By: Harold Michael Harvey
I don’t know where to begin this morning. I had quite an experience yesterday attending the Atlanta Anti-Tax Day Tea Bag Party. Seeing a sea of angry white people has never left me with a good feeling.
I saw my first scene like this in the mid-1950's when a pack of angry gun toting white men stormed my grandfather’s farm behind a team of howling blood hounds looking for some poor black soul whom the local Masonic Order was able to steer out of town on a rail car.
A similar scene repeated itself ten years later as I walked down Holt Avenue in Macon, Georgia towards the entrance to the Old Lanier Jr. High School for Boys. It was the first day that a black boy had attended this school and the neighborhood’s finest white boys my age had assembled outside the front of the school to protest their displeasure of having me thrust down their throats. “Two, four, six, eight we don’t want to integrate,” they yelled at the top of their lungs. A federal official came through the crowd and cleared a pathway for me where he carried me to the principal’s office until the other boys were seated in their class rooms.
Six years following this terrifying scene, I woke up from a good night’s sleep in the great State of Alabama. I washed by face and contemplated whether I should comb my Afro. It had not been combed in several days, so I thought better of combing it on this morning. I brushed my teeth and pulled a poncho over my lean upper torso, grabbed my book bag and headed out to political science classes at Tuskegee Institute.
With me on this trek to class was my brother Gerald. He had dreams of becoming the President of the United States and I had dreams of becoming his Attorney General. We were joined by our house mate and childhood friend Steve Duval. Steve was tapped by his family to take the helm of the family owned business when the time came.
As we walked towards the historical campus, Donald Lee, a guidance counselor at Tuskegee Institute drove by and offered us a ride to campus. We climbed into his car and then he told us George Wallace was kicking off his campaign for President in Ozark, Alabama. He thought it was a good idea to take a group of students down to witness this moment in history. Wallace had polled 12% of the national electorate in the ‘68 presidential election which lead to the defeat of Hubert Humphrey and the election of the “law and order” candidate Richard Nixon. Gerald and I thought it was much better to see politics in the making than to read about it, so we persuaded Steve to come along for the ride.
Off to Ozark, Alabama we went. We arrived late in the evening. The crowd was beginning to gather. We immediately came to the attention of the assembled crowd. We were the only Negroes in attendance. As the day gave way to dusk, the crowd swelled. There was a mass sea of white people of all ages. But what struck me most about this crowd were the small new born babies wrapped in bumper stickers that said “States Rights”, “Segregation Today, Segregation Tomorrow, Segregation Forever,” and “Wallace For President.” It was as if the supply of my tormentors would never end. Later that night I wrote home to my mom that white people were breeding hatred.
We sensed that the best place for our hands were inside our pockets. We were afraid that if our hands were exposed we might accidentally touch one of the fair maidens of the South and would have to run for our lives. I felt the pack of Kool cigarettes inside my poncho and begin to pull one out. A group of white men to our rear surged towards us, Steve Duval shouted under his breathe, “put that cigarette down,” he nudged my hand back inside my poncho. The surge stopped, but we were surrounded.
We noticed the helicopter carrying George Wallace had been circling the football stadium for half an hour. Something was keeping him from landing. We figured that something was us. Suddenly, a large contingent of heavy set white men flopped down on the bleacher bench behind us. We heard a loud thump in unison. We were all concerned but tried not to show it. Then a black man from the secret service appeared behind the white men. He stood at the exit to the stadium. He gave us a quick look. It assured us he had our backs.
Wallace’s helicopter landed. He gave a rousing speech. He told the crowd “there ain’t a dime worth of difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.” Wallace pushed the State’s Rights agenda and urged the crowd “to send a message to that liberal crowd up in Washington.” The crowd went wild and while they were euphoric, we slowly took our leave. We were careful not to brush up against anyone, particularly any white females. We got to our car tired, frighten and hungry. We dared not stop for food. Steve Duval was so affected by this experience that he stayed in the house for the next three weeks. We could not get him to go to class.
I’ve not told this story and had tried to put it out of my mind all these years; but being in a crowd of angry white people, shouting anti-American government rhetoric yesterday brought back the pains of a Spring day 38 years ago.
© April 16, 2009