By A.H. Watson
It had been my intent to end this article discussing in detail the nature of the problems caused by the 1954 Supreme Court Decision concerning school desegregation, as well as the events of 1968 and 2001.
In contrast to much of what is believed, especially in the North, the school decision did not destroy the white race in America ? It destroyed the Negro race. From the late unpleasantness? until 1954, the Negro in the South was moving slowly into the mainstream of American life.
Hard? Slow? Of course????..But that hardship was no worse or more challenging that that of other races that came to our shores with little education or support.
In the South blacks suffered from less school supplies, not less able teachers. Those teachers were, for the most part, black, and recent graduates of black Southern colleges. These teachers demanded respect for education as well as those that taught.
In 1968 the federal government, under some forty years of democratic rule, hammered the final nail in the hopes of black families. Massive amounts of money were transferred to the blacks under every type program that could be invented or made up on the fly. These changes utterly destroyed the need for black males to work, or for black children to refrain from illegitimate birth.
The government in all its wisdom proved, by paying for illegitimate births, black women would stay up late and work their ass off ?err, so to speak?becoming rich in little bastard children. Thus began also - children having children.
The year 2001 brought Bush, the younger, and with him, the utter destruction of America's entire border structure. America had always allowed reasonable immigration, but never had it allowed the sick, the criminals and the utterly worthless - looking only for health and social benefits - to pour over the borders by the millions.
The mind-bending willingness to provide housing, medical benefits, free schooling and citizenship had never been allowed to other groups. Children born to those breaking the law were not only given citizenship but the parents and other relatives were allowed entry creating whole states where illegal Mexicans soon became the dominant expense as well as political force.
The breakdown included ignoring existing laws and constant refusal to follow rules demanded by Congress and the Federal Statutes. This left the nation with some 20 million, illegally flowing back and forth across the country, doubling the crime and murder rate; that being the rate fostered upon the average working stiff by the black gangsters and gang-bangers in every town and village.
But instead of fleshing out all the reasons and results of these three unique acts by our government that insured the destruction of the worlds finest and most giving nation on earth; I will simply discuss one year in the late forties. Every word will be true as I remember the events. Perhaps from that world, you can draw a better picture and feeling about how things were in the South before the government came to help the Negro become little more than a Plantation problem? once again. A Plantation, however, much more restrictive and dangerous to the Negro than the one from which he had been freed?not a slave of the land and hard work but rather? one of the will - and mind.
Summertime Down South
Summertime Down South
I have been to the well of my youth several times in my past scribblings. Let me go once again to those magical years before rampant crime, ghettos, illegal aliens and a massive social sickness invaded our nation.
The summers of 1943-49 were spent at my grandmother's home in Jonesboro Ga. Scarlet, if you remember the movie "Gone with the Wind," pulled her mule down the main street of Jonesboro, when she returned to Tara with Melanie that horrible night in the rain so long ago to the northern mind ? but just yesterday to those who had family that lived it.
Jonesboro was a small farming community one long block with stores on one side of what was to become, National Highway 41. Train tracks framed the other side of the street, dividing the town from those few of "lesser morality." There will be a natural tendency for Yankees to include Negroes in this mix. Nothing could be further from the truth. The better class Negro lived on the same property with white families, or on farms in the area. Blacks "across the tracks" were there for the very same reasons as white trash ? simply because no decent people would have anything to do with them?but do not be fooled - in either case - it was only a handful; People that had not so much lost the way but were genetically or morally impaired in ways that pushed them from the ranks of the decent. Unlike today, they were not worshiped, excused or copied.
Time was not lived by the beat of a clock - but by the daily trains that flashed past on the way to the distant and mysterious land to the south, as well as, the two local trains that chugged slowly to a stop with a great sigh of embarrassment?. at having to deal with such small potatoes as our local community.
All days hold promise to the young. Neither rain nor the overwhelming heat that send adults scurrying to the cool spring, faze a young male in the slightest way. While the old seek the deep shade of a porch that might catch the sparse, light, breeze, ( the result of some mound of hot air rising to the heavens creating a small void other hot air rushes to fill ) young boys wander the streets and fields, oblivious to the pounding heat or rain that engulfs them.
My best friend in Jonesboro lived on the street behind me. Our backyards met at an angle and included a gate that both of us were constantly warned to use or be "whipped till the cat barked." But then, the fence being hog wire (smaller at the bottom increasing in size until the mid way point was perfect for a buster brown shoe or even a mid-summer bare foot) it was so much easier to approach the fence, stick out your right leg, place your foot on the wire about half way up then with hands on fence post or top wire, if you were really, really good, throw your left leg over and hope you looked cool doing it.
Timmy never got caught ?I mostly did!
Some mornings Timmy would arrive at my room with milk and a hot biscuit directly from his grandmother's iron stove or from ours. Waving the biscuit in front of my nose, the sweet musky smell of scuppernong preserves, pregnant with the chewy goodness of the grape skins, the act would draw me from the depths of my feather bed. Timmy would smile and say, "Times a' wasting - but not waiting ? what we gonna do today?"
"How bout fishing? The river is down and running clear"
"Nah Timmy, I gotta stay near the house today, left my bike at the Post Office yesterday? member?"
"Can you come over to my house ?"
"Yeah, sure? I just can't go up town. Granny said some old German or Jap spy could have gotten my bike and gotten all the way to Atlanta."
"No Timmy - don't ask her why a spy would peddle straight thru Fort Stewart. She'll take a Forsythia switch to you? too !"
That morning, as I remember, we did go to Timmy's house and collect bait for the trip we planned for the next day.
In the south all serious men had at least two Catalpa Trees in their yard. The upper crust put them way at the back of the house so's others wouldn't notice, as they were ugly as a northern bride on her wedding day.
In addition to the Catalpa Worms, we also robbed some red wigglers from Timmy's daddy's, well tended and fed, red wiggler bed.
Growing wigglers is an art not everyone possesses or Yankees would raise them as well. You see, not only are worms smart, but the damn little things are finicky as all get out.
It helps to be able to think like a worm; a number of Southerners seem to have that trait. In fact, some "think tank" up north has even statistically paired it with people that grow flowers in painted tires, and have less than the Lords allotted number of teeth.
Worms must be fed weekly without fail, and watered not too much - but then, not too little either. Thunder and lighting scare the be-jebbers out of them. Whereas Turkeys will run to a corner of the pen, hold their head up mouth open - and drown! Worms will just get together and all leave home. Six pm they are all home grilling and drinking beer; a little thunder and the next morning it is "assholes and elbows" they are flat g..o..n..e. Not a worm in the yard much less the worm bed.
So when you steal Timmy's father's worms you best leave no trail. You scrape thru the bed of decayed leaves with a turning fork not a shovel. Then you level it again and sprinkle the dried leaves you cleverly saved at the start - back over the bed. Check for footprints. Timmy always wears his daddy's old garden shoes; that way he can tell his dad that he was out back last night drunk - checking on the worms- not an uncommon occurrence.
I don't remember what we did that afternoon, but it was likely pure devilment. We most likely ate off the back of the stove at his house for lunch (all southern women keep things cooked or cooking every day, and grabbing some of this, say biscuit and butterbeans or ham, is called - eatin' off the back - and then went to the canebrake by the creek to play, "Marine & Jap."
These were the years when there was no actual knowledge that America would win ?only a great hope that we should do so. Every family in the country had sons or relatives overseas in danger of being killed. Weekly someone in the county would find out a loved one would never return. We were aware of this but our age and inability to relate with death left us blind to the deep suffering of others ? that is until it happened to you and yours.
Our Jungle was much like that which we saw weekly in the war movies of the time. At the end of our street past the cornfield was low, damp, unplowed land that led to a creek. This side of the creek was Marine land - the far bank was that of the "dirty Japs."
The entire thirty or more acres dense with cane, weeds, tall poplar trees and other vegetation that preferred rich damp soil, was as real as a child's mind can conjure up. The only way to penetrate the tangle of vines was in the small crawl space Timmy and I had eked out of the vast morass. There was little doubt in either of our minds that we could have held off an entire Jap Army from those prepared positions in the swamp like terrain.
We had no military equipment such as ammo belts (or other accoutrements). You see there were NO "Army Navy Surplus Stores" in those days ? our fathers, brothers and cousins were USING THE EQUIPMENT! So we made do with old pots, hunting vests, and drug store first aid kits. Armed with our trusty BB guns we roamed the stinking swamp either chasing each other or banding together and shooting Japs from the bushes and trees.
Timmy and I learned much about fauna and ecology during those years in the swamp. You see we, with out thinking, as children are want - transmogrified dirty Japs into birds of the bush and believe me that swamp was heavy with JAPS!
At least for a while ? the Japs out numbered us, but with a dead eye and steady hand we slowly won our war, much as our fathers and brothers were beginning to do on distant islands in the Pacific. Soon there was not a "twitter" to be heard in our thirty-acre battleground. From sparrow to crow, every bird of the forest had chirped its last chirp, at least in the battle scared grounds of our youth.
Later, in the early 50's, the Agriculture Dept. ran a study of bird populations and distribution in the state. To this day there is a footnote describing the singular lack of wildlife in a portion of Clayton County Georgia - fame for which Timmy and myself - dare not take claim.
We have, Timmy and I, always taken pride in the fact we never took the life of a Robin. In all the Japs we killed not one Robin was shot. The other birds all had ranks. Sparrows were enlisted men, Brown Threshers - Majors. Blue Jays, of course, were naturally the Sergeants.
It has always remained a mystery to me why we never died; if not from snake or spider bite, from the damn things we would catch and eat while in the swamp.
There was a time when our real troops were abandoned on Corregidor with little to eat so Timmy and I tried to live off the land. Frogs, ricebirds, small fish (read minnows) and other assorted goods?That did not mean that we would not scavenge from the local natives?a pie here, corn from a field there, and even water melons and cantaloupes. But live we did and grew strong of limb and mind. Today I honestly believe if you put a charred Sparrow or a minnow in front of the average kid - if you could get him to put down his "Game Boy" ? he would throw up and cry. Metro males in training?in fact, you could expect a lawsuit.
Sometimes we would even do the Jap bit at night. Looking back, from a vantage of time, I am sure Tim was as scared as I ?but neither would admit our fear so we went to the swamp and evenings of sheer terror?. Mosquitoes are one thing ?and ants and spiders?but when something cold slides across the top of your foot ? shitting is just ONE option.
Did I tell you that Timmy was the best marble shooter in the state of Georgia ?probably the world? Then only marbles in the hands of other children of the county, and that included mine, were marbles he had won and given back just so they could continue losing them to him.On my frequent trips back to Atlanta, I would use my gambling box with the holes for the other children to shoot their marble through and win MY marbles. Don, who was to become a used car salesman later in life, taught me the secret of making a win proof box.
"Henry you don't owe them little kids an even break," he would say. "Remember always make the holes big enough for the marble to get through ? but never so big that they actually will !"
Don taught me to cut some of the holes in the 1 inch wood at an angle and, on other holes, to sort of cut them like the shape of an hour glass; one that would let the marble through the hole ?but ONLY - if shot dead straight - almost impossible on a sandy surface such as the school yard.
When I returned to Jonesboro with my large bag of ill got marbles, hell, sometimes it would take Timmy three days to win them all.
But Timmy couldn't fish; you have known the type. He could put his cork up close to mine and still nothing would touch his bait. At the same time I would be hauling in bream and catfish in wild abandon. That may be overstated, but not the fact that Timmy was snake bit when it came to fishing.
While I watched my cork like mother hen, poor Timmy would lose focus and become inattentive and the rare bite he did get would be gone long before he could get back to his cane pole.
Timmy was bad to throw pine cones in the river or pond and then start bombing them with small rocks. To us they were Jap aircraft carriers and the rocks 500lb bombs from our Hellcat and Defender bombers. Every lost pine petal, or flip of the cone into the air, was a direct hit.
Lord how we killed those Japs!
There was a series of books about a boy our age and his exploits helping the Army - Navy ? Marines ? Air force.In a breakthrough in clever naming they were called?
"Augustus Helps the Army"?etc?etc
Both of us literally absorbed those books?large writing lots of pictures of the events. As the books usually allowed Augustus to ferret out some spy or other danger around our military bases, we became the town guard against such going on's in our own part of the world.
Trooping the town from end to end we found numerous cases that needed our inspection and concern. From the old woman that lived in the large house on the edge of town, ALONE, to the man who owned the casket factory and sneaked over to her house several times a week, our cast of possible spies was daunting.
We pretty well settled in on the casket man and the woman. She was an old woman, around forty we suspected, and therefore sex could not be the reason for their meeting so often but then just as we began our nightly watch of the house? the real spy fell into our hands !
One Lazy afternoon, with nothing better in mind, Timmy and I stopped by the Station to wait for the local 5:15 evening train. As the train slowed to a noisy, warm, steamy stop, ( it seems strange to me that no young men today will ever know the unique smell and even feel of train steam boiling up around them ) it made young men, boys that knew nothing of the broader outside world, dream of where those people had been ? and just what adventures up the line awaited them. I am sure that just such events had drawn hundreds of men from the farms and small towns of the nation and given them the impetus to leave the shelter of a life predictable.
But for my friend, and me, like the stories of Augustus, it led to a moment of fame. While standing close to the train - in the rising pistons steam; surely there would have been some unnamed test between us to see just who could stand closest to the malevolent iron beast, I saw the station help take an envelope from the coal tender's helper and give him something rolled much like plans or a picture, in return.
Fear struck to the center of my heart as both Timmy and I heard them speak first in English then lapse in to what we later found to be German.
"Thank you Hans, I have been waiting for this - now we?... can?.mmsnm?..and finish ? ?wssat? ?meet in Atlanta."
They both then spoke German, we tried to remember the words) then hugged, raised their hands ear high in salute. Hans then swung back aboard the train as it picked up speed ? headed North on some illicit mission.
Timmy and I might not have been the brightest eggs in the nest, but we knew our town and the people; every trail, every drunk, every woman down in her ways, and best of all, we could travel anywhere - unnoticed and uncared about.
The young man at the Train Station was named Barnard, the son of a local German farmer. My Grandfather, Postmaster and Trainmaster, had given him a job as a political favor to the family; it needing hard cash for the new farming season. Being part German, himself, most likely played some part in my Grandfathers choice of Barnard.
But when you look back through your own life it is a sure bet that somewhere along the way, someone, family, friend, or simply a stranger, lifted your foot to the next rung.
For two nights we spied on Barnard from outside his second floor room a couple of houses down from the Station, and on the wrong side of the tracks. The second night he pulled the tan translucent window shade down and sat for over hour with his head low to his shoulders, and yet, looking funny in some way we didn't understand entirely. Then the shadow in the window began to move his arm in unison seemingly raising a rifle to his shoulder then lowering it. Not only was Barnard practicing arms drill, a close look at his shadow made the out line of what could only be a German helmet.
"He knows we are out here." Timmy squeaked in a voice I had not heard before.
"And he is getting up the nerve to come get us." I added in a voice more similar in timbre to that of Timmy's than of my own.
"You know them Germans can see in the dark?and?and are smart as a whip. I heard that from old man Jones at the barber shop just last week."
With that last remark, both Timmy and my own self rose from our hideout on the roof of the garage at the rear of Barnard's boarding house. We started to RUN ! Then out of the dark something reached out and knocked Timmy flat on his backside.
Not being German, neither of us had seen the long wire extending, from Barnard's window, several hundred yards back and forth among the trees behind Barnard's rented room.
Antenna! The spy's connection with the enemy. We had, of course, seen similar things in the war "Augustus" fought to save our country. We had our man! But, what to do with him, spy catchers we may have been but still we were boys.
Jonesboro, Georgia in 1943 was much like your town would have been. Looking around, you would have seen a town at its normal activity, buying and selling cotton and other goods; church mid-week, as well as Sunday; Swimming at the pond; weekend picnics during early evening - with badminton, horseshoes, and even potato sack races (yes, people were simpler then, even adults found happiness in the more mundane of life's acts. No person I knew, or was to ever know, felt that they were born to be amused, to be given life's pleasures without hard work.
The one thing you would have noticed - should you have looked closely ? was the utter dearth of young men between 17 and 30. This was true to some extent of the young women. The men had gone to war ? the women to work in defense plants making the guns and other goods to keep them safe ?hopefully bring them home ? alive.
The young men left at home lacked even the quite forgiving requirements of the military. Some were near blind; others had bad feet far too flat for service. Further down the curve were those that were what, at the time, we called "slow." They might well sit on the floor of the classroom having grown to manhood far exceeding the limits of the desk and chairs of the 6th or 7th grade.
It was not unusual in those days to see some 200lb hulk of a boy playing "Red-Rover" or kick ball with classmates half his size. Many were teased. There is nothing meaner that a group of children being led to do things they would never do alone. Invariably, the slow ones were kind to all and never used their size to pay back the viciousness of unthinking tormentors.
Jamie was twenty years of age, and though he suffered most of the traits of those mentioned above, he had been made a policeman in Jonesboro. There simply were no other warm bodies to work nights.
So? down the Atlanta road we headed toward the other side of town. It was a known fact that Jamie went to the cotton storage shed about 10 pm and took a nap - to help see him through the couple of hours he had left on duty after he awakened.
We explained the wireless transmissions and the gun several times to Jamie - Deputy, Jonesboro City Police?three times, in fact!
Jamie was not a "concepts man". I found, later in life, that men that still shoot marbles and lose - at age twenty, are seldom high on concepts. But Timmy didn't make me aware of this fact until well after we sought Jamie's help.
Jabbering excitingly, speaking over each other? even while Jamie nodded slowly, we forgot that we were dealing with a near contemporary (as he was in our class at school the year before) that was always the first one hit when we played dodge ball at recess.
All the way back to Barnard's lair at Mrs. Boston's Rooming House we suggested ways Jamie might apprehend Jonesboro's leading spy; A way that would bring us all the credit we so richly deserved.
In the end the direct approach seemed best. Burst in and grab Barnard before he could turn the gun on either us - or himself. If he had one of those notorious pills in his tooth, so be it, neither Timmy nor myself offered to stick our finger in the spy's mouth. Suggesting such to Jamie brought only ? "Huh?" We took this as a definitive, no.
Up the dark stairs at the rooming house, we traveled - as quiet as you might imagine two excited children and a dunce might move. No doubt the dead in the local cemetery were moving about.
Ready to "back up" our constable?.we had not discussed exactly what THAT meant, but it was said in every war movie Timmy and I had ever seen; Jamie threw his considerable weight against what was an average bedroom door. With us behind, Jamie rushed into the room to face the notorious spy Barnard.
Chummed to high suspicion by our continual description of Barnard's many sins, I doubt that Jamie noticed anything but the radio and headset. Looking back from age and experience I doubt if Jamie actually noticed a damn thing and would have acted the same had it been two women working a quilt. I do know, and have known from that date that man is fallible. I know, though this was not one, that man can be led to do horrible things in the name of what is right.
But I also know that no matter the outcome ? he must try to do that which is proper. Failure will come at times ?but nothing is as bad as not trying to do what is right.
Much of what is sick today, in our country, is not punishing the bad?not even trying to punish the bad. In many cases making peace with evil and even supporting it with money and moral sustenance.
I can still see as though yesterday a clear mental snapshot of that room and Barnard sitting there lost in his music.Earphones on his head - to keep from disturbing other boarders ? and the family violin handed down for centuries in his family ? quietly playing along - lost in a symphony from New York.
I honestly don't know if Timmy and I were running before the chair, Barnard, Jamie and that damn violin collapsed in a heap. But, by the time the wireless radio hit the deck,, accompanied with the popping of vacuum tubes, I do know they added extra wings to our feet.
Jamie could never explain just why he was at Barnard's that night. His explanations just drifted off into what was believed "a confused mind about spies that he had picked up at the movies." The trauma of the evening had left him with, at best, a confused memory of Timmy and myself. Gutless to the end ?we never told?not even our other young friends. And in a way I guess it was a great character lesson in many ways. I don't have time to list them here but you might consider all the things a young lad could learn about himself ?and others?from such a fiasco.
I said earlier that Timmy could outdo me in two major things?one, of course, was his unequaled ability to make shots in the dirt with marbles?in his way Timmy was equal to Jordan or Bond?just different sports.
The other thing ?
When we played in the swamp at night and he was the Jap?I could NEVER find his ass. I would be sneaking along the trail looking hard ?and a hand would reach out and flick my ear ?and brother! It hurt like a som'bich.
Once the shadows swallowed Timmy - you couldn't see that little pecker unless he smiled in the dark.
You see, Timmy was blacker than a Democrat's soul.
©2007 A.H. Watson, all rights reserved.