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  • True gray

I just spotted an essay that brought back memories—memories of a moment in my long-lost youth that I hadn’t thought about in roughly two days.

The essay was written by Pat Boone—that’s right, the popular 1950s singer—who has taken to punditry. Boone decided to weigh in on the Charleston massacre by writing an open letter to President Obama. The tone is beseeching:

Somebody has to say this . . . so I’ll say it.

Mr. President! For God’s sake, and America’s sake, quit so often calling crimes that involve a black person “racist”! As the president who came to office, a black man promising to bring people together, a man ideally suited for that job since you were born both black and white, you had a God-given chance to actually proclaim and demonstrate that racial divides and prejudice had greatly diminished and that our society was truly becoming colorblind.

But this, declared Boone, the president has not done. Instead, Obama has cried racism in response to incidents, such as Ferguson, where careful observation would reveal none existed. And he has failed to mention “the far greater instances of ‘black on black’ crimes, the high percentage of crimes of all types committed annually by blacks.”

This brought Boone to the “horrific scene” in Charleston, “in which a satanically inspired young white kid mercilessly kills a number of fine black Christians in a Wednesday night prayer service, in church!

“And yes, I said, ‘inspired by Satan’! Though this had a racist element, to be sure, it was more than that and of far greater significance to America than that. This boy wasn’t just a sadist, or even criminally insane—he was carefully prepared and led by the Devil himself to kill as many Christians as he could. The fact that they were black was an excuse more than a reason.”

Boone continued in this vein awhile and concluded, “Simple, stupid ‘racism’ is not our problem, Mr. President. It is declaring that we are no longer a nation ‘under God.’ And as our society increasingly moves away from God’s protective, loving hand, we can expect more and more horrific demonic evil.”

This brings me to a story. I almost posted it here on Wednesday, when I contributed my own thoughts on the Confederate battle flag that seemed such an important influence on Dylann Roof’s thinking. I recalled the Kappa Alpha fraternity, which back in my college days liked to dress up in Confederate uniforms, brandish the battle flag, and champion the Lost Cause. Over time, the fraternity has put its most extreme affectations behind it.

My story was too digressive to make that post. But Pat Boone’s essay has me thinking twice. Here’s what I deleted:

The summer before I entered college, I went to a rush weekend held by the Kappa Alpha chapter of the college I’d be going to in mid-Missouri. KA was founded in Virginia in 1865 and it identified Robert E. Lee as its “spiritual founder.” Its members were known to deck themselves out in Confederate army uniforms on ceremonial occasions and to gallop across the field flourishing the Confederate battle flag at football games. During a lull in the activities, I picked up a thick book devoted to Kappa Alpha’s heritage and glories and came across a list of famous alumni. One of them was the singer Pat Boone. Boone was the era’s anti-Elvis and he had millions of fans too, there being a hunger in America for a teen idol who didn’t wiggle his hips, curl his lip, and terrify God-fearing parents.

“Pat Boone was a KA!” I remember saying aloud, in surprise, to anyone within earshot. I went on in roughly these words, “I’m surprised an all-American guy like Pat Boone would join a racist fraternity.”

I didn’t mean anything judgmental by this. . . . Clean-cut Pat Boone could easily have exercised his irrelevant disapproval [of Jim Crow] by joining another fraternity. That he didn’t was interesting. Not that interesting, really. But worth remarking on. Whatever. I spoke out of idle curiosity.

The member of the fraternity who’d invited me down—he’d been a year ahead of me in high school—took me aside. You can’t talk like that around here! he said.

Much time has passed but Pat Boone has stayed true blue. Or true gray.