Since my birth in Edinburgh, Scotland, I have moved seventeen times. The most memorable move occurred in 1944 when I was six years old. My father, a pastor, moved our family from Norman, Oklahoma, to Macon, Georgia. In Macon, we lived in a beautiful five bedroom parsonage donated to the church by a wealthy family.
I had two good friends, Julian and Andy, who lived nearby. The three of us had a lot of freedom to roam the neighborhood. I went to Andy's house often because he had a cabin behind his house. It sported a pinball machine and the coins to play it. Sometimes we would go down to the railroad tracks behind Andy's house and put a penny on the rails to see if a passing train would flatten them. They did.
Across on the other side of the tracks were different kinds of houses. They were unpainted, one story, and small. Julian, Andy, and I found Butch, a Black kid our age, to play with on the other side of the tracks. The four of us had a great time playing together. Before the move to Macon, I had never seen a Black person.
One day, I asked my mother if I could invite Butch to play at our house. She said no. Butch shouldn't come to our house. My mother, the wife of a respected minister, was very sensitive to Macon culture. I don't recall how that conversation went, but I remember being mystified and unsatisfied by the answer. On one visit downtown, I was scolded for drinking out of a "Blacks Only Fountain."
Something else that did not make sense. Why did Black people and White people have different water fountains? Could I catch something terrible from the Black fountain?
We had a black maid named Mabel. She cooked and cleaned for us. One day I saw her mixing bread dough with her hands. I asked my mother why, if Blacks were dirty, did my mother allowed her to put her hands in our food? I don't remember the answer because it probably did not make sense to me. Mabel had to eat in the kitchen while we ate in the dining room. Why? I remember being confused. To me, Mabel was a friendly, loving part of the family.
One time my family was invited to a well-to-do home for a meal. I was older but still in grade school. As we all sat around the table, the hostess was embarrassed because she had to serve us. It seems Black household SERVANTS, who were supposed to serve us, were "disrespectfully on strike" all over Macon. During the meal, adults complained. Why they ask, were the servants so ungrateful? Weren't they permitted to fix a meal for themselves after they served the hostess and her guests? Had the hostess not been generous, even providing housing in a hut on the back of the property? I was old enough to question the logic of peoples complaints. After a few years, this distinction between white and black seemed more normal. I was becoming more accepting of Macon's racial culture.
In Macon there was a lot of segregation. White high school boys and girls were segregated. The white and "colored" children were segregated. My grade school mind questioned the point of this.
In school I was taught that the Civil War was about states' rights, not slavery. I learned how the South had fought valiantly against the Yankees, a group to be despised. I was told that there were two kinds of Yankees, Yankees and Damn Yankees. The Yankees were the ones that stayed up North.
With all that has taken place around Black Lives Matter, I have been moved to review my past experiences growing up in Macon, Georgia. I have read several revelatory books recently; "Blind Spot" by Banajl and Greenwald, "White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo, "How to be an Antiracist" by Ibram X. Kendi, and "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson. It is clear there is still a lot of our history to recognize, critique, and repair to make our nation more equitable for everyone.
Cecil Denney is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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