By Quin Hillyer at The Wall Street Journal;

The life of Lee James Sr. was testament to individual virtue. The Aug. 2 memorial service for him paid homage to that virtue—but also to some broader truths about race and politics in the South.

“Mr. Lee,” the peculiarly Old South honorific by which many of us knew him, was a stalwart of the local tea party and a Republican since 1953. Oh, and he was black.

Some 60% of the 150 or so mourners at Mr. Lee’s memorial service were white. Perhaps a third of those whites were affiliated with the Common Sense Campaign—the official name for the local tea party. For the bicoastal U.S. media, the idea of a race-integrated, Deep South tea party may not compute. Nor, perhaps, does a well-integrated memorial service in a historically white Southern Baptist church.

But as Lou Campomenosi, the political science professor who heads the CSC, told congregants during the service: “One of the best things about Mr. Lee is evident here today with this church filled with different races. It’s the way Mr. Lee brought people together. We all need more of this, everywhere we go.”

Mr. Campomenosi’s wish is hardly atypical of white, conservative political activists in the South these days. Far from racial animus, many express a longing for more African-Americans to make common cause with conservatives, based especially on love of country and traditionalist faith.

Mr. Lee himself seldom mentioned race—but when he did, he was often droll. Told that Cottage Hill Baptist Church, which he served as a deacon, was a predominantly “white church,” Mr. Lee would say: “It’s not white; it’s beige.” The church’s pastor, Alan Floyd, once gave a particularly stem-winding, spirit-filled homily. Mr. Lee, approving of the homily’s style, approached him and said: “Today, you became this church’s first black pastor!” Mr. Floyd said it was one of the best compliments he ever received.

Mr. Lee had the most exquisite manners of anyone you would ever meet, always ready with a gentle compliment for others. He was also the best-dressed, sporting perfectly cut, traditional-conservative suits and ties. And as active politically as he was, he never seemed to want anything for himself, not even attention….

[Please read the rest of my piece about this wonderful man at this link.]


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