Opinion | ‘Let Freedom Ring’ From Georgia

From abandonment as her son was killed to the White House in just four months is quite a journey. How did she feel, I asked, about meeting with Trump? “I respect him as the president. He is a man and a human being,” Cooper-Jones told me. “I was criticized, but he gave time to listen to a mother in pain and that is what mattered.”

Cooper-Jones did the right thing, setting an example of brave cordiality in an age of facile declamation. America could use more listening across its lines of violent fracture. Confronting racial injustice involves recognition and reconciliation, however painful. That was Mandela’s message. My parents were South African. I know that.

In Atlanta, recent months have shown that for all its black professionals and power, the city is as much in need of reform as any other. “As a public defender, you would not know white people are breaking any laws,” Rapping, the defense attorney, told me. “Like every city, Atlanta has been shaped by a 400-year-old narrative that says black or brown people don’t matter.”

The system that turns black kids into case numbers, that holds young black men in cells for months pretrial because they cannot put up money bonds, that prosecutes for smoking marijuana, has to change. It’s a form of violence, and it breeds violence. “Law and order” is no answer.

Every weekend, Georgians in their ever-growing diversity — interracial couples, people in hijabs, gay couples — swarm over Stone Mountain, whose North Face is carved with bas-reliefs of Confederate generals. It’s as if a new Georgia, defying its racist past, is heeding King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in which he said, “Let Freedom Ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!”

One day, I went to Decatur, a city in the Metro Atlanta sprawl, to see a Confederate monument, a 30-foot obelisk engraved with tributes to the “loyalty and truth” of men “who held fast to the faith as it was given by the fathers of the Republic.” Graffiti — “No justice, No Peace”; “Black Lives Matter” — had been scrawled all over it. A few days later, on a judge’s order, it was gone, hoisted out by a crane. This is not the election, or the country, it was before Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks.


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