My Life So Far


I am now 78 years old whose vocation is as a public defender lawyer in the small Georgia city of Statesboro. I have been a Jew since a brief ceremony in 1977. Of course I am a convert, one whose personal religious history had been rooted in a Southern protestant family and churches. This little essay is an effort to tell how and why I have been trying for more than forty years to be as good a Jew as i could be.

GETTING INTRODUCED BY THE KING JAMES VERSION OF THE BIBLE. For four hundred years the King James translation of the Bible has been the cornerstone of Protestant religion. When the old South is called the bible belt, it is that particular book that is being referred to. And there is no greater stronghold of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity than this region. There is no more greater concentration of those fundamentalist values than middle Georgia, and my home town of Milledgeville had been the capital of Georgia for sixty years. So my upbringing was soaked in the values of churches which had broken with national churches over slavery and continued traditions of white supremacy, although the words were never said out loud.


I believe 1968 was the single most crucial year in my eventual decision to convert to Judaism, although I did not formally take that step until nine years later. What makes that fact a bit more than odd is the fact that I had no close Jewish associates in 1968. To an outside observer my transformations that year were that I stopped working as a lawyer, although I passed the Bar Exam in that year and did not actually become a member of the Bar until two years later. I left my law related job and the office near the top of Atlanta’s tallest skyscraper in February and was living and working in one of Atlanta’s most poverty stricken ghettoes within six months. All of my residential neighbors in February were affluent white suburbanites in May, and all of my neighbors were poor and Black by July. I was working on a promising career in politics in February, and working every day in a hopeless campaign to elect Maynard Jackson to replace Senator Eugene Talmadge by September. I was a promising young moderate in the Winter, and a daily associate of very radical civil rights and Peace Now advocates by September.

So with all these transformations, a casual observer would see a man at a great turning point that had nothing to do with Jews or Judaism. But with more than half a century of hindsight, I can assure you these more visible life changes this year were absolutely necessary necessary changes that later enabled me to make the decision to become as Jewish as I can manage to be.

So I start with a few of the events and new acquaintances of 1968. And these were certainly extremely important to my life outside any consideration of their roles in my later conversion.


May 8. 2021

The Journal is an experiment in private publishing. When it goes unused the owner begins to fear his lack of IT skills will prevent him from publishing again. So he writes something like this little rant and tries to publish it.


June 2020. Where we are now. The scope of this posting is accurately given by its title. Some of my oldest recollections are of worrying about my Father’s safety while he was the acting police commisssioner of our small Southern city. I am a 78 year old white criminal lawyer who still represents hundreds of people accused of crimes every year. Between infancy and now i have lived for three years in the census tract with the highest murder rate in the United States and many more years in Baltimore, a city the current U.S. President has referred to as “crime infested”. In the last half of 1983 nd the first half of 83 my closest friend and spiritual mentor was a man who had once been the most prominent “hit man” for the Mob in Baltimore. And I consider the funeral of my home town’s most famous murderer the single most crucial moment in my emotional and spiritual development. My life has been saturated with the influence of crime and the enforcement of laws against crime. Hence my experience with law enforcement has continuously been extremely important to me.

I start with the most recent. On May 6 I learned that there had been a young black man killed in Brunswick, Georgia by at least two former law enforcement workers, one of whom had been a certified law enforcement officer for many years and the other had worked for a prosecutor in a nearby city. The killing had actually happened months before, but no official action had taken place subsequently. The Mother of Ahmaud Arbery, the man killed, had been lied to by law enforcement officers about the circumstances of the killing and two successive prosecutors had concluded that no crime had occurred. One of these prosecutors had volunteered in writing to the other that the killers were justified in killing Arbery because they clearly had “probable cause” for a citizen’s arrest of Arbery. The most cursory investigation of the law and facts in the case would have shown the prosecutor that there was no evidence that Arbery was committing a felony offense in the presence of his killers, which would have made an argument for that position under Georgia law. Instead there was shky evidence that Arbery may have been committing a technical trespass by going on a construction site, that he was a jogger who had left that site some time before the killers blocked his path repeatedly with guns, then shot him three times when he resisted them.

A week later the media was filled with information about Breanna Taylor had been shot to death by officers engaged in executing a nighttime no knock search warrant for drugs in the apartment in which she had been sleeping when plain clothes officers burst in. She was a young black medical emergency responder in Kentucky. The no knock warrant had only recently become a valid basis for unannounced entry into a private home through a five to four Supreme Court decision. And that procedure had only been approved where there was a valid safety concern for the officers if the home’s residents were given the opportunity to meet the officers at the door to learn of the search warrant. But in the Taylor situation no such concern could be shown and there were no drugs, the supposed presence of which had been the excuse for the entry.

No arrest had been made in the Taylor killing before four law enforcement officers in Minnesota held a handcuffed black man down on the street while one of them kneeled on their prisoner’s neck for nearly nine minutes. During that time the helpless man begged for his life, called for his Mother and eventually ceased breathing or having a pulse. The officers were fired the same day but not arrested. I begin this writing after two solid weeks of widespread protests and demonstrations.

Minnesota certainly does not have a reputation of being a place where anti-black racism is notorious. It isn’t Mississippi or Alabama. And Kentucky was not a confederate state either. So these killings in these states raise the very real question of whether the police tend to shoot faster and with less real threat of danger to themselves when the life that may be lost is that of a black person. And they also raise the question of whether the problem is a national not a regional one. This issue is about to become one that shares center stage with the corona virus problem, but this police racial problem will likely be with us long after the virus is a bad memory.


March 2021 by Kelley Kidd Being Jewish is not for everyone and those who have loved Judaism have never claimed that their way of life was intended tor more than some people. I was neither raised as a Jew nor raised among Jews. Like most middle class white Southern boys in the 1940s and 50s I grew up with parents and associates who were Protestant Christians and politically quite conservative. Those who did know me when I was very young would not have been surprised if I had become a minister like my Uncle Bill, whose last pulpit was the First Baptist Church of Austin Texas. And no one would have been surprised either if I had followed a first cousin in a career in electoral politics. In those days that would have meant a brand of Southern evangelical political thinking that was “conservative” on all social and political issues. And that political conservatism implicitly rejected the notion that Jews were even fully American in the sense that my white Christian forebears had been.

Of course I became familiar through early reading with Jews, I never had a conversation with any Jew until I was in college, but I felt that I knew something about them from the Gospel of John’s references to their rejection of Jesus and their constant efforts to kill him, which the Gospel showed led ultimately to his unjust crucufiction. Then there were the far from admirable characters of Shakespeare’s Shylock and Dickens’ Fagan. More important than the negative portraits of literature was the obvious to me reality that white gentiles had created my beloved United States. White male gentile Christians had been creating and running America since they landed on Plymouth Rock. Phillip Roth once clearly summarized the megafact of WASP ownership of this country. Referring to the conditions prevailing in my infancy Roth writes from the standpoint of a Jew in that time:

” It went without saying that {a successful WASP farmer of the time] was a Christian, a long-standing member of the great overpowering majority that fought the Revolution and founded the nation and conquered the wilderness and subjugated the Indianand enslaver the Negro, one of the good, clean, hard-working Christian millions who settled the frontier, tilled the farms, built the cities, governed the states, sat in Congress, occupied the White House, amassed the wealth, possessed the land, owned the steel mills and the ball clubs and the railroads and the banks, even owned and oversaw the language, one of those unassailable Nordic and Anglo-Saxon Protestants who ran America and would always run it—generals, dignitaries ,magnates, tycoons, the men who laid down the law and called the shots….” pp.94-94, The Plot Against America (2004).

In my childhood white protestant patriotic churchgoers were almost certainly reinforced in their attitudes about Jews in part because the Jew, like every other minority group, counted for almost nothing in the patriotic history and politics and economic life of my country. They did not even weigh very much in my early learning about the Bible I was taught to believe was the foundation of my religion. I learned from the Gospel of Matthew to despise Pharisees, that group of religious leaders who Jesus often chastises for allegedly ignoring the important values of love and mercy, and hypocritically stressing unimportant if not downright ugly small strictures in “the law”. My adult relatives portrayed Jews as loud, tasteless, pushy, clannish and materialistic.

So absolutely nobody who knew me in my my youth would suspect that my favorite religion would be Judaism by the time I was 30 or that I would actually become a convert a few years later. Nobody, including me. The path to Judaism involved thought, study and some remarkable experiences. This posting is about the path of searching and finally finding Judaism as a spiritual path.

My introduction to Judaism came largely through that Bible my Baptist Mother taught me to revere. Of course that Bible did not contain the word Judaism, the Jewish scriptures were clearly labelled as Old Testament, which relegated those scriptures to the role of prologue to the New Testament, or possibly even implied that those scriptures were replaced by the latter testament. But they were also somehow sacred enough to be included in the great book. And some of the psalms, the Ten Commandments and passages allegedly predicting Jesus were all to be treated as holy and still to be followed. Other portions of the hebrew scriptures were touched upon lightly or ignored altogether. But I was of course learning from books written by jews for Jews. In my childhood that meant absorbing images of the characters, dramatic scenes and language of the King james Version of the Bible. Seventy percent of that “authorized version” was actually a pretty good translation of the Hebrew bible into seventeenth century English. Before i was four years old my mother had my twin brother and me standing on chairs to be seen by sitting adults, assembled to hear us recite poetry and answer questions from her careful instruction of us. We wee prodigies of learnin about the prevailing babtist views on what to know from and about the “Old Testament”. To this day I persist in feeling great graitude to her for that.

The Bible was taught as though it had all been written in the mind of God, then dictated to Christian scribes for the faithful believers in the Trinity and the salvation of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Jews had been “God’s Chosen People” until Jesus preached the gospel my evangelical Mother pointed out to me for memorizing before I was five years old, the famous .John 3: 16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth is Him should not perish , but have everlasting life.” That verse was the most important teaching of my life for most of my childhood. Salvation from sin and eternal death were enclosed within it. And it was the repudiation of what I was taught had always been the mistaken doctrines of Catholics and the Jews, which i was to understand were trust in adherence to law and the doing of good works. We protestants followed this 3:16 preaching, which had come straight from Jesus and had been confirmed by the subsequent experience of real Christians from the disciple Peter and the apostle Paul straight through to the great preachers of my own time like Billy Graham and my favorite pulpit preachers.

But it was not even absolutely clear to me that the writers and subjects of the Old Testament were Jews until I was in grade school. Were the Israelites or the Hebrews all Jews or merely ancestors of the later Jews. the word Jew did not appear until the Gospel of John contained numerous references to “their rejection” of him and their efforts to kill him, efforts which were apparently successful when they pushed a reluctant Roman official to order his crucifixion. Years later I learned that the notion that the Jews killed Jesus became a widespread belief among Christians. in the early years of the christian faith. I did not hear my Christian teachers explicitly denounce that point of view.

And the limp and frequently blond haired blue eyed Jesus of typical depictions belied any motion that he in fact was a Jew himself. i saw no Jews who fit that description. instead both the living examples and frequently the visual depictions of Jews were curly haired and black eyed and usually had convex noses–features never shown of Jesus in the stained glass windows of my Father’s Methodist church sanctuary or the portraits hung in the Baptist churches my Mother preferred. The women were said to be scolders and the men grasping and entirely intent on taking as much money as possible for the sale of as little value as possible. The expression “Jew you down” referred to the real or imagined practice of the sme people as buyers; allegedly they haggled the seller to get the lowest possible price for something they wanted to buy. Hence Jews were the “money changers” were assumed to be the people referred to as profaning the temple by selling the animals required for sacrifice.

But perhaps the most often heard negative reference to Jews was the suggestion or insinuation that they were the opposite of “genteel”, a word with the obvious reference to the Christian meaning of “gentile” to mean a Christian or at least a non-Jew. The only explicitly Jewish characters i the literature I read outside the Bible were Fagan, the crook and exploiter of children in Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and Shylock. the ruthless money lender who gets his just put down in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, the offensive and whiny Jew in Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises, and Ben Hur, the prince of Judah who has the good fortune to become a Christian. Then in 1960 as i was going off to college, Phillip Roth’s Goodbye Columbus showed me a variety of irritating and decidedly ungenteel modern American Jews.

I suppose my first exposure to the idea that Jews were sometimes very positive and admirable came in a college Bible class. The teacher who handled my own breakout group was a Mehodist former Dean of Men at Emory, the beloved “Hebe” Reese. He was bald and bespeckled and gentle. And he was a lover of the Hebrew propets, hence his nickname. I never heard him referred to by any other. This same Hebe taught that Amos, Hosea and Micah and the first Isaiah all were sharply critical of the governments and ruling classes of their times. I emerged from that class with a new respect for the Judaic civilazation that had produced such social critics. Perhaps equally important was learning that this was the same people that produced the David who composed the 23d Psalm with its hymn to God as a constant comforter and protector. Sadly it did not teach that David and the prophets were all referring back to a covenant relationship between that people and a deity whose central commandments were about that people’s responsibility to love God and each other. I left that course still believing that it was Jesus who had given the world that view and been rejected by Jews for that view.

Perhaps the worst aspect of Jewishness that emerged from my Protestant belief system was the notion that God had decided that the faith in Jesus which would save those who believed in him would also damn to hell those who chose not to so believe, and the first and foremost of these nonbelievers wee the Jews. In fact the narrative of the Gospel of John often referred to “the Jews” as those seeking to kill Jesus throughout his ministry and succeeding in getting the Romans to do just that eventually. By rejecting their own scripture’s prediction of Jesus as their own “messiah”, they had also created a false narrative for others to follow. By continuing to treat their own scriptures in a legalistic and material manner, they had spurned spirituality and rejected the loving humility of the true Christian. No wonder then that they had become the founders ad practitioners of cutthroat capitalism and godless communism and socialism! They were also the authors of doctrines which “coddled” the lazy and defiant and degenerate types who constituted most of the “poor white trash” that leached off the good middle class citizens like my parents. And Jews constituted the backbone of the radicals who pushed those women and blacks who defied the praiseworthy efforts of decent white Christian men, that group which had written the Constitution and who rightfully and competently directed the direction of the American way of life. Some of these things were said openly and frequently. But all of them were evident in the makeup and policies of the community in which I grew up.

White male supremacy ruled the land, and that really meant rich white protestant man supremacy. It was impossible to miss the point that virtually all of the power and respect in the United States belonged to rich white protestant men. Law and history and custom and habit recognized just those as leaders and no one else. So any child born in Milledgeville Georgia whose Father fit that description was a fortunate one who would be nuts to want to belong to any other group except the one to which his birth entitled him.

And yet…

A child there was in the land of Georgia who was born a twin boy in a home not really a home at all. Mother fretted about the Father. Father we called daddy and Daddy drank too much always when he drank, and Mother scolded and feared he chased other women and sued for divorce long before nice middle class Southern folks did that sort of thing. And she must show in a court before a judge that he was unfit to be a husband, And she did that in the small town in which his family was prominent and where the boy and his brother were very young and frightened. the boy named for his Father’s Father loved the Mother, and the boy named for his Mother’s Father loved his Father. And the boy who loved his Father was me.


December 6, 2020 Kelley Kidd For most of the history of the American experiment the politics and economy of the deep southern states have turned on only one issue-: Are you for them or against them? By them of course I mean the people who are now usually referred to as Black or African American. Beneath all the other issues and above every other consideration the vast majority of our contested elections have been about race in one way or the other. Most of us pretend that other concerns are more important to us personally. And ultimately the other concerns are about economic and social power. But the fulcrum for our power struggles has been race.

The real winners in racial conflict have always been the very rich. And race has always played a major role in their dominance of the rest of us. The rich tell us the fairy tales we substitute for the truths we ignore. The power that makes the rich rich also gives them control of our teachers and the process by which the teachers get those roles to begin with. From these teachers we learn such “facts” as that Christopher Columbus discovered America, while hearing from the same teachers that an indigenous people of many different nations had been living here for thousands of years! Many of us gave all the credit for this odd “discovery” to the leader alone. And so George Washington forged a great fortune, as did many other founding fathers, although we were aware that none of these founders did much physical work; rather it was done for them by dark skinned people they and their law treated as chattels. And it was done on the fertile land that had been taken by force from natives who also were not white. Neither the seizures of the land nor the slavery of the workers were dealt with by our teachers as the moral crimes they were, The very rich white men who profited by those crimes were not to blame somehow, although it was neve clear whether these deeds were to be seen as triumphant conquests or inevitable consequences of he presumed superiority of the white men who profited.

So we have always had a one party system in the Deep South. A system in which people like the real or imagined heroes of our history books ran everything. When I was younger it was the Democratic Party. Our leaders were not nearly the caliber of George Washington, but they were as close as their salesmanship and our imaginations could make them. They were white men, usually tall and always believers in the plantation system that denigrated labor and extolled the power and dignity of ownership. And in extolling ownership in a system in which only white men could own, my teachers extolled white men. And the corollary was that they denigrated the red folks, whose property rights were ignored and abrogated, and they denigrated the black folks who were things white men could own.



December 26, 2020 The speculation about intended nighttime shootings was only one comment about Stembridge in a week in which I believe the citizens were virtually all preoccupied at times with with similar musings and declarations of the man’s ugly past. His guilt of that earlier killing was now declared unanimously and other bad deeds were added. I gleaned from all this that for once a lot of people were newly convinced that the future of similar men should be different than it had been in the past. I heard my Father speculate that the next time a known white bad guy killed a black person there would be extra-judicial justice to prevent any future possibility of another decent white person being killed by that bad guy. His good family background had fooled people I was told. Lesser transgressions had been looked over or minimized, and similar behavior would not be repeated after this.

Of course the funerals of the young judge and lawyer were attended by huge crowds of local citizens, as well as some of the dignitaries whose speech making opportunities were replaced with invitations to hug grieving family members and deliver “never again” sort of eulogies or funeral comments. The parade and the ball were replaced with somber services for the fallen.

About Tuesday or Wednesday my Father called me from the store to ask if I would like to join himself and Mr. Frank Moore for coffee at a quiet local pharmacy’s only booth. I said I would, of course. It was not the first time I had found a way to have coffee with my Father and his adult friend, the humorous and very wise son of one of one of our town’s most beloved and admired citizens, old Joe Moore. Joe Moore was so often referred to as a-saint-in-this-world that i believe I heard him called that numerous times before I discovered that everything after the “Moore” was a description of him and not an unpronounceable proper name.

The coffee meeting that day was unusual for being very much concerned with the sad business of the murders, their impact on the town and the necessary matters of burying the slain lawyer and judge. Usually the two men spent most of their frequent coffee meetings swapping stories. Frank always had the advantage in having stories worth telling. He was the chief attendant in the work of comforting the bereaved and the ceremonies for the deceased. His Father’s conduct and words were the stuff of heart warming and frquently humorous stories. No matter how sad the death seemed at first, Joe Moore was a worker of spiritual wonders that somehow left you feeling that there was a wonderful positive takeaway from the life of the deceased. Joe Moore’s shining religious enthusiasm was a magic potion which never failed to leave those who attended the funeral smiling at least a little, even if through tears. Much later in my life I learned about the Hasidim of Judaism from Martin Buber’s books of stories about these joyful celebrants of God’s loving creation and man’s capacity to experience God in everything. These stories reminded me of Joe Moore. He was a Southern Baptist, and an undertaker whose appearance reminded me of old farmers in Sunday suits. At all times he exuded the joy of a person who was always conscious of God’s loving kindness in every aspect of existence. Frank’s stories reflected his Father’s amazing ability to see holiness in the mundane and even the sordid and sad. Like the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, Joe Moore’s stories and sermons transformed the humble into transcendent glory.

But this coffee sitting on this occasion was about two responsible adults who were having some serious difficulties with the realities of the unexpected calamities of the moment. They talked about their memories of the murdered men and their devastated families, and about the practical business of helping themselves and others to turn from the expectations of celebration back to the business of coping with life’s ordinary problems. They were not morose, but scarcely in a mood for good story telling. I do not know for sure that the Moores handled the arrangements for the victims and their families, but I certainly believe that is likely. My Father also talked quietly about the tasks his store had to handle in finding dark suits and white shirts for men who felt the need to dress well for the final rites of the men they had admired.

Once or twice one of them made some semi-humorous reference to someone else’s silly gaffe or clumsy response to all this, but there were none of the usual tales of Joe Moore’s gentle puncturing of false piety, or soothing assurance that the difficulties of the moment were filled with “pregnant positive possibilities” as the old man called his expectations for future outcomes. Their demeanor bespoke their Stoic acceptance of challenges in the present and near future. At least once my Father alluded to his own expectation that Joe Moore would somehow find a way to make some of the lemons of today into the lemonade of a brighter future. As we broke up to go our separate ways Frank told my Father he would call later to talk about the next funeral, a matter about which I had no interest at that moment. There had been funerals enough for me for now. These funerals seemed to me to be especially the burdens of adults.

So I was very surprised to learn at the supper table that night that I had been invited to attend the graveside service for the murderer! The invitation had been passed from Joe Moore through his son to my Father, who was initially a little dubious. My stepmother said she thought I ought to go if I wanted to go. She and my Father agreed that I had shown a lot of respect for the undertaker, and they agreed that Joe Moore would not have invited me unless he planned to make sure those who attended the service would somehow be lifted by the old man’s eternal joy in God’s love for us. Of course Stembridge was neither a good man nor a repentant sinner, so Moore would have his work cut out for him. But we were all sure that service would somehow end with greater positive feelings than those we had at that moment. The departure of an evil man by his own hand did, after all. have possibilities for realizing the sureness of God’s justice on the workers of iniquity. It crossed my mind that a silver lining might lie in a renewed awareness of the need to avenge the murder of black folks. The horrors of the week would not have happened if the courts had dealt properly with Stembridge much earlier. I still had such thoughts when I dressed for the service a few days later.

Shortly before the service was to start Frank Moore called my Father and asked if he could ride with us instead of taking his usual seat at the wheel of the hearse. It soon appeared that he was not exactly disapproving of what his Father was doing here, but that he felt very uneasy about it. The Stembridge family would not be there and had apparently been reluctant to even allow the burial in the family plot. Frank said there were a lot of folks who had said this murderer’s body did not even belong in the same burial ground with decent people, including his innocent victims, who had already been buried nearby. The emotional wounds were still so deep that you could not blame anybody if the only people at the service were those invited by Joe Moore. Frank said he had real reservations about “this time”, when he wondered out loud if his Father was not carrying the banner for decent Christian burials too far. Although he could not quite say what was wrong, Frank said that his Father was up to something, and his normally admiring son wanted distance from whatever that was. When my Father reminded Frank on the way to the service that his Father had always found something positive in the worst situations, Frank just muttered something about how this situation was different somehow.

I rode in the back and my Father drove. in the passenger seat in front Frank returned to his concern. He spoke to my Father clearly, knowing I was hearing every word. He seemed to be trying to purge his guilt about the occasion before the fact of the expected transgression. “I don’t know what Joe is doing this time. I usually get told in advance something about the service and my Father’s thoughts about the sermon he will preach. I don’t have any idea this time what he will say.. As you know I have had misgivings from the start about the wisdom of having an eleven year old child at the Christian burial of a moral monster.” My Father reiterated his faith in Joe Moore’s goodness and wisdom. “It will be all right , Frank. It always has been when Joe is in charge.”

We parked the car and joined the small group of men under the canopy. After a few minutes the last almost late men arrived and we were set with fewer that 20 in all. All were standing as no seats had been set out for what would be a brief ceremony. Joe Moore took his place at the head of the bier and opened his Episcopal Prayer Book. He looked intently at his friends gathered there and quietly thanked them for being kind enough to take time from their lives to be “here for me. I know none of you have any reason this afternoon to mourn for the deceased, so your presence reminds me again that you are my faithful friends, so you have answered my request.”

He continued with dignity but not a trace of pity or sadness. “There is nothing any of us can do for Marion Stembride now. Understandably there are some of us who wish we could have done something TO him earlier. Our heavenly father has given us a full range of human emotions for various occasions. We are surely likely to need to feel anger at what this man as done, especially what he did to our beloved friends on the last day of his life. We love this town and we can be forgiven too for resenting the joy Marion Stembridge has taken from us and the pain with which he has replaced the celebrations we all deserved and towards which we worked and dreamed.” The voice stayed even and measured, the words appropriate and reassuring. Men muttered approval and concurrence several times.

The prologue to his eulogy was vintage Joe Moore. the epitome of the Christian voice of our community expressing its natural sentiments. He wrapped up the salutation with the short announcement of how the rest of the service would go. “This service will be very brief. I ask that you will bow your heads for a few minutes while I read a short paragraph from one of the speeches of Job. Then please keep your heads bowed a few minutes while I talk to my heavenly Father in prayer. There won’t be any need for singing or preaching in this service. When my prayer is done, you may want to join me in saying Amen. Then let us all quietly return to our cars and leave the workmen to finish this burial.” We nodded in grateful approval.

Of course we bowed our heads and most must have closed their eyes as I did. So far so good I thought. This sort of of thing was exactly what we need to simply close the book on the life of this evil murderer. Then we would begin to try to forget the terrible tragedies of the week and the murderer who caused them. We would just get on with our lives–as the saying went.

But I was so mistaken. What Joe Moore did in the following few minutes shook my moral universe to its roots. The impact would keep remolding my entire long life afterwards.

The old man read the words of Job clearly and strongly. I had expected some lamentation for the suffering we shared with the biblical character, but was faintly surprised. Instead, the familiar profession of unshakeable faith.

” I know that my redeemer liveth. and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.” It was unexpected and yet somehow vintage Joe Moore.

But as he read his voice began to crack as though under the weight of a terrible burden! Then throughout the prayer his voice was to rise and fall, never murky or confused but always with that gravity which comes from great sorrow and almost unbearable grief!

“My loving and ever merciful heavenly Father, I have been filled with anger and hatred over the terrible deeds this man has done. He has shot to death our beloved neighbors and brought grief and dishonor upon our entire community. You have given us the capacity to feel and to somewhat express those feelings, and the expression somehow seems to relieve a little of the horror we do not have words to adequately express.”

He paused and I thought maybe Joe Moore a-saint-in-this-world was about to say Amen. But he resumed, and though he continued to say the words clearly and with strong volume, his voice now shook as though the very soul of the prayer was in almost unbearable agony. He prayed slowly as though each word cost its speaker immeasurable passion and pain!

” Some years ago you brought Marion Stembridge forth from his Mother’s womb–a tiny baby! Ten tiny little fingers and toes! Tiny ears and eyes! He was a perfect innocent little baby! YOU MADE HIM that way because he was your baby boy! YOU made him that way because you adored him! He was YOUR baby boy and you loved him! You loved you baby boy!” The old man’s grief was beyond consolation or calming. We stood frozen in shock and overwhelmed by this unimagined and irrefutable recitation.

The old man shook and the words came now among sobs. Maybe Joe Moore was sobbing too. I looked to see tears pouring down the old man’s face and spilling onto his shirt. Others were crying too. I was crying. For a long moment I thought we might all collapse onto the ground beside that casket. In those few seconds we were all overcome.

The old man said a few more short paragraphs that described the privileged life of the early Marion Stembridge, his wonderful parents and education and athletic and academic achievements, his beautiful wife and healthy children. At the end of each paragraph there was a refrain: “YOU gave him these blessings because you loved him. He was your baby boy.”

In the recent years there had been steady drinking and confusion and bitterness and increasingly ugly deeds. And at every turn Joe Moore said to his God that He had brought people to reach out to try to help the man, but they had all failed and no one could surely say just why. But all the while Joe said “You loved him. He was your baby boy.”

The crying became softer but it was there thoughout the prayer. At the end the old man’s weeping eyes looked towards the heavens and he sobbed “Oh my sweet heavenly Father, if I could offer anything to soothe your grief I would do it at once, Anything. For you are as helpless to change what has happened as we are. All I can do is to give you my own grief that you must suffer so. I do love you with all my heart and I am so grateful that despite our wrongs to you and to each other, you love each of us so very very much.”

There was a long pause, quiet except for the muted sounds of weeping that came from each of the grown men and one boy. Then Joe Moore quietly said “amen”. The rest of us mutely made our way back to our cars and to a world that had changed for each of us in a moment, and for the rest of our lives. Amen.


December 24, 2020 KELLEY KIDD Prologue to The Story It is time to write the most important story of my life. I will refer to it as The Story. And it is time to try to make some sense of it, or at least try to. People who know me well have usually had to listen to me tell this story in some form. I have written it down a few times, but never published it. My hope as I set out to record it here is that I will finish this writing by Christmas day and publish it here then. The telling is affectionately dedicated to Briton Bradley, the young nurse and beautiful lady I call “Baby Girl”. I am in South Georgia and she in Birmingham Alabama this Christmas. This dedication is the only real Christmas present I can give her this year, so I will try hard to tell it true.

Before recounting the events of the story, I will be writing a little about a few matters which the story illustrates dramatically. This moment in American history is intense partly due to the seemingly intractable attitude of President Trump’s supporters, many of whom refuse to accept the results of the November election, which their candidate clearly lost. While the loss has been measured in counted ballots, and the ballots verified by recounting and court decisions, the President and his followers have continued for weeks to cry foul and to deny the results. I have recently come to the conclusion that Trump’s core followers still believe he won the election of 2020 mostly for reasons that are as understandable to me as their conclusion is wrong and dangerous. In part this story is about the difficulty of changing fixed assumptions and attitudes. But the story is also about the possibility of such change. For it is the story of the first and most important such change in my own life.

We go through our lives believing that we see and hear objectively and reasonably. We believe that we usually at least operate by rational choice and that our choices are not determined by forces far beyond our conscious control. For me the explosion of trust in my own judgement comes as I am shown the error of my thinking by new experiences. In 1968 these experiences came mostly through my exposure to Black folks, particularly a young woman who seemed to have taken upon herself the job of educating who she must have seen as the well-meaning but ignorant young man I was. And the story I will tell here had laid a foundation for revelations of the kind I had in 1968. There have been several instances of new experiences changing me since. But I doubt any of those changes could have occurred until the events of this story.

The events of The Story happened in April of 1954. I was 11 years old and parked for the week in Milledgeville Georgia. My Father’s family was prominent in that small town. Milledgeville had been the capitol city of Georgia from 1804 until 1866. We were celebrating the city’s 150th anniversary then and a week of that month was scheduled to be the time of the maximum celebratory activities. All of the story’s events fall between the Saturday before the main scheduled events and the following Thursday or Friday–I can never remember exactly. I can not remember the events of this story without the strongest sense that I was part of a drama so powerful that I am often inclined to think of it as a great drama that turned from pageant to horror story and tragedy, then ended in epiphany.

The stage for the drama was Milledgeville at aged 150. It had been founded in the first decade of the 19th Century by the Georgia legislature’s selection of its ground as the spot for the site of the state capitol. In the political thickets of that time Savannah’s heritage as the founding place of the colony of Georgia and its much larger population counted much less than the power of those who sought to replace Indian lands with prosperous plantations worked by crews of slaves. During its ascendancy as the capitol city, Milledgeville had been the site of the scandalous selling of most of Alabama for pennies to rich land companies with propensities for bribing Georgia legislator/sellers.. In Milledgeville the state government had actively cooperated in the forcible removal of the Cherokee to make room for more rapacious white men. The slave codes that justified and enforced the world’s most oppressive slave system had been adopted in Milledgeville, and the state had seceded from the union in 1861 to assist in the active destruction of the United States in order to save slavery from real or imagined Republican politics. After Sherman’s union army marched through Milledgeville and the union prevailed in 1864, more powerful forces had moved the capitol to Atlanta.

Soon after the war, the distinguished public role of policy making was replaced by the Milledgeville State Hospital, which had the far less prestigious role of trying to restore the state’s poorer citizens with mental illnesses. This restoring function was usually unsuccessful, pitifully underfunded and as unglamorous as watching imprisoned criminals, which the hospital also did.

Our municipal celebration that week did not include any of the ugly or sad or “crazy” parts of our heritage. The plans were to focus on the beauty and splendor of the old governor’s mansion. the other surviving antebellum mansions and homes, the colorful costumes of the residents who would dress up in historic garb for the week, the unique architecture of the building that had served as the legislature and supreme court building, and such. This week was going to include a speech by the Vice-President of the United States, the attendance of many dignitaries, and the recognition that Milledgeville was not an historical has-been with a now long-standing identity with “crazy people”. After this week maybe most folks would not greet your confession of being from the town with sarcastic grins and cracks about your own mental health.

The weather looked promising for the week. Al forecasts were for parade and ball and reception perfect spring weather in April, after the chills of winter and before the heat of summer.

The people who play prominent roles in the drama include two lawyers, a judge, and a businessman who traded in groceries and expensive cash credit. But these are removed early in the action as you will see. Those who remained as role players were my Father John Kidd, a middle aged owner of a small men’s clothing store in downtown Milledgeville, Joe Moore, the elderly owner and principal operator of the town’s main mortuary and his middle aged son Frank. And me–an eleven year old white boy with a strong middle class southern upbringing in protestant churches and segregated public schools.

My devout Baptist Mother and equally devout Methodist Father had raised me to be what I was in belief and attitude. Jesus had saved me from sin, and that kind of saving applied to all or virtually all “good people”. Bad people needed saving and then they would quit being bad. If they kept being bad they ought to be punished. and severely. Success would come to me and to anyone else who worked hard and played by the rules. Evil was the product of laziness and selfishness. Ambition was good and greed was bad. Kindness was admired and unkindness hated. My moral universe was clear and simple and never a cause for personal regret as long as I played by the rules and loved Jesus. Then that week happened. I have never been the same since.

The story I waked up on the Saturday morning before the first big parade on Sunday, and the day after my arrival from my Mother’s home in an Atlanta suburb. The trip on the Greyhound bus took four hours, but I never minded, even when the stay in Milledgeville would be only the usual monthly weekend. Always every recognizable landmark was celebrated in my mind; Milledgeville, the town of my birth and the home of my beloved Father was like no other place in my affections. And this trip was special. It would be for a whole week and would be filled with opportunities to renew older acquaintances and make new ones, watch memorable speeches and speech makers, miss school with the blessings of my teacher who appreciated that this celebration would be “good for him”.

So my Saturday morning rising could scarcely have been happier or more optimistic. Before noon I heard the horrible news. i was probably at home reading one of six volumes of Carl Sandberg’s “Abraham Lincoln”. That biography sat on a decorated shelf in the living room alongside a four volume biography of Robert E. Lee. It was my favorite preoccupation in Milledgeville for months that year. and its portrait of the man had begun to shake my views on the Civil War and the myth of the virtue of Southern heroism in that period. But the shaking was gentle and gradual. The news was like an explosion. Someone had shot two men to death only a few blocks away in downtown Milledgeville. My Father called to tell me to stay at home. The situation seemed dangerous, inexplicable.

Several hours passed before I heard from him again. The slain men had been a prominent judge and a well liked young lawyer. They had been shot to death by a businessman named Marion Stembridge. A short time after the second killing the murderer had turned his gun on himself. All three had died. In 1954 the shootings were national front page news. The era of such killings becoming frequent was far in the future. Our Sesquicentennial plans were off and the whole week ruined.

Two or three days later there was an auction of the personal belongings of the murderer. I went to the auction with my father. I think it was there that I heard men telling each other about how evil Marion Stembridge was. In addition to being some kind of grocer he had been what was referred to as a loan shark who made improperly large profits from short term cash loans to rather desperate people. One of his debtors, a black man, had borrowed money to buy a car. When he left the car at the hotel where Stembridge stayed, the lender went to the debtor’s house and demanded the borrowed money. The debtor’s reply had enraged Stembridge, who began pistol whipping the black man on the man’s porch. And the man’s wife and her sister tried to pull the enraged man away from her husband. In response Stembridge had shot the wife to death and seriously wounded the sister. Although later convicted in a trial, he escaped punishment after the Georgia Supreme Court threw out the conviction “on a technicality”. The men who told me this story at the auction hastily added that of course no white man in Georgia was ever going to be severely punished for killing uppity blacks. One of the items sold at the auction was a handgun whose sights the murderer had painted carefully with florescent. I heard it said that this proved Stembridge had planned to use that pistol for nighttime assassinations. The auction itself had the flavor of a kind of purging by the town of every trace of this hated killer and destroyer of our planned civic celebration.


December 9, 2020 A few days ago armed Florida police forced their way into a woman’s home, proceeded with drawn and pointed firearms to force her to come from her upstairs bedroom to the ground level. They demanded and seized her cell phones and personal computer, and they took these to be “investigated” for whatever information they might derive. She had not been charged with or even accused of committing any crime, nor has she been accused of any crime as of this date.

Significant background to this event includes the following: The woman’s name is Rebekah Jones. She is rather young looking to be the data scientist she is. Her immediate past employee is the Florida government agency responsible for collecting and disseminating health information. At some point recently she was first reprimanded and then fired for “insubordination”. Data she had assembled and published showed that the state administration had inaccurately low-balled its reporting of COID19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. That reporting must have been embarrassing to the Governor of the State. DeSantis has bragged repeatedly that his open-for-business-as-usual approach to the virus makes all the good sense that President Trump has also repeatedly and dishonestly touted.

The Constitution of the United States contains a famous provision that should govern questions about the legality of the search and seizure in this case. The Fourth Amendment provides as follows: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons and things to be seized.”

There is another Constitutional issue involved in this high handed and dangerous home invasion, this illegal seizure and abuse of the property of the homeowner, this use of state police force to intimidate and defame an apparently innocent woman, this wrongful use of the time and expertise of public employees whose job is to protect and serve the abused woman.

There is no reason to believe that in this case the officer who applied for the warrant (to search presented to the Judge who granted the warrant (granting permission to search) even an allegation that a specific crime had been committed! The Fourth Amendment makes all warrants which lack specific allegations of wrongdoing unlawful, and any search which does not follow an officer’s reasonable belief in that specific allegation must also be an unlawful search. These Fourth Amendment protections for human rights have been applicable to the behavior of state police officers since 1961, when the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the historic decision in the case of MAPP V. OHIO, 367 U.S. 643 (1961). So this warrant clearly lacked the needed belief in unlawful behavior and the needed affirmation of that belief. Of course there was no “probable cause” to back up the nonexistent accusation for the same reason nobody believed little Johnny had a good reason to drown a kitten. The obvious motive for the requested search warrant was to put flimsy cover on a politically motivated invasion of Ms. Jones home and privacy and property and personal information.

The First Amendment of the Constitution has also been abridged by these actions. That Amendment protects each of us from violation of our right to Due Process when we are the subject of official suspicions.

For now I will leave to others to point out the equally obvious violations of the rights of Ms. Jones to tell the truth about important public issues and to express her views on those issues. Those matters are of at least equally important. This posting is at most a very partial coverage of my fears that this case raises for the rights and freedom of Americans at this moment. This apparently small case in Florida is simply a most obvious example of the threats unrestrained state governments can pose when political objectives are wedded to police force.


November 29, 2020 Kelley Kidd. Once upon a time I was a newly minted member of the Georgia fraternity of lawyers by reason of having passed the bar exam in the summer of 1968. But I was also temporarily unemployed and restlessly searching for some means of responding to the call to action of a fallen prophet. MLK had been murdered in April and Robert Kennedy was murdered only two months later. That summer I followed the advice of a young public relations executive named George Abernathy, the younger brother of a college roommate and the one positive tie I had to the Atlanta Jaycees. His advice was to spend a few days in an odd little endeavor called The Cornerstone Project.

So I introduced myself to the three college kids who were the staff of the Project. They were from Middlebury College. Incredibly they had hustled foundation funds from several liberal foundations in Atlanta, and rented a two story house in the middle of Summerhill, an impoverished community of African Americans that occupied the residential area to the immediate West and South of the Fulton County Stadium. Simultaneously they had recruited a number of young professional workers from Lynden Johnson’s war on poverty to come from Washington agencies to stay for two weeks in that house while they learned about the successes and efforts to reduce poverty in “the City Too Busy to Hate”. These two week students/boarders were deemed “participants’; their expenses were paid by the agencies that sponsored them. The little staff worked for their own food and board. Each group consisted of four to six of each sex, virtually all of whom were whites who would have chosen to describe themselves as liberal if anyone had asked. There were few Republicans and no radicals of any stripe. They slept on bunk beds that had been obtained as gifts from the federal penitentiary near Atlanta.

In June of 1968 I spent a few days in that Cornerstone Project house. Those days were to turn into a few years. Every morning started with a group breakfast. The days usually involved doing volunteer work at a local program involved in the War on Poverty and visits to places that were funded and staffed to help the poor in one or more of the impoverished neighborhoods in South Atlanta. Evenings included another group meal and a program that usually featured some local antipoverty worker as a speaker or presenter.

One of the first such presenter was a young teacher from Atlanta University, a very dark young man who brought his baby girl with him. Aside from the dark color of his skin I remember nothing of his physical appearance except the fact that his hair was intentionally very kinky. Most of us would have said he was wearing an Afro hairstyle; it was months before I learned that his hair was as naturally kinky as mine was limp and thin on top. He talked about his education as a social scientist and historian for a while. With half of his attention on the baby and the other on his teaching of us, he was still managing to be a completely relaxed instructor of his white audience. He was in complete command of his subject and of our attention.

After awhile he informed us that he had been making up his mind about quizzing us on the subject of elementary history and sociology before moving into the esoteric subject of the history and sociology of urban poverty. Thank God he decided to give us a little test, which we would be free to review and grade afterwards. He told us the test would need us to answer certain questions in our heads silently, then we would be reviewing just as silently if we chose to do so. each person would decide hat latter issue and no one would be challenged to repeat the answers he or she had mentally given.

As well as I can remember, the questions that follow were asked by our young Black teacher one at a time slowly, so we could remember the questions and answers easily when we were done: One, who discovered America? He said he was starting with an easy one, and that it might get more difficult as we went along. Two, who was the first to discover any part of what we now call the United States? If you are unsure just mentally record the guesses or half memories you have, he said pleasantly. Three, who discovered the source of the Nile at Victoria Fall? Four, who was the first to explore what we now call Australia? Five, name one ruler of a kingdom or state south of the Sahara desert prior to the colonization of that area by Europeans. Six, name the ruler of any state in the Indian subcontinent prior to its colonization by the British. Seven, how many races are there? Eight, keeping in mind the number you believe to be most accurate, answer the following five sub-questions: what race does each of the following belong to: Yasir Arafat, Suharto, Indira Gandhi, Zapata, Lena Horne.

By the time we reached the last question, I began to see the foolishness of my earlier answers. i had mentally recorded Columbus or Leif Erikson as the answer to the first and Henry Hudson or Amerigo Vespucci for the second. For three I thought Stanley for I had read a fascinating account of Stanley search for Dr. Livingston and his further expedition to find the falls. The questions about the early history of Africa and India almost tipped me off to the real object of the quiz–to help us realize that we had without objection digested a view of history that completely discounted the history, even the existence of nonwhite people. In my mind the history of the world was largely the story of white folks! Soon the discussion that night revealed that all of us were in the same condition. Each of us had ignored the existence in each “discovered’ people of many generations of nonwhite people prior to the visit of the first leader of a group of white folks. And none of us could defend any number for the races of humans other than one. Once it became clear that any other selected number was biologically to small to serve as the finite number of categories, we were forced to recognize that race was a learned perspective, not a biological or anthropological reality outside of our prejudices and arbitrary categorizations.

But the most alarming revelation of the evening for some of us–including me–was the realization that this young teacher was actually smarter than we were! I came to the startling awareness that there were people who were both Black and superior in learning and intelligence. Whether I wanted to be or not–and I desperately did not want to be–I had to recognize that in a very real and disgusting way, I was a bigot!