My First Close Encounter of the 3rd Kind with the Color Line

In 1896, as the nineteenth century ended, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of ‘separate but equal” by a resounding 7-1 vote in the Plessey decision.  In 1903, as the twentieth century opened, W.E.B. Du Bois, a founder of the NAACP, wrote in “The Souls of Black Folk” that the problem of the twentieth century is “the color line.”

A  few years into the twenty first century, some folks say that the nomination of Barack Obama shows the “progress” that has been made with the color line. But over in Marianna, Florida, a junior high school teacher told his students about two weeks ago that “change” is an acronym for “Come Help A N***** Get Elected”, for which he received…. a ten day suspension.

The “color line” is still very much alive and well in America.  It is true that institutional racism is neither as overt nor as prevalent as it once was.  But I believe there is significant evidence that a large segment of white folks do not accept blacks, in particular, or most non-whites, in general, as “equal” to them.

Admittedly, I didn’t grow up in this country and so I was not exposed to the American version of the color line.  And although there seemed to be a Philippine version built around whether you had Spanish ancestry, and if so how much, that did not prepare me for my first encounter of the third kind (contact) with the color line in this country.

That first encounter came quickly… within a month of arriving here.  It was in St. Petersburg, where I was at my college campus with other freshmen about a week early for orientation.  When my assigned roommate was a no-show, I hooked up with a black freshman who I met at a pool table and was in the same predicament.

If we did not find a roommate, one would be assigned to us and neither of us wanted to gamble.  He was taken by the fact that I was from halfway around the world and I was taken by the fact that he was…well, black.  We were both curious about each other.  (During 18 years in the Philippines, there were only one black, and one half-black, student in my high school.)

Our dorm advisor and dorm counselor were black upperclassmen.  My roommate Al was the only other black student in the dorm.  Late one night, the four of us went to Mr. Donut to get off campus.  We headed back to campus about 1 AM.

As we drove down a main north-south street, through a black neighborhood, there was a police car at a red light on a cross street on our right. As we passed it, one of the others cussed and exclaimed that we were going to be stopped.  I asked if we were speeding. Another laughed and said no.  I remarked that if we had not committed a violation then they were just being paranoid.

I was informed that we were guilty of a violation. I asked: if we weren’t speeding, what violation?  Why, DWB, of course.  DWB?  What the heck is that?  Then it came out: Driving While Black. My reply was something like: “Driving While Black… ?  That’s bullshit!”  They laughed at my outrage….

On cue, the driver advised that the police car was following us.  I looked back and was quickly told not to do that.  I remarked that the police car was a distance behind us, so maybe he just happened to be going in the same direction as we were.  That remark was met by laughter, which irritated me because I still felt they were being paranoid.

Then the driver advised the police car was speeding up towards us.  A few seconds later, he advised that the lights were flashing.  Damn…we were being stopped! I was confused.

The driver, who was a senior, said he would do all the talking and no one was to say anything unless asked a question directly by the officer.  And, keep all answers short and simple.

We were ordered out of the car.  The officer asked the driver for his license, looked at it and then returned it.  The driver asked if he had committed a traffic violation.  The officer said no.  The driver then asked why we were stopped.  The officer replied that he just liked to know who was on his beat. I thought to myself:  right…Officer Friendly here wants to meet and greet everyone on the main north-south street to get to know each of us.  Did he have an apple pie for us too?  I was steaming…

When asked where we had been, the driver replied that we were at the Mr. Donut.  When asked where we were going, the driver replied that we were headed to campus.  When asked if it wasn‘t too late to be visiting anyone at campus, the driver replied that we were students there.  Now I noticed a look of surprise on the officer’s face and then heard it in his reply “You’re students there?” Do you have ID?  We all showed him our college ID’s.  Then, he told us we could go and to drive safely and watch out for drunks.  We said goodnight.

Back in the car, I was cussing up a storm. The others said it was no big deal, it happened regularly and they just had to get used to it. I said that there’s no way I could get used to that, to which they replied that there wasn’t much choice unless you wanted to end up in jail or worse.

That was August 1970. Before that, I was intellectually a radical. That night, I became a radical emotionally.  Thirty-eight years later, I’m still pissed off!

Here’s something interesting about the color line today.

(Next Sunday: “I Led Three Lives”…but unlike the TV series, these lives were not at the same time.)


12 responses to “My First Close Encounter of the 3rd Kind with the Color Line

  1. I enjoyed the Sunday post today. I think you need to understand that it works both ways. Their are many blacks in this country that do not accept white America also. In fact if you really look at who starts the race card issue in this country I think you will find that more times than not it is the black community that uses that card or claims that issue. You do not hear or see the Mexican population use that card. You do not see the Chinese population of this country use that card. In fact you do not see any other group use the race card except the black community. Why because they know that the liberal white people out their feel guilty and therefore the tree hugger of the world want to give everything away. And guess what folks the black community knows this and that is why they use the race card. Until we the people stand up and say no more it will continue to happen.

    Now I will give you two cases in point here for those liberal good doers.

    I knew a man I worked with that severed his country in the war. He returned got a good job working for a living paying his bills and contributing to society. He did not ask for hands out he stood on his own. He told me one time that his older brother married a white women. And that to this day his father refuses to accept this and that he will not allow his son to enter his home as long as he is married to a white women. Funny how you very rarely here about these things from the black community but you always here about it in the white community and who tells you about it the black population.

    Now explain to me this. Why does a successful black person move away from his roots move away from the community he grew up in and why does he try to find a white community to move into. He does not make his money, work hard, pay his taxes and want to live with the same group of people he feels most at home with? In many cases you see this on a regular basis. They want to leave that life behind and forget about those that they have a connection with.

    Next I have another friend yes who is black and he told me that when he go to night clubs their are most times a few a handful of white women in the club and that all the “brothers” want to dance with the white women not the black women. He told me that the reason for this is that it is a status symbol for a black man to be with a white women and it elevates them within their group. But these are the same people that will claim race when it best suits them and benefits them.

    What up America. I am a America. Not a Anglo America, not a Irish America – even though that is the area I come from, I am not German American I am a American. What is with the African American stuff. Come on you live here you take advantage of everything we have to offer most of you were born here and many generation have past you are American. Look at what Tiger Woods a very well respect black man said many years ago when he first came on the golf circuit. The black community jumped on the band wagon hailing him as the great black hope. And for many months they embraced him as a African American and that is what they called him. He came out and wait stop I am not a African America i am a AMERICAN. That simple. After that statement many in the black community where upset and if you notice they do not champion his cause much these days.

    He gained my respect that day because he said he was a American. Simple one word. That is what is wrong with this country. We are all Americans and if we do not start turning back to this we as a country will be lost. We are at that point now that their is no going back pretty soon. We will no longer be America we will be a 3rd world country with every person in the world living here free and clear and taxing our system and making more taxes for those of us who pay taxes and try to live a modest lifestyle.

    Admin it was a good article but the “Race” issue was created, designed and continually brought up by those who have a vested interest to get something for free. Thank you.

  2. I usually try to avoid this subject, but your post brings up many, many memories. I moved to Memphis in the summer of 1967, and the following April, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated there. After that, things only got worse. I too have been stopped by the police while riding in a car with black friends. I’ve gone to restaurants where the National Guard was patrolling outside. I grew to loathe Memphis, and if there is any more racially polarized city on the planet, well, it has to be in South Africa. Living there made me afraid. Moving to New Orleans saved my sanity.

  3. Good read today Anarchist! I’m not going to touch what Libertine had to say.

  4. Nick…I was* counting* on you to respond to!

  5. Pingback: The Race Card! « eehard’s Weblog

  6. I couldn’t contain myself. Just posted a blog about it.

  7. Anarchist. I went to St Pete JC in 1967 for a couple of terms so we just missed each other. 1968 was a year of great change in race relations and the change was volatile

    Did you go there or to Presbyterian (Jack Eckerd later bought the naming rights) SPJC was a pretty cool place. (My money says you went to Eckerd)

    I have many experiences of growing up in the South in the 50’s and 60’s. Much of my experience was with personnel at Eglin AFB. It was much more progressive than the surrounding population in Okaloosa and Walton Counties. Integration went pretty smoothly in our HS, blacks were accepted without incident and in fact were readily integrated into the teenage culture. Nothing like Mississippi. Only when I got to Tallahassee in 1964 did I find hostility, there was a definite color line there.

    After some years of school and family life I became manager of a chain drugstore located near FAMU. I hired a black drug clerk. He was a student at FAMU. I had to get special permission through the chain of command. The President of the company paid me a visit and asked if I was a liberal “do gooder”? (Which I was at the time but I wouldn’t tell him so) Instead what I did was get in his Porsche and have him drive around FAMU. He didn’t ask anymore questions….and I remember getting a pretty good Christmas bonus that year.

  8. PTFan1..yes, your money was well placed; I entered Florida Presbyterian but graduated Eckerd. Four years of intellectual intoxication that was exhilirating!

    And I was damn lucky to be there since my grades didn’t warrant it but my SAT scores said I just needed motivation. Plus, I was a “furriner” whose parents were paying full price so I guess they wanted me to “round out” the student body (and the bottom line) since most of the others were from the South.

    Why Jack gave the college all that money is beyond me since it was no where near his conservative philosophy. But he never made any effort that we could see to tilt the college’s orientation.

    Why don’t you do a post about your “conversion” from liberal to …..? I’d be interested. Do it on wordpress…!

  9. OK lets talk about Jack.

    I worked for Jack, I knew him, and I disliked him. I respected his smarts but hated his ego, he was not a nice man at all. But damn he was smart, and he helped humanity in his own way. It is interesting that you and I have this little connection in time and space and that we have political discussions. Your words can challenge my emotions at times and while I know you don’t intend to do that I have to practice great restraint. Don’t stop though it is good to be challenged. Jack wanted a mausoleum which is why he gave the money to your college. And he had some family issues and became a crusader for youth. He left a $110 million dollar foundation run by his family but lol he didnlt leave them a road map so they don’t know what the fuck to do with it now.

    You asked about my conversion from left to right………it began with Jack. You may not remember that Jack ran for Governor in 1970. I had quit the company in anger in that year and much of my anger was directed at him. So I switched my party affiliation from Democrat to Republican so that I could vote for Claude Kirk in the primary. Guess who won? I was convinced that it was my efforts that caused his defeat lol. But I was still a liberal at heart. I hated Nixon (he survived JFK) and lied to the people. All the Presidents Men is still my all time favorite movie. I would have remained liberal if not for Bill Clinton. He lied (everyday) to all of us in ways I can not ever forgive.

    I finally understood that the Democrats make policy and spend tax money to buy votes in the economically distressed population and call it good government. More recently I have become aware of the totally biased media coverage of the major networks. I used to love Dan Rather, then Katie Curick, but it so obvious now how they sell their souls to the dems every day. Now I listen to people I would have stoned in my youth and they don’t sound so ignorant anymore. (go figure)

    That is a rather compressed capsule of my evolution.

  10. PT,

    I find it interesting that you seem to have made political philosophy decisions based on singular personalities. Such as Kennedy, Nixon and Clinton.

    I’m very cold blooded in that regard. Perhaps it’s because I’m a philosopher at heart, and philosophy seeks to crush emotion and individuals out of decisions. I’ve not intentionally sought to challenge you emotionally; I don’t believe that approach works..or at least not for long. Emotions are a roller coaster. Logic is much more stable.

    Now, as this post shows, I was in fact quite emotional in my younger days. But that alone did not motivate my political thinking. I think racism cannot be defended from any intellectual perspective and is in fact little more than an “emotional” response. Which is why I distrust relying on emotion for insight.

    As for Jack’s ego, I think most, if not all, “empire builders”, as Jack was, have to have huge egos. It comes with the territory, as they say. Without it, I wonder if they could have succeeded.

    I enjoy our “discussions.” I’ve always enjoyed “debate” for its own sake, almost as sport. I just enjoy the back and forth. Besides poker, it keeps my mind sharp…lol!

  11. Agree with debate as a mind sharpener.
    And enjoy discussions as well

    Couple of things to touch on.

    First you are a mild introvert on the Meyers Briggs. I am off the scale as an extrovert. Over the top, every time I take it. So if you go and study how those two personalities interact what you will see is that we interact rather differently with people. If we both go to a party you are more likely to hang at the fringe of the room. Maybe not a corner sitter but definitely not in the center of the crowd. I find the center and talk to everyone about anything and am very comfortable in that roll. So we have difference in that part of our personalities. I do like being alone too but when I party I party with everyone.

    Next thing is philosophy. I too am a philosopher but I tend to identify Presidents as icons that represent a period of time that were the (fill in the blank) years. My major in college was American Studies and I am a continuing addict of cultural analysis. ie why we think the way we do, recently completed Paul Johnsons excellent tomb, A History of the American People also read his The Birth of the Modern Intellectuals. I enjoyed the first more than the last. In the first he uses each Presidency as kind of a mile marker through time and in the second it is more just pure thought. Perhaps you would enjoy the second style more than the first (just a guess.) He is British by the way so is not necessarily biased towards America as the Beacon on the Hill. And yet he concludes by remarking that “America is still the first best hope for the human race.”

    I agree and I take it very personal, perhaps that is yet another difference between us. There is a line in the sand with me much like the line that Col Travis supposedly drew at the Alamo which basically said step over this line and stay with me and serve your country in its time of need or leave now and none will think ill of you but you must do one or the other, no middle ground.

    “I have fallen in love with American names,
    The sharp names that never get fat,
    The snakeskin titles of mining claims,
    The plummend war bonnet of Medicine Hat,
    Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat”

    Steven Vincent Benet American Names

    I do not in general see things as black or white and I am very comfortable with ambiguity, except for this here election lol.

  12. > a mild introvert on the Meyers Briggs.<

    I was, and was not, surprised at that. Not surprised because I believe it is true. Surprised because I can be, and often am, just like you are – a wild extrovert.

    But that is an acquired trait. Acquired in college because I needed it to achieve what I wanted to – rally folks, motivate them. Left to my own devices, I’d rather not even go to a large party, and I rarely do. Because there is nothing of importance I feel I need to engage folks in. Now, parties are often a “social” event where serious discussion is not expected. I can do the small talk, but then..why? It’s not going to improve my life (and here I’m exhibiting a “utilitarian” attitude which I’d say is not my normal outlook.)

    Now, I acknowledge that being at the “center” can be quite invigorating psychologically. I did feed off that in college. Now, I have no need for that because there’s nothing I’m trying to get done. I’ve reached a state of contentment which I lacked in college. It’s like I’m on vacation and don’t want to go back to “work.”…lol!

    As for line in the sand, I have no such line with ideas. But, there is such a line personally. Once someone close “betrays” me, however I conceive that, there is no coming back.

What say you?

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