Did the Tennessee Republican Party intentionally darken a picture of Democratic Senate nominee Harold Ford, an African-American, in a fund-raising letter?

Three versions of the same photograph of Ford, who is a Baptist, appear side-by-side on this Tennessee blog site.

The one on the left, the blogger said, is a cropped version of a photo on Rep. Ford’s congressional site. The image in the center is with color removed via Photoshop. The one on the right is the version that ran in the Tennessee GOP mailer.

The photograph on the right makes Ford’s fair complexion appear much darker.

Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Bob Tuke charged the GOP “darkened Harold Ford’s image to make a racist statement.”

Bob Davis, chair of the Tennessee Republican Party, whose signature appears on the fund-raising letter, called that charge “a lot of baloney,” according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Davis, along with the state GOP’s executive director, Chris Devaney, denied that they tampered with the photograph.

Sophisticated technological analysis may soon determine who is telling the truth.

Lacking such proof, one is left to wonder what would prompt Republican leaders to run such a dark, distorted picture of Ford in their fund-raising letter in the first place.

Even if Republicans didn’t alter the picture, the picture looked far darker than the one they said they took from Ford’s Web site. The only plausible reason is to use such a picture is to play the race card–in an effort to frighten and fire up white voters in a key senatorial race

In the black-and-white world of right and wrong, Republican leaders have flatly done wrong.

Whether they acted with malice or moral callousness doesn’t really matter. The end result is race as a wedge issue.

Racism remains a covert reality in our society, advanced by too many individuals and protected by too many social structures. But overt racism is widely condemned, not tolerated by moral people of goodwill in the public square.

Although southern churches remain largely segregated on Sunday morning, church bodies have issued numerous statement condemning racism and advocating racial reconciliation and justice.

Nevertheless, too many clergy condemn racism and commend racial harmony in the abstract. The Ford photograph affords a concrete opportunity for Tennessee’s moral leaders to offer a swift rebuke of racism or the appearance of racism in a fund-raising letter. Racism anywhere is a threat to race relations everywhere. Racial reconciliation anywhere advances race relations everywhere.

Beyond that, the matter also necessitates that our Republican senators reprimand their party leaders.

As for Republican senatorial nominee Bob Corker, Ford’s opponent, he needs to immediately separate himself from such a letter. He has already drug his feet too long, raising questions about his core values and ability to represent all Tennesseans.

One way to ensure that neither overt nor covert racial evil finds a secure place in the public square is to name racism when it surfaces and dispatch it with swiftness.

Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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