A Man’s Forgiveness after 58 Years Has Finally Set Him Free
What if you were the firstborn of a family with a loving mother but an abusive alcoholic father who rejected you your whole life? Imagine being raised by an illiterate black cotton farmer in Mississippi during the time of Jim Crow laws and rigid segregation. What if you grew up never thinking you were worthy enough to gain your dad’s affection while experiencing his emotional and physical abuse toward you but not to your only other sibling, your brother?
This is just a sampling of the challenges one man living here in Indy has faced along his life journey. He is now retired and attends the Holy Spirit Parish at Geist Catholic Church every day. He volunteers often at church and in the community. His strong faith and friends have helped him overcome the mysteries of his past, helping him connect his hopes to a satisfying future.
“I lived history, and I share it,” says James Womack who has written a historical autobiography, Black Dad-White Dad: The James Womack Story. “The title probes the quest for my identity. While explaining my triumphs over insurmountable challenges as a young man, I also describe historical movement of blacks as America transitioned from a ‘separate-but-equal Jim Crow controlled society’ into a fully integrated multicultural society of today.” James recalls in high school in 1956 and 1957 how streetcars and buses had “White Only/Black Only” signs mounted on the backs of seats. Then in 1959, he joined the Army which still had all-black and all-white units. He reminds us that of 92 Army career choices, black soldiers were restricted to four: truck driver, infantryman, artilleryman or cook.
Upon first interviewing James, he gave me a signed copy of his book. I thought I would read only a few chapters, but I read the entire book within the next couple days. I felt magnetized to this opportunity to travel back in time to see what it was like to live during the era I had only read about in history classes.
I experienced a sense of segregation and a real fear from the Klan in the South. I ventured to Germany during the Cold War where James met Jolande, a young lady, in a quaint little bakery. They comforted each other during a time of great loss as their true love grew. They eventually got married to profess their deep love for each other even though they were from different races and cultures. Yes, they faced their share of harassment as one of the pioneers of interracial couples that is much more common today. They raised four children (two sons and two daughters), and their love is still growing strong after being married for 52 years. Unfortunately, due to some tragic events, Jolande is now severely clinically depressed.
I traveled to Vietnam and also felt the terror James woke up to every day. I learned so much history from a live source as I turned each page. I am astounded by the obstacles James has lived through from his travels internationally to his settling at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana. He defies the odds of how he has turned a negatively dealt hand of cards into a positively royal flush. For instance, when James began schooling in eighth grade at a Catholic school, the nuns said he could not read, write or count. With the help of a tutor, he was able to read on the same reading level as his peers by the end of eighth grade. He eventually graduated with a business degree from Butler University.
James hit a very low spot in his life when he faced several perplexing events: he lost his eldest daughter in a semi/automobile accident; he nursed his wife through two major cancer surgeries; he saved his home from foreclosure; and despite having a bachelor’s degree, he was passed over for a promotion that instead went to a young white girl without a GED who had dropped out of school her junior year to raise three children.
After hearing about a men’s retreat called Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) at Holy Spirit, he attended and was selected to give a talk on spirituality and forgiveness. His presentation ended with 11 men in tears. He says, “My CRHP brothers told me that the world needed to hear my story. This was the embryo for Black Dad-White Dad. I had been totally rejected by my dad my entire life. God shielded the facts of my rejection until I was 58 years old. Both of my parents were deceased, and I had the mental and spiritual maturity to understand and forgive all parties. The men in this retreat energized my soul with the courage to write this story.”
As we approach this holiday season, we can never hear too many stories about forgiveness, especially coming from the primary source. James tells his true story with such compassion, reminding us how lucky we are to wake up in America each day with freedom to make choices for tomorrow. He allows us to witness firsthand real love and forgiveness that can only nourish and free our soul.