Englishman John Newton, born in 1725, was once an infidel and a libertine who swore profusely, and he was a slave trader in his younger years. His gradual "conversion" began in 1747 after surviving a harrowing storm at sea which he regarded as miraculous. He later became a staunch abolitionist.
In 1764 Newton was ordained an Anglican priest and lived to see slavery abolished in Great Britain shortly before his death in 1807. As a parish priest, he wrote 280 hymns. His two most well known are “Amazing Grace” in 1772 and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” in 1779. The latter was put to Franz Joseph Haydin's music and became the Austrian Hymn, better recognized as the German national anthem.
Confederate Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson used the hymn at sunrise to inspire his troops. The former is probably the most beloved hymn of the last two centuries. "Amazing Grace" was referenced in Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," as she added the final verse ("When we've been here ten thousand years...") This hymn has been recorded by notables such as Judy Collins (67 weeks on the music charts between 1970 and 1972), Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Elvis, Alan Jackson and Andrea Bocelli. President Barack Obama sang "Amazing Grace" at the African Methodist Episcopal Church memorial service for Rev. Clementa Picney, a victim of a heinous church shooting in Charleston, S.C.
Should these artists' recordings be destroyed and should the hymn be banned from church and funeral services because it was written by a man who was once a slave trader? Should “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken” be banned because a Confederate general used it to rally his rebel troops during the Civil War?
Christopher Columbus confirmed that the world was round and not flat more than 500 years when he made landfall in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492, but he is vilified today for his treatment of the indigenous people, overshadowing his historic voyage. Should his statues be removed or destroyed or Columbus Day each Oct. 12 be ignored because of "political correctness"?
The late Robert Carlyle Byrd served as a U.S. senator from West Virginia for more than 51 years and 22 years as floor leader of his party after having first served as a congressman for six years. Byrd was a high ranking officer in the Ku Klux Klan, recruiting members during his 20s and 30s. More than 50 buildings and several infrastructures are named after him and his wife, Emma. He later rejected the views of the Klan. Should his statues be removed and all of the structures bearing their names be renamed because he was a racist as a young man?
Should the Democratic Party be ostracized and defunded because President Andrew Jackson robbed Native Americans of their land; because slaves were owned by Democrats; because a Democratic U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Black American citizenship (Dred Scott decision); because of forced segregation laws passed by Democrat legislators (Jim Crow laws); because President Woodrow Wilson segregated the U.S. military and for screening the racist silent film, “The Birth of a Nation"; because of the forced relocation and incarceration of 120,000 Japanese American citizens in concentration camps by President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II?
Should the statues and portraits of elected historical people who owned slaves be removed from the Capitol building because of the racially charged hysteria caused by the looting, violence, wanton property destruction and rioting orchestrated by the Antifa thuggery under the guise of equal justice Black Americans?
Should military bases named after members of the confederacy be renamed? Should television cop shows and motion pictures depicting slavery be banned?
The answer to all of the above is no! While they may be painful and serve as embarrassing reminders of our past injustices as a country, they serve as positive mileposts of how far we have progressed and as the impetus to continue striving together to make the founding principles of our nation a reality for everyone. We must not let the vociferous voices of the few who want to condemn our culture and destroy our institutions define our country by its shortcomings. Hate is a contagious and destructive emotion spewing fear and anger. It can only destroy. It can not create. It can not build. It can not heal.
Rubin "Hurricane" Carter was the No. 1 middleweight boxing contender when he was wrongfully convicted of the 1966 murders of three people. He spent almost 20 years in prison before being exonerated and released. In the film "Hurricane," while working to overturn his conviction, Carter, played by Denzel Washington, said the now famous quote, "Hate put me in prison. Love's gonna' bust me out."
With God's grace, we can right past wrongs and injustices by working together peacefully with mutual respect and understanding, in a rational and thoughtful manner. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, may it never be muted.
Angelo Haddad is a lifelong resident of Bakersfield, a Pastoral Lay Eucharistic minister at Trinity Anglican Church and a retired commander in the Coast Guard Reserve.