Page 3


physical, which could perhaps have been eliminated by medical attention, but doctors cost money. The dull ones, the bright ones, all similarly doomed to lives of toil, with education purely technical, with pleasures purely sensual. Merciful enough for the dull ones, the ones who will become the less-than-men ; but for the intelligent ones, who could become valuable citizens, what for them? Better manual laborers? Better subsistence farmers? There are some young East Texas Negroes who are concerned about this problem, who want to make it unnecessary for one of their race to leave home to have a chance. Marshall’s famous sit-ins of a few years ago showed this group in overt action. What the demonstrations most vividly showed, though, was the violent fears of the young and militant Negroes that is felt by the forces of reaction. In the eddy between the hopelessness of youth and the disillusionment of age, some of our colored citizens find a sort of contentment, a means of living with the system and not being crushed by itor if being crushed, being crushed bodily, not being compelled to “love Big Brother.” These are the ones I admire, who represent the real hope, who can live with the supremacists and eventually vitiate their arguments by their very existencewhom I honor by calling them the men. Some who are caught up in the tragedy of meaninglessness face life nevertheless with bravery and cheer. I am thinking of one such an uncomprehending, plodding fighter. When I was searching for his house, I inquired directions from an ancient Negress I found placidly rocking on her front porch. \(There is no East Texas Negro home so humble that it lacks either a front porch son next door had taken that name, though she had never called him anything but “Baby.” I found the man in question, stretched out in his rocker, head thrown back and mouth agape, drinking in the deep sleep of exhaustion. His dinner-plate, extended from his downstretched hand, was filled with an unholy conglomeration of cornbread, peas, corn, and other vegetables When I woke him, , he was most amiable and cooperative, directing me to his patch. It was a mile and a half away, accessible only by a narrow wagon-trail or through the swath cut over a pipeline. Twice each day he made the 30-minute journey, with all the family working from sun-up to sunset, reaping the wherewithal to enjoy such dinners and the privilege to breathe to work some more. A form of courage, of manliness, this, in his very cheerfulnessa contentedness unwarranted, but somehow ‘admirable. EXEMPLIFYING another group among the men, the pragmatists who face the realities of their situation and manage to prosper fairly Well with feigned servility masking a real Machiavellian talent, is Willie He worked as a porter in a gas station for around ten years, serving 8 The Texas Observer as the establishment’s chief drawing card. The little round man was profuse with his “Yassah, Missah ‘s,” but he saw to it that almost all the work for which he received credit, praise, and tips was done by the other porter, whose identity changed almost weekly, often because the porter quit when he realized that he was being used to build Willie’s “image.” But Willie would uncomplainingly work extra hours in a crisis, and he could be counted on never to offend a customer; he merely knew his value and acted on that knowledge. His carefully cultivated friendships with local police and highway patrolmen often served him well in his subsidiary enterprises, pimping and bootlegging. He had a hand in ever vice in town, usually both as entrepreneur and customer; his lechery was fabled. And yet, Willie was and is a sensitive man, and quite an intelligent one. He had little respect for the punks and the pompous with whom his various businesses compelled him to deal. Given a less hostile environment, Willie would have made a generous and useful citizen ; given the actual environment, his craftiness did not destroy the good qualities within him. Less fortunate and more admirable among those I style the men was Lewis , a porter, like Willie, but unlike him in almost every other respect. Extremely clean-cut, a non-smoker and an abstainer, Lewis was a -cut above the local Negroes, if his virtues had been measured by the standards of the whites. But virtue in an East Texas Negro is servility, and Lewis, like Faulkner’s Lucas Beauchamp, refused to be the nigger he was expected to be. Predictably enough, this sin was not allowed to go unpunished: keeping a job presented a constant problem; he was either fired for refusing to abase himself, or he quit to avoid having to do so. Thus by racist “justice” the profligate prospers while the model citizen hungrily searches for work. Under a more logical set of mores, one might have made a better man; the other might have been recognized as the good man he was. One man whose misfortune particularly moved me was a simple farmer whose name faded from my memory. He told me of his neighbors’ allowing their cotton allotments to dwindle, then turning to the government for aid, and he boomed, in words much like these: “Ah loVes farmin’; As been farmin’ all mah life. But some damn gov’ment come an’ tell me what Ah can do with mah crop, then they can have it, an’ Ah’m th’oo!” No vested interest, this, no fat-cat supporting tariffs and cursing taxes, but a plain, hard-working farmer, fighting desperately and uncomprehendingly against the mysterious forces which would seek to deprive him of his lifework and first love. How does one explain to a man thus married to the soil that he should be paid for non-farming? My last example of the men is not an individual, but .a family. The two generations of F s impressed me as the most modern people I interviewed: they farmed large fields with tractors, lived in clean and attractive homes, and spoke intelligently. In short, they had taken the white man’s technology and made it work for them, yet retained the graciousness inculcated in a past of humility. Here again, we see some hope for the future; these are the kind of people who can weaken the arguments of the racist generalizers, who would have one believe that all Negroes are modeled after those whom I propose now to discuss, the less-than-men. THESE, the ones who can with some justice be called “nigger,” have been deliberately left for last. As they are, they fit the meaning which the South ascribes to that worse-than-colloquialism. Remember, at least, though, that their present degenerate conditionphysical, mental, or moralwas not necessarily foreordained. I have seen the malformed victims of their parents’ venereal infection in their heartrending approximation of play; I have seen the kinky wool encompassing a mindless head, thanks to the creature’s mother’s simple dietary deficiency. These, one can pity, but not really help; some, one must despise. One farmer I found dozing on his porch while his sons worked his large field whined bitterly to me about how he needed a larger relief check. Now, I don’t doubt for a moment that his family did need the money, or that his course was probably less injurious to the economy than that of the defiant lover of the soil introduced a few paragraphs back. But in plain, human values, can there be any doubt as to which one took the manly part? The racist’s search for servility is seldom futile in East Texas: the obsequious “Yassuh” \(which is often rushed into something like “Yadduh,” in an inexplicmatic. Grandfathers answer meekly to “Hey, boy!” Poly-aerialed \(though radiomindless, soulless less-than-youths careen into the gas station for a “dolla wuffa regalah.” Knife fights periodically caused the closing down of the Colored Country Club, which has now been closed permanently. The less-than-men are the lifeblood of the neo-slavery systemthe “strike-breakers,” so to speakwho make all the efforts of their more worthy kinsmen for the present vain. He who is willing to be a slave will have little trouble finding a master. Part II. The Society In politics, as in so many other areas, Northeast Tevas bears a closer resemblance to the states of the Deep South than to the rest of her own state. The East Texas delegation to the Texas House of Representatives \(led in the 57th session by W. T. its provincialism. The gubernatorial primary of 1962 saw all candidates led in Harrison County by Edwin A. Walker. A candidate for sheriff in a recent election made the explicit announcement, in