Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Letter That Kept Moms in College

This is Wes Merritt on WDUN coming to you live with jive. That’s how my Big Daddy would open his show every night at 7:00 pm then he would play his signature song Honky Tonk Part II. You could walk every street in the Black neighborhoods in and around Gainesville, Georgia and that’s all you would hear coming from the houses during the mid 50’s. It was the only place you could escape the steel guitar and on Sundays it would be the place to hear black gospel music on your AM dial.

My Big Daddy has been gone now for 10 years. I wish he were still alive to see the day that a Black man has been elected President. To say he was a political animal would be like saying that fat meat is greasy. He led voter registration efforts and organized in the Black community in North Georgia way before such things were cool. The ramifications of actions like that were not trivial. He had a cross or three barbecued in his lawn, he had more than a couple sets of tires slashed flat, and he got stacks of letters written to the radio station promising the Jesse Jackson treatment for troublesome testicles.

I was talking to my Moms about the election and what Big Daddy would have thought given the effort both she and Big Daddy gave in the battle for civil rights, and I was surprised to hear how mad he had been that she participated. All the stories he had told about her protests were always laced with pride, heck I thought he was always on board.

For the past few days the students of Talladega College have made a forthright effort to change the social patterns of this community, by eliminating the segregation of this community, by eliminating the segregation of public facilities in this city. Shirley was one of the students to participate I the sit-in demonstration, resulting in her arrest this past Monday. She and her fellow demonstrators are to be commended for attempting to make democracy a living reality.

In our visit to the jail on the tenth, we found that the students were in excellent health and high spirits. When Shirley was asked by our legal counsel if she wanted to be released from jail, she replied that she would prefer to remain, rather than to accept available bond.

All of us here at Talladega College are behind your daughter’s action, and stand ready to make the same sacrifice. In times like these, our faith in God assures us that He will stand by us in our efforts to carry out His will in providing equal opportunities and privilege for all mankind. Your prayers and the prayers of your community will also serve to strengthen our determination to see this worthwhile struggle through to a successful conclusion.

Shirley’s case will come to trial on April 16th. You may write to her personally, in care of the City Jail, Talladega, Alabama, and should you have any questions to ask or statements to make about Shirley, please call or write to us at any time, in care of President Gray, or Dorothy Vails, Talladega College, Talladega Alabama

I keep that letter on my office wall in order to help me remember where we have come from and the sacrifices made to get us where we are, but it wasn’t until this week I found out that this letter kept my Moms in college.

Turns out he had no idea that his little girl who was all of 106 pounds when she had me was involved in protesting and he was furious. Not only was she involved but on a day in 1963 she shows up on the old Huntley Brinkley Report being bodily dragged out of a five and dime store by four cops where she had the temerity to sit down and ask for a Coke. Given what Big Daddy had done and achieved with his own efforts on the radio and in the 50’s it was a real shock to find out he wasn’t a fountain of pride and was actually pissed. He was mad? He certainly never told me any of this when he was alive.

Was it the bail? No, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. bailed their entire crew out multiple times (We had a picture of Frank on our wall next to our MLK picture when I was growing up my Moms and Pops Italian friends were always tickled by that). Was it the embarrassment of having his daughter on national television? No, he didn’t actually recognize her when he saw the broadcast, and didn’t know it was even her until some of his friends rang the phone calling to congratulate him. Moms says it was because he thought they were moving too fast with what they expected from the White community, and of course he was scared for her. He had made plans to go over to Alabama and snatch her out of school until the letter came.

I have a daughter myself now who is the same age as Moms was when she did her protest thing, and yet I wouldn’t think twice about her going out and expressing her opinions and fighting for what she sees as right, and in fact I was pleased to see her out the door to go yell at the Mormon Temple over California Prop 8, and if she got picked up I’d be sure to have her bail and hot cup of encouragement when she got home, and that speaks to how astonishingly far we have come.

It’s easy to let how far we’ve come escape us. Where Big Daddy had his very life threatened my mom went to jail, and one generation removed from that a black man has been elected to lead all of us. Where my Big Daddy feared his daughter participating in protest against injustice I am able to applaud and encourage it.

Moms tells me that she remembers the songs they sung while they were in jail and she remembers the sounds of the jail, and the smell of the pillows, but all in all it was more than worth it. I suppose it’s the same kind of thing that makes old soldiers miss the battlefield and look upon it with nostalgia. I’m sure my Big Daddy would not have believed it possible that a black man has been elected to lead us, and I can’t wait for the day when every single American enjoys the same rights respect and conventions as we all do. I know it will happen soon we move fast.

This is Wes Merritt coming at you live with jive.

1 comment:

  1. Once again, I am glad things don't disappear from the Internet. A great story that helps us remember just how far we've come... Thanks!