JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

Nothing changes, everything changes

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Back in the early 1970s, the lingering few public school districts in the state of Mississippi that had yet to desegregate were forced to open their doors to all. Blacks schools and white schools were merged. Football teams, cheerleading squads, math clubs—all brought together, race be damned.

For those white citizens opposed to such a lifestyle, private schools emerged. They were called “academies,” but, truth be told, they were havens for white parents who could afford to shield their precious little ones from the darkness they feared.

Two days ago, in the process of researching my latest book, I interviewed a white man who, back in 1970, was sent to an academy. He was embarrassed to talk about it because, while at the time it seemed righteous, now it only comes off as bigoted and inane. “We were wrong,” he said sheepishly. “I didn’t know at the time, but we were terribly wrong.”

I bring this up because, while times change, time doesn’t change. Yesterday the people of Maine voted to repeal the state’s same-sex marriage law, meaning gay and lesbian couples can no longer wed within state lines. “It seems in the end that Mainers are not ready to treat these families fairly,” Betsy Smith, a spokesperson for gay marriage, told a crowd afterward. “Having the protection of the law, as well as the respect and dignity that comes only with marriage, is a journey on which we will continue.”

Shortly thereafter, a man named Scott Fish, spokesperson for Stand for Marriage Maine, insisted the movement was never anti-gay, but solely pro-marriage. “This was,” he said, “a campaign about protecting traditional marriage.”

I don’t know Scott Fish, or any of his cohorts. I can’t say they’re bad people, just as I can’t say the man who attended the white flight academy was a bad person. But 10 … 15 … 20 years from now, Scott Fish’s kids, and my kids, and your kids, will be asking the same question about gay rights that we asked ours about the civil rights movement from the 1950s and 60s. They’ll ask us where we stood, and what we did to make life easier for a battered minority.

What will you say?