The Cold Hard Truth

By J.L. Chestnut, Jr.

Vol. 12, No. 2, 1990, p. 24

Editor's Note: It has been a turbulent in Dallas County, Alabama, where the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act was celebrated earlier this year with more than just reenactments. A bitter controversy over white control of majority black public schools has involved arrests, sit-ins and, as J.L. Chestnut indicates, the reopening of long-festering wounds.

In Selma, a white judge issued a restraining order to prevent the arrest of six white school board members for allegedly having violated the criminal statute against secret school board meetings. In adjacent Lowndes County, black school board members were arrested the other day and released on $500 bond for allegedly having violated the same law.

Small wonder a growing number of blacks are now as cynical and distrustful of the Alabama judicial process as I have been for 40 years. A black teacher protested to me about a "double standard of justice." She brought a picture of white Selma School board members taking an official school vote in the office of their attorney. The teacher doesn't know the half of it.

For the first time I have some doubt that Selma will survive. As late as 1990, this city continues to represent an extremely conformist society as closed and narrow as was the case in 1960. Intellectual dissent is viewed as heresy and only white mainstream positions are acceptable. Everything else is "radical."

Scores of white Selmians are afraid to speak the obvious truth openly. They quietly deplore and complain to me and other selected blacks. Not one thinks he or she could survive standing publicly for the right if it conflicted with the "party line" established by certain white politicians.

That is pitiful and a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

Many things are dreadfully wrong in black Selma and all of them cannot be attributed to white racism. I have made that point in this space often and in great detail. Each time white Selma reacted predictably with an outpouring of amens and agreement.

But, Selma cannot survive in the 1990s on that rationalizing, almost non-nourishing diet.

Refusing to attack the debilitating wrongs that systematically destroyed the bodies and minds of many black youngsters while condemning the black community for not reacting like well-behaved ladies and gentlemen is a sick process. And, most blacks reject it.

I recall white Selmians in the 1960s claiming they thought race relations in Selma were fine. I remember their claims that "our Negroes" were satisfied.

How many whites would have been satisfied with segregation, discrimination, no justice, no vote and no status as a human being for white people?

Why would any white presume to think blacks were satisfied? Why would any white person presume blacks are satisfied with manifest discrimination in 1990?

We are dealing with a social cancer in Selma and in America that is more than 100 years old.

Nevertheless, there is no problem in Selma that cannot be solved; however, we can't solve the problems running from them.

I am not afraid of the truth.

It's the lies we need to watch.

Peace.

J. L. Chestnut is an Alabama trial lawyer and writer.