BOBBY HARRISON:We've come a long way from a troubled past in Mississippi

JACKSON – The story has been told before in this space of a fifth-grade African-American child whose parents tried to enroll him in an all-white Jones County elementary school in the 1960s.

The story has been told of how the teacher placed the child's desk off to the side – not in the rows with the others. Then, the teacher chose to leave the classroom unattended for an extended period of time as the child – memory was of a short, pudgy boy – was savaged for what seemed like 30 minutes.

The memory is of tears rolling down the cheeks of the child. It all seems like a bit of a blur so many years ago, but what is clear are those tears and the fact the child did not come back the following day.

I never saw the child again – as far as I know.

He did not come back the next year – my sixth grade – when the Jones County schools were forced to desegregate. That desegregation, minus that pudgy boy, went remarkably well considering the history of Jones County in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mississippi – like the rest of the country – has come a long way when it comes to race relations. Still, to think that we as a nation are poised to elect an African-American as president today – if the polls are right – boggles my mind.

To think that in my lifetime I might witness what occurred in that fifth-grade classroom so many years ago and the election of a black man to the highest office in the greatest country in the world is truly remarkable.

To think that some of the same thinking by some of the same people as that teacher and school administrators who left that child unattended does not still exist in Mississippi – in the nation – would be naive.

Granted, there are a lot of legitimate reasons to vote against Barack Obama. People might disagree with his positions on taxes and social issues or even with his judgment. But to think that some people will not vote against him because of race would be foolish.

Those voters will surely come to the polls today.

True, there will be people who come to the polls to vote for him just because of his race.

But which is worse – for African-Americans to support someone who could be a monumental first for their race or for people to oppose him solely because he is African-American?

I would contend that racial hatred is a far worse character trait than blind support of a fellow African-American. One is hate. The other is pride.

Through the years I have had the opportunity to coach youth sports – soccer, basketball and a little baseball. Those teams have been predominantly white, but have included blacks, Indians and Asians.

The youth of today do not view race as my generation does. Most people of my generation now interact with blacks on a professional and, yes, social level. We have friends, neighbors and colleagues who are black.

But we carry the baggage of a bygone day when we either thumped a fifth-grade boy repeatedly upside the head or sat silently and watched as it happened without doing anything to stop it.

Now, kids look at each other as friends or competitors – not as people who are different.

Those who go to the polls today to vote against Obama – and in Mississippi that will be a majority – can cite a number of reasons, legitimate reasons. And those voters should be taken at their word.

Despite those very legitimate reasons to oppose Obama, if he is elected that does say something good about the country, an about our people.

And for that we all should feel proud – despite of what we may think about his politics.

I wonder what happened to that pudgy boy from that fifth-grade class.

Bobby Harrison is chief of the Daily Journal's Capitol bureau. His e-mail address is bobby.harrison@djournal.com, and his telephone number is (601) 353-3119.