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Not until daybreak on the second day of the battle did a helicopter manage to land and evacuate the few survivors, leaving behind the bodies of most of Supply Column 21.There were 564 dead Viet Cong found in the area of the three Amtracs of Supply Column 21. The seven surviving Marines had fought without food, sleep, or water for two days. When the seven were pulled from their Amtrac, they had less than 250 rounds of ammunition left.

I, Grady DuBose, was one of the seven. My job was machine gunner.

My uncle wrote those words shortly after returning home from Vietnam. This week, my father decided to publish his brother's words with some accompanying thoughts in advance of Veterans Day in a piece he titled Prisoners of War.

My uncle was a Marine paratrooper who went to Vietnam as a very green 19-year old. In the span of one year, he went from serving in detention hall to serving in one of the most gruesome battles of the entire war. As a member of 3rd Marines, 3rd Battalion, he was tasked on what became known as Supply Column 21. On a fateful day in August of 1965, his mission was clear - bring essential supplies to one of the first Marine installations fighting in Operation Starlite.

Then something terrible happened. My uncle and his group found themselves bogged down in rice patties, their amtracs unfit for movement in the Vietnamese jungle. They were ambushed and as his story notes, they fought for two straight days to survive. His story details the sheer terror of war. Sleep deprivation did not provide enough of a fog for my uncle to miss watching his comrade take multiple rounds to the head just a few feet away. He experienced the sheer desperation of knowing that his group had only a few hundred rounds left to fend off the attack of hundreds of charging Viet Cong. A 19-year old kid, he heard enough mortar rounds go off that he was able to say the following with the kind of depraved situational insensitivity that war forces on warriors:
They left the ship just before daylight. As they approached the beaches they were mortared and hit very hard. The tractors’ .50-caliber machine guns began snapping. This would be an experience they would never forget, if they lived through it.

As it turned out, my uncle was one of seven surviving Marines from that Supply Column. When he was finally rescued two days later, the Marines noted hundreds of dead Viet Cong bodies around his immobilized amtrac. The devastation was so great that it led famed journalist David Arnett to write:

Under a sweltering midday sun, U.S. Marine Supply Column 21 lumbered to its death Wednesday in the morass of a Vietnamese rice paddy.

By the end of the day the armored column, 287 tons of steel, was no more. Some of the 30 leathernecks survived the withering Viet Cong attack but none escaped unmarked.

Arnett couldn't have known how prophetic those words would be. My uncle was a war hero - a proud son, brother, and father who had fought and survived one of the most mortifying battles in American history. His body beaten, it was his mind that received the brunt of the attack.

He returned home not long after that battle and he took English classes where he was asked to pen stories like the one quoted above. He was able to recall with remarkable clarity the events of that day. I have no doubt that this vivid memory played in his mind during every hour of every day from that point forward.

He suffered from what we would certainly characterize as post-traumatic stress disorder today, though few psychologists were ready with a diagnosis in the late 1960s. He often suffered from the kind of delusions of war that many veterans experience. Sounds, lights, and sudden shifts brought on flashbacks. Just a boy when he left to go fight the war, he returned a man with great pride but great scars, as well.

I never knew my uncle. He took his own life after the fight with post-war stress took the part of his mind that Operation Starlite so graciously spared. But his service remains a great source of pride to those in my family. A brave warrior, I consider him KIA, though the Marines make no such distinction for those killed in the service, after their service. He left behind a brother, two parents, a son, and a wife. To me, his nephew, he's little more than a picture, a second-hand memory, and the chilling words he wrote about the war that took his life.

That letter sparked my search for my uncle. And though I haven't found him yet, I have come to understand that the mental scars of war play as the background music to the last years of his life. My uncle's heroism was unique, but his story of mental anguish is not. During the first seven months of 2012, 116 active duty soldiers committed suicide in the Army alone. The problem is even more evident among veterans, with 18 taking their own life each day. Not all of these casualties are caused by PTSD. A significant number can be linked directly to the condition, though.

With Memorial Day upon us, we must remember that for many of our service members, the war doesn't stop when they touch down at home. Adequate funding and research for military mental health is a must. We should make a commitment that these people can get the help they need. War is hell, especially for the 18 and 19 year old men who make the transition from patrolling school hallways to patrolling hostile territory. Brave men like Grady DuBose deserve more than a pat on the back and an American flag waving ceremony at the local airport. They deserve the full strength of American psychological research. As more men and women return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, we have the opportunity to provide the sort of support that may have saved my uncle's life.

In a Columbia office building, one older lawyer discusses and debates the issues of the day with the vigor of a much younger man. You'll have to excuse South Carolina's Tom Turnipseed if it doesn't act like a guy who'll turn 80 next year. He is, after all, just a few decades into what might be described as a new life and a new career for him, a new man.

The Turnipseed of today is revered as a former leader of the South Carolina Trial Lawyer's Association. He's been an innovator in the fields of poverty alleviation and environmental conservation, combining the two passions in attempts to protect poorer neighborhoods from the scourges of discretionary dumping. He's advocated on behalf of poor black and Latino people in a part of the world where few people - and even few lawyers - are willing to do so. To some, he's a loving father, and to all, he's become known for his more than five decades of loyal service to his wife, Judy.

Before Tom Turnipseed was all of this, he was something very different. A one-time state legislator and full initiated member of the southern old guard, Turnipseed's Alabama roots shown through in his segregation-era politics. Like most men his age, he grew up in a certain time with certain ideas, and he marshaled his considerable ability in favor of causes that widened the chasm between black and white, haves and have-nots. But in many ways, Tom Turnipseed's story is unique, and perhaps one of the stories that most needs to be told in an era where many white people are deathly afraid of acknowledging the existence of racism, much less their own proclivities toward it. It's why many have chided me on the virtues of keeping the peace, encumbering me with pronouncements that "He's just from another era and there's no changing the way he thinks." In Turnipseed's story, we have hope in the power of redemption, honesty, and forgiveness.

In 1965, Tom Turnipseed was a young lawyer, recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, working in private practice in a small South Carolina town called Barnwell. That year, of course, was important in South Carolina, as echoes of Brown v. Board of Education had finally matriculated into the state's offing, causing districts to mix white and black in public schools. Something had to be done to stop the madness, and that something was the establishment of segregation academies - relatively cheap private schools that served as 1960s refuges for the children of parents either too scared or too hateful to send their children to school with black kids. Turnipseed was asked by Dr. T. Elliot Wannamaker, the first president of the South Carolina Independent Schools Association (SCISA), to become SCISA's first executive director. He left private practice, and like his brother, he worked toward the cause of providing credibility to schools like James F. Byrnes Academy, my alma mater.

Drive through almost any small town in South Carolina today and you'll find one of these schools. In Barnwell County, there's Jefferson Davis Academy. In Bishopville, you'll find Robert E. Lee Academy. Wade Hampton Academy sat in Orangeburg. If these names seem to follow a trend, it's not by mistake. They were schools that stood in direct defiance of the federal imposition of de-segregation. If "Robert E. Lee Academy, est. 1965" didn't send a bright enough message about the purpose of the school, few other things would. These schools needed accreditation for a number of reasons, and Turnipseed was the man tasked with anointing them with that legitimacy. As he wrote of the experience:

SCISA's stated purpose was to aid in the establishment of private elementary and secondary schools and to coordinate cooperative academic and sports activities. The unstated purpose was to avoid the federally court-ordered racial desegregation of the public schools.
SCISA stands strong today, thanks in large part to the efforts of Turnipseed and those who came after him. Turnipseed wasn't with SCISA for long, leaving in 1968 to head the campaign of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace, who unsuccessfully ran for president under the promise of restoring the Old South to the way things used to be. Like many Dixiecrats during this time of transition, Turnipseed found himself beneath shifting tectonic plates as the Democratic Party provided no safe quarter for old racists during the 1970s to come. Given his background - Turnipseed himself named his son Jefferson Davis - it might have seemed natural that Turnipseed would join other South Carolina politicians like Strom Thurmond in fleeing the party for the safe recesses of modern Republicanism. But he didn't. Slowly, the world turned for Turnipseed, and he dedicated his career to making right many of the wrongs he worked to harden during what you might call his first life.

Turnipseed's story is in many ways remarkable, and in many ways what you might expect. The grandson of a KKK member, his family had evolved on the issue by the time he was growing up. Some Southerners perpetuated racism by leading lynching parties. Others practiced a more genteel brand of racism - viewing their black brothers and sisters in a paternalistic manner that was less deadly but potentially more tenacious. Turnipseed fell into that latter category, a group of racist people too "gentlemanly" to be like the violent racists from the other side of the tracks. Over time, however, his eyes were opened. He questioned everything, and most importantly, he grew. Tom Turnipseed's road to maturity didn't end at 18, and he'd say it's not ended yet, but along the way he recognized the wrongness in some of the positions he'd fought for.

The early 1970s brought a change in Turnipseed's politics, as he clung to the ideals of the Democratic Party's more liberal wing. Opposed to war, Turnipseed then became an advocate for peace. He cultivated a number of relationships with people on both sides of the political aisle who impressed upon him the need for equal rights. One former advisor to George Wallace, who'd turned on the Alabama governor, appealed to Turnipseed's Biblical sensibilities to dissuade him against racism and segregation. His cousin, Morris Dees, who served as the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center, opened his eyes to the human toll that racism brought down onto the heads of black and brown people across the country. More than a moment of immediate transformation, Turnipseed's turning was a slow recognition that the man he wanted to be, and the ideas he wanted to fight for, didn't mesh with the things he'd stood behind in the past.

With that, Turnipseed was forced to make a hard and unenviable choice. The old, we're told, aren't worth arguing with. They're set in their ways, and besides, after one has spent much of his adult life advocating on behalf of a cause, he's far too invested to admit that he was wrong. Turnipseed's done much to dispute the efficacy of this truth, making full and thoughtful admissions about the way he thought and acted, and discussing the underlying assumptions that powered his racism. As he once said:

You know how as a kid, you’re taught things? Well, I was racist. I didn’t think I was, but I was.
The 1970s took Turnipseed into the South Carolina State Senate. Later, he would win the Democratic nomination for a seat in the House of Representatives. He came close but did not win in state-level races for Lt. Governor and Attorney General. These close losses deprived both the South Carolina legislature and the federal congress of an evolving and thoughtful leader. Turnipseed, who had been exposed to things like electroshock therapy for depression and bi-polar disorder as a young man, had seen his mental health history used against him by the likes of Lee Atwater during some of his campaigns. He'd been thoroughly run through the mud by the very folks who used to call upon him, a sure sign that Turnipseed's change of heart had ruffled feathers.

What was government's loss became society's gain. Over the years, Turnipseed has served as the chairman of the board of the Center for Democratic Renewal, an organization formerly known as the anti-Klan network. He's served on the board of the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council, bringing to bear the many issues facing a growing Hispanic population in South Carolina. As a lawyer, he's used his considerable trial abilities in service of a number of clients, perhaps most significantly the Macedonia Baptist Church, a black church that sued the KKK for burning down its sanctuary. With the help of Turnipseed, the church won a jury verdict of $37 million against the clan for this hate crime.

The grandson of a Klan member, and the former leader of a segregationist campaign, serving as an advocate in what might have been a very dangerous lawsuit against the South's scariest group of white supremacists. To say that Turnipseed made his transformation complete would be an understatement. It was the sort of bold decision that's highlighted the strength of conviction the man brings to his current day work. Just as he worked very hard to establish racist academies throughout the South in the 1960s, he'd worked just as hard to right wrongs in his older age.

Turnipseed today is not shy about discussing his past and the things he's learned. When I first reached out to him, telling him that I was inspired by his story and recalling my experience as a graduate of one of those segregation academies, he lamented his role in establishing the schools. He wrote candidly in an op-ed about the realities of that time, stating:

Since we were following a longstanding Southern tradition of being racists in denial, we simply denied race had anything to do with our motives. Dr. Wannamaker and I often discussed how we should discreetly downplay race when asked by the media about the sudden flurry of private school activities, particularly in counties with large populations of blacks. We bristled with indignation when reporters referred to SCISA as an association of "segregated academies".
He and his wife Judy, herself a reformed racist from the old guard, speak with passion and emotion about the hurt thrust upon black people during the era when they grew up. They recall with startling clarity stories of white privilege and black oppression. In one instance, Judy recalled:
I’d be in the line somewhere to buy something, and I would notice that when I would be waiting, the person who was behind the counter would just not even notice the black person there and would say, ‘Can I help you?’ And the black person was in front of me!

Together, as they do most things, they've overcome both their past and the customary unwillingness to talk about that past that stings at white people of all ages. The reflexive desire to deny the existence of racism is a paltry offering from so many who lived through an era white-on-black mistreatment was palpable and undeniable. Many, it seems, deny their role in these transgressions while passively - and in some cases actively - advocating for new and evolved forms of systemic racism. It's in the story of Tom Turnipseed that we find hope in the power of redemption. Tom Turnipseed had the strength of moral character to do the right thing - to quit throwing good money after bad like a 4AM gambler chasing a bad Saturday of sports gambling with a halftime bet on the Hawaii game. He knew enough to not only step away from toxic mindsets, but to use his story as an honest indicator of just what can happen when children are miseducated in a society that constantly hammers home the wrong messages about certain sub-sets of the population.

To give credit to Tom Turnipseed for reforming his racism seems strange. Wouldn't it be best if he'd never worked to establish those schools? And wouldn't it have been best if he'd not furthered the hurtful ideas of George Wallace. I'd suspect that Turnipseed himself would answer in the affirmative, and he'd probably want no special credit, either. But it's deserved, because he's done in his life what so few have been able or willing to do. Raised in a racist environment and tracked toward a life of political bigotry, he challenged these conceptions and changed his life even after so much had been invested in its early version.

And more than that, he's atoned with actions rather than just words. Today, he and his wife are self-described advocates for peace. They often write and speak on issues of equality and injustice. They advocate for the poor, feeding the homeless in Finley Park each week. During the Occupy Columbia protests, they reached out to protesters, providing food, water, and support. They've evolved with the times, finding new mediums for telling their remarkable story.

And in doing so, they've provided hope that if the light is shone bright enough on truth, even members of the old guard can change their ways. For the brave work of admitting the disastrous immorality of the things he once stood for, Tom Turnipseed is one of my modern-day heroes.

A little more than a month ago, vaunted New York Times author David Brooks wrote an introspective piece entitled The Moral Bucket List. In that space, a typically pensive Brooks reflected on the people who inspire him and the kind of life he wants to live. He laid bare his own personal rules of fulfillment, noting especially:
ABOUT once a month I run across a person who radiates an inner light. These people can be in any walk of life. They seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.
There's a duality in Brooks's words as he sets himself on the path to humility. Meeting such people is not only inspiring, but also enlightening. It's a reminder of not only the goodness in that rare person, but also of how far short we fall in meeting those lofty standards set by the few. Those people challenge our very core, making us ask questions of ourselves, our goals, and our motivations. They do it not with their words. It's perhaps their best quality that their very being can make us question whether we're doing enough with the tools we've been given.

In my own life, I've had occasion to meet and learn from a few of these people. I've written in this space about the young black men who mentored me when I was young, steering me far clear of the latent and overt racism that characterized my hometown. I've written about various teachers who've inspired my mind, and particularly David R. Dow, who, through his books, his classes, and his career, has cultivated both my intellect and my passion for those offenders who find themselves condemned to Texas's death row.

There are those people, and then there's Jani Maseli Wood, a lawyer whose work has inspired not only me, but an entire generation of young lawyers and students who've been lucky enough to work under her charge.

This weekend, Jani Wood was honored by her alma mater, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. She was granted an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in recognition of not only her service to that university, but her service to the greater good. In recognizing her contributions, the university said the following:

Wood is a graduate of the former North Adams State College, now MCLA, and is an assistant public defender for the Harris County Public Defender’s Office (PDO). Prior to joining the PDO, Wood was an attorney in private practice for 13 years, specializing in state and federal appeals and post-conviction matters.

In 2007, Wood was contacted by Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking, asking her to represent an inmate on Texas Death Row, pro bono. Embarking on an almost six-year journey, Wood, along with the civil law firm of Morgan Lewis and Bockius, L.L.P., convinced the courts to grant the defendant a new trial. For that work, Wood was awarded the 2013 Harris County Criminal Lawyer of the Year award and the Texas Criminal Defense Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year award.

As a top lawyer in the appellate division of the Harris County Public Defender's Office, Wood works on the complex legal issues facing clients who've been condemned. As a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, she schools students on the finer points of form and argumentation. In her career, she's garnered praise for her ability to care, and like most good defense attorneys, she marshals her skills in advocacy for those people society has mostly given up on.

My experience with Jani Wood came during the middle of my last semester of law school. I'd been working an internship with the Harris County Public Defender's Office, and I was placed under her charge. Her job was to mentor me, and to somehow see if, given my meager qualifications as a not-yet-graduated law student, I could contribute something to the legal defense of some human being.

In discussions over our cases, I learned new and different ways of thinking about the law and how it's applied in Texas. Jani deployed a sort of hopefulness I'd lost, recognizing that despite the near-inevitability of defeat that comes from working in criminal appeals, the work is still worthy of a good lawyer's effort, creativity, and attention. Given the heaviness of our work, the conversations often drifted to our passions - sports, good writing, and Bruce Springsteen, an artist whose working man missives have long inspired Jani's work and life.

As Jani's worked to expose some of the cracks inherent in the Texas criminal justice machine, she's argued each and every time in opposition to the oppressive fees charged by courts to the usually poor people facing a criminal indictment. The state of Texas is like many states that claw their hooks deep into the pockets of the accused through court fees like the "DNA fee" that the 1st Court of Appeals in Houston recently deemed unconstitutional. In Texas at least, these fees aren't exclusively used to pay for the costs of trying a case. Rather, they're often split with other agencies, making criminal defendants pay an improper tax. These defendants are rarely in the position to challenge these costs, and when they pile up, the costs make it almost impossible for already-indigent people to re-start their lives after they've served their sentences.

It's both inspiring and curious to me that Jani's earned acclaim as the woman fighting this particular war. In a recent op-ed, the Texas Observer proclaimed:

In Houston, one attorney is making real change by quibbling over loose change.

Jani Maselli Wood, an assistant public defender in Harris County, is waging a one-woman war against the way Texas uses the hundreds of different fees it collects from people involved in the criminal justice system.

These words, of course, are not reductionist in any sense. Jani is waging a war against these costs, as she's included a section in nearly every appeal she's filed in years on behalf of her clients. And her recent victories on this point will bring immediate returns to the exploited people she serves. Her efforts have gained so much attention that she was recently asked to testify in front of the Texas legislature, a body that has the power to make right the wrongs she's identified.

The strangeness, I guess, comes from the fact that it's this issue that's won Jani the attention that a long career of defending the defenseless should have already won her. Just more than a year ago, she was honored as the Harris County Criminal Lawyer of the Year and as the Texas Criminal Defense Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year for her work on various death row cases. She's juggled a dozen appeals at a time, working long hours into nights and weekends on behalf of defendants whose legal issues are convoluted enough to justify a team of attorneys working their case. Jani's done this while managing her obligations as a professor, as a professional mentor, and at one point, as a candidate for the high criminal court in Texas. She ran in that race on a platform that proved far too reasonable for an electorate that tends to only place people on that court if they're willing to rubber-stamp executions with impunity.

In some ways, though, Jani's new-found notoriety is appropriate and a perfect microcosm for the career she's led. It's in the minutiae that appellate lawyers live, challenging established rules and norms over and over until they get the answer they want. She's a lawyer, a mother, and a wife who has never given up on people and on causes, even when there's been good reason to do so. Losses are many for those who work in public defense, and when she was soundly defeated in her primary race for a place on the state's top court, no one would have blamed her if she'd folded up her tent and called it a day after a fulfilling career.

As I reached out in consolation on the night of that loss, Jani quoted to me from our favorite artist the words that I think characterize her career:

Wherever there's somebody fightin' for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you'll see me.
It's been that sort of resolve and dedication that's marked the career of Jani Wood, in which she's challenged the ability of Texas law enforcement officers to conduct questionable searches, in which she's asked the hard questions about the ways in which we put to death our fellow citizens, and in which she's smacked away the hands that purport to reach deep into the pockets of people who have so little left to give. It's in the issues and the causes that most others shrug off that Jani's found her niche, giving a powerful pen and a powerful voice to those who need it the most.

For me, Jani's been a constant source of encouragement on a difficult road to the right opportunity. She's been re-assuring in the way a boxer's trainer picks up the fighter that's been knocked down. She's been a source of light that's crowded into my mind and heart when I've grown disillusioned by the darkness that can box in those who work in civil rights or criminal justice.

When David Brooks meets those people he meets - the ever-inspiring few - he notes the things they've checked off on the moral bucket list. I've never run down a list to see what it is that makes a lawyer like Jani tick. I'm often too busy reading over her arguments and asking myself, "How did I miss that?" But I do know that in the prime of her sparkling career, as old universities draw her back to honor her contributions, and as colleagues reflect on the hard work she's put in, that all honors are well-deserved. The best people bridge gaps in age and gender and race and all characteristics in-between. They open the doors of their office to invite you into their big world, where you have open eyes to things that make them them. For Jani, it's passion for people that drives the boat, and it's in this passion that she's shaped young lawyers like me, and helped win victories big and small for the clients that most of us toss away.


Note from your author: Over the last three years, I've been blessed to share my experiences and perspectives on this site, on matters of politics, criminal justice, race, poverty, and much more. This community has been extremely supportive of me as a writer, and some of the voices here have helped to cultivate me as a thinker. I've recognized, however, that the America I write about is largely strange to me. No longer content to be a stranger in my own country, I am setting out with a friend from high school in my 2002 Lexus RX300 - a gentle beast we've named Quixote - to travel the country. We're in search of the American soul, learning stories, seeing places, and recording what we find with cameras, a new GoPro action camera, and our course, my words. We are already around a week into this journey, but I wanted to share it with this community, so that you all could follow along with me. We hope to tell the story of Americans who are finding their strength within institutions that set them up for struggle. And we'll have some fun, too. Below is a re-post from our website, detailing what we found in New Orleans. We are currently in Denver and moving to the West.

You can find us on our Facebook page at Good Days and Great Days. You might also find us on Instagram @GoodDaysAndGreatDays, or through our website at

When Katrina submerged New Orleans, few neighborhoods were harder hit than the one a few miles from downtown, sitting secluded from the niceties of tourist life, on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. And in the city’s effort to rebuild, few stories have been as inspiring as the ones told on these streets. Toward the end of this throughway sits the Crescent Palms Motel. It’s known to most as the cheapest place that you’d still consider choosing on the hotel review sites. And that’s how it was known to us, too, until we arrived.

Pulling into the motel is like charging hard into the early 1960s. The colors – muted pastels of red and blue and greed – are some combination of vintage and modern chic. The property is construed in a rectangular manner, with inward facing balconies creating a sort of courtyard on the interior. If you’re facing the motel, you’ll see a well-appointed patio on the second level of the front left corner. It’s a space fit for entertaining and gives the property more flair than its online profile suggests.

We fell instantly in love with the place, A.J. with its unique style and me with the history I was sure it possessed.

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“This looks like the hotel in Memphis where MLK was murdered,” I said, as we took pictures from the patio. At that moment, a poorly dressed man appeared, walking around the place like he owned it. It was a Saturday afternoon, and he’d pulled into the budget hotel in an expensive sport utility vehicle.

“What a beautiful property this is,” A.J. said, as the man introduced himself.

“It sure is. I’m Michael, I own the joint.”

“This looks a lot like the hotels where civil rights leaders stayed in the ‘60s,” I chimed in, waiting for Michael to offer some insight into the history of his haunt.

“I’m only the third owner,” he told us. “This place was built as the first upscale hotel for black guests, back when they weren’t allowed to stay at the downtown hotels. Lots of boxers stayed here, and music stars, and even MLK himself, back before the road was named for him.”

The structure had become run down sometime in the wake of Katrina, not only falling on hard times, but falling on fatal ones. Michael and a group of investors saw the property at its worst, but recognized its aesthetic appeal and significance to the local community.

“We got a $100,000 grant from the city when they were trying to encourage people to invest in this area. And we knew a guy who ran a bank, who gave us the rest of the money. We bought this property and the adjacent duplex for less than $200,000,” he said.

I remember wondering what the place had to look like to drive the purchase price so low. More comfortable discussing the frills of the property over the actuarial details, Michael pointed to a neon sign a few yards in front of us. It wasn’t lit at the time, and we inquired about its significance.

“This place takes on a completely different character at night,” he said. “I believe in having a day dress and a night dress. And boy does this patio have a night dress when that sign’s lit.”

The Crescent Palms is leading a rejuvenation of the surrounding community, where various money-ed sources have pooled their charitable efforts to help some of the citizens re-build. On the right side of the street, the homes are still falling apart. The lots are overrun with foliage. Broken windows remind you that some stores have never come back to the community. On the left side, though, brightly-colored homes with fluorescent paint provide hope for the neighborhood and her residents. There’s a community feel, with kids playing football and swinging on swings in a well-maintained communal area.

As I walked through this neighborhood, an action camera attached to my skull and a backpack fastened about my shoulders, a few young kids approached.

“Is that a GoPro?” asked a boy, probably 11-years old. “How much do you want for it” he asked before I had an opportunity to answer his first seeking question.

“I can’t sell this, buddy. We’re heading across the country and I’ve got to use it.”

“I’ll give you $1,000,” he offered, in a way that only kids can. Kids, of course, have little concept of how much money is a lot of money, and they have even less of an idea of how much things cost. I remember thinking when I was his age that a computer must cost somewhere in the neighborhood of a million dollars. A trip to Paris or some other far West locale? You’d have to sell an awful lot of lemonade to make that kind of money. A.J. observed later that the kid probably thought he was getting a good deal by offering a cool G for my equipment.

“I might have to sell it to you, then,” I quipped back, laughing in a suddenly uncomfortable manner. These were kids living, and playing, in an almost-entirely black part of a city where I was already a stranger. Here I was, on a non-descript Saturday afternoon, walking through their neighborhood with a camera strapped a few inches north of my eyebrows, and with an unnecessarily large backpack affixed to my person. I thought as I walked through this neighborhood, making certain observations, that I must be careful to treat the experience as an opportunity to meet with the people and learn their stories. I must be careful, I thought, not to treat the ordeal like a sociological experiment, where I note our differences like a Western sociologist studying the contours of some far-off land.

In that moment, though, I realized that just as their neighborhood was unfamiliar for me, and just as I may have felt some apprehension walking into an unusual place, my presence was unfamiliar to them. I was, as they say, Stranger Danger in the oddest form. And to my surprise, they treated my presence with curiosity.

“Are you going hiking?” one boy asked.

“We’ll hike once we get out West,” I answered, as his previously-squinted eyes lit up. He then asked if we’d planned to climb any mountains.

“I think so,” I said, stopping to ask him if he liked climbing mountains.

He assured me that he did, and when I told him he could climb Mount Everest one day, he asked a question I’ve asked myself quite often over the last few months.

“What’s it take to do that?”

“You have to train really hard,” I told him, “And you’ll need to stumble into an absurd amount of money.”

“Like $1,000,” added the prospective GoPro buyer.

“Yea, something like that,” I said with a laugh. “Maybe you can set your sights on Mount Rainier.”

I recognized immediately that my last statement made me sound 1,000 years old. No child grows up dreaming of climbing Mount Rainier, though perhaps they should. And I had squashed dead his dreams of climbing Mount Everest. I laughed at the thought of him going home to his mother and asking, “Where’s Mount Rainier?” before adorning his bedroom walls with a poster of Washington State’s prized peak.

“You’ve been talking to old, disillusioned white people, again, haven’t you?” she might ask him.

With that, we left the neighborhood, bound for the French Quarter and all it has to offer. While the night was filled with the normal things one finds in a night spent skirting around the edges of loatheful Bourbon Street, it was also spent finding more beauty in unexpected places. Down in the forgotten parts of the city where Katrina’s impact had been felt the hardest, we discovered a meek hotel owner trying to help revive a neighborhood by preserving its distinguished Civil Rights-era history. In the playgrounds there, we found little kids, dreaming big dreams about climbing the highest mountains. On the streets of the Quarter, there was beauty in the artists peddling their craft for the pure enjoyment of passers-by.

It is my experience that few truths are absolute, especially those told by human beings. I caution the reader that the morsels I find in my travels are mine alone, told through the lens of emotion and feeling and perception that I brought to the observing on that particular day. How I see a city like New Orleans on the first day of a three-month road trip would invariably different from how I’d write it on Day 67, especially without the benefit of sleep. And this is what allows each of us to view a place and to tell two distinct stories with neither being wrong nor dishonest.

For me, New Orleans has long been a place colored by the perceptions of others. Some that I’ve known closely see the city as a dark place, full of evil, and even of spirits. And to walk the streets with the right set of eyes, you could easily leave with that conclusion. Head to Bourbon Street or into the riverside casino – which coincidentally rates as perhaps the darkest of casinos in these United States, both literally and figuratively – and you’ll see debauchery and listlessness that trends hard toward indulgent heathenism. But spending a few more hours in New Orleans reveals a strength and resilience in her people, often expressed through creative bursts with the brush or the voice.

On this night, I encountered Maurice, white-haired, bearded, and a stately hippie, if such a thing can exist. Maurice owned and operated a squalid little shop full of jazz instruments. It’s the sort of place you could buy a tuba or trombone if you were apt to do so. I fiddled around for a few minutes, remarking in private thought and public voice that I’d be Maurice’s best buyer if he’d only teach me how to play anything housed in his space.

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“How about this one?” he said, reaching toward what looked to me like the kind of log my dad might pull from a beaver dam in the creek behind my childhood home.

“What is it?” I asked him, eyeing the reasonable $5 price tag that made it a reasonable learner’s investment.

“It’s a wall piece,” he said in a deep Cajun accept that made it sound like he’d said “walpus.”

“A what?” I followed, completely certain that I’d never seen an instrument like this before.

“A wall piece,” he repeated. “Something you put on your wall. It doesn’t play music. Seems like it might be perfect for you.”

“I guess it looks like a flute,” I said, thinking to myself how Maurice’s wall-bound New Orleans flute might make the perfect gift for the only flute player I know, given her affinity for NOLA and the events that had once taken place there.

Maurice looked at me with a humored look on his face. It was well before 10PM on the Saturday night of the second weekend of JazzFest, and while he had merchandise to sell, he acted like he’d not been engaged by a customer in quite some time.

“What if I really practice?” I asked him, laughing as I lifted the fashioned wood to my mouth. I placed my lips atop an oversized hole and curled my fingers over the places they were meant to be, had this been more than a simple walpus.

“You know what they say,” Maurice started. “Practice makes something.”

Practice makes something, indeed. I smiled, handed Maurice a crisp five-dollar bill, and stuffed my newfound treasure into my pack. He offered me a handshake and asked my name before I headed for the exit.

Not all of the hidden beauty in New Orleans comes from those who sell the instruments. On the streets, we encountered two unsightly brothers whose surprising music sounded like what might happen if an Avett Brothers album made a child with some LP produced by Gregory Alan Isakov. They sang so well that one man tossed a $20 bill into their donation reservoir at the urging of his much younger companion.

Down the road, a crowd had gathered for what became the main event of the New Orleans street show that dotted intermittent blocks on various corners. A woman of Asian descent, probably in her early 30s, was playing a violin alongside a black woman aged the same number of years. While that black woman was an adequate guitarist, the violinist was the star of the show. As she bent the strings to the sound of Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley, an older woman broke from her husband to engage me.

“Have you ever heard anything like this?” she asked in the sort of way a child asks the first time they figure out that adults can do something they have no chance of doing.

“I didn’t think I’d ever hear violin strings sound out human sadness,” I said, as the corners of my new friend’s mouth bent in an admiring smile. We weren’t alone in our amazement, of course. At least a hundred people were mostly blocking a busy Quarter street to see the show, and the women were now taking requests. On a night when various musicians – Elton John and Ed Sheeran among them – were playing to thousands-deep crowds at one of the country’s premier music festivals, these two had put on an entrancing show, completely free to their patrons.

As a writer, sometimes you get to choose how to tell the story of a place. And sometimes the story tells itself. In New Orleans, our trip into the American soul started with true American soul, seeing the eyes of a business owner light up as he talked about how his sign lit up, listening as a young boy from the nation’s Bayou talked of his desire to climb a miles-high mountain a hemisphere away, meeting a man who sold to the talented musicians their tools of expression, and hearing Hallelujah for the first time, surrounded by people who had recognized the beauty in an artist’s undiscovered (to this point, at least) talent. New Orleans might be dark, and it might be evil. On another day, and with another set of eyes, I might have descended upon the spooky bars that serve hallucination-inducing absinthe, and I might have experienced the hordes of tourists finding the fault in their stars through creepy tarot card readings. Today, the city nearly sunk by Katrina shone through with the kind of beauty that keeps her, and keeps people like me, coming back for more.

Imagine for a moment that a man's neck was almost severed, nearly clean cut in the most painful way possible, while in the custody of the people charged with the duty of protecting and serving. Imagine that man died, alone, in a prison cell, while his cries for help were blatantly ignored. Now imagine that in the wake of that tragedy, a government had been infantile in its ability to explain even the basic details of what happened.

That's the revolting reality in Baltimore. And through it all, the dominant white response was muted. From different reaches of the Internet, prominent civil rights leaders weighed in on the travesty, offering perspectives on another data point in an ever-growing body of evidence that the police state is still being mobilized against black Americans. And sure, the death of Freddie Gray received some national media attention.

But it wasn't the concern of the average guy who looks like me. White Americans are immune to these problems, isolated from the realities of police brutality and oppression. Severed spines are a problem in the abstract, but certainly not something to get all bothered about. For some of us, the Freddie Gray travesty was another opportunity to reflect on the moral failings of the afflicted, noting that if Freddie had been a law-abiding choir boy, he wouldn't have found himself in the crunching grasp of Baltimore's police force. For others, it was an opportunity to remind the world that not all cops are bad, an impulse that's certainly correct, even if ill-timed.

But the brutal death of Freddie Gray, an example of police brutality that could have reminded us all of the dangers faced by inner-city black men on a daily basis? Well, that's just not occasion enough for us to offer an opinion.

Now imagine that in response to this one particular tragedy, the citizens of Baltimore - most of them black, but many white - rose up to question the culture of brutality that's produced more than 100 successful claims against police over the last few years. Imagine that in the midst of those protests, a debatable number of mostly young, mostly angry men smashed some windows, threw some rocks and bottles, and destroyed some property. A few of those men even got violent with those around them.

After sitting on the sidelines, silent at the lynching of Freddie Gray, you'd think that some property damage and non-lethal violence would fail to shake the conscience of the average white viewer. You'd be wrong.

It's in the defense of that property - those CVS stores owned by faceless individuals and those police cars being bashed in - that we've seen the strongest response from the dominant element of society. Social media is a good indication, but certainly not the only one. There, on sites like Facebook and Twitter, folks have spoken up about Freddie Gray for the first time. They've not come to the defense of the oppressed. Rather, they've spoken up in condemnation of those "animals," "thugs," and "criminals" who are "destroying their own city."

It's some combination of historical illiteracy and racial animus that drives the response. The prevailing white view has been tragically non-curious from an intellectual perspective. Rather than asking what might cause a people to risk life and limb in an effort to smash to bits their own neighborhoods, we've responded with a stupid, incredulous look on our faces. "Look at them," we've said. "Burning down their own city." We understand that we would never do something like that - not even when our favorite hockey team failed to win Lord Stanley's Cup. But we fail to ask that critical next question - if these people, who are in so many ways like us, would do something that we wouldn't think of doing, what must the conditions be like to drive that behavior?

To put all of the blame on the lack of historical literacy of white folks in America would be letting too many off the hook. Even if they don't know about the history of red-lining, the effects of the drug war, and how Jim Crow has shape-shifted into the modern criminal justice apparatus, many of these people would be unmoved if their eyes would open. Simply put, for them, it's racial animus that drives the boat.

But white Americans, many by their own choosing, are painfully unaware of the historical context in which a mostly-black protest in Baltimore might take place. What are these people so mad about? we ask, as if the answers are too complicated to be discerned from one extended reading of anything by Ta-Nehisi Coates or Greg Howard.

As a white man, I'm in little position to pass judgment on the behavior of people so beaten down that they have little hope. I'm certainly not in a position to offer the tired white liberal tripe, asking black folks in places like Baltimore to sit quietly and trust the system, waiting for me and those like me to rescue them through legitimate democratic means. While rioting, looting, and lighting stuff on fire is certainly not a productive way to achieve equality and real civil rights, I won't lie to these people and tell them that by doing so, they're undermining progress that might have been made through legitimate protesting.

That's because I understand the unfortunate reality that powers this kind of destructive protesting. That is - these people are aware in a way I can never be aware, that whether they choose to jump on cars, sing Civil Rights hymns, hold signs, or stage peaceful letter writing campaigns to their local congressperson, the situation is going to stay mostly the same.

Why do you see destructive rioting and looting? It's not because people think it's the best way to get things done. It's because the people have finally come to realize that no matter what they do, nothing gets done. No matter how loud they scream, the system still crushes them under its weighty wheels. Their macro situation in many ways mirrors their individual situations. These people are expressing not just anger and frustration at another black man killed by another group of police officers. Rather, they're expressing anger and frustration at a socio-economic reality in which they are the bones and scraps left over after the best meat's been taken.

Despite living in the wealthiest state in the country, the residents of Baltimore's inner city find themselves in abject poverty. No group is hit harder than young people. In fact the child poverty rate in Baltimore is 36.5-percent, according to a 2014 report by Catholic Charities of Maryland. Around two in every three high school students will graduate, a number that is even an improvement over how things were just a few years ago.

These are young people who live in communities torn to pieces by the War on Drugs, where violence is the norm. They're young people who are considered a "success story" if they achieve what people in my community would call the base level of productive existence - graduating high school without dying or being sent to prison. They're young people who, if they were to achieve what my parents would call success, will be a story so rare that Hollywood might come calling for the movie rights. The handful of young people who escape horrible Baltimore neighborhoods and find themselves in the middle class are the exception that proves the rule.

And they're smart enough to know it. Centuries of oppression, and more specifically, decades of policies targeted at the economic destruction of black communities in places like Baltimore, have led to this reality. They're the bubbling furnace that powers the kind of frustration necessary for destructive protesting.

As a white male, I don't particularly care for looting and rioting. I wouldn't like to be one of the store or property owners who will have to replace or rebuild. But I'm forced to recognize this destruction as the final option for a group of people so systematically disenfranchised that their voices have not been heard. And I have to ask myself a difficult question - who is the worse moral monster: The young man whose hopelessness leads him to jump on the hood of a cop car, or me, a person who has acquiesced to a system that creates justified hopelessness among young people in places like Baltimore?

When we, as white folks, seem more eager to speak up in defense of property than we are to speak up in defense of another slain black man, we demonstrate that the righteous anger of those doing the rioting is justified. We show that our unwillingness to invest resources in their future is not a coincidence, but rather, the intentional workmanship of our decrepit value system, which tosses away young black men as readily today as it did 200 years ago.

David R. Dow, left. With Franklin.
Meet David R. Dow. I've written about him a handful of times on this very site, usually in a space describing laudable educators or men who have motivated me to get off the couch and make something of my life.

He's a well-respected Texas death penalty lawyer, featured in a TedX speech that you can see here. He's the author of a handful of books, including a life-changing memoir called The Things I've Learned From Dying. He's written from the heart on the death penalty for a very long time, in book and brief form, challenging the Texas death machine along the way.

As the representative of more than 100 Texas death row inmates, Dow's learned to celebrate the little successes. On a few occasions, he's saved the life of his clients. In his litany of positive outcomes was the Anthony Graves case. Dow was a part of the team that secured an exoneration for Graves, who in 2010 was set free from Texas's death row after spending 16 years awaiting his death. He's extended the lives of countless other clients, giving those people an opportunity so spend valuable time with family.

Dow would probably shrug aside this heroic characterization. He'd probably tell you that he's trying to martial his considerable ability in a cause that he's found worthy. And he'd be right. My experience with him has shown a ruthless dedication to the logic and logistics of death penalty practice. It's a constant effort to navigate the procedural hurdles and minefields that are specifically designed to make the job really hard for the last guy to sign on when a client's life's being threatened. And it's in one of those hurdles that we have our current story. Dow's been suspended for a year by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

As Maurice Chammah of the Marshall Project described the situation:

On Wednesday, the judges of Texas’ highest criminal court told a defense attorney named David Dow he would not be able to practice in front of them for the next year. The Court of Criminal Appeals decided that Dow had filed a motion to stop the execution of his client, Miguel Angel Paredes, too late, and that since he’d done the same thing in a different case in 2010, he will now be suspended.
For the uninitiated, that might sound strange. And it should. Death penalty cases necessarily bring into play tight deadlines. Lawyers like Dow are often working against the clock, sorting through the myriad issues at their disposal, looking for that special chestnut that might just save a man's life. They're deciding which argument is their best, and they're often waiting for information that just doesn't come. These situations are fluid, too, dependent upon the whims of forensic testing, jailhouse snitch testimony rescission, and other such evidentiary components.

Judges often accuse death penalty lawyers of filing late and frivolous appeals in an effort to delay the process. Ignoring the absurd characterization of any appeal that seeks to save a man's life as being "frivolous," in some circles, one might see a death penalty litigator's attempt to extend a man's life as noble. Like the doctor finding a few more months for his sick patient, the death penalty lawyer's "win" is often that extension, especially in places like Texas, where real death penalty wins are rare.

Dow's first notable clash with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on the issue of deadlines came back in 2007. Dow and his team worked feverishly to finish an appeal on behalf of Michael Richard. As they closed out their work, they experienced a computer crash, and asked the court to stay open for 20 extra minutes after their five o'clock closing so that the team could send a representative to personally deliver the appeal. The appeal, we'll remind you, was about the outcome of a human being's life.

Judge Sharon Keller, whose career casts a long shadow of enormity, responded simply:

We close at five.
You'll have to excuse Dow and other death penalty lawyers if they have something of a burr under their saddle on the issue of deadlines.

This latest round even implicates one of the more convoluted interpretations of Texas procedural law. Chammah sought to untangle the difficulties, writing:

"In June 2011, Keller’s court issued a new rule about filing deadlines. A pleading would be 'deemed untimely' if it was filed 'fewer than seven days before the scheduled execution date.' The rule goes on to say that a 'request for a stay of execution filed at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday morning when the execution is scheduled for the following Wednesday at 6 p.m. is untimely.' Dow filed a motion to stay Paredes’ execution at 12:37 p.m. on October 21st. The execution was set for October 28th at 6 p.m. It was more than seven days in advance, but violated the rule’s example. Pull out a calendar if you find this all a bit confusing."
Dow found himself on the Paredes case in a way that should feel familiar for those who have worked for or studied under Dow. As the founder and lead of the Texas Innocence Network, Dow harnesses a small number of resources and the work of a team of lawyers and students to pursue claims of actual innocence from death row inmates and "normal" inmates alike. During a given year, the Network receives thousands of letters from people who are desperate for legal representation. Most of these people are guilty. Some invariably are innocent. But each has a story, and when they plead for their lives in a letter, lawyers like Dow volunteer their time to take the case. That's what happened this time, when Dow, without even being appointed to the case - and thus not receiving payment for his time - decided to investigate on behalf of Paredes.

Paredes is now dead, of course. And Keller's court found the perfect opportunity to take their shot at personal enemy number one - David Dow.

Having high standards for law practice is certainly not a bad thing. In the criminal law setting, and especially in the death penalty setting, it's even more important. But that same Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hasn't shown a strong record of caring much lawyers coloring between the lines. That is, until the lawyer was one who challenged the court on a regular basis.

Readers of my work will remember the name Joe Frank Cannon. Cannon, of course, was a member of the "Dream Team" before O.J. Simpson ever assembled his group of legal eagles. No, Cannon wasn't a good lawyer. In fact, he was hardly a lawyer at all, assuming we use "awake" as one of the characteristics of a functional attorney. Cannon slept through the cases of at least two men who were executed under his care.

It feels strange to even use the name Cannon in an article about David Dow, considering that much of Dow's work as a death penalty lawyer is necessary because horrid lawyers like Cannon made lethal mistakes at the trial level. During the first week of a class with Dow, I finally piped up from whatever was distracting me when Dow intimated that human beings die when lawyers don't do their job. It was serious business, and it was in this criticism of bad trial lawyers that I decided to become one. My motivation from that day forward was to be the kind of lawyer that never gave Dow a reason to do his job. To be a good trial lawyer is to keep people off of death row. And in Texas, even if you sleep through a trial, you can avoid sanction and be deemed competent in appellate review. When you're helping to grease the wheels of the death penalty machine - and not putting up a fight against the state and its agenda - you'll scarcely generate the kind of vitriol that's necessary for a one-year suspension.

The Court of Criminal Appeals in Texas issued this one-year suspension in service of a personal vendetta against a man who dared challenge what he has called the "Texas Machine of Death." While Dow is not your typical abolitionist - he's more pragmatic than that - he has become an outspoken critic of capital punishment. And his criticism focuses mostly on the inherent absurdity of allowing human beings the power to make decisions on the life and death of other human beings. He's reticent to grant this power to the state mostly because he's seen too much. Dow has not been shy in his speeches, in his briefs, and in his books, about the failings of various courts at various levels. From prosecutors who withhold evidence to defense attorneys who fail their clients, he's unashamedly critical of people whose mistakes - either innocent or malicious - lead to a human being's demise. He's been outspoken against trial level judges who seem indifferent to life, bending the rules only when it means Texas can stick another needle in another arm.

And he's been most critical of those people who should be playing referee in the appellate courts where he practices. Texas's Court of Criminal Appeals is notorious as a rubber-stamp for executions. You'll have to excuse Dow for questioning more than just the legal reasoning of judges who might let a man die just because a lawyer's computer system broke down.

You might excuse Dow for being critical of a system that's demonstrated around a 90-percent success rate in choosing who is guilty and who is innocent for the purposes of death row. When he sees someone like Anthony Graves walk triumphantly into the sun after leaving the dark cage that is death row, you'll forgive Dow if he's not into playing nice with a court who specifically designs rules that act not as facilitators of justice, but rather, as hurdles.

Dow, after all, is the man representing Jerry Hartfield, a Texas man of limited intellectual capacity who has been sitting in a Texas jail cell for more than 30 years without a valid conviction to hold him there.

David Dow has spent his career doing two things - standing up for those people who no one else will, and making sure that people who railroad the vulnerable are held to the carpet for it. Unfortunately for him, when you take on such a lofty challenge, and when you square up against a heavyweight, you better be prepared to take some punches. And punch they have, slapping Dow with a suspension that will cause many of his clients to lose the services of a high quality death penalty lawyer in a legal environment where there just aren't enough jurists willing to take on these cases. In its quest for personal retribution, this particular court has done more than take shots at a single lawyer. They've also done what they do best - inflict pain on the condemned.

If you think that's petty, just remember that the same court that handed down this ruling, when faced with the prospect of waiting 20 minutes to receive an appeal for a man's life, responded:

We Close At Five.

The local television news uttered a foreboding refrain.

"When we return, some sad news about a local college football player."

At 13, I hadn't experienced much loss. All of my heroes were going to live forever, of course, and if one had to pass, it certainly wouldn't be anyone in college at that moment.  I had been out of the house serving as a standard bearer for a local golf event put on by the Nike Tour, a minor leagues of sort that featured only a handful of unforgettable names. It was the age when 13-year olds didn't all have cell phones, and I wouldn't get my Nokia with the chewable antenna until a few months later. That fact established, it's easy to see why my grandmother couldn't reach me that day despite her frantic attempts.

I returned home to turn on that news broadcast. Before I knew it, the anchor had returned to deliver the news:

Brandon Rouse, a sophomore defensive end at Clemson University, died today of a cardiac event at the Astro Theater in Clemson. The Darlington native was 20.

I cried. Broke down, really. Brandon Rouse had been a special part of my life. Before games, he would promise to "bounce" for me when he'd make three-pointers, a promise that he followed through on with his customary dance move. I was a waterboy on his high school basketball team, which advanced to the Lower State Championship Game his junior year.

On the football field, he'd starred, doing enough to earn a scholarship to Clemson University. This was no small feat for a young man who escaped poverty in Darlington to earn his place among college football's elite. Like many of the players on that Darlington team, he'd taken the time to mentor me. As a young white kid, surrounded by a team of mostly black players, his impact shaped me in ways that other friendships could not.

When Brandon went to Clemson, he still somehow made me feel like an important part of his life. He dressed for a single game at Clemson, and afterward, he gave me his jersey and both gloves. All signed, of course, it was another promise he'd fulfilled. Perhaps Brandon took to me because I took to him. Perhaps it was because I was one of the only people to enter Clemson's stadium that year hoping to see him. As writer David Hood wrote shortly after his death:

Rouse was 20 when he collapsed Saturday night from a congenital heart defect. That's hard to understand. It shouldn't have been the first time his name was in the paper. It's not the end of his story, though.
The entirety of Clemson's team piled into chartered buses to attend the funeral in my hometown. Then-head coach Tommy Bowden spoke at the memorial service. Keith Adams, a major contributor on that team, embraced me in a minutes-long hug as I sobbed at the sight of Brandon's body.

Later, I spent time with his mother, talking about her son and the impact he'd had on me. I wore the jersey into her home, and I offered it to her. She wouldn't take it, and told me that if Brandon had given it to me, then he meant for me to have it. At 13, I understood that this woman had lost more than just her son. She'd lost the love of her life, and the great hope of her family. Her living room stood as a shrine to his legacy and his accomplishments, of which there were many in his young life.

Flash forward to 2011, and I found myself in a tent at the Houston Rodeo. There stood Reggie Herring, the former defensive coordinator at Clemson, and a man who I'd met many times as a child. I introduced myself to Reggie, and I told him that he'd once treated me with kindness when I was young. He was happy to meet someone who recognized him. Even as a linebackers coach for the Houston Texans, he's the sort of person who could have a meal at almost any restaurant in Texas without arousing suspicions of celebrity. Eventually, I asked him about Brandon, and what he remembered about my friend's passing. Reggie Herring had coached Brandon Rouse. He had recruited him. And Reggie couldn't recall the name.

Herring was horrified, of course, when I told him why he should remember Brandon Rouse. I don't blame him, really. He's coached thousands of players. But I couldn't help thinking that if my friend's college coach couldn't remember his name, then we were drifting dangerously close to allowing Brandon Rouse's name, and his legacy, to drift into the smoky abyss.

That's why, this year, for the first time, I'll be awarding the Brandon Rouse Memorial Scholarship, both as a means of celebrating my friend and doing something to help my hometown.

According to the New York Times, the average income in Darlington, South Carolina just more than $37,000. That doesn't tell the whole story, though. The town features an unemployment rate of more than 10-percent. 41-percent of its citizens are obese, and many live beneath the poverty line. Just more than one in every 10 citizens has a college degree. In many ways, it's typical of Southern rural areas, where the well-to-do make out alright, but the poor are sometimes neglected.

Darlington is a former mill town, and the remnants of that legacy dot its geography. Mill Hill houses the homes of those who used to depend on such industries. Many young people are born into untenable situations, and the social safety net has been ripped from beneath them. South Carolina routinely ranks at or near the bottom of educational rankings, including in metrics like "student performance." Throughout this area, many of the brightest white students are re-routed to private schools, with many more finding their way into Mayo, the high-performing magnet school.

To its credit, Darlington High School has been a bright spot in an otherwise struggling community. Under new leadership, the high school has provided more opportunities for students, and its teachers have been recognized as some of the best in the state. But a lawsuit just decided in the state's supreme court tells the story of how young poor kids are treated around this place. More than 20 years ago, nearly half of the state's school districts - 40 in all - sued the state for inadequate funding. They claimed that the state had failed in its duty, creating a so-called "corridor of shame," where students were neglected and their opportunity stunted. Darlington was not a part of that lawsuit, but two neighboring counties - Florence and Lee - were both involved.

Brandon Rouse escaped his upbringing, which was characterized by the love of his mother and the institutionalized lack of opportunity for people like him, through supreme talent. Most kids are not built like college linebackers, though, and most won't be able to use Division I talent to find their way to college. For many, college is a dream that even if they could achieve, they could not afford.

Because of this, I am awarding the Brandon Rouse Memorial Scholarship for the first time. This winter, I will award a scholarship to one young person, in hopes of helping that child pay for books or whatever other incidentals might go along with college. The scholarship will seek to honor, and celebrate, a young person who embodies the legacy of my friend. Brandon Rouse was brave, resilient, smart, and ambitious. His story has motivated me, and I hope that by telling it, I can motivate others to take action to help not only this community, but similar communities across the country.

I will be funding the initial offering, but in the future, I hope to raise funds, allowing whoever wants to contribute to be a part of some small solution in our town.

Brandon Rouse was a light in the world. He helped me bridge racial gaps, he elevated his mother and their household to something truly special, and he left behind a legacy that should be celebrated. Ultimately, his heart was so big that it burst. While he might be gone, with this scholarship, we can ensure that his story, and the story of struggle for many like him, will never be forgotten or ignored.


Meet the football team at Academic Magnet High School, a public school near Charleston, South Carolina.

As you can see here, they're almost entirely white, with the exception of a single teammate. Recently, they've played a number of games against teams that look like this:
On the left, you see the Raptors of Academic Magnet. On the right, North Charleston High School, a team that's made up almost entirely of black players.

During a recent winning streak, Academic Magnet has developed what you might call an odd tradition. They smash watermelons on the ground, then eat them. This alone might be offensive after defeating a mostly black team, but the fine folks at Academic Magnet have added something extra to their little celebratory routine - making "monkey noises."

A parent of an opposing team took issue with this practice and complained to the local school board. After investigating, the school took action against the coach, firing him, despite what many people claim is a prolonged run of success.

As you might suspect, some people have really taken issue with the "sensitive" and "overly PC" response to this incident. Just to provide some picture of what we're dealing with:

On local radio this morning, broadcaster Emerson Phillips, who has been honored by the SC Broadcasters' Association with awards, went on a prolonged rant in which he bemoaned the fact that "some people" - namely, black people and Jewish people - "see racism or anti-Antisemitism in everything." According to him, those people "let racism effect everything they do."

These are typical refrains from racists and those who look to cover for racists in all parts of the country, but especially in the Deep South. This event has been met with incredulity on the part of many white people, who seemingly cannot understand how something as innocuous as a watermelon and "monkey noises" could ever be viewed as racist. These people, of course, are either extremely disingenuous or have been living in a cave.

It's in this light that a "Dear White People" lesson is needed.

As white people, we do not get to tell black people what they can and cannot be offended by. Offense is the province of the offended, especially when such offense is objectively reasonable.

More than that, we inherit - and in fact, occupy - the actual world, complete with its full history. We do not occupy a world where watermelons are neutral fruits in the context of a white person speaking to a black person. Likewise, we don't occupy a space in which one group making monkey noises toward the other constitutes a signal of mutual appreciation for the local zoo.

Rather, we occupy a world in which white people have used symbols - be they the confederate flag, watermelons, fried chicken, nooses, or anything else - to intimidate, de-humanize, and otherwise demean black people. And black people cannot be blamed for learning and understanding that history. When black people understand that in the early 1900s, white people dressed in blackface in order to highlight the "simplicity" of the black man by showing that black man content with just having his fill of watermelon, then we have a duty to moderate our use of those symbols.

When black people understand that even today, the president of the United States is depicted as a simpleton after a juicy watermelon treat, we must understand that the context in which they view, and receive, messages about things like watermelon are through the context of that distant and not-so-distant history. For centuries, watermelons have been used to demonstrate that the black man is so stupid that he would be content with his lot in life - that of the oppressed, the enslaved, and the downtrodden - if a white man would only give him some watermelon. Understanding that, it becomes very easy to understand why a black person today would take great offense at a nearly all white football team celebrating a win over a nearly all black football team by smashing watermelon and ripping a few primate noises.

I don't buy that the Academic Magnet team engaged in its little ritual without nefarious intent. There are few contexts in which young, white boys would use monkey sounds and eat watermelon on the same field as young, black boys that do not suggest the intention of racial subjugation. But even if one gives these boys a benefit of the doubt they have not earned, it is still the responsibility of white folks to understand history and to avoid those symbols which will rightly be offensive to black people or any other ethnic group.

And when those people speak up about the offense, it is incumbent upon us not to tell them that they are wrong - another form of racism in which we elevate our judgment over theirs - but rather, to listen to what they have to say, to study the history behind it, and to understand how, given the hundreds-years context, black people would be angered at the suggestion of their simplicity.

Updated: To add this nugget from News 4 Charleston:

"Further, the students also drew a face on each watermelon and named them, according to McGinley. She said the investigation revealed the students also named the watermelons Junior and Bonds Wilson.
Bonds Wilson is the name of the formerly predominantly-black school in North Charleston where Academic Magnet now sits."

The above image was uncovered in the investigation. It's a sketch that administrators believe the students used to draw faces on the watermelons. It doesn't take a history scholar to see that that picture is a really poor high school artist's rendering of some of the old sambo "art" that was produced in the early 1900s. The overdone smiles. The red eyes. The overdone nose. I know that racists will deny it, but I've seen enough of those types of illustrations to know what these students intended.
A couple of decades ago, before he had made waves by bringing the Equal Justice Initiative to prominence, before he had written transformative books, and before he launched me on my path to public service, Alabama-based attorney Bryan Stevenson represented a man named Walter McMillan. McMillan had been condemned to death under questionable circumstances in an Alabama court. His case had almost everything that you might look for when chronicling Southern-fried injustice - a black defendant, a young white victim, an all-white jury, and a prosecutor unwilling to turn over potentially exculpating evidence to the defense. It also had an unqualified defense attorney at trial, and quite amazingly, a judge named Robert E. Lee Key, Jr.

That judge acted in accordance with his name, overriding a jury that had actually decided to give McMillan a life sentence after finding him guilty of murder. Alabama, of course, is one of a small number of states that gives judges the power to overrule juries on the question of life versus death. Citing the viciousness of the crime, Robert E. Lee Key, Jr. decided to "enhance" the sentence, sending McMillan to the electric chair.

McMillan was a respected member of his community. He had no criminal record, and dozens of witnesses confirmed that during the time the crime was committed, he was at a church function. Stevenson took his case, and after a significant amount of investigation and some of the best lawyering east of the Mississippi, earned McMillan's freedom.

A black man stood trial in Alabama in front of a white jury and a judge named Robert E. Lee Key, Jr. Let that sink in for a moment. Imagine a world where Jewish men and women stood trial in German courts lorded over by men named Hitler or Goebbels. That would shock the conscience. Yet in modern America, these situations happen with alarming frequency. A system that prides itself on the appearances of fairness abandon even the show when institutional racism runs so rampant.

Decades later, Bryan Stevenson is still at it. This week, he'll release his book, a sure-to-be classic entitled Just Mercy. A couple of years ago, in a well-traveled TED talk, Stevenson reflected on his life as a lawyer, and his central thesis encouraged listeners to "hold on." There's power in identity, he wrote, and despite all that he had seen, Stevenson held firm to the belief that the next century might be better than the last.

How do we have hope in a world where black men face white judges named Robert E. Lee? What can we cling to when young black men are more than 20 times more likely to be killed by police than young white men? When the average black family understands that a routine trip to the store might end in an illegal search of their car, and when young black men are shot like dogs for the crime of reaching for their wallet, how can we be hopeful?

It's a question I often confront when writing about race, injustice, and poverty. There's something downright depressing about having to fire up the computer in the wake of another slaying of a young black man, seemingly having to pound out 5,000 words in defense of that young man's very right to live. That seems to be a common refrain among those who write about these topics - we're angry not only that another something has happened, but also that our points even have to be written. Pointing out that Michael Brown did not deserve to die at the hands of police should be like writing that the sun is hot, the moon is far away, and that skiing in Colorado is better than challenging the icy slopes of West Virginia. These things should be met with cries of, "Yeah, duh." But they're not, and writers much more talented than myself have spent hours explaining to white America why young black men are even deserving of the most precious right - that right to life.

At times, I find my own tone retreating to a dark place. I balk at the teachers who failed to inform me that Christopher Columbus, whilst sailing the ocean blue, also slaughtered most of Haiti. I rebuke those who argue that disabled folks on welfare should just "get a job." I chastise those who view high incarceration rates among young black men and draw the conclusion that "those people" are predisposed to crime, rather than recognizing that the root of crime lies in decades of intentional policing and the economic disparities whose roots can be traced as far back as slavery.

While I'm crushed with indelible sadness at the lives lost, and at the conversations that black parents have to have with their young children in light of the seeming open season on young black men, I'm heartened by those, like Stevenson, who have dedicated their lives to the struggle. I'm heartened by the thousands of public defenders around the country - in places like Phoenix, Houston, Kentucky, and everywhere in-between - that sacrifice their financial futures for the good of their clients.

More than that, technology is making it so that good people have more options than ever for correcting some of the injustice that continues to plague communities across the country. When a white lawyer used her privilege in Washington, D.C. to ensure that a disabled black man was not hassled further by police, we restored a small amount of humanity. When she filmed the encounter, we moved forward a little more.

I'm often asked, after I publish a particularly depressing piece on racial injustice - "WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?" For the longest time, my response has been, "Pray. And vote." Perhaps it's simpler than that. Perhaps the answer lies in making use of the technology that almost all of us have in our hands.

Two weeks ago, I captured almost an hour of footage of a small town police officer - in Darlington, South Carolina - stopping a black family. I was on my way to a movie with my parents when an officer flew by me with blue lights flashing. Seeing that the family had been stopped, I got out and began filming. What unfolded was not extraordinary. It was remarkable precisely because it's become so routine. I filmed as two officers removed the entire family from their vehicle. Two of the members of the family were handcuffed, including what appeared to be a woman at least 50 years old. A second cop riffled through the car for an extended period of time. He searched every compartment and the trunk. Eventually, finding nothing, he uncuffed the two family members, letting them get back into their vehicle.

They waited 15 more minutes until the officer finally handed them a traffic ticket and sent them on their way. This is what the average traffic stop looks like for black people in America. I don't know why the officer stopped them. I don't know what probable cause he had to search the vehicle, if he had any at all. I do know that he found nothing, and the fact that there was no arrest suggests that perhaps the probable cause wasn't so probable after all. This family had been subjected to an hour of hell, having their possessions taken out of the vehicle on the town's busiest street. They were forced to wait around in handcuffs while hundreds of cars passed. An average traffic stop turned into humiliation, all because black people are inherently suspicious in places like Darlington, South Carolina.

I filmed that encounter because I hoped my presence would prevent police violence. I also filmed it because I wanted one more data point on what the black experience is like in America. I'm now more hopeful because this is something that we can all do. We can all take the time to get out of our cars, use our privilege in constructive ways, and install police accountability even where none has existed previously.

#FilmYourTruth, even if your hands shake.

Bryan Stevenson is a black man in America who has seen some of the worst that the country has to offer. He's seen juveniles sentenced as adults, and he's seen men sent to the electric chair. He's sat with Rosa Parks to discuss what might be done to improve the world. And through all of that, he remains hopeful. If he can retain hope, then so can you and I.

And with technology, we can all be a part of the solution.


Cross-posted from TheLoneDissent, the new home of my anti-racist and criminal justice writing.

Levar Jones was shot by a (now) former member of the South Carolina Highway Patrol earlier this month. The disturbing video hit national media today, showing that Sean Groubert, the officer in question, wildly discharged his firearm as Jones attempted to comply with the officer’s request to produce identification. Groubert had taken valuable time out of his day, during the middle of the capital city’s rush hour, to write Jones a $25 ticket for a seatbelt violation.

After being suspended pending an investigation, Groubert was fired, and prosecutors pressed felony charges today.

One might be tempted to levy some praise on Richland County, and on the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, for handling the matter in a swift and egalitarian manner. These parties did what many police departments have not by firing and charging the officer in question.

But that ending just seems a little bit too perfect for South Carolina, now doesn’t it? The state’s been known for its criminal justice fumbles, and deeper digging shows that you can add this one to the list.

Enter Dan Johnson, the solicitor of South Carolina’s fifth circuit. For the uninitiated, South Carolina has its citizens elect the top prosecutor in each part of the state, with that prosecutor hiring a team of assistants to handle most cases.

In the immediate wake of the shooting, having viewed the video tape, Johnson called the incident a “clean shot.” FITSNews and the DailyBanter have both reported that Johnson told the chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) that the use of force was warranted.

Dan Johnson has been accused of sexually harassing “multiple women” in his own office. He’s been accused of using a firearm to threaten the life of an FBI agent. He’s also alleged to have had an affair, then used his position to make difficult the life of the man married to his mistress.

Johnson’s questionable background not withstanding, his past employment sheds some light on why he might claim that this shooting was “clean,” and it also suggests that he may be unfit to prosecute this particular case.

According to his bio:

He served as Chief Deputy and Legal Counsel for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, where he worked for eight years.  While there he assisted the Sheriff in directing the county’s law enforcement programs and performing various legal and administrative duties to ensure the strict enforcement of state and local laws relating to the public’s safety and welfare.
Johnson is an eight-year veteran of the Richland Police Department, and while prosecution personnel and local police often have a cushy relationship, that past, combined with his statements on this case, call into question his ability to oversee this particular case.

Rogue cops and lone actors are scary, especially if you’re a black man in America. Johnson, who himself is black, presents perhaps an even greater problem. When the chief executor of the law in one of South Carolina’s largest counties provides his personal stamp of approval to an incident so clearly unlawful, what does that suggest about the system?

After reviewing a report from SLED, and under tremendous pressure from local and national forces, Johnson’s office did press charges against Lance Corporal Groubert.

But Johnson, and potentially his office, should recuse themselves from this case. His judgment has been compromised, and his credibility to prosecute this crime has been undermined by his public statement on the lawfulness of the act.

And for the love of God, fine people of Richland County - it’s time to vote out the alleged sexual harasser who believes that the officers patrolling the streets of your country should have open season on young black men. It’s far past time to eradicate this disease.


Author's Note: As most of you know, I have written on race, criminal justice, and politics here at DailyKos for more than two years. While I will continue to contribute to this community, I have decided to launch my own personal site for this type of work. I will cross-post to here, and I will post on politics at DailyKos alone. But I invite all of you to join me at my new home on occasion. It's called The Lone Dissent, and can be accessed at

In 1896, Justice John Marshall Harlan, of Kentucky, filed the lone dissenting opinion in the famed civil rights case Plessy v. Ferguson. His unpopular opinion has stood the test of time, as he wrote, presciently:

"Our constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. . .The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race, while they are on a public highway, is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds."
I hope that my work can honor the legacy of Harlan, who was a man before his time, and who overcame a racist, Southern upbringing to be a voice for justice. With that, here is this post, which will be the first at The Lone Dissent.


John Crawford was holding a toy gun and talking on the phone to the mother of his children when, out of seemingly nowhere, two police officers arrived. One in an offensive, crouching position approached, and when Crawford came around a corner, that man opened fire.

Crawford yelled - no, pleaded - “it’s not real,” but the bullets flew anyway. When that moment of terror had passed, Crawford was dead, and the state of Ohio was left to sort out the details.

Today, a grand jury declined to bring charges against the officer who pulled the trigger, and in doing so, that body closed the book on an event that demonstrates, once again, just how little we in America value black lives. Many people colluded to murder John Crawford. It appears that none of them will be held responsible.

Before a trigger-happy officer got to live his dream of taking down a man who he perceived to be a bad guy, a young, white male picked up the phone. Video of the shooting, which the FBI synced with the 911 call, demonstrates that Ronald Ritchie, a self-professed former Marine, lied to a dispatcher about what he saw. In doing so, he effectively signed Crawford’s death warrant at the hands of police force that can be increasingly expected to do no better in these situations.

As Crawford meandered through the Wal-Mart, seemingly unaware of the danger that he, as an “afroed” black man presented to the public, Ritchie described something very different to dispatchers. Crawford passed multiple people while holding an air rifle sold in the store. None of those people seemed to flinch. Even seeing Crawford holding the gun, one man neglected to move more than a few inches as Crawford passed him. Those people, it seems, recognized that Crawford posed no threat.

Yet Ritchie reported to police that Crawford was “pointing the gun at people,” a claim that immediately raised the intensity of the movement. Later, Ritchie stalked Crawford, telling police that Crawford was “loading” the weapon, which would have been quite a trick considering Crawford had one hand on his cell phone at all times.

At one point in the video, which was released by police following the grand jury’s decision of “no bill,” a family consisting of a mother and two children meanders toward Crawford. Ritchie reported that this family was putting itself in grave danger. The family, though, calmly looked at something on the shelves before slowly turning to head the other direction. Their lack of reaction, of course, was not reported by Ritchie to the dispatching officers.

Upon hearing Ritchie’s reports, dispatchers sent police to the scene, warning them that a “black man with an afro” was holding a black rifle and pointing that firearm at random customers. On guard, the police arrived, snuck up on Crawford, and shot him down on sight.

With today’s no-bill, the citizens of Ohio have demonstrated that when a black man is murdered, there’s just no enough collective outrage to make anyone pay, even when multiple parties are at fault.

The 911 caller Ritchie shoulders much of the blame. Whether out of malice or an institutionalized need to play the concerned citizen hero, he embellished in his phone call. Those were no small embellishments, of course. In a state like Ohio, which is an “open carry” state, people are legally allowed to walk around with real firearms. This means that Crawford’s carrying of a fake firearm should have prompted no alarm, and it didn’t do so for the other customers in the store. When Ritchie lied about Crawford pointing the gun at customers, he both reported Crawford for a crime - aggravated assault with a deadly weapon - and provided police with the cover it needed to act in its default para-military way.

The police officer who earned a pre-mature stamp of approval from the grand jury shoulders blame, as well. Even though he was acting on the bad information given by Ritchie, he responded in a manner least likely to resolve the situation safely. By approaching Crawford in the way he did, the officer put his own life in danger, put Crawford’s life in danger, and put the rest of the store’s shoppers in danger. He fired bullets at a man who presented no clear threat to him, and in fact, he invited a situation where he could use lethal force.

The officer’s actions demonstrate a callousness toward black life that continues to permeate officer-involved shootings. In Ferguson, Missouri, an officer shot first to ask questions later when an unarmed Michael Brown stood more than a few yards away. In North Carolina, an officer killed an unarmed former college football player who had just been in a wreck and approached the officer for help. In Florida, of course, two vigilantes took out their aggression on young black men by firing bullets into their unarmed bodies. The shoot-first plan is disproportionately applied to young black people, who, on the basis of just their skin color, are assumed to be dangerous until they demonstrate some outstanding quality which redeems their humanity in the eyes of police officers and other elements in the white world.

As a white man, I suspect that I could waltz through any Wal-Mart in open carry country, carrying a very real rifle, and I would never encounter police. I would likely not have a stalker watching my every move while on the phone with the authorities. And in the rare occasion that those authorities arrived, evidence suggests that they would have done everything possible to talk me down before they riddled my frame with bullets.

Today, an Ohio grand jury has been complicit in an institutional mindset that sees the criminal justice system as a bear trap designed ensnare those scary elements of society - young and old black men. We’ve designed our trap indiscriminately, of course, but when we find an unintended party - like a venerable police officer or a well-to-do white kid - trapped, we do our best to untangle him before the effects of that trap can do irreparable damage to his future. At Deadspin, Greg Howard wrote eloquently that America is not for black people. And what he meant was that the systems and institutions view black folks not as equal partners in the human experience, but as predators to be watched, and at most, tolerated. When the purpose of the criminal justice system is to shoot first at people who look like John Crawford, just to assuage the irrational fears of people who look like 911 caller Ronald Ritchie, it should come as no surprise that the same system can’t manufacture enough outrage to hold anyone responsible for the death of another young black male.

A man has died, and instead of a community being able to express its grief, it must once again express its anger. Many different parties - both institutional and individual - colluded to murder a black man in Wal-Mart. And none of them will be held responsible.

Let me start here: David Woodard, Clemson professor of political science, should be fired tomorrow.

Clemson University, a place that honors segregationist Strom Thurmond, murderous lyncher Ben Tillman, and slavemaster John C. Calhoun in various ways around campus, has an ugly racial history that's largely whitewashed to make its mostly white student and alumni base feel better.

As a graduate of Clemson and a history degree holder from the university, I can attest that the university does more than just shy away from an actual discussion on the realities of its racial history. Instead, it goes so far as to dedicate buildings to Strom Thurmond, stating on its website that the building is designed to promote the "values" of Thurmond, one of the country's most vile racists through much of the 20th century.

This is the place where students threw a "Living the Dream" party in full blackface to mock the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on MLK weekend while I was in college. It's the place that's football crowd  booed the very mention of the office of the presidency, a show of disrespect for Barack Obama, during the commissioning of new ROTC grads during Military Appreciation Day two seasons ago.

And as Clemson student A.D. Carson points out, it's a place that was literally built on the legacy of white oppression. John C. Calhoun, whose famed plantation "Fort Hill" is the site of Clemson's campus, owned his share of slaves. And when the school was built in the late 1800s, it relied on the forced labor of black convicts, many of whom served sentences unjustly applied to consign them to bondage in the wake of emancipation.

Carson's new campaign, "See the Stripes," which he wrote about here a few days ago, seeks to promote a conversation about the legacy that Clemson likes to sweep under the rug. Carson's built a coalition of people interested in this kind of reconciliation, not because the Clemson of today is a racist, murderous institution, but because it's good and fair and noble to acknowledge the wounds of the past.

In seeking to promote this conversation, Carson's seized on the concept of stripes. As the video he skillfully produced makes clear, this was not an arbitrary choice. Slaves and forced convict laborers suffered through the stripes that came from lashes out of angry racist whips. Those lashes are wounds, and Carson believes Clemson would rather pretend the wounds do not exist.

He's also seized on the concept of "solid orange," Clemson's less-than-creative marketing campaign that asks fans to wear orange on Fridays and to all Clemson events. In symbolic fashion, Carson asks what a Tiger would be if he was really solid orange. Would a tiger be a tiger without its stripes? It's his way of asking, "Would Clemson be Clemson without the pain upon which it was built."

Let's be clear - there's nothing particularly menacing about Carson's campaign. It's certainly an uncomfortable topic for racists in the upstate of South Carolina, who will undoubtedly be angry at that uppity boy trying to make Clemson look bad. But in general, Carson's received strong support from the black community at Clemson and some of the more evolved members of the white community. His campaign seeks a difficult goal in places like Clemson - to unite all thinking people for a real conversation about the white-washing of history the people of Clemson feel is necessary for preserving Clemson's legacy.

You would think that a student taking the initiative to produce some excellent content and stir a thoughtful conversation about race would be well-received by the faculty of a university with the stated goal of landing itself in the country's top 20. You would think that Clemson, which apparently dedicates itself to racial understanding, would employ professors who foster the kind of creativity and moxie exhibited by Carson.

You'd be wrong.

Right-wing nutjob David Woodard just called Carson a fascist.

In an interview with Campus Reform, Woodard said:

“It’s fascism. It’s looking at things only through racial lenses and not seeing anything else when in fact there is no racism associated with this,”
I'd like a more detailed explanation from Woodard, who apparently is entrusted with teaching people about political science, how an inclusive campaign to ask questions about the white-washing of Clemson's racial reality remotely relates to the 20th century authoritarian regimes of Italy and Germany.

Woodard should issue an immediate apology to Carson and to all students, faculty, and alumni who support the See Your Stripes campaign and who support general calls for Clemson to own the horrid nature of its past.

Woodard, of course, is unlikely to do such a thing. After all, he's the "Thurmond" - yes, that Thurmond - Professor of Political Science. In his book, The New Southern Politics, Woodard is like a child gushing with love and adoration for the "culture" of the South, which he sees as most distinctive in comparison to the country at large. Not surprisingly, he also wrote a biography of Ronald Reagan, and has consulted for such venerable voices on the issue of race as: Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Former Congressman Gresham Barrett (R-SC), Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), and Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC).

Want an easy way of knowing that the "stripes" of history still aren't history? It's when your university employs a professor who attempts to stomp out a conversation on race by comparing the black student who started that conversation to murderous political regimes of the 20th century.

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