I believe Gov. Kay Ivey acted appropriately in ordering flags to be flown at half-staff in honor of native son and pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, Congressman John Lewis, and for him to lie in state in the Alabama State Capitol. But I didn’t always hold this view. I grew up in Alabama and graduated from Auburn University during the 40s and 50s, and never really questioned the conventional wisdom that segregation was better for both races and people who advocated for school desegregation, equal opportunity employment and voting rights for black people were “outside agitators.”
There were two experiences that changed my perspective. The first was my military service during the 1960s. Like many returning white veterans who had been deployed to hostile fire zones, I served with black people and formed friendships across racial lines. Coming back to Alabama and seeing my former comrades-in-arms treated as second class citizens didn’t seem right.
The second was both my graduate studies and work as an Extension faculty member at Auburn University, which took me to Selma, where I came to know a number of people who participated in a peaceful (I emphasize the word “peaceful”) protest at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were assaulted by sheriff’s deputies and Alabama State Troopers on “Bloody Sunday.”
Although I never met John Lewis, Sen. John McCain, whom our city and state recently honored by lowering flags to mourn his passing, regarded John Lewis as a hero. That’s good enough for me.