About an hour, each Sunday morning, is the most segregated time in Valdosta. And this segregation occurs at the most unexpected place.

It is church.

Most white folks attend all-white churches. Most black folks attend all-black churches.

Blacks and whites may have attended the same movie Saturday night. We may dine at the same restaurants after church. We may work together come Monday morning.

But when it comes to worshipping God on a Sunday morning, as some preachers have pointed out through the years, whites and blacks will mostly attend different churches. That’s not the case at every church, but it is at most churches. Not just in Valdosta but throughout the nation.

That will likely be the case, too, with this weekend’s commemoration services for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many white folks perceive the MLK events as being by and for black folks, even though many people black and white will have Monday off for the federal MLK holiday.

That’s ironic given King’s Dream of blacks and whites sitting together in brotherhood, as ironic as most blacks and whites sitting in separate churches worshipping the same God.

Several years ago, an organization initially funded by Levi-Strauss, Project Change opened its doors in four American cities. Valdosta was one of those cities.

Project Change arrived in the early 1990s with a splash of good intentions and controversy.

Its intention was to create cities with better and more equitable race relations, to spur an environment of improved opportunities for a community’s black population.

The controversy grew from Project Change’s introductory study finding that there were two Valdostas. A white Valdosta and a black Valdosta. Two cities separated literally by a railroad track.

Something everyone knew but apparently many people did not want to hear.

Project Change forced Valdosta to take a hard look at itself, and the organization continued working for equality within our city and region for several years.

It is important to check for disparities as a safeguard against inequities. Differences should be recognized.

We should also recognize what we have in common and chart advances within our community and nation.

Taking stock of both can lead to better understanding between blacks and whites and a better shared future as residents of Valdosta and as Americans.

Though blacks and whites may leave different churches this morning, many will arrive home in the same neighborhoods, living on the same block. 

While many blacks and whites will sit at different tables today for Sunday dinner, they will sit under the same restaurant roof. 

While many whites may not join blacks for this weekend’s MLK events, we will work together in a spirit of cooperation on the job, in area organizations and within our local government.

A railroad track still separates Valdosta. We shouldn’t ignore that, nor should we forget the ties that bind us together.

Dean Poling is an editor with The Valdosta Daily Times.

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