Civil Rights of My Fathers

I remember the late sixties when I was a boy. It was then that I first heard about the civil rights movement. I have not forgotten the emotions I continue to feel on the subject. It is now important to retell those experiences. I am white and proud of my varied heritage -- Welsh, Scottish, Danish, French, and Cayuga. I am just as proud to be part of a family that is black, Panamanian, and Chinese. My heritage and family taught me humanity. They also instructed me in the inhumanity of racism and to beware of those who pursue wealth and power through use of this charged subject.

I was ten the first time racism visited me directly. It was almost a decade after my parents had divorced; my mother had remarried. My new stepfather had been a friend of my dad's in college. My mother had often referred to him as "Panamanian." True, that was the culture of his youth, but the real reason was that many people still weren't ready for her husband to be black. We were out driving in Los Angeles one day when we pulled up at an intersection next to some guys in a truck who looked over at us and said, "Look at that n****r over here with the white woman -- he must think he's something!" The contempt in their eyes said it all. My face burned.

I asked my stepfather about it when we got home. What had we done that they should hate us? "Why did they say that to us? What right do they have?" I demanded. He answered flatly, "They need to make themselves feel better by bringing us down -- don't waste your time with people like that."

I remember later asking my father what it was all about. Why did people have to act that way? I didn't understand why anyone had to protest for their rights. Didn't they already have them? Weren't we protected by laws? Who was breaking these laws by taking people's rights away, and why? I felt queasy as I learned of the injustice that had been happening in America, where everyone was supposed to have a fair chance. I realized that equality wasn't available to everyone, and I was ashamed. I was ashamed that my ideal of America was just a Southern California kid's naïve fantasy. It made me angry. I asked my father what he did to stop it. I believed in his sense of right and wrong -- he had to have done something. He told me stories of how he had gone on freedom rides, marched, protested, and even went to jail over it, and that many things had been changed for the good, but that there were still problems to solve, and that all I could do was stand up to them as I found them.

Many years have passed since then. I have found that there are people of every persuasion who will raise themselves at the expense of others. In reality, everyone is lessened by such gain. A man cannot increase his honor by using race as a weapon, be it to gain or to oppress. 

In each generation, there is an evil afoot, a wrong that must be made right. My white father fought his; my black father endured his. It has come again, and we must all get in front of it. Make no mistake; the current administration has been doing both. It is now our time, so how did they beat it last time? 

In my father's day, his American brothers and sisters were condemned by a false inferiority attributed to the color of their skin, by the exploiters of that generation. Guile and gullibility reigned then, just as now. They were defeated only by the courage and action of the honorable men and women of those troubled times. 

In July 1961, my father was asked if he would join a freedom ride from UCLA to Jackson, Mississippi to challenge this falsehood and expose it for the wrong that it was. The bus left Los Angeles later that month with its contingent of courageous black, white, and Hispanic Americans.

They arrived at the bus station in Jackson that late July morning and paired up with partners. My father and his friend went straight to the lunch counter clearly labeled "whites only" and sat down to order. A waiter stepped up with an angry look. He squinted at them both and said, "You and your niggra here need to leave." My father replied, "First of all, he's not mine, and were not leaving, though we would like a cup of coffee." The waiter replied, "If you don't leave, I'll have you arrested." Dad exchanged glances with his friend, and they both extended their turned-up fists as if to be handcuffed and said, "I suppose that's what we came for." The waiter motioned with his eyes. "Then you'll need to see that officer over there across the room." They were then arrested.

In keeping with the segregation of the time, black and white prisoners were housed separately. As protests had been going on over the last week, the jail proper was filled with occupants of color. Therefore, my father was relegated to a nearby corrugated metal shed. He had a two-inch foam rubber mat for a bed and a host of "palmetto bugs" for cellmates. In his three-day spell in the shed, standing was understandably preferred to lying down. During one lunchtime interlude, a deputy arrived with a plate of southern favorites -- fried chicken, cornbread, greens, and black-eyed peas. The deputy, looking quizzically at my father, asked, "What's a nice white fella like you coming down here stirring up trouble for anyway?"  Knowing the real answer would be lost on this man, he replied, "I heard that the fried chicken in this jail was the best in Mississippi, and that protesting was the fastest way to get in." The deputy left, slamming the door on his way out.

At last they were freed, being greeted by prominent politicians and leaders who had secured their release, including Dr. Martin Luther King, who thanked each of them for their personal commitment to the cause of freedom.

Times have changed, but people have not. Today, the word "justice" is used to mask opportunism, while falsehoods ooze from the government media to dupe the uninformed. Is being free from responsibility truly freedom? It is not. This progressive socialist dream ends in the sad hopelessness of dependence and slavery.

The groups have changed, but the theme remains the same. This time, socialists are in power, using race and class as a weapon to justify theft from all American taxpayers to buy influence and reward their supporters with the spoils of their treachery. The result will not be freedom, but a new segregation where fascist elites will enjoy a separate life from the duped and subjugated American people. Stalin would be proud. 

My fathers, on the other hand, taught me that we are better than that.

Jon Watts, MA, SMSgt, USAF (ret.)
I remember the late sixties when I was a boy. It was then that I first heard about the civil rights movement. I have not forgotten the emotions I continue to feel on the subject. It is now important to retell those experiences. I am white and proud of my varied heritage -- Welsh, Scottish, Danish, French, and Cayuga. I am just as proud to be part of a family that is black, Panamanian, and Chinese. My heritage and family taught me humanity. They also instructed me in the inhumanity of racism and to beware of those who pursue wealth and power through use of this charged subject.

I was ten the first time racism visited me directly. It was almost a decade after my parents had divorced; my mother had remarried. My new stepfather had been a friend of my dad's in college. My mother had often referred to him as "Panamanian." True, that was the culture of his youth, but the real reason was that many people still weren't ready for her husband to be black. We were out driving in Los Angeles one day when we pulled up at an intersection next to some guys in a truck who looked over at us and said, "Look at that n****r over here with the white woman -- he must think he's something!" The contempt in their eyes said it all. My face burned.

I asked my stepfather about it when we got home. What had we done that they should hate us? "Why did they say that to us? What right do they have?" I demanded. He answered flatly, "They need to make themselves feel better by bringing us down -- don't waste your time with people like that."

I remember later asking my father what it was all about. Why did people have to act that way? I didn't understand why anyone had to protest for their rights. Didn't they already have them? Weren't we protected by laws? Who was breaking these laws by taking people's rights away, and why? I felt queasy as I learned of the injustice that had been happening in America, where everyone was supposed to have a fair chance. I realized that equality wasn't available to everyone, and I was ashamed. I was ashamed that my ideal of America was just a Southern California kid's naïve fantasy. It made me angry. I asked my father what he did to stop it. I believed in his sense of right and wrong -- he had to have done something. He told me stories of how he had gone on freedom rides, marched, protested, and even went to jail over it, and that many things had been changed for the good, but that there were still problems to solve, and that all I could do was stand up to them as I found them.

Many years have passed since then. I have found that there are people of every persuasion who will raise themselves at the expense of others. In reality, everyone is lessened by such gain. A man cannot increase his honor by using race as a weapon, be it to gain or to oppress. 

In each generation, there is an evil afoot, a wrong that must be made right. My white father fought his; my black father endured his. It has come again, and we must all get in front of it. Make no mistake; the current administration has been doing both. It is now our time, so how did they beat it last time? 

In my father's day, his American brothers and sisters were condemned by a false inferiority attributed to the color of their skin, by the exploiters of that generation. Guile and gullibility reigned then, just as now. They were defeated only by the courage and action of the honorable men and women of those troubled times. 

In July 1961, my father was asked if he would join a freedom ride from UCLA to Jackson, Mississippi to challenge this falsehood and expose it for the wrong that it was. The bus left Los Angeles later that month with its contingent of courageous black, white, and Hispanic Americans.

They arrived at the bus station in Jackson that late July morning and paired up with partners. My father and his friend went straight to the lunch counter clearly labeled "whites only" and sat down to order. A waiter stepped up with an angry look. He squinted at them both and said, "You and your niggra here need to leave." My father replied, "First of all, he's not mine, and were not leaving, though we would like a cup of coffee." The waiter replied, "If you don't leave, I'll have you arrested." Dad exchanged glances with his friend, and they both extended their turned-up fists as if to be handcuffed and said, "I suppose that's what we came for." The waiter motioned with his eyes. "Then you'll need to see that officer over there across the room." They were then arrested.

In keeping with the segregation of the time, black and white prisoners were housed separately. As protests had been going on over the last week, the jail proper was filled with occupants of color. Therefore, my father was relegated to a nearby corrugated metal shed. He had a two-inch foam rubber mat for a bed and a host of "palmetto bugs" for cellmates. In his three-day spell in the shed, standing was understandably preferred to lying down. During one lunchtime interlude, a deputy arrived with a plate of southern favorites -- fried chicken, cornbread, greens, and black-eyed peas. The deputy, looking quizzically at my father, asked, "What's a nice white fella like you coming down here stirring up trouble for anyway?"  Knowing the real answer would be lost on this man, he replied, "I heard that the fried chicken in this jail was the best in Mississippi, and that protesting was the fastest way to get in." The deputy left, slamming the door on his way out.

At last they were freed, being greeted by prominent politicians and leaders who had secured their release, including Dr. Martin Luther King, who thanked each of them for their personal commitment to the cause of freedom.

Times have changed, but people have not. Today, the word "justice" is used to mask opportunism, while falsehoods ooze from the government media to dupe the uninformed. Is being free from responsibility truly freedom? It is not. This progressive socialist dream ends in the sad hopelessness of dependence and slavery.

The groups have changed, but the theme remains the same. This time, socialists are in power, using race and class as a weapon to justify theft from all American taxpayers to buy influence and reward their supporters with the spoils of their treachery. The result will not be freedom, but a new segregation where fascist elites will enjoy a separate life from the duped and subjugated American people. Stalin would be proud. 

My fathers, on the other hand, taught me that we are better than that.

Jon Watts, MA, SMSgt, USAF (ret.)

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