An Open Letter to my Father on Father’s Day and the 35th Anniversary of his Death

Witness to the Truth[The writer’s father, Rev. John H. Scott, died on June 22, 1980. His life story is recounted in the book, Witness to the Truth: My Struggle for Human Rights in Louisiana by John H. Scott with Cleo Scott Brown.]

Dear Dad,

When I first anticipated writing an anniversary letter to you on the 35th anniversary of your passing, it was going to be a cheerful letter.  I was going to talk about the good things that have happened in the lives of your children and grandchildren.  I was going to talk about how proud you would be that our mother’s lessons about family love are being practiced not just by your children, but also by the grandchildren, many you never met.  But something happened on the way to this letter.

I have been distracted from the good in my life to focus on the evil in society.  Last Wednesday night, a white man went to a black church for Bible Study and after sitting in the class for about an hour, he pulled out a gun and killed the innocent people who were assembled.

I thought back to the Birmingham bombing that killed the little girls attending Sunday School, but I also thought back to the Wednesday night that you were shot.  You and most of the family were coming home from Prayer Meeting, talking about the service, when out of nowhere a car pulled into the pass lane, paused and filled your car with buckshot.  If things had gone as the shooter had planned, I would have lost not only you, but my mother and four siblings.

I thank God that he spared all of your lives and you lived long enough to see all of your children become adults.  Rev. Clementa Pinckney will not have the opportunity to see his children grow up because a cold-blooded killer chose to end his life and the lives of eight other people ranging in age from 26 to 87.

The shooter supposedly said to the 26-year old black man who was killed that black men “rape our women”.  If he was concerned about the black rapists, why did he go to a church and shoot 6 black women?

It is not enough that nine innocent lives–6 women and 3 men–were taken, but the many reactions, especially from public officials, have not engendered much confidence that the country is taking away any lessons from this tragedy.  For example, the governor of South Carolina said that there is only one person to blame for the shootings–the shooter.  She and others are not willing to accept the fact that something needs to be fixed to stop these types of actions. One person pulled the trigger, but many others helped to enable him or took no action to prevent such a tragedy.  One person pulled the trigger, but so many others are destroying black people every day through their overt and covert actions. Yes, Daddy, thirty-five years later, we still have a long way to go to address racism and white privilege in the United States.

Daddy, the Confederate flag is still flying at the South Carolina Capitol.  Why?  Because state law mandates a two-thirds majority vote of the legislature to take it down.  I remember when you needed two white people to identify you so you could get registered to vote and you could not find them. Similarly, the black S.C. legislators have not been able to find enough white legislators to vote to remove it, and the governor, who is of Indian descent, has refused to support its removal.  Yes, there are still people who refuse to acknowledge that the South lost the Civil War in 1865.  Some of those same people refuse to accept the 2008 election results when an African American was elected U.S. President.

The magistrate in the bail hearing for the shooter called the family of the shooter, “victims” and singled them out for sympathy.  The Governor of Texas called the shooting an “accident”, but the shooter reloaded and killed people who were trying to pray with him and for him.  I remember pinning a letter to you on the first anniversary of your death saying that at least you left the earth before you had to witness the election of Ronald Reagan as President.   Well Dad, we have elected officials now that almost make Reagan look like a moderate.

Even though there were early reports that eight people had been killed in a black church and that the shooter was a white man, the news networks did not see the need to cut away and give full coverage to the developing story.  Coverage did pick up the next day, but Wednesday night, I had flashbacks to when you were shot–when there was a complete news blackout. If it had not been for the black press, there would not have been any coverage.

What would be your message this Sunday morning if you were still here.  I know that you were a believer in forgiveness because you forgave the men who shot you. But how do you explain forgiveness and God’s will to children who are not able to make sense out of what happened in Charleston?  Your words would be similar to the words of our Bishop William P. DeVeaux who stated, “If you don’t give it up and forgive, you will never get it right.” I know you would explain the importance of forgiveness.  You would talk about what the Bible teaches us about forgiveness, but also the damage that holding in hatred and anger does to the victim.

Since you are no longer here to give me the message I need to move forward past this tragedy, I went to your book, Witness to the Truth, and found these words:

“Never let a hateful or unkind person pull you down to their level….Anger and bitterness give other people control over your mind, your thoughts, and your behavior….Sometimes unforgiveness can even make you physically sick while the object of your unforgiveness generally is not even being affected. On the other hand, forgiveness works on the other person rather than you and it works from the outside in.”

Beyond forgiveness, I know you would want me to see the lessons learned.  You would want some positive change to come out of the killings.  You would not want us be so fearful in church that we will not be able to worship God. You would want to see my faith strengthened by the tenacity and resolve being demonstrated by the families of the victims. You would want us to come out of this adversity with stronger faith and great resolve to chip away at racism, injustice, bigotry and inequality.

Thank you for being a good role model and for leaving me, my siblings, your grandchildren and all who read your book with life lessons that we can apply at a time like this.

Love Always,

Your Daughter, Elsie L. Scott

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