Tag Archives: Culture

A Good Place to Land

Do you know what the really sad part is? The really sad part is that the story you are about to read is true and the names haven’t even been changed. Remember that old saying before every Dragnet episode? “The names have been changed to protect the innocent”, remember that? Apparently, no one is innocent anymore. See, last weekend I decided to take my truck to the repair shop, the one I’ve been taking it to for the past twenty some years. The shop is only a mile and a half away from my house, so I thought it would be a good idea to drop off the truck, then I’d take a leisurely walk back home. I did that with little or no incident. But while I was walking back home, a motorcycle cop passed by me going in the opposite direction. I nodded politely as he passed, he nodded back and all was good with the world. I’d been home about 3 hours when the shop called to let me know that my truck was ready for pick-up, so I started back on foot to get it. Wouldn’t you know it, that same motorcycle cop came by going in the “other opposite direction”, so I nodded at him again, only this time he didn’t nod back. He just stared intently as he crept by on his Harley. That’s when it hit me! If anything ‘went down’ anywhere near where I was right then, in his mind, I’d be the most likely suspect. There I was, well over 300 pounds, walking down the street in a jogging suit and obviously having no intention of working up a sweat… (Heck, now I’m starting to think I look suspicious.)

“Just out walking officer, no problem here”.

That’s when I subconsciously began scanning my surroundings. I was looking from the sidewalk to the field for a soft, wet spot that I could get to in a hurry. I was looking for a place to land just in case I was slammed, face first, to the ground, like is happening to so many these days. I wish I were kidding, I began to make plans as to what I should do if that cop pulled up along-side me and started to question me for one reason or another. As I politely answered his questions, with a “Yes sir” and a “No sir”, I’d slowly edge my way off the sidewalk, my plan was starting to come together. Moving so inconspicuously that he would not even notice I was moving away from him inch by inch. The next thing he’d know, I’d be standing in the middle of a grassy field shouting my answers back to him, but by then I’d be in a nice soft place for the inevitable “take down”. It sounds a bit funny, almost laughable, but its a downright dirty shame. It’s easy for those unaffected by this new trend to say things like, “he shouldn’t have resisted”, “all he had to do was do what he was told”. That’s so easy to say if it isn’t you being gripped in a choke-hold, or it isn’t you with a knee on his neck and his arms being forced to go in directions they weren’t intended to go.

But this is an argument that can go either way. I’m pretty open-minded, I’m sure that if I were a cop, I’d have a complete 180 degree take on the whole matter. They do a tough job and make tough decisions, no one can deny that. They have to make tough, split-second decisions, the kind that, once made, can’t be taken back. There are no do-overs for our men in blue, so they have to be right the first time. The take-down is one of those decisions that doesn’t seem to fall into the category of being a tough decision to make. Not if the person being taken down is already in cuffs and under control. At any rate, I shouldn’t expect there to be a possibility of my being slammed to the ground by police during a leisurely stroll down the street. A person driving a red sports car should expect to be pulled over more than most when he or she is just out driving. A black man shouldn’t expect to be thrown to the ground when he’s just out walking, not even if they’re in the wrong. This is still America, isn’t it? If it is and I know it is, something is wrong with this picture.

In the day
This may be too far back, but back in the day you could argue with the police man and not be concerned that he might shoot you.

Back in the 70s I had a few run-ins with the police, for traffic violations. I even argued with the police once or twice, got right up in their face. I once tore up a speeding ticket right in front of the deputy who issued it to me and all he said was that he’d been nothing but polite and that he expected the same from me (and oh by the way, “you’re still responsible for paying the fine, torn up ticket or not”). I even argued with a state trooper once and was so vehement that I hadn’t been speeding he finally admitted that his radar gun may have been off by a mile or two and he let me go. That was back when radar guns were a new thing and their accuracy was still in question. But at no time did he or any other officer “fear for their safety” or I for mine, even if we got into a heated debate. I wouldn’t attempt to argue with the police now, “Just tell me what you need me to do, officer” and I’d then do it. If you comply to all commands you are given, the chances of being body slammed are reduced exponentially. At least that has always been my expectation of what should happen. Otherwise, if I do anything other than comply, I can expect to find my face pressing against the pavement.

But the new catch phrase now seems to be, “I feared for my safety”, and it apparently gives anyone with the most minimal authority the right to do just about anything they want. Security guard: “I slammed the child down in the hallway because I was afraid for my safety” or “I feared for my safety or the safety of others and shot him because it looked like he was reaching for my weapon”. Regular citizens on the street haven’t gotten any tougher than the folks in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, have they? They’re probably a lot softer, but I guess, so have the authorities. I can’t fathom sheriffs like Luther Cox or Sam Hall or deputies like Butler Grant or any of the piece officers from that era saying that they did ANYTHING because they were ‘afraid’. I don’t think the words would have come out of their mouths, they were men Dammit! We’ve got county sheriffs, state troupers, Army Generals, presidents, in front of television cameras crying on a regular basis, what the heck is going on? If someone is going to slam me to the ground, they should say they did it because I came at them, not because they were afraid or in fear. Don’t slam a 300 pound man (or a 90 pound girl, for that matter) to the ground, then claim you did it because you were afraid they were going to hurt you. People in fear go in the opposite direction of that which they fear.

The point is that it’s a terrible reason to use to maim or injure someone, someone who was confronted for “looking suspicious” or may have had a fake ID. Can we please stop the madness, I don’t want to have to look for soft place to land as I walk through my own neighborhood. I know that this is all going to fall on deaf ears. If you aren’t in the demographic of the individuals most likely to experience something like this, then there’s no way I could expect you to get it. You won’t get it, not until you or someone you love is affected by it. Unfortunately, this type of trend tends to spread rather than dissipate, so… I suggest we all start looking for a good place to land.

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.

A Picnic to Remember

Family outing along Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park
My family and I on one of our many visits to Skyline Drive, that’s me on the right

While growing up, our family made picnicking on Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park, a regular pastime since before I can even remember. So when I was finally able to purchase my own car and it came time to take a female friend on a date during the day, driving and picnicking along the Shenandoah National Parkway was always my first option. The female in question on this occasion wasn’t actually a girlfriend, well she was my girlfriend, I just wasn’t her boyfriend. It gets complicated, see she already had a boyfriend, so to her I was just a good companion to have around when he wasn’t and it seemed like he was hardly ever around. Whatever the situation was, it didn’t matter, we seemed to enjoy each other’s company. This unidentified young lady lived on a farm up in the mountainous region of northern Fauquier County. She even tried to teach me how to ride a horse bare back once. I never caught on to it though, I couldn’t get pass the “slide-while-you-ride” factor, horses are slippery critters.

The dirt road that led to her house was like a rollercoaster ride, only worse. But that was during the day, at night you couldn’t tell if you were driving over a steep hill or about to plummet to your death off of a cliff, that’s how steep the terrain was. My car would get to the top of one hill that was so steeply angled that the frame would get caught on the gravel road with the tires suspended off the ground. You had to rock the car back and forth and you could end up going backward or forward, depending upon which tires hit the ground first, the front or the back. We really didn’t need to pay $2 to go to Skyline Drive, to me she already lived in the mountains.

Great Picnic fixings
I considered myself quite the lady’s man back then, unfortunately…

When it came to impressing the ladies, I didn’t half-step, I always tried to go the extra mile. This was one of those occasions where I wanted to make a good impression, so I stepped it up a notch. So, I went to the 7-11 and bought a bottle of Sangria, some assorted cheeses, went to the A&P and bought a loaf of French bread and two long stemmed wine glasses. I even drove all the way to Pier 1 Imports in Manassas to buy a wicker picnic basket (with the complimentary checkered table cloth included). All I needed to do now was pick her up and we’d be on our way. I drove 30 miles to the mountains to pick up the young lady, then we drove another 30 miles to some other mountains to look at other mountains, yep, this was going to be a day to remember.

1971 - An unidentified young lady sits atop an old Ford pickup truck somewhere in the mountainous regions of Fauquier County, Virginia
An unidentified young lady sits atop an old Ford pickup truck somewhere in the mountainous regions of Fauquier County, Virginia

Back then, I guess you could say I was a bit naïve about, well, just about everything. We arrived at Skyline Drive and spent the better part of the day moving from one overlook to the other, talking and enjoying each other’s company. Finally, it came time to eat and we decided to stop somewhere and enjoy our picnic lunch. I found a good spot to park, just along a curve with a shoulder just wide enough to be clear of oncoming traffic. The spot was at the foot of a pretty steep hill, but the hill rose to a secluded area. From our vantage point I could tell that the woods above contained a hollow with cool soft grass that was just right for a romantic interlude. We unpacked the car and hiked up the hill. We stopped at a spot where there was a clear 360 degree view, we were at the crest of the mountaintop. The wine was poured, the cheese was cut, our bellies were plied and content. Now came the time for romance.

I stared deeply into her eyes and leaned forward for that first kiss. It was at this juncture that I happened to let my eyes wander away from hers, I looked down the hill toward my car. That’s when I noticed that a park ranger had pulled along the shoulder. He was already out of his car and looking over my vehicle, this scene was being played out about a half mile below us, we regained our composure and watched and wondered at what caused him to stop in the first place. The park ranger then turned his attention toward the hill, the hill we were sitting on. He looked up and down the hillside, but there was no way he could see us, but he was definitely trying. He reached into his vehicle and pulled out some binoculars. After scanning through the trees for a while, he decided to just start up the incline. He was climbing the hill but had no clue which direction he should be going. I could tell that if he continued in the direction he was headed he would miss us by quite a distance, but he continued to climb, apparently determined to find the owner of the car left on the side of the road.

After about 15 minutes of watching the park ranger hunt for us in vein through the woods, I decided it was time to let him in on where we were. I knew he’d eventually find us because it didn’t look like he was about to quit anytime soon. I called him over:
“Sir! Officer! We’re over here!”
As he approached, he spoke up while we nonchalantly continued enjoying our wine and cheese. This is how the conversation went…
“Good afternoon sir, I’m the park ranger assigned to this area, is that your vehicle at the bottom of the hill sir?”
– “Yes, it is”
“You’re having a picnic, are you? Nice day for it”
– “Yes, it’s a beautiful day”.
“Is that wine you have there in those glasses?”
– “Yes, Yago Sangria” (He needed to know that he wasn’t just dealing with anybody, he was dealing with a connoisseur of fine wines)
“And the young lady, hello ma’am, how old is she?” (He was very polite)
– “Oh, she’s 17”.
“And you sir, how old are you?”
– “I’m 19”
“Ok, well, do you know why I came looking for you up here today sir?”
– “No officer, is there a problem?” (Did I mention how naïve I was?)
“Well there are a couple of park regulations that you’re currently in violation of, where shall we start?
Your car sir, #1, you’re parked on the side of the road, that’s an undesignated area. You can only park in designated parking areas within the park, sir. And #2, you’re picnicking in an undesignated area, we have picnic areas clearly marked throughout the park. Then there’s the alcohol, there’s no alcohol allowed in the park, that’s #3. You have an open container of alcohol, #4 and you are drinking in public, that’s 5 so far. Sir, the young lady, you say you are 19 and she is only 17, that means you are contributing to the delinquency of a minor, you could go to jail for that young man. That’s 6 park violations. That’s it, I think that’s all I can find for now. What do you have to say for yourself?”
– “I’m sorry officer, I wasn’t aware of those rules”
“You weren’t aware, YOU WEREN’T AWARE? We have signs posted everywhere! How could you not be aware?” He calmed himself and thought for a minute, then continued, “But you seem like a nice young man, you called me over, you weren’t hiding from me. You do seem innocent enough and you weren’t doing anything other than having a picnic, so I’m going to let you go, but let this be a lesson to you”
– “Oh thank you sir, we’ll go back down the hill and get out of here right now”
The officer turned and started down the hill to his car, then he looked back and pointed his finger, “Don’t leave any trash, that’ll be number 7! Take all your trash with you. Leave it the way you found it!”. With that he was gone.
Seven national park violations and he let us go, that had to be some kind of record. Needless to say, the young lady in question and I never went back to Skyline Drive again.

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“The Miracle of the Corn”

Remember that Ford Falcon I told you about in the State Bank of Remington story that I posted in 2013? You do? Well, there’s another story that goes hand-in-hand with that one. Here it is… As soon as I got my driver’s license and bought a car, my mother decided that she too, should learn to drive. Knowing that dad didn’t have a lot of patience when it came to teaching something to someone that he felt should come naturally to them, my mother turned to our neighbor across the field. Buddy Hayes, you may know him around town as “Blinky”, taught both my mother and me how to drive a straight stick. He would let us drive up and down that old dirt road we lived on to our heart’s content. He was very patient and he’d let you make mistakes without being judgmental, a virtue that not many of us possess. After Mom received all of the training she felt she needed from Buddy, she decided it was time to give her experience a real test. she wanted to take my car out on the pavement, down Sumerduck Road and beyond.

Once we started, Mom did really well. I was in the passenger’s seat and my younger brother was just along for the ride and was in the back seat. Sumerduck Road “651” was a breeze, she did everything right. We turned on Savannah Branch Road, “751”, and still things went smoothly, but this is where the controversy begins and our collective memories of what happened next part ways. I decided to have her turn left on Morgansburg Road, “653”, it runs along the Ott farm, yes the same farm mentioned in the story, The Long Way Home”. Mom says I waited too late to tell her to turn, I think I gave her adequate notice and that said notice abided by the strict Queen’s Standard Protocol for blurting out driving instructions. We will have to agree to disagree on this matter, for there is no documented evidence or video footage that we can cite as a valid and reliable source at this late date. All I know is, no matter who was to blame, the car veered too late to make the turned and the steering was overcorrected to the point that the car ended up in the ditch. I apologize for all the legal mumbo jumbo, but one must be very careful when recounting disputed accounts and recollections, especially in cases yet to be settled. But I will yield to my mother’s version out of respect and the fact that she may knock me up-side the head if I don’t.

The next thing I knew we were sitting cock-eyed in the ditch, teetering precariously to the left. I immediately jumped out of the passenger side door, flailing my arms above my head yelling “My Car, My Car! What have you done to my car!?!?”. I was completely in shock and adrift of my senses as I circled the car, searching through the imagined wreckage looking to assess the damages. The car had not a scratch on it. At that point my little brother decided that he too, should go into panic mode and began crying uncontrollably. It was summer, the windows were down, so I stuck my head in the back window and yelled, “Shut Up! You’re not hurt! My car! My Car! Look at my car!”.

All of a sudden, the ocean of corn parted majestically, a la the Red Sea. A light appeared in its midst and descended down upon us? Was it an hallucination brought on by a concussion? Was it an angel from on high? No, it was none of those, it was Mr. Ott on his tractor. This was old Mr. Ott, not to be confused with the young Mr. Ott. The Mr. Ott, who, from my perspective at the time, owned a farm on the scale of the Ponderosa Ranch on the TV show Bonanza, that Mr. Ott. The Mr. Ott that my father had worked for, milking cows, when he was only 12 or 13 years old, that Mr Ott. But to me all I saw was a guardian angel. He stopped with the tractor still puttering and asked if we needed help. He said he’d brought a chain with him so he could pull us from the miry clay, to wrest us from death’s impending grip! He and his tractor pulled the car out of the ditch. We were saved! Afterwards, we talked. He knew who we were, asked how my Dad was doing and refused to accept any payment for his kind deed. He drove off into the sunset the same way he had arrived. As soon as we returned home we told Dad what had transpired, “The Miracle of the Corn”, as it has come to be known and he immediately got in his car and drove down to the Ott farm to thank him for helping us. And indeed, it was a miracle as far as I was concerned and something that has stayed with me to this day.

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Charles N. Davis Masonry Contractors

You couldn’t be a black male from the Piney Ridge area of Remington, VA. and NOT work for the Charles N. Davis Masonry Contractor company at some point in your life, it just didn’t happen. Working for the “Charles N. Davis Masonry Contractor” company was a rite of passage for every African American male child born within a one mile radius of the business. This rite of passage helped boys become men, as they hauled bricks, blocks, stone, mortar and concrete for at least one summer during their formative years. Some of our most auspicious community members started their careers by working for Charles Davis or his father, Newt Richard Davis. My father acted as the foreman on the job until Charles’ son, Charles Edward or “Cubby” (as he was sometimes referred to on the job), earned his wings and took his rightful place as heir to the vast brick and block empire. When it finally came time for me to take my turn as a summer laborer, Mr Davis saw a unique opportunity and moved on it. The second day I was on the job, he presented me with a fully stocked mason’s tool bag. Inside were new trowels of various sizes and uses, brick hammers, levels, plum bobs and the like. These were all spanking new tools and Mr. Davis had plans for me to follow in my father’s footsteps, little did he know.

It didn’t take very long to find out that I had neither my father’s immense talent nor his desire to work in the masonry trade. I had much bigger plans, I intended to graduate from college and become a high school physical education teacher. I was only working construction to make enough money to apply to Norfolk State. I hadn’t strategized beyond that point yet.

I enjoyed working with the crew, there was a lot of horseplay, gossip and general instigating to see how far you could push the envelope before someone pushed back. The job was ok, but it became fun whenever we did a job for Claude W. Ritchie. “Toad”, as he was called by everyone I ever knew, was partners with his brother C. L. Ritchie, in the business their father started, Ritchie’s Millwork & Building Materials, Inc. As far as I was concerned, Mr. Ritchie was a genius, the Frank Lloyd Wright of his time, I liked watching him work. I enjoyed watching him explain his vision to my father on intricate brick work. The fun part was the carpenters that worked for Mr. Ritchie, they would keep you laughing all day. One of the larger than life characters on the job was “Foots” Southard, there was never a dull moment with him around. The other great thing, even though I did not partake myself, were the times when we worked with Toad’s crew and a job was completed on a Friday. Finishing a job on Friday for those guys usually meant that someone was going to make a beer run and the old ice chest would come out. Our boss, “Mr. Cha’ Newt” would have never allowed drinking on the job, but when those boisterous carpenters yelled “grab one” to anyone in listening range, Mr. Davis would give a nod that said “go ahead, get one” and our guys would happily dig in. Everyone would sit around laughing with a cold one for a while until my father or Charles Edward said it was time to head home. My father only drank when he added ‘a taste’ to a bowl of ice cream, that was the extent of his drinking when I was growing up. I may have had a beer or two by then, but not in the company of my father, that’d never happen. Young Charles and my father both drove company vehicles, hauling men and supplies to and from our meeting place in front of Archie Edward’s general store, so they did not imbibe and wouldn’t have anyway.

Our dad had served in the Navy during WWII as a cook on a battle ship. He served honorably with no chance for advancement even though he had the mind of an engineer who could build almost anything. When he came home from the war he couldn’t get a loan to build a home for his family so he bought what materials he could buy each week until the home was completed. I was five years old with two younger siblings when we moved into that new home in Remington, VA. The good news is when we moved in dad didn’t owe anybody a nickle because he built the entire house with his two bare hands.

My mother says that they did receive some help in the early years. She says that Mr. Archie Edwards “carried” her and my father for the first two years of their marriage. They were just starting out, dad was building the house at the time and they didn’t have a penny to their names. Mr. Edwards let dad put two years worth of food and supplies on credit at his store until the house was completed. After completing the house, Dad paid it all back almost immediately. My mother said that she has always been grateful to Archie Edwards for being there for them.

Speaking of being there for them, a lot of families depended on Haught’s store for everyday needs, “Put it on the bill” was a common expression heard at the counter. Mrs. Haught would pull out the box of index cards, thumb through the names and jot down, yet again, another purchase with a promise to pay. I could never figure out how Mrs. Haught was able to give so much credit to so many people. You could sometimes see the weight of maintaining that store written across her brow. We always kept our bill paid up, but not everyone was that considerate or fortunate, I suppose.

One day at work while I was standing at the mixing machine “shaking up” a fresh mixed batch of “mud” (making sure the mortar did not set and hardened), a truck drove up to the job site and a white man climbed out of the passenger’s side. As the pick-up pulled away, I noticed the man who’d gotten out had a tool bag under his arm. The bag was flat and appeared to be completely devoid of any tools. He walked up to Leonard and I and asked if the boss was around. We explained that Mr Cha’Newt didn’t worked as a mason much anymore and was probably out drumming up new business. Someone told him that the boss usually came by the job site at least once a day, so he could wait around if he wanted. The gentleman, who looked to be about 45 years old, placed his bag on the ground and took a tour around the construction site, saying hello and introducing himself.

At some point during the day the boss stopped by, that’s when the man approached him. “Mr. Davis, my name is Earl Hager, I’m an experienced brick mason and I’m looking for a job”. Just about everyone heard him and they all stopped working at once, turned and listened. Reading this now, you may not know this but, in the sixties, no self respecting white man that I knew of, would ask for a job working for a black man. I can’t say it never happened, because it did that day, but it was rare. And I can state freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, that it had never happened on our job before.

Earl Hager got the job and began work immediately. From the very start something didn’t quite feel right about him. He was very quiet, almost to a fault. He didn’t join in the horse play, he never spoke at all about himself. He didn’t even call out for brick and mortar when his supplies ran low like all the other masons did. “Little brick, little Mud!!!”, Charles Edward yelled out, but not for his station, he was yelling to get us to set up Earl. “Shake’em up over here” came a cry from Jesse Mason or my father, “Doc Brown” (that’s what everyone called my dad, “Doc”, I never knew how that got started). “Shakin’em up!” was echoed by one of the laborers and they would again bring Earl’s supplies up to par. The “eagle (payday) didn’t fly” for a new employee until they’d worked a full week on the job, the same applied to Earl. When payday rolled around, something very strange happened. On Friday’s, dad and young Charles would pull up in front of the State Bank of Remington and we would all pile out, run in and get our checks cashed or deposited. I jumped out of the truck to go into the bank, looked back and noticed that Earl was just sitting there looking toward the other side of the street, he never got out of the truck. After we all returned from the bank, Sonny Newman, who worked with us at the time, asked Earl if he was going to get his check cashed. Earl explained that he didn’t have a drivers license or any other identification for that matter, so he couldn’t get his check cashed. Sonny told him that he should have asked the boss to pay him in cash, then he offered to go in and have the check cashed for him. Earl agreed and that’s what happened, Sonny had the check cashed that week and from then on Earl’s little manila pay envelop had cash in it rather than a pay check. The next time we worked with Toad’s carpenters you should have seen the look on Foots’ face when he saw Earl Hager climb out of our truck. If you knew Foots at all you can imagine the expression on his face, he didn’t say anything, he didn’t have to, his expression said it all. He looked at Earl, then at us, then back at Earl again. That collective crew didn’t seem to have a prejudice bone among them, it was always a joy to share a job site with them. Somewhere around the third or fourth week of Earl’s arrival, we received a huge surprise. The day started out just like any other. We arrived in front of Edward’s store, went in, bought snacks and other supplies needed for the day, then went off to the job site. At around 10 am, a green 1965 Ford Fairlane pulled up next to the mortar mixing machine where I was working. Two men in black suits climbed out, walked over to me and introduced themselves as deputy U.S. Marshals looking for one Earl Hager. I pointed Earl out and they approached him. They identified themselves and immediately placed him in handcuffs. Apparently Earl was an escaped convict from a Tennessee correctional facility and had crossed the state line into Virginia. That made his apprehension fall under the jurisdiction of the U. S. Marshals service.
No wonder he was so quiet, stayed to himself and couldn’t cash his own paycheck, he was a fugitive from justice. Earl was always pleasant and quiet, but he’d made one fatal error in his quest to remain free. There was no way he could ever be inconspicuous working with us. What could draw more attention than a white man working in an all black construction crew in 1968? Not much. Thus ended the story of Earl Hager, but the story and success of the Charles N. Davis construction company continued. The black owned and operated business flourished and carried on as a rite of passage for young men in the community for many years to come.

Post Scipt:

If you think the brickwork on your home may have been done by the Charles N. Davis Masonry company, there’s one sure way to find out. Here’s how you can tell:

My father ALWAYS signed his work.
1) Get a ladder

2) Climb to the top of the chimney

3) Somewhere around the flue, etched in the concrete, will be the initials A.E.B.

4) That’s it! If its there, you have an Ellsworth Brown original fireplace/ chimney in your possession, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to sell it on eBay

Just Like Hugo’s


How in the world could I have let myself be talked into a situation like this again? There I was crouched on the floor behind the passenger’s seat of a car, peering over the dashboard trying not to be seen. For all I knew, my friends were inside having a good old time, while I was stuck outside hoping not to be discovered or killed. I only had two white friends and they came to me telling me about this brothel they’d stumbled upon just a few miles down the road from where we worked. They wanted to go and they said I should come with them. So here I am hiding in the back of a car because my friends brought me to a place called the S&S Truck Stop. They waited until we got here to warn me that the place was full of racists, but they thought they could convince the owner to let me in. As soon as we arrived, they started making their plans. First of all, this wasn’t a truck stop at all, it was just a run down old house out in the middle of nowhere. The only thing that remotely made it like a truck stop was that it had a parking lot and there were trucks parked in it. But they were pickups, not tractor trailers or semis, just ordinary trucks driven by local yokels, with a few cars scattered about. The place seemed to be pretty busy, there were a lot of men moving about, people leaving people arriving, we sat and watched for a while. “You stay here Stan, we’ll go in and talk to the owner. I’ve been here before”. That was Joe Planko talking, “These people are all a bunch of racist rednecks and if they see you out here, there’s no telling what they’ll do. Get on the floor and stay low until we get back”. Some great idea this was turning out to be.

I’d arrived in Brunswick, Georgia only two months earlier and had already been called the N-word three times by then. I was fresh out of Navy boot camp and had been assigned to the Naval Air Station Glynco for Air Traffic Control Class "A" School, I’d told the recruiter I wanted to be an air traffic controller. The first n-word came the week after I arrived. I was walking into McDonald's at the time and a white man was coming out. He took one look at me and said “G*dd*mn N-word!” and kept walking. By the time my friends got to me I already had him on the ground banging his head against the pavement. My three friends, who were all white, separated us and told the man he’d better get out of there and forget what happened if he knew what was good for him. Well that’s what I wanted to do. What I really did was step toward the man as if I were about to pounce on him, but gave my friends enough time to get to me to hold me back. The next time that term was used on me, a white woman said it and all because I’d smiled and nodded at her. I can’t recall the reason for the 3rd time, I only know it was a man and by then I realized this was going to be a long three months if this kept happening.

I grew up in Virginia and this was the first time I’d ever been called that name. I was amazed that I had to actually leave the state for it to happen. These people in GA didn’t pull any punches, they’d get right in your face and let you know what they thought about you. They seemed to want you to know they were racists. Racial discrimination back home came at you more at an angle. The non-direct approach made it less obvious, but just as effective. For example, you might not get that car loan you applied for or the house you wanted might suddenly become unavailable. Maybe you’d find out that the land you just purchased didn’t perk, so you wouldn’t be able to put in a sewer system. I remember once when two young women from Alexandria bought an investment property near my home town. We met for an interview after I applied to rent the house and they seemed excited about the prospect of having me as a tenant. When I went by to sign the lease agreement, a man came by to welcome me to the neighborhood, even shook my hand and watched me sign the lease. As soon as I left he made his move, he threatened to burn down the house if the women let me move in. The two ladies called, crying and apologetic. They told me what the man had done and said they had no choice but to break the lease, of course I agreed. The worse case of perceived racial prejudice I encountered back home was what happened in a little corner mom and pop store out in the country, near my job. I went to this store every day for lunch and ordered a deli sandwich. This particular day when I arrived back at work I took a bite into my delicious sandwich. I noticed it had more mayo than usual and decided to take a closer look at it, that’s when I saw half of a fly right at my bite mark. I gagged at the thought of where the other half was by then. I opened the sandwich and found two more dead flies inside. Who knows how long flies had been part of my daily diet. As I thought back, I realized that every time I ordered a sandwich there the lady would take my order and then begin swatting flies. I just thought they had a lot of flies. I didn’t realize they were being used as a garnish. With these types of tactics, it was hard to prove that race had anything to do with what transpired. Maybe the woman behind the counter just didn’t like me personally, she just thought I was a smart mouthed jerk who deserved a fly in his sandwich. Maybe, just maybe, the land really DIDN’T perk and race had nothing to do with it, who knows? But if that’s the case, it sure makes for a boring story to pass down to your grand kids.


Most of my stay in Georgia, minus a few negative encounters, I found myself having a great time. My friends and I occupied our time most weekends on one of the nearby islands, camping out on either St. Simons or Jekyll. Our main mode of travel was by motor scooters. We went everywhere on them. Two of my classmates and close friends were female lieutenants in the Philippine Navy. We drew lots of attention whenever we putted around together on our scooters and it wasn’t always positive. The girls were in Georgia to train along side us in hopes of becoming controllers. In the U.S. Navy, enlisted personnel are trained as controllers, but in the Philippine Navy only officers could be air traffic controllers. Once the two girls and a friend and I hopped on our motor scooters and rode all the way to Jacksonville, Florida just to spend the weekend on the beach. Riding in a car was rare for me since I’d arrived in Brunswick, so I jumped at the chance whenever the opportunity arose.


So there I was in the back seat, on the floor, peering over the dash, waiting for my friends to come get me so I could have access to a “house of ill-repute”. It goes by another name but I won’t mention it here. I was a sailor in the U.S. Navy and these things happen. Sometimes you find yourself in some pretty awkward situations. But this awkward situation reminded me of something else, what was it? I’d found myself in a large parking lot surrounded by people who didn’t want me there on another occasion, where was that? Oh yeah! It was Hugo’s Skate Way back when I was still living in Fauquier County. I’d let two other of my white friends talk me into going to Hugo’s that night, even though we all knew there was no way I’d get through the front door. They convinced me that the party was on the outside anyway and we’d have just as much or more fun as the folks inside. After a lot of convincing, I said sure, I’ll go. We went. We parked. We watched. We waited. We got out of the car. Just like here at the S&S Truck Stop, there were a lot of pickup trucks there. There were a lot of men hanging around drinking, a lot of moving about. I stayed close to the car, leaning against the front fender, just taking in the activity. Just about everyone in Fauquier County knew that blacks weren’t allowed inside at Hugo’s. It wasn’t posted on any sign, no one had to tell you. If you were black, you just knew it, but every now and then an outsider had to learn it the hard way (Johnson v. Hugo’s Skateway, 1992). I wasn’t an outsider, so no one should be surprised that in my entire life, I’d never been inside Hugo’s establishment and had no desire to ever darken its doorway, pun intended. But none of that factors into the influence of your friends and what you will let them talk you in to doing. So we ended up in Hugo’s parking lot.

What I found somewhat odd about Hugo was that he seemed to be a “walking contradiction”. On the one hand, he was renowned in the county for being a racist who refused to allow blacks to enter his entertainment establishments, but on the other hand, he was a philanthropist who single-handedly funded the construction of a fire station for the community. By contrast, he didn’t seem to be a racist when it came to his well drilling business, he drilled many wells for black people in the community, providing clean drinking water for those families. He must have given good deals and reasonable prices to blacks, otherwise my father would never have gone to him to have our second well drilled after the well he’d picked, shoveled and dynamited by hand began to run dry. Dad could have easily gone to Leazer’s well drilling company a mile away in Remington. There could be only one reason he hired Stribling to drill the well, money! As far as the entertainment business was concerned, he seemed to be a huge racist. But when it came to community service and his service related business he was apparently open to all and fair-minded. That means, in the morning I could have my well drilled by a philanthropic, community minded entrepreneur and that evening be asked to leave or be arrested at the local skating rink, all orchestrated by the same person. So yes, you could say the man was a walking contradiction.


Of course, my friends decided just standing around outside wasn’t enough, they were going to mingle about a bit. They knew people, I didn’t, I stayed by the car. They left and I waited. That’s when some drunk decided he wanted to cut somebody. This guy pulled out a Bowie knife and began threatening anyone who walked his way, flailing his arm’s around, slurring his words. Since I was standing still, not moving, I guess, as with other predators, the guy just didn’t notice me. He noticed my mingling about friends and immediately went into attack mode. I minded my own business, the guy was too drunk to do any real damage anyway, I quickly jumped in the car. The boys easily evaded his moves and ran back to the car, they jumped in and we high-tailed it out of there at top speed. As we left I kept my head down and peered out the rear window, watching to see that we weren’t being followed by an angry mob. That was my complete and brief experience at Hugo’s Skate Way, I never went back. Hugo’s was eventually sold in 2005

“Over three decades, in 1978, 1989 and 1990, the skating rink was in the news over race discrimination charges.
In 1978, the FBI investigated charges of discrimination in admission and the U.S. Justice Department found that Stribling had no right to say the business was private, and that he had illegally barred blacks”

(Zitz, 2005)


With the S&S Truck Stop now looming in front of me, I was quickly awakened from my day dream by the sight of my three friends in the doorway. They were either struggling to escape or were forcibly being pushed out the door, I couldn’t tell from this distance. Either way, they stumbled down the rickety steps and headed, at full speed, toward me and the car. Joe jumped in behind the wheel and started the engine. He barely waited for the other two to get in before he floored it and peeled rubber down the road. As the truck stop faded in the distance, the boys breathed a sigh of relief. One of them finally spoke up and said, “Whew! We barely made it out alive! We went in, sat around a while, talked and laughed and had even picked out the girls we wanted. Then we told them that you were out here and asked if you could come in too. The owner jumped up from behind the desk and said ‘Not only can that ni**er NOT come in, but we’re gon’na kick you boys’ asses for bringing him here in the first place, now get the hell out!’, that’s when yu saw us coming through the door”. As I listened to my three best friends in the world rehash what all had gone on inside, I peered over the seat through the rear window. I watched down the road to make sure we weren’t being followed by an angry mob. No one was following us, so I leaned back and drifted off to sleep… Yep, this was just like Hugo’s (Z-z-z-z-z-z).


OpenJurist, 974 F. 2d 1408 – Johnson v. Hugo’s Skateway, Retrieved on 2/21/2014 from: http://openjurist.org

M. Zitz, 2005, The Free Lance Star, “One Last Spin” Retrieved on 3/3/2014 from: http://fredericksburg.com

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How I Found Out

Photo/Coutesy Culpeper Historical Society
Old Town Culpeper, Virginia, where I attended my first ‘walk-in’ movie, “The Parent Trap” – starring my childhood idol, Hayley Mills.

Hayley Mills was by far my favorite actress as a child. Talk about having a schoolboy crush, I was barely in school when Disney’s “The Parent Trap” came out. Raymond and Bajean spent hours begging daddy to take them to the walk-in to see it. What’s a walk-in, you ask? Well, it was the opposite of a drive-in. You could actually walk up to the ticket booth, pay for a ticket and go in to the theater, sit down in comfortable seats and watch a movie. I had never been to a walk-in movie theater before. All the other movies I’d seen up until then were shown at the drive-in, we’d back our station wagon toward the huge screen, take out a blanket and lie outside enjoying the movie while watching the comings and goings of all the patrons. I often wondered why no one ever got run over out there, I think folks actually looked out for one another back then. At least until that time when it began pouring down raining and one guy whom we had seen sneak in on foot came up to my mother’s window and asked if he could sit in the car with us and finish the movie. Mom instinctively rolled up her window and turned her back on him, he finally moved on after staring in on us. He dejectedly left the place after going from one car to another and finally realized no one was going to let him in. The last movie we’d seen prior to that was “The Tingler” with Vincent Price and that left me quite terrified for years to come, it gave me plenty to think about on many a sleepless night.

It took some doing but my begging paid off because originally Dad had felt I was too young to go, but then he decided to let me go along. So once we got there, I was in awe of the place, we walked up to the building and of course, my first inclination was to walk through the front entrance, but dad grabbed my arm and escorted me to a small side entrance with the words “Colored” written over the door. I didn’t pay much attention; I was too excited about seeing Hayley Mills. We got our tickets and walked up a single flight of stairs and onto a balcony. The entire balcony was filled with loud boisterous kids,throwing popcorn, leaning over the rail and yelling at the people down below. I glanced over the edge and realized what a great view I had up there. I was glad we weren’t sitting where those other poor saps were, who didn’t have such a great view and were being pelted with popcorn by the people who were seated upstairs with us. The movie was great, Hayley Mills was cute as a button and it felt good to be in that elite club called ”Colored”, if it meant always getting perks like this seating arrangement we had. But, of course, the feeling didn’t last.

On most summer morning’s mom would send us outside to get some fresh air, “Y’all don’t need to be cooped up in the house all day”. And then off we’d go straight outside to the well. We got our drinking water from an electrical well that dad had dug by hand using picks, shovels and dynamite. He tells the story of how one day when the charge hadn’t gone off after he’d set the stick in the well and he’d gone back above ground. He turned the knob on the ignition switch and when it didn’t go off, he waited for what he felt was an appropriate amount of time, then climbed back down the ladder to reattach the wires, he climbed back up, hit the switch again and the blast went off this time. (I wonder if I was born by then).

The area around that well was our official playground. We had a young elm tree that we bent just right, so we could use it as our hobbyhorse. There were plenty of trees to climb and you could usually find us hanging upside down from a limb or the swing set bar. But we derived most of our pleasure from building roads in the dirt. We were experts at it and whenever a new toy car or garage was purchased with our nickel-a-week allowance, we were out the next morning in the dirt making roads by placing the palms of our hands on the ground and moving through the dust until we’d had a complete miniature highway built.

We were on our hands and knees right in the middle of one of our great interstate constructions when one of us looked up and yelled, “Oh no, here comes Timmy Albino!” Barbara Jean made a quick dash to the house. First of all, if we had any male friends stop by, Bajean wouldn’t be allowed to stay outside and play with them unless they were our cousins Dewey and David R. who would come across the field on a daily basis to play with us and end up chasing us around the house trying to pee on us. They seemed to get a great thrill out of trying to urinate of us, we got to the point where we hated to see them coming across the field as well. (Excuse me, I had to stop and laugh remembering what our mother taught us to call our privates, I was probably married before I found out it wasn’t really called a ‘Ding-Dong’)

After an hour or so of us screaming from one end of the yard to the other, our mother would finally catch wind of what they were attempting to accomplish and send them back across the field.

But the dread of seeing my cousins David and Dewey coming across the field was nothing compared to seeing Timmy A. walk up the road dressed in his full Roy Rogers regalia; cowboy hat, bandanna, checked shirt, holstered six guns, blue jeans, chaps and cowboy boots. David and Dewey only tried to pee on us in fun and were great to play with when that wasn’t on the list of things to do, Timmy was another story. I guess I don’t have to mention that Timmy was white, he was coming to play Cowboys and Indians or good guys and bad guys and I also don’t have to mention that we never got to be the cowboys or the good guys. Raymond and I were his designated Indians and Mom would send us outside to play with him after he stood in the front yard yelling for us to come out for over 15 minutes and it was obvious he wasn’t going to leave. And why should he, he knew we never went anywhere. So off we went to play. Here’s how the dialogue of our play went:

Timmy – “BANG, BANG!! You’re Dead!!”

Either Raymond or I would fall to the ground.

Raymond – “BANG, BANG!! You’re dead, Timmy!”

Timmy –“No, you missed me”.

Raymond –“No I didn’t, I got you

Timmy –“No you didn’t, Bang! You’re dead again Raymond!” Raymond would fall

Stanley – “Bang, I got you Timmy!”

Timmy –“Nope, you missed me, I was ducking behind the tree

Timmy –“BANG! Stanley I got you

Stanley -“Na-uh! You missed me Timmy

Timmy –“No I didn’t, I got you in the arm” – then I’d fall obediently to the ground.

Repeat dialogue fifty times, with Timmy climbing on the chicken shed, jumping from tree limbs, ducking behind the wood pile and him never once getting hit by a bullet, much less getting killed. We’d be falling and dying every time he pointed his gun in our direction. We were the most frustrated gunfighters in the West, but we did our part, we just didn’t enjoy it as much as he did.

Then Timmy would head back home, only to play again tomorrow. Timmy lived on the blacktop (the paved road) most blacks that I knew lived on dirt roads. And the only time we ever saw paved road was during the mile long trip to town. All of “our” roads were dirt and gravel and they were always the last to have snow cleared in winter or the last to be plowed and graveled in the summer. Once or twice we were blessed to have the chain gang go up our road clearing out the ditches and picking up debris. Mom would make us stay inside when that gray bus would drive up, armed guards would have the convicts file off the bus. As they went to work on our roads, we stayed glued to the window and watched in awe while they were out there.

Photo/Coutesy Brown Family Collection
Earlene Brown allows her children to relax between playing Cowboys and Indians with lifelong friend and neighbor, Timmy A.

Timmy was the only kid in the neighborhood who could get away with anything he wanted at our house. If we were caught on top of our shed we knew we’d get skinned alive. Timmy would hide up there and we’d say, “Timmy, we aren’t allowed to play up there” and it was as though no words had come from our mouths. He completely ignored our warnings and our father ignored his complete disregard for the rules that we were bound by. At first I thought it was because he was white and maybe that did have something to do with it. But I also know that my father and his mother were really close friends when they were growing up. My dad would say that Rita would always have her goats following along behind her everywhere she went and you never saw her without them”. So, just maybe his loyalty to his friend Rita was the real reason Timmy could get away with anything he wanted and that’s why we were obligated to be Indians or bad guys to his perpetual good guy/ cowboy. This went on almost everyday during the summer. Timmy was at least six or seven years older than us and we had nothing in common other than our little western gunfights. So when it came time for the annual Fireman’s Carnival and Raymond and I were walking through town to get to the carnival grounds. It was natural that when I saw Timmy walking towards us with a few of his friends that I, being a naive six year old, would ring out with, “Hi Timmy!”. But he didn’t say anything; he just walked right passed us as though we weren’t even there. So, I tried again after he passed by. “Hi Timmy!” still no answer. I turned to my older brother and asked, “Why won’t Timmy speak to us Bay Ray? Didn’t he hear me?”

Raymond just kept walking and looking straight ahead and said, “Because we’re Colored Stanley, that’s all, just because we’re Colored.” As we continued on down the street, I overheard one of the boys ask Timmy, “Do you know them boys?” To that he quickly replied, “Nope, I don’t know who they are.”

And that’s when I first learned what it really meant to be Colored, we were different. I still didn’t know exactly what all it entailed, but one thing I did know is that it didn’t feel good.

Prologue – I saw “Timmy” for the first time in over forty years in August 2003 at my father’s wake. He stopped by to pay his respects, we laughed and talked about old times and he unexpectedly apologized for some of the torment and unfair treatment that he put us through when we were kids. It wasn’t something we needed or felt was necessary, because unfortunately, we are all guilty of childhood pranks and snubs that we feel are required if we are to be accepted by our peers, we do things just to go along with the group. There was never any ill will between us and him and I most sincerely appreciate his gesture of kindness, like they use to say, “that’s just the way things were back then.”– Stan