Happy 60th To Kill A Mockingbird

How’s everybody’s summer going? (should I bother to ask?)

Growing up, I often rode with my mother while she did her errands. She’d drive up Avent Ferry Road, and come out on Western Boulevard. Those from Raleigh will recognize the names of these streets. One time we pulled out onto Western Boulevard, probably going to the A&P store, and as usual, I sat in the front, gazing out the window. There was the “cow college,” the big silos, the sheep in the field near the Reserves.

A car came up alongside us and I saw an elderly white woman riding in the back seat and on either side of her were two black men. A black man drove, and there was another in the passenger seat. I hadn’t seen a lot of black people in the six years or so I’d been on Earth, only Mr. Blackwell who sometimes did odd jobs here and there for my Dad.

“Why’s there’s a white lady riding in that car with them black men?”

“Hush, Donna. Don’t look over there. Sit back.”

My mother didn’t even spare a look when I asked my question. Her hands were ten o’clock, two o’clock. Eyes pinned to the front windshield. I looked anyway. In seconds the car had surged passed us, but I’d noticed how the woman in the other car looked neither left or right, either. Her own eyes were also pinned straight ahead. Nobody talked that I could tell. No lips moving. No smiling. Nothing. All five of those people acted like crash test dummies out for a ride.

I grew up in a household that didn’t discuss topics like racial tension or politics, and if we think the world is on fire now, it was certainly like that back in the 60s too. What my parents always seemed to discuss were the prices of things at the store, and how they were going to pay the bills.

When I was in 5th grade, a young black boy joined our classroom. His name was Ricky, and he was the first black child I’d ever been around. I liked Ricky. He was funny, wore starched shirts, and was double-jointed in his knees. (He could keep one foot planted and turn his body until that foot was backward. I asked him to do it all the time) One day, the class was coming in from the playground, and the boys were roughhousing, and pushing as always. Someone suddenly blurted out the “n” word and the whole atmosphere changed. Every student froze, and looked at Ricky. He’d been happily involved in the play, and suddenly, it was like each one of us had walked up to him and smacked him in the face. He leaned against the wall, and wouldn’t look directly at anyone anymore. It was like his insides had been sucked out, his spirit gone.

Our teacher had us file into the room, and then she sent Ricky out, to do something for her. We all received a collective tongue lashing. I’d never heard the word before, but it’s like knowing a cuss word, even when you’ve never heard one of those, as a kid, you know an ugly word when you hear it.

I think about these experiences and more as I watch all that’s been going on in our world today. With this in mind, I thought I’d share one thing we can all get together on and celebrate. On this very day, sixty years ago, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was published.

The world is still complicated, Scout.


COMMENTS

  • Reena Gilja

    July 11, 2020

    Reply

    In my opinion things haven’t changed much and people are still facing the racial tensions in everyday lives. Sadly true!! I think if the kids are taught from a very early age that we are equal regardless of race, socio-economic status or nationality the world will be a much different place. Kindness and compassion is lacking in people which result in conflicts.

    • donnaeve

      July 12, 2020

      Reply

      What is interesting (to me) are a couple of commercials I’ve seen (one sometime ago) and another one similar to it just recently, where a young white child, and a young black child run toward one another and embrace, hanging on for dear life. They don’t know their differences, they are just two children who are friends. I.e. I think those parents are doing as you suggest, teaching from an early age your friends won’t always look like you.

  • Beverly Turner

    July 11, 2020

    Reply

    Donna…I was a kid in the 60s, too. But I don’t remember any discussions at home regarding race relations or what was happening in the world then. We lived in the country in Kentucky, outside a small town and my parents and grandparents had friends who were black. As a matter of fact, one of my best friends in elementary school was a black girl, Cheryl. I loved making her laugh because she had the best giggle ever. It does make me sad that our country still seems to be fighting the same fights again and again and learning nothing. I have to wonder if the current unrest will blaze hot for a while and eventually die out again with nothing resolved as it has in the past. Why people have such difficulty seeing people as people no matter what the color of their skin or where they come from is beyond me.

    And speaking of To Kill A Mockingbird, would you believe I got through high school and college and never read it? I remedied that last year. It is definitely a book that talks to all of us now, if we’d just listen.

    • donnaeve

      July 12, 2020

      Reply

      I hated what happened to Ricky that day. You could see the change come over him. I can’t quite remember, but it seems to me, he was never the happy go lucky kid after that. He’d been made aware he was different, he obviously knew that word, and so did the brat who said it. The teacher never found out because the boys went silent.

      This current unrest seems to have gas and everyone’s foot on the pedal. (or most) I guess we’ll see. We all want to live fulfilled lives, and everyone has the right to do so.

      So funny about you not reading To Kill A Mockingbird until last year. It is a book for the times.

  • RuthAnne Brown

    July 12, 2020

    Reply

    Hello Donna,
    stayed
    Reading your post reminded me that there were certain things not discussed in our household either. It was Mother and I. My father died, both sister and brother out with their own lives. I was the “baby” by ten years. Race, I though that was something that was done in a field at school on foot, was not a word I ever heard. Prejudice, none of those words had I ever heard. Mother was a “good Christian woman” who took my hand and walked across the street rather than pass “Negroes” on the same side. I see that so clearly still. I never asked her why. I learned early on to keep questions to myself. After I was living on my own I made it a point to be courteous, treat black people as I wanted to be treated. There was a women’s circle where I woman had a scholarship to attend from South Africa. She was beautiful inside and out. She stayed nearby. …One participant and her mother stayed with me as I had met the mother previously becoming friends. Mathabo told a story of a doll she lost as a child. The three of us here put our heads together to give her a doll. I invited her to spend the night, like a slumber party. We had a marvellous time. She was very moved with the dall and I, a white woman, invited her not only to my home, but to spend the night. I loved Mathabo like a sister and she me. She became very ill after she returned home and died two years later. It was a sad time. I have a picture of the two of us I love. …………..Hugs


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