When people die, even the racist ones, there is an inexplicable rush to trumpet the good in that person, even where none exists from a public policy perspective. The most recent example is Jerry Falwell, one of the godfathers of the religious right.
Like many Southern White ministers, Falwell didn't sit on the sidelines at the outset of the modern civil rights movement, he joined the opposition.
"Decades before the forces that now make up the Christian right declared their culture war, Falwell was a rabid segregationist who railed against the civil rights movement from the pulpit of the abandoned backwater bottling plant he converted into Thomas Road Baptist Church," Max Blumenthal writes in an insightful article in The Nation magazine. "Indeed, it was race — not abortion or the attendant suite of so-called 'values' issues – that propelled Falwell and his evangelical allies into political activism."
Four years after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregated public schools, Falwell gave a speech titled, "Segregation or Integration."
His message was unmistakably clear: "If Chief Justice Warren and his associates had known God's word and had desired to do the Lord's will, I am quite confident that the 1954 decision would never have been made. The facilities should be separate. When God has drawn the line of distinction, we should not attempt to cross that line."
We should not forget that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail" was written to his colleagues of the cloth. The letter, written April 16, 1963, said, in part: I have been disappointed with the church. … I felt the White ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows."
Jerry Falwell was not silent behind his stained-glass windows. He said, "The true Negro does not want integration … he realizes his potential is far better among his own race."
As usual, Falwell was wrong, and was was attacking the 1964 Civil Rights Act as "civil wrongs" legislation. He questioned "the sincerity and intentions of some civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. James Farmer, and others, who are known to have left-wing associations," Falwell charged. "It is very obvious that the Communists, as they do in all parts of the world, are taking advantage of a tense situation in our land, and are exploiting every incident to bring about violence and bloodshed."
No, it was the Bull Conners of the world that were violently beating civil rights marchers. It's too bad that Falwell, who later claimed that he had changed his views, was on the wrong side of history.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach.