By J. Michael Willard
Let’s talk about Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who may — or may not — resign from office. But first, let’s discuss me, a former teenage racist. You heard that right.
In our discussions, let’s revisit President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, Senate Leader Robert Byrd and Abraham Lincoln, and excoriate them for also being racists.
Though a moonshot away from that august body of achievers, I do stand accused of being naive, stupid and an early product of demographic and cultural brainwashing.
Mitt Romney’s papa, Michigan Gov. George, once said he was brainwashed by the generals on Vietnam, and it cost him any hope of the presidency.
I don’t plan to run for anything, even the Home Owners’ Board of my Lake Nona-begone neighborhood. Still, no after-the-fact excuses from this guy.
While I remain fairly alive, the others cited are stone-cold dead. But let’s just t kick the bejesus out of all of them before historic memory fades regarding why they remain in the pantheon of statesmen.
Johnson, of course, was one of the greatest ever civil rights president. Justice Black voted to abolish school desegregation, and Byrd, my late boss, had a top rating from the NAACP.
Of course, we all know Abe Lincoln as the “the Great Emancipator” the President freed the slaves and led America through a civil war. He’s so highly revered he’s on currency and coin.
Yet, LBJ threw the “N” word around more frequently than movie maker Quinton Tarrantino does the “F” word. Both Justice Black and Robert Byrd were, in their 20s, Ku Klux Klan organizers.
Historians note that Lincoln thought of African Americans as biologically inferior to whites, and he wasn’t immune from putting racist jokes in his repertoire of well-cited humor.
These examples are from the distant past, with Byrd dying nearly a decade ago. However, having worked closely with him for seven years, I vouch that his past was far removed from his present.
So, by the way, can the Martin Luther King family of Atlanta, Ga. I have acquired first hand knowledge of this, with Martin №3 joining me one evening for discussions on a cabin cruiser I lived on.
In my own case, my transformation occurred my freshman year at a private two-year college. I had just returned from England where my father was stationed in the Air Force.
Previously, I had championed States’ Rights as I energetically debated a separate but equal philosophy. Ironically — and weirdly — this was while attending school with black studentsI who I counted as friends.
There were various reasons for this “Saul on the road to Damascus” epiphany. Mostly it was due to human observation.
One learns a lot about life bagging groceries at the Food Fair on South Orange Blossom Trail on a paycheck Friday night. There are no racial divides in the quest for a quarter tip when you are hustling for tuition money.
In my sophomore year, as editor of the Orlando Junior College newspaper, the Board of Trustees suggested in animated terms I would be much more comfortable at another institution.
I had suggested the school’s motto of “Teaching Christianity and American Democracy” was so much hypocrisy and hogwash.
After I repeated a similar editorial urging the school consider admitting blacks — disguising it as an allegorical fable — I was called before the trustees a second time. They were stern-faced business guys.
After the article, the school president, Morris S. Hale, angrily poked my chest in front of the school’s administration building. Mostly I remember his beet-red face and the accompanying spit shower.
I refused to leave, at least quietly.
It helped that a neighborhood newspaper had written about the controversy. The school backed off, and I continued my lackadaisical graze through education and on to the University of Florida.
Comes now that rather vanilla-flavored Democratic governor from Virginia. He’s in a caldron of stew. His backassward comments have compounded his troubles.
Northam had his past revisit him Banquo’s ghost-style in the guise of a medical school year book from 1984 in which he — or maybe someone else — is featured in blackface. He flubbed his apology big-time.
However, ask most anyone and they will say he’s been a rather progressive, forward thinking governor, having previously won the support of Virginia’s black community.
As governor, he was quick to denounce the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. He pushed for Obamacare expansion. Former President Obama campaigned for him, and he won 90 per cent of the African American vote.
But now a posse is out for his head, composed of both Democrats and Republicans, and you can toss in a few Whigs and Know-Nothing partiers as well.
For 55 years, I have been a card-carrying member of the left of center tribe. It could be, on this issue, my sensitivity meter is off-kilter, but I don’t think so.
What I see is a rush to judgment, and a man in the fourth act of a rather admirable life being judged for a really bad opening act of his life performance. It’s a Shakespearian tragedy in the making.