Just When You Thought It Was Safe to be Black

In case you think racial discrimination is a pre—21st century nightmare, a relic of a bygone era in which skin pigmentation decided one's destiny and being black was tantamount to committing a felony, think again.

A black employee at a company in Conroe, Texas, who had been subjected to racial epithets for the entire 7 months of his employment in the otherwise all—white establishment, discovered, to his everlasting regret, that race—hatred can still rear its ugly head. Charles Hickman, who worked at Commercial Coating Services Inc. in Conroe, just north of Houston, for seven months in 2002, said his white co—workers began using racial slurs from the day he was hired until the day they, literally, attempted to lynch him.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) in 2003, Mr. Hickman was routinely referred to as 'nigger' by supervisors and others at the company. After being subjected to a daily demeaning assault on his self—respect, which he tolerated in order to keep his job and feed his family, the final indignity occurred and he could take it no more.

One day, a co—worker told him someone wanted to talk to him in the bathroom, alleged the  37—year—old in the lawsuit. When Hickman went in, 2 co—workers were waiting with a hangman's noose, which they put around his neck and tightened, the suit alleged. According to the complainant, a fight broke out and he lost consciousness. Once the noose was removed, he began coughing up blood.

'I'm still having problems,' said Hickman. 'I'm still on medication to make it through the days. It's difficult to eat because I can't swallow properly.'

Recently, the lawsuit was settled for $1 million and payment of medical bills attributed to the assault. Moreover, the co—worker accused of putting the noose around Hickman's neck pleaded guilty to a class A misdemeanor assault and served a 9—month sentence. The company, which is under new management, did not comment about the settlement. It agreed to work with the EEOC to overhaul its hiring and employment practices, including hiring more blacks. Rudy Sustaita, an attorney with the EEOC, said that, prior to the attack, managers at the company did not stop employees from harassing Hickman after complaints were filed.

The lead counsel on the case was Charles Peckham of the Houston firm, Lundy & Davis, LLP. The attorney is known for his million—plus dollar awards and settlements internationally in aviation wrongful death, commercial disputes and Employment Law.

On Sunday, I spoke with Mr. Peckham by phone.

'Employers should take notice; we will not allow them to wind back the clock to the 1950's and before. Employees must be treated with the dignity God gave them,' said Peckham.

He told me his client had been humiliated from day one when a supervisor told him he'd like to take him into a wooded area and bury him. That was the precursor to 7 months of verbal harassment and grossly insulting behavior.

'They [the company] actually tried to make the argument that Charles thought it was funny,' said Peckham.

That's a claim Mr. Hickman finds particularly outrageous.

'I was doing the job to support my family,' said the father of five children between the ages of 13 and 18. 'I never took it as a joking matter.' 

In addition to the $1 million settlement, the chief executive of the company agreed to make a written apology to Hickman, and, in accordance with Mr. Hickman's wishes, the company must either plant or designate a tree on its property in Conroe in honor of Hickman's tenure there. A representative for EEOC said it was the first time the agency has participated in a settlement that includes the designation of a special planting of a tree.

'The idea is that when someone is harmed badly, there should be a legacy,' he said.

Perhaps it's just me, but I think dedicating a tree as a legacy to someone who was almost lynched is not the proper symbolic gesture. It makes it appear as if there is something sardonically  humorous about bigotry. A commemorative stone tablet or a special plaque might be a lot more suitable under the circumstances.  Nevertheless, we can hope that this type of ignorance will ultimately be weeded out of the mentality that has put an indelible stain on the history of this country.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the excutive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. BobWeir777@aol.com

In case you think racial discrimination is a pre—21st century nightmare, a relic of a bygone era in which skin pigmentation decided one's destiny and being black was tantamount to committing a felony, think again.

A black employee at a company in Conroe, Texas, who had been subjected to racial epithets for the entire 7 months of his employment in the otherwise all—white establishment, discovered, to his everlasting regret, that race—hatred can still rear its ugly head. Charles Hickman, who worked at Commercial Coating Services Inc. in Conroe, just north of Houston, for seven months in 2002, said his white co—workers began using racial slurs from the day he was hired until the day they, literally, attempted to lynch him.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) in 2003, Mr. Hickman was routinely referred to as 'nigger' by supervisors and others at the company. After being subjected to a daily demeaning assault on his self—respect, which he tolerated in order to keep his job and feed his family, the final indignity occurred and he could take it no more.

One day, a co—worker told him someone wanted to talk to him in the bathroom, alleged the  37—year—old in the lawsuit. When Hickman went in, 2 co—workers were waiting with a hangman's noose, which they put around his neck and tightened, the suit alleged. According to the complainant, a fight broke out and he lost consciousness. Once the noose was removed, he began coughing up blood.

'I'm still having problems,' said Hickman. 'I'm still on medication to make it through the days. It's difficult to eat because I can't swallow properly.'

Recently, the lawsuit was settled for $1 million and payment of medical bills attributed to the assault. Moreover, the co—worker accused of putting the noose around Hickman's neck pleaded guilty to a class A misdemeanor assault and served a 9—month sentence. The company, which is under new management, did not comment about the settlement. It agreed to work with the EEOC to overhaul its hiring and employment practices, including hiring more blacks. Rudy Sustaita, an attorney with the EEOC, said that, prior to the attack, managers at the company did not stop employees from harassing Hickman after complaints were filed.

The lead counsel on the case was Charles Peckham of the Houston firm, Lundy & Davis, LLP. The attorney is known for his million—plus dollar awards and settlements internationally in aviation wrongful death, commercial disputes and Employment Law.

On Sunday, I spoke with Mr. Peckham by phone.

'Employers should take notice; we will not allow them to wind back the clock to the 1950's and before. Employees must be treated with the dignity God gave them,' said Peckham.

He told me his client had been humiliated from day one when a supervisor told him he'd like to take him into a wooded area and bury him. That was the precursor to 7 months of verbal harassment and grossly insulting behavior.

'They [the company] actually tried to make the argument that Charles thought it was funny,' said Peckham.

That's a claim Mr. Hickman finds particularly outrageous.

'I was doing the job to support my family,' said the father of five children between the ages of 13 and 18. 'I never took it as a joking matter.' 

In addition to the $1 million settlement, the chief executive of the company agreed to make a written apology to Hickman, and, in accordance with Mr. Hickman's wishes, the company must either plant or designate a tree on its property in Conroe in honor of Hickman's tenure there. A representative for EEOC said it was the first time the agency has participated in a settlement that includes the designation of a special planting of a tree.

'The idea is that when someone is harmed badly, there should be a legacy,' he said.

Perhaps it's just me, but I think dedicating a tree as a legacy to someone who was almost lynched is not the proper symbolic gesture. It makes it appear as if there is something sardonically  humorous about bigotry. A commemorative stone tablet or a special plaque might be a lot more suitable under the circumstances.  Nevertheless, we can hope that this type of ignorance will ultimately be weeded out of the mentality that has put an indelible stain on the history of this country.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the excutive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas. BobWeir777@aol.com