Conference aims at racial justice, healing

BY ERROL CASTENS
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Nearly 100 academics, clerics and other activists are finishing a conference today at the University of Mississippi that addresses the festering sores of unanswered injustice.

The gathering is the 2007 conference for the Alliance for Truth and Racial Reconciliation, a group devoted to “promoting truth-seeking and reconciliation on issues of racial violence by deepening our understanding of history and its continuing effects and by working for justice.”

Presenters offered overviews of several historic cases of racial violence and restoration efforts. A panel addressed subjects like history education and how the racial justice movement hampers its own work.

Seattle attorney Rita Bender, the widow of slain civil rights worker Michael Schwerner, emphasized the importance of knowing history.

“The past informs the present,” she said. “The past abuses were systematic É not individual or accidental.” Several panelists added that the United States, from its populace to its courts, suffers from “historical amnesia.”

Accounts of racial reconciliation efforts garnered enthusiastic applause, but some speakers added that reconciliation's emphasis on forgiveness must not rob victims, society or even perpetrators of the benefits of justice.

“Bearing the consequences of one's actions – whether that's criminal justice or global warming and bearing the consequences of our excesses as a species – is a form of God's grace,” said Emory University professor and Episcopal priest Theophus “Thee” Smith.

Gov. William Winter, whose namesake Institute for Racial Reconciliation hosted the conference, warned attendees not to give up on the political process “in frustration or naivetŽ.”

“No political goals are ever finally achieved,” he said. “It's a process.”

One panelist reminded activists not to insist everyone see issues exactly as they do.

“We are flawed; we are complicit in injustice,” Brown University professor Jim Campbell said. “If we employ moralism, we're not only not going to draw other people into this movement, but we're going to eat our own.”

Conferees today will make plans for follow-up actions on lobbying, the organization's structure, a 2008 conference in Atlanta, statewide “truth commissions” and non-black minority issues.

Contact Daily Journal Oxford bureau reporter Errol Castens at 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

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