Does Anyone Remember a Man Named Sam?

Does anyone else from the Sprigg Street neighborhood remember an African-Amercan man named Sam? He had mostly white hair from what I could see, although he always had on a hat with a droopy brim. He always had a pole with a gunny sack tied to the end thrown over his shoulder. I am guessing that the gunny sack had most or all of his belongings in it. He wore an old suit that had seen its better days. I usually saw him on Ranney Street walking in the 1200 block, minding his own business. I have no idea where he was going, if he lived in the area, or if he was one of the men who occasionally got off the train….my mom called them hobos. If he was a hobo, he must have come to Cape frequently because I remember seeing him on several occasions, always on Ranney Street. He walked as though he was on his way someplace, not just wandering aimlessly. He was never in a rush, just walking by at a measured steady pace.

We had hobos come to our house on Sprigg Street once in a while and knock on the door. My mother would always cook them something to eat and they would sit on the front step, eat their meal, then leave. I don’t think Sam ever came to our door though.

Some people called Sam by a racist name which I don’t wish to use. The reader can probably guess what word it was but I won’t publish it. I will instead call him Mr. Sam. There was a vicious story told about Mr. Sam back in those days which now I recognize as an outright lie but which I thought was true at the time because adults were the ones repeating it. It was this: Mr. Sam stole little children. That’s what he had in that sack on the end of his pole…….little children. Not just any little children though. Only little children who did not mind their parents. And Mr. Sam was going to take those little children home and eat them!

So, that was the threat……behave or your parents would call Mr. Sam to come get you. Like he was the boogy-man!

Now if that is not a purely evil made-up story then I have never heard one. Why on earth would anyone make up a horrible story to malign a man (most likely not an unkind man, by the expression I saw on his face) and to use that story to manipulate children to be good? If I could turn back time while at the same time knowing what I know now, I would say “Hi” to Mr. Sam next time he came walking by and smile at him and hope that he might smile back. Maybe I could have known him as a friend instead of running scared every time I saw him or every time someone said that they were going to call him to come get me. (Note: my mother never threatened to call him and she never called him by that name.)

I am quite certain that Mr. Sam is long gone from this world but I still wish I knew who he was and what his life was like…..did he live near? Did he have children? What kind of work did he do? Could he sing or play a musical instrument? What had his life been like? Would he have told stories? Would he have liked to have me as his friend?

I will never know the answer to most, if not all, of these questions. To me it is so sad that he was maligned without ever having deserved it, just minding his own business, probably doing the best he could to get by. This is yet another regret for me from those days…..a missed opportunity, a blessing missed possibly, both for him and for me. Maybe I would have learned important lessons from him. Maybe we would have laughed out loud together at stories he might have told.

If anyone reading this post has any idea who Mr. Sam was or anything about him, please leave me a comment or email me at spriggstreet@hotmail.com

I would be so grateful to know more about him.

P.S. I found an image that looks a lot like Mr. Sam by doing a Google search. The image is from another blog called Grumpy Old Ken. Here is a link to an interesting and entertaining story on his blog: Spring Hath Sprung. Here is the image:

 

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Posted in 1960, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Neighbors, racism, Ranney Street, Sprigg Street | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Jack Kennedy Maupin – born 1960

The following article was written by my younger brother, Mark, at my request. Thanks, Mark, for this article about our baby brother, Jack (aka Jackie Boo-Boo).

This was taken at 1240 South Sprigg Street, Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Not sure of the date, Jack looks older, maybe it was taken in 1963 or 64. Now he drives a real fire truck!

My sister, Darla, asked me to write an article or two for her blog on memories about growing up on Sprigg street in Cape Girardeau in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  This is a reluctant attempt at my first one.  Everyone tells me that I write just like I talk, so this should be short, grammatically challenged and uninteresting to most.

This one is for my brother, Jack Maupin who still lives in Cape.  I must start by saying that I am proud to be his brother.  He may be the youngest of us siblings but all of us in the family have a lot of respect for him.  He has many character traits that I wish I had.

Jack was born in 1960 when I was 7 years old and we lived on Sprigg.  As Darla has mentioned in her previous blogs, sometimes home life was a little rough.  That is where Jack comes in.  I was so excited to have a younger brother and to be an older brother.  What I noticed immediately was that there was a lot less attention being paid to me and more to him and it may not make much sense but I liked it that way.

I just wanted peace and acceptance and Jack was helping me with both!  Less attention on me meant more peace.  No matter what I did or what somebody else thought of me, I could do no wrong in his eyes, a gift of acceptance.  It wasn’t until later in life that I found the true source of peace and acceptance but that is another story.  I was really confused as a young boy and wanted desperately to move to be with my father.  Surely that would bring peace and acceptance.  Often when you find yourself in that kind of situation in life you are looking for anything that brings hope and normalcy to your life, an anchor.  At that time, for me at home, that was Jack.

When we got older, Jack expressed his sadness and sorrow with the way my step-father (his father) was to me and Darla in our childhood and apologized.  He thought when I did move away to be with my father, that in some way I was mad at him, when in reality the hardest thing about moving was leaving him.  It brings tears to my eyes even now when I think about it.  Why, because of how kind and thoughtful Jack has been, willing to try and assume guilt that wasn’t his.   It humbles me that he would even think that way.  He was assuming guilt when in my eyes he was totally guilt free, never wanting anything bad to happen to me.

I have not spoken these words to Jack.  Don’t think I could get all of the words out.  I know this wasn’t a lot about Sprigg Street and sorry if it bored you, but this is for my brother Jack, who I love and respect!  The most important event that ever happened to me on Sprigg Street.  Everybody should have such a brother!

Posted in 1960, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Sprigg Street | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Dillinghams and Watching The Beatles on Ed Sullivan

The Dillinghams were another surrogate family to me. I had such great times with them especially in the summertime. The father, Galvin, was a truck driver who drove all week and was home on weekends most of the time. The mother, Earline, was a stay at home mom. Earline was a sweet lady who always had a slight smile on her lips. She was like most of the baby boomer moms in that she kept that house sparkling clean and always prepared hearty meals for her family.

I was friends with Diane, the middle child of three. Carolyn was the oldest, and Timmy was the youngest.

The Dillinghams loved to camp and Galvin loved to fish. In the summertime they would invite me to come with them on their camping vacations. We had the best times on those trips. Since Galvin was a fisherman, we always went to where the fishing was good. Back then, the fishing spot was also the swimming spot for the kids, near the shore in the shallower water. I don’t have real clear memories of all the places we went but, for sure, they were some of the best memories of my early adolescence. I recall being at a place called Whitewater, where the water was so clear you could see all the way to the bottom perfectly. We also went to a place called Wolf Lake near Cape on the Illinois side of the river. Oh, and also Wappapella. I have no idea where Wappapella is. They were a loving family and there was never any hint of violence, which I was trying desperately to avoid at all costs. They lived several blocks north of my house, also on Sprigg Street, past Womack Drug Store, one of our favorite hang-outs.

One of my most vivid memories of being at the Dillinghams was the night the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time (their first appearance in the US I think). Diane and I were in her bedroom with a little portable black & white TV. We practically had our faces on the screen, we were sitting so close. And, just like the girls in Ed Sullivan’s TV audience, we were screaming and throwing our hands up in the air just as soon as they started singing. I can’t remember if the first song was I Wanna Hold Your Hand or She Loves You, but both songs were definite screamers. When they sang the slow love songs, we swooned, of course. The Beatles and their music was the topic of every pre-teen and early teen-age girl’s conversation for a really long time. Each girl chose her favorite Beatle; Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, or Ringo Starr. There were cards with their pictures on them. They were the same size as baseball cards, perfect to fit in a billfold. Handy to pull out and swoon over.

Those were our Happy Days at the Dillinghams! Great memories!

For photos of Cape kids watching The Beatles movie Help at the theatre, go to Ken Steinhoff’s site, Cape Central High. Here is a link to his article: They Have Vampires; We Had Beatles

H/T: Ken Steinhoff

Posted in Beatles, Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Music, Neighbors, Sprigg Street | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

‘Living in Smelterville’ Written by a Reader of Sprigg Street Memories

Mississippi River Flood 1927, Hamburg, Louisiana

American Environmental Photographs Collection, [AEP Image Number, e.g., AEP-MIN73], Department of Special Collections, University of Chicago Library.

The above photo, although not taken in Cape, looks familiar to those who lived in or near Smelterville. The main difference between what I remember and what is depicted in this photo taken in Louisiana in 1927 is the fact that there were more houses situated closer together in Smelterville.

I received the following information via email from a person who wishes to remain anonymous. It was not submitted as an article for the blog but was just a private email between myself and the writer. With the writer’s permission, I am sharing it with my readers as coming from the viewpoint of someone else who lived just a short distance from my home on South Sprigg Street in Cape Girardeau, Missouri:

I remember when the river started raising and people from “uptown” would come down and point and gawk at the way we were living and how we would almost stay hidden until the river was back in its banks so no one I went to jr. high or high school would see us.  The few times I was seen brought on sly looks or comments at school.  I think I understand the feelings that black people felt in being rejected for something you had no control over such as the color of their skin and in my case where I lived.  I remember the jokes at school during the floods as the “rich kids” would make stupid remarks to each other about “moving out” of Smelterville during the floods.  That has never left me after all these years.
I found your blog via Ken Steinhoff’s newsletter and it brought back many thoughts, memories and feelings.  I too grew up off of South Sprigg Street in what was called Smelterville in the 50’s and 60’s.  As you stated I too had mixed feelings about the racial division.  Some of the kindest people I ever met were black neighbors I saw and talked with on a daily basis.  Also some of the laziest immoral people were black people also.  Saying that, I turn around and say the same thing about some of the white people I met on a daily basis.  There was a brothel run from a white lady’s house just a block from our house.  What I am saying is that people cannot be judged to be either good or bad by the color of their skin.  My mother and father lived all of their adult life in the same neighborhood with blacks and whites.  They admired some of the black people, but one of my mother’s sayings was “they should know their place.”    One time I remember her saying, “Now Mrs.——- knew her place, when a white person was walking down a sidewalk she would step aside to let you pass.”  I was so confused, I asked her why she should do that.  My mother was so surprised at my question and said, ‘Because she is black.”  That still didn’t answer my  question but I had enough sense to shut up after her answer.  But I kept my ears open after that.
I’ve seen a lot of bias against the black people but I also experienced a time around 1969 when there were a group of black people from Cairo (affiliated with the black panthers) who came to Cape with the intent to stir up trouble and that they did.  There were confrontations in stores, marches in front of a grocery store where the marchers would not let the “bag boy” by with the groceries he was carrying for a customer. That continued most of the day until the feeling became so volitile that a fight broke out.  The police were called and the marchers were taken to jail, only to be back in less than 2 hours, even more confrontational.  They marched (about 30 or more) into the grocery store where I worked and up and down every aisle,  with fists raised into the air shouting “Black Power”.  We had no idea where this was going and the police were called again and they were taken away just before the store was closed for the evening.  Needless to say there was heavy security for a while following this.  I was not against the black people as black people, but they scared many and when you use tactics like that you won’t win a popularity contest.
That whole year was one of conflict and turmoil.  As I said I lived in Smelterville and I had changed jobs from grocery to factory and worked the night shift.  I would come home at 12:30  and just get into bed when I would hear  a loud pop and a house would catch on fire sometimes 2-3 in one night.  My father along with a few other men sat up with their guns, afraid one of our houses would be next.  I guess we were luckier than Cairo because the “Black Panther” movement destroyed a once thriving city by scaring away all of the hard-working people and left the riff raff who ultimately let the city die.  Yes, I have some hard feelings against some blacks, the ones who think they can MAKE people change, but I have hard feelings about the KKK who teach the White supremacy hatred also.  I know many black people who I consider a friend, and I have a nephew who married a black girl.  I’m not afraid of them, but they don’t try to scare me into doing their will. Will there ever really be a time when we won’t look at a person’s skin first and then decide whether to smile and say Hello?
The 1960’s were a troublesome time for our entire country.
Posted in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Neighbors, racism, School, Sprigg Street | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Final article on “Lies” – Part 4

Mom with her great-granddaughter, July 2010, her last visit to Illinois

I always want that ‘happily ever after” ending that Disney portrayed in his fairytale movies. Cinderella was poor and mistreated but ended up a princess; Snow White was hated and murdered, but came alive again; Sleeping Beauty was cursed, then blessed and awakened by her prince charming. All lived “happily ever”.

My story about the “lies” I believed about African-Americans does have some sense of a happy ending. Here is the rest of the story:

As I explained before, my beautiful, kind, loving mother had been taught some wrong things about African-Americans either by her parents or someone else along the way. She believed that what she had learned was true and she taught me the same basic attitudes, mostly regarding “not mixing”. However, she was never a woman who harbored hatred and I never saw her treat anyone unkindly.

I am happy to say that before my mother passed away, she changed her thinking about African-Americans. In fact, for the last several years of her life I saw her not only accept friendship but openly express physical love toward African-Americans, hugging and kissing them just like family.

When Mom became frail and unable to live independently, she moved to an assisted living facility in Cape, Auburn Creek Assisted Living. I can’t say enough wonderful things about Auburn Creek and the staff there. They treated my mother like she was family, literally. She lived there for a number of years and became very close with the workers there. I observed many times, firsthand, the young girls come into her room, throw their arms around her neck, and kiss her, just like she was their grandma. Mom told me that they were not just putting on a show for me, that they always treated her that way, even when family was not there. Mom lived there up until the day she died, surrounded by all her biological family, but also by her Auburn Creek ‘family’.

There was one young woman who worked there who I will call Ruthie (not her real name as I have not asked her permission to use her real name). Ruthie is African-American. Ruthie fell in love with my mom, who was called Miss Mary at Auburn Creek. She treated my mom like she was her own mother, bathing her, coming her hair, changing her sheets, and making sure that Mom was comfortable. She did not just “do the job” she was paid to do, but went above and beyond the call of duty, spending time with my mother when she had time. She also started taking Mom’s laundry to her own home, washing and folding it, and bringing it back to her all fresh and clean. Auburn Creek would have done that for Mom, but Ruthie wanted Mom’s clothes to be treated special. Mom offered to pay her for doing the laundry which Ruthie always refused.

My brother, Jack, lives in Cape and he was faithful to visit Mom every day at Auburn Creek, so he became well acquainted with the staff there. Close relationships were formed between the staff and all our family, even though the rest of us kids lived several hours away. When any of us came to see Mom, the staff would greet us and welcome our visits. I often stayed overnight there with Mom myself since I am the only daughter. I live about 4-5 hours north of Cape so my visits were not as frequent as Jack’s visits. Mom looked so forward to seeing him every day. She and I spoke on the phone every day and she kept me informed of all her daily life. How I miss those calls. She was so jovial, and she was always laughing, oftentimes at herself. We would often reminisce of the fun things that had happened in the past.

Ruthie and Mom became “bosom buddies” and I was so thrilled to see them hugging, Ruthie kissing Mom on the cheek or on the top of the head. The day came when Ruthie got a better-paying job and she left Auburn Creek. I was so sad for her to go and so sad for Mom but, glad for Ruthie, that she would be better able to raise her young children. I thought we would not be seeing her anymore. I was wrong. She continued to come back to visit Mom, making sure she was doing well, helping her with any special thing Mom would like done, and taking her laundry home to wash all the way up to the day she died. When Mom was on her deathbed, Ruthie was right there with the family, holding her hand, kissing her, and crying for her.

Mom loved Ruthie just like family and Ruthie loved Mom. It was a beautiful sight to see. Mom & I had both come full-circle in our attitudes toward African-Americans.

I can’t fix the past but I can do my best to make amends and to change my thoughts and my actions. I have asked God to forgive me for my wrong actions in the past based on the “not mixing” theory.

Most of all, I am sad that I wasted opportunities to be close to the kids I went to school with. I dream of how it could have been sometimes but try not to dwell on that, since there is nothing I can do to change the past.

My life is so far removed from my Sprigg Street childhood, but I now choose to hang on to those good memories and to try not to repeat my mistakes of the past. There are no restrictions in my heart now when I have the opportunity to act with love toward anyone, regardless of the color of their skin, or what their house looks like (or smells like – The Webers Part 1) and (Part 2). It is very true, as Martin Luther King Jr. said,  that it matters what the “content of the character is” more than any outward appearance.

By the way, Ruthie is now considered a part of our family and always will be.

Posted in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Sprigg Street | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Disclaimer: For Anyone Offended by My Use of the Word ‘Lies’

“To be clear, my mother would never purposely teach me a lie. I use the word lie because it refers to an untruth; my mother’s motivation was not to lie to me but she did pass on untruths unknowingly.”

The above is an excerpt from my earlier post  Lies I Believed – Part 2

Disclaimer:

It has been brought to my attention that the word ‘lies’ is perhaps too strong a word to use regarding the ideas expressed to me at home about ‘colored people’. I am sure that there was no intention on my parents’ part to purposely lie to me, it was what they had been taught by their parents and what they themselves believed to be true. I did not intend to suggest that they KNEW that they were passing on lies. I think they believed that what they were saying was the truth.

Clarification:

Even though the motivation of my parents was not to lie, that does not make what they told me true. If I tell someone a lie and they pass it along, it is still a lie or an untruth, even if they wholeheartedly believe it to be true based on their trust in my word. I am sure I have passed on lies unbeknownst to me. But, hopefully, someone at some point in time will recognize that what they have just heard is not true. And, then, hopefully that person

  1. would not pass it on as truth and also,
  2.  hopefully, they may be able to come to me and correct me.

It would then be up to me whether I agreed that it was not true.

To further clarify:

My judgment about what I think is untrue is solely my opinion. Other readers, maybe even others in my own family may disagree with my opinion. If so, feel free to express your opinion to me by comment or by email at spriggstreet@hotmail.com

We could have a healthy exchange of ideas or opinions on this or any other subject that I have written about. I only ask that you keep it civil and that there be no personal attacks.

So what do you, my reader, think? Were the attitudes expressed at my home truth or lies? Why or why not?

Posted in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, racism | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

My Brother Didn’t Buy the Lies – Part 3

 

This is a continuation of a series of posts:

Late 50’s – May Greene School – and the Lies I believed – Part 1

Lies I Believed – Part 2

(He’s gonna’ kill me! 🙂 Don’t you just love the bow tie?)

My younger brother, Mark, has always made wiser choices than I have. That goes for the racist lies too. He did have an advantage over me, though, on that subject. He never went to an all-white school. He started out first grade at May Greene! Lucky dog!

We grew up in the same house but he never did buy the “rules” about relationships with African-Americans like I did. He said that he just knew that they were wrong. Many of his best friends were African-American. He tells me that none of the kids in his class had any problems along those lines. In my thinking, this just goes to show that it would have been best for both races to go to school together and share their lives with each other in the first place instead of being separated.

He says that he just ignored what he heard at home because he knew it wasn’t true. He visited his friends homes and spent lots of time with them; it didn’t matter to him one bit what color their skin was. And, like me, he says he was treated much better at his friends’ homes than he was at our house. He stayed away from home as much as possible also, just as I did.

To be continued….

Posted in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Neighbors, racism, School | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Lies I Believed – Part 2

Continued from Late 1950’s – May Greene School -And the Lies I Believed:

I am conflicted about writing on the subject of racism because I don’t wish to dishonor anyone, especially my family, but I think that the story needs to be told. Maybe it’s just my conscience that needs to be unburdened but please tolerate me. The good news is that at the age of 16, I came to know the truth and I began to reject the lies and to fight against the racism that had been ingrained in me, some of it so hard to recognize.

To be clear, my mother would never purposely teach me a lie. I use the word lie because it refers to an untruth; my mother’s motivation was not to lie to me but she did pass on untruths unknowingly. At the end of her life, love won out over the lies she had learned. I will explain that statement at the end of this series of posts.

My step-father openly and verbally expressed hatred for African-Americans, using the worst kind of name-calling.  It was blatant and unmistakeable.  Even as a child, I recognized how wrong that attitude was.

I don’t think my mother ever hated anyone; at least she never expressed hatred in her conversation and never used name-calling. And I trusted her judgment (at least until I became a teenager). Until I became a teenager I wanted to please her and follow her advice.

As I have alluded to in previous articles, our home life was not happy and was, in fact,  hellish. My step-father drank heavily and inflicted us kids with both verbal and physical abuse. From an early age, I stayed away from home as much as possible, finding other families to latch on to. Our Sprigg Street and Ranney Street neighbors provided the family atmosphere in which I felt safe and wanted. In the summertime, I only went home for supper and to sleep. In those days, I felt helpless in regards to the abuse at home. Such subjects were never discussed at school or church. I never sought help because I didn’t know that there was help. I just thought that that was ‘the way things were’, period.

The schools in Cape were segregated up until 1955 according to an article on Jefferson School posted at Cape Central High by Ken Steinhoff. Here is a link to that article: http://www.capecentralhigh.com/cape-photos/jefferson-oldest-standing-school-in-cape/

When I started school in 1956 at Franklin School, integration was a new thing and old ways are hard to change. The case for desegregation was a battle that had been fought both at the schools and in high court in many states and, finally, in the US Supreme Court. By law, the public schools were required to desegregate or lose federal funding. For more on the history of the legal case see this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_v._Board_of_Education At the age of 6 I had no idea that any of this was taking place.

Law can and does mandate changes in practice but can never mandate changes of heart. What we needed, besides laws being changed, was a change of heart in people, both African-Americans and Caucasians. That just doesn’t happen overnight and, of course, hearts and minds had not yet made the transition by 1956, when I entered first grade.

Additionally, since our neighborhoods were so segregated, integration only happened in certain schools, mostly May Greene. There were a few African-Americans attending Lorimier School as well, but May Greene had the most African-American students in Cape by far.

Because I had attended only white schools until 4th grade, the issue of my relationship with African-Americans had never come up. Once I moved to May Greene, suddenly it became an issue. Now I had a friend who was ‘colored’, Charlotte Taylor.

In the 5th grade, I had a school-girl crush on Charlotte’s brother. Mind you, we never so much as got near one another. I would see him on the playground playing with his friends and I would see him when their family drove by my house on Sprigg Street. That was the extent of it.

I don’t know exactly what precipitated my teacher calling me out into the hallway one day, but she asked me if it was true that I ‘liked’ Charles Taylor. I said, “Yes.” The expression on her face looked very serious and troubled. She then asked if my mother knew this. I said “No.” “Well, then, you must go home and tell her tonight because if you don’t tell her, I will”, she ordered. I thought, “I am in some kind of trouble.”

I did as my teacher instructed and told my mother that night. I found out that I was in lots of trouble. My mother cried and shook and said “What would your father say? Being a Baptist preacher?” She was referring to my biological father who lived very far away. I felt ashamed and knew that I could never be friends with Charles because it just wouldn’t be right. The reason it wouldn’t be right I was told was because I was white and he was ‘colored’.

  • Whites and coloreds should not “mix”. So that was my first lesson in racism.

No particular reason was given. That was just ‘the way things were supposed to be’. I accepted it without further question.

As time went on, I also overheard conversations about whites & coloreds “mixing” and how sinful that was.

  • Second lesson in racism – it is sinful for whites & coloreds to “mix”.

Looking back, I now realize that “mixing” meant dating or marrying someone of the opposite color. In the 5th grade, that was not totally clear to me. I just got the overall impression that I needed to avoid relationships with ‘colored’ people because we were different and it would be sinful.

By the time I started Junior High, the atmosphere between whites and blacks at school and on the school bus was volatile. Verbal and physical fights happened on a daily basis, especially on the bus. The girls were just as bad as the boys when it came to starting fights. It seemed like they were just hoping for a fight. I was scared to even look at a black person. All I wanted to do was get away from them.

One day there was an incident on the bus between me and an African-American boy. I was one of the first students on the bus so I sat in the empty seat directly behind the bus driver. An African-American boy came and sat down beside me. I knew that I should not be sitting with him based on what I had learned in the 5th grade so I asked him to get up. He looked me straight in the eye and said “No.” I then said, “OK, then let me get up.” He looked me in the eye again and said “No.” I then took my school books and hit him over the head with them. He let me get up after that. I am not proud of my actions that day and if I knew who and where that boy was, I would apologize to him for what I did.

Other wrong opinions of black people were added to my biases as the years went on:

  • they were lazy
  • they were dirty
  • they were violent
  • they were not to be trusted

Of course, these negative attributes are present in both whites and blacks, just depending on the person, not the color of their skin. I realize that now, but I did not realize it at the time.

The fights increased as we entered high school and there were problems inside the school hallways as well as outside. There was anger and hatred on the part of both whites and blacks. We were enemies, on different teams. We were in a battle and I was scared every day that I had to walk down those hallways between classes.

Then, in my junior year of high school, I moved to Illinois to live with my biological father and my step-mother. They lived in a small town in Central Illinois called Mt. Auburn. Population: 500. Mt. Auburn High School had a total of 100 students. My father taught 5th grade in Mt. Auburn’s grade school. There were no black students in either school. In fact, there were no blacks in the entire town.

It was in Mr. Thomas’ English class that I first was confronted with the error of my thinking regarding black people. Mr. T, as we affectionately called him, liked to give us the opportunity to discuss controversial issues among ourselves. He was always present to intervene if necessary but he mostly let us guide the conversation. We were allowed to argue our point of view in a civilized manner. The topic of racism was brought up one day. I expressed the opinions I had formed living in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I was immediately brought to task for my obvious bias against blacks. I argued that they could not possibly know anything about the issue since they had no blacks in their school or community. I thought that I was the expert on this subject in this group. The debate continued and they said some things that stuck in my mind about ‘all men being created equal’ and ‘God-given rights to freedom’. Their words, coupled with what my biological father had to say about the subject, convinced me that I had been terribly mistaken and that my views were not pleasing to God. I decided at that time that I was going to change my thinking. I was 16 at the time.

As an aside, do you remember that my mother had said ‘what would your father say’ about the incident in 5th grade? I found out that my father was definitely not racist and that he would accept anyone of any color that his kids wanted to be friends with or marry. He saw no difference other than the color of the skin. He helped me to deal with my biased opinions and to see the truth and reject the lies that I had believed.

I have spent the last 45 years trying to get rid of the wrong thinking about blacks that I was either taught or gathered from overheard conversations when I was young and growing up in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. It has been a battle in my mind and heart. I pray that the Lord will cleanse my mind and heart. In situations I encounter in my daily life, I choose to treat people as I would want to be treated, whatever their skin color, white, black, purple, or polka-dotted (some tattoos are polka-dotted). I am grateful to my father, Mr. T and my fellow classmates at Mt. Auburn High for setting me straight.

To be continued……

Please return for future articles or sign up for email updates in the column on the right side of the page. Did you live on or near South Sprigg? Did you perhaps go to May Greene School in the late 50’s or early 60’s? Do you know anyone else who lived or visited there during that time? If you would like to re-connect with some of the friends, neighbors, or classmates of that era and location, please let me know by comment below or by email to:
 

spriggstreet@hotmail.com

Thank you for reading!

Posted in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, racism | Tagged | 6 Comments

Late 50’s – May Greene School – and the Lies I Believed – Part 1

This is a recent photo taken of the old May Greene School building now being used as a mission. To see the article about this school on Ken Steinhoff's website, http://www.capecentralhigh.com, just click on this image.

I began attending May Greene School when I was in the 4th grade. Up until that time I had gone to schools that had only white students because the schools were located in white neighborhoods. However, May Greene School had many African-American students, mainly because it was located in a neighborhood of mostly African-Americans. In those days in Cape, whites had their own neighborhoods and blacks had their own neighborhoods. At that time (late 50s) the polite term that white people used to refer to African-Americans was ‘colored people’.  That is what my mother taught me to call them so as not to offend anyone.

In looking back, it seems strange that I never saw a ‘colored person’ at a restaurant or at the movies or shopping on Main Street. When I visit Cape now, that is not the case, thank God.

I think that in those days we were all so used to being separate that we didn’t even think it was odd. It was just the way things were.

Therefore, having gone to only white schools, then suddenly changing neighborhoods and schools where there were at least as many black people as white people, it was quite a change for me as a 4th grader. Unfortunately, I had been taught some wrong thinking about ‘colored people’ and I was uncomfortable with the new situation.

There was a girl who sat in front of me in class whose name was Charlotte Taylor. She had a beautiful smile and she seemed to always be happy. She was very well-groomed and usually had her hair in braids. Sometimes her braids stood straight out. Her skin was a gorgeous dark brown. She somehow sensed my discomfort and asked me “Have you ever touched a ‘colored person?” I was taken back by her question but just answered her “No, I haven’t.” She raised her hand toward me and said “Do you want to touch me?” Her eyes were soft and kind-looking. I really did want to touch her skin and I was glad she asked. Her skin looked so soft and smooth. I reached across my desk and put my fingers on her skin. It was just as smooth as silk and soft as peach skin.

Charlotte was my friend from that moment on. She allowed me to ask her anything I wanted to know about being ‘colored’. And I did ask some pretty funny questions. She would just laugh and slap her leg and just about fall off her chair at some of my ridiculous questions. Charlotte had a twin brother named Charles and he was a good-looking boy with that same beautiful smile and happy disposition. Sometimes they would drive by my house with their family and I would be out in the front watching for semis 🙂 They would always wave and smile when they went by. Their car was always full of kids, I think they were stacked in there, some of them hanging out the window. We didn’t have any seat belts back then.

There was a lot of unrest all across the nation over civil rights. I was too young to completely understand what was going on in the rest of the world but at school there was some of that tension for sure. There seemed to be outright hate between some of the whites and some of the blacks, a lot of fighting on the playground. It was frightening to me. In the classroom there was no fighting going on; that would not have been tolerated. A trip to the principal and a paddle were always a deterrent to bad behavior. Consequently, it was very safe inside the school building.

After school and on the weekends, my neighborhood friends and I spent a lot of time playing on the playground at May Greene and across the street at Fort D. We had a lot of good times there, good memories to treasure. We also liked to go to Womack Drug Store nearby when we had enough money to buy a coke. Cokes were either 5 or 10 cents, plus 5 more cents if you wanted flavoring in it, chocolate, cherry, or vanilla. In those days there was a “soda jerk” who prepared the drinks. There was also a pinball machine there.

All in all, I have fond memories of May Greene School and the friends I had there. But, I also have some deep regrets because of the lies I believed about African-Americans during that time in my life. Most of the lies came from my upbringing at home, probably passed down from their upbringing.

To be continued……

Please return for future articles or sign up for email updates in the column on the right side of the page. Did you live on or near South Sprigg? Did you perhaps go to May Greene School in the late 50’s or early 60’s? Do you know anyone else who lived or visited there during that time? If you would like to re-connect with some of the friends, neighbors, or classmates of that era and location, please let me know by comment below or by email to:
 

spriggstreet@hotmail.com

Thank you for reading!

Hat Tip/Ken Steinhoff for permission to use the photo of May Greene School. Visit his website at www.capecentralhigh.com

Posted in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, racism, School | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

Charlie Dietiker – Grocery Store Owner

11/30/2011 Correction:

I have been informed by a reader of this blog that Charlie’s store was not located in Smelterville. His brother John’s store was the one located there. Here is the info on Charlie’s store location from reader Collin Dover:

“Charlie Dietiker’s store was in Milltown near the Leming sawmill. John Dietikers store was in Smelterville on South Sprigg Street. Charlie’s store was on the corner as you rounded the corner after turning by the White Cross building going south from downtown on Water Street or South Main Street…..”

Thank you, Collin, for correcting the record on the store location.

What I remember most about Charlie was that he drove an old panel truck with lots of room in the back. Every Sunday morning he would drive all over South Cape picking up any kids that wanted to go to church with him. We would all pile into that old truck and hang on. I don’t remember exactly what the inside of the truck looked like but I do recall that a lot of us sat in the floor. When he turned a corner we would slide to the other side of the truck. It was fun!

Charlie took us to Southside Baptist Church. We had Sunday School and then listened to Rev. Charles Marshall preach. There was lots of singing too, all those old Baptist hymns that still run through my mind sometimes. Last winter when my mom was so sick, I would go get the Baptist hymnal and sing those old hymns softly to her. She loved to sing but was unable to at the end. She left this world December 18, 2010, with all her kids and many of her grand-kids gathered around her bed. I sure do miss talking to her every day. Even though we lived far apart, we talked on the phone every day.

Back to Charlie, he probably planted more seeds in the South Cape’s kids hearts than he knew. He would sometimes lead the singing and I learned not to sit on the front row; he loved to sing the song “Trust & Obey”.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.

He really put the accent on the ‘T’ in Trust and, because his front teeth had a space between them, the spit would fly! I loved Charlie but I made sure that I was at least in the 2nd or 3rd row when he led the singing.

In looking through some of the archives of the Southeast Missourian I found many articles of Charlie and his brother John’s good deeds to their neighbors. I also found a picture from 1977 with my former classmate, Charles Taylor, in it. The article below features Charlie’s brother, John:

Charlie’s work was done on March 5, 1999. I thank God he was part of my life.

Posted in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Neighbors, Sprigg Street | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments