On Oct. 5, 1958, people opposed to integration bombed Clinton High School in Clinton, Tenn.
I was born and raised less than ten miles away, but years passed before I knew anything about my home county’s turbulent history.
The decades between the bombing and my birth gave the scars time to heal over until they were barely perceptible.
By the time I came around, the races were well-integrated; my neighbors, classmates and friends were black, white, Asian, Native American, Hispanic and just about any other race/culture you could think of.
I didn’t think twice about it, and few others ever seemed to either.
By the time I learned this wasn’t always the case, the Civil Rights Era was relegated to a chapter in my history book and a section on the test.
The races were integrated and women were “liberated,” and the tumultuous path leading to this state seemed as distant as the Dark Ages.
I of course knew the stories about figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, but I didn’t give much thought to the hundreds, even thousands, of others. They were simply faceless parts known collectively as “the movement.”
As I’ve gotten older, though, faces have emerged from “the movement.”
Monday, one of the leaders in the civil rights movement died in Middle Tennessee.
The Rev. Will D. Campbell, originally from Amite County, Miss., but a Wilson County resident since the mid-‘60s, featured prominently in many of the historic race confrontations throughout the South – including the Clinton, Tenn., confrontations.
As a Southern white man pushing for integration, Campbell faced hostility from many other whites and distrust from many blacks, according to interviews Campbell did in subsequent years.
While a member of the Tennessee National Guard, Campbell had to stand in opposition to fellow guardsmen in a neighboring state to walk a little girl into school.
He did so for no other reason than his faith and conscience told him it was the right thing to do.
Because of Campbell, King, Parks and the thousands of others who stood with them, my generation and the ones that followed were spared the turmoil they suffered.
Because of them, my neighbors, former classmates and friends are black, white, Asian, Native American, Hispanic and just about any other race/culture you can think of, and I don’t think twice about it.
When Campbell, King, Parks and other civil rights activists stood – at great personal risk – in protest of society’s dictates, they stood not just for blacks, they stood for every American.
Because, as Campbell has said, racism and segregation are human tragedies, and in tragedies, neither side wins.