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A Different Set of Rules

25 Jan

Do you know what I’ve discovered?   If I spent every day visiting all the places that I couldn’t enter before the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (I was born in 1948), except through the back door as a maid or a slave, I’d probably never die—at least not anytime soon.  That is why I engage in a project surrounding Martin Luther King Holiday weekend that brings me great joy.

Not only do I sashay my black ass (dripping with bling) through the front door of a former slave-owning or white’s only establishment at least once a year, but I stay in the best room they have to offer, order room service for breakfast, and get an 80-minute massage if they offer it.  Since MLK weekend coincides with my husband’s (WW—“White and Wonderful”) birthday, I walk through the front door of those former plantations with my arm wrapped around my white husband’s arm, a big smile on my face, and give a silent middle finger to the racists ghosts who surely must roam the halls of said establishments.  Because there is no way any god worth his salt would ever allow those unrepentant slave owners entrance into Heaven (are you hearing me Thomas Jefferson?), I am convinced their Hell must be tailor-made to watch an African-American making herself at home with sheer abandonment in their “whites only” environment.

I call this bitch slap to the haunted the FYRS-LWITBR Project, which stands for “FUCK YOU RACIST SPECTERS—LIVING WELL IS THE BEST REVENGE!”  My “in your face” rebel cry has nothing to do with the current owners (I do not visit the sins of their ancestors upon them so long as they treat me with dignity and respect), but I do take on the racist ghosts of their lineage.

Oak Alley Plantation oakalleyplantation dot com

Oak Alley Plantation on the Mississippi River in Louisiana |Trip Advisor Image

In the interest of full disclosure, my children think I’m crazy.  That’s because I’ve raised them to be color blind, and to my knowledge they have never suffered at the hands of racists, which makes me very happy.   Their friends are color blind (black, white, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Straight, Gay), as well, and have formed little urban families around each other to unite against the hardships and vagaries of life.   I am very proud of them, and I consider them all “my children.”

But my children and their friends have not seen what I’ve seen or experienced the hatred I’ve embodied.  They have never heard of The Negro Motorist Green Book which was in full swing the year I was born and lasted until after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and they have never had to plan their travel around such a book just to keep from having their asses kicked (or killed) by men in white robes and pointy hats carrying burning crosses.

The Green Book was started by Victor Hugo Green (a Harlem mail carrier) in the 1930s and it would eventually cover lodging, eateries, and stores in every state in the USA as well as Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada that would do business with Negroes.    If there were no hotels that would cater to African-Americans (often the case), the book would list “tourist homes” that would rent the traveler a room or two for their journey.  The Green Book spoke volumes by “omission,” as the writer Justin Hyde has noted.   In 1949, no restaurant was listed in Alabama that would serve black people.  Justin Hyde in his article on The Green Book in Jalopnik underscored the fact that “Black motorists in those eras frequently kept extra fuel, food and portable toilets on hand to avoid stopping in unfriendly locations. Even outside the South, roadside motels and diners often wouldn’t serve black customers.”  In 1963 (one year before The Green Book was taken out of circulation), I was kicked out of a New Jersey hotel in the middle of the night along with a family (a lawyer and school teacher and their two young children) that I was the babysitter for, and we were forced to drive through the night to our approved “Negro cabin” in Maine.

87.135.1736Scanned by Stephanie Chontos, May 24, 2004For AALS Project.

Image from Wikipedia

INTRODUCTION PAGE OF THE NEGRO TOURIST GUIDE:   “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year.”

The fact that President Obama’s 2nd inauguration (talk about “living well is the best revenge!”) fell on the same day as the MLK holiday weekend and coincided with my husband’s b-day gave me the perfect excuse to engage in my “project” (not at the plantation above used only as an example, but at another glorious location in the South and situated on the Gulf of Mexico).

barack obama mlk FP

President Obama and Martin Luther King |image from thedvrfiles.com

As I stretched out on the beautiful “sugar sand” of a site where there once stood a private mansion that I could have only entered the back door of to make the beds and empty the slop pans, I meditated for hours on how far we had come as a Nation since the publication of The Green Book.   I watched the inauguration of our  magnificent 44th president from my waterfront suite as I lifted a glass of champagne to the triumph of a man that we are lucky to have as a leader.  As I contemplated my own American journey, I joined President Obama in spirit to pray for the further emancipation of our Hispanic brothers and sisters, our Gay and Lesbian brothers and sisters, and the disenfranchised jobless families in our midst who need a helping hand.

Segregated Drinking Fountains pattyhume dot com

Archival image from pattyhume.com

I am discovering, however, that even though we are in more “tolerant times,” one must be ever vigilant against the spirit of bigotry—especially amongst the religious—or we will be doomed to repeat our history.  Martin Luther King often preached about the complacency of white Christians toward the suffering of those who did not fit their cultural narrow-minded viewpoint (specifically the Southern Baptists).    I have read many of the multitudinous sermons preached by well-intentioned pastors in favor of slavery in the 1800s and then again against desegregation in the 60s and their arrogance and cold-heartedness grip my heart with horror.  Where would we be as a country if righteousness had not won the day?

Today it boggles my mind that Christians who say they love Jesus are part of the Tea Party, but they don’t speak out against the racism that is so visible on their websites and from the mouths of their leaders.  I know that not all Tea Party members are racist but their silence is killing me.  The language of the Tea Partier is slightly different from the overt racist (normally doesn’t include the “n” word), but it is deceiving to the perpetrator because they see themselves as righteous:  “I respect the office of the presidency but I don’t respect this president because he is a Socialist, a Muslim, a spawn of Satan or Hitler (I’m searching for his hidden horns and drawing on his Hitler mustache even as we speak)” or “I don’t have a racist bone in my body, I just worship Sarah Palin, Fox News, and the Drudge Report who do”—said with such vehemence and so many times that it prompts the person of color to scream to the heavens:  “me thinks thou doth protest too much, Tea-bagger!”

racist teabaggers cartoon politiskink dot com

Racist Tea Party Cartoon|image from politiskink.com

DEAR TEA PARTY:
“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than
sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Even though we’ve come a long way, whenever I do a Google search with our President’s name, I almost vomit from the visceral racial hatred and disrespect that lashes out at me from the Internet because it seems that some of us are playing by a different set of rules, requiring others of us to reinstate “The Green Book” in order to survive.  This causes me great despair until I read the blogs of people like Frank Angle who wrote “On MLK 2013” (http://afrankangle.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/on-mlk-2013/ ) about the repentance of Elwin Wilson in 2009, a former Klansman, who attacked and beat a black college student in 1961 when he was one of the Freedom Riders trying to win the ability for African-Americans to travel across country via Greyhound and Trailway buses.  The black freedom rider grew up to be Congressman Joe Lewis.   Frank Angle included a YouTube video in his blog post of Wilson and Lewis’ exchange of repentance and forgiveness after 50 years, and it makes the viewer understand that there is a God, and one day we will all overcome our bigotry, our stupidity, our short-sightedness, our lack of grace, and our arrogance!

Elwin Wilson and Congressman Joe Lewis

Photo:  George Burns| Harpo Studios

For years, Elwin, an admitted former member of the Ku Klux Klan, says he prayed that he would meet the man he attacked at the bus station.Oprah.com

***

QUOTES BY MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”Martin Luther King, Jr.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

 “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

      “It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

 
31 Comments

Posted by on January 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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31 responses to “A Different Set of Rules

  1. aFrankAngle

    January 25, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    As you always do, you hit the nail on the head. well done!!!! Of course the opening line in your second paragraph had me rolling with laughter .. but that’s one of your methods of getting your point across. … and glad I was able to be part of your process! …. Thanks for the mention, and as you know, I will welcome your readers with open arms.

     
    • etomczyk

      January 27, 2013 at 10:34 am

      Thanks Frank! That video of Wilson and Lewis touched me so deeply. It’s what inspired this blog post. Take care.

       
      • aFrankAngle

        January 28, 2013 at 6:55 am

        That video is a wonderful example of humanity and forgiveness … and unquestionably one of my favorite videos.

         
      • Lindy Lee

        February 20, 2013 at 1:03 am

        In re: Germany ET, have you ever read “The Hiding Place” by Corrie Ten Boom? Although the protagoness (my word) is a Hollander, the story is a poignant reflection of those who risked their own lives to save would be holocaust victims.

        This post of yours hits this loyal reader of yours hard, right in the soul spot…

         
      • etomczyk

        February 20, 2013 at 9:53 pm

        Lindy Lee. Yep, I sure have read “The Hiding Place.” It’s a great story, isn’t it? I’m so glad this post was special to you. It is one of my favorites. (Believe it or not, I actually got hate comment drippig with venom from a Tea Party hater about this post. He was a real douche and a horrid bully. I deleted and sent him to spam ASAP. So it is great to receive your encouragemet.) Take care.

         
  2. Hudson Howl

    January 26, 2013 at 12:29 am

    1948 to 2013. Sixty five years.Twenty three thousand seven hundred and twenty five days. Five hundred sixty nine thousand four hundred hours. You’ve crossed the river Eleanor. And with this, I heard every stroke and gasp for breath that got you across. You rode it and you wrote it well.

     
    • etomczyk

      January 27, 2013 at 11:55 am

      Thanks Hudson. It has been some ride, that I can testify to. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Thanks for stopping by. Always a pleasure.

       
  3. becomingcliche

    January 26, 2013 at 8:15 am

    Thank you for educating me. It tears me up that anyone ever thought it was okay to treat another person the way people of color were treated here. My kids are blown away by the concept, horrified at the notion that people have been killed for the color of their skin. I had never heard of the Green Book, but I needed to. We all needed to.

     
    • etomczyk

      January 27, 2013 at 12:24 pm

      BC: It was only recently that I realized the US had an Apartheid system under the Jim Crow years and it demoralized us as a country. One of my readers and close friends (she’s white) told me that just a few years ago, she was walking down a sidewalk in Gainsville, FL and an elderly black man (in his 80’s), stepped off the sidewalk into the gutter, lowered his gaze to the ground while tipping his hat, which was the “rule of law” during the Jim Crow years in the South. My friend burst into tears, stepped into the gutter and helped the old man back up onto the sidewalk and lifted his face so that she could see his eyes and told him that he never, ever had to do that again–that he had just as much right to walk down a sidewalk as anyone else. I guess old habits die hard. We are such an amazing country and people and it is Americans like you and my friend who helped turn the tide because you didn’t remain silent. Thanks for stoping by–as always.

       
  4. composerinthegarden

    January 26, 2013 at 9:07 am

    As always, Eleanor, you had me in stitches in the beginning and in tears at the end. I remember a friend telling me about the Green Book in the 1970’s. He had traveled as a musician in the south in the 50’s and 60’s and they depended on it to see them through their travels. I’ve never seen it though, so thank you for sharing the details. Fighting this type of thinking is a deep endeavor for it expresses itself as hatred of others but perhaps is more deeply held internal divide. King was so right and so wise in both of the last two quotes, from the essential element of love for change and the practical application of righteous law for protection while we work for change. Thank you for a post filled with joy, sorrow, insight, and hope.

     
    • etomczyk

      January 27, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Lynn, thank you for your response. It is so poetic! Although initially it was black mail carriers across the United States who contributed to The Green Book, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that musicians contributed as well. They were constantly on the road and knew where the “sundown towns” were (don’t let the sun set on you if you were black in a particular town), and they always knew where the tourist homes were. Interesting times which is why I don’t want to see anyone have to live under that type of Apartheid–no matter their race or gender. Cheers!

       
  5. Elyse

    January 26, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Beautifully done, Eleanor. I had no idea such a book existed, but I do remember how my parents were ostracized from our former neighborhood because we sold our old house to a black family.

    I am so proud when I think that we have elected Barack Obama twice; so ashamed when I see what some folks say about him and about African-Americans, muslims, any-non-white-human. So ashamed. Can’t we all just get along?

     
    • etomczyk

      January 27, 2013 at 1:27 pm

      Elyse: Thanks so much for your supportive comment. Isn’t that book something else? Smithsonian Magazine did a great piece on the first integrated casino in Las Vegas too (first black chorus girls and the only place black musicians like Nate King Cole, Sammy Davis, Jr., Eartha Kit, etc., could stay). Until then no matter how famous the musician they had to enter the casino’s through the kitchen, entertain only white audiences, exit the same way, and stay across the tracks in shacks. It wasn’t until Las Vegas realized that the only color that mattered to them was the color “green” that they opened up their doors to everyone who had money to waste. It always comes down to money. Thanks for stopping by–as always. ET

       
      • Elyse

        January 27, 2013 at 6:07 pm

        I remember reading about the casinos opening up in Sammy Davis Jr.’s autobiography –possibly hen I was in high school. Sad to think that it’s money that needs to be the “great equalizer”

        And I’ll always stop by 😉

         
  6. Sondra Smith

    January 26, 2013 at 11:58 am

    Everything is different and yet nothing changes. When Lincoln was trying to abolish slavery the argument was that the cotton industry would collapse if wages had to be paid to the workers. This country was built on the backs of slaves and immigrants, nothing to be proud of, and nothing has changed. Now it it the Mexicans, who are willing to do whatever it takes to make a better life for their families.
    Well done Eleanor, and I had no idea such a book existed. Reading you blog there were tears in my eyes. I was taught that all people are equal, character was the only measuring stick to use not race, color or religion.
    Happy Birthday to WW!

     
    • etomczyk

      January 27, 2013 at 1:43 pm

      Hi Sondra. You’re so right and it is why we must remain ever vigilant against the signs of bigotry in the hearts of those who call themselves religious people. The passion of religion fueled by ignorant racism is lethal as we have come to see from history. All the best, my friend.

       
  7. momshieb

    January 26, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Power to you, Eleanor!! I love this story, and the image of you and WW enjoying the luxuries of those plantations.
    As my students and I study the history of slavery and the civil rights movement, I am incredibly heartened by the fact that my mostly white classroom just can’t seem to understand the thinking behind racism. “Wait, I don’t get it.”, one of my kids said this year, “They thought that people weren’t as good because they had darker skin? Isn’t that kind of stupid?”
    Gotta love it.

     
    • etomczyk

      January 27, 2013 at 2:05 pm

      Momshieb. Don’t you love our kids and their kids! They give me such hope and joy! It must be wonderful for you to see as a teacher because you are one of the beacons that help teach them tolerance. I can remember being in school and having white teachers tell me and an entire class of black students that we were incapable of learning (they were trapped by the new school integration laws and resented it). The irony of that particular scenerio is that my bookbag contained copies of Dickens and Shakespeare (just for fun) and I would go on to graduate 4th in a class of 350 or so. Bigotry is a terrible thing. So glad we’ve come so far and that we’re still moving forward. Take care.

       
  8. eurobrat

    January 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    You go Eleanor!! That is the single best way I’ve heard of yet to take revenge. Hmmm, perhaps I should take a personal trip to Germany? I wonder where the fascist leaders lived….?

     
    • etomczyk

      January 27, 2013 at 2:20 pm

      Eurobrat. I did travel to Germany once upon a time (many, many years ago) and the sorrow of the Holocaust overwhelmed me. I couldn’t enjoy the castles or the food. I couldn’t stop crying. Even though I knew logically that the current generation shouldn’t be condemned for the sins of their parents, I just couldn’t revel in the culture. I’ve always meant to go back and give Germany another try, but how do I do that without visiting the concentration camps? And having left the camps, how do I raise a glass of beer in celebration of Germany?

       
      • eurobrat

        January 27, 2013 at 9:45 pm

        There’s not a good or simple answer for that. The Holocaust and general slaughter of WWII is such a big part of the recent history of not just Germany, but all of Europe, that it’s very hard to go there and not bump into it somehow. The only thing that I can say is that there were beautiful and positive sides to German culture as well–the writers, music etc. And I’m saying this as a Polish person, which is saying a lot 😉 Also, a lot of Germans feel genuinely regretful about what happened.

         
      • etomczyk

        January 27, 2013 at 10:48 pm

        Eurobrat. You’re so right and forgive me for responding with such a glib answer. Because I did see beautiful sides of Germany (I was actually performing and touring there in German). I would like to go back again now that I’m more mature–some 40 years later.

         
      • eurobrat

        January 28, 2013 at 5:08 pm

        Oh no, the answer wasn’t glib, I totally get it. Performing and touring, eh? How exciting!

         
  9. Valentine Logar

    January 26, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    Like you I am dumbfounded when someone supporting the Tea Party looks me in the eye and proclaims “I am not a racist”. Like you, I ask them “How do you sit silently while your leaders spew the garbage they do, which is racist, is bigotry, is nothing more than hate speech of the very worst kind and has set the fires burning all over again.”

    You my friend, show grace in your journey. Love you do it with wit, humor and bling.

     
    • etomczyk

      January 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm

      Hi Val. You would be amazed at the “hate comment” I got from a Tea Party person that happened upon this particular story. (I think he was looking for mesh Tea Party hats for children.) He was livid and his comments proved the point of my story. I’m sure he wanted to get into a huge bruh-hah-hah with my readers, but I did to him what I’ve done to others who troll my blog an leave nasty comments: I banished him to spam and didn’t say a mumbling word. I have hope for us as a country because most people are like you and not like the Tea Bagger that assailed me. Thank God!

       
  10. imagesbytdashfield

    January 27, 2013 at 10:54 am

    I just don’t have it in me now to even comment about the tea twits or any other bloody racists! I will have to ask my older siblings if they know/knew about the green book but I do recall them once telling me that when they took a train to Memphis to stay with grandma they had to sit in a certain area and had a shoebox lunch packed for them by mom because they weren’t going to be able to eat anyplace else! I can still recall two restaurants in Missouri where I grew up that did not allow “coloreds” and up until they went out of business in the 90’s…I refused to give them any of my money.

    I’m not sure how I’d feel about visiting any former plantations though.

     
    • etomczyk

      January 27, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      Hi TD. You should definitely visit a former plantation. When you realize that “we won,” it is freeing!

      I bet your family will remember The Green Book. Wouldn’t that make a great coffee table book if one could trace the places still standing in The Green Book and photograph them? I found an old photo that said “Lewis Mtn, Shenandoah Mtns, Negro Campground”) after locating The Green Book and I was stunned. So much history that should never be forgotten. Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

       
      • imagesbytdashfield

        January 27, 2013 at 4:59 pm

        Oh now you had to go and give me an idea! LOL But getting to all the places might be a task in and of itself.

         
  11. The Savvy Senorita

    January 28, 2013 at 7:23 am

    Hey Eleanor, fantastic post AS ALWAYS!! I agree that bigotry isn’t completely done and dusted – I wish it was as it holds no purpose in a progressive and intelligent society. I wanted to comment on slavery, if I may? I remember visiting New Orleans, in fact I went to Oak Alley and Laura plantations. I was shocked learning about the history of those places, although beautiful, so profoundly diabolic and sad to know the terrible fate of the slaves working on those lands. It actually gave me shivers standing at the Laura plantation slave quarters. Every year it seems new evils of slavery are unearthed and remembered. So much of the wealth accumulated as a result of that ghastly ‘trade’ is forgotten. I learnt only yesterday that most of the grand estates in Scotland were actually founded on slavery and plantation profits. How quickly the ‘gentry’ move on and forget how they blighted the lives of generations.
    Bex 🙂

     
    • etomczyk

      January 28, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      Savvy Senorita. Love your comments about slavery and its use to build wealth. Your feeling about visiting the plantations was how I felt about visiting Germany and touring Anne Frank’s house and then partying through Amsterdam. It was really quite disconcerting. Thanks for stopping by. I really enjoy your comments.

       
      • The Savvy Senorita

        January 28, 2013 at 3:58 pm

        Thank you Eleanor, that is so kind of you 🙂
        Yes, I can agree with Anne Frank’s house too, it was too surreal to be there and know of the families fate. I think these things truly bring home what evil people can do.

        Take care, Bex 🙂

         

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