Healing Racial Fault Lines

How the simple act of sharing personal stories can help uncover divisive thoughts buried deep within ourselves.

Jacob Lund/Adobe Stock

Bozzie and Judy Edwards live in the hilly North Mississippi countryside, in a home that fills with grandchildren on Sundays after church. He’s an Iraq War veteran who retired after 29 years with the Army National Guard. She works full-time as her husband’s caregiver.

The Calhoun County of their childhood was quieter than much of Mississippi, where bombings and assassinations pricked the nation’s conscience during the civil-rights movement. White supremacy, nonetheless, was rigidly enforced. In 1961 the school superintendent reassured a state investigator that no African-American teachers belonged to the NAACP and that any “agitator” among the faculty would be fired. Two years later, county officials insisted that “Negros simply took no interest in paying their poll taxes”—and that’s why, out of roughly 1,700 African-American adults, only six or seven had qualified to vote. The earliest steps toward legal equality—token school desegregation and black voter-registration efforts—were met with cross-burnings and death threats. One of the first black teens to attend a previously all-white high school transferred out after 10 shots were fired into his home.

The Edwardses, themselves African American, carry searing memories from their youths. Bozzie, who is 66, recalls long waits at a dairy-bar takeout window—he wasn’t allowed inside—while the white kids got served first at their tables. He recalls walking home from town with his brother when a white driver swerved in their direction; they tumbled into a ditch as the gravel flew over their heads. He recalls his father—“so mean and so respected”—sleeping with a loaded rifle after offending a white man inside a store. “Back in those days, when they got you, they’d come at night,” he says.