Sunday September 15, 1963

Sunday September 15, 1963…I doubt I paid much attention to the happenings in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.  I probably paid more attention on Monday when Walter brought the CBS Nightly News as the family gathered around the black and white TV, chewing soggy TV dinner fried chicken and cardboard mac and cheese. 

I pay more attention now. The past can be painful. Ignoring the past can be moreso. Four young girls, Addie Mae Collins (age 14, born April 18, 1949); Carol Denise McNair (age 11, born November 17, 1951); Carole Rosanond Robertson (age 14, born April 24, 1949); and Cynthia Dionne Wesley (age 14, born April 30, 1949), were killed in the attack as they attended Sunday school…Sunday school. Addie Mae’s sister, 12 year old Sarah, had twenty-one shards of glass embedded in her face. She was blinded in one eye. Fourteen others were injured and there was another death. Some nineteen or more casualties to the war that was Civil Rights.

1963: Bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church
Sarah Collins recovering from the attack. Photograph by Dawoud Bey.

I do not know what I thought.  I do not know what my family thought.  We were not the types to sit around the dinner table discussing Civil Rights, race relations, and the deaths of four young girls in the city that became known as “Bombingham.” I honestly don’t know where my parents stood on racism and Civil Rights. Considering all possibilities I guess that is not a bad thing.

I don’t know for sure what my classmates thought during school that Monday morning. There was no discussion of the travesty that had occured in my eighth grade civics class…my all white class in my all white little school.

I was thirteen. Just about the ages of the girls killed at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.  I wonder what I thought.  I am sure I was more concerned about the pennant race in the National League than four deaths in Alabama.  The Dodgers were battling it out with the Cardinals and held a one game lead.  On September sixteenth they would begin a series with the Dodgers one game up.  In the American League the Yankees had run away and hid in 1963.  I knew baseball standings, but I didn’t know the names of the girls now gone.

It is not that I was unfeeling, I was thirteen, probably an immature thirteen.  I was more concerned about baseball and the Playboy magazine I had snuck into my bedroom.  There was that little blond-haired girl that stirred feelings and reactions I simply did not understand.  Alabama was a place far, far away and the lives lost unknown to me.

Occasionally thoughts would enter my teenage mind.  “How is this right?”  I was not ready to go marching with Martin Luther King but images of burning buses, fire hoses, and now rubble were having an effect…a lasting effect.

My grandmother had taught the Golden Rule. I couldn’t understand why we weren’t treating these people the way we wished to be treated.  Why were people so angry and why did they all look like me? Why didn’t I have the guts to act?

I couldn’t understand the lack of empathy from friends either…as I can’t understand now.

The last of the three bombers died in prison this past June.  I will not speak his name. He was eighty-two.  He was not brought to justice until 2001…none were brought to justice in 1963, not because their identities were unknown, because of the system that was in place…a system that is still hanging on in many places.  The three freely lived their lives as if nothing had happened, one for thirty-seven years.  He lived freely thrice as long as the little girls whose lives he helped to take. 

I’m thankful I’m not the same person I was in 1963.  I was a child of the time and carried my racism with me well into my adulthood.  My change occurred over time, there was no sudden flipped switch.  It was the realization that what I saw and heard was at odds with what I had learned despite my grandmother’s best teachings.

I still have my moments.  I still carry my racism. Thoughts I wish I didn’t have, thoughts I pray forgiveness for.  I pray for understanding, pray for peace among all God’s children.  Prayers that don’t include forgetting but do include forgiveness.  Prayers for taking the first step toward healing which is the recognition and acceptance for our sins. 

Don Miller writes on various subjects that bothers him so. His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0C336Kj_qD1fHk40ybRg8b7CHHd6f8KYcGIC44-qIqsbZJGjv0WdXaeKI

  

Heroes

I watched Black Panther last night and the tribute to Chadwick Boseman that followed, the young man from Anderson, South Carolina who died much too young from colon cancer.  A movie star some have called heroic.

The news of his death at forty-three struck a discordant note and triggered my own memories of young men gone to soon.  Over the last decade I have lost two former players to colon cancer, one in his early thirties, the other in his early forties. 

I watched their deterioration and the devastation the disease wreaked upon their families.  I witnessed firsthand the bravery they displayed as the sands ran too quickly from their hourglass. It seems Chadwick fought his battle silently and worked nearly up to the end. Like my players I’m sure he fought heroically and at his age could have easily been one of my students or players.

Because he was from South Carolina, I had heard a great deal about Chadwick. I followed his career but Black Panther was the first movie I saw despite having been impressed with excerpts from 42 and with the interviews I had watched. I had been too self-absorbed and lazy to actually go to a movie theater. 

2020 has been tough on role models.  Kobe Bryant and John Lewis passed before Boseman, all prominent African Americans in their respective fields, athletics, Civil Rights, and film.  Joining them today, as I write this, was legendary Georgetown coach, John Thompson. 

There are others who have passed, of all races and many different fields.  People who were important to other people whether they knew them or not.  Many who were role models and heroes in their own right. Still, I could not help myself, I wondered, “Why had Chadwick Boseman been elevated to ‘Superhero Role Model’?”

I knew the answer but as I read reactions to his death, responses to media presentations, and the final straw for fragile, triggered, white folks from his home state, the lowering of the flags to half-mast that fly over our state capital.  Small fire fights raged over social media to the point I shut my computer down to put them out.

I was surprised at the negative comments.  “He is an actor, not a hero. He is playing a part”, “It’s just because he’s black”, “It’s the liberal media’s agenda”, “It’s all about politics.”  Those were not the worst of the comments.

I decided to do a bit of introspection.  After my self-study, the answer swimming around in my mind had not changed.  I had stayed silent when certain people enumerated the failings of Kobe Bryant and John Lewis, trying to make them seem less heroic and more human. I’m not going to be silent today.

People need heroes.  We always have needed them, whether they were actors playing a part or athletes playing a game or living heroic figures.  I had mine, from John Wayne’s ‘Whistling’ Dan Roman in the movie The High and the Mighty to Mickey Mantle and Bobby Richardson to JFK.  All were important to me.

They were heroic figures for a young white boy named Donnie.  They were also flawed humans…discovered to be flawed by the adult named Don.  When I was the child we did not seem to have the need to tear our heroes down as we do now.  Heroes were heroes, villains were villains. You could tell the good guys by their white hats unless your hero was Hopalong Cassidy.

Today, we elevate normal humans to godly status just before doing our best to explode our idols by exposing the failings that make them human.  Hero worship to hero bashing.  Why?

I do not have an answer to why…except that it is 2020 and for the previous decade our capacity for hatred has steadily expanded.  I guess we have always mined for veins of corrosion in someone else’s hero’s armor.  As far as the comments about Chadwick Boseman, it seems much darker.

I restate, “People need heroes.”  For Black Americans and other hyphenated Americans, heroes have been few and far between.  Not because they were not any, there were plenty, but because heroes of color were whitewashed by the “White European” history we taught…I taught into the present century. 

The Thurgood Marshalls and Jackie Robinsons were relegated to “footnotes” during the Civil Rights Era while others were crammed into the shortest month of the year, “Black History Month.” 

Chadwick Boseman helped bring those historical figures to life for a new generation of Black kids.  Chadwick Boseman gave little black youngsters a hero…even if he was playing James Brown or The Black Panther.  Chadwick Boseman gave an entire race a sense of pride that had been rendered almost invisible in many history books. 

Before you question me, I know I am correct because I taught United States History off and on for forty-one years and I only realized the errors of my ways late in my career.  I am sorely sorry for that.  In God I trust but I now know I should not have trusted my “Lost Cause” education or the textbooks I taught from.  It appears I did a good job of teaching as the propaganda I taught is often regurgitated back into my face. 

Please understand, my failings went far past presenting Black Americans in the shadows.  My shortcomings included Native Americans, Spanish speaking Americans, Asian Americans, and women of all races.  

I taught a sanitized version of history, as most of us did.  I taught the good instead of adding the bad and the ugly.  I now believe if we do not confront our history, we truly are doomed to repeat it.  We needed Chadwick Boseman along with actors and actresses like him to bring that history to life…and provide a bit of escapism too.

Is Chadwick Boseman a hero? I think we throw the term around too easily and too often.  He is a positive role model, not just for black kids but for all kids in general.  From a small Southern town, to college, to Oxford, to a pinnacle of stages and red carpets.  More than an actor in a role, a good man, an intelligent man, a humanitarian, and philanthropist.  Maybe not a hero in the heroic sense but a culture hero for sure and the best of role models.    

I thought for two hours and fifteen minutes Sunday night Chadwick Boseman was heroic, the same way John Wayne was heroic in the movie In Harms Way or The Horse Soldiers. There were certainly creases, maybe huge dents and rends in John’s armor and yet I still tune in everytime those movies are on.

We need heroes even if they are playing a part or a sport. We need heroes even if they are human with human failings. Boseman’s heroism went much further than just the screen of my TV.

Don Miller’s author page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1eQLwKCHwi-dJ92ECz70HcFU6lwIeP6pKv8-4vBA_gJEqpQiGtI3Ic1H8

The image of Chadwick Boseman was mined from the New York Times.

Shut up and Listen

 

It’s time for white folk to just shut up.  We are not listening.  We are shouting down the message.

Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick peacefully took a knee and we (White Folk) shouted him down.  Athletes who joined him were called sons of bitches and threatened with firings.  A blonde-haired news pundit told an athlete to “shut up and dribble.” Conservative radio wrapped their racism and white nationalism with the US Flag and made it about disrespect instead of listening.  Award winners who dared to use their medium as a platform were told to just accept their award and shut up.  Be quiet so we don’t have to listen.

Why? It’s easier to be tone-deaf if you don’t have to listen.  You can be happy and secure with your head stuck where the sun never shines.

Four years later, what has changed?  I’m being kind, I could have asked twenty years later? Or thirty….  Nothing.  Systemic and institutional racism is still in place along with the double standard that is our justice system…and white people are still attempting to shout down those who are affected the most.

You dare to question this great country?  Just shut up and sit down, or move.  “Don’t like it here, go back to your shithole country.”  If we shout long enough maybe a bigger story will come along during the next news cycle to make people forget.  People do forget…white people.

White folk needs to shut up and listen.  Violent protest is not constructive…you are preaching to the choir if preaching to me.  It ain’t about me.  The white folks who have the most to lose are using it to drown out the message.

Our forefathers put the system into place, and we have guarded the fire of discrimination as if our lives depended upon it.  Not all, I believe the loudest shouters are in the minority and are the ones guarding and fanning the flame of racism and intolerance.

It is time for the silent majority to shut out the shouts of the minority haters and decide what we believe in.  We can’t afford to sit on a fence that may burn down from under us.  Shit or get off the pot because it is not the responsibility of people of color to destroy an oppressive system.  A system, we, as in whites, put into being…and have maintained since the end of the Civil War.  We must be the ones who dismantle discrimination and we can’t do that without listening.  We have to make dialog possible…by shutting up and listening.

“But things are better aren’t they?”  I don’t know.  I’m an old white guy.  Maybe you should go ask a friend of color…and listen quietly and intently.

I don’t believe white people get to make up the rules for acceptable protest.  We don’t get to share cute memes of MLK’s nonviolence without also sharing his quote “Riot is the language of the unheard.”  To do so is as hypocritical as “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” when we have a system that openly disparages, marginalizes, and discriminates.  

Before we shout about violence, we need to accept our own.  My lifetime memories are full of scenes I’d like to forget.  As a student of history, I am aware our history books are full of glossed over white initiated violence in the name of expansion, manifest destiny, imperialism, and racism.  Glossed to the point it doesn’t exist.

King’s peaceful protests were met with burning buses, police dogs, and water hoses. King’s belief in non-violence got him killed.  Murdered by a white man with a gun, trying to maintain the flame of white supremacy.

“Oh, but that was long ago, people just need to get over it.”  People can begin to get over “it” when we admit and accept our sins and the sins of our forefathers.  I don’t believe we’ve done that.  I think we have done nothing but shout our excuses and what-about- isms.

The riots from the Nineties disappeared from our rose-colored sight and out of mind…and little was accomplished. The same with protests from more recent history.

I’m an old white guy who doesn’t understand how burning down your neighbor’s house because you are pissed is positive.  I won’t ever understand it.   My time and energy, and yours, would be better spent listening with an open mind and attempting to understand why there is so much anger and frustration.

If you find it easier to believe in leftwing plots, led by George Soros or Bill Gates, the Democratic Party, Antifa or the Illuminati…if you believe it is a rightwing plot, led by Donald Trump, the KKK, The Church of QAnon or other far-right groups, you are part of the problem because you would rather face made up problems than real ones.  The real one is too painful.

Are they organized, certainly but I don’t believe it is a Dark State plot.  Activism is not a dirty word and it is not anarchy.  Are there bad players at work  Sure, but you are allowing them to shout over the message.  You are not listening.

You are the ostrich with your head in the sand or worse if you don’t believe people of color have a reason to be mad.  You are shouting instead of listening because you don’t want to hear the truth.  You are afraid to listen to the pain, anger, and frustration of your neighbors because you might have to acknowledge we live in a racist system.  You are helping to fan the flame whether you want to or not.

In 1968, King died from an assassin’s bullet. The white shouts were almost the same as today.  The streets were burning and National Guard troops patrolled American cities. The cries were of anger, sadness, and frustration.  We didn’t listen.  We were too busy shouting about radical agitators as we watched the newsreels loop.  We wouldn’t shut up long enough to listen.  It was 1968 or is it right now?

In 1992, LA burned after four LA policemen were acquitted of the beating of Rodney King.  They were caught on camera for the nation to see.  The National Guard was on patrol again and there were the same shouts, the same excuses.  We didn’t listen.  It couldn’t be about a racist system.  It was 1992 or is it right now?

Do we repeat the same sins by drowning out people in pain or do we shut up and listen?  Are we willing to push for meaningful change or wait for the next tragedy to drown it out and return to the status quo?  Are we willing to change?

George Floyd’s death was awful, but it only cast a light on one symptom of the disease.  The disease isn’t terminal yet but it is moving swiftly in that direction.  Shut up and listen before our racism kills us.

 

***

Featured Image:  https://steemit.com/life/@domioanna/just-shut-up-and-listen

Don Miller’s author’s page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1IWVKrQFOwlgUOn0jXI0N85XUF4AFM-IgNPqW7PE1GGK23l7PJUvho9Fs

 

Jackie and Pee Wee

Today is Jackie Robinson Day.  A day celebrated in major league baseball stadiums across our land.  A celebration that I’ve seen little hoopla about, just some passing mentions.  I don’t think anyone is ignoring it for any nefarious reason, it is tax day after all…and Tiger did win the Masters, and Notre Dame Cathedral is burning.

I wrote this piece a couple of years ago as part of a celebration for Black History Month and decided to rewrite it in honor of Jackie Robinson…and Pee Wee Reese.

Athletics in general and baseball specifically have played a very important part of my life. I coached at the middle or high school level for forty-five years, thirty-six coaching baseball, all forty-five coaching kids.

I began my coaching career at the end of segregation and the beginning of integration in the South.  The opposition to black and white kids going to school together was still high but in athletic locker rooms around the South, young people figured out a way around their prejudices…at least for a few hours daily.

I have very strong opinions about the state of race and bigotry in the United States and am sure professional baseball locker rooms of today are no different than the general population of today.  What is different, they find a way to overcome it, a way to make it work…kind of like Jackie and Pee Wee.  From two years ago….

“I do not care if the guy is yellow or black, or if he has stripes like a fuckin’ zebra. I’m the manager of this team, and I say he plays. What’s more, I say he can make us all rich. And if any of you can’t use the money, I will see that you are all traded.”  A short speech by Leo “the lip” Durocher, manager of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, letting his team know that Jackie Robinson was in the big leagues to stay…with or without them.  I’m sure Leo said more, he was, after all, a man of many words…many “colorful” words.

April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to break the major league baseball “color line” since the 1880s.  The “color line” was a “gentleman’s agreement” among major league owners to not allow Blacks to play.  Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodger owner, would scuttle the “gentleman’s agreement” signing Jackie Robinson and putting him on the field.  I would be remiss not to mention that Larry Doby would be the line breaker in the American League with the Cleveland Indians and for some reason flew under the media radar.

Normally a middle infielder, Robinson started at first base his first day in the “Bigs” because All-Star Eddie Stanky was playing second, and Pee Wee Reese was playing shortstop. While not getting a hit, he did walk and scored a run. Facing ALMOST universal racial prejudice, Jackie finished his initial season hitting .297 in one hundred and fifty-one games and received Rookie of the Year honors.  Not bad considering the weight of an entire race that he carried.

I was too young to care much about Jackie Robinson the player and his trials and tribulations.  I hadn’t even been born yet and when I was born, I wasn’t much of a Dodger fan…at least that is my excuse and I’m sticking to it.  Much later, the old newsreel films I watched incessantly proved him worthy of six all-star appearances, a league MVP award and an election to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Today I celebrate the way he revolutionized the game and the trail he blazed for the stars of my own youth and for those who followed. I cannot fathom what baseball might have been without the likes of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Ozzie Smith, Frank Robinson…you get the idea. There were a bunch of others.  Today I am also aware of his many trials and tribulations.

When I said almost universal prejudice there were a few opposing players and teammates who came to Robinson’s defense while offering him a hand in brotherhood. One of those men became an all-time favorite of mine as a broadcaster. He was Robinson’s former teammate and Dizzy Dean’s “Little Partnah”, Pee Wee Reese. Many of my youthful Saturdays were spent sitting with my father watching the Falstaff Game of the Week with Dizzy and Pee Wee bringing the play-by-play.

During the trailblazing 1947 season, Reese was quoted as saying, “You can hate a man for many reasons. Color is not one of them.” Pretty profound for a white guy from Kentucky in 1947. During the Dodgers first road trip as Robinson was being heckled during pre-game infield, Reese, the captain of the Dodgers, went over to Robinson.  Engaging him in conversation, Reese put his arm around Robinson’s shoulder in a gesture of support which silenced the crowd. An eight-foot bronze statue located at the minor league, Brooklyn Cyclones’ stadium commemorates that moment. A plaque states as follows:

“This monument honors Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese: teammates, friends, and men of courage and conviction. Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Reese supported him, and together they made history. In May 1947, on Cincinnati’s Crosley Field, Robinson endured racist taunts, jeers, and death threats that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man. Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and stood by his side, silencing the taunts of the crowd. This simple gesture challenged prejudice and created a powerful and enduring friendship.”

Image result for statue of jackie robinson and pee wee reese

Simple gestures can solve major problems.

Don Miller writes on many varied subjects.  His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

RADIOACTIVE DUST

It was October 21, 1962. I’m quite sure of the date. The twelve-year-old me listened intently to the adults gathered around my Mother’s formal dining room table awaiting Sunday dinner. That would-be lunch in more civilized circles. Twelve-year-old Donnie was doing as I had been told repeatedly, “children are to be seen, not heard.” Despite being a pre-teen, I was unsure of my standing and decided not to chance a thrashing with a “keen hickory” at the hands of my grandmother.

The news around the table was terrifying to the pre-teen me. Nuclear weapons right down the road in Cuba. Just ninety miles from the good old US of A. An uncle, a member of the Navy reserves, was afraid he was going to be called up to help blockade the island that had become a bristling launching pad of fire and radioactive ruin. A cousin, an army reservist and paratrooper, was afraid he would be making night time drops attempting to capture the nuclear sites. Everyone at the table agreed they would rather be “dead than red.” Everyone but me. Me? I wasn’t at all sure.

Despite my youth, I understood the Soviets and the United States hated each other even if the reasons behind the hatred escaped me. My civics teacher had hammered the differences between the Soviet Communists and our democratic form of government but I just wasn’t sure about the “dead rather than red” thing. I had a lot of living to do even if it was under the thumb of the goose stepping Red Army and I could see no good in circling the earth in a radioactive cloud.

The following Monday, after an “In Case of Nuclear Attack” drill, I kept watching the heavens hoping not to see a Bear Bomber with its red star dropping a bomb on Indian Land, South Carolina, population…not many. I also prayed not to see the telltale contrail of a missile zeroing in on Indian Land School. Just to be sure I kept my largest textbook nearby so I could protect myself if the bomb went off.

Once home I tentatively approached my father. He was hard at rest working on a crossword puzzle after an eight-hour shift a Springs Mills. Ernest didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned that the “Dogs of War” were nipping at our heels.

“Dad?”

“Yes, son,” looking over his reading glasses.

“I’m worried about this Cuba thing. Do you think we ought to get a fallout shelter?”

“I tell you what. Get the shovel and pick a place. When you think you’ve dug deep enough call me and I’ll come see. Right now, I need a four-letter word that means a dueling sword.”

I wish I felt as calm and collected as he appeared. As I read about North Korean nukes and a President threatening “fire and fury”, I am sorely concerned. In 1962 cooler heads prevailed. Russian ships intent on breaking the barricade reversed course, nuclear weapons in Cuba were removed and I did not add my ashes to a mushroom shaped cloud.

I don’t know if we have those cooler heads. The little Korean guy scares me. I think he has “little man’s disease.” Our own guy scares me and if you are waiting for me to say something about “small hands”, well, I just did. I wish it was a sick dream and these two guys were not in charge of nuclear codes but the truth is they are and they are on a collision course with us in the middle.

Think I’ll watch “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Maybe Peter Sellers can give me perspective since my own president can’t. Where is Slim Pickens when we need him?

For more of Don Miller’s writings and musings, including his latest release, Olivia, please follow his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

A QUIET, LITTLE PARK

I have childhood memories of gazing across the main street at the granite soldier standing guard inside the Confederate Park in the small town of Fort Mill. I was probably standing in line for a Saturday matinee at the Center Theater. That would be my guess. Some shaggy dog movie or maybe an oater starring Rory Calhoun or the like. I stood in line pondering the Confederate Soldier perched upon his stand gazing off to…where? Another time? “Good times they are not forgotten….”

The park seemed to be a quiet and serious, an almost religious place despite the Parrott Rifle and mortar guarding the four memorials located within; the Confederate Soldier erected in 1891, two tributes erected in 1895 memorializing sacrifices by loyal slaves and women, and finally, in 1900, a memorial to the Catawba Indians who served with the Confederacy. There is a bandstand, a place to sit and have lunch, contemplating whatever adults must contemplate. The little boy me knew nothing of this, he simply wondered why the granite figure seemed to be so lonely.

Confederate memorials don’t seem to be very quiet or religious these days. Arguments have erupted, again, over the removal of Confederate memorials and the Confederacy’s sacred cloth, the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia. Virginia, Louisiana and locally, my adopted home, Greenville, South Carolina have been focal points. I vacillate on my position. I don’t believe the removal of such monuments erases the history but I wonder how much both sides are trying to change history to fit their cognitive dissonance.

My problem is with the view of my heritage. My issue is with the heritage we Southerners are so proud of. The heritage we are determined to protect…or even invent. Tributes to brave men, our forefathers, dressed in gray and butternut, charging through the smoke, braving musket fire and grapeshot. Brave men on the wrong side of history. Outnumbered but valiant, dying, their blood staining the sacred ground of “Dixieland” …despite their Lost Cause. Defending the land of their birth, their way of life, their rights. Bravely giving their lives in a struggle reminiscent of Ivanhoe at his best.

It is the other side of our heritage I ponder. The heritage we attempt to, if not ignore, deflect from. We protest that the war was about Northern aggression and invasion, state’s rights, defending our homeland from an overreaching federal government and its unfair taxation through tariffs. This is my problem. Politicians, Southern Heritage groups and revisionist are quick to deflect, it’s Heritage Not Hate. My problem is the question I ask, “Where do African-Americans, their forefathers shackled in chains, where does their heritage fit?”

Maybe we should just add a fifth memorial to those already found in the quiet little park near the home of my distant youth. A marble testament to those who suffered under our heritage. We are quick to point out “it is time to move on,” that no one alive has picked cotton as a slave or owned slaves or a half dozen other excuses. In a way, I agree…but not until we take our own advice.

Don Miller writes “about things that bother him so” and things that don’t bother him at all. Should you desire, you may connect with him at https://goo.gl/pL9bpP

MAW

We had played together every Monday for the previous two years…that is, every Monday when the sun was shining…regardless of temperature, since we had turned four. A lot of my memories have become muddled with the passage of time or the fact that I was just four or five, but there are bits and pieces I grab on to and, if I hold on tightly enough, they will turn into memories. My recollections of Maw are quite clear. Mondays were Nannie’s wash days and she still held on enough to the old ways that she did her wash outside even though a wringer washing machine had replaced her washboard and tin wash tub. There wasn’t enough room inside the house for the washer, especially after an indoor bathroom had been added to what was once a back porch. The new washer sat on what was left of the back porch. Water was boiled on the old gas range and carried outside to the washer. After the clothes were washed or sometimes “blued” in the old, claw foot style bathtub, they were hand cranked through two rollers called a wringer, an act that scared me to death. I was always fearful a body part might get caught up in it. The clothes were then hung out to air-dry or freeze if the temperature was too low. On days, it was not in use, the washer became my personal spacecraft or tank and, despite my fear, possessed a hand-cranked machine gun or pulsar cannon.

Miss Maggie Cureton was Nannie’s wash woman and friend even though during those days saying that your friend was a “colored” wash woman was not something a white woman could admit. After Paw Paw died and Nannie moved in next door with my parents and their new washing machine and dryer, Miss Maggie became obsolete but was not replaced. Miss Maggie just became Nannie’s fishing buddy. I’m not sure a woman would like to be described as “thin and wiry” but that is the description that I must use. Miss Maggie looked to be as tough as harness leather with strong muscles roping her thin arms. She was also as black as the end of a burned stick and always wore a kerchief around her head, unless she donned a huge straw hat given to her by my grandmother. While small, she could pull her weight and then some when lugging around baskets of water-soaked sheets or stringers loaded with fish. My fondest remembrance of her was the way she addressed me as “Honey Chile.” Her endearment was a little more loving than being referred to as one of the “you chaps” that was as close to an affectionate utterance that I would ever get from my grandmother.

During harvest season, Mondays were also “get ready to go to the cannery day.” The cannery was open at the local school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Garden bounties had been picked Friday through Monday so there was a lot of bounty to be cleaned, shelled and readied to be canned the next day. My grandmother’s front porch became a gathering place for a, impromptu and less than static, soiree that that included family and friends. This “shelling party” ran well into the evening. Beans were snapped and shelled, tomatoes peeled and cored and corn creamed in the cool breeze created from the evening shade on that porch. There were also stories to be told, maybe just a bit of juicy gossip to be imparted and a lot of laughter to be heard. Some days there would be a mix that included corn, okra and tomatoes which would become the base for my favorite dish, Nannie’s soup. Because the cannery was for “Whites Only” Maggie could not go but was always sent home late in the day with a part of that bounty and would later be given cans of veggies. The cost of the whole operation was an expensive penny per can to process.

One Monday morning Miss Maggie did not come alone but brought Maw and his two-year-old sister Bessy along with her. Maw’s mother, Maggie’s daughter, had found work at a church in Lancaster and would later marry the minister. Maw and Bessy were Miss Maggie’s grandchildren. While Maggie was ebony, Maw and Bessy were not. They were more the shade of the rich Luzianne coffee and cream that my grandmother drank. Their skin was shiny and seemed to glow in the morning light which accented their reddish hue. I heard them later referred to as “redbone” and was too young to understand the dynamics of someone who was bi-racial. The shine of their skin was due to the perspiration caused by their already hot and humid walk across the wide, sometimes cotton and sometimes hay, field that separated their home from ours. Maw was my age, a few months older, and stood with his right foot planted firmly on the ground with his left nervously tucked, toes curled, under his instep. Both he and his sister were barefooted and dressed in hand-me-downs as was I, but I had not had to navigate the stubble and briars that had been left behind from the last hay cutting. While only slightly older, Maw was already a half-head taller and several pounds heavier. Not intending to be stereotypical, Maw was the athlete that I wished I could have been.

After our introductions, we spent a few minutes nervously looking at our feet until the contemplation of new adventures came to mind and someone broke the silence. With sixty acres of fields and woods to play in there were plenty of adventures to be shared. My grandmother’s driveway and the “river road” formed a natural triangle that included trees for shade or for climbing. There was a ditch that naturally filled with sand to be moved with toy trucks and cars or to form a battle field where wars could be fought with little green soldiers armed with their guns. This became our play area because it was close enough to the washing area so that our grandparents could keep an eye on us. We suddenly found our voices and for one day a week became fast friends. I remember asking him what kind of name “Maw” was. I was informed that it was short for “Maw-Reese.” Later, as we got older, we graduated to exploring the barn and its loft which could be a castle keep or the bridge of a pirate ship or the high ground for a rousing and, sometimes painful, corncob fight. On occasions, we would simply run amok in the woods that bordered the fields and pasture. As Bessy got older she joined in with the adventures and I found her to be just as athletic as Maw. Lunches of sometimes fried bologna sandwiches were always accompanied by raucous laughter that often-included fresh milk squirting out of our noses. My grandmother referred to us as “being louder than a dozen blue jays.”

Our little idyllic existence would come to a crashing halt in the late summer of 1956 as we began preparations for school that fall. Losing our freedom for school would be bad enough but I would suddenly find out something that I had forgotten for the past two years. Maw and Bessy were not like me. I knew it but had learned, without realizing, that friendships could overcome race differences or could be destroyed by them. The dumb white boy found out that Maw and I would not be attending the same school. Instead, I would make the mile trip to my school, while Maw would have to travel the eighteen miles to his, despite a court ruling that neither one of us knew about that had put “separate but equal” to rest two years previous. I had heard comments after the Brown versus Board of Education Supreme Court ruling and my parents had even attended meetings to discuss “What are we going to do when ‘coloreds’ began going to school with our kids?” For some reason my five or six-year-old mind had not made the connection that Maw and Bessy were one of those “coloreds.” I remember standing at the end of my driveway with my mother awaiting my bus ride for my first day of school. Despite the expected feelings of anxious anticipation and fear, I also remember feeling a bit of sorrow in my six-year-old heart as the “colored” bus to Barr Street passed me by.
Maw and I saw each other for brief periods during the coming years but too many things got in the way and we drifted apart over time until we did not see each other at all. School, sports, band, new friends and girls all contributed to our form of segregation but I am quite sure that the attitudes of this time played the most divisive roles. “With all deliberate speed….” was more deliberate in our part of the world than speedy and all the faces in my classes looked like me. Twelve years later when I left home and went off to college it was, for the most part, much of the same. My senior year we did have the Springs children—Charles, Harvey and Leroy— who became our “tokens” when “token integration” was forced upon us by that Yankee government in Washington in 1968. They were eighth graders and my brother’s problem. I ignored them less than I ignored my brother. Despite the order for total integration in 1970 there would be no total desegregation for me until I went to work my first year as a teacher in 1973.

During my summer vacation from school in the early Seventies, my grandmother received word that Miss Maggie had passed away. It turns out that she was a good deal older than I thought, in her eighties, and the wages of a hard but well-lived life finally caught up with her. I took Nannie to the service and it would be the first time I had stepped inside of an African American Church. It would be several years later before I set foot in my first African-American home. I realize now that I had never been invited to visit at Maw’s house. I found neither the homes nor churches to be any different than what I was used to…except for the length of the church services that is. We were greeted by ladies dressed in white, given fans to fight off the summer heat, humidity and bees which made their way through the opened windows. With much pomp and circumstance, we were ushered in…all the way to the front of the church but off to the side of Maggie’s family. I was uncomfortable for many reasons other than the heat and humidity. It seemed that the attention being given to us was somehow taking away from the reason we were here – the celebration of Maggie’s “Day of Jubilee.” Despite having recently attended a James Brown concert and being a minority, I realized just how fearful an African-American might feel sitting in a sea of differently colored faces.

I grew up Methodist and, in my heart, I guess that I still am despite my public dunking into the Southern Baptist Church. This funeral service was not very Methodist-like…or Baptist-like. It was the difference between plain white grits and grits that included cheese, chives and sawmill gravy—much richer. Congregational participation seemed to be expected much more than the occasional “Amen” that was uttered by Mr. Gordon in my church. People stood, danced and waved during the many musical selections and the minister, darker and shinier than even Miss Maggie, had a rich baritone voice that was melodious whether he was leading the singing or preaching the Gospel. I was particularly moved by his version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” “Can I get an Amen?”
At the end of the service an usher moved down to us and the moment that I most feared came to fruition. “Missus Griffin, would you and your grandson like to pay your respects to the family?” I had seen Maw and Bessy come in. It had to be them. No one in the church had that “redbone” complexion. While I had topped out at five-foot-nine, Maw was well over six feet and well-put-together, but not as well-put-together as Bessy! Bessy was…was…awe-inspiring with short, afro-styled hair and dressed in a skirted suit short enough to display great legs but long enough for the funeral service. Maw was dressed in a dark suit that had a cut in tune with the times and an Afro that was blown out to Biblical proportions. As we carried on a somewhat uncomfortable conversation I found out that his mother had married a minister with money, moved to Orangeburg and, from her size, appeared to have eaten her way through most of it – money or Orangeburg. Maw was a junior at Benedict, majoring in history which was also my major and Bessy would be attending next-door Allen in the fall. Our conversation was just uncomfortable enough for me to realize that too much time had passed and that Maw and I would never be able to restart our friendship.

It would be years before I learned that I could be just as good a friend with an African-American as I could with anyone else. I am a bit bitter that Jim Crow, Dixiecrats and prejudice had deprived me of that early friendship and possibly others. As I think about it I would guess that my animosity is not nearly as acute as that of the millions who have felt and continue to feel the bite of racism and cultural or religious hatred. I also am thankful that I have most of my own prejudices with the hope that I can be forgiven for having had them.

Thank you Dr. King for helping to change the world for the millions who live in it.

Books by Don Miller may be purchased or downloaded at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

DONALD TRUMP RACIST? QUIT IT! HE’S NOT THE PROBLEM!

Countless people are pointing a finger, no not that finger…ok maybe that finger…. Starting over, countless people are pointing out the racism seemingly enabled by President-Elect Donald Trump. Nine hundred documented examples of hate crimes have occurred since his election. Some people seem to believe somehow, this one man is responsible for it all. I also heard a similar argument regarding our lame duck executive, President Obama. “We are more racist now than ever” resounded through my social media accounts. Remember the old quote, “When you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you?” I’m sure you do.

I believe both arguments are misplaced. I don’t know when the concepts of racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry, or any other -ism or -phobia de jure came into being. They may well have been around since a Neanderthal looked at a Cro-Magnon and said “Hey man you are different.” Yes, Neanderthals had a language and could have said such although I’m sure we would have needed a translator.

I believe our bigotry, anti-Semitism, etc., etc., etc., were just covered up in the same way that a person might add a layer of fresh kitty litter to a soiled cat box. Everything appears well, might even smell well…until your favorite feline steps in and begins to cover up its leavings. The more it tries to cover, the more the unsavory stuff gets uncovered. When Felix gives up, nobody is happy including the cat.

Our racism, bigotry, etc., etc., etc. simply got uncovered. It had been just under the surface waiting to be exposed to the light of day. No amount of legislation or executive action can actually bury it until those three fingers point in some other direction. We must want to change and some of us have tried. The problem is, when the litter box gets uncovered, even those of us who are not overtly racist, anti-Semitic, etc., etc. etc., suddenly feel the need to defend ourselves with statements like “Some of my best friends are (fill in the blank)” or “People just need to let go of (fill in the blank)”

Just because we have a few (fill in the blank) friends doesn’t mean we are not part of the problem, so just quit trying to deflect from the problem and quit pointing fingers at Donald Trump. Our country has been anti-whatever since before we were a country. Until we actually believe, deep in our hearts, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men (women and those unsure) are created equal” it really doesn’t matter who is in the White House. We should worry about the cleanliness of our own home (hearts) before we point out another needs cleaning.

More of Don Miller’s misplaced rantings maybe accessed at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

AS ONE NIGHTMARE ENDS, ANOTHER BEGINS

A nightmare will end this coming Tuesday…or Wednesday…or in December. Despite record numbers of early and absentee voters, most of us will go to the polls on Tuesday to end one nightmare…the nightmare of the Election of 2016. Unfortunately, I believe, and many others I have listened to believe, a new nightmare will begin regardless of which presidential candidate wins.

The issues bothering us as a nation will not be resolved simply because one presidential candidate is elected, because a slew of congressmen and senators at both the national and state levels are elected, or a dog catcher is elected at the local level. Fear, racism, ISIS and terrorism, bigotry, abortion, global climate change, misogyny, congressional logjams, crime, education, gun control or rights, sucking at the welfare teat, border security and illegals, LGBT rights, military spending, unequitable taxation, Russia, etc. are a few which enter my mind in no order. My internal voices argue over these issues just as the same arguments rage on social media, on news programming and in our local watering holes. We all know what’s wrong, we just seem to be unable to correct it…because we can’t come to or refuse to come to a consensus.

Most troubling for me is our blatant hatred for each other and how it goes against the one aspect of a presidential candidate’s campaign which do I support…” We are stronger together.” We cannot be fearful and be together. We cannot be afraid of compromise and be together. We cannot hate the other side and be together. A much tougher one is we can’t feel alienated by our own leaders and be together. I am at a loss at how to get us to come together…and most troubling is hearing calls for secession or armed revolt. I think we tried that once upon a time and it didn’t work out too well for the nearly seven hundred thousand who died so let’s put that bullshit aside.

Our history is fraught with periods of division…I wonder if it is not what makes us…us. Isolationism and the Great Depression prior to World War Two, Civil Rights, Viet Nam, Watergate, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Iran-Contra Affair, just to name a few coming readily to my mind where, our elected officials battled it out in the hallowed halls of government. Somehow we rose above it, mostly came together, AND MADE IT WORK. That is democracy I think.

I see an interesting first hundred days. I see an interesting decade to come. I don’t see a quick fix. We still suffer from Cold War policies and Watergate, at least I do, forty years after the fact. I am still suspicious of our nation’s leaders. Despite my suspicions I believe our freedoms are the best in the world and at my age, I don’t want to have to start over with something new. I don’t want to have to wake up every day from some new nightmare. November the Ninth is a time for us to come together…not further segment.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life and humor try http://goo.gl/lomuQf

I CHOOSE CIVILITY

“formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech:
synonyms: courtesy · courteousness · politeness · good manners ·
graciousness · consideration · respect · comity”

I defined civility simply because I am unsure how many of my “social media” friends actually know what it means or if they do, they have decided that using it is just too “PC”. Two threads I started, (with what I thought was a simple comment about violent crime rates and another about the protests taking place during the National Anthem), crumbled into something else entirely. We raged far afield from the original posts and disintegrated into a playground melee stopping just short of someone yelling “yo’ momma!” Another former teaching friend lamented being verbally attacked over a position he took on one of his own treads. That would be former teacher not former friend. The word of the day, week or year seems to be ‘ATTACK’ which is why I am trying to choose civility instead of trying to shout someone down. Yes, kill them with kindness…ha…ha…ha.

I continue to hear people state “We are too PC” so I have also looked up a definition and provided it: “to criticize language, actions, or policies seen as being excessively calculated to not offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society.” There was a time when I was taught that “NOT OFFENDING” was a good thing and why would you want to disadvantage anyone…ohhhhhh, you mean a perceived enemy, I get it now. ITS OKAY TO OFFEND OUR ENEMIES! The people we or you are fighting with. People we are at war with. You know, people that are trying to shoot us, blow us up, are of a different religion than us, people with a different sexual preference who might want to get married, people with different ideas about race, people who decide to protest against things we hold near and dear, or people who think that beer “TASTES GREAT!” rather than is “LESS FILLING!” FUCK…THEM…ALL! JUST LEAVE IF YOU DON’T LIKE WHAT I AM SPOUTING! WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE! YOU ARE NOT OUR KIND…Oh I forgot to include the guy down the road that has decorated his road front with Trump-Pence campaign signs! JUST LEAVE THE COUNTRY WE DON’T WANT YOU! Actually I just said the last one because my wall is so conservative, I mean I live in South Carolina. What do you expect, I just wanted to put a burr under my conservative friends’ BVDs and all. You know all in good fun, don’t want to offend you…come on smile a little.

You see, I believe “not being too PC” is simply an invitation to cross the line and be a bully. It’s an easy thing to be a bully hiding behind the keys of a computer after all. The keys are not likely to rise up and punch you in the eye. When a friend or my brother takes me to task on my liberal social leanings I try to pay attention because they normally provide insight and logical reasons…or at the least reasons. When an asshole provides, “I wish all liberals would die!” well, I GET PISSED and that is almost where my tread went. Also I realize somewhere there is a liberal asshole writing “I wish all conservatives would die!” I just don’t see a lot of those because my wall is so…right…I mean so conservative.

“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a damn lie invented by a gray-haired grandmother to take the pain away caused by the sting of the spoken or printed word. “But I was just speaking my mind” in many cases crosses the line between speaking your mind and verbally slapping someone across the chops. That is why I am choosing civility…that and my normal peace keeping tendencies. I will weigh my words carefully. Why use a nuclear bomb when a ruler across the palm of the hand is enough? Oh wait, you don’t believe in corporal punishment…Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life and humor try http://goo.gl/lomuQf