BY BILL EUDALY / AJT //
The Paula Dean controversy and the Trayvon Martin Case have been in the news this summer, and there are calls for a national conversation about Race. Some welcome the opportunity, while others wish the whole thing would just go away.
Whatever one’s opinion, racism is still an ugly blot on the fabric of our society, and like a persistent stain, distressingly reappears no matter how hard we clean and scrub the cloth.
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I grew up in the Deep South. A southern upbringing had many advantages, including beautiful landscapes, historic buildings, and a profound sense of history. There was also a civility to everyday life and a deep sense of community. But as I grew I came to realize that the surface beauty hid some dark secrets.
Like many families in the south in the 1950s, we had a maid, Annie Jones, who had spent her life working for white families. She cooked, cleaned and cared for us children. She taught me about humor, compassion, and love.
We were not an affluent family – my father died when I was only three and my widowed mother had to work full time to support three children. Before daycare was widely available, low wages for domestic workers made it possible for whites of even modest means to afford help.
One day Annie ad I boarded a bus for Savannah. To my child’s eyes the seating area looked enormous and was empty except for a few people clustered in the rear. I pulled at Annie’s coat sleeve to force her into an empty seat near the front of the bus.
Instead she directed me to the back where we sat and I noticed all of the other folks were black. I asked her why we had to sit there and she sighed in a voice choked with resignation and sadness “that’s just the way it is.”
I was confused after the bus incident but I saw the full ugly face of prejudice a few weeks later. I invited a new playmate home and Annie fixed us a snack. She carefully carved an apple as was her custom and handed each of us a portion. I eagerly devoured mine and noticed my friend was not eating his.
I asked him why and, using the “N” word, he said Annie “had touched it.” I was stung. Annie was part of our family, someone I loved and respected, but he behaved as if she was something unclean, even contaminated. For the first time, I saw racism directly and could not understand it, and still don’t.
I keenly remember the hurt and sense of rejection I felt for Annie, and in a small way realized what it must feel like to experience persistent discrimination. To be constantly judged, in MLK’s words, “By the color of one’s skin and not the content of one’s character,” surely would engender fear, sadness, and even rage.
To live a life under such judgment at every turn must seem like a sentence of life without parole.
There is a section of the Anne Frank Exhibit in Sandy Springs where Jim Crow Laws are displayed beside the Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany. Certain similarities are apparent, and as a volunteer docent at the exhibit, I often share my own painful memories with guests.
The segregation laws from our own country’s past are sometimes surprising, especially for today’s children. But the exhibits do not lie. They are, in fact, an inescapable reminder that however uncomfortable it is to confront racism, prejudice, and discrimination, it must be done.
About the writer
Bill EuDaly is a retired educator and actor and lives in Sandy Springs. His most recent credit is “Under the Dome.”