The 947th Signature

If there is one question that animated my efforts and drove me to spend the hundreds of hours of research necessary to write this article in The Arkansas Times (be sure to read the Author’s Note, as well), it is “Would I have signed?”

If someone had asked me in 1957, in the early days of the American civil rights movement when passions were rising to fever pitch, to put my name on the line for desegregation and make one small step toward integration, would I have signed?

Bottom line, I can’t be sure. What I can be sure of: Nine hundred and forty-six Harding students, faculty and staff did, and I’m proud of each and every one of them and thankful for the progress that my alma mater has made since those difficult days.

This was an incident that simply refused to be swept into the dustbin of history, almost as if it had a life of its own. When I first read the bare bones of the story several years ago, they formed a skeleton in my head that danced around and wouldn’t leave me alone. The only way to quiet the racket of rattling bones was to put some flesh to them.

Writing and eye doctoring are not that much different. Every patient I see has a story, and every disease or malady they suffer from has a history. I spend a good amount of my time in the clinic getting to the bottom of things.

So I got busy using my everyday tools of the trade: reading the literature, asking lots of questions (sometimes the same question in several different ways), and doing lots of listening. I made careful observations and put together a list of possibilities, “differential diagnoses”, if you will. I sifted through the possibilities and put it all together in a framework that hopefully, inasmuch as is humanely possible, approaches something that could rightly be called “the truth”.

In the history of the American civil rights movement, this story does not in any way, shape, or form rank in the same league as Rosa Parks, lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Rides, or a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Not even close.

Nor does it expiate the sins of the many Churches of Christ and other southern churches that stood idly by in the midst of the greatest moral crisis in our nation’s history.

But in it, there is some good worthy of consideration. There is at its core, courage worthy of emulation. And at the end, there is, I believe, at least a small measure of reconciliation and redemption.

Would I have signed? I would like to think I would have, but I will never know for sure.

But please consider my telling of this story the 947th signature.

  1. Keith Brenton

    There wasn’t anything to sign when Lot Therrio was elected, but I voted for him because he was smart and likable. I asked out a black girl because she was too cute not to, but the date was awkward and there was no magic there. That was probably more because of who we were rather than what colors we were. Later that school year when I dated Yvonne (okay, technically she is half-black, half-white), things were less awkward and more fun. It was a transitional time at Harding, to be sure — not just for me but for the college as well. I’d say my vision improved even though the prescription for my spectacles didn’t change.Thanks for a great article and a trip down memory lane.

  2. Kristi Greene

    I grew up in after rights for African-Americans were “settled.” I grew up being told that we didn’t have to worry about it anymore, that now that the government had decided that it was OK to mix the races, then everything would work out just fine. Here I am as an adult, working in an office in North Louisiana, hearing phrases weekly like, “I may be old-fashioned, but I don’t believe in interracial marriage.” And no matter how often I tell my coworkers, there’s no way to explain to them that it’s not old-fashioned, it’s racist and wrong. And then I think about how I’m an adult in an era of denying rights to homosexuals. And how I don’t want to treat them the way my aged relatives treated black people. But I also tend toward cowardice. And so I wonder if I would put my name on a petition. Thank you for the reminder to think carefully about how I choose to act and vote and treat others. It’s easy to live in my bubble and forget.

  3. David Underwood

    Like you,  I don’t KNOW if I would have signed, but I would hope that I would have.  So,  consider this the 948th signature.    DU  

  4. Michael Brown

    Keith–Great stories! I must look up your college picture. Betting that your hair and sideburns were a millimeter or two beyond “regulation.”

  5. Michael Brown

    Kristi–You’re welcome. And thank you for “getting it” and for your support.

  6. Michael Brown

    DU–So noted! Thanks for your support, brother.

  7. Karan Baker

    You have told such an important story.  Getting at something close to the truth is no small endeavor.  Thank you for your research, skill and, and most of all, courage to write.  Outstanding work!  

  8. Michael Brown

    Thank you, Karen. That’s a mighty fine son you raised. A veritable Atticus Finch.

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