One scene from long hot summer of 1967. The riots
As I watched my daddy standing on the porch that particular night, I did wonder what was going on. I wondered why my people were looting and burning up stores and property in neighborhoods. I didn’t understand what was going on.
As that day turned into several days and then into a week, I still had no understanding of the reason why. It would be several more years before my understanding would come into play.
Black people born during the era of my father and his family would seldom speak of their lives growing up under racism. Maybe it was too painful for them to reminisce and it would bring back feelings that they had suppressed for so many years. But every now and then, my mother would let me know something about daddy’s life. We grew up with a furnace that took coal. So, the coal would be delivered and dropped down a chute into the basement. One day I was downstairs in the basement with my daddy and he was shoveling coal into the furnace. As I watched him, it was like an art. He didn’t just dig the shovel into the mound of coal, he seemed to will it into the shovel, with a minimum of effort. It was fascinating. Then as he went for stray pieces of coal, it was like he danced with the shovel and the coals hopped onto the shovel and then he put them in the furnace. I was speechless.
Later that day, I said to my mom, “Ma, Daddy shoveled coal real different than I ever saw.” She looked at me and said, “Well, your daddy was on the chain gang as a teen and learned to do that.” For the first time I became interested in our family’s history. Before, he was just Daddy. Afterward, I wondered why he was the way he was.
In 1967 the tensions were thick as butter. I don’t know when, but I saw a tank roll down the main street near where we lived. Playgrounds became camps for the National Guard and other military who had come to restore order. Mothers who had been locked in their homes day and night because of the rioting and sniper/police fire, came out during the day and took their children for a walk; beautiful babies in strollers kicking their chubby, juicy legs with bonnets on their heads got some sun. In fact, with the presence of the national guard, mothers and single ladies would walk up to the fences where those men were and strike up a conversation from time to time. I wasn’t so afraid to go to sleep after a while.