If you read my first blog with the same primary title as this one, you know that I’m attempting to offer a biographical survey of parts of my life. This is an interesting exercise for me. I don’t sit down at my keyboard with very much detail in mind about what I plan to write. There was at least one detail in my maiden attempt that came to mind as I was writing. Trust me, I’ll not be making this stuff up. I will be consulting with my first cousins, many of them with much better memories than mine; a brief family tree one of my cousins did some work on a few years ago; and a file of birth and death certificates I have on hand. If I find myself stuck on trying to remember some salient point, I’ll consult with Aunt Mary. She is the surviving matriarch on my mother’s side of the family. I’m trying to pull as much from my hard drive as I can, using my own recapturing software.
My father was ten years older than my mother. She was eighteen when they got married. I’m sure you can figure the rest of the math from that. My father’s family was a lot older than my mother’s. His parents were born in the early 1880s, and they had a total of thirteen children. My father, born in 1925, was the youngest of them. His oldest sibling, Aunt Eula, was about the same age as my maternal grandfather.
My father evidently was quite skilled as a farm laborer. According to my mother, we had moved back to Arkansas from Mississippi when we lived just across the field from Grandpa Ulysses and Grandma Katherine. Dad worked for a white farmer, who had a large operation with acreage in both Arkansas and Mississippi. I remember my mother telling me on more than one occasion that dad was given the opportunity to move the family to Mississippi, where he would perform duties as Forman on his boss’ farm. For the life of me I wish I could remember the town in Mississippi to which we moved. (I told you I’m trying to recall as much detail as I can.)
Back in the early 1950s, Mississippi had a reputation as one of the most racist states in the South. There used to be a joke people would tell about Black people mounting tires on an automobile in Mississippi. One should never put white-wall tires on the front of a car with black-walls on the back. This metaphorically represented a Black person chasing a white one. This could end up being a fatal mistake. I can remember people laughing at this, but somehow, I find little humor in it today. Knowing what I know about the history of race relations in Mississippi, Black people were mistreated and sometimes lynched for far less than that. I remember seeing the picture of Emmett Till in Jet magazine when I was about seven or eight years old. His mangled face, battered to an unrecognizable state, ended up that way from a tortuous beating he received from rabid racists, who thought whistling at a white woman was just too much. I won’t go into too much detail about what happened to Emmett Till, except to say that he was a young boy from Chicago visiting relatives in a Jim-Crow state, who most likely wasn’t counseled about proper protocol for staying alive.
My mother told me years later, after we moved back to Arkansas that we had to move. Evidently, my father serving as a Foreman of his boss’ farming operation in Mississippi wasn’t apropos. I can still remember the fear in her voice whenever she would tell me this story. We ended up back in Arkansas, still in the Jim Crow South, but with slightly less Jim Crow in the mix than Mississippi.
In the early 1950s, a white farmer hired a black man to be Forman on his farm in Mississippi. I would say that was a light during a very dark time. Wouldn’t you?
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.