Community Leaders Explain The Reality Of Racial Trust Building

After Warren Temple United Methodist Church hosted a historic event of white and black, public civilian and law enforcement reconciliation, it was time to turn words of encouragement and restoration into actions.

People rarely struggle with finding the words to explain their situations or apologize for their mistakes, but following the verbiage, people have a hard time understanding the next step to take. However, local NAACP leader Ernest Ward, La-Grange City Police Chief Lou Dekmar, State Court Judge Jeannette Little, and LaGrange City Mayor Jim Thornton believe that they have the answers our community needs – answers that are simpler than they might seem.

Ward stresses the necessity of implementing the past facts, present actions, and future hopes of black and white relationships within Troup County’s schools. Naturally, “Most people don’t have the instruments to change,” he explained. Black children sit by black children at the lunch table. White children walk home from school with white children. Our community as a whole has the mindset of expected segregation, and that must end.

The only thing intermingling the races is the law, explained Ward. “The law says we have to work together.”

But for children and grownups alike, the underlying question Ward asks is, “When we have free will, what do we do in our social lives?” When the law isn’t forcing us to go to school together or ride the bus to work together, what are we doing to connect with others who are different from us?

“[It’s] all built on relationships,” he went on to say. To make racism an ugly evil of the past, this community must raise its children in an academic and social environment that encourages interracial mingling at church, at restaurants, and anywhere else that people have the right to choose who to interact with. This is an “evolving relationship,” said Chief Dekmar. “[The] next step [is to] further commit to share the past and use it as an opportunity to move forward and to not repeat the past.”

Following the massive turnout at Warren Temple as Chief Dekmar apologized to the Callaway family for the way the 1940s LaGrange Police Department swept Austin Callaway’s murder under the rug, he looks forward to the future relationships between black and white people in the La-Grange/Troup County community.

“It wasn’t a black event or a white event,” said Dekmar. “It was a community event.”

Judge Little described this event as a community leadership launching pad for greater reconciliation. “[It’s] a wonderful thing to do to understand their perspective… [There was] an increased understanding as public officials came out of this event.”

She also believes that the easiest way to overcome racial discrimination is by seeing a person for “what they’ve done and what their record shows” rather than defining their humanity by skin tone.

“If you had asked me two years ago, when the [Racial Trust Building Coalition] began, Would there be a lynching apology at Warren Temple one day?, I would have responded: I don’t know,” said MayorThornton. “Because at that time, I didn’t know there had been a lynching of Austin Callaway in 1940, much less how the various individuals and groups would respond to the possibility of an acknowledgement. As it turned out, the event was a very positive and healthy event for our community.”

Thornton went on to say, “But you can’t telegraph these things. Instead, you have to let people come together and discuss issues and find their way forward as a community. That is what the ongoing work is all about.”

Change will come one child at a time, one adult at a time, and one community at a time as people of all races make the conscious effort to see others not as the people of the past, but as people of the present and future who need love, support, and encouragement regardless of their color and culture.

Peyton Hanners Staff Writer