Editor's Note: I am busy editing Paper Puzzle for what I hope is the last time before publication and do not have the time to post a fresh article, so I decided to post one published in another venue last fall. I hope you like it.
I woke up yesterday morning and surveyed my hands, arms, legs, eyes, tongue, teeth, etc. All body parts appeared to be present and functioning as they were designed. All of those, that is, which I had had an opportunity to check out so early in the morning. I was 57 years of age.
My Aunt Lillie called to wish me a happy birthday. She thought I was celebrating my 55th. I'm not sure if there is much difference. I'm a little grayer around the edges these past two years, but I have been graying since age 25. It is a family trait, inherited from my grandfather Charles, a rather distinguish looking farmer of the first half of the 20th century. He was completely gray at age 19.
He turned to farming in 1933 during the height of the depression. He was 36 years of age. His bride of eleven years was 37. They had three children with four more to follow. My mom Maggie Elaine was the oldest at five years.
Prior to farming he worked for the railroad. He had been in that last group of men hired by the railroad before the beginning of the depression.
The railroad offered steady work. Charles was not afraid of hard work. He had learned hard work from his father Paul, a native American, born into the Cherokee nation just after the civil war. Paul refused to be escorted to North Carolina in the trail of tears and wed my great grand mother Minerva, a mulatto, who was born a few months after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
In 1933 the railroad had to cut back and my granddad was let go. He had a wife and three children. He found an acre of dirt. This was not an easy feat in 1933. On that one acre of land he built a small house out of wood he could gleam from the saw mill. He raised vegetables for food, cows for meat and butter, chickens for eggs and Sunday dinner. He believed farming was the best way he could ensure his family had the things they needed. He would not become depended upon the railroad or anyone else as long as he could work the land.
He soon gained a reputation for farming and each planting season, he could find work farming and harvesting the farms of his white neighbors in addition to his acre. For more than a quarter century, he could be depended upon to provide produce and meat to the farmer’s market in Macon, Georgia.
We shared well-water with our white neighbor. One day in 1958 my brother and I had gone to the well to secure water for the family. We were attacked by the grandson of our white neighbor. We were children and were unaware of the social mores (a black person could not raise his hand at a white person, even in self-defense). So we fought back and drew blood. The neighbor threaten to have us thrown into the reform school. My mom, wanting a different life for my brother and me, plead her strongest case for closing down the farm and moving into the city. Granddad loved the land and like his father before him, he would not be moved.
Granddad had foot surgery in 1959. It placed a burden on my brother, aunt Lillie’s son Larry and myself to get out and plow the farm after school, until our uncle John could get down to Crawford County from his job at a textile mill in Macon. Since my granddad was old school, plowing meant, hitching a mule to a wooden plow and having at it. We must have been a sight as the three of us held the plow and steered a perfect furrow.
My mom keep up her push to get us away from the farm. In 1960 granddad sold the farm animals, gave away all of his dogs, except for the sheep dog someone had given my mom when she was carrying me and moved into the city.
Five years later, I integrated the local public school system. Up until that point some mystical character named Jim Crow had haunted my existence. When I had the urge to do the things that normal kids my age had the urge to do, I was always told that I could not because of Jim Crow. It was Jim Crow this and Jim Crow that. It was a denial of this and a denial of that. Yet I had first class aspirations in a second class social order.
My knees shook and my heart raced ahead of me the morning in 1965, I walked onto the campus of the Lanier Jr. High School for Boys. I've written elsewhere of the crowd of white kids my age standing outside the entrance of the school shouting insults and calling me names. Being an old farm boy, I had not seem so many angry white faces gathered before in my life.
Yet their antics did not seem to matter, I had just stump old Jim Crow into the ground. They could call me names all they wanted. Because just like my granddad who found the key to his survival through leaving the railroad and taking up farming. I had found my way out of segregation. I walked my way out. Just like my great-granddad, for better or for worst, I'd walked my way into another culture.
So, when I arose on my 57th birthday, I knew what I had to do. I had to get into my car and drive to the Fulton County South Annex and request a General Election Ballot. I waited until my son came up from Macon, Georgia, where he works as a sport’s reporter. He and my mom came up to Atlanta to share my birthday with me. She voted several weeks ago in Macon. While she put the apron on to bake a birthday cake, Coley and I got into the car and drove to the polls.
When we arrived their was a line wrapped around the building, it was hard to find a parking space, so we parked in the Sheriff department’s lot along side the county’s squad cars. It took two and one-half hours to reach the voting booth. I counted 600 people in the line. After I voted, I stood back and savored the moment. What I had just done, I thought I would never have an opportunity to do. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever believe I would participate in a General Election when one of the candidates on the ballot would be a son of Africa-just like me.
The choice, therefore for me, was very clear, Barack H. Obama, the 44th president of the United States of America.
(c) Copyright October 17, 2008