Conquer racism with faith, love and hope


Hate, cruelty, evil — they all arose in the Charleston, South Carolina, slaying of nine African-American worshippers in a Bible study group. But opposing marvels then arose, namely faith, hope and love.

They made themselves felt with next to no hint of division and no sign at all of disruption. What we have witnessed in that Southern city following the shooting has been nothing short of inspiring, something we can be proud of and should emulate.

It's true, of course, that many outside of Charleston have reacted differently to the killings, as if immediate polarization and sweeping castigation are what's needed. They are not. But let's focus first on the Charleston good, how officials performed splendidly, how those who took to the streets did so to pray, how thousands of African-Americans and whites cried together soulfully at a prayer vigil.

Maybe the most astonishing act of faith was when relatives of the slain showed up at the court appearance of the confessed suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof. As demonstrated by his white supremacist strutting in messages and photos, he is vilely, cruelly, inhumanly racist. In the murders, he is said to have had a plan. He wanted to start a race war. Imagine his confusion when those relatives, instead of exhibiting retaliatory fury, said in various ways, "I forgive you."

Few of us would be up to doing what they did. Is it also true that few communities would react to horrific racist murders with the kind of unity we saw in Charleston. Read about the place and you encounter a remarkable story of how African-Americans and whites came together to overcome a history in which rebel slaves were once slaughtered, rebel whites started the Civil War and Jim Crow was later very much on the scene.

Major credit for amicable, hands-holding racial progress is given to Joseph P. Riley Jr., an eminently just mayor for 40 years and someone who also played a role in building a thriving, prosperity-inducing tourist industry. Not everything is perfect, but the citizenry and the government remain actively at work addressing issues of special concern to African-Americans.

While some other parts of the country have done well on this score, too, many obviously have not. We definitely have racial problems, although it is extremist and ahistorical to say, as so many are right now, that little has gotten better in the United States since the civil rights protests of the 1960s. It is an assertion refuted by a thousand things, hundreds of thousands of things, not the least being an African-American, democratically elected president.

None of this means there are no demented racial attitudes out there. They exist and they can feed mangled imaginations of people like Roof. We clearly need better means of identifying people like him before they strike, and we really do need to end governmentally sanctioned displays of Confederate flags, which are seen by many as celebrating slavery.

What can count for something big is Americans of all kinds of groups pulling together as they have been doing in Charleston.

In the 1960s civil rights movement, Americans were shocked watching TV to witness terrible mistreatment of African-Americans. A consequence was a great awakening and support that likely enabled passage of the historically important Civil Rights Act of 1964. Maybe a second great awakening will occur as people step back in dismay at Charleston and other killings and then step forward with the kind of unified purpose we saw in the Charleston response.

— Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at