I grew up in the Deep South. Some of my earliest memories are images having to do with the discrimination and imagery associated with it. As a very young boy I was taught to always be respectful to adults and call them Mr., Mrs., or Miss before using their first or last name. So it came as a little boyʼs big shock when I started to hear whites refer to black adults only by their first name. It was always, “Move over, Tillie, Mrs. White behind you will be served first at the cash register.” Sometimes I would overhear an adult remark like, “Yeah, I fired Rufus. I donʼt know why, because he did a good job, but I got tired of looking at him.” These lines stuck in my young head because they seemed so wrong. At the age of five, things like this were too difficult to understand and when I would ask my parents, I would never get an answer.
There are too many stories to count and some far worse as I grew up in that small, segregated town. I will be telling you about them in the future with this blog. The one I need to tell you about now concerns cartooning and why I am the person you know today.
As a fourteen-year-old I had wanted to become a Catholic priest because I cared so much about saving souls. However, I was learning that I loved to draw. One day at the public library I saw some out-of- state newspapers displayed on wooden splines. I wandered over and opened up one of them. I discovered Herblock. Then I discovered Bill Mauldin and Hugh Hayne. On that day, my life changed. Every chance I got, I would go see them. The Civil Rights Movement had come to the South and I loved seeing what these fabulous cartoonists had to say. I suppose it was unusual for the librarian to see a young teenager always reading out-of-state newspapers and one day she came over to question me. I proudly but naively showed her a Bill Mauldin cartoon. It showed a redneck talking to another about the blacks they were beating up and saying, “You donʼt need to beat him. He donʼt want to be my equal!” I thought it was so wonderful, but she was horrified. Two weeks later I went to the library and learned that all out-of-state papers had been cancelled. She was not about to let the youth of her small town be corrupted by such ʻtrashʼ.
The poor lady could not have known that I was already corrupted, in a good way. On Saturday, March 30, 2013, the Ku Klux Klan is holding a rally here in Memphis. Rednecks from all over this region will be donning their white robes and protesting the removal of Confederate names to three parks in the city. Their biggest complaint being the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest Park. Forrest was a plantation owner, slave trader, slave owner, Confederate Army Officer, slaughterer of a surrendered unit of black Union soldiers, founder of the KKK and its very first Grand Wizard. It exhibits a grand bronze statue of the ʻnoble, historic Forrest sitting on his beautiful steedʼ and it is held with great reverence by the Sons and Daughters of Confederate Veterans and by all these Klansmen. Unfortunately for them, the city leaders of Memphis are now black. Their view of this man is quite different, as you can imagine. Justifiably, they have had enough of this nonsense and stripped Confederate Park, Jefferson Davis Park, and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park of their Confederate names. It has been a long time coming and the time has now arrived. It has also brought a great amount of anger on both sides. Thus, the KKK has arrived to tell ʻthemʼ of their error. I know these Klan-kind of people. I grew up and went to school with them. Fittingly, I did a cartoon for the occasion above.
I hope Bill Mauldin is proud of me.