At the Cross
The Race Away from Racism
“When he went to jail they placed him in the cell with a Black man and appointed him a Black man as his counselor”… “If he needed something he had to go to him,” McDonald said. “When he walked out of prison he was a changed man, a saved man and he loves everyone for who God made them to be now.”
STATESVILLE. When I met Regina McDonald, a 37-year-old wife and devoted Christian, I was prepared to hear about her lifelong battle with a rare genetic disease and her persistence to continue working and sharing herself with others.
I jumped at the chance to tell her story, but what I did not know was that we shared a similar experience and the nightmares of racism in common.
Both of us had been traumatized by the same people on different sides of the issue and the fear that stemmed from a flaming cross.
McDonald grew up in a home where racism was common practice. She said she could remember building crosses after school and over the summer breaks to make extra money. The crosses would be used to burn at the homes of African Americans as a warning for various offenses.
“All during my life there were two things I had to deal with,” McDonald said, “the constant pain from a disease that took years to diagnose and the secret of hatred in our home.”
McDonald suffers from Chiari malformations, structural defects in the cerebellum (the part of the brain that controls balance). The condition causes an indented bony space at the lower rear of the skull, making it smaller than normal. The cerebellum and brainstem can be pushed downward causing dizziness, muscle weakness, numbness, vision problems, headache, and problems with balance and coordination.
After numerous surgeries she was told that the doctors could do nothing else for her other than pain management.
She said that reminded her of the message she wants to send the world: “I still want to live, I’m not finished singing, dancing and laughing with others,” McDonald said.
She has worked at Mack Molding Company Inc., in Statesville, N.C. for the last 13 years and is currently performing in playwright Xavier Zsarmani’s “The Gospel Game Show.”
Playing a spicy devil the tall status brunette said, that for anyone who knows her, the role seemed out of character.
McDonald also divulged some specific secrets about the unwillingly role she played in the doings of her stepfather, a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Her confession began with the vicinity of the crimes, some of the places she remembered the Klan burning crosses and the conversations about African Americans.
But when she touched on a 9-year-old girl who was awakened from her sleep to view a cross burning in front of her window, a surreal feeling went over me.
“It was only one of the incidents but when I heard about it I instinctively knew it was wrong,” McDonald said. “A child does not understand color until you teach them and that was a terrible lesson on race relations.”
That little girl was me.
It was 1982 or 1983. My father had married a white woman and we moved to west Iredell.
It was totally different from my South Statesville home: more trees and open space. But there were some people who didn’t think my family belonged in an all-white neighborhood.
I remember being awakened by a rattling noise. As my eyes began to focus I saw a large orange light dancing on the wall facing my window.
The growing illumination fueled the shadow of an 8-foot cross burning in my front yard; the Klansmen thought my bedroom was my father’s and stepmother’s room.
For me the cross was a sign that someone thought I did not belong. As a child I had taken the warm welcome of neighborhood children and some of the parents for granted. I thought that gave me the privilege to run free past the creek, but unfortunately a few people did not believe I had earned that God-given right.
The most profound thought I had then was trying to figure out what was so wrong with being black.
As terrible as the night was, in some ways since then, I have been glad it happened because I learned through life experiences that my worth is not dictated by the color of my skin.
McDonald’s update on the former Klansman also gave me peace. She said her stepfather was eventually punished for his acts of racism in the community.
“When he went to jail they placed him in the cell with a black man and appointed him a black man as his counselor,” she said. “If he needed something he had to go to him.”
She continued, “When he walked out of prison he was a changed man, a saved man, and he loves everyone for who God made them to be now.”
For both of us, the crosses that once held such a powerful message of hatred remind us only of the place Jesus died and of our common Christian faith, instead of the fear it was supposed to instill.
More than 20 years have passed since that night and we as a society seem still to be wrestling with the stereotypes. Many wonder if we will one day totally clear the hurdles of racism.
With an African American president we both feel we are heading toward the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream.
McDonald said there is no question that our society must lay aside the color of someone’s skin and judge them only by the content of their character, and she believes we are making positive strides as a nation.
“With my condition I am in pain daily but the snares of hatred hurt more than a physical ailment,” she said. “Instead of hating I chose to love and for the rest of my life I plan to give to my fellowman what God said owned no color, a cross of salvation.”
Bridgett Nesbit is a writer who lives in North Carolina.