Thursday, January 26, 2006

Racism in Hometown and in Family

My brother, Wade, wrote a blog entry about racism in our hometown and in our family. I had so many comments, that I thought it best to type it out here (not sure how big those comment boxes are!).

My first memory of African American people would be witnessing folks enter and leave the Black Methodist Church right next door to our house. I loved hearing them sing-my goodness they could rattle the rafters! They also seemed to know how to enjoy each other's company-with hugs abounding and much food brought in for fellowships. I envied the closeness of that community.

Then, when I entered school, I shared the classroom with a few African American students, but there was not much mingling. In our class, Willetta Salmon was the main one to feel comfortable mixing with Caucasians. I'm not sure if that cost her any friendships with her black friends, because she "crossed over." Who knows?

My favorite Sundays of the year was when our two Methodist churches shared services. One week we would go to their church and participate in a black worship service. A different week they would come to our church, and often a black singer would provide the special music. I'll always remember one bass singer belting out "Be Still My Soul."

Dad was the proverbial Archie Bunker-prejudice as all get-out, peppering his conversation liberally with the "N" word. Odd, though, that he did make friends with some of the black guys at work-or at least did not shun them-including Willetta's father. He judged mostly on how hard of a worker someone was, but I daresay he never quite trusted someone with a different skin color.

I'll never forget when I was in 8th grade, a black guy from high school called me at home (unsolicited) and my father was right there. He let loose with a diatribe of profanities, and I felt about an inch tall. Why was *I* in trouble for something I didn't even encourage? I escaped the house on my red old-fashioned bike and rode all over our part of town, trying to race beyond my tears, but they somehow caught up with me.

In high school, there WAS one black guy I was interested in, Jerome. And another guy came back from college to lead the marching band one week, Phil, if I recall correctly. He drove me home from practice and was a perfect gentleman, but I'm sure I did some flirting. I never acted on my inclinations, mostly because I was fearful of what my father would do. My relationship with Dad was more important than any potential relationships that might or might not work out.

I shared student council duties with Lynnette Salmon and her half-sister, Kim. Seems I shared a bed with both of them at one time or another when we were away at different conferences and camps. I can truly say I learned from them just how much skin color didn't matter. There were differences, yes, this is what makes ethnicities so rich, but there were not superiorities versus inferiorities because of skin color.

Russ (my DH) had to let go of any prejudices our little town may have taught him when he went away to college. He had 3 different roommates, and none of them were Caucasian. One was David Garza (Mexican), one was Jose Esquibel (Mexican from Hawaii), and John Patrick Mitsuo Shirota (Japanese, from Hawaii). We loved them all (sadly, John has gone on to be with the Lord since then).

In 1994, God called Russ to pastor his first church, in, of all places, Vidor, TX. Vidor was stuck in the corner of Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico, near Cajun country in Louisiana (the state). Vidor was infamous for it's sign warning "N's" to get out of town by nightfall (gone before we got there), and the KKK paraphernalia store (also gone when we got there). But, just the year prior to our move, there had been a great deal of hub-bub regarding integrating the government housing. The first black families were being transplanted into an all-white Vidor, to force the issue. Neither side liked it very much at all (sad that there were sides at all). The government aided the animosity by giving the black side of the housing complex special perks that the all-white complex prior to that time did not have (such as air conditioning). They also gave black families an incentive to move there-some have said as much as 1 year of free rent, although I heard a more believable figure of 3 months.

Ku-Klux-Klan meetings were still rampant in the town, filled with white church goers and businessmen. Our work was cut out for us, to give this prejudiced community a burden for colorless souls! We saw many Mexican families enter the doors of our church, and several African American children as well. We frequently entertained missionaries going to non-white countries.

I'll never forget the time we had a missionary to Africa entertaining questions during a Q & A time. One man, known to attend the KKK meetings, who used to be a member of our church but was at that time just sort of floating from church to church, asked this question (his words, not mine): "So, how do you trust the darkies over there. Here in America, they steal from us and are violent in many other ways. Do you have to protect your stuff more, because of having niggers all around you?" I remember I was standing in the back of the room, against the wall, and I could feel my legs just sort of turn to jello as I slid down the wall in disgust and disbelief. How could this man call himself a Christian, and what was this missionary going to reply?

Here is the reply, "Sir, we do not look at skin color. Before having Christ in our lives, we all have one boss that drives us, that being self. Anyone of any color is capable of doing anything when self is in control. But when Christ is introduced to a soul, no matter the skin color, a change takes place. All of a sudden, Jesus is in control of that individual. And we become brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter the race or creed. Our blood all runs red, and our hearts all worship the same Lord." AMEN and AMEN!

I could write story after story, but these are just a few experiences of a little girl (now grown woman) who was brought up, in part, by an Archie Bunker-type father.

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