Still painful after all these years


Greg Wittkamper and I did a talk at Oxford College of Emory University earlier this week –- the fourth time we’ve done a presentation together about “The Class of ’65” and perhaps the 30th time I’ve spoken about the book. You might think it has become routine. It hasn’t.

Before the talk, we had dinner with 14 students from professor Susan Ashmore’s class on the history of the civil rights movement. As we dug into some tasty salmon, the students peppered us with questions about the civil rights passage in south Georgia, Koinonia’s part in the movement, and Greg’s persecution at Americus High School. At one point, someone asked Greg how he had dealt with the trauma from those years. He started to respond but then fell silent, choked up and began to cry softly. I think he answered them eloquently without saying a word. 

Greg apologized for losing his composure, but the students told him he didn't need to. I agree. Long after they’ve forgotten what I had to say about Koinonia and the civil rights struggle in Albany and Americus, they’ll remember that one man in his late 60s was still so moved by the events of more than half a century ago that he broke down in tears. You don’t forget that sort of thing.

After dinner, we gave our talk before a hundred or more students in Williams Hall and spoke with several of them at length afterwards (including, in this photo, Sandra Manhan and Keisha Michel). Thanks to Oxford chaplain Lyn Pace Jr. for inviting us, to Susan Ashmore for sharing our story with her class, and to religion professor David B. Gowler and American Studies professor Molly McGehee for being part of the evening. It was special for us – and unexpectedly moving.