Saturday, July 28, 2007

Reacting Rationally To The System

Below are a few gems from Diamond: A Struggle For Environmental Justice in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor by Steve Lerner, MIT Press, copyright 2004.

During the same period, Richard's mother worked at a restuarant on the white side of Norco. The front door bore a sign saying, "whites only." There was a window on the side where blacks could buy take-out. Since she was in charge of the kitchen, Richard's mother took full advantage of this segregated arrangement, dishing out 13 shrimp on a loaf for the white customers and 32 shrimp on a loaf to black customers at the window. Richard could take a super-loaded sandwich home and make short shrimp po' boys for the whole family. "Hah," her mother rejoiced. "They [the whites] think they got us, but we are going to make it."

. . .
Margie Richard had painful memories of the racial divide between Diamond and Norco. When she was growing up in Diamond, Norco's only public movie theater . . . was segregated. "On Sundays, if you put on your Sunday best, you could go to the [movie] show, but you better not get your dress dirty," she recalled. The faucet outside said "coloreds only," and after the faucet had been used a few times the dirt beneath it turned to mud. This created a dilemma for Richard and her friends: it was hot and they wanted a drink of water but they did not want to get their Sunday dresses and shoes muddy. "The faucet inside the show was nice and cool, and they had one man collecting ticketes, so we always went in all at one time, ordered popcorn, and when he turned his back to get the popcorn we would drink from the white faucet because we didn't want to get our dress dirty." To this day Richard is proud of the strategy that she and her young friends devised to circumvent the segregation rules.

. . .
While the girls were sneaking drinks at the water fountain reserved for whites, the boys had their own brand of protest. In those days blacks were made to sit upstairs in the balcony of the theater, where it was stifling hot owing to the absence of air conditioning. "they put us up top, but we used to throw stuff down [on the whites in the seats below]," recalled Devon Washington, 47. As a result, black patrons were soon moved out of the balcony and made to sit in the front rows. That was a victory of sorts.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Social Gospel

Judge Mitchel Ransom: Judge, white, father of Carter Ransom.
Cartern Ransom: white, son of Judge Ransom.
Elijah Knight: black, friend of Carter, mother is housekeeper for the Ransom family.

Mitchell started up the truck and pulled into traffic, his expression troubled.

"What was the holdup?" Carter asked.

"Those people look mad," Elijah said.

"The damndest thing," said Mitchell. "Some kind of protest. Students from a local Negro college."

"What were they protesting?" asked Carter.

"They were sitting at the whites-only lunch counter big as y0u please, ordering Cokes and sandwiches same as white folks. Since they were breaking the law, the manager closed the counter and I guess he called the police. The coloreds were sitting in the dark by the time I paid and left. I have to buy your Cokes at a service station."

The pulled into an Esso station, and while the attendant filled up the car, Mitchell went inside to get the boys their Cokes.

"Judge Ransom?" Lige said when he returned.

"Yes, Elijah."

"When you bought the Co'-Cola, did they know you were going to give it to a Negro?"

"They didn't ask me."

"Would you have been breaking the law buying me one?"

"No son."

"Why not."

"The crime is for white and colored to sit down together."

Lige looked at Carter, and Carter looked at Lige, squeezed in beside each other in the cabin of the truck. Then they both stared at the broken white line of the pavement dividing the road before them. The incident was not mentioned again.

. . .
By then they had been swallowed up in the baroque machinery of seperate-but-equal, and their estrangement was taken for granted by both of them.

. . .
Lige gave Carter a look of infinite patience.

"And I can't condone breaking the law." Carter continued. "I don't know--you weren't talking this way the last time I saw you. What's happened?"

"I went to seminary and studied the Bible just like Mama wanted," Lige said. "Hebrew prophets, the Sermon on the Mount. But the only thing was, they also taught us about something called the social gospel. About how these things apply to real life. Not just the sweet by-and-by but the nasty now and now. You ever read Tolstoy on the Sermon on the Mount? I did. And Gandhi. And Thoreau on civil disobedience. I met some folks like me who realized those ideas we'd been reading about weren't just Sunday school memory verses but real-life, down-to-earth blueprints for social change."

--Passages from Magic Time by Doug Marlette. Copyright 2006 by Doug Marlette. Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York.

In memory of Doug Marlette, killed July 10 in a car accident in Mississippi. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner, the creator and cartoonist of Kudzu, and the author of two incredible books, The Bridge and Magic Time. He was also a gentleman southerner.

I am deeply saddened that he will write no more.