One of the great honors of my life has been the opportunity to uncover and retell the remarkable story of Mai DeKonza (1870-1959) of Clay Center. I did not meet her in person, but I have become acquainted with her through her writings, newspaper accounts, archival material, and court records. Mai was an African American woman who spent the bulk of her life living here in Clay Center. Her experience with race issues in our community were varied. She benefited from the kindness from some, but bigotry and shunning from others.
We know about Mai because she was a bright, capable writer. A small portion of her work has survived, and we can learn a lot about our current race situation in the United States by listening to her voice. I am saddened that she did not live long enough to see the progress made in the 1960’s toward equal rights for black citizens. Recent events, however, have shown that we continue to see serious racial problems in our nation in 2020, 150 years after Mai’s birth in Junction City.
Mai was a faithful reader of our local newspapers. Were she alive she would surely have read the two recent articles by Clint Decker that appeared on the Directory of Churches page of The Dispatch (June 12 and June 19). She would be shocked by what she read – that a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ would assert there is indisputable evidence proving that racism does not exist in America, that white privilege is a myth, and that institutional and systemic racism are mere “story lines.”
I can imagine that Mai would contact Mr. Decker inviting him to visit her in her humble home on Bridge Street. She would sit him down saying something like, “Young man, what planet do you live on? Let me tell you the story of my life and the stories I learned from my slave mother.” Clint would get a real education while sitting at her kitchen table, an education he desperately needs.
We are not dealing here with story lines, mythical assertions by radicals, lies, or deception. Mr. Decker is correct though in declaring that we are dealing with sin. But it is the sin of racism, not the sin of trying to point it out.
Mr. Decker’s two essays should never have appeared on the religion page of our paper. They are political opinion pieces sprinkled with a few Bible verses. He is entitled to his opinion, but his views do not fit with what the page is supposed to give readers -- “Hope for Today.”
The worst damage that could stem from Decker’s two essays would be for readers to assume that his views represent Christianity. After all, he is president of a religious organization. In truth, the teachings of Jesus are crystal clear: We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, God has created all humans in the image of God, and all humans are the objects of God’s unlimited love.
Mr. Decker is president of Great Awakenings. I am praying that he has one, a great awakening that is. We can only move forward as a nation when we recognize the root causes of our current unrest. Racism has existed in Clay County as documented by Mai DeKonza, and it continues to exist.
-- James R. Beck, Ph.D., Clay Center