked off the evening by paying homage to South African
Archbishop Desmond Tutu: that precise and powerful brother,
as Cole described him. Tutu recently spent two years in residence at the
School of Theology.
For two years, we had the privilege to question him and to respond
to him, Smith said.
Ponder, a former Republican representative from what he calls an
ultraconservative rural district in Donalson, Ga., spoke of growing
up in a Alabama at a time when segregation was just a part of everyday
life, and the only people who did not speak highly of Alabama governor
and avowed segregationist George Wallace were Ponders parents.
Racism impacts you even if you ignore it, Ponder said. He
recounted how he stopped ignoring it last year, when he delivered a speech
in the Georgia Legislature in favor of SB390, a hate crimes bill. The
speech received two standing ovations, and the bill passed the Georgia
It is a wonderfully liberating feeling when you can say what you want without fear of reprisals, said Ponder, who added that nine of his great-great-great-grandfathers fought for the Confederacy.
He said he has received 25,000 letters and e-mails from 20 countries
thanking him for the speech. It has been a humbling and emotional
experience, he said.
Next up was civil rights leader Vivian, who said that racism has destroyed
more people than anything else in American society. It has been
destroying us psychologically and legally, he said.
I grew up in a society dominated by white people who hated you
for your presence, Vivian said. You wouldnt call it
hate, but what else would you call it?
He said grew up watching black people fail simply because white people didnt like them.
Nobody works harder in America than black people but nobody gets
less out of it, he said.
Vivian said the lowest level of white society dicates the rest of societys
attitudes. Whatever your problems as a white person, add color and
you can begin to understand the difference between your problems and our
condition, he said.
As one of the student panelists, Kilborn talked about how being white keeps me from truly being there for my black brothers and sisters. But she said the lesbian/gay/bisexual community at Emory strongly identifies with the effects of racism.