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School on MLK Day dumb, but not racist

Make no mistake about it - Rock Hill and Fort Mill schools having a snow makeup day on Martin Luther King Jr. Day was dumb.

Stupid.

Insensitive.

And to some, insulting.

But just because school leaders didn't have the foresight to know that doesn't make them racist.

It just makes them what they are - politicians. And politicians are, so often, dumb.

Only dumb politicians would think that moving the Confederate flag - a racist symbol to so many - from atop the Statehouse to a place in front of the Statehouse is a compromise. That compromise was crafted by white politicians, begrudgingly accepted by some black politicians, and we still have that flag - front and center.

That is why the S.C. NAACP protested at the Statehouse on Monday - as they should until the flag comes down forever.

Racism is different. Racism is hate. Racism is a group that advocates for a white-majority nation holding a convention just up the road in Charlotte next month.

Sometimes, it takes gutsy groups like the Rock Hill chapter of the NAACP to remind us - not that decisions about when to make up snow days is racist - but that it could, and did, offend so many people who have spent their whole lives trying to live up to King's dream.

A dream that all are equal, all get a fair shake, all are respected.

Melvin Poole of the Rock Hill NAACP brought up the point that many did not like the makeup day, and the choice was offensive to so many. He had guts to do so. He knew many would call him names.

He will bring it up again at the next Rock Hill school board meeting, where Poole plans to address the board and talk about the problems facing black and poor students.

"I want the school board to know that we are paying attention," Poole said.

The NAACP and blacks in Rock Hill have been paying attention and saying so in Rock Hill for more than 50 years.

They did it in 1957, protesting segregated buses.

They did it with sit-ins and marches, starting in February 1960, over segregated lunch counters and bus stations and schools.

The Rev. Cecil Ivory, head of the NAACP in those days, led it all from a wheelchair.

He was, plainly, a hero for protesting.

But that is what civil rights groups do. They complain and protest, and sometimes, things change.

That white group coming to Charlotte, preaching hate, has every right to assemble peacefully and speak freely. They are Americans who can be stupid, in public, and we should embrace that bigots have free speech even when they show the whole world how much they hate blacks.

Gary McCann, The Herald's former sports editor, wrote for 38 years about treating blacks and whites respectfully and equally. He is in the U.S. Basketball Writers Association's Hall of Fame because of his guts, and he used to say bigots were, "as dumb as a bag of hammers - and make the same racket."

Free speech and free assembly shows, for all to see, if people are peaceful protesters with legitimate beefs, or haters.

Jan. 31 is the 50th anniversary of the "Jail, No Bail" sit-in in Rock Hill that re-ignited the civil rights movement in the South.

Black men - eight Friendship Junior College students and a civil rights organizer, later dubbed "The Friendship Nine" - chose 30 days at hard labor over paying a fine after they were arrested for sitting down to eat at a whites-only lunch counter.

They protested, heroically, and so many in the country became appalled that nine men were given 30 days on a chain gang for sitting at a lunch counter. Other protesters started to choose jail, and it took years, but segregation finally died.

Starting next Sunday, Jan. 30, there will be events commemorating the protest of those blacks. A march and re-enactment that day will be in front of the same counter where the protesters sat down.

A viewing of a special ETV documentary - the same ETV that your new governor wants to shutter because it costs money - will be previewed Monday night, Jan. 31, in the back room of that lunch counter building.

Segregation was racism. Legal hate. A decision to have school on the King holiday might be a mistake, but it is not segregation.

It is just a reminder that school leaders must remember that children like mine all go to school together with the white kids, and that some parents might get miffed when there is school on the only American holiday that honors a black person.

All the Friendship Nine events will have blacks and whites, just like our schools have black and white teachers and principals and school board members and students.

It will not be protests, these events. There will be laughs and tears of joy and remembrance of heroic deeds and rivers crossed. But it will remind all of us that when people do not like something, they call attention to it. They protest for rights.

Go to the Friendship Nine events. Go see the men who had the guts to protest what was wrong and risk jail or injury or death to do it.

Go to the lunch counter that they helped integrate, in the city and state and country they helped integrate.

And if you disagree, see if you have the guts to tell these men who went to the chain gang for nonviolent protesting that out-front courage is not the American way.

Friendship Nine events

Upcoming free events to mark the 50th anniversary of the sit-ins and arrests of the Friendship Nine:

Jan. 30 - 3 p.m., march and re-enactment, Main Street from Dave Lyle Boulevard to the Old Town Bistro

Feb. 1 - 6:30 p.m., ETV documentary screening of "Jail, No Bail" at Winthrop's DiGiorgio Student Center

Feb. 2 - 6:30 p.m., ETV documentary screening of "Jail, No Bail" at McCelvey Center, York

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