Life in rural Virginia in the '50s, '60s and '70s

The Ping Pong Man

“We gon’ kick yo ass, Mister Ping Pong Man. You done done it now, yo ass is grass!”.
– “Yeah, let’s get him”. Stagalee was about to leave the Grandy Park Recreation Center not sure exactly what he should do. It was time for him to go home for the day, but the Liberty Park boys were gathered just to his left, they were standing in the street staring him down. To his right were the Grandy Park girls, these 15 to 18 year old girls were just as notorious as their male counterparts. They, too, stood in the middle of the street. The girls were all dressed in what could best be described as the group uniform, Chuck Taylor all star sneakers, white knee-high socks, miniskirts and either a jean jacket or a mink coat. The minks were of various lengths. Each of the girls sported a switch blade knife which they menacingly flicked opened and closed, as they stared at Stagalee, waiting for him to leave the safety of the rec center.


Liberty Park
The Liberty Park neighborhood of Norfolk, VA. (Photo @1964 Courtesy of the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority).

The year was 1971, VA-44 (I-264) was still under construction. The Norfolk Scope arena had not long been completed. Dr. J. was a Virginia Squire for the American Basketball Association. Norfolk’s urban renewal was in full swing and Stagalee was there fresh out of Remington, Virginia. This was only Stag’s second day on the job. He had been assigned to the Grandy Park area in order to fulfill his work/ study program obligation at Norfolk State. Through the program, Stagalee received a $500 check for school tuition and a $20 a week salary. Begging for food in the Student Union building was never again an issue after this program began in the second semester of his freshman year. Grandy Park, as it was known, wasn’t that bad of an area. There were some nice homes there, it appeared to be a very nice neighborhood. The problem with Grandy Park was its close proximity to Liberty Park. Liberty Park was, well, it was the projects. Liberty Park was one of the first federal housing projects in the country. It was constructed to be “a defense housing project for 800 Negro families… developed by the Federal Public Housing Authority of the National Housing Agency”. By most accounts, the neighborhood began to deteriorate from the moment construction was completed. Students at Norfolk State were warned to stay away from that area, they were told that gangs roamed the streets and that no one was safe. Stagalee was being confronted by two of those gangs right now, one male and one female. He decided to take his chances and turned in the direction of home and started walking down the street, towards the girls. The Liberty Park boys began following, the girls encircled him, tossing out profanity laced threats all the while. One of the girls turned to the boys who were about 20 paces behind and yelled, “We got this, we don’t need ya’ll to handle him!”. The boys stopped and turned back up the street.


Mr. Ping Pong Man
A likeness of Mr. Ping Pong Man demonstrating his abilities on the table. Photo courtesy of Tumblr.com

Just yesterday he’d been treated like a celebrity. When he arrived at the rec center for his first day of work one of he kids asked him if he knew how to play table tennis. Of course he did. Stagalee spent almost every waking hour in the ping pong room at the student union building on campus. His prowess on the table was well known among those who frequented the basement of that building, which housed a room for ping pong, the chess room, where the chess club met, the restaurant / greasy spoon and several other rooms that were of no importance to Stag.

Stag had been listed as the best player on campus for a full week, the title was a difficult one to achieve and an even harder one to hang on to.

Stagalee took ‘next’ on the ping pong table at the rec center and never relinquished his spot the entire night. That’s when the kids began calling him “Mr. Ping Pong Man” and bringing in their friends from the street to watch him play. He was a big hit at the center. But that was then.
This day he was assigned by the center’s director to referee a basketball game between the rival teams of Liberty Park and Grandy Park. That news meant that any calls made against Liberty Park could be his undoing. But he had no choice. “Twe-e-e-e-e-e-t!”, Stagalee blew his whistle in the final seconds of the fourth period. “Foul! Number 43 Blue!”. The call was against the team from Liberty Park, the fifth one of the night on that particular player. The rules stated that the player had to be ejected from the game for fouling too many times. The threats had already been coming since the first foul in the game, but kicking out their best player and causing them to lose the game? Well, that brought on even more taunts and warnings of impending violence toward Stag.
That day and every day after, he was escorted out of the neighborhood by the same group of girls. The threats flowed, the switch blades flicked, the girls were always waiting outside to walk him to the end of the block and the fence that separated Grandy Park’s Kimball Terrace from Brambleton Avenue. Stagalee noted to himself that the girls, nor the boys for that matter, seemed to ever venture beyond the fence. Stag would slide through the fence opening and onto Brambleton then walk the remaining two blocks to the house where he and his room mates stayed on Willoughby. But he could not figure out why those girls seemed to respect an invisible force field that held them inside their neighborhood. Being a college freshman meant that Stagalee was no more than a year or two older than these girls. But they may as well have been decades and worlds apart. As they walked, between taunts, Stagalee tried to relate to them by discussing their aspirations. He tried to get the girls to see beyond the now, beyond the fence. After a while the girls talked about life after high school and Norfolk, even considered the possibility that they might one day attend Norfolk State College (now N.S.U.).


Mad dog
As Stagalee walked down the street he noticed a dog chasing a little girl around a light pole. Phot courtesy of TheWeek.com

After about a month of working at the center, Stag was walking toward the center when he heard screams coming from down the block ahead of him. He looked up and saw a large dog chasing a little girl round and round a street light. Stag immediately began running toward them, yelling at the dog, trying to get its attention. The dog didn’t notice Stagalee approaching the little girl did and ran directly toward him with the dog snapping at her heels. Stagalee picked the little girl up and put her down behind him. The dog approached at full speed and jumped on Stag’s chest. The dog began excitedly licking Stag’s face. He hadn’t been trying to bite the child, he only wanted someone to play with. But this was a huge dog, and the little girl was terrified

At the same time Stag was petting the dog and trying to get it off of him, the little girl had run into a pool hall behind them screaming about the dog. The occupants of the establishment rushed out into the street to see what was causing the commotion, pool sticks in hand. Just as Stag got the dog under control, the men came at Stag, clutching the girl in a protective fashion.
– “Is that your dog?”
– Hey you! IS THAT YOUR DOG!?!” another person asked.
“No, that’s not my dog, I’ve never seen this dog before today”, Stag replied anxiously.
– “If you want to live to see tomorrow , you better take your dog and get the hell outta here!’, they were moving in toward Stag, ready to pounce
Then Stag heard a girl yell out from down the street, “Wait! He didn’t do nothing, he pulled the dog off the girl, we saw the whole thing!”
It was the Grandy Park girls, they’d witnessed the entire episode from several blocks away and were running toward what was now a throng of people ready to attack Stag for what they presumed had happened.
“That’s the Ping Pong Man” (they never bothered to learn my name, Stagalee thought himself, they don’t even know my real name).
“He works at the recreation center, he’s OK.”, they said, “We know him, he saved that little girl from the dog, ya’ll should be thanking him”.
The group of people took a collective step back and just as they had done so many times in the past, the girls surrounded him, but this time to protect him, maybe that’s why they’d been escorting him all along, for his own protection. The girls continued to walk Stag to the rec center each day after that and were waiting for him from then on to escort him out of the neighborhood, even though it was no longer necessary. They spent that time talking about what the future might bring, the switch blade knives never came out again.
And from that time forward, Stagalee was treated with respect and admiration in the neighborhood. Not only did the kids look upon him as somewhat of a hero, but the adults treated him as a respected member of the community as well.
= “There goes the Ping Pong Man!”, they’d say.
– “Hi Ping Pong Man” or “‘Bye, Mr. Ping Pong Man. C’Ya tomorrow!”.

Mr. Ping Pong Man, the boy from the sticks of Faquier County had found a home away from home in the projects.

English Leather

Loodie Mae Jenkins sat down and turned on the television. It was just about time for “Soul Train” to come on and like she did every other Saturday morning before 11 a.m., she took care of all her chores in time to watch it so her mother would leave her alone. So far, 1969 was proving to be a great year for music. “But I wish they “hadn’t taken ‘Milt Grant’ off the air, I liked Milt Grant”. Loodie Mae had this crazy idea that she might see somebody she knew on the show, even though it went off the air in ’61. She didn’t know anybody from D. C. or couldn’t remember ever seeing a single black dancer on the show, but she still thought…


Parlo
Loodie Mae knew Parlo Silby was running from something, she just didn’t know what it was yet.

“What the heck was that”, a streak went by the front window and startled Loodie Mae back to reality. She jumped up and ran out to the road to see who it was. All she could see was the back of someone running down the dirt road as fast as he could, a strong stink of English Leather Lime cologne hung in the air, she hated English Leather cologne. He was beating feet a mile a minute, “What has he done this time?”, every now and then Parlo would look back over his shoulder, but never slowed his pace. “I guess I’ll find out Monday at school”, Loodie Mae went back in, sat down and continued watching the show.


Yellow Cab
A cab pulled into the driveway.

About ten minutes later Loodie Mae watched as a car crept slowly up the road, it went past the house and on up the hill. In less than a minute, the car came back down the hill, it pulled into her driveway, stopping short of coming all the way to the house. It looked like a cab, it had “Ballentine’s Cab Co.” written on the side. What the heck was a cab doing way out here? Loodie Mae had never heard of anyone catching a cab to Remington, from anywhere! A man got out of the taxi and looked around, he looked upset. He walked over to Mr. Jenkins, Loodie Mae’s father, who was busy working under his old ’58 Chevy Impala. Loodie walked through the kitchen, to the back porch and stood by the screen door to listen in, she stayed quiet and out of sight. The white man began speaking, “How ya doing?”, Loodie Mae’s father returned the greeting and waited to hear what was coming next. The man spat out a big wad of tobacco on the graveled driveway and continued,
“You didn’t see a colored boy run past hear did you?”.
-“No, why, what happened?”
“Boy stopped me in Warrenton on second street and asked me to bring him to that house just over that hill there (he pointed up the road). I told him it would be $5 and he said ok. But when he got to the house and got out, he said he was going inside to get the money. ‘Cept he took off running down the hill in this direction without paying his fare.”
– “I never heard of such a thing!”, her father said, “That’s old Mrs. Gaskin’s house, she ain’t got no kids. What’d he look like?”
“Colored boy, ’bout yea tall, dark, wearing jeans, a striped tee shirt and tennis shoes, I guess”.
Loodie Mae knew exactly who it was, she kept quiet.
– “Well that could be just about anybody, no I wish I could help, but I don’t know who that is”, Loodie Mae’s dad looked back at his Impala, impatient to get back under it, that muffler wasn’t gon’na patch itself, “Wish you luck”.

The man looked past him and checked around the property before heading back to his cab, Loodie Mae stayed out of sight on the porch.
Fussing to herself, “Parlo Silby, did he really need a ride that bad? He could have thumbed back home”, Loodie Mae had thumbed a ride herself once. Parlo was just lazy, as far as she was concerned. She went back and finished Soul Train.

That Monday morning Loodie Mae was sitting in Black History class listening to Parlo brag about his weekend escapades. He claims he’d gone on a shoplifting spree all over Warrenton. He’d stolen a Peter’s sports jacket from H.B. Carter’s, a pair of Chuck Taylor’s from Rankin’s Hardware store and a bottle of English Leather from Rhode’s Drug store, which was now stinking the entire room up as he spoke. Loodie Mae had heard enough, she was tired of Parlo, he’d been a trouble maker ever since he moved here from Washington, D.C. She recalled the first time she’d seen him at Taylor, he was wearing a canary yellow silk suit, with canary yellow silk socks and a pair of canary yellow Stacey Adams alligator shoes. He made a point of letting everyone know that his outfit wasn’t just yellow, it was canary yellow. He said he’d gotten a five-finger discount on everything he had on that day. The next day he showed up all in purple, the nerve of some people. Parlo didn’t make himself easy to like, as far as Loodie was concerned he made everybody and every thing look bad. She didn’t have time for this, she’d be leaving for Howard University in the fall, after she graduated from Fauquier. She was going to be a school teacher and she was going to get to and save all the Parlo Silbys before they turned bad like this one.


English Leather
Rhodes Drug Store kept a running ad in the Fauquier Democrat for men’s exotic colognes.

Warrenton, Virginia was a quiet little, sleepy town in the center of Fauquier County. People from there didn’t particularly like outsiders and Parlo was an outsider. Loodie Mae was just like everybody else from that county, she didn’t like outsiders coming in messing things up, bringing in their outside ideas. She especially did not like Parlo silby.

Just as Mr. Wilson was getting class started, the classroom door opened and the principal walked in with two town police officers and the cab driver who’d been by Loodie’s house the other day. Mr. Campbell pulled Mr. Wilson outside into the hallway and they talked for about a minute. The cab driver came back in and moved slowly up and down the aisles looking at each boy, then moving on. He went back to the front of the class and shook his head no. “Oh my goodness”, Loodie Mae thought to herself, “I know we can’t all look that much alike”.

She couldn’t take anymore, she spoke up, “He’s right here”, she pointed behind her to Parlo Silby, “This is him! He jumped out of your cab mister and he stole all those things from uptown, he was just telling me about it”.
The cab driver took a better look at Parlo and agreed, “Yep, that’s him alright, that’s the boy!”. The police officers came down the aisle, told Parlo to stand up and come with them. They quietly escorted Parlo out of the building. Loodie Mae turned to the front of the classroom, took out her black history book and opened it to the chapter on Sojourner Truth, she sighed a sigh of satisfaction and muttered under her breath,
“I hate English Leather”.

A Sight Unseen

Hey-Lean Jackson knelt at the edge of the woods wondering what she should do. A car had just parked at the end of the dark dirt road. She watched in silence as a white man and woman emerged from the car, they walked to the back of it and pulled out an object about the size and shape of a large shoe box. Hey-Lean crouched down a little more as she saw the couple reach inside the trunk again and pull out what looked like a shovel and a gunny sack. She knew she’d better stay quiet and just wait.

Hey-Lean Jackson was the oldest of three children, she was ten years old and in the fifth grade. She didn’t have a lot of friends so Hey-Lean spent a lot of time alone in the woods. She’d found a little meadow surrounded by thickets just up the hill from where she lived. There, the grass was silky and cool, she could lie for hours daydreaming about her plans of growing up. Hey-Lean didn’t want to end up living with some white family and helping raise their kids like so many other colored girls did where she lived. Hey-Lean had plans, she wanted to be somebody, she had dreams of becoming a famous writer, a poet maybe. It was in the midst of one of her daydreams that she was awakened by the sound of an approaching car on the gravel road. By now the couple had wrapped the box in the gunny sack and they were making their way further into the woods, they passed almost directly over Hey-Lean but did not notice her, it was getting on near dust. Hey-Lean began to worry that it was close to supper time and her Grandmother would be calling for her to come to dinner soon.

The man took the shovel and began clearing off a spot under Hey-Lean’s favorite Weeping Willow tree, “they’re burying a baby, they’re burying a baby, I know it”. Hey-Lean started moving backwards out of the woods as quietly as she could, they were far enough away that they couldn’t hear her footsteps. Once she got to the road, she read the license plate of their car and then she ran. She ran as fast as she could down that road, her feet barely touching the ground. She arrived home excited and out of breath, bursting into the door. “Gran! Gran! Guess what I saw!”.
“Quiet girl, can’t you see we got company?” Hey-Lean hadn’t noticed Mrs. Jeffreys sitting at the kitchen table. What Hey-Lean had to say would be best kept in the family, she would have to wait. “Sit down and have your supper, whatever you think you need to say can wait”. Hey-Lean ate her dinner but she was bursting at the seams to tell her grandmother what she’d seen. After a while it was obvious Mrs. Jeffreys wasn’t going to leave before it was time for Hey-Lean to go to bed, so that’s what she did.

The next morning Hey-Lean jumped out of bed and ran down to tell her granny about the white people burying the baby in the woods. “Child, I don’t know if we should be getting involved in white folkses business”. Hey-Lean begged and pleaded until Gran agreed to call the police and report what she’d seen.


Backhoe
A backhoe was brought for the dig.

It wasn’t long before the police arrived, they arrived with an ambulance, firetrucks and a tractor-trailer hauling a backhoe. It looked like all the white people in the county had come to Hey-Lean’s house that morning. One of the officers approached Hey-Lean and asked her to show them where the body had been buried. Hey-Lean took them to the spot where she’d last seen the couple, but there was no grave. The men fanned out and began to search for freshly dug ground. At the same time another police car pulled up and Hey-Lean could see the couple being pulled out of the car in handcuffs, the woman was crying. The man sobbing and in shock cried, “I didn’t mean to kill it, it was an accident! You have to believe me, I didn’t mean to do it”. Hey-Lean had seen enough, she ran and hid behind the weeping willow tree, peering around it, yet hoping not to see.

Finally someone yelled out, “We found it!”. The backhoe was brought in and they began digging. Not long after, the make-shift casket was uncovered and taken out of the ground. Carefully, the firemen removed the sack, then they lay the box on the ground, several of them reaching to remove the top at the same time. As the top came off Hey-Lean heard several gasps escape their lips. One of the firemen reached into the box and pulled out the remains, he pulled out the remains of a little puppy, with a portion of its skull crushed in. Hey-Lean later learned that the couple lived on the next road over and had brought the dog to the woods to bury it after the man had accidentally run over the puppy in the driveway. They’d brought the dog to her woods to give it a decent burial. A sad ending to an even sadder story. Hey-Lean never told another sole about what transpired back then until she told me today. Hey-Lean is my mother Earlene Brown and this is her story.

The Strangers Among Us


Mombasa, Kenya
Sneaking away from the house before Mom found out.

One of the earliest memories I have is of my sister, Barbara, and I sneaking away from the house to visit our cousin Annie Ruth. Annie lived just down at the end of the dirt road from us and during the summer we tried to make it all the way to her yard on our tricycle almost every day. I’d sit on the seat and my sister would have one foot on the back stand while she pushed with the other foot to get us down the road as fast as she could, all the time hurrying and whispering, hoping we wouldn’t get caught. Most of the time we didn’t even make it half-way there, but a few times we got all the way into the yard and even had time to play for a while. Never in our wildest dreams did we think that anything bad could happen to us. After a while we’d look up the road and see our mother standing in the yard waving a dish towel and yelling inaudibly, and we knew we’d better head right back.

I couldn’t have been more than three years old back then. Mom would give us free reign to come and go as we pleased, as long as we stayed in the yard. Most times she was like a hawk watching her young, but sometimes we were able to sneak through the cracks, we were constantly testing our boundaries. In our neighborhood, you didn’t just have one set of parents, you had four or five. We knew we were being watched even when it didn’t seem like we were. And once we were old enough to leave the yard and visit friends on our own, a report of what we’d been doing and how we’d behaved reached our house before we ever made it back.


Mombasa, Kenya
Sorry kid, no more playing alone outside.

We were very fortunate to grow up in Fauquier County, Virginia, specifically in the town of Remington. We grew up nurtured, well-feed, well cared for in a loving family, all within a tight-knit community. That’s why it saddens me each time I read about mothers who have been arrested for allowing their children to go to the play ground alone. I wonder what happened to the idea of knowing everyone in your neighborhood? What happened to the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child”? I realize that it is probably like comparing apples and oranges to view my childhood experience in comparison to the reality of what it’s like for a child growing up today. But couldn’t we, as adults, walk the child back home and speak with the parents before calling the police to swoop in and whisk the child away? If we take children away from their parents for allowing them to play unsupervised, what does that make us as a society? Aren’t the children being abducted anyway, but not by strangers, by us. We are quickly becoming the very thing we are supposed to be fighting against. Social services, the police, the judicial system, our neighbors, we, all of us have become the strangers who are stealing children from their parents. We claim it’s being done for their own protection, but who are we kidding? I don’t think we’re even kidding ourselves. Let’s find another solution.


Family Tree
Can learning about your genealogy have a downside?

You might not think that researching ones ancestry would have a down side, but it always does. The down side is that you find out things that you weren’t supposed to know or you reveal things that you weren’t supposed to tell. Actually, those are about the only down sides. With the advent of the Ancestry.com. web site, it has become so easy to research one’s roots. My cousin June, who spent years traveling to gravesites and public libraries to uncover details about our family history, would be amazed to learn that today it only takes hours to uncover much of the same information, thanks to Ancestry.com. I am so proud that she named me as the benefactor to our treasured historical documents and photos.

When I was 17 years old, I worked for the Community Action Program in Warrenton, VA. and was assigned as a summer counselor at a church out in the county. One day as I stood on the steps at the entrance of the church, a boy of about 12 or 13 walked up to me. He said, “Hi, I’m (and he said his name), I’m your cousin. My mother is…” (he told me his mother’s name). I recognized her name and I’d known his family all my life. He went on,”… and my father is (he named a relative of mine)”. One look at him and you could easily tell that he was a member of the family; the head, the eyes, the cheeks, yes he was family all right, it was unmistakable. I was a bit taken aback at how matter-of-fact he was though, he wanted me to know exactly who he was. He went on to tell me that he’d been in trouble quite a bit because he hadn’t had a father growing up. He didn’t have a father because the person he named had never acknowledged him as a son, according to him. His father had never given him a Christmas gift and had not so much as stopped by to see him, ever. If you’ve watched any television at all, this scene is not that foreign to you. This family skeleton storyline has played out on the TV and big screen quite a few times over the years.

The problem is that you won’t find that boy’s name anywhere in my family tree. It’s not that the family doesn’t know he exists, it’s that we’re not “supposed” to know, it’s never been publicly declared that he is related to us. Granted, I learned of my cousin’s existence decades before Ancestry.com was ever conceived, but now that it’s here and I use it religiously, I have to play tug-of-war with my conscience over whether to include him in the family tree or not. Is it true that sometimes too much information can be bad for you?


Family Tree
Cousin June left behind a treasure trove of family history, a monument to her work ethic and dedication to family

Then there are the kids I grew up playing with that turned out to be my cousins. We, my siblings and I, were never told that our friends and schoolmates were actually part of the family. Not even the fact their grandmother always asked how my grandmother was doing and called her “Cousin Lula” tipped me off. It just never clicked in my brain that she always referred to her as “cousin”. It turns out that how we came to be related might be a cause for embarrassment for one or more members of the family, so I suppose that is why we were never told. But it really didn’t have any affect on our relationship with that family. We grew up in a very tight-knit community, where you felt kin to everyone even if you weren’t. Still it would have been nice to know at the time.

The moral to the story: family is family, no matter how you became family and it all should be acknowledged and welcomed. Researching our family history should not be cause for anguish or worry that long kept family secrets might get out. As family historians, as true genealogists, we must not be afraid to follow our roots to their true beginnings, no matter where they lead.

Embracing Our Roots


DNA Results
For African Americans, there’s no such thing as just being black anymore, almost all descendants of slaves have some amount of European blood cursing through there veins.

It’s gotten to be a habit now, I guess I’ve been diving into my family genealogy so much I can’t stop now… Whenever I meet someone for the first time, I try to look into their past. I look deep into their features, staring down into their history to see if I can tell where their genes originate from. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at it. If I asked, “Aren’t you related to the (fill in the blank) family over in Culpeper?”, nine out of ten times you can bet I’m right. Or, I will do what I did with a former co-worker some years back. We were sharing an office and after an acceptable amount of time of keeping my thoughts to myself, I just came out with it, “You look Scandinavian, is your family of Scandinavian descent”. And as is the case when I ask most non-blacks that question, he answered, “Well, yes, but I guess you could say I’m actually a mutt, my mother is from Denmark and my father’s side of the family is from Germany”, then he went into even greater detail naming several more European countries as being part of his lineage. I listened intently and decided that I’d give it a try too. So,I responded, “That’s interesting, I’m part Scandinavian too and I’m also part Irish”. My new office-mate leaned back in his chair, let out a big guffaw, then turned to me and retorted, “Yeah, right!”.

He hadn’t believe a word I said. He didn’t believe me? “No, it’s true!”, I defended my position, “My great-grandmother came directly from Ireland during the potato famine”, he didn’t let me finish…. He got up from his desk and stuck his head out into the hallway, “Hey Everybody! Stan says he’s Irish!” (followed by laughter). To him I was just a regular black guy and I guess regular black guys are just that, just Black!


Mombasa, Kenya
Mombasa Kenya, 1976 – I thought I was tracing my roots, but I learned that they stretched much farther than I could ever have imagined at the time

There was no convincing this guy that I had anything other than African blood cursing through my veins. It was time to educate this guy. I said, there are white people mixed in on all sides of my family, all sides. You do realize that I am a Virginian who has roots that go well back into slavery, don’t you? That means that there is a 99.9 percent chance that some master had his way with a slave girl somewhere in my family history and produced at least one mixed race child. My great-great-grandmother on my father’s side had reportedly nine children by her slave master. It may have been consensual, it may not, but being that she was a slave and he was her master, and that she was his property, that kind of makes it non-consensual no matter how you look at it. I could see that recapping of my family history to this young man was falling on deaf ears, he wasn’t having any of it. It looked to me like “The One Drop Rule” was alive and well, no, thriving would be a better word. You know the one drop rule, if you have one drop of black blood, that makes you black, there’s no middle ground.

That brings up my Barack Obama issue, to me Obama is the only real African-American I know of. His father was born in Africa and his mother was born in America. But here lies the rub, that means, he’s not really our first black president. Because to me, I thought our first black president would have had at least an inkling of what it was like to come from a heritage that included the shackles of bondage, be someone whose roots bore the baggage of slavery. But that is an entirely other story, I won’t even deal with that right now, that has nothing to do with this story.

But I guess in a way it does, because being born with the baggage of slavery and baring the shackles of bondage is almost a thing of the past. At the end of the day, we are all Americans and at the same time we are all mutts. As an African-American I want to feel as free to detail my multicultural heritage as my former office-mate did. I’d like to be able to list all of the places my family hails from without fear of, well, simply not being believed, that would be nice. While we’re still a long way from someone actually wondering, much less asking, what my heritage is, the day has come where I am free to share and be proud that the making of me was a global endeavor, I’m not just a one hit wonder, Africa. To most people a single glance tells them all they need to know. They think that the mere sight of my brown skin, hair texture and broad features gives them the full scope of my family tree. But if we look deeply within ourselves, we may find that our roots reach out to almost every continent on the planet. If they do, we should at least be aware of them and we should embrace them all.

A Sign of the Times


Enjoying watermelon
Kids enjoying some cool, refreshing watermelon. If they were poor, they wouldn’t have known unless someone told them

A young lady responded to a post I recently submitted to Facebook that, as a child, she did not know she was poor until someone told her. I can relate to that, I would not have known we were poor if not for the fact that we qualified for government cheese and free dental care. The fact that I qualified for Lyndon Johnson's Community Action Program also gave me a realization that we were poor.
Many times I could have forgotten that I was ‘colored’ were it not for the constant reminders at every turn. Many reminders came in the form of signs like, "Colored Only", "Colored Served in Rear", and there were many others.
Unfortunately, a lot of the reminders also came directly from our own people. Back then, blacks had a habit of making sure other blacks "stayed in their place", it got to the point where white people didn't have to bother reigning us in, we took care of it for them. We did it by calling each other the N-word and with questions like, "Where do you think you're going?", "Why you trying to act white?", we kept each other in line.


Colored Only Sign
Signs reminded us of who and what we were

You really didn't have to go very far to be reminded that you were colored, schools were segregated, bus stations offered "separate but equal" waiting rooms. Movie theaters had a colored section, usually in the balcony. In the little village of Opal, just up the road from where I grew up, there was a truck stop on the corner. When the business moved up the road to a new location, the old building was dilapidated and falling to the ground. The only thing left standing was a side door with a sign that read "Colored". That door stayed up for years after Jim Crow laws were shot down, it was a constant reminder that we were second class citizens. I stared at it, mesmerized, each time we passed by in the car, as though it were my first time seeing it.

Thankfully, there were also people fighting for our rights back then, even though I was completely oblivious to it at the time. Their efforts and dedication made it possible for the signs to finally come down. It took time, but they did came down, along with a lot of the attitudes. There are new signs up now, signs that say that the baggage of Jim Crow and of being colored, that I carried and still find sometimes weighing me down today, are gone. My kids and grandkids don’t bear that weight, they don’t carry the baggage of the past and of being different, everyone is different now, normal is the new different. To my kids and grandkids, the stories I tell about growing up colored are as ancient as the Civil War, as far away as forever. “Is it because I’m black?” is no longer the first question asked when young blacks get a negative response on an application of any kind, that reason would never cross their minds today. Oh, we learn every day that there is still discrimination in all aspects of life; sports, housing, businesses and other areas, but unless it’s blatant, most young people wouldn’t recognize it. To me that is a sign that our society is moving forward in a positive direction, but we can’t move forward with blinders on. Remember the old adage that “history repeats itself”, well forgotten history is the easiest to repeat. In these times, on the home front and abroad, Americans of all ages, races and cultures must take up a new sign, a new sign that reads,
“We must stay vigilant, if we want to stay free!”. Let this be the new sign of the times.

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