Category Archives: family

Memories of the Confederacy and Black Lives Matter


Lee Park, Charlottesville, Virginia

I have written about my family’s Confederate heritage in the past here at the blog (see here and here). My grandparents were like second parents to my brother and I growing up. They sought to instill in us an appreciation and love for our Southern heritage and for our ancestors who helped shape it.

As a child and as a young man, I idolized my grandmother and grandfather. In many ways, I still do. They died when I was in my early twenties–and over twenty years after their deaths, I still have the urge sometimes to pick up the phone to call them (I still remember their phone number with the same ease I remember my date of birth; and I still carry their house key on my key ring). Their portraits hang in my house and I keep their memory alive by talking about them with my children. So, it is sometimes hard to distinguish between my love for them and my yearning to honor their memory from how I think about the South with all its historical complexities. I love the South and much of its history because I associate it with my family, to which of course I will always be devoted.

And yet, I am ashamed that my ancestors were slave owners, and that some of them were instrumental in defining the pro-slavery positions argued in public discourse during the 1840s and 50s. Some of my ancestors served as senior officers in the Army of Northern Virginia and another in the Confederate Senate. After the war, some of my ancestors’ former slaves continued to serve as domestic servants. I wrote about some of those former slaves here.

On the issue of the propriety of displaying Confederate monuments in public places, my views have changed over the years. If you had asked me five years ago about whether or not it was appropriate to display monuments commemorating the Confederacy, I would have advocated for it strenuously. But spending time reading Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, W. E. B. Du Bois, Carter Woodson, MLK, Jr., Malcolm X, Cornel West, and other African-American writers; after building building relationships with scholars of African-American history like Phillip Luke Sinitiere, Edward Blum, Edward Carson, Keisha Blain, Robert W. Williams, Vincent Bacote (a theologian), and others in the African American Intellectual History Society; after teaching in the Darrington prison, which is predominately black (and see Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness); and after reflecting on biblical teachings on unity in Christ and neighbor-love, I have come to see this issue of Confederate monuments in a different way.

For example, in my former home of Charlottesville, VA, an equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee has kept vigil over the city square adjacent to the courthouse since the 1920s. It is an impressive statue, and the park where it sits, Lee Park, is beautiful and tranquil. Recently, a fifteen year old Charlottesville High School student started a petition to have the statue removed and to rename the park. The city council has taken up the issue and will decide on the fate of the park in the next month or so. As you might imagine, the issue is extremely controversial.

I recently co-authored a piece over at Then and Now with Edward Carson on this issue. In reflecting on the student’s petition, I am left to ask–who exactly is making the request that the statue be taken down and the park renamed? Is this a group of foreigners? Are they carpetbaggers? Are they outsiders? Or are they members of the community fully vested in its interests? In other words, are the people Charlottesvillians? Virginians? Americans?

If they are outsiders, then their request should be taken with a grain of salt. But if they are full fledged members of the community, then their voices should be taken seriously even by those who would disagree.

Consider a historical parallel. All over the colonies during the 1770s and 1780s, Americans were removing statues of George III. They did so because he no longer served as an appropriate symbol of the people. They were no longer his subjects. And it was entirely appropriate for them to remove those statues. Furthermore, the people hauling down the statues were not Frenchmen or Spanish interlopers. They were Americans. They had the legitimate emotional, political, logical, and historical bases to do so and nobody objected by calling on the historical value of statues of the king of England.

Robert E. Lee–notwithstanding the nobility of his character, his Christian faith, or even his magnanimous attitude after the war–is not a unifying symbol in Charlottesville, or anywhere else. As a symbol, Lee is divisive. To significant elements of our local communities all over the South, Lee is a repelling force. The question of whether or not he should be divisive as a symbol is another question. The fact is, he is.

The last thing Americans need is one more thing to divide them. We are already incurably divided up into factions so much so that another civil war actually seems possible. It is unfortunate indeed that no matter what happens with Lee Park–whether the statue stays or goes–the decision of the city council is going to be divisive.

But here I will offer some unsolicited advice to my friends who would advocate for keeping the statue. First, I am one of you. I have more than my share of Confederate heritage credentials. My great great great grandfather was Thomas R. R. Cobb, chairman of the Confederate Constitutional drafting committee, brigadier general under Longstreet, killed in action at Fredericksburg after hurling back the main Federal assault six times from the Sunken Road. My great great great uncle, Howell Cobb, was former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Secretary of the Treasury under Buchanan, major general in the Confederate army, and Confederate Senator from Georgia.

Second, we who love our Southern heritage need to honestly investigate the impact of our ancestors’ actions on black persons. We need to ask–why do African-American persons react the way they do to Confederate soldiers and statesmen? Why does the pain of slavery endure after all these years? How would we see a statue of Lee or Forrest or A. S. Johnston if we were black and growing up in a small Southern town? And what would we think about Confederate memorials if 7/8 of the period of our experience on this continent since 1619 was defined in terms of slavery or state sponsored apartheid?

Or let us think of the issue another way. What would we as Americans think about a statue displayed in a public park of George III? Or Santa Anna? Kaiser Wilhelm II? Yamamoto? Rommel? Ho Chi Minh? Saddam Hussein? Osama bin Laden? What do all of these figures have in common? The United States was at war with each of these leaders, and many of us can claim family members who fought and died to defeat them.

If black people are Americans, does it not make sense that those Americans would recoil from commemorating the enemy of their country?

We who have emotional attachments to the Southern Confederacy can honor our ancestors’ memory without continuing to ignore and marginalize the historical experiences of our fellow citizens who are African American. We can honor our ancestors’ memories, remembering that they were not gods, but sinful men and women. In honoring them, we must apply honesty and humility when we remember the meaning of their lives’ work, work which was not always performed for the flourishing of all persons. I know that my grandparents would not want me to deify them, but to remember them with honesty. I like to think that my nineteenth century ancestors would want the same.

A fellow conservative recently accused me of being PC friendly the other day because I said that there are valuable aspects to the Black Lives Matter movement. Everyone–especially Christian people–should affirm the human personhood of black people. I don’t agree with everything associated (fairly or not) with Black Lives Matter. However, I do think that the statement “black lives matter” is true, and deeply meaningful given that American society has not historically affirmed the truth of that statement.

It is tragic indeed that African American persons often think they need to make the statement at all. It is also sad that more Christian people do not rise up in solidarity with black folks who see the necessity of making the statement.

Count me in as a white Southern conservative Christian who stands in solidarity with African Americans. From a Christian perspective, this seems to be a no-brainer: black lives matter.


Meet Hank the Cat


Hank is a real go-getter. He’s motivated, energetic, animated, lively, a free spirit, ambitious, imaginative, inspiring, a born leader, and generally incandescent.

Actually, Hank is pretty lazy. He also doesn’t like me very much. He only lets me pet him when he’s paralyzed by drowsiness in the middle of the afternoon. But he does love my children. In fact, he considers himself to be their cat. He’s not sure who I even am, or what contribution I make to the family at all. Usually, all I have to do is reach my hand in his direction and he runs from me.

But Hank is the only other man in the house. So, we do have that in common. Me and Hank.

Keep it real, Hank.

Can I Divest Myself of My White Privilege?


In the next few posts, I would like to build on some things that Elizabeth Cannon and I wrote about here and here. Elizabeth wrote about two women—Anna Parkes and Susan Castle—who were owned by Joseph Henry Lumpkin and Thomas R. R. Cobb respectively.

Lumpkin (1799-1867) is my great-great-great-great grandfather. He was the first Chief Justice of Georgia’s Supreme Court. Cobb (1823-1862), my great-great-great grandfather, was a legal scholar who ended up serving in James Longstreet’s Corps as a brigadier general in Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. He led his regiment, Cobb’s Legion, at the fighting in the Seven Days’ Battles, Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg (he was killed at Fredericksburg in December 1862). Cobb was also Lumpkin’s son-in-law.


Joseph Henry Lumpkin

Together, Lumpkin and Cobb founded the law school at the University of Georgia. Cobb authored the Inquiry into the Laws of Negro Slavery in the USA, in which he provided one of the most comprehensive pro-slavery arguments of the late antebellum period.


Thomas R. R. Cobb

Lumpkin and Cobb were well known men in their day. They were wealthy and influential; they were respected, honored, and were deferred to as authorities in the South. Their names are immortalized in two Georgia counties.

But I can’t help thinking about Anna Parkes and Susan Castle. They were small children at slavery’s death, but my grandparents owned them and their families as property. They were barely literate, while my grandparents were scholars. They were dependent on their masters, while my grandparents amassed much wealth. They lived in slave quarters, while my grandparents lived in the “big house.” Theirs was a life of toil, degradation, and bondage, while my grandparents fared sumptuously every day.

These grandparents of whom I speak—they were not my mother’s or father’s parents. They are distant grandparents. They died a century before I was born. I never knew them, except in stories and as a part of family mythology. As Elizabeth said, we are neither complicit in Anna and Susan’s servitude, nor are we complicit in the servitude of any of the other scores of men and women that my ancestors owned.

But I am, at least indirectly, an inheritor of their labors and the system that discriminated against them after emancipation. Some people don’t like the term “white privilege”—but like it or not, I cannot deny that I was born into it. Indeed, how could I?

What can I do? This is not some false dilemma, where the only options are to either 1) fully and satisfactorily atone for the sins of my people who owned slaves, or 2) nothing. I can at least admit that I am a beneficiary of white privilege. I can face my family’s history and role in the peculiar institution honestly and openly. I do not have to repudiate my ancestors, or turn my back on them. I can honor my ancestors’ memory by affirming that they were sinners. What they did was wrong. The consequences of their choices and actions were not limited to their own generation. Those consequences did not cease at the end of the war, they were not wiped out at their own deaths. What they did had consequences that have cascaded down to my generation.

As a Christian, I can live out and share the gospel of Christ, who died on the cross to atone for human sin. I can share His expansive love with every person I meet, knowing that every human being is created in the image of God, and every human being is a valuable person for whom Christ died.

One other thing I can do: I can remember Anna and Susan in particular. They left the world a record of their experiences as the slaves of my ancestors. They talked openly about what it was like to be a slave in the homes of the Lumpkins and the Cobbs.

They were interviewed as part of the Federal Writer’s Project between 1936 and 1938, and their words were recorded and archived in the Library of Congress. In the next several posts, I’d like to hear Anna and Susan’s words once again. Because they blessed us with a record of their lives, perhaps they are something like Abel, who suffered at the hands of his own brother, but “though dead, [they] still speak.”

Is it possible for someone to divest himself of his white privilege? The only way to find out is to first admit that one has benefitted from it.

Speak, Anna Parkes and Susan Castle. I want to hear what you have to tell me.

“Slaves of My Ancestors”–Guest Post by Elizabeth Cannon


To me, Elizabeth Cannon is “Cousin Elizabeth.” She is my first cousin once removed, the daughter of my great aunt Marion Cannon. Elizabeth is a perfectly wonderful person, who likes to bring me down a notch by reminding me that she changed my diaper on more than one occasion. Too much information, to be sure.

Elizabeth is an assiduous genealoger. She really is the family historian. She has compiled an impressive collection of artifacts, pictures, and letters from the Cobb, Dorsey, Lumpkin, Cannon, and Hull families. She has also worked on detailed genealogies of these families, as well as the Wilsey family.

We’ve had some conversations recently about our family’s role in the institution of slavery. I wrote a post last fall about some of my reflections of being from a family that owned slaves in antebellum Georgia. Here is Elizabeth’s poignant piece:

Slaves of My Ancestors

I have heard tales of my ancestors from my family for as long as I can remember. They seemed almost mythic to me. They were so perfect, so well-behaved. Always doing just the right thing at just the right time. They were people I needed to emulate, to worship, to consider the epitome to which I must strive to achieve.

As I grew up, I mostly didn’t pay much attention to all these tales of glory. It seemed to me to be silly to worship people I didn’t know and never would. But it was a little hard to ignore when I went with my family to Athens, Georgia. I was told that my grandmother used to say that when she died she didn’t want to go to heaven. She wanted to go to Athens. The family names Cobb and Hull and Lumpkin were all over the place. These ancestors were worshipped in the town where they lived and died. Maybe there was something to this after all.

With this esteemed place and all these perfect people buried 70+ miles away in Atlanta, I could pretty much ignore them. Particularly as a teenager, I could just regard it as babbling from my clearly senile 40-year-old mother – luckily she got a lot less senile as she got older. What she was doing was passing down the family myths to another generation. But she had a rather strange take on slavery. In her world, of course her family owned slaves. Everyone did. But in her family’s case they were so kind and loving to their slaves that when emancipation came, the slaves didn’t want to leave. They stayed and continued to live with the family. Which didn’t particularly surprise me as we generally had a black person who worked in our house. There was Inez and Creasy and others whose names I don’t recall. My mother treated them kindly and didn’t much seem to care if they cleaned as long as she could leave the house and her six children to go do things. I do remember my mother picking me up once at the library on her way to taking our maid to the bus stop in Buckhead. I had checked out a book on slavery and started asking her about it. She turned around and shushed me. I guess she thought that the maid may not have known that she likely had ancestors who were slaves! The message that I got is that it must never be mentioned in front of someone who was black. Maybe they didn’t know! But it did give me the feeling that slavery must be something shameful and not something kind as I had believed.

I started to wonder if maybe my ancestors weren’t larger than life. Maybe they were just people. But then there was the current generation of family to worship. My uncle Charles Weltner ran for Congress for the first time when I was 11. I thought that it was wonderful to have another relative in Washington (three of my aunts already lived there) to visit. And he won!

And again the subject of black people came back to me. Charles voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And lots of people called him a “n***r lover.” I had never heard that word mentioned in my house. I knew that the n-word was a very, very bad one and might even have worse consequences than having my mother wash my mouth out with a bar of soap. It was just something that I knew was wrong.

Then I grew up. Blacks were continuously mistreated. White people who weren’t coarse clearly looked as them as people to be pitied in the best case and people to be despised in the worse. My mother leaned toward the camp where she thought they deserved special and very gentle treatment. I must stand up and give my seat to any black person on the bus. I dutifully complied.

As I grew older, I came to realize that some black people really didn’t like white people. And it didn’t take a whole to figure out why. Their ancestors had been stolen from their country, thrown into ships full of pestilence, and brought in chains across the ocean to be sold the highest bidder. From there, they were forced to work long hours and, generally, treated pretty poorly. I realized that my mother wasn’t trying to hide the truth of slavery from our maid. She was embarrassed.

When I got a little older, I became interested in finding out more about my ancestors. I wasn’t particularly interested in the topic of slavery. I was more interested in finding out why I was so different from what I perceived them to be. I wanted to find villains and pirates. I tried, really hard, but I just couldn’t find any. I was very disappointed. The closest I came to outing any of my ancestors as a bad person was that I found that the father of the Rev Hope Hull was born as a result as a liaison between a woman who seemed to have many such affairs and Hopewell Adams, a resident of Somerset County, Maryland. A loose woman! Finally, someone who felt more like a human being. She had illicit sex, when married! I was proven by DNA evidence! And it was known by all as she was brought before the court for bastardry.

One thing I became very aware of, during my period of whatever the opposite of ancestor worship could be, is just how many slaves my ancestors had. Right there in the 1850 and 1860 slaves censuses were the names of the slave owners, and a list by age, sex, and color of their slaves. Confederate General T.R.R. Cobb had more than 100 between his plantation and his house. Joseph Henry Lumpkin (first chief justice of Georgia’s supreme court) had quite a few. But Henry Hull (physician and mathematician at the University of Georgia), the son of the Rev Hope Hull had too many to count. He took up the role of gentleman farmer and had slaves and two plantations.

For the first time I felt personally responsible. All these vaunted ancestors owned people. By the Slave Narratives available at the Library of Congress I found that two slaves, owned by these ancestors, who had given narratives of their lives as slaves.

One of Joseph Henry Lumpkin’s slaves, named Anna Parkes, said that they were not mistreated. They had store-bought clothes which were hand-me-downs from the Lumpkins. She said that the slaves loved Judge Lumpkin and worked as hard as they could for him because they never wanted to be sold. They never were whipped. This is what they considered good treatment. I also looked for mulattos in the slave narratives and found none who could be attributed to Judge Lumpkin or his many sons. The mothers who had children during the time that Lumpkin owned them did not have mulattos unless they themselves were mulattos. That eased my conscience a little bit

One of General Cobb’s slaves also gave a narrative. Her name was Susan Castle. I did the same analysis and found no mulattos which could be attributed to General Cobb. Susan also had no complaints about her treatment by the Cobbs. She said that Cobb didn’t whip his slaves but did say that her grandmother was sold for bad behavior.

I realized that not being whipped, sold, or raped is a pretty low bar for good behavior. These people were owned. They had no control over their lives. They had no choice. I can’t imagine how much anger must have built up from these very facts and, even though Susan Castle and Anna Parkes appeared to be complacent, it could be a learned behavior. When your possibilities are very narrow, maybe you just can’t afford to be angry.

So where does this leave my personal responsibility? I can’t be held accountable for the sins of my ancestors. These ancestors died more than 100 years before I was born. And even the succeeding generation either treated black people as those to be pitied in the best situation to those to be despised in the worst.

I realized, though, that I did have a huge advantage over the children of slaves of my ancestors. Whether or not I could get a good education was never in question. The schools in the all-white neighborhood where I grew up were wonderful. Because my parents had not had to overcome pity or hatred, they could pretty much be completely in control of their destiny. And they were.

So, with little trouble, I could go to school, do well, had great jobs and so forth and so on. I didn’t always choose to live as fully as I could have, but that was because of my poor choices and not the result of something foisted upon me by anyone else.

Having the resources I have to be able to trace people for generations, I decided that I would trace the slaves of my ancestors and apologize. That’s extremely weak as payback, but what could I do? It was the only thing I could think of. A simple apology sometimes goes a long way.

Racism, Exceptionalism, and the Confession of a Southern WASP


Black folk start with the raw history, the raw reality and the mortality denied by most of American culture and civilization: that we are a people who have been on intimate terms with forms of death in the most death denying, death ducking, and death dodging of all modern civilizations. The mainstream may go sentimental and talk about purity and he or she who is pristine and for the happy ending but we start with slavery as a form of social death in the midst of this death denying civilization.
-Cornel West, University of Washington, Jessie and John Danz Lecture, April 27, 2001

This is such a fascinating statement from West, who was reflecting on the black experience in America from slavery to Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement.

West never mentioned the civil religious term “American exceptionalism” in this lecture of thirteen years ago, but he captured the collective African American ambivalence to the idea. While closed American exceptionalism (Americolatry) posits a pristine and innocent America, African Americans know better. African Americans encounter closed American exceptionalism from the perspective of having the shared historical and visceral experience of slavery and subsequently what West called the “institutional terrorism” of Jim Crow. No other ethnic group had this particular set of shared historical experiences.

Many of us white folks wonder why African Americans do not seem to be able to overcome slavery and Jim Crow as paradigmatic lenses in their collective interpretation of many of their contemporary social experiences in America. Why, many whites ask, must African Americans seem to always go back to race as the overarching explanation for social ills and injustices? Why, for example, do African Americans so frequently seem to first blame police in incidents such as the one involving Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO?

And why, some whites ask, do African Americans think that something called “white privilege” exists, even in the 21st century? And why is it that closed American exceptionalism is often more of a thing for white people and not as much for black people?

I must admit, I myself have been one of those white folks to ask such questions. For most of my life (and without realizing it), I have been a follower of one of Francis Bacon’s four idols of the mind. Specifically, Bacon’s idol of the cave has subtly enthralled me. This is a pattern of poor thinking that a person follows because his mental habits have been formed by his background, his education, his formative years, etc.

Let me explain: from my childhood, I revered my ancestors who fought with the Confederacy in the Civil War. My great-great-great uncle, Howell Cobb of Georgia, served as Secretary of the Treasury under President James Buchanan, and later represented Georgia in the Confederate Senate. His brother, my great-great-great grandfather Thomas Reade Roots Cobb, was a Georgia attorney who codified the Georgia law code, founded the law school at the University of Georgia, and led the committee that drafted the Confederate Constitution. He served under Lt. Gen. James Longstreet as a Brigadier General at the battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. The units under his command hurled back the main Federal assaults on Marye’s Heights from the Sunken Road, inflicting enormous casualties. Cobb was himself killed during the battle–Cobb County in Georgia is named for him.

My great-great-great grandfather is not only famous for these noteworthy achievements. He was also the leading proslavery spokesman for the Georgia legal community. He wrote An Inquiry Into the Law of Negro Slavery in the United States of America in 1858 in which he argued that slavery was essential to the maintenance of virtue in the American republic.

As I grew into an adult, studied Christian philosophy, theology, and the Bible, and then became a Christian intellectual historian, I grappled with the tension existing between the love and pride I have for my family and the base unrighteousness of the causes for which some of them dedicated their lives–slavery and Southern secession. As a Christian, as a member of my family, as an historian, and as a human person–I still grapple, still struggle.

But even as I have grappled with this great tension, as a white man I found it difficult to understand why race seemed to be one of the most powerful explanatory paradigms of social ills for African Americans. After all, from my perspective as a white man, I could see no racism anywhere near me. I was sure it happened occasionally, but since institutional racism was gone for the most part, what’s the problem, I thought.

This is a sad commentary on myself–not until recently have I begun to understand a bit better the answer to these questions about the role of race as explanatory paradigm for African Americans. As a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, I have not had the collective, historical experience of my country turning on me, whip or noose in hand. Now it’s true, hardly anyone in the 21st century has experienced this on an individual basis (although some have). But African Americans–as a people group–possess this historical experience of being on the receiving end of mortal persecution in America. And it has only been in the last fifty or so years out of three hundred ninety five years of African presence on this continent that individual African Americans have shared any semblance of equal status with whites in this country. That should be a particularly arresting fact for any honest person, white or black. It certainly has been for me.

Many white Southerners continue to embrace the heritage of their Confederate forbears. Some still display the Confederate flag, saying “heritage, not hate,” although those numbers are growing fewer and fewer year by year. Still, many native white Southerners like myself–maybe even the majority–would say that their historical experience as a people shaped their culture, their values, even their religious upbringing. It is normal and natural to make such a claim.

And many African Americans, like Dr. West, see their ethnic/historical/communal experience as defining them, shaping their interpretations of circumstances, forming their value systems, creating their culture, and constructing their cultural presuppositions. It is as normal for African Americans to be shaped by their historical and communal experiences in this country as it is for any ethnic group to be so shaped. If more whites could appreciate this profound fact about African Americans–and the representative legion of differences from their own historical/communal experience–perhaps some misunderstanding existing on the part of many whites could be ameliorated. This does not mean whites should respond with pity toward blacks. It means that whites think more about how to understand where blacks are coming from. It means that whites demonstrate more empathy as they consider how social ills in America often affect African Americans disproportionately. And it means that instead of debating whether or not there is such a thing as “white privilege,” whites could unite in solidarity with black and brown people to search for solutions to social ills before it is too late. We should all know by now, that if one ethnic group among us goes down, we all go down.

If I may, let me tell you about another relative of mine of whom I am very proud. My great uncle, the late Charles Weltner, served as U.S. Congressman representing the 5th district of Georgia (Fulton County). He was elected in 1962 and was the only representative from the Georgia delegation to the House to vote in favor of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He lost his seat in the ’64 election because he took that stand. But he didn’t care, because he knew that he was doing the right thing, and that knowledge sustained him.

That brings me back to the civil religious belief of American exceptionalism (what doesn’t, these days?). Closed American exceptionalism–the exceptionalism that leads to idolatry of the nation, because it sees the nation as innocent–refuses to engage in any form of critical self examination. In closed American exceptionalism, it’s “America, love it or leave it,” or “my country, right or wrong.” The problem here is that when the country is wrong, closed exceptionalists remain with the status quo and they hesitate to deal with genuine injustices. Rather, they diminish or deny those injustices. Those injustices fester, and ultimately create crises that tear the country apart (see War, Civil).

But open exceptionalism–that idea that calls on the unique ability of Americans to critically assess the morality of their actions–animates the advances America has made in the direction of justice for all.  Dissent makes America genuinely unique–exceptional–as a civilization. Open exceptionalists, like my Uncle Charles, find their dissenting voices and even though they may go down to defeat in the short term for taking their stands, even though some of them may even sacrifice their lives, they ultimately make invaluable contributions to the restoring of the beautiful ideals that make America truly wonderful–equality, human dignity, and God-given individual human rights.

Closed American exceptionalism shuts out the possibility of critical national self reflection. Therefore, as long as closed American exceptionalism abides as a dominant form of American self-identification, there will be little hope for racial reconciliation and understanding.

In 1915, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in reply to the question, “What is Americanism?” these words–

Americans in the immediate future should place most stress upon the abolition of the color line. Just so long as the majority of men are treated as inhuman, and legitimate objects of commercial exploitation, religious damnation, and social ostracism, just so long will democracy be impossible in the world. Without democracy we must have continual attempts at despotism and oligarchy, with their resultant failure through the ignorance of those who attempt to rule their fellow men without knowing their fellow men.

May we all, white and black, in the authentically patriotic tradition of open American exceptionalism, join hands in mutual and sincere friendship, respect, admiration, understanding, forgiveness, justice, and love.

My Mother, Sally Dorsey Miller


My mother hiking to base camp beneath Mt. Everest

On this Mother’s Day, allow me to share with you some thoughts on my mother. Consider this an introduction to her, for those of you who do not know her. She is a remarkable woman.

My memories of Mom stretch back, of course, to my very first memories. In those days, we lived on Lake Forest Drive in Atlanta, near Chastain Park. I remember Mom drinking her coffee at the breakfast table in the mornings in that house. I have faint memories also of Tucker and I climbing in bed with Mom on Saturday mornings. One vivid memory is of Mom rescuing me from a tornado in that house on Lake Forest. She sprinted to the basement, clutching my wrist as she and I ran together to safety.

Mom is a truly lovely person, and always had a servant’s heart as we were growing up. We moved to our house on Brook Hollow Road when I was seven, and that’s where I grew up. She made my lunch for school every day, from elementary school to high school. Every morning, she would wake us up for school, and have the cereal laid out for our breakfast. She participated in the car pool for our school–Tuesdays were her usual day to drive a group of us to school. She would have the radio on to Z-93, which was the “cool” station. As I got older and car pooling was no longer the rule, she drove me to school and picked me up each day. It was the highlight of my day to see her car in the pickup line at school for many, many years. Mom drove us to school, to sports practices, to all sorts of different events. She attended every athletic event I ever played in, and was a glad participant. She was team mother for our teams, and class mother at our schools. She even helped my high school get on the National Registry of Historic Places. Mom was deeply involved in all aspects of our lives. She was key to my success as a student, from my earliest days of school.

I remember when Mom went to work when I was in the third grade. She was an interior designer. She made it her custom, however, to be home when Tucker and I got home. It was a rare occasion indeed when Mom wasn’t home when we got home from school. She offered us cookies from the cookie jar for a snack every day after school. The taste of a Chips Ahoy cookie still reminds me of coming home from school!

Mom has a tender heart. My dad would come and pick us up some weekends. I remember the summer after my sixth grade year, Dad took us on a month long trip to Montana. I have the most distinct memory of pulling away from my house, and seeing Mom standing in the window, watching us drive away.

Of course, Mom was no pushover. Tender, yes. Weak, never. She endured endless trials and tribulations brought on by Tucker’s and my (mostly Tucker’s) foibles and indiscretions as youngsters. Punishment was swift and harsh, but just. Mom spanked my rear end when I was twelve years old–right in front of my friend–for talking back. She washed my mouth out with soap for using foul language when I was in fifth grade. Mom was never one to suffer fools. She forbade me from playing with Jonathan in my neighborhood, because he was “sneaky.” She said that his parents did not care about him because they did not care what he did. She was right.

Mom taught us to do unto others as we would have them do to us. She taught us to be positive by her example. Mom smiles a lot, and growing up in her household, we were always smiled at. Being smiled at is a very simple thing, and yet, it can make all the difference in the world for a young person or a child. One thing that has never changed in my 45 years of knowing my mother: she has an unforgettable smile. I cannot count how many times in my life, sitting at the table, riding the back seat of the car, or countless other times and contexts, making the slightest eye contact with Mom, and being met with a genuine smile of affection and encouragement. She still does that.

My mother has a magnetic personality. She is an engaging conversationalist. She is deeply concerned for others. She is a loyal friend. Some of her friends she has had for a lifetime. She is sought after by hundreds of people. She is my mother. I am proud to own her. I am proud of who she is. I am proud to be her son. I love her, and those who love her, I love.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Consider this my act of rising up and calling you blessed (Proverbs 31.28).