Revisiting race and assorted short subjects

January 15, 1998

Revisiting race and assorted short subjects

Back in 1989, shortly after my father died, I took a six-month leave of absence from The Herald-Mail to (among other things) turn the sun porch of our house into a bedroom for my mother, if she should decide she didn't want to live alone.

In the middle of that job, I took a week off to visit my Aunt Dorothy in Montgomery, Alabama with my oldest son.

While there, we toured some of the government buildings in the state capital, including one which had a long hallway of displays honoring the state's most distinguished citizens, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.


The King display was small, however, a footnote in comparison to the one honoring singer Hank Williams. It struck me then that 20 years after King's death, citizens were still unable to deal with the change brought by the civil rights movement. Acknowledge that it happened, yes, but agree in their hearts that it was the right thing, no.

But that's not to say that we in Washington County are any more enlightened. We haven't had a single letter about the Dec. 23 arrest of a black man, Lawrence H. Freeman, for merely sitting on a bench in front of the county office building with a small sign, protesting what he believes is a county policy to hire only white people.

Nor has there been any citizen comment over the fact that the county's affirmative action plan is out of date, which lends credence to Freeman's protest.

What King challenged us all to do was to create a society where the color of one's skin mattered less than the content of their character. On this, the anniversary of King's death, we need to remember that we have a responsibility that goes beyond the law, to speak up for what is morally right.

That includes protesting an outrage like Freeman's arrest, and encouraging people of color to participate in local government by running for office.

As I said prior to the city election, we need such candidates to give black youth some role models and to debunk the idea that elected office is a white-only affair in Washington County.

Elsewhere in this section, columnist Bill Moulden takes me to task for a column I wrote recently about race, a column which didn't satisfy him. I will admit that I don't have all the answers, and would like to open up the subject to readers. Should we forget the idea of changing people's minds on this issue, or press ahead, and if so, how?

Write me with your ideas at this address: Bob Maginnis, The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md., 21740.

I'll try to publish the best replies next weekend. Please spare me any racial hatred and focus on a path to progress.

On the door of the linen closet in my upstairs hall, there are half a dozen shirts on hangers, some that are outgrown, some that are out of style and some that I'm just plain sick of looking at.

In the bedroom nearby, there's a bag full of similar stuff - sweatshirts, old gloves and the like - that I think about moving once a week when I haul garbage to the waste transfer station at Greensburg, where the good people of Goodwill Industries have set up a collection bin where I could just toss the stuff in.

The bin is unmanned, however, and if I want a receipt and a tax credit for my donations, I have to go to the extra trouble of taking it to drop-off center in Burhans Boulevard in Hagerstown.

To review: In exchange for my extra trouble, I get a receipt and some tax benefits. I wish I could get the credit without the extra trouble, but that's not the way things work. Somebody has to verify that I've made the donation, instead of just taking my word for it.

Washington County's private clubs are in a similar predicament with their donations of tip-jar gambling money.

Under the law, they must donate 15 percent of their tip-jar profits to charity, half of which must go the county's gaming commission.

The other half, however, can be made as in-kind donations, and this is where some of the clubs are having problems. Instead of just taking a vote and cutting a check, they must make sure that the beneficiary is real charity. That means that if they give money to John Doe, whose house burned down and who doesn't have any fire insurance, it won't count unless - unless the club runs the money through another charity like the Salvation Army.

Not long ago, when I used this column to raise money for a young Boonsboro prodigy who had the chance to take a special summer course at the Johns Hopkins Medical School, the Hagerstown/Washington County Chamber of Commerce allowed us to use its foundation so that donors could get tax deductions for their good works.

The clubs, which have done much good in Washington County over many years, could do the same thing, perhaps by setting up their own foundation or funneling the money through the recently formed Washington County Community Foundation.

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