Brief prose thoughts from the South
|"19 And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses' anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.
20 And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it."
I'm a Southerner by birth and by experience. We stood when Dixie was played. The Stars and Bars was my heritage. I'm writing with the pedigree of all that history and heritage. I'm sharing how the seed was planted that something was wrong dreadfully wrong with my perspective.
I grew up in Pensacola both my parent loving wonderful people and my mother in particular was always careful to instill in us a compassion for blacks. Still when our building was built in 1955 there were three bathrooms. One for coloreds. Two water fountains. This was my South. This was second nature. This was reality, the way things were. The coloreds still,sat in the balcony at the Sanger still had to use the side entrance. On Saturdays they were all in the balcony in those days you could get in with RC bottle caps for the Saturday morning cartoons. Colored people and whites didn't mix.
But this is really a story abut a man. A black man who worked for us for over 50 years Mr. Elbert Walker. He worked our warehouse in hot sweltering August Days and cold wet February ones. Over 50 years. He put his children through college on warehouse workers wages. From time to time he would borrow money from the company to that end. He paid every penny back. He was never late, he was seldom sick, he was impeccably honest patient and humble. When he finally retired it was a whole left behind. He was the only one who could start our old forklift knew every quirk of our building. He wax an elder in his church on E Street. He was a Christian. He bought his Bible to work. He was a credit to his race.
As business progressed we got a new territory in which to distribute. Mississippi. Mr. walker also drove our delivery truck. Soon after Elbert asked to speak with me, we went to my office and I closed the door. He said Mr, Martin I can't drive the truck to Mississippi. I was really taken aback never had I heard Elbert ever complain or say something like that. I asked him why, he said Mr Martin I've never been to Mississippi and I'm scared to go. It took a second and I asked why kind of stupidly. He just looked straight at me and reiterated I'm scared to go. After a moment of letting this sink in I told him of course he didn't have to drive to Mississippi. That ended the meeting and we shipped common carrier to Mississippi. But it was a seminal moment for me. This great good man, a credit to his race, was seriously afraid of something. He was honestly afraid to go. I wasn't about to make him. So I stared thinking about this. I had been to Mississippi many times, I always found the people nice, accommodating friendly, humble. Was there something I was missing?
Some time later I bought a blue GMC pick up. Great truck. I put a plate on the front with our stars and bars. A few months later it was stolen and stripped and burned. I got a rental to drive. When I told Elbert he looked straight at me and said Mr Martin I knew when you put that flag on the front something bad was going to happen. I laughed but that was the moment that this black man, a credit to his race, had just made his testimony to me. Gracefully without malice, matter of fact.
It was then I realized he hadn't said one word when I did it, but I understood he wasn't empowered to say anything. This was my revelation my seminal moment of the start of understanding what it meant to be black. It was then I started to self examine my race and how I viewed blacks. How all my perceptions were colored by prejudice, yes racism even though I had been to high school with blacks been friends with them what else were they not empowered not allowed to say?
Time moves slowly in the South. Our hot August nights move like honey dripping off a spoon, our speech drawls multi syllables across long slow words. The sun moves in a pendulum of sunrises and sunsets , change is almost imperceptible. We have a long history of going barefoot on our land. Fishing with long bamboo poles, crickets in the night, fireflies at dusk. It's a beautiful,land full of good people.
We need to do what's right. Only we who have the power can make things right. We can be a credit to our race by ending the very notion that someone is a credit to their race. That one race presides over another. It won't be easy. We can make history we can be history because we are that history evolving forward. History is not made nor written on cold hard stones, graven images of once living men now stuck motionless in Time, fashioned and frozen by artisans hands. We don't learn lessons from statues. History is right here and right now, we should free the men imprisoned in their cast and by so doing free all of us.
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. "