As expected, the decision not to indict Officer Wilson caused riots, not simply protests, in Ferguson, MO. There was massive and indiscriminate destruction of the property of innocents who had nothing to do with why the rioters were doing their best to burn down their own neighborhood. They have burned buildings, businesses, and automobiles and smashed windows and greedily looted the stores belonging to their neighbors. This only creates needless suffering and hardship for people who bear no blame for the reason of the protests. This violent, destructive, criminal activism causes their neighbors to suffer massive losses and overshadows those who attempt to protest peacefully and legally. These criminals have used the Brown shooting as an excuse for this type of behavior. This turns people, such as me, who are attempting to be sympathetic to their cause, away from offering any support. It took a long time for me to come around to it, but with the help of my wife Carol Ann, I have turned into somewhat of a “bleeding heart liberal.” I can’t really believe it myself. Still, I simply cannot support any “cause” using riot as their method of protest. I believe you will find this true of many people, especially Southerners such as me, who were born in the 1940’s and are personally acquainted with racism.
Let me explain why it was so hard for me to change. I was born in 1944 in Savannah, Georgia. It was a “mere” 79 years after the end of the American Civil War. I grew up in a small southwest Georgia town in which one might never know that the war was actually over and the South had lost and slavery had ended. I remember waving Confederate flags, learning that damnyankee was only one word, and shouting, “Save your Confederate money boys, the South will rise again!”
The town was less than twenty miles from the Alabama line and not much more than seventy miles from the Florida line. The radio station that teenagers in my town listened to was WBAM, 50,000 watts of AM radio at 740 on the dial. It was called the Big BAM, boasting to be "The Voice of the Deep South" and was located in Montgomery, Alabama, one hundred and ten miles away. It was the only radio station we were able to receive that played Rock and Roll music. When the Freedom Riders got to Montgomery, the Big Bam DeeJays referred to them as the Free Dumb Riders, told jokes about them, and dedicated songs like "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" to them after one of the buses was burned. Blatant racism broadcast over a very large area and sponsored by Golden Eagle Syrup, White Lily Flower, and Golden Flake potato chips among others.
We never heard the word “racist,” but that’s what we were whether we knew it or not. Black people, or “Colored people” as they were known, were still treated much like slaves. They were dirt poor and poorly paid for their work, mostly uneducated, and subservient, not only to white adults but also to children. The races did not mix. I never attended a class with a e person until I went to the university. The only movie theater in town had a balcony for the black people. Churches were either black or white. There was no “separate but equal,” only “separate.” To underscore this, conspicuous “Colored Only” and “White Only” signs were posted over doors, water coolers, and any other place that served both races.
My father was one of three physicians in the county and he treated both black and white people and made house calls to both. There were black and white waiting rooms in his office and in the small local hospital. The hospital had private and semi-private rooms for white people but there were only two large wards for “Colored Men” and “Colored Women.”
My parents employed a black female maid/cook and a black male “yardman” at our house. These positions were highly sought after in the black community because of the perks that came with working for my dad. Not only did our “help” get free medical care, but my dad also paid their rent and utility bills. Of course their wages were only ten or fifteen dollars a week.
Many black people had some type of life and/or health insurance and would bring a blank claim form, known simply as a “blank,” to my dad’s office with them. Because most were illiterate, my dad would fill out the claim forms for them. Insurance salesmen, known as “policy men,” took advantage of black people by selling them cheap insurance. The policy men made weekly rounds to collect the twenty-five or fifty cent weekly premiums. I have no idea how good or bad these policies were.
We were not taught to hate black people. There was no brainwashing. It wasn't necessary. Simply by mimicking the adults we “learned” that black people were a lower class of people who had to be treated almost like children. The white people always seemed to know what was best for the black people. As wrong and misguided as it may have been, we thought we were actually looking after them. It was a totally different world back then and it really didn't begin to change until Montgomery and Selma happened. Still, any change that did occur came about very slowly and reluctantly.
Jessie was a black man who worked as our yardman for most of my childhood years. I remember him as always being old. He was bald except for the “wreath” of hair around the sides and back of his head. I thought he looked like “Uncle Remus” should have looked. I believe Jessie would have done anything to protect my family. Once, when I was playing with matches in the garage, I started a fire. Jessie came to the rescue by picking up a galvanized metal washtub that was full of water, running into the garage, and extinguishing the fire. Those old washtubs held fifteen to eighteen gallons of water, which would have weighed around 130 pounds, yet Jessie picked it up as if it were nothing.
Jessie was illiterate but could print his first name in what looked like a first graders hand. He had a son named Willie, who Jessie always referred to simply as “Boy.” Jessie lived on the other end of our street, about a mile from our house, across the railroad tracks that divided the white and black neighborhoods. Jessie walked to and from our house every day, pushing a wheelbarrow in which he carried leftovers home for his supper.
Lula was our maid and cook for most of my childhood. She was “inside help” as opposed to “outside help” (as was Jessie) There was a definite pecking order and “inside help” was above the “outside help.” Lulu was paid slightly more than Jessie and after the family ate lunch, Lula would sit at the table and eat her lunch. Once she was finished, she prepared a plate and took it out to Jessie who ate in the garage. Lula and Jessie shared all leftovers to take home with them for supper.
Lula lived on the other side of town and my mom would pick her up in the morning and take her home in the afternoon. When I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license I would relieve my mom of taxi duty whenever I could. Lula automatically got in the back seat of the car. I never told her to do so and I don’t know if my mom or dad ever told her. It seemed to have been what both the black people and the white people expected or accepted.
When Jessie was on his deathbed and dying from a stroke, my father, mother, and I sat beside his bed with my mother holding his hand until he drew his last breath. A few days later Willie, probably fifty years old, showed up at our house and took over his dad’s job as yardman as if it were his duty and responsibility to do so. Like Jessie, Willy was also illiterate but could print his name.
Even though Willie lived within walking distance it was an excuse for me to drive, so I often drove him home. Unlike Lula, Willie would get in the front seat with me and on the way to his house there would be a big grin plastered on his face as he waved to every black person we passed. He was riding in the front seat of Dr. Martin’s car and he wanted everybody to see him and know it. Willie worked at our house for a relatively short time, especially compared to Jessie.
My dad went out to the old family farm, where he was born and raised, after Willie left and brought Sonny and his wife to town. Sonny was about my dad’s age and had lived on the farm all of his life. He and my dad played together as children. Dad had a small frame house built for Sonny not far from where Jessie had lived and died. Sonny was something of a “Man Friday” for my dad. Not only did he keep the yard and garden in good shape, but on my dad’s day off would become his driver and they would drive around much of the afternoon with Sonny in the driver’s seat and my dad in the passenger’s seat. My dad enjoyed riding along the dirt roads out in the country and looking at the farms. He knew who lived on almost every farm. I suppose it helped him relax, not to mention that no one could get in touch with him (no cell phones back then). Sometimes he and Sonny would leave the house after lunch and not return home until very late in the afternoon.
I never really got to know Sonny well. I was in high school and would be off to the university soon. Sonny was nice but he had a little problem with alcohol, but then, so did my dad. I remember dad once made some peach brandy. He had about five gallons in an earthenware crock covered with cheesecloth. He put it in a dark corner of the garage to “age.” I vividly recall the day my dad went out to the garage to see how his peach brandy was coming along. When he removed the cheesecloth he was looking at the bottom of an empty crock!
“Sonny,” he shouted, “What happened to my peach brandy!”
“I don’t know suh,” responded Sonny, “Must ‘a ‘vaporated.”
I hope you can see how much of a change was required for someone raised in the environment I have just described to become a liberal . But now, when I watch the news on TV and see mostly black people with a token number of white people setting buildings and cars on fire, smashing windows, and looting stores it makes me angry. I understand their desire to protest and make their feelings known, but I cannot condone the destruction of property and the blatant thievery that is occurring.