Bob Davis: Learning from the pain of the past
Aug 02, 2009 | 2945 views |  1 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A jog through the cable news jungle Thursday afternoon showed that two outlets — MSNBC and CNN — were displaying countdown clocks logging the time before the president's "Beer Summit," as MSNBC labeled it.

Well, as long as everyone is taking a dialogue on race seriously, everything must be normal, right?

Of course, we can't forget Fox News, where last week one prominent host, Glenn Beck, labeled the nation's first black president a "racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."

Thursday's beer chat was between President Obama, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and James Crowley, the Cambridge, Mass., police sergeant who arrested Gates several weeks back.

Initial reviews were not entirely positive. It seems that the matters of race in the United States, centuries in the making, won't be solved over a couple of cold ones on a single late July evening. It's a hopeful sign that Crowley and Gates have vowed to continue talking, preferably away from the glare of the White House press corps and cable TV's countdown clocks.

Points to President Obama for encouraging informal conversation after his thoughtless news conference remarks earlier this month. Sure beats the opposite.

The scene at the offices of The Anniston Star eight days ago was more sober, if not also more somber. It was also more heartfelt than the brew crew's.

Family members of a black man killed by racist terrorists 44 years ago were speaking with college students. Willie Brewster was killed on his way home from his job in Anniston for no reason other than the color of his skin.

The history and law school students from Florida at The Star that Saturday were born long after Brewster's murder. Their knowledge of this sort of pain and suffering came mostly from books. They came to Anniston as part of an annual civil rights tour of the South.

Lestine Easley, Brewster's widow, was the picture of composure through great pain as she choked back tears. She discussed forgiveness with the students, telling of heartfelt talks with her pastor.

Willie Brewster Jr. told of grasping his dying father's hand as a 7-year-old. He spoke of his time coming to grips with his loss, of being angry and finding trouble. Yet, his story advanced. A stint in the armed forces put him on the straight and narrow. He mentioned his friends and neighbors — white and black, and how many never knew of his father's tragic demise.

Two of Brewster Sr.'s grandchildren — Tieshia and Tarmeshia — wept during parts of the conversation, thinking of a grandfather they only know through others' memories.

The family members spoke of how the story did not end on July 14, 1965, the evening Brewster was shot driving home from work.

Life's smaller ups and downs have not escaped the family; the rough spots of life don't always give a pass to victims of great injustices.

Yet, what happens tomorrow and the next day and so on is important, Tieshia and Tarmeshia noted. Both make no bones about it — they want others to see them setting a positive example, raising the bar and not crushed by their grandfather's murder.

The 40 students — some from the University of South Florida and others from Stetson Law School — were quieted by the Brewster family's heartfelt remarks. One called it a "life-changing experience."

Another, native Alabamian Lakinta Morrissette, noted, "You could see that the family is really trying to move past the pain that is still evident, that it affects them in their everyday lives."

Indeed they are. None asked to be living reminders of racial violence. Yet, all accept their fate.

They spoke of forgiveness and racial progress amid tears that Saturday afternoon. The moment Willie Brewster was killed is frozen in time, yet time has moved on, and racial progress, slow and imperfect, has been made.

In a statement released following Thursday's beer exchange, Obama said, "I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart." He added, "I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode."

Those listening to the Brewster family a week ago last Saturday could do no less.
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