Wow, Dave. My mom grew up in Longview. Her father was my hero, the kindest, gentlest man I have ever known. He took to take me to the grounds of the courthouse when we’d visit from Houston. We’d sit on a bench under the big trees. He’d always put pecans in his shirt pocket. Squirrels would climb up on his shoulders, steal the pecans from his pockets and sit on his shoulders to eat them. I thought he was magic.
He owned a little lumberyard there. I still remember the smell of that wood. And all the pine needles outside. And the smell if film from the Eastman Kodak plant…I think it was Eastman Kodak.
The Klan burned a cross at that lumberyard and one in the tiny front yard of my grandparents home. My mom, my sister and I happened to be there. I remember the flickering light from the fire, my grandmother making us get into a closet to hide…I was 8 when he died so, while I am unsure of the year this happened, I was quite young.
Firetrucks came. My grandfather played dominos at a fire station with the firemen several times a week. Sometimes he’d take me with him. I felt safe once “his friends” arrived but I only felt unsafe because my grandmother and my mom were so upset. Free floating anxiety is contagious to little kids. I was awakened from sleep and tossed in a closet. It was kind of an adventure.
My grandfather paid black men the same wages as he paid white men. Evidently he had for years. This was in the late 1950s until the mid 1960s. They burned the crosses because he became too ill with heart disease to manage his business daily. He promoted his best worker to manager. That man was Black: thus the burning crosses.
Once I got old enough to understand what had happened and why, I felt so proud of my magical grandfather…my other grandfather, I found out after he died when I was almost 30 had been a member of the Klan. (Not in Longview.) Weird. To put it mildly.
My grandfather was the youngest of 4 sons. He was orphaned at 12. He worked from then on doing odd jobs from house to house and literally depending on the kindness of strangers in a different way than Blanche Dubois. He often slept on porches and went without meals. He worked, ate, slept on the porches of families both Black and White. He was grateful to them all and never saw skin color. He truly was magical.
The racial violence that is recent to that area…James Byrd in Jasper, as a horrid example…scares me still. I am not a bit surprised that people would turn their carts to avoid sharing an aisle with you and your former wife. And yet I am. I can’t imagine using my energy or mind to hate someone that much. I mean to walk past you two on a grocery aisle? That’s just sad. I am so sorry you and she ever experienced such a thing! That in itself is violence. And small and stupid.
I lived in Shreveport, Louisiana from 1979 until early 1986. The 1st day I began my new job, I asked the woman training me if she’d like to have lunch with me. We worked downtown so I knew that we’d walk to eat somewhere close by. As we exited our building she suggested we walk separately. Huh? She explained that many wouldn’t take kindly to a Black woman and White woman walking together. I thought she was kidding. She said she didn’t want to ruin my reputation. Dang! I told her that I hoped we could walk together, that it didn’t bother me but if it bothered her, I would do what she wished. I certainly didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable. We walked together.
We walked 4 blocks east and took a right then walked 2 blocks South. Before we made it to the end of the first block I was called a “n-- lover” and several people crossed the street. She asked me if I wanted to reconsider. Absolutely not. Now I was pissed. In the 3rd block sat the courthouse. There hung an American flag, the state flag of Louisiana under that and then a Confederate Battle Flag. I was stunned. At the courthouse! Where justice was supposed to be blind!
Thanks to the example of my grandfather, my mom and my dad, I grew up understanding skin color as I do hair color. As far as I know no one has ever crossed the street or burned a cross or turned to avoid a grocery aisle because of a blond or redhead.