Separate but (not treated) Equal

After Isaac puts the Pontiac in neutral and maneuvers it out on the driveway, he asks me to hand him a screwdriver. He tightens some do-ma-hickey then replaces the battery with the one he picked up at the local auto part’s store.

“You sure know a lot about a lot of things, Isaac Ford,” I tell him. “And don’t dare say anything stupid like, ‘so you think I’m smarter than the average colored boy.’”

“I read a lot. And my mama teaches at my school. The Academy for Black Youth in case you’re wondering.”

“We don’t have any Negros in my school. Not because they can’t come but because most of them live across town.”

“Separate but Equal,” he says, shaking his head.

I think of my summer reading assignment — A Separate Peace.

“Thing is, Chicken Coop. I want to make something of myself. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out how. I can’t play music, I don’t want to be a preacher—”

“Then do something else. Be a mechanic. Be a teacher. Be whatever you want.”

“Okay. I’ll be a surgeon. After they let me in a university because of my a-Maze-ing chemistry and biology grades, I graduate. Then, I look for a job that will hire a colored surgeon. And, if I’m lucky enough to land that job, white folks will say, ‘I don’t want some colored boy operating on me.’ Then, I’m back where I started. Without a job.”

“You’re so cynical, Isaac.”

“Cynical?” He points a finger at my chest. “You know nothing. Nothing! What do I have to be cheery-faced about? Huh? That I can fix a goddam car? Tell Olvie it’s ready. She can drive it in the garage her own damn self. I’m going home.”

From my WIP about forging friendships during the Civil Rights Movement (1963)

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Haters

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I can’t see anything out of the ordinary, only Olvie’s backyard. But I hear it. Words my mother has heard slammed in her direction.

“<N…> lover!” the boys chant.

Five of them emerge from the backyard bushes and run towards the front yard.

I grab a frying pan and head for the front door.

“Cooking out tonight?” Olvie says.

I ignore her and run outside.

Boys scramble in the cab and the back of the pick-up truck and shoot me the bird. Kent, the last one in, glares at me. “Beam that Fry pan over your own head, Grace. You’re not thinking straight.”

They peel off. Hearing the frying pan slam the sidewalk gives me a bit of satisfaction. But not enough.

“Chicken Coop?”

Olvie stands on the porch, her eyes pinched and curious. “Somebody got shot?”

 

The damp cloth feels good on my forehead, but I could forego Gladys’ positioned arm against mine.

“Want me to call that imbecile Garvey?” Olvie says sitting next to me on the leopard skin couch.

I shake my head. “He couldn’t do anything anyway. Name-calling’s not against the law.”

“So, who were those ragamuffins?”

“I only know one of them. They called me a <n….> lover.”

“Next time,” she says, “Don’t be so stupid. Pull out the cast iron skillet instead of that cheap enamel one. No, never mind that. You’re too scrawny to lift it. Be best if you grab the baseball bat under my bed. But if you swing it, don’t miss.

“I don’t want to be violent,” I say, trying to sound like my parents.

“You hear what I said? Don’t miss.”

 

 

Out of his comfort zone (until the movie comes on)

 

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“Well, well, well,” says asshole pimply-faced Kent behind the glass window. “Thought you were leaving for the summer.”

How could the tolerant Mr. Pryor hire this racist?

“Two tickets.” I thrust the money in the hole.

“Two? Where’s your friend?”

I don’t want to get Tanner in trouble. I also want to stand my ground. “He’s behind me.”

Kent squints at Tanner. “Now you’re friends with a …” He looks behind him. Mr. Pryor faces toward us. He’s chatting with an older lady with bluish hair. “Friends with a colored? He your boyfriend?”

“Let’s go, Chicken Coop,” Tanner whispers behind me. “Ain’t worth it.”

“My friend and me came to watch a movie. Now, sell us the goddamn tickets, Kent.”

There is that look of anger and there is a look of hatred. Kent’s wearing both. He hands me the ticket.“Next,” he says through clinched teeth.

Tanner finds a place to sit in the back of the theater. I go for popcorn and cokes. When I return, he asks if we can put a couple of seats between us.

From my Work in Progress about a biracial friendship in 1963.

Outlier

I’m ashamed, and shocked

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… but I don’t take full responsible for my ignorance. As you, my blogger friends and followers know, I have very little patience for the intolerance in our world. My belief system stands firmly planted to the principles of social justice, civil rights and equality. So, why did I just recently learn about Emmett Till? I’m curious. Have you heard of him?

I am currently living in 1963. While working on my new manuscript, I am researching various aspects of life in the 1960’s. Presently titled Olvie and Chicken Coop, teenager Grace Cooper tries to befriend a “Negro” boy who’s visiting from Alabama, but can’t understand why he is so stand-offish. (Not the whole premise of the novel but I’ll tell you more about that another time.) But my particular story line was set when research introduced me to Emmett Till. (I must have missed Bob Dylan’s 1962 song, The Death of Emmett Till)

I know about the Woolworth sit-in, Rosa Parks and the bus, the Freedom Fighters, etc.  I didn’t realize, but now know, that many African American’s moved from the south to Chicago to distance themselves from the John Crow laws — Chicago where they could walk with their heads held high.

I was shocked to learn that this fourteen-year-old boy, who travelled from Chicago to Mississippi in 1955 to visit relatives, never made it back home and the mortifying reasons why.

This boisterous, self-assured young man, didn’t know the “rules” of the south at the time. In some disputed way, either by words or by wolf-whistling at a married white woman, Emmett Till was hunted down by the man’s wife and his half-brother for flirting with a white woman. After being terribly brutalized, Emmett’s body was discovered in the river. The murders were acquitted and set free.

God Bless You, Emmett Till, a kid with only candy in his pockets.

And, ironically, just over a month ago, Emmett Till’s accuser admits she lied. Time to clear her conscience?

For more about Emmett read here.