This post is another fond remembrance of my Dad. Who had the unfortunate task of raising me as a son. I was that kind of kid who questioned everything..But mostly the “Jim crow” apartheid system he was forced to make a life for his family under. Like a lot of young “newly militant” people of that time we made the stupid mistake of thinking that because our parents took up the challenge to take care of their families even in that evil system. That it meant that our parents were somehow “okay” with being 3rd class citizens in our own country…It took a lot of growing up for me to see that my Dad fought me so hard about joining SNCC, about joining the Black Panther Party..about going to Africa..was because every person he had ever known who openly challenged the “status quo” of white supremacy …..was dead..And not just him, as I grew older it seemed almost every family had a tale of somebody who had challenged the way things were …back in the 1920s..or during WW II or even back in WW I..those stories all ended with a person who died under “strange circumstances” like my Dad’s father..or had to secretly leave town “forever” like my Moms Uncle Arthur..or sometimes they just hung you from a tree..My Father fought me on those things out of love…….and fear. When he passed away in 1984 …I found out from my brother and from my Dad’s old army buddies that he not only gave money secretly to SCLC and SNCC..but that at night when he drank with his VFW buddies he would brag about his son who had the “whiteys” so scared…it’s awful that I didn’t really know that side of my father while he was alive. But when I talk about him today I always mention the guts and bravery it took to dare to just take good care of your family in that awful time that I grew up in..This picture is from the late fortys or early 50s…my Dad walking to work in downtown Atlanta. He was the Chef in a white Restaurant that he was NOT allowed to eat at himself…He once during the civil rights movement beginnings told me about how he saw all the Black students picketing the place..and getting beaten up by the cops…He made me and my sister promise that we would never get involved . what he didn’t know is that I already knew them all…But what I didn’t know it that it was not lost of Dad that he cooked there all day long and could never bring his family in for a meal…Dad helped to bail out several of those people…that was called “The Atlanta Student Movement”.. Those people….those parents were ALL heroes.And I salute ALL the Black fathers of those times..and a profound apology to my Father.
This is my great grand father Charlie White. Papa as we called him. Papa died when I was about 7 or 8 years old, I think ..I could have been younger, but in my memory he looms as a huge mythological person. Frankly I don’t know how tall Papa was. He certainly seemed to us taller than any one else. Charlie White was the father of my maternal Grand mother Jessie White. Jessie died young and left behind three little girls..my mother Hattie , the oldest, Rosa Mae, and Ludi ..the baby .The girls were raised by Charlie and his wife “Ella” ..and until I was in my teens I thought they were my actual grandparents.
In Dawson Georgia, Terrell county Charlie White is said to have in his time been the only Black man who was addressed as Mr. rather than “boy” if you were young or ‘Uncle” if you were middle aged or over. Charlie was “Mr. White” where ever he went. His tall lean frame and his Stetson hat most of the year But a straw fedora in the summer …Mr. White was the man to go to if you had trouble…. Over a time it became hard to separate. The man from the myths. We knew he was a union organizer, but we were too young to know what that was. The people in the other picture are supposed to be some of Papa’s “union folks”. It was this picture that peaked my interest and made me want to learn more about a man who was a Black union organizer in the 20s, 30s and 40s in the deep south and why his “union folks” were Black people and White people and even as a child in the 1950s I knew that was unusual.I spent a lot of time over the period of my life searching for history about real people in the southern labor movement …every few years I would come across someone who had heard of Charlie White …many times it turned out to be someone else…I thought that for sure that a union organizer of Black and White workers would stick out some how… It turns out there were many attempts to organize workers in the early textile mills and even to old cotton mills in the deep south. Many people ended up dead.. and I did find a White guy named Charlie White who was murdered in Albany, Georgia in 1942…Finally when I was in my late forties ..and in Philadelphia where I now live. I met Vince Pieri ..an old lefty and something of an expert on Paul Robeson. Vince remembered meeting a Charlie White. I went home and got him a picture to see. And it was the same man…Paul Robeson had come to Dougherty County, Georgia to sing a concert to raise money for the Cotton Mill Workers United…There it was I now knew the name of at least one of the unions Papa had worked for…and it just knocked me out that he probably knew Paul Robeson…. Vince sad the reason for Papa’s trouble was he was constantly being called a “RED”…a communist..Vince said Papa not only denied this but said he didn’t even know any….in another conversation years later he called him self a “peoples” Socialist ….Vince is now long gone..but meeting him and becoming his friend was to me a miracle…It’s a good feeling to know that Charlie White’s genes are running through my veins,and it explains a lot about who I became in my life.