‘We were not all like that’

Published 6:15 am Saturday, June 30, 2012

If you’ve ever been alone in a crowd, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.

If you’ve been restored to the right, then you’ll know, too.

It was June 10, 1963, and the eyes of the world were on the state of Alabama. Gov. George C. Wallace was going to make good on his campaign promise to stand in the schoolhouse door to block integration of Alabama’s public schools.

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There were probably a hundred or more of us YP employees at Canyon Village at Yellowstone National Park. Most were from the East and West coasts. Some from the Midwest. Two from Alabama.

We had been called together to pray for those devilish people from Alabama – those people who hated black people and mistreated them.

As I stood there and listened to all that was said about those awful people in Alabama, I wanted to stand up and shout in my proud Southern accent, “You don’t know me! You don’t know us!”

I’d be no one who was passing judgment had ever been to Alabama. Surely, none of them had ever cuddled on Aunt Beatie’s soft lap and watched the sun fade, leaving behind “all them pretty colors in the sky.” Not one of them had ever sat of the porch and listened to Amos’ stories of long ago or grabbed a cold, baked sweet potato from the warmer on Eunice’s old wood stove.

They had not heard the echo of the old field songs as cotton was being picked or shared a dipper of cane juice fresh ground at the mill. None of them walked the row behind Uncle Fred and a stubborn mule.

None of them had ridden with Junior to make deliveries on the ice truck or gone swimming the muddy pond with Mamie Lee or dug worms to go fishing with Tince or held up the cow’s tail to keep it from swatting Lizzy in face while she milked.

They didn’t know that my best childhood friend was black or that Dora was like a grandmother to me, even though she was “colored.”

They had no idea about the kindness shown – black to white and white to black – every day in Alabama. They were wrong to lump us all together with those who spewed hatred, those who would do harm to innocent people. We were not all like that.

After we all went our separate ways that night, my roommate, who was also from Alabama, and I made a hasty retreat to our dorm room to think about, to talk about all that we had heard. We wondered what was being said about the two of us. I had an uneasy feeling.

Before long, there was a knock at the door. It was Rebecca and Raquel, Mexican twins from El Paso. They were our friends. They were confused.

We, the two girls from Alabama, were the only ones who invited them to our room. We were the only ones who visited them in their room. We were the only ones who sat with the Blackfoot Indian boys in the dining hall. Why were we –these Alabama people – so bad? We had no answer.

If Alabama author Fannie Flagg is right, the kindnesses – black to white and white to black – that we shared during those stormy times in Alabama will never be known  – or believed. What an injustice that will be.

Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger. Contact her at jaine.treadwell@troymessenger.com.