The New Beginning

Early in ’68 came the Kerner Report. Otto Kerner, former Governer of Ohio, had been appointed by Congress to lead an investigation to determine causes of urban unrest which had occurred in several cities with large black populations, in the previous two summers. It is clear today that the report was like the first nail in the coffin of my traditional liberal conviction in the ultimate goodness of the American Creed. I did not realize then the extent to which I was being prepared for my final acceptance of Derrick Bell’s conviction of the permanence of racism.
The Report stated clearly that the nation was divided, two nations, one white, one black, and unequal. Further, it made clear that the causes of the divisions and the unrest were rooted in white society. It gave the lie to the thought that our nation had a “black problem”; rather we had a “white problem”!!!! The report was controversial, its meaning denied by most whites. For me it was a confirmation of what I had seen, now “named” and articulated, forthrightly without ambiguity. How could I be “at ease”, having seen this truth?

Then came the assassination of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Sunday one week after Dr. King’s assassination I was scheduled to preach at an sunrise Easter service in Westfield, Mass. It would be the last Easter Sunday while I was in my denominational position, and my friend, Tuck Gilbert, Minister in Westfield, had invited me to speak. I stayed overnight with Tuck and his wife, Bobbie, arising very early for the sunrise service, on a lovely hilltop. It was a glorious day, bright, warm sun, with no cloud to be seen. Part of my sermon reflected on the life of Dr. King, and in it I drew some parallels between his life and the last days of Jesus’ life, enough to annoy a couple who stalked away in open dismay. I said some very nice “preacher-like” things, calling for us all to match our convictions with our actions.

The service ended, and we all went to the church for a fine breakfast, where there were probably a couple hundred people. Breakfast over, farewells completed, I headed for the Massachusetts turnpike, eastbound for home. The warm air circulated through the open car windows, and I gloried in the day. Then came Epiphany!

At about the Chicopee marker on the turnpike my life was changed forever. I heard no words, I saw no vision, but suddenly, instantly, I had an answer to that quiet confidence that I would be led to some new place. I knew that I was to use the next years of my life to work on the “white problem”. I had no idea what that meant practically; I knew only that I must do whatever was required. There was no question to be asked. There was no option to decline. There was only “to do”. .

The rest of my journey home that Easter morn was punctuated with loud singing of hymns, and weeping. I was no longer a restless heart. Direction was clear, the way was not. While there was no option, I wanted no option. The command which came found a heart which experience had prepared for the moment. It was a “wonder-full” congruence of “have to” and “want to”. In later years I learned that Jung claimed that free will means doing gladly what one must do. So it was, and is.

I arrived home in Wakefield. Grandma Lushbough was in the kitchen, ironing. I said to her, “I know what I must do with my life; I must work on the “white problem”. There was little response, no discussion. In another year, Grandma told me that as I came into the kitchen that noon there was a “glow” about me, which she knew was not to be penetrated, and she stood back in silence.

That was the major Epiphany of my life. Every major decision of my life since that day has been rooted in that event.

The next day I began to talk with people about what to do.

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