I am writing to express my support for Salvador Zamora, who is on a hunger strike to protest the illegal, immoral and cruel Georgia state law known as HB 87. As you know, the law, which you signed, has put countless people -- the majority of whom are hard-working contributors to Georgia's economy -- to flight. Among them are children who are culturally more "American" than Mexican, and of course men and women who among other things, pick the Georgia peaches that we Floridians buy along the highway.
I wonder whether as a Southerner, it has occurred to you that these laws, established in Arizona and other states, are only popping up south of the Mason-Dixon. As a man born in the Southern State of Florida, I am ashamed that there are so many "Christian" people in the region who add to the command "Love thy neighbor" the clause " ... unless your neighbor is Latino." HB 87 and similar laws that effectively force police officers and others to engage in profiling, are racist laws. And for many of us who are Southern by birth and identity, they harken back to an ugly and terrible period in history in which our ancestors fought and died alongside even braver, activist, black men, women and children for the right to eat at the same lunch counters and stay in the same hotels as whites.
We are collectively ashamed of Georgia's history of bigotry. It is not because we are ashamed to be Southern. It is because we know in our hearts that Southerners, despite stereotypes reinforced mostly by ignorant folks in the North, are not bigots. Indeed, many of the greatest crusaders for Civil Rights -- including Bill Moore and Rev. Sam Shirah -- were white Southerners. I feel certain that Moore, Shirah, Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others of conscience would have joined me in my support for Zamora, and his vehement rejection of this law.
Unfortunately, as you know well, there is another kind of Southerner. Floyd Simpson, who killed Moore, is a black stain on the proud altar of our regional heritage. James Earl Ray, who killed Martin Luther King, Jr., is another. The shame for all Southerners who believe that equality is not only possible, but alive and well in our hometowns, is Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, who history has not treated kindly. If what Jesus says is true, we can be sure Wallace is not in any of the many rooms in our Father's house. Those rooms are reserved, as you know, for the righteous.
The question for you today is what kind of Southern man are you? Are you, like the Rev. Sam Shirah, a gentleman embodying the good-will, hospitality and forward-thinking attitude of a region that has suffered great injustices over the long course of its history? Or are you a governor who is going to extend, for as long as possible, and with ridiculous and indefensible justifications, the thinking of men like Floyd, Ray, and Wallace?
I plead with you to understand that there is a direct connection between the dogs, water hoses, lynchings, church bombings, and other cruelties of the Civil Rights era, and HB 87, which creates an underclass of human beings in Georgia, who are literally being run out of the state.
If we are going to sing Sweet Home Alabama, or When the Role is Called up Yonder, we should do so with pride, and the knowledge, that as the aforementioned hymn says, we have worked to earn our place in God's kingdom, on earth or in heaven:
Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
With respect for you and your office, and hope for a Georgia in which the gentle rain of justice sweetly saturates the state's red, red hills with dignity, love, and justice, but does not extinguish the fire of memory.
This letter was kindly re-published by Guernica Magazine