By Stephan R. Leimberg
January 10, 2021
Master potter Joe Winston, who died recently, will long be remembered in Amelia Island. Most knew Joe as a multi-talented artist and a man of immense energy, talent, wisdom, drive, intellectual curiosity, and generosity.
But I want to speak of another Joe Winston, a man of great and unwavering courage and passion for equality and racial justice who constantly challenged all of us to be more decent and honorable people.
Joe was fond of the story of a moment in the history of our geographical neighbor, St. Augustine, instantly recognizable as our country’s oldest city. But Joe remembered St. Augustine in its not-so-distant past as a symbol of a harsh, rigidly segregated, klan dominated place that mocked the spirit of the celebrated African born dark pigmented priest for whom it is named. Joe was not deceived. He knew we fool ourselves if we think the St. Augustine slave market – because it no longer sells slaves – is a long-gone relic of the past. Joe knew that the mental attitude and spirit of racial arrogance that made such an atrocity and injustice possible persists to this day, diminishing the dignity and humanity of all of us. He saw that the raw hatred, the ignorant prejudices, the unadmitted and perhaps unrecognized fears of loss of social and economic position which grip so many are still present throughout our country and even our county.
Joe often spoke of the 17 Rabbis who were arrested and jailed in St. Augustine in 1964 for assembling as part of a protest against racial segregation, discrimination, bigotry, and violence. When asked why they came from all across the country to sit down at a table with three Negro youngsters – knowing that act would almost certainly result in their arrest, they said,
“We could not pass by the opportunity to achieve a moral goal by moral means – a rare modern privilege – which has been the glory of the non-violent struggle for civil rights.”
The Rabbis went on to say that they could not stand quietly watching their brothers bleed. They could no longer stand mute at a time when denial of reality and ignoring truth and remaining silent are the unpardonable sins of our time. And because they knew that second only to silence, the greatest danger to our humanity is the loss of faith in our capacity to act and to make a positive difference. (“Why should I bother to vote? Nothing will change.”) (How the people of Georgia have in this last week wonderfully shown that to be untrue by electing both the first Black and the first Jewish Senators in their state’s history!)
“Master potter Joe Winston,Sadly, the last four years too closely resembles the last four hundred years; the anger, the resentment, the implacable hatred, the lack of tolerance is deepened further by the large number of us who have not spoken out and have not acted. If anything, the growing acceptance and empowerment of white supremacists and neo-nazis (coming from no less than our soon-to-be past president and his many enablers) and the horrific and never-ending shootings of unarmed blacks is a worse indictment of our behavior than those in the past. Worse? Yes. That’s because we’ve experienced the horrific lessons of the past and yet such a large percentage of our fellow Americans neither learned nor grew from them. They took nothing from the ugly history of the Civil War, the Second World War, and the civil unrest of the last 75 years. We still ostracize and shun and walk away from those who look or worship or act differently from us – conveniently forgetting that we were once (and still are) “those people.” (If either the “old” or “new” version of the Bible is to be believed, our own forebearer’s skins – like St. Augustine’s – were probably once toned a much darker shade than currently and however distant in time and geography, we are all related in origin).
Joe Winston had the courage of his convictions. He lived a life of love, meaning, and of action. He not only spoke out; he put into practice his beliefs and reached out – all throughout his life.
Could the same be said of your life? When will we speak up and act? And If not now, will there be a “when”?