The ashes had washed away and the wreckage had weathered for two years, but it was still the remains of a gutted church my parents witnessed when they visited Pineville, South Carolina in 1967. They wanted to see the sites and meet the people I’d told them so much about. This church arson was part of their tour.
They stood at the rubble and shook their heads at yet another example of man’s inhumanity to man: a church destroyed because its congregation wanted the right to vote. My mom returned to the air-conditioned car. My dad was taking pictures when he noticed a young black man walking toward the car. He knew I felt safe with the people of Pineville, but that “feeling” was not yet part of his experience and my mother was alone. The Watts riot was on his mind as well as centuries of white man’s prejudice against blacks.
Dad nervously crossed the street and met the young man before he reached the car. Much to dad’s surprise, the young man extended his hand and said, “You must be Sherie’s father.” Three thousand miles of distance and a lifetime of cultural animosity melted away in a handshake.