As a former city council member in Augusta during the late 1960s and early '70s, and now the senior former black elected official still alive in this community, I have some comments to make about the current political climate in Richmond County, especially as it applies to the races.
In the '60s and '70s, blacks of my ilk had a difficult time understanding the politics of Booker T. Washington, just as some who read this column may have about my politics at this stage of my life. Many of us then were inclined to follow the politics of Washington's contemporary, W.E.B. Dubois, who was more confrontational with the powers of his day. We went so far to call Washington "Uncle Tom," similar to what is said about any black person today who attempts to work with whites. That confrontational mind-set has become so entrenched among our leaders that we cannot see the wisdom of his politics.
Washington was a man of great intellect who worked tirelessly to educate his people in areas that would immediately secure their future economically. He advocated dropping your buckets where you were - that is, work with what is before you. Use your God-given skills to better your condition and not depend on handouts.
Today, our black leaders hardly ever move us beyond the victim-mentality status. In fact, they prey on it as if their political life depends on our remaining victims. How will we ever overcome when they will not allow us to grow up and become independent?
THE COMMON interest of the good people of Augusta is to have this city grow so that each citizen can be proud. That cannot happen in an atmosphere of racial politics, whether it is played by whites or by blacks. We have to move beyond this if this city is to reach its full potential. However, some blacks have injected race in just about every issue that has come before the city. This may make their constituents feel good and give them a false sense of being represented well. However, the test is: Where's the beef? Do these politicians deliver anything more than rhetoric?
Black leadership owes it to constituents to practice the politics of practicality, and not the politics of race and confrontation. Washington said it best when he said that we, the races, could be as separate as the fingers on a hand when it comes to social matters. However, Washington said that with things of common interest we should be one hand. Lately, we have not seen this. Even in things that should bring us together, we have found ways to separate racially.
The Dave Barbee e-mail distraction can only divide us more and set us back to where we were months ago when the dialogue was so racially charged that one could not cut it with a knife. Now, it seems we have sunk back into that muck of racial politics. Shame on us.
I do not know Mr. Barbee nor his heart. However, I have read his e-mail. And for the life of me, I cannot find anything there that disparages the black community. Perhaps, those who see differently can explain where Mr. Barbee crossed the line.
We have to be careful not to be used in a political way to further the interest of a few. I suspect that there is a dead rat in the middle of this foray, and it stinks to high heaven. And that rat might well be the Boardmans, who I understand wanted to back out of their original plan of mixed housing in the old King Mill site they recently purchased. Forwarding Barbee's e-mail to black elected officials, in my estimation, was overkill, knowing the reaction they would get from the black community. This should have been handled between the Boardmans and Barbee. One has to ask what their agenda was. Were they trying to destroy Barbee's reputation, simply because he was questioning their change of heart on the mixed housing?
AND THE REACTION from the mayor, asking for Barbee's resignation, was premature and spoke of the influence the Boardmans have on the decisions the mayor makes. In this case, it was a bad one, in my opinion. I think this is racial politics in the highest degree. Catering to the black community is one thing, but to do so in a way that denies an otherwise respectable person of the opposite race, who has served this community admirably, an audience to defend himself for a misread e-mail is reprehensible. The mayor should be ashamed of himself for doing so.
Also, the blacks in the Richmond County legislative delegation who participated in this e-mail episode have done a disservice to the black community. They have played the race card to protect their own political interest, without regard to the welfare of their constituents. People in Gilbert Manor are led to believe that this body has their interests at heart, when their primary interest is protecting their territory to ensure their continue re-election. They have no sound reason for keeping these residents in their present location a day longer than they have to.
In 1962, my family and I had to move from the area adjacent to Gilbert Manor to make way for the expansion of the Medical College of Georgia. Not only did blacks have to move, whites did also. It was done in an orderly fashion, as I recall, because we knew the importance of expanding MCG. Now 45 years have past, and Gilbert Manor is still there - and nobody has come up with a compelling reason why the residents of Gilbert Manor should not be moved to expand MCG. Leaders have put fear in the minds of Gilbert Manor residents - the same kind of fear that politicians perpetrated on the residents of Hyde Park using contamination as a means to do so.
We, not necessarily people of the opposite race, have become our own worst enemy to progress in this beautiful city.
(The writer is a retired labor relations manager from Bechtel Savannah River Inc.)