Community Comment:

Klan event forces us to face reality

Special to the Evansville Courier
Thursday, October 8, 1998

Years ago, the intersection of Lincoln and Governor Streets was a notorious location where young, white boys were warned not to venture. It was the corner of the Dodge Inn, a gathering place for primarily young black men.

Sometime in the late 1960s there were violent, racially inspired riots in the inner-city neighborhoods nearby and for a time the streets were barricaded by the local police at night.

Amid all this civil unrest across the country and within this community, my parents made a serious attempt to emphasize the importance of improving race relations and accepting each individual for who and what they were -- not the color of their skin.

However, just as every other upwardly mobile lower-middle-classed family, we moved from a rental house on the near East side to a far West side suburban neighborhood near the city limits. Ostensibly, my father insisted on his children attending Reitz High School where it was thought we could get a good education to prepare my sister and I for college. Sometime during my high school years, the city initiated court-order busing of black students from the inner-city to all portions of the cityís school system.

After several years of college at Indiana University in Bloomington, I lived for almost a decade in the Washington, D.C. area, a city which is nearly 70 percent black. The culture shock one experiences moving into a metropolitan community so different from a place like Evansville is considerable. It forces one to reevaluate many closely held beliefs about life, social conditions and the problems of race which we continue to struggle with as a society.

So it is within this backdrop that I learned recently that the Ku Klux Klan is planning a rally in nearby Boonville -- the resulting controversy and the protests of some were understandably predictable. To a certain extent so was the announcement that WFIE Channel 14ís news department would not cover the rally.

The truth is, however, that in many respects the Klan coming to Boonville forces us to confront some harsh realities many of us would like to avoid -- Evansville remains a terribly racist community.

Look around. Only a small handful of blacks serve in elective office and none can be found in top management of local banks, hospitals, media outlets, utilities or other major employers. Minority set-aside contracts on large municipal projects are not a priority as they are in municipalities which have larger, more politically powerful black communities.

Black business success stories are few and far between, notably, one which gets little attention but has survived for 15 years is Our Times newspaper, edited and published by Sondra L. Matthews, which received no media coverage whatsoever for its recent anniversary celebration.

With few successful black employers, how can the black community really be expected to flourish?

Three generations of institutionalized poverty and failed national welfare policies have in many instances destroyed black families and driven many into the clutches of drug abuse and personal despair. The tragic Ricky Murphy incident and the levels of black, male incarcerations demonstrate our racial callousness and how we as a society would rather lock up our problems in jail cells rather than offering economic opportunities.

Local elected officials are often long on political promises to the black community, but, with the unique exception of Casino Aztar, are usually short on delivering real progress which directly benefits our least advantaged residents.

<>Dr. Thomas Barton at Indiana University many years ago made a profound statement regarding race relations in this country after the Civil War. He declared that "the North was willing to accept the black man as a race, while the South was willing to accept blacks as individuals.

We here in southwestern Indiana do not appear willing to do either and hence, with the Klan coming to our community, we will be forced to look into the raging, angry eyes peering through the white hoods and see little more than the ugliness of our own hidden, parochial attitudes.

David Coker is a local free lance writer