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February 19, 2001

Panel attempts to start
racial healings

By Elaine Justice & Michael Terrazas

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 program’s 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 also spoke.

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.
Chace quoted from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, delivered when one-eighth of the population were black slaves, that looked forward to an America “with malice toward none and charity toward all.” This country’s racial reconciliation, Chace said, began at that time.

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 Ponder’s 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 House 116-49.

“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 wouldn’t call it ‘hate,’ but what else would you call it?”

He said grew up watching black people fail “simply because white people didn’t 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 society’s 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.


Back to Emory Report Feb. 19, 2001