Dad had no use for the Klan. He was a gentle, principled man. But he must have sensed even then that the past he seemed bent on avoiding was bound to be claimed by someone, somewhere along the line. He was, as I've said, in theory if not in practice, a segregationist. Some of his arguments seem tamer now in retrospect, tempered as they are by time. But he was still a segregationist, in an era when legal segregation was our greatest shame. The bombing on the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963 broke my father's resistance, and his heart. The girls who died in the bombing were about my age. We hear the news on a small brown radio in the kitchen after church that Sunday. It was the first time I ever saw my father cry. The bombing seemed to seal a permanent judgment on the city. 'The shame will be ours forever,' editorialized a local newspaper at the time. But Martin Luther King, Jr., foresaw ultimate salvation in the tragedy. At the funeral for three of the girls, he said, 'The deaths may well serve as the redemptive force that brings light to this dark city.' And it did. What happened in Birmingham in 1963 not only redeemed the oppressed. It also redeemed my people, although we haven't been able to accept that yet. We haven't yet taken that particular snake out and lifted it aloft in the light--the dangerous, unloved thing about us: where came from, what we did, who we are. (from Salvation on Sand Mountain)Oppression, as Covington (and King) observed, harms the oppressor as well as the oppressed--though of course in very different ways, and the oppressor is unlikely to recognize how participation in evil brings destruction to one's own soul.
Explicit white supremacists may be few and far between today, but there are still many among us who reflexively label young black people as thugs, who ignorantly cast all problems of inner-city poverty as personal failures of moral weakness and in so doing whitewash hundreds of years of institutional racism (along with well-intentioned but effectively disastrous programs instituted as recompense in the 1960s and '70s)--and who defend an antebellum society built on the sweat and blood of the enslaved and a government founded explicitly to defend, perpetuate, and extend race-based slavery.
Let Dylann Roof's evil be turned into some good for those of us who have yet to face where we came from, what we did, who we are.