My hometown provided some of the jurors for the trial of those who beat Rodney King. It was what some used to call a “white flight” community, others a “bedroom community.” There were only a few black families in that whole valley; one lived across the ravine from our family. They were the Petries (yes, the same last name as Rob and Laura and little Ritchie on the Dick Van Dyke show). We could see each other’s bedroom windows from our bedrooms. Keith Petrie and I used to play basketball on my patio late into the night, under a floodlight my dad clipped up. And we would “dat dat dah” “Sweet Georgia Brown” because we didn’t know the words while we pretended we were the Harlem Globetrotters.
Then, the Petries were forced out because they had violated the “Covenant” of the neighborhood, which allowed only one family per house. The other “family” was Keith’s uncle who had just returned, wounded and disabled, from Viet Nam. (I think they could have introduced Laura Petrie’s brother as a decorated, live-in veteran on the sitcom and he would have been able to stay).
The neighbors were wounded by the charge they were “racist.” They said they were “color-blind,” which was the disability the jurors suffered from. It came from not actually seeing, let alone knowing, anyone who was black except for the news reports on the Watts riots a few years earlier. So, I was not surprised by the King verdict twenty five years later; they would have seen it as justice. Racial reconciliation involves some kind of healing from that condition, a recovery of sight, to see others as you would have them see you.
I like the word “reconciliation.” It implies that we are returning to something, to a just and righteous community that once existed even if only in the mind of God when we were created one for another. My namesake, David, wrote a lyric we know as Psalm 98 that describes that kind of restoration. It is a reminder of God’s own covenant. It begins, “Sing to the Lord a new song.”
For me, that new song is an old one and I still don’t know the words. But, on a Tuesday night in November 2008 many people saw things differently than they had forty years earlier. So, when I heard that Barack Obama carried my hometown, I pictured two boys and I “dat dat dahed” “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
Rev. Dr. David McAllister Wilson