Racial incident put to rest with dramatic gesture

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In an inspirational ending normally reserved for Hollywood screenplays, a black man asked an angry white crowd Tuesday to forgive a white woman for distributing a racially offensive cartoon.

It was an encouraging sign of how far our country has come in healing the 300-year-old wound that began with slavery in America.

The Casco Board of Selectmen voted 3-1 Tuesday evening to censure one of its own members, Barbara York, for forwarding an e-mail that compared first lady Michelle Obama to a chimp, according to a story Wednesday by the Portland Press Herald.

The one dissenting vote came from a board member who felt the censure should have been more strongly worded.

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To her credit, York has apologized repeatedly since the incident, and did so again at Tuesday night’s packed meeting at the Casco fire station.

There had been calls for her to resign, but she did not offer to do so.

A few of those in attendance defended York. Laura Dingley, according to the Press Herald story, said the e-mail was a joke, “plain and simple,” and “no different from the dumb-blonde jokes that people have made about her.”

But the meeting came to a climax when an African-American resident, Antonio Jackson, said he had forgiven York and asked the town to do the same.

Jackson said he was originally “enraged” by the cartoon, but that York had visited his home and had apologized to him and his wife.

“What I am asking is to stand with me in forgiveness to Ms. York,” said Jackson, and the crowd rose and applauded in response.

York, meanwhile, stood, walked to Jackson and embraced him.

The history of the civil rights struggle in America is commonly remembered in historic events — boycotts, sit-ins, voter-registration drives and landmark legislation — often opposed by bombings, murders and bloody beatings.

It is most often recalled through the words and acts of historic figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

But history and progress are as often made by the countless acts of ordinary people: The black man who stops to help a white man change a tire. A white woman who helps a black woman who has fallen.

Trust is built slowly, over years, by ordinary people doing the right thing, extending a hand across the divide of history and skin color, by people large enough to offer apologies and people heroic enough to accept them.

People like Antonio Jackson and Barbara York.

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