Country needs serious dialog about divisions

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 13, 2017

A few years ago, I met a Vicksburg woman who unintentionally explained to me how divided our country remains.

Moments after greeting one another she said, “People from Vicksburg don’t like people from Natchez.”

“Really,” I asked. “Why is that?”

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“The War,” she said incredulously.

“The Civil War?” I replied, trying to grasp the gravity of the moment.

“Yes, Natchez didn’t fight,” she said.

I tried to make some light of the situation by pointing out that while I’ve lived Natchez for nearly three decades, I actually grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, not exactly a hotbed of Civil War action.

My humor attempt was lost on her.

She was, of course, referring to Natchez’s unusual stance at the dawn of the Civil War. As one of only two counties in the state that voted not to secede, Adams County was an oddball. When Union soldiers came to the city during the war, Natchez did not put up much of a fight, while up the road in Vicksburg, the city battled to the bitter end, having been held under siege by Union troops for an incredibly long, difficult period of time.

From a historical perspective, I understood the woman’s bitterness.

But if, after more than 150 years, we still hold on tight to the grudges and grievances of our great-great-grandparents, something in our collective heart is amiss.

The divisions in our nation are wide and deep.

Our own community recently devolved into a spirit of battle after a man in a position of power suggested a group of people — most of whom he didn’t actually know — were motivated by race.

The reaction that ensued — threats of violence and further name calling and more — was as unacceptable as the man’s initial, unfounded accusation.

In watching a video of the meeting melee it was then that I realized how much my brief exchange over a 150-year-old division still rings true today.

You can practically replace the words Natchez and Vicksburg in what the woman said for many of the separators — real and perceived — that cause such conflict.

Blacks and whites, rich and poor, young and old, multi-generational Americans and immigrants, Democrats and Republicans, the list could go on and on.

America cannot get past our wars of the past or our differences of today. We as a country seem to lack the ability of forgiveness, let alone civility.

From arguments for and against our representatives in Washington, D.C., to protests that provide us with a flashback to the 1950s and 1960s, our country is headed down a destructive path.

Violence reared its ugly head Saturday in Virginia as protesters marched in the streets to show opposition or support for a city’s decision to remove memorials to Confederate soldiers.

Sadly the country seems so bitterly divided that neither side seems remotely interested in finding any common ground. Each simply jockeys to gain a slight bit of leverage to best his or her opponent.

A recent Sunday school lesson reminded me that as much as we put our faith in man, we must realize man will disappoint us. Only God can be trusted absolutely.

I know that’s true and that prayer is our only hope for a change of collective heart.

When God walked the earth in human form, He didn’t seek to divide people or avoid people, He sought to reach out to them and engage them in conversation.

But conversations require us to listen first, then to talk.

The loudest voices on both sides of the argument seem more intent on hearing themselves talk than understanding the opposite position.

Our country needs to start many, many conversations in order to get a dialog of hope started.

Otherwise, we will remain as divided as the woman from Vicksburg was certain people from her town were against people in Natchez.

I hope and pray we can all get over that.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or