“WHY CAN’T I FREE YOUR DOUBTFUL MIND AND MELT YOUR COLD, COLD HEART? — Hank Williams.
I have always lived in North Carolina. I am a true son of the South. I take great pride in the South. A young man commented on a beautiful, full, “southern moon” to Oscar Wilde. Oscar replied “…Yes, but you should have seen it before the Civil War.” Southerners are unique people. Lots of characters. Some good, and some bad. Racism is a part of our heritage. One cannot be from the South and not feel its sting. Sadly too, we have learned it is not limited to our area of the nation.
Someone suggested that racism is the “pox of the nation”.
I lived in small towns in N.C. growing up. In my childhood and early adolescence, any confrontation with race or members of other races was never an issue. There were hardly any kinds of “different” people at all. Those that were around were sort of “invisible”.
Our family moved to a different town when I was 12. I was aware of the “N” Word, but paid little attention to its common use in both towns that I had lived in. My family prohibited its use in strict fashion. And I suppose that I was beginning to be aware of racial issues right along this stage in my life.
I certainly remember the stark embarrassment when that word was used in my presence, and in the presence of the black janitor at our school, a man that I, and others, were fond of.
That memory is clear and perhaps a pivotal moment in my thinking.
Southern Pines, N.C. was 15 miles from my hometown, and our nearest shot at nightlife. At age 14 and up I was among a group of teenagers who made this trip several nights a week. Beer was the goal and though I didn’t drink I piled in any car that made the trip. One night on the return trip someone in our car hurled a beer can at a person walking along the country road. Younger than the crowd, I was hesitant to complain. Yet I did. The response I got was “…Hey, preacher’s boy, did see how black that bastard was? They don’t count anyway.”
Sports meant the world to me. The next stunning racial impression was related to that world. The biggest sport in our state is basketball, then and now, and the Dixie Classic was the premier event of the sporting year. Later banned because of a gambling fix, at least I saw the one that most people consider the best ever. Michigan State and “Jumping Johnny” Green, Oscar Robertson of Cincinnati, and the Big Four schools, including beloved Wake Forest (then College). Lucky enough to be given a ticket, I watched in reverence as the great Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati took on the Deacons. And while no one has ever pulled for a team any more than I did for Wake, the evening crushed me. Though Oscar was among the best college basketball players ever, and went on similarly in the professional ranks, my school, its team, and the crowd collectively exhibited the most blatant racism I had ever witnessed. It stung me.
Next in line, my Father who WAS much more tolerant than the neighborhood felt professional and personal pain for his stand on race. And I’m sure my love and respect for him helped me screw up my courage and begin to take humble stands on the issue.