Rusty Wright on Changing Racist Hearts: Can It Be Done?

Ann Atwater and C.P. Ellis, longtime adversaries, cooperated on desegregation. Photo: Jim Thornton, courtesy The Herald-Sun Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries.

George Floyd’s horrifying death while pinned down by a white policeman has sparked global rage and anti-racism protests.  Racial disparity is widespread and ominous.  Can a racist’s heart be changed?  Consider these powerful examples.

Unlikely frenemies

I will always remember Norton and Bo.  Norton was a leader of the Georgia Black Student Movement in the 1970s.  Bo was a racially prejudiced white Christian.  Once during an Atlanta civil rights demonstration, Bo and some of his cronies beat Norton up.  Animosity ran deep.

Later, in discussions with my roommate, Norton discovered personal faith in Jesus.  As his faith took root and grew, his anger mellowed while his desire for social justice deepened.  Meanwhile, Bo rejected his hypocrisy and began to live his faith with God in the driver’s seat.  Three years after the beating, the two unexpectedly met again at a conference.

When Norton first spotted Bo, I could sense his discomfort.  He related to me their backstory and his uncertainty about what to do.  But over the week, the initial tension melted into friendship as they forgave each other, reconciled and treated each other like brothers.

At the end of the conference, it was astonishing to see them standing with their arms around each other’s shoulders.  I can still envision that remarkable sight.

Klansman and Black activist

C.P. Ellis, a Duke University maintenance worker, served as Grand Cyclops of the Durham, North Carolina, Ku Klux Klan.  Ann Atwater was a local Black civil rights activist.  Once, Atwater, knife in hand, had nearly killed the verbally abusive Ellis.

“I hated her guts,” admitted Ellis.  “I hated him just as hard as he hated me,” Atwater affirmed.

In a curious twist, Ellis and Atwater co-chaired a ten-day community school desegregation forum.  Ellis sought to thwart integration efforts, Atwater explained.  But, she told NPR, “God had a hand on that…C.P. had a machine gun” that he displayed daily, but “I had my white Bible in my hand. So I told C.P. we would see whose God would be the strongest, my God or his God. I always said if they’d said something to me, I was going to knock the hell out of them with my Bible.”

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SOURCE: Assist News

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