Missing American History Lessons: They Had Me Standing on the Front Line

My Uncle

I am a veteran of the war
I up and joined the army back in 1964
At sixteen I just had to be a man at any cost
I volunteered for Vietnam where I got my leg shot off
I recall a quote from a movie that said “who’s more a man
Than a man with a reason that’s worth dyin’ for”

They had me standing on the front line
They had me standing on the front line
They had me standing on the front line
But now I stand at the back of the line when it comes to gettin’ ahead

-“Front Line” by Stevie Wonder

In today’s lesson we learn that a disproportionate number of Black service men were killed during the Vietnam Conflict, about 12.4 percent. Some figures suggest that Black men made up only about 11% of the total young male population at the time.

Just for perspective, these 18 and 19 year olds, would probably be described today as kids.

Hmm…

Just like prior Black veterans of war, Black Vietnam soldiers fought, and many of them died, on foreign soil for freedoms that they did not have back home in America.

In Vietnam, Blacks were also disproportionately placed on the “front line,” putting them at even greater risk for injury and death.

You can find this information in the article linked below by Dr. Helen Black.

A good friend of mine, who served in Vietnam, reported that the Vietcong set up high-powered speakers in the jungle where they broadcasted messages directed to Black soldiers.

They’d say, “Black man, why you fighting here, you don’t have freedom in your own home!”

Can you imagine how they must’ve felt hearing that while continuing to fight?

My friend went on to say that these broadcasts did give the soldiers pause.

At any rate…

Here’s an article published by the Gerontological Society of America, and written by Dr. Helen K. Black, that details experiences of Black soldiers of Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

I can’t say that I agree with every word, but then again, I am not a scholar on the subject.

Hey! For fun, go research health and wealth outcomes for the Black soldiers returing from Vietnam.

Not saying that it was easy for the White soldier…

But White soldiers are not the focus of today’s lesson.

By the way, remind me to tell you about my uncle, who is pictured above.

He was a Vietnam veteran who ultimately died of old age at 34 .

Sadly, he was the lone survivor of a racist attack on five little boys when he was about 7 or 8 years old.

It never made the news.

The killer lived his best life without any consequences. At. ALL.

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on Brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years.”

-Muhammad Ali

Class dismissed!

Lady G loves YOU!

A Family Conversation: The Cousins Discuss The Elusive American Dream

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“A Family Conversation” is a storytelling audio series that features weekly discussions between blogging cousins LadyG and Ron Brown on current events along with favorite posts from each other’s blog.

“A Family Conversation” is published on Wednesdays.

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Excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream” speech:

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr

If you are interested, you may read the full speech transcript here.

Now…

Observe as I switch my focus from the words of a King to a topic that appears to be totally different.

I’ll begin “the switch” by asking…

Isn’t it funny how the lyrics of a song can mean one thing in one context, and another thing in a different context?

That very fact inspired Ron to post two throwback jams from one of the most prolific songwriting duos of all time, Valarie Simpson and her late husband Nickolas Ashford.

And so….

This week, Ron and I discuss the song lyrics from Ashford & Simpson’s “It seems to hang on” and “Found a cure.”

Listen in as we flow with the lyrics into conversations on :

  • Dealing with the ever-present albatross of discrimination.
  • Interacting with people who either intentionally or unintentionally invalidate our experiences of prejudice.
  • Maintaining a hopeful optimism that one day America will live up to its greatest potential by adhering to its own assertion that “all men are created equal.”
  • A Divine prescription for the cure that we need; hint, it’s been there all along.

Enjoy,

Adult Language and Situations

Pt 1

Pt 2

To listen to a deeper conversation click here for parts 3-5

True Railroad Stories: The Peanut Man

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Hi Guys!

Some of you may remember that I previously posted a few of my Daddy’s tales from his 30-something year railroad career which spanned from the late 1960’s to the late 1990’s.

Naturally, he has a lot of amazing true stories to tell 🙂 

Just in case you’ve missed earlier posts, you can click on the links that I have included below. Trust me you will NOT be disappointed.

Today’s story is very inspiring and I am sure you’ll enjoy it!

Take it away Daddy!

LadyG 😘💋

 

Early on in my Railroad career, I worked as a flagman for a major railroad in the South.  At that time, I was assigned to a local freight train that operated daily between a large city and a smaller town in Georgia.

As the only black crew member in the late 1960’s, I was often exposed to racism–Many times to the point of depression.

However, the events in this story helped me to regain my faith and hope in mankind.

The person that I give most credit to restoring my faith was a white brakeman that I will call “Charlie.”

Although Charlie was not particularly fond of black people, we worked pretty well together.  He and I did most of the ground work when our train stopped in sidetracks to switch industries or pick or set-off railcars.

In one of the towns where we worked, we would often meet up with “The Peanut Man.”

The Peanut Man was an elderly black gentleman who rode around town on a three-wheel bike with a basket on the back filled with boiled and roasted peanuts.

Now, to the best of my recollection, The Peanut Man wore the exact same outfit every time we saw him–a worn and tattered black suit with a frayed white collared shirt.  A faded red bowtie, black fedora and horned rimmed glasses completed his ensemble.

Despite the ragged condition of his clothing, I often marveled at the way in which his deep dark complexion accentuated his smooth leathery skin.

Anyway, whenever Charlie and I stopped in The Peanut Man’s hometown, he’d start pedaling-feverishly- right toward us.  

Of course, we knew that he knew that we were his best customers.

 Why was that?  

Well, Charlie and I once asked The Peanut Man if he ever got tired of pedaling around town in order to sell his peanuts.  We wondered this because the town had several steep hills and, as I implied, he was well past his prime.

The Peanut man replied, “Yeah, but I need to make much money as I can.”

Though we didn’t say anything, Charlie and I both knew good and well that this man was too old to seek and find regular employment so selling peanuts was his only option for making a living.

With that in mind, whenever we saw him, we’d always buy as many bags as we could afford.

In fact, Charlie often bought much more than I did.

Here’s the amazing thing, I learned several years later that Charlie did not eat peanuts-nor did anyone else in his family.

From time to time I still wonder why he continued to buy all those peanuts.

Do you have any idea why?

-The Conductor

LOL!!!! Hey Da, I have my suspicions but I think I’ll leave it to my friends to try to hazard a guess in the comment section!

 

Other “True Railroad Stories” from Dad:

The Coal Toss

The Passengers

The Gathering of The Fireflies

 

 

Ron’s Time Tunnel: What’s That Smell?

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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”!

Something stinks!

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.