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Have you ever seen the KKK burn a cross with the intention of deliberately scaring people? Have you ever seen men with white hoods covering their faces? I have. Have you ever heard men wearing white hoods yelling obscenities about ( insert N word pluralized) and threatening to kill said person because of the color of their skin? I have. Have you ever seen a cross, sitting next to gas tanks, torched by men wearing white hoods in hopes of causing an explosion that would destroy structures and people in those structures? I have.
(photo found on Google no credit given)
And here is my story.
Living in Alabama was magical. While living in Alabama I lived in several places in a very short amount of time. I lived in Mobil and Honorville and Montgomery. I visited Greenville a lot, and my family before the divorce lived on Maxwell/Gunter AFB. It was right after my parent’s divorce that life really became interesting beyond what some people would have considered interesting already. My life became more interesting because of all the characters that began to populate my life along with all the dramas that those characters traveled with.
As a young child do you remember how an hour could feel like a day? And a day could contain enough adventure to fill an entire year of an adult’s life? My life was like that. I lived my days filled with Huck Finn type adventure in the backwoods populated with all the characters the backwoods of Alabama can hold, and I lived *Scout Finch types of adventures around the 331 Roadhouse. The 331 Roadhouse was owned for an instant in this life by my mom, Ellie and the 331 sat alongside HWY 331 in Alabama. While living at the Roadhouse I gathered in my little head enough memories to last my lifetime and your lifetime, hahaha! Memory collecting was part of my magical child experience. Another part of my magical child’s life was I observed all life through the lens of innocence. (Didn’t we all?).
My lens of innocence was burned when I witnessed a horrific event that caused within me a fear I had never known before and I begin to see that not all people were nice; I began to see people like fractured pieces of glass that made it hard to know the whole person.
One beautiful night in the early spring of 1961 the 331 was hopping to great sounds of music and ladies and their gents were waxing their shoes as they slid into and out of their dance moves across the Roadhouse’s waxed dance floor. Being a place where one could legally buy alcohol it was not uncommon for there to be at least one person who could not hold their drink. This particular night that one person was an Officer’s wife from Montgomery AL and she did not want to drive her car; being that she was a bit tipsy. This lady, not versed in the ways of the Deep South thought she would ask for a ride home. This drunken lady leaned over the food counter and yelled at the Roadhouse cook, asking if he could drive her home when he was done with his work. Oh my.
Remember this is Alabama. This happened in 1961. The lady was asking “a man of color” she was asking a man who was referred to as “N” to give her, a “white” lady a ride home where they would be alone in a car together. No No No No.
The cook came to my mom and told her what had happened and told my mom that he was scared and wanted to slip out the back and go home to his family to protect them and himself if needed. My mom agreed, not really understanding the gravity of the situation, she went back to work tending to the fry cook position herself. There was an ABC Board man in the Roadhouse that evening, because he was one of my mom’s good friends. Ed was the ABC Board man’s name. Ed called for back up because he had a feeling and sure enough, Ed was right. Ed suggested to my mom that she make sure her children were not in the restaurant. Mom came to the back where the “Coloreds” were served because it was in "the back" that my sister and I hung out. My mom told us to go to the cabin. Now. We did so quickly because we could sense the anxiety in her voice.
Within an hour there were screeching tires and revving engines with several vehicles surrounding the 331 Roadhouse. In those vehicles there were men with their heads covered with white sacks and those men were yelling and shouting awful obscenities. People were scattering everywhere as we watched from the cabin. Several of those hooded men got out of their trucks and erected a cross right next to the gas tanks and set it on fire. Lucky for us, and many other people Ed from the ABC Board ran out and began yelling that other ABC officers were on the way and the hooded men, yelling back, got in their cars and trucks and sped away. Ed put out the burning cross and it felt like there was no air for any of us to breathe!
(Google image no credit found)
My mom came to the cabin to check on us and took us back to the Roadhouse with her for a bit to keep and eye on us while she and others cleaned up which included taking down the partially burned cross in addition to gathering what was left of any nerve they may have had. I was filled with confusion and fear and a huge lack of understanding. I could not understand why anyone would want to burn Jesus’ cross. I could not understand why anyone would want to dress up like it was Halloween and scare my mom and other people. None of anything I saw or thought I saw made any sense and you know what? To this day, none of what happened that night makes sense for there never was any sense used. That night opened up a window I had never looked through and that was the window into a world where people could be deliberately hateful and harmful to people based on nothing but the color of skin. I began to worry about my moles because my moles where the same color as my friends who used the back entrance of the Roadhouse. My moles were the same color as my friends who played in the backwoods with me. I lived a life of fear after that. Fear that at any moment someone could take something good away and make it bad.
Life was a bit different around the Roadhouse after that night. The ABC officers posted someone there everyday for awhile because of what had happened and also because the Freedom Riders were on their way to Montgomery and beyond and you know the commotion the Freedom Riders caused. They caused a commotion that I am grateful for because of their bravery and the bravery of many souls our world changed a bit. The world needed to change from the world I witnessed to a world where a person is accepted for the simply fact that they are human and that has nothing to do with the color of skin.
*Scout Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird
And as a side note ~ My older sister who was with me that night married one of the KKK member’s sons.