Racial equality emerged slowly in the segregated South

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I was 5 years old, shopping in downtown Norfolk, Va., with my mother and little sister. We needed a restroom, and since I was the alpha male while my father was at work, I found one.

In this 1956 photo, black and white passengers sit segregated on an Atlanta trolley. In a society divided along racial lines, meaningful change developed slowly.  FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE/ASSOCIATED PRESS
In this 1956 photo, black and white passengers sit segregated on an Atlanta trolley. In a society divided along racial lines, meaningful change developed slowly.

There was, however, a slight problem. My mother said we couldn’t use the one I had found. She patiently explained that it was only for “colored” people. That was my first conscious encounter with the segregated South, more than 90 years after the War Between the States.

I later learned that there also were water fountains for whites, and water fountains for colored people. There were signs that I couldn’t read clearly announcing who could use which.

It didn’t make much sense to me, but that was the way it was. I wish I could say for certain that my child’s sense of justice was provoked, and maybe it was. I hope I was outraged. I only remember was that it seemed very strange.

THE TERM “colored people” was the preferred and respectful term for blacks (later shifting to “blacks” and “Afro-Americans.” and still later “African-Americans”). On official forms asking for race, the choices were “Caucasian,” “Negro” or “Oriental,” but in conversation, the term “colored” was used for blacks. (For example, the NAACP’s self-chosen name was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.)

We used that term at home. My family never used the “n-word.” It was considered a bad word, derogatory and demeaning. I heard it some in school, but not at home.

America ran along two parallel tracks – one for whites and one for blacks, especially in the Southern United States, but also in the North. Not only were there separate water fountains and restrooms, but also separate schools and even (paradoxically and wrongly) separate churches. Churches should have been the one place, at least, where blacks and whites could be together, irrespective of color. Believers in Christ should be expected to worship together in unity.

Society was divided along racial lines.

IN SECOND grade in Baltimore, I attended school with a few black children. It seemed normal and natural. One black classmate helped me find my way around the new school and helped me find my lost gloves; race did not matter to us. My square-dance partner was a pretty, vivacious black girl who patiently put up with me as we do-si-doed.

Schools in the South were pretty much segregated until the late 1960s, when the “separate but equal” myth was destroyed and integration was fully implemented. Before integration, schools for whites and schools for blacks comprised two separate systems that were anything but equal. I was a 10th-grader in Florida when courageous kids from the local black high school braved public opinion in exchange for a better education and entered our previously all-white school. Some in the community predicted (hoped for?) violence. It never happened.

My first encounter with some of these black students was in football two-a-days in the 100-degree humidity of Orlando. Enduring this physical torture melts away superficial differences and bonds you with your teammates. Neither white nor black guys cared about color. All we saw were teammates who had suffered together and would play together in common cause. Later, we would play basketball together. We welcomed these guys, some of whom were fantastic athletes. We were happy to have them, and there were no problems – none.

In 1956, before Norfolk, I had lived in Appomattox, Va., where the Civil War ended in 1865. Other historic events unfolded while I was there.

The war’s end should have been the beginning of the end of slavery and racial oppression in our country. Yet, deep evil dies stubbornly. When slavery was declared illegal, the deep evil was only weakened and unmasked, and it retreated to less blatant forms of racism. Legislation outlawed slavery, but it could not outlaw maneuverings of some men to legally accomplish their own ends and to keep others under their control. It could not outlaw or change fear, pride, greed, hatred and selfishness in the hearts of men.

EVERY PERSON of every race can be a prejudiced bigot; each of us is capable of fear, pride and hatred. But whites were in control, and the whole structure of our country in the 1950s had been designed by some to legally continue the subjugation of blacks. This structure was passively accepted as a way of life by most of the others, many being overall “good people.” Yet, how often are “good people” willing to perversely accommodate themselves to systematic injustice or other evils? It is easy to conveniently turn a blind eye to evil and to rationalize that it is not our business.

Oppression and racism loomed large in 1950s America.

Virginia public education then was a hotbed of white-black conflict after the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka declared states’ segregated school laws unconstitutional. Several counties temporarily closed their schools to avoid integration. Prince Edward County resisted integration of black students into white schools until, in 1959, the county shut down its public school system indefinitely. Whites-only private schools were formed, perversely supported by state funds. For five years, from 1959 to 1964, there was no public education for black children, and thus, many black children received no education at all in Prince Edward County.

IN 1956, A GROUP from Prince Edward County visited teachers of adjacent Appomattox County in the high-school library, urging them to follow their example. There was a lot of discussion. The plan made sense. The white and black schools were separate and unequal anyway. They were so unequal that in some black schools of Appomattox County, records were not even kept. Closing the county schools wouldn’t affect things much for the black kids; they would simply go from a bad education to no education. Public school teachers would continue receiving paychecks in the new private system where the white kids would get a decent education.

The argument to shut down the schools was persuasive.

A 28-year-old teacher who was new to the school sat in the back of the library, listening. He had a wife and two kids. He had determined to keep his mouth shut. Since he was new, he thought he should just stay out of this battle: just sit there, learn what is happening, be polite, stay out of trouble.

He sat and he listened. But he was boiling inside, and his stomach began to hurt. His stomach always hurt when he got upset, ever since he had developed an ulcer after his infant daughter’s death a few years before. Now his stomach was burning and gnawing. No, it was killing him. But he stayed seated – until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He stood and spoke:

“Look, I’m new here. Most of you don’t even know me. And I don’t know much about politics. All I know is this: I have a contract to teach students at Appomattox High School. That means I’m here to teach. My contract doesn’t state whether I’m supposed to teach white kids, black kids or green kids. It only says I’m supposed to teach high-school kids. I’ll honor my contract. I’ll vote to keep the schools open. And I intend to stay and teach.”

He sat down. The mood in the room changed quickly. The teachers voted to stay and teach, and the schools of Appomattox County never closed. Ultimately they were integrated.

And the new, young teacher?

He was my father.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

– The Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr.

(The writer is an Augusta pediatrician. The column is an excerpt adapted from his forthcoming book, The Burden of Being Champ: Kindergarten Dropout to Pediatrician.)

Comments (44) Add comment
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augusta citizen
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augusta citizen 01/15/12 - 08:10 am
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Excellent letter, Dr. Miller!

Excellent letter, Dr. Miller!

seenitB4
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seenitB4 01/15/12 - 08:28 am
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This letter touched me

This letter touched me too....

soldout
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soldout 01/15/12 - 09:22 am
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Freedom and opportunity

Freedom and opportunity doesn't help when only a few respond. No one advances when they attack those who speak the truth and blame others for their problems. Jesus is the source of freedom and opportunity; not the government and not another law. When we live in the past we get the results of the past whether it was good or bad. You can't support death by voting for pro-death politicans or you end up with a spirit of death within those voters. The Bible says the curse without a cause does not come.

avidreader
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avidreader 01/15/12 - 10:53 am
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Dr. Miller, you and I must be

Dr. Miller, you and I must be about the same age. I remember many of these events you speak of, as my father and mother always kept me informed about the controversies surrounding the "colored" people in our nation. I paid attention. My father was a second-career educator, and so am I. I have learned that kids are simply, kids. We love them, we praise them, we discipline them, we educate them. I am now witnessing many postive changes in the relationships between the races. I sleep well at night knowing that I have contrubuted to this change.

Thanks for your column.

itsanotherday
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itsanotherday 01/15/12 - 11:07 am
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Our differences are not color
Unpublished

Our differences are not color of skin, they are cultural.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/15/12 - 11:38 am
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What a lot of people don't

What a lot of people don't realize is how long true segregation actually kept going. Even after school intergration, factories wouldn't hire blacks. Social interaction was minimal with few events where the races got together.

Think when the first black college coaches were hired not that long ago. That still hasn't happened in GA or SC at the football schools. Zilch, no head coaches. Dr. Miller mentions the churches and they are still segregated today. In politics you have a black majority Richmond County with a white mayor, white sheriff and white majority commission. The problem continues.

harley_52
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harley_52 01/15/12 - 12:51 pm
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Riverman1 said "In politics

Riverman1 said "In politics you have a black majority Richmond County with a white mayor, white sheriff and white majority commission."

With a black majority, I wonder who keeps voting all these whiteys into office?

The race issues I see around here come mostly from the way blacks treat whites. When's the last time you went into a convenience store to pay for your gasoline or buy something, or walked into a McDonalds to get a Big Mac? Have you not noticed a certain "attitude" from many of the blacks toward white customers?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/15/12 - 12:59 pm
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Harley52 said, "The race

Harley52 said, "The race issues I see around here come mostly from the way blacks treat whites. When's the last time you went into a convenience store to pay for your gasoline or buy something, or walked into a McDonalds to get a Big Mac? Have you not noticed a certain "attitude" from many of the blacks toward white customers?"

Usually when it feels like people react a certain way to you, there's something within you not clicking that particular moment. It could be anxiety or something else. Heck, I've had white people using the "attitude" on me more than black people. But if I can get real cool, I can defeat anyone being that way. Ya know?

burninater
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burninater 01/15/12 - 01:09 pm
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Too true, Riverman. When it's

Too true, Riverman. When it's black-on-black or white-on-white attitude people often think "what a rude person" but when it's black-on-white or vice versa, people think "oh, it's because they don't like my skin color". We see the world through our own eyes, and too many times we see what we expect, not what really is.

harley_52
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harley_52 01/15/12 - 01:09 pm
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Riverman1 said "Usually when

Riverman1 said "Usually when it feels like people react a certain way to you, there's something within you not clicking that particular moment. It could be anxiety or something else."

Indeed. I'm just imagining it, you've concluded.

I admire your ability to reach such a conclusion with the information you have, but I dispute your diagnosis.

Then he said "Heck, I've had white people using the "attitude" on me more than black people. But if I can get real cool, I can defeat anyone being that way. Ya know?"

I've had white people use it on me too, but right now I'm talking about black people. I have no doubt about your ability to be "real cool," but I'm not talking about "defeat(ing)" people here, more just an attitude I see them present to me and other white people in certain situations.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/15/12 - 01:16 pm
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Harley, Sir, you know I

Harley, Sir, you know I respect you. I wish you would consider what I said again. I'm certainly not trying to say anything negative about you. I was referring to the way I feel at times and thought maybe others could gain some understanding from my thoughts. Hey, maybe it's just me. I'd rather say that than blame others.

burninater
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burninater 01/15/12 - 01:21 pm
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"I admire your ability to

"I admire your ability to reach such a conclusion with the information you have, but I dispute your diagnosis"

Which is exactly what Riverman has done with the conclusion you've drawn, that your interactions with black people that were less than satisfactory were clearly because of your skin color. A common theme in your posts Harley is that we can't know the mind of another from the small amounts of information that we gain. So how is it that you feel as though your conclusion on knowing another's mind in this case can be so sure?

harley_52
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harley_52 01/15/12 - 01:25 pm
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burninater said "When it's

burninater said "When it's black-on-black or white-on-white attitude people often think "what a rude person" but when it's black-on-white or vice versa, people think "oh, it's because they don't like my skin color". "
Another poster with the ability to diagnose from afar.

I've been around a long time and I've lived in lots of places. I've interacted with people of many different races in many different places. I've met polite people and rude people in lots of different situations. I'm telling you I see lots of racial tension in this area and most of what I see is directed from blacks toward whites.

Then he said "We see the world through our own eyes, and too many times we see what we expect, not what really is."

I don't disagree with that statement as a general truth, but it can (and is) often used by some to mask the truth because they'd rather believe what they already believe than what has been reported. In that setting it's no more than typical left-wing, know it all sermonizing.

harley_52
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harley_52 01/15/12 - 01:28 pm
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Riverman1, I respect you as

Riverman1, I respect you as well and was responding, best I could, to the words you typed. If I misunderstood what you said it was certainly not intentional.

harley_52
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harley_52 01/15/12 - 01:42 pm
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burninater said "Which is

burninater said "Which is exactly what Riverman has done with the conclusion you've drawn, that your interactions with black people that were less than satisfactory were clearly because of your skin color."

He says not. He says he was describing his own experiences, not mine, and not diagnosing the reason I see what I see.

Then he said " A common theme in your posts Harley is that we can't know the mind of another from the small amounts of information that we gain. So how is it that you feel as though your conclusion on knowing another's mind in this case can be so sure?"

Personal experience. Repetition. Observation. I see a line of customers standing before a cashier. I watch how the cashier responds to black customers as opposed to white customers. A lifetime of training and working in situations where it was my job to notice such things.

burninater
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burninater 01/15/12 - 01:50 pm
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"I don't disagree with that

"I don't disagree with that statement as a general truth, but it can (and is) often used by some to mask the truth because they'd rather believe what they already believe than what has been reported. In that setting it's no more than typical left-wing, know it all sermonizing."
------------------
Or, alternatively, in that setting it is no more than typical right-wing, know it all sermonizing. It comes from both sides.

That still begs the question whether or not this is one of those cases. I say no, you say yes, and I'd wager the truth is somewhere in the middle: you're getting that attitude more frequently than I expect, and less frequently than you expect.

I'll throw this out there though: most of face-to-face communication is facial and body language, not verbal. If you go into a situation expecting attitude, you are more likely to get it because people can read your discomfort and, in turn, it makes them uncomfortable. Perhaps this is why Riverman and I feel as though we experience less of it than you do, because we don't communicate that we expect it and, as a result, actually get less of it?

Just something to think about it, if you don't feel like I'm "sermonizing".

harley_52
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harley_52 01/15/12 - 01:52 pm
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Riverman1 said "Hey, maybe

Riverman1 said "Hey, maybe it's just me. I'd rather say that than blame others."

I think that's part of the problem, Riverman. I think society needs to move beyond the point where one race of people must simply accept bad treatment from people of another race simply because they're afraid to "make waves."

If we are to ever succeed at racial integration and have harmony between citizens of all colors, we'd better stop coddling and protecting one race above all others even to the point of believing that any bad attitude from a member of that race must really be just a misunderstanding of the situation by the offended party. And that's what I heard coming from you (which you later clarified) and what I hear coming from burninater.

BTW, you didn't respond to my question about all the elected whiteys in majority black ARC.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 01/15/12 - 02:29 pm
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Harley said, "BTW, you didn't

Harley said, "BTW, you didn't respond to my question about all the elected whiteys in majority black ARC."

I KNOW in the case of Matt Aitken there was an organized effort from Copenhaver-Boardman to get him elected. Money does talk in elections to a degree.

I just came from the drugstore on Furys Ferry and then the gas station. There were blacks and whites and everyone seemed pretty nice to me and to each other. Now maybe this is just my prejudice, but I see different attitudes depending on what part of the CSRA I'm in. Maybe when I'm in Richmond County I'm more negative, but it sure seems to me like people in Columbia County get along better. Could it be it's more a socioeconomic thing than a racial matter?

Anyway, I have to admit I'm outright racist at times. I'll always bet on the black boxer unless it's one of those European Klitsckho types.

JRC2024
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JRC2024 01/15/12 - 02:33 pm
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If people act like they have

If people act like they have an attitude while serving you don/t worry about it. Just remember you are not the one earning the min. wage.

harley_52
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harley_52 01/15/12 - 02:46 pm
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Riverman1 said "Maybe when

Riverman1 said "Maybe when I'm in Richmond County I'm more negative, but it sure seems to me like people in Columbia County get along better. Could it be it's more a socioeconomic thing than a racial matter? "

It is greatly influenced by socioeconomics and also by geography. It's not the same in Boston, or Seattle either. I agree it's different in Columbia County too. Also, I believe some blacks hide it pretty well because they know their jobs depend on it. And yes, I admit some whites do the same thing. My initial comment on this issue made reference to what I see HERE (in Augusta, Richmond County) not elsewhere.

As to the elections, you're thinking the white power structure buys votes in all of the elections where white candidates are elected to political office in ARC? If not, what do you make of it? You raised it (I think) as some sort of evidence of ongoing racism. No? Did I misinterpret that too?

InChristLove
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InChristLove 01/15/12 - 03:05 pm
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'Dr. Miller mentions the

'Dr. Miller mentions the churches and they are still segregated today. In politics you have a black majority Richmond County with a white mayor, white sheriff and white majority commission. The problem continues."

Not all churches Riverman1. I am proud to say I belong to a multi-cultural church. We have blacks, whites, middle easterns, asian, and a mixture of all combined. Most churches today stay within their race to worship due to cultural differences. Most people will agree that africian americans are more "spiritual" in their worship where as most whites are more conservative in their's. We all serve the same God and if you would poll most churches in this area you will find that there are very few "all white" churches.

As for this area being mostly black but we have a white mayor and white sheriff......where does it say that if you have a majority of one race you must have a mayor or sheriff of the same race. I was always taught it was who could perform the job the best. That is what is wrong with the work force today (IMHO). It has gotten to be about quotas, even racial balance, and not about who is best for the job. If we had a majority white race in this area and had a black mayor and black sheriff would we even be discussing it?

JRC2024
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JRC2024 01/15/12 - 03:13 pm
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I say vote for whomever is

I say vote for whomever is the best qualified and quotas be damned like in christ love says. I have always thought that.

specsta
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specsta 01/15/12 - 03:57 pm
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InChristLove wrote: "Most

InChristLove wrote: "Most churches today stay within their race to worship due to cultural differences."

I am "culturally" different to Asians, yet I can celebrate Chinese New Year, and eat Thai or Japanese food. I am "culturally" different to South Americans, yet I can celebrate Carnival in Rio, eat Venezuelan food or attempt to climb a mountain in Peru. The "cultural" differences do not dissuade me from embracing a different facet of living.

There is an undeniable fabric that runs through all churches - a desire to spend time in worship before God. Claiming that "cultural differences" prevent blacks, whites and other ethnic folks from worshiping together is an excuse. I see it as a lack of commitment to do so. Every pastor/reverend/theologian in this city could make a decision to reach out to other churches and invite other worshipers to come and visit. And then actually do it. But no one will do this. I guess it's too hard to make such an effort to bring together folks who share a common spiritual goal - to uplift God and to uplift and love their neighbors.

I sometimes ponder what God thinks about all this - that the time set aside to praise and honor Him is the most segregated time in this nation. Can we really be that self-centered?

InChristLove
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InChristLove 01/15/12 - 04:15 pm
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specsta, please read my post

specsta, please read my post again. "The "cultural" differences do not dissuade me from embracing a different facet of living" No where in my post did I indicate that because of the cultural difference it prevents white, blacks, and other nationalities from worshiping together. My point was that we are most comfortable worshiping in what we have become accustomed to. Eating food from different cultures or attending festivals or events sponsored by other cultures is not the same as the personal gathering to worship in a manner in which we have become accustomed to. I never said they are prevented from worshiping outside the comfort zone, only that it is one of the reasons people choose to stay within their racially predominant churches.

You are sadly mistaken if you think that churches from other racial mixture do not attend or invite others to meet together. I know of several within this area who have joined together in worship, who have actually shared a meal and a worship service so although you can only speak about what you have seen, I can speak from experience. We have also met with and financially help a predominatly Hispanic church. So to say "no one will do this" is misleading. Maybe your church doesn't, might be time to broaden your ministry and find one who does.

Jake
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Jake 01/15/12 - 04:45 pm
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"Racial Equality Emerged

"Racial Equality Emerged Slowly in the Segregated South". Like what else is new? Every good idea emerges slowly in the South.

harley_52
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harley_52 01/15/12 - 04:52 pm
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"Every good idea emerges

"Every good idea emerges slowly in the South."

Southerners are generally slow to anger and slow to forget. But it didn't take us long to figure out yankees were a pain in the butt and we haven't forgotten yet.

As for racism....when blacks choose to relocate within the United States do they mainly move North, or South?

Jake
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Jake 01/15/12 - 05:21 pm
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"Yankees were a pain in the

"Yankees were a pain in the butt and we haven't forgotten yet".
This type of critical thinking is why the south is on the forefront of progressive and innovative ideas. Just check out this newspaper and it's idiotorials to see how forward thinking they are.

harley_52
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harley_52 01/15/12 - 05:37 pm
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Jake said "This type of

Jake said "This type of critical thinking is why the south is on the forefront of progressive and innovative ideas. Just check out this newspaper and it's idiotorials to see how forward thinking they are."

I read the Editorials all the time, Jake. What is it in your "critical thinking" that leads you to believe they aren't "forward thinking" Editorials?

Lay a little "critical thinking" on me, Jake. I'm curious.

Jake
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Jake 01/15/12 - 05:42 pm
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harley, I have read enough of

harley, I have read enough of your thoughts to realize that no one can lay any "critical thinking" on you. You are un-layable. And I don't believe you are that curious. You seem very comfortable in your thoughts just as I am in mine.

harley_52
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harley_52 01/15/12 - 06:03 pm
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Jake, I'm a pretty curious

Jake, I'm a pretty curious fellow, but I'll take that as an unwillingness to answer the question.

No problem.

I do get curious when someone makes a comment like "all ideas emerge slowly in the South," and then starts talking about "critical thinking."

I hear people use the phrase "critical thinking" all the time, mainly pseudo-intellectual liberals criticizing conclusions reached by Conservatives. Whenever I've discussed it, the answers I get are usually pretty squishy, using lofty sounding mumbo-jumbo that says 'consider all possible aspects,' or something like that.

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