I grew up in Cuthbert, Georgia, and although I wasn’t attuned to it in my youth, racial bias and prejudice were interwoven into the “colored” fabric of our lives there. In retrospect, I don’t see how I could have missed it, but as I matured, the signs became obvious.
Going into the Air Force and experiencing the climate of comradery which dominated the atmosphere there, gave me a broader perspective on race relations; being exposed to the fresh air of diversity, made the malodorous and stagnant air of my beloved home, by contrast, even more oppressively obvious.
It’s kind of like working all week at a paper mill, or the chicken plant—whose efflux blankets the town of Cuthbert when the wind is right—then getting off for the weekend; enjoying the comforts and pleasantly familiar smells of home all weekend; then afterwards, going back into the plant on Monday morning.
When you first enter the chicken plant, on Monday morning, the rancid smell assails your now “virgin” nostrils, but after a few days, or even hours, you become acclimated to it. It becomes almost unnoticeable. That’s what leaving Cuthbert; staying away for a while (e.g. the Military) then coming back felt like, when it came to my hometown’s racial climate.
I recall one such instance, in which my father and I had driven to town to get gas at a “filling station” on “the square”. Every small, southern town worth its salt, has a “square”, but Cuthbert’s “square” is more of a “squircle”—a real word by the way—than a square. The “squircle” has thrived for decades under the vigilant gaze of a life-sized statue bedecked in full Confederate Army officer regalia, with all of the accoutrements deserving of such an immortally heroic figure.
As a child, I thought this monument was an image of “General Cuthbert”. I was never told that his name was Cuthbert, neither did I read it anywhere. It just seemed to me that he must be “General Cuthbert”. Why else would he have been given such a prestigiously prominent post?
Since that time, I’ve had an opportunity to read the plaque affixed to the pedestal only to find out, rather disappointedly, that he was not “General Cuthbert” after all, in fact, he was no one, in particular.
Yes! He stood high above the “square”, on a pedestal, surrounded by stone cannons, his stony gaze, unwavering; that is, until “Drunk Guy” drove across the park proper and crashed into his pedestal, thus knocking the old fellow from his perch and sending him crashing, unceremoniously, to the ground below; shattering his “body” into to several rocky chunks.
Some say that guy wasn’t so drunk after all.
Personally, I was glad to see the old guy go down and I don’t think I was alone in my sentiments. To me, the old “General” represented a time of pain, sorrow and oppression for Black people. A time that we’d rather not see “memorialized” so obtrusively and prominently, in the very center of the town that we call home. Now, thank God Almighty, he was no more, OR WAS HE?
Well, as it turns out, the encounter with “the Drunk Guy”, was not the “General’s last stand” for some of the good “citizens” of Cuthbert, in an awesome display of “philanthropy”—obviously borne of some misplaced sense of “patriotism”—thought it not robbery to donate the funds necessary to re-erect that old phallus. Soon another, identical image of the old bastard, forged in the depths of Confederate hell, was brought forth—shinning white and new—and deposited, ceremoniously I might add, atop the moldy marbled plinth.
This, the current incarnation of “The General”, is actually his third. He was first erected in 1894, but he was subsequently, blown from his lofty perch by the “cyclone of 1909”. In his falling, he lost his left hand and was thus, retired to “Greenwood Cemetery”; the final resting place of many of the Confederate dead he’d so proudly represented, for so many decades.
His second “incarnation”, or one MIGHT say, his first RE-incarnation, was in the 1940’s, when the cyclone “victim” was replaced by a fresh-faced recruit, identical to the first one. Then came the “Drunk Guy”!
But I digress; back at the “filling station”. My father had an “account” at the filling station. If one was “fortunate” enough to have had such an account, one could get gas on credit and pay at the end of the month. Once at the filling station, a young Black fellow sprinted cat-like, up to the driver’s side window of the car and asked, “How much?” “Fill her up”, Dad told the boy. It appears to me now, that all of the “pumpers” back then, were black guys and the white guys ran the cash register.
When my father went to “sign” for his gas, the owner/cashier greeted him warmly, “Hey there Fletcher. D’ja fill er up today?” “Yes sir Mr. White!” my father replied. “Well awright Fletcher, jest sign rat cheer and have a good ‘un now, ya hear?” the owner/cashier chimed arrogantly.
Here’s what I found odiferous about the situation; why did my father refer to Mr. White as “Mr.” and Mr. White refer to my father by his first name? My father was, at least, as old as Mr. White, an educated man, and a respected member of the community.
Scenes of this nature, unfortunately, were commonplace in those times, but like the smell of the plant—to one grown unaccustomed to its odor—they were especially noxious to the olfactics. Where was the MUTUAL respect?
Let me share with you, a few of my thoughts and observations about racism, racial bias, and prejudice:
• Prejudice judges a person by his/her outward appearance, without regard to what is in the person’s heart or mind.
• Prejudice is the mark of an ignorant mind that perceives itself to be enlightened.
• Prejudice assumes it understands the actions and behaviors of others while having no knowledge or facts about the person or persons.
• Prejudice has its roots in ignorance and breeds ever increasing ignorance.
• Discrimination deprives a person or group of persons of their Constitutional rights of: “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
• Discrimination deprives a person or persons of the right to belong to society.
• Stereotyping deprives a person of the right to be an individual.
• Racism is a small-minded man’s way of raising himself above others. He elevates himself by demeaning others.
God does not look at the same things that people look at; people look at outward appearance, but the Lord looks into a man’s heart.