Category: General

“You’re not the Michael Brown we’re looking for.”

(Originally published May 12, 2010; edited and republished September 6, 2020)


As she thumbed through our passports with her practiced fingers and keyed the necessary data into her computer at Miami International Airport, the pleasant, Latina U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer was all smiles, the perfect blend of professionalism and “welcome home, cherished and valued citizen” hospitality.

I was looking directly at her when she came to my name and her face suddenly darkened. She knitted her brow and tapped a few more times on her keyboard, double-checking, perhaps hoping to stem the flow of bad news that was appearing on her screen.Read the rest

Always do the right thing

Da Mayor: “Always do the right thing.”
Mookie: “That’s it?”
Da Mayor: “That’s it.”
Mookie: “I got it, I’m gone.”
Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee (1989)

Did Dr. George S. Benson apologize for his racism?

That was, without a doubt, one of the first questions that came to mind among the leadership at Harding University when the online petition to change the name of the campus auditorium from George S. Benson Auditorium to Botham Jean Auditorium dropped in June 2020.

I also believe–very strongly–there was a “Drop what you’re doing!”, five alarm fire, all-hands-on-deck search for an exonerating piece of evidence that would have shown that George Benson apologized, showed remorse, or otherwise recanted the obviously racist views that he held and expressed openly in the 1950s and 60s.… Read the rest

It’s the way it is, but it doesn’t have to be, Part 2

Well, they passed a law in ’64
To give those who ain’t got a little more
But it only goes so far
Because the law don’t change another’s mind
When all it sees at the hiring time
Is the line on the color bar, no, no

That’s just the way it is
And some things will never change
That’s just the way it is
That’s just the way it is, it is, it is, it is

–Bruce Hornsby, The Way It Is, 1986


During the academic year 1954-55, an unknown person in the Harding College (now Harding University) admissions office received an application from a young man named Wilbert Neal Whitley who lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa. … Read the rest

Chapel protests, or hey, someone really *is* awake!

Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

–1 Timothy 4:12 NKJV

I am indebted to Harding University President Dr. Bruce McLarty for sharing Larry Bills’ story at the beginning of his message to the Harding community about the 18,000-plus signature petition to remove George S. Benson’s name from the auditorium on campus and rename it after Botham Jean.  This was, for me at least, an unforeseen development driven in part by public and alumni reaction to the story I published in the Arkansas Times on the Statement of Attitude protest by Harding students in 1957 during the Little Rock Crisis but one which I accepted with dutiful resignation if not outright enthusiasm.Read the rest

It’s the way it is, but it doesn’t have to be, Part 1

“Said, hey little boy you can’t go where the others go
‘Cause you don’t look like they do
Said, hey old man how can you stand
To think that way
Did you really think about it
Before you made the rules?

He said, ‘son
That’s just the way it is
Some things will never change
That’s just the way it is’
Ah, but don’t you believe them”

Bruce Hornsby, The Way It Is, 1986


When Larry Bills, Harding College Class of 1958 music education major, stood to lead all three stanzas of the school’s Alma Mater near the conclusion of the school’s annual Black and Gold Homecoming Banquet in 2018, it was the realization of a decades-old dream birthed by the disparity between the way it is and the way it should be.… Read the rest

Recent correspondence

On 06/24/2020 6:15 PM MICHAEL BROWN  <                         > wrote:
Hi Bill,
Greetings from Alabama, where we strive to not only be #1 in college football, but new coronavirus infections per capita as well. Roll Tide.
I imagine Mark or “JN Armstrong” have already sent you this, but I thought I would pass it along just in case:  https://harding.edu/benson
Of course it could never be otherwise. I find it all very wearisome. However, I did take note of McLarty’s dismissive description of my literary quest for truth as a mere “newspaper article,” the subtext being, of course, “Fake news!”
People still don’t get it.
Read the rest

Physician, diagnose thyself

I consider myself a better than average ocular diagnostician. Whenever my technician or an intern comes into my office and tells me a patient’s history and describes the patient’s signs and symptoms, I usually know what is wrong without even looking. I am like Carnac the Magnificent, only with a white coat and head-mounted ophthalmoscope instead of a cape and feathered turban.

In my head, I generate a list of three to four possible diagnoses and rank them according to their probability. If it is my technician, I tell him what I think is most likely going on and perhaps ask him to perform another test or two and then dilate the patient’s pupils.… Read the rest

How Mary Nell’s Handbell Got Saved

Jesus said to “Love they neighbor” and “thy enemy.” But what do you do when the person who lives next door to you is both?

I guess there aren’t any special dispensations for that scenario. You’re just supposed to suck it up and go. When it came to Mary Nell, our neighbor from 1995-2011, we tried–and failed–over and over and over.

We first met Mary Nell in August 1995 when we stopped by Corley Drive to check out the 10-year-old brick rancher with the huge backyard that had just gone on the market.

Well, “met” only if you count a dried-up prune of a little old lady glaring at you through window blinds as a “meeting.”… Read the rest

Coefficient of Friction

A former college professor of mine at Harding, Dr. Joe Pryor, was famous for his bow ties and his nerdy (and charming) way of saying things.

Whenever it snowed or iced in Searcy, Arkansas and the sidewalks around campus grew slick, he would stand behind the podium during chapel and declare, in his best Ben Stein “Ferris Beuller” economics teacher monotone, “Be careful walking around campus today; the coefficient of friction is extremely low.”

I thought of him last Sunday when the coefficient of friction on the roads near my birthplace in southwest Virginia suddenly dropped to near zero. It started snowing that morning, not hard, but enough to capture the attention of my sister’s two curious cats, Twinky and Zinger, who sat on their haunches and stared out the patio window watching the flakes fall.… Read the rest

Senior Coffee

I bought my first bottle of cheap wine in the fall of 1984 at a small convenience store near my apartment in Blacksburg, Virginia. By then I had graduated from Harding and moved on to Virginia Tech, so I didn’t run the risk of having two bullet-less Barney Fifes in a golf cart accosting me and frog-marching me to the Dean’s office for immediate expulsion.

I knew they often nabbed Harding students out celebrating their 21st birthdays at restaurants in Little Rock, but alumni in Blacksburg? Surely, purity had its mileage limits. The peace of mind and freedom were more intoxicating than the wine would ever be.… Read the rest