My Dad Treated Black Folks Different

S. D. Smith's father

It’s the confluence of Father’s Day and Juneteenth (both yesterday) and West Virginia Day (today, happy 159). So, let me tell you some of what my dad taught me about race growing up in our beloved Mountain State. 

I played ball with black kids and had black coaches as a kid. I heard about the klan and got really scared—for them and, for some reason, my own safety. My dad had to tell me about their history and explained why it’s wicked to look at skin tone instead of heart for condemnation or commendation. 

Dad actually didn’t do a lot of explaining. Mom did more of that. (I’m so grateful for her instruction!) Dad was always a “follow my example” kind of leader. He was a good teacher, but I learned most by just watching how he treated people. Growing up, I never once had even the slightest notion that he looked down on black folks. 

We went to a church that was in a white area, and our church reflected that. But dad took us to black churches to visit. He was friends with black pastors and so I had great experiences at (very long, enthusiastic😉) services that shaped my childhood. Many of my heroes were black men and women.

When we moved to South Africa, it was during apartheid and Nelson Mandela was in prison. There was a practice of all black men of any age being referred to by white folks of any age as “boy.” So a teenage white kid would call an elderly black man “boy.” And even an elderly black man would call a white young boy “boss.” All whites were “boss.” But my dad, contra mundum, would call every black man he met “boss.” He never really lectured me about it, but I saw it, and I followed his lead. 

He treated black folks differently than other people did. He treated them with love and respect.

My dad loves West Virginia more than anyone I’ve ever known, and he loves being here more than anyone I’ve ever known. A creed I learned as a child was, “I’m West Virginia born, and West Virginia bred, and when I die, I’ll be West Virginia dead.” He bleeds gold and blue. 

Still, this mountaineer at heart left his beloved home to spend a significant part of his life loving and serving poor Zulu families alongside a Zulu fellow-pastor. I was often with him in dangerous Zulu townships at night, where attacks on white visitors were frequent and deadly. I was often with him when he would preach in a building where “kill the whites” was written as a warning on the wall. 

My dad didn’t have to tell me he loved black people; his life showed it. 

I love Juneteenth. I love the story of bringing good news all the way to its edge that the wicked practice of slavery was ended in our country. Thank God for those who fought to end that inhuman institution—including many white folks. And I love West Virginia Day, because I love my home state—a state where black folks have always been free and able to vote, though Confederate soldiers were not allowed to for many years. 

Things are far from perfect, and I’m always sympathetic to hear from those most impacted about the ways they aren’t. But I’m grateful for the goodness I have seen in my dad and what I’ve learned by following him. 

I love my dad. He taught me the good news about Jesus, the King of Kings who gathers from every tribe and tongue of every color. We aren’t the same in the body of Christ, but we are one. Dad lived with kingdom values in the face of the zeitgeist. He saw people in light of the law of love and not the law—or customs—of a culture. (A crucial lesson on may fronts.) He showed me how to judge a man fairly, and shared his deep love for our home. 

I’m grateful for my dad. My hero. A good man. 

God bless all good dads and let freedom ring in West Virginia and beyond!


  1. Thanks for writing “My Dad Treated Black Folks Different”. As a nation, we need more articles like this. I am a white southern male and I am appalled at the rise of white Christian Nationalism. Your lovely article was a gentle pushback against that. Your dad sounds like a great guy!

  2. This is such a wonderful article! I’m a Filipino teenager, and even though I don’t experience racism, I know plenty of people who did and still do. Racism is such a toxic, poisonous thing, and it hurts so many of us, even if we aren’t bearing the brunt of it. This article teaches us how we should see others and treat one another the way God does and wants us to. I admire how your father looked at people’s hearts just like God does, teaching you to do the same. The world needs more awesome, godly dads like yours, and people need more writers like you. I love your ability to speak up against and disagree with something so wrong, yet be respectful and kind at the same time to all! Thank you for posting this!

  3. ” Racism is such a toxic, poisonous thing, and it hurts so many of us…”
    This, sadly, so true.

    “As a nation, we need more articles like this.”
    We really do need people to hear more thins like this.

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