To the Citizens of Union, S.C.


November 4, 1994

To The Citizens of Union, South Carolina:

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with deep pain and regret that I write to you all in the midst of this horrific tragedy. At the same time, I feel a bit presumptuous...as if I am an intruder in a scene which is, strictly, none of my business. I would ask, however: Is there one anywhere whose heart is not moved by the events of the past ten days? I do not know of any such person. Anyone who has ever looked into the loving, trusting eyes of a child, or observed that sweet devotion of a parent in play with a toddler, must ache in the depths of their soul for the shattered bond of the Smith family.

This, of course, is only the beginning.

There can be no question that the abiding goodwill of everyone who prayed for the safe return of Michael and Alex Smith was betrayed in the most craven manner. As this awful episode began to unfold, I observed the heartfelt care and concern of your townspeople. During the hours and days of darkness when none knew what the next moment would bring, your faith and hope inspired an entire nation.

It is terribly important for everyone to realize that yours was a response of goodness. That spirit must be positively cultivated in these days when hope and goodness seem to be cornered by things which good people find impossible to understand. It must be widely known that the very goodwill of the people of Union really is not so rare, except for the fact of its recent test. As we conduct our lives into the future, we must all be able to look each other in the eye and know that we are not lost in a sea of evil. There is such a thing as goodness in the world. Despite the horrible destruction of these two young lives, your careful attention to the crisis proves its existence.

As if the event itself were not enough burden to any reasoning mind, the attribution of this crime to a black man was a gratuitous blow to innocence. If it had been true, that would be one thing, of itself. For it to be a lie is quite another, and perfectly outrageous for its cynical attempt to hide grievous wrong beneath the color of another person's skin.

Let me say that I took Susan Smith at her word: I believed her. I believed that black man had taken her children. I beg you, however: do not think that I believed he had done it because he was alleged to be black. I believed simply that the man who had done it was black, and this is an important difference: I would have just as easily believed that the man was white.

I will not authorize Susan Smith's cynical ploy with serious consideration. The fact is now revealed: she lied and we all know it. I would hope that storms of racial strife will not darken this already bleak hour. My distant observations of your community endorse the hope. Perhaps the rest of the world will take the lesson.

Finally, I would humbly commend the professional integrity of Sheriff Howard Wells. I was mightily impressed with him at first sight (his handling of the questions of news reporters behaving like insolent children with hearing disorders). His conduct of the investigation bore my impression through to conviction: he is a good man who did a tough job well enough to earn my respect. There was no expedient application of police power to the goal of conviction at the cost of truth, which we see in so many other police jurisdictions in America today.

I believe you can be proud of him and his Department.

And, I would respectfully honor the greatest extent of your pride in your town of Union, South Carolina.

God Bless You All.

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