She was named Grace, appropriately I might add.
Grace Thomas was her name and in 1954 she ran for governor of Georgia. She had as much chance of winning as I do of making the PGA Champions (Senior) Tour.
Fifty four was a big year because, as you might recall, that was the year of Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case. The court had declared “separate but equal” schools to be unconstitutional, which paved the way for the integration of schools. Some in the South cheered the verdict but most did not.
There were nine candidates for governor that year, eight men and Grace. Eight of the candidates spoke out against the ruling. Grace did not. Only Grace said that the decision was right and just. Her campaign slogan was “Say Grace at the Polls.” Catchy, huh? But not effective. Not many voters said grace at the polls; she finished last.
Eight years later, in ’62, Grace ran for governor again. Of course in the 60s the Civil Rights movement, led by Marin Luther King, Jr. was gaining strength. Her message was one of racial harmony, which went over like a (fill in the blank). Her campaign was controversial, as she received death threats. Well, she finished last again—there’s nothing like consistency!
One day Grace made a campaign stop in Louisville, GA. The centerpiece of that town in those days was not a courthouse, but an old slave market. She stood on the very spot where human beings had been bought and sold. As you might imagine, a hostile crowd gathered to hear her speech.
“The old has passed away,” she began, “and the new has come.” “This place,” she said, gesturing to the market, “represents all about our past over which we must repent. A new day is here, a day when Georgians white and black can join hands to work together.”
This talk stirred the crowd, as you might expect and someone shouted “Are you a Communist?”
“No,” she said softly, “I am not.”
“Well then,” the heckler continued, “Where’d you get those (expletive) ideas?”
Grace paused and thought for a moment, then pointed to a nearby steeple, and said, “I got them there in Sunday school.”
I was born and raised in lower Alabama in the late 50s and 60s. I know about racism and stereotypes and about hating others. I heard the language. It was ingrained in me. One of the big topics of conversation at my house was that a black quarterback could never make it in the NFL because he wasn’t smart enough. I heard that a lot.
But something else was ingrained in me. I don’t know where I got it—Sunday school? Worship? VBS probably: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.” The something else that was ingrained in me was to love and respect everyone, regardless of race. So, it really bothered me as a teenager when the deacons at my church had to meet to decide what we would do if a black came to our church. Huh? R U KIDDING ME? Aren’t we going to be kind and loving? After all, we are a church. In fact, if we are not kind and loving then we are not a church!
I read the book Just Mercy last year, and I have recently seen the movie. The story of Walter McMillan has touched me deeply at an emotional level. Walter, an African-American, was on death row for years for a crime he didn’t commit. In his case, the justice system failed. The painful lesson for me is that we should be better than that; we should learn from our past and be and do better. Christian people should lead the way.