MY WORD: Remembering separate but never equal

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I don’t know how the following is connected to conservation, but bear with me.

In A chapter in Klanthhammer’s book “Things that Matter,” there is a passage about collective guilt – which is never far from my mind – that triggered memories of “separate but equal” laws.

A lot of us grew up under those laws – separate rest rooms, water fountains, schools, seating at the movies, churches, public meetings, etc. I’ll always resent the fact, for example, that Raymond Burley, Jr. would have been a classmate, but we had to go to separate schools.

This may be the only example where it was close to equal – but it wasn’t. I didn’t have the benefit of playing sports with him or any of the other things you do at that age to cement lifelong friendship. Although we didn’t socialize we did have a certain rapport. He came into my office one day, we were co-workers, sat down and said “What would you say if I asked you for a job as a salesman?” I said, “Try me”. He said, “No, I wouldn’t put you on that kind of spot”. Then he got up and left our employment.

In 1948 I boarded a bus in downtown Durham N.C. to go back to campus and went to the rear of the bus – really not thinking much about it. The driver got off, and came back with a cop who invited me to get off the bus.

He said, “A lot of us here feel the same as you, but it’s the law and I’m sworn to uphold it. I’m going to give you three choices: Get on the bus and sit up front, find another way to get back to campus or I can arrest you and you become an embarrassment to your family and your university.” I walked back.

My Uncle Davis told me about the time he went with my maternal grandfather to visit an ailing parishioner. On the way home they saw a bonfire in a clearing in the trees. There stood a man on the back of a wagon with a noose around his neck. Grandfather got off the mule, stood in front of the defendant and said, “I don’t know what this man is alleged to have done, but he deserves to have a trial by jury. I’m going to defend that right with my last breath. I’ll ask two favors of you. Let my son go home – the mule knows the way. The other is that you come at me one at a time because I don’t know much about fighting.” All the while he was taking off his coat and rolling up his sleeves.

Uncle Davis said the men just faded away in the darkness surrounding the fire. They cut the man down and went home.

Just another day in the life of a country preacher.

I don’t know to this day if the accused was black or white, but I know for sure it would not have made any difference to my grandfather. I hope I’m not ever faced with a similar situation because I don’t know if I could muster up that kind of courage.

One day when our youngest was enrolled at Stephens College we were boarding a bus outside our hotel to attend a Mizzou [University of Missouri] football game. This rather tall black man boarded the bus. Some friends in the back yelled at him to come on back. He said in a deep bass voice, “we don’t have to do that anymore”. There was about a two second pause, then the bus exploded with laughter. When we learn to do that we’ll be OK.

Stay tuned.

Bob Pearce is a retired business owner who lives in Shelbyville.