When it refused to endorse a statement expressing regret that the racial composition of the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2010 will be no different from what it was in 1910 during the heyday of Jim Crow segregation, some members of the Faith Caucus of the Democratic Party of Arkansas and the deputy chief of staff of Governor Mike Beebe expressed regret that Democrats were arguing among ourselves. They were displeased that conflict and tension was introduced into the Faith Caucus by my request that the Caucus endorse the statement of regret. They were uncomfortable with appearing disharmonious toward Governor Beebe. A respected black member of the Caucus even contended that the issue was outside the jurisdiction of the Caucus, whose stated mission is to promote education about the role of religion in public policy. The prevailing sentiment was that the proposed statement expressing regret and the publicity surrounding Governor Beebe's refusal to integrate the all-white Arkansas Supreme Court was contentious, unseemly, and disruptive.
Since the Faith Caucus meeting, I have reflected about how people accept injustice in the name of "peace." Then I remembered a sermon titled "When Peace Becomes Obnoxious" during which the preacher said that there is a kind of peace that is a stench to the nostrils of God. The preacher concluded the sermon with these words: "If peace means accepting second-class citizenship, I don't want it. If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don't want it. If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don't want peace. If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don't want peace. … Peace is not merely the absence of tension, but the presence of justice."
That sermon was delivered in 1956, weeks after a black woman named Autherine Lucy was asked by the president and trustees of the University of Alabama to leave the school's campus for her own safety and that of the University in the face of vicious threats and acts of violence directed toward her. The preacher mentioned in his sermon, "The day after Autherine was dismissed, the paper came out with this headline: "Things are quiet in Tuscaloosa today. There is peace on the campus of the University of Alabama."
In 1956, Tuscaloosa, Alabama and the University of Alabama were quiet and peaceful communities. The University of Alabama president and trustees were relieved, perhaps even satisfied. Meanwhile, Autherine Lucy had been denied her right to be included. Injustice often masquerades under the veneer of that kind of peace.
Last week, black lawyers in Arkansas were professionally and politically slandered as not being sufficiently competent, ethical, or deferential to serve on the Arkansas Supreme Court for a year. A tenured law professor at the UA School of Law (Carlton Bailey), a seasoned assistant attorney general (Valerie Kelly), a former attorney general (Leon Johnson), the dean of black lawyers in Arkansas (Christopher Mercer), and a host of other lawyers must accept second-class citizenship, keep their mouths shut, complacently adjust to a deadening status quo, and be willing to endure the humiliation of being considered unfit, to keep peace.
Things are quiet in Little Rock today. There is peace in Governor Beebe's office. The legal profession is quiet. The bar association is quiet. Voters and legislators are quiet. There is no regret. No discontentment. If this is peace, I don't want it. I don't want a peace constructed from injustice, exclusionary practices, and defended with blithe rationalizations and sanctimonious absurdities.
Neither did the other preacher. You may have heard of Martin Luther King, Jr. Yeah. That guy who is only remembered for saying "I have a dream."
In "When Peace Becomes Obnoxious," King said that unjust peace is a stench in the nostrils of Almighty God. King rejected such an obnoxious, cancerous, deadly, insidious, polite, courteous, diplomatic, and politically convenient peace. I suspect you won't hear people quoting the "When Peace Becomes Obnoxious" sermon next month during their King Holiday ceremonies.
Perhaps this explains why the faith caucus refused to endorse the statement of regret. Perhaps this explains why people in Arkansas, including some black people, wish the issue would simply go away. Obnoxious peace, not justice, is what passes for race relations in Arkansas in 2009.
That was not what Dr. King dreamed. King was not wrong in rejecting obnoxious peace. We are wrong in preferring it. We should re-think the dream, and re-think peace.