In the late 1970s, I worked for a small Florida newspaper. I wrote about murders, schools, taxes – and the Ku Klux Klan.
Once a month, men in robes met in a cow pasture south of Orlando. They waved the Confederate flag, burned crosses and railed against immigrants, Blacks and Jews.
In 1979, I got a job with a Rhode Island newspaper. I wrote about white cops who stopped black drivers headed to Walmart. A year after I moved to New England, the Klan rallied in Connecticut.
In 2018, I moved to Aiken. “You’ll love it here,” a Realtor said. “It’s the best small town in the South.”
I spent my first Thanksgiving in Aiken in The Alley, where I sat with hundreds of people – black and white, Democrat and Republican – at a long table filled with food.
This is a town with a heart, I thought.
Since then, the world has changed.
After the death of George Floyd, Aiken’s leaders met in a show of solidarity at the Lessie B. Price Center.
We need to march. We need to shout.
But we need to talk more, too – not just at Thanksgiving, or after police shootings, but often, at community centers, or on Zoom, or at parks in masks. On July 18, Aiken’s Black Lives Matter group will host a community cookout at Perry Memorial Park.
Everyone should go.
If we talk, listen and act, Aiken could become not just the South’s best small town, but a model for the nation, too.