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History repeats: Civil rights hero’s great-grandson shows courage

Texas youth group member stands up for friend called the N-word.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

In 1957, the white mayor of Little Rock, Ark., showed courage by standing up for nine black students trying to integrate Central High School.

Defying segregationist Gov. Orval Faubus and an angry white mob, Mayor Woodrow Wilson Mann urged President Dwight D. Eisenhower to send U.S. soldiers to quell the violence.

“Situation is out of control and police cannot disperse the mob,” Mann said in a telegram to Eisenhower. “I am pleading to you as president of the United States in the interest of humanity,  law and order and because of democracy worldwide to provide the necessary federal troops within several hours.” 

To enforce the school’s desegregation, Eisenhower sent 1,200 members of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division and federalized the Arkansas National Guard.

But Mann paid a steep price.

He endured hate mail and death threats. White supremacists burned crosses on his family’s lawn. He lost his insurance business and any hope of a political future in Arkansas. 

Sean Richardson, youth minister for the Bammel Church of Christ in Houston, recalled Mann’s experience as he preached on the Sunday after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody on May 25.

“See, typically in history when people have chosen to side with those who are oppressed, they themselves get treated as those who have been oppressed,” Richardson said in the video sermon, which came amid national outrage over Floyd’s death and coast-to-coast protests against racial injustice.

The African American youth minister’s mention of Mann, who moved to Houston in 1961 and lived there until his 2002 death at age 85, was no mere historical footnote.

Richardson traced the late mayor’s lineage to present day — to an 18-year-old Bammel youth group member named Trevor Mann.

No doubt, Trevor’s place in American history — at least at this point in his life — pales compared with that of his great-grandfather, whom he met as a baby. 

But Trevor, too, showed courage in the face of racial prejudice.

Read the full column.

This column appears in the July edition of The Christian Chronicle and at Religion Unplugged and Religion News Service.

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