This is a column regarding three seemingly disparate stories that are nonetheless linked by the broad mosaic of how we treat those different than ourselves.

The first is a tale of personal courage in the face of ignorance circa 1965 that has resulted in an uplifting new book fully 50 years after the incident that spawned it.

The second is a tale from earlier this year regarding political dirty tricks, which, apparently, has backfired on its sleazy perpetrators.

Finally, the third tale is a story of political arrogance in 2015, one that has produced a backlash that may finally prove how far we have come as a truly tolerant nation that demands fairness for all our citizens.

Tale No. 1 we'll call "personal courage."

You've no doubt never heard of Greg Wittkamper, nor should you have ever heard of Greg Wittkamper. He never was a TV star or sports hero. He never invented anything nor did he kill anyone. He lived his life far from Lowell, and as far as I know never went to school here, never visited here, nor ever has even driven through Lowell.

Yet after you read The Class of '65 by Jim Auchmutey, you won't ever forget Wittkamper.

In that year of social and racial unrest all across the country, with cities as diverse as Los Angeles, Washington, Newark, N.J., Detroit and Miami in flames, Wittkamper didn't just talk the talk by standing with those were who were fighting to integrate his Georgia high school, but he walked the walk by accepting the role of social pariah by supporting them.

Spit at, physically assaulted and socially isolated by fellow white students enraged at his support for the handful of blacks simply trying to receive a quality education at their school, Wittkamper chose the path of nonviolence and never fought back, even when thrown down a flight of stairs.

Fifty years later, many of those who hated him most back then for his standing with those oppressed by the majority have come to see him as the hero he was.

The book ought to be a mandatory read for every incoming high-school freshman in the country.

Tale No. 2 we'll call: The snakes who poisoned themselves.

Some of you may recall the recent story of the state auditor from Missouri, who, after announcing he was going to become a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, suddenly found himself the target of a vicious underground whispering campaign orchestrated by the political consultant of his opponent, accusing him of being not the Episcopalian he is but, wait for it, a Jew. So distraught was he by the charge that Auditor Tom Schweich killed himself.

The result was that his erstwhile opponent, Catherine Hanaway, once considered the frontrunner for the nomination, disappeared from public view for months, hoping the stench of her supporters' actions would not stick to her long term.

No surprise, she expressed shock that anyone associated with her campaign would stoop to something so low. The good news is it appears time has not helped people forget her supporters' actions, and that there will indeed be a price paid by her for playing gutter politics.

Tale No. 3 we'll call: How far we've come.

If this was 10, or even five years ago, the attempt by the Indiana Legislature and governor to hide a virulent anti-gay initiative behind the false premise of religious freedom might well have gone unnoticed.

But that was then and this is now.

The national outrage over the blatant attempt to hide behind a so-called religious-conscience clause as a fig leaf to hide obvious anti-gay social policy blew up in their faces.

I have written before of the insidious introduction of this type of legislation in matters that involve the public square and public commerce.

Simply put, inside your home, you can be as anti-Semitic, anti-pope, homophobic and as racist as your heart desires. But if you choose to occupy space in the public square, your personal bias must be put on the back shelf.

The fabulous reaction in Indiana shows in 2015, America gets it.

Somewhere, Greg Wittkamper is smiling. 

Michael Goldman
Published Date: 
Monday, April 6, 2015