Of Bull Meechum, Atticus Finch and Center Hill.
In preparing for a bible study at my house later this week, I have had some time to reflect on why I believe certain ways and empathize with those less fortunate than I am. I have often replied, when asked why I work for so little as a public defender when I could make more money working a different area of law, that “I have always been drawn to those in need, those in trouble, those being persecuted,…those who are less fortunate for one reason or another”. Why is that?
I grew up in a typical middle class family in a small town in Mississippi. As the son of an Army Colonel, I learned of discipline, hard work and self-motivation to accomplish the missions of life. My families’ modest income towered above the poverty stricken rural community just south of Plantersville, MS, called Center Hill. The community was poor, as dirt you might say, and we were the exception. So, growing up and playing with the local kids, I was distinguished not only by my clean clothes and but also, by being white. I tried hard to fit in and not be just another “rich kid” at the elementary school in Plantersville. Along with my cousins, who were also poor as dirt, I traveled the gravel roads, saned minnows and worked afternoons at the bait shop nearby. I grew up understanding, by mostly observation, that there were people less fortunate than I, but it didn’t mean they were less human. If you spend time around people who are different because of looks, race, education, health and religion, you will see that although we have many differences, our similarities are overwhelming.
I will never forget watching the movie “The Great Santani” at my home as a child. My father had that movie on VHS, along with most every other military/war movie in history. Typically, I would avoid the old black and white WWII movies, but the “Great Santini” with Robert Duvall and child actors portraying a modern military family made me interested enough to sit through it. If you haven’t watched the movie, I won’t spoil it for you, but only say that it is a great story about the faults of a father in a world full of racism and hatred. I, like many military children, could relate to some of the characteristic of Bull Meechum’s “Squadron Commander” fatherly style. Don’t get me wrong, my father is nothing like that character, but it made me sensitive to the differences between the new generation and the older when it came to race and bigotry. We all grew up hearing the indignities used by our elders when it came to other races. Folks we looked up to and aspired to be were so full of prejudice. My parents were an exception, but most other older white people I knew were flawed with that most prevalent southern trait. I worked hard to make sure that common way of thinking didn’t pass from one generation to the next. I hope to shield my children the best I can, but the recent uptick in racial tone is disturbing.
The way Tooma was treated in that movie made me cry. I hated Red and Bull as well. I looked up to Ben Meechum for finally standing up to his father and doing all he could to help his young black friend. I resolved to do the same if ever placed in a position to help someone. It was a lesson that stuck with me throughout my formative years. I have always been compelled to help those in need. It was not until many years later, in High School after reading “To Kill a Mockingbird”, that I finally realized how I could make a difference. I am trying to be more like Atticus Finch and Ben Meechum every day. Now, if I could just find a way to be less of a military father like Bull Meechum and that, my friends, is a constant struggle.
For a biblical perspective, see Matthew 25:31-46