A fine speech that deserves some community follow-up

April 06, 2006

Hagerstown Mayor Robert Bruchey's recent statement about racism was welcome, because it commits his administration to fighting "racism whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head."

But racism is seldom as blatant as that displayed during a Ku Klux Klan rally. It's often more subtle and, in our experience, based on a lack of knowledge or experience with people of other races and cultures.

And so while we admire Bruchey's determination to fight racism, we believe that Hagerstown and Washington County need to act to increase understanding between races and cultures before there is some divisive incident.

Some of that work has already begun through the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County.

Formed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the coalition has held a variety of events, from more formal presentations at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater to small-group gathering at the former Frostburg Center in downtown Hagerstown.


On April 27 at 7 p.m., the coalition will sponsor an event at the Hagerstown YMCA. That night speakers will discuss what their faith traditions teach them about the relationship between religion and government.

Beyond that, it might be time to look again at what was accomplished between 1965 and 1973 by the Bi-Racial Commission of Hagerstown.

In an 1997 interview, former School Superintendent William Brish, now deceased, said the group came together because local businesspeople were interested in seeing progress made on the issue of race.

Brish himself was interested, he said, because prospective black teachers wouldn't come to a city where their housing choices were restricted.

Instead of confrontations, Brish said the group met privately with landlords and restaurant and tavern owners to persuade them to provide equal accommodations.

Hagerstown does not face the same issues today, at least not to the extent it did in 1965. But as the mayor said in his statement, "to say that racism does not exist is not only foolish, but irresponsible."

To that we would add this: To hope that racism will disappear without some additional work is naive.

We have two good models that show what can happen if people of good will work to create a better community. It's time for some good people to translate the hopeful words in the mayor's speech into action.

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