When I first moved to Washington, D.C., to practice civil rights law, I thought my southern charm and self-deprecating demeanor would quickly win over the northerners. I was wrong.
I discovered that my cultural roots were an obstacle to many of the people I met in the civil rights community. People openly made wisecracks about my accent; they made condescending remarks about my religious beliefs; they disparaged my alma mater (the University of Mississippi School of Law); and they joked about my use of “ma’am” and “sir.” I even had a supervisor openly speculate about the intellectual inferiority of southerners.
I eventually learned that, for many in the civil rights community, it isn’t enough to reject the South’s deplorable history of systemic racial discrimination. They feel compelled to reject many of the things that may have coexisted with it—the accent, the manners, the religious beliefs; they’re all fruit of the poisonous tree.
The most painful part of those early years in D.C. was dealing with all the negative assumptions about my faith. Most of the attorneys I met in the civil rights community were agnostics; and they rightly noticed that churches were one of the most racially stratified segments of southern society.