An autobiographic account of a time many of us would rather forget, it begins in May of 1970, in the little town of Oxford, NC, when a playmate whispers to ten-year-old Tim Tyson, "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger."
As I read, my thoughts kept going back to my childhood in the Fifties -- and all the things that I was blind to -- separate drinking fountains, schools, hospitals, taxis, waiting rooms, rest rooms for black and white; the black woman who worked long hours for little money, cleaning my grandparents' house, cooking many of their meals, but never eating off the china the white people used -- no, my grandmother had a special shelf with Annie Davis's plate and glass and flatware.
It's how things were.
And the man who came on Saturdays to mow the lawn -- Fred Gardner had a Masters degree (from a black college, of course) and was a schoolteacher (at a black school, of course.) He mowed lawns on Saturday and gave the proceeds to his church. And every Saturday morning, my grandfather (who had an eighth grade education) would go to the garage and start the lawn mower for Fred, feeling that it was too complicated a process for him to understand.
I was fortunate never to have seen the ugliest side of racism. But the benevolent side was bad enough.
This picture, taken at the time the schools in Little Rock were being integrated, shows so clearly how racism's evils affect both sides. Caught up in mob hatred, the white people are a portrait of evil and ignorance at work.
A few years ago, I saw an article in which the screaming young woman in the center, older and finally wiser, had sought out the calm girl who had been the object of her anger and apologized.
Though my sins were of omission, rather than commission, I wish I could apologize to Fred Gardner and Annie Davis.
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