Yet at the height of my segregationist fervor, God showed me mercy.
I came of age in the early 1960s, when America was entering a period of political, social, and cultural upheaval. Mobile, Alabama, where I was raised, had been segregated since its founding in 1702. In 1963, reacting to the federally mandated desegregation of Alabama’s public schools, Gov. George Wallace uttered his infamous pledge of “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Many white Alabamians, including me, were fearful and angry. White society was in turmoil from top to bottom, and the sense of grievance was strong, adding fuel to a racist, populist wave across the South.
My high school was among the first to be desegregated. Like most people around me, I identified with Gov. Wallace’s courage in standing up to those who were threatening our way of life. On a more personal level, I was angry with my father, alienated from him, and somewhat emotionally troubled. All these factors made me a good candidate for radicalization.
I read some white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-Communist literature that was circulating within my high school. Then I met the people who were advocating these ideas. They contended that black people were inferior to whites and that desegregation, by enabling intermarriage, would weaken the white race. The civil rights movement, they said, was part of a Communist plot, and the US government had been infiltrated by Communist agents. Christianity and the Constitution were being undermined, and a secret Jewish conspiracy was behind it all.
All these warnings made me anxious about America’s survival, and my fears soon turned into anger—and eventually hatred—toward those I perceived as America’s enemies. Their successes made me want to …