Some reflections on the American way of life
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Our days begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Living and working for a year, in 1973, in a small city in Alabama gave me the opportunity to write and recently publish a book about two stories.
First, of the Whites in the revered traditions of living in modern and antebellum homes and plantations, landlords of large tracts of fertile land, members of elite garden clubs, all White social gatherings and reliance on Blacks to perform most of the manual labor. Second, of the Blacks who lived in homes with paper-thin walls, some without running water, living off the land, facing rampant racism, social injustice and little civic representation.
As 1973 drew to a close and my construction project was nearing completion, my wife and I realized the communities of White citizens were determined to continue the traditions of the Deep South and that second-class citizenship as a way of life for the Blacks. Whites thought of themselves as almost always superior in every way. More than once we heard the White comment, “Every little freedom you give away to the Blacks is one you won’t get back. No sir, you got to hold your ground.”
It was not an easy decision to leave that community as we had made some good friends and it certainly was affordable to live there. Yet we could not bring ourselves around to the idea of raising a family in a bigoted and segregated environment. Instead in 1974 we moved to this wonderful Bay Area and the Island City.
I am pleased that civil-rights activism today has led to important gains for Blacks in the legal, political, educational and employment areas. It’s a good start, but we do have a ways to go. There are still some states where Black children are confined to racially isolated, underfunded and inferior programs and our national criminal justice system disproportionally targets and incarcerates Blacks and criminalizes poverty.
You can read about my experience in Alabama in my new book, Three Thousand White People.