On June 22nd, 2016, around 125 people gathered in the upper floor of the Center for Lifelong Learning to celebrate the courage of one man, Judge James Horton, as he stood against the tide of Depression era Jim Crow racial hatred, and set aside the conviction of Haywood Patterson. Patterson, along with several other black teens, had been accused of raping two young white woman in Scottsboro.
The case was legendary, and I grew up knowing about it, having learned about it in social studies in the 1960s. Somehow, for many years after moving here, I had missed the fact that history was made with the stroke of a pen on the second floor courtroom of our own Limestone County Courthouse. I’ll never forget the day I was in that very courtroom for a reception, and happened to look at the modest brass plaque commemorating the event. It was both surreal and pleasantly stunning, and I “felt proud,” as we say in the South.
Years ago, not long after we moved here in 2000, I had the chance to become acquainted with Judge Horton’s grandson, John, but never knew the depths of his granddaddy’s courage until I heard John speak at Calvary Assembly in Decatur. How stirring and refreshing it was to hear the story from the standpoint of waging spiritual warfare, and it was a joy to see John again at last week’s celebration.
I was reminded of what can happen when one just man chooses to stand for the truth, and it strengthened my resolve to do so, even when it costs me. At the celebration, there were young, old, black, white, and Hispanic people, as well as Judge Horton’s progeny, all gathered together to hear the reading of all manner of letters, both in support as well as condemnation of Judge Horton’s actions. It was a “glad day,” one that made me feel so honored to be a part of this community.
And then, on Wednesday, June 29th, we had what I would call a “sad day.” The newly restored Pincham-Lincoln center at the historic Trinity school site was vandalized, with more than a score of windows broken, and other damage done to the building. The vandals were fairly young, and thankfully, at least at this time, there is nothing that suggests that this was racially motivated.
I looked hard at the picture featured here of Richard Martin gazing out the broken windows; an elderly white man who has publically talked about what it was like to be raised on racism, and then what it was like to make a conscious decision to come away from such a despicable and dysfunctional personal philosophy. He has turned away from the beliefs of the past to the point that he has worked tirelessly to rebuild and restore not just Trinity, but the legacy of relationships that were broken as a result of decades of segregation.
It is difficult to see the wistful pain in his face, and it is indeed a sad day. But this I know: even though I have only lived in Alabama for 16 years, broken windows will be replaced, broken glass will be cleaned up, and vandalism will be repaired. And, we as a city will continue to do the work to heal more than a building. We will prize even more deeply our history, continue to walk the path of true restoration, and we will have many more glad days real soon.