Sometimes funerals show us how the United States continues to make progress in race relations.
It’s important to ponder as the country celebrates Black History Month. I had attended a service a few years ago at a chapel in Independence. The mother of a friend and coworker had died.
I never knew her, but I always follow my mother’s advice: go for the living; not the dead.
A lot of people were at the chapel, and like the deceased, older woman, they were white. I was the only black person there.
That’s America. For hundreds of years we’ve lived and died mostly on separate sides of the color line. Navigating a divided U.S. has been my experience since entering a nearly all-white high school in 1969 as part of the integration experiment, continuing through college and at work.
Then a recent funeral for a former co-worker in the same Independence chapel showed that America is changing. Ceaser M. Williams Jr. was six years older than me. In the early 1980s, he became the first African-American assistant metropolitan editor on The Kansas City Times.
He had been a writer and editor for newspapers all over the country, including The Call of Kansas City and Crisis magazine. He had been a journalism instructor at colleges and local high schools.
His funeral was vastly different from the other I had attended at the same chapel. It was like the real America, attracting people who are white, black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American.
The step forward showed in the farewell services for a member of my parents’ generation and a baby boomer like me. We are a changed people and nation because of the blending in racial and ethnic diversity occurring since the walls of segregation began falling in the 20th century.
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