Historian: Still Time to Help Race Relations; Growing Up during the Civil Rights Movement, He Backs Study Circles

Article excerpt

Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER

Andrew M. Manis is a historian, professor and ordained minister.

An author and associate professor at Macon State College, where he teaches American and Southern religious history, Manis recently made a splash when he wrote an op-ed for the Macon Telegraph around the time of President Barack Obama's inauguration.

"When are WE going to get over it?" was written as a reaction to news reports about assassination threats against Obama, and was reprinted around the nation. The we he referred to? That would be white people.

The Times-Union spoke with Manis, who gives a talk here Thursday, to find out how a man who grew up using the n-word has become an advocate for racial equality.

You're a historian of the civil rights movement. What are your personal memories of that era?

I was 9 years old during the 1963 demonstrations in Birmingham, but of course I remember the tension. The first time it bothered me was when I heard my Little League baseball coach say something rather celebratory after the assassination of [Martin Luther King Jr.]. My mother was really the only white person I can remember, as I was growing up, that I ever heard say something remotely positive about King. When I went to college, I was asked by a political science professor to read some of the writings of Dr. King. I discovered what I had suspected all along, which was that King and his side were on the right side of history and the people I was mostly raised with were on the wrong side of history.

As a white man, do you ever encounter skepticism when writing or speaking about racism and civil rights?

Oh yes. One day there were people in my classroom before I got to class saying, "You know, Manis doesn't like white people." I get an e-mail every now and then that calls me a race traitor. The nicer ones say that I am, as we used to say in Alabama, "eat up" with white guilt. In 2004, I published a book about race relations here in Macon. One of my students, who happened to be black, said she appreciated me writing the book and volunteered to drive the getaway car when it was published. …