Story of national Civil Rights reconciliation now in doubt

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From The New York Times

Chris McNair, symbol of the civil rights struggle in Birmingham, Ala., reported to federal prison last month, bereft of the media respect that has been his companion for most of his 85 years. In 1963, Mr. McNair’s 11-year-old daughter, Denise, died along with three other black Sunday school girls in the Ku Klux Klan bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Mr. McNair, then a school-teacher turned photographer, transcended his anguish to become an agent of community healing, a popular politician whom white people appreciated for his policy of not bringing up his child’s martyrdom.

Now he is beginning a five-year sentence for public corruption crimes committed toward the end of his tenure as a county commissioner. There is little wonder at the scant news coverage. Mr. McNair’s fall from grace violates the redemption narrative on which our national mythology has thrived since Lincoln consecrated the Civil War dead at Gettysburg: the belief that our tragic racial past can be converted into “a new birth of freedom.”

Our faith in a more perfect union, once affirmed so exquisitely by Mr. McNair’s career, is the same narrative that Barack Obama invokes when he says that only in this country would an odyssey like his — from mixed-race child of a single mother to president of the United States — even be possible.

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