In the wake of the tornadoes that ravaged Tuscaloosa, Ala., CNN's Wayne Drash encountered an African-American preacher who explained why he was willing to grant the late Gov. George Wallace's appeal to the black community for forgiveness for his racism-fueled insistence on segregation.
The church of the Rev. Kelvin Croom — whose late father, the Rev. Sylvester Croom Sr., has been recognized as one of the state's 40 pioneers of civil rights — sustained heavy damage from the tornados. He told Drash that there's a connection between healing from the storm damage and healing through forgiveness. Both, he said, are possible with hope for something better:
The year was 1978. He was a senior at the University of Alabama. His father approached him and said Wallace, then in his third term as governor, wanted to meet with them and other black leaders at the Stafford Hotel:
The Rev. Kelvin Croom was with his father when Wallace asked for forgiveness.
The young Croom paused. "It caused me to really think." He thought about the hate he'd seen on TV spewing from the governor's mouth. "I say segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," the governor notoriously said as he was sworn into office in 1963.
Kelvin Croom decided to go with his father. "And I'm glad I did," he said. The rumors in the black community, Croom says, had been that Wallace was on a forgiveness tour to get the black vote.
But Croom says he saw it differently in person.
"He said he was wrong," Croom says. "He asked for forgiveness. It was up to us to do that once he asked. It's just so amazing. He played the great politics of the day - and by using hate and racial divide he won."
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Yet when they met privately that day at the hotel, Croom says, "This man was really concerned for his soul and his relationship with Jesus Christ."
… Is there any message from that story that can be applied to those affected by the tornado destruction?
"Even in the days we were living with segregation, we all had a hope for a better day," Croom says. "And right now, that's what we're doing in Tuscaloosa: We're hoping for a better day, hoping we come from the ashes of destruction and into a beautiful, more livable American city."
He adds, "If a lot of us would forgive people, we could find healing. We could find peace."
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