Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

AT LARGE: Otts Realized He's Not 'Better Than Them'

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

AT LARGE: Otts Realized He's Not 'Better Than Them'

Article excerpt

Fifty years ago this summer, S. McEachin "Mac" Otts was waiting for the marchers for black voting rights in his hometown of Greensboro with a tire iron in hand. He was full of blind, inchoate rage aimed at those determined to bring about change.

The fact that the 18-year-old Otts did not employ that make- shift weapon -- he never actually used the tire iron, unlike other whites who did resort to violence that July day in 1965 -- was as much a matter of chance as it was anything else, as Otts recalls in "Better Than Them, The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist," his memoir of his journey from unapologetic racist to a state of enlightenment.

The title of the book, issued last year by Montgomery's New South publishers, comes from a phrase whispered to him by his blind, aged grandmother as he was growing up: "Remember, you are better than them," she said, meaning, of course, the African-American community he grew up with in the Black Belt hamlet of his birth.

So how did Otts make the journey from point A, that of an unrepentant racist, to point B, an advocate for racial healing? Was there an incident, a point at which the scales fell from his eyes and he saw the light?

"Everybody asks me that," he laughed at a book signing at Shelton State Community College last week. "But no, it was a gradual process that really began before I realized it in my youth."

It continued when he was a University of Alabama undergraduate and graduate student in the School of Social Work, but did not really reach fruition until he became a social worker and had a chance to interact with blacks on a daily basis.

Otts writes of the "bubble" of uncontested racism he grew up in in Hale County, in which a counternarrative to white supremacy was not available. But there were compassionate relationships with black women who worked for the family, and a surprising admiration (considering the context) of Hank Aaron, the Milwaukee and later Atlanta Braves slugger who would break Babe Ruth's home run record.

Legendary Crimson Tide football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant also played a role in Otts' enlightenment when he broke the color barrier at UA by recruiting the first black football players for the program. …

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