On Aug. 14, 2002, my first column appeared in the Charleston City Paper. It was a takedown of the Post and Courier, that dull, gray journal that thumps against so many of our doors each morning. It was the first of numerous swipes I would take at the P&C and its parochial, hereditary board chairman Pierre Manigault.
Ten years later I am writing my 500th and final column for City Paper, and I bow out with a compliment to that old daily. It is a better paper today than it was in 2002, especially its editorial page. There is a diversity of syndicated opinions there which would have been unthinkable a decade ago. I want to thank the editorial board for allowing a little sunlight and reason through the plantation shutters of the editorial suite. Charleston is a better place for the change.
And I want to thank City Paper Editor Stephanie Barna for giving me the opportunity to play Cassandra and scold and cheerleader the state that I love, the state where I was born and have spent most of my life. When I sat down to write each week for the last 10 years, I never forgot that the biggest difference between me and any barroom loudmouth was that thousands of people would read my opinions. For that reason, I have tried to express those opinions with fact and fairness, dignity, and integrity.
In the process, I have won many friends, supporters, and — to judge by the online posts — detractors and critics. I wish to thank my supporters and urge you to keep living and working for a better South Carolina, a better South, and a better America. There is much to be thankful for and proud of. But there is much work still to be done. As Martin Luther King said, this country has written many promissory notes that it has not made good on. We are still waiting.
To those others — the critics and detractors — I will confess that I stopped reading your online comments years ago. Many of the responses to my columns were incoherent with rage. Not only did I not know how to respond to them, but just reading some of them was probably bad for my mental health. There is enough random madness in this world without seeking it out.
Such rage is a symptom of an old pathology, a pathology that has afflicted the South for generations. I have sought to address it in my columns for the past decade and to understand it in my daily life.
As a lifelong Southerner whose ancestors have been here two and a half centuries, I confess I do not fully understand where the rage comes from and why it refuses to die. Not all of the rage is white, of course. There is enormous black rage seething just beneath the surface in the South and throughout America. But it is the white rage I most often see and hear around me, and it is the white rage that most frightens me.
Unable to own their past, many white Southerners have fabricated a history of moonlight and magnolias, of happy slaves and kindly masters, of plantation belles and dashing cavaliers. The South is a land of towering myths, of tall tales that would be amusing, were they not so deadly. For too many white people, these fantasies are the source of their pride and their identity. They have killed and maimed and terrorized to preserve their myths and their myth makers. Lacking facts and moral authority, they are reduced to rage and violence.
It will not end until black and white can come together and share the same history. There is no political or intellectual solution to this ancient tragedy. Ultimately, it is a spiritual crisis that requires a spiritual reconciliation. Only the passing of time and the softening of hearts can accomplish this.
Long ago, I had dared to dream that my generation would be the last to feel the burn of racial hatred. I was young and very naïve. Now I know that day will not come in my lifetime. Maybe never.
That would be a tragedy. This country has tried so hard, has fought and bled and sacrificed for justice. For all its faults, it is still the world’s best hope.
I retire from the business of writing a weekly column, but I trust the door is still open for an occasional feature story or guest column. In the meantime, I am now looking for a friend to babysit my cat, water my plants, and dust my bookshelves periodically, while I do a little traveling and work on some long-range writing projects.
Wish me luck.