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His preaching days over, the Rev. Sam Mann wants to set the record straight.

Shame, the other way would make a great movie:

White boy grows up in Alabama small town during the civil rights era, his father a hard-drinking racist. The son rejects dad, marches with King and becomes a hippie preacher. At a black church in Kansas City, he spends 40 years doing good deeds for his flock.

True all. But Mann says he can’t let stand the notion that his story is what he did for others; that he was some sort of white savior.

“The black community saved me,” he said. “My own people didn’t want me. I had nowhere to go.”

By 1968, Mann had essentially been exiled by the white Methodist church around Kansas City. Took the pony-tailed, motorcycle-riding preacher all of two years to earn that distinction.

Two congregations ran him off because of his constant harping on civil rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam.

Then another chance. A black church on Kansas City’s east side offered a job to a white guy from the heart of Dixie, who drawled like George Wallace, and whose father, a traveling salesman, would stay only in motels that guaranteed a “colored person” never had slept in the bed.

But it was at St. Mark Union where the young preacher found a home. For 40 years he served the church as a beloved pastor and advocate for its community. He took that southern drawl and learned to “whoop” with the best black preachers in town.

That was the easy part, said Mann, 70, the ponytail now gray.

The biggest challenge, he said in an interview last week, was his “unacknowledged white privilege.”

“I had to give it up everyday.”

A nebulous term – “unacknowledged white privilege,” but generally considered the societal and institutional benefits of being a white man in a black culture.

The Rev. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson said Mann never played that card.

“And that’s what made him so respected in the black community,” said Thompson, who heads the Kansas City chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“He just wanted to serve. I’ve been in the trenches with him. He’s a warrior and a beautiful brother.”

SOURCE: McClatchy Newspapers

Donald Bradley