Harvey Martin as graduates there are cotton farms, local businesses, and two small industries. Commerce is a poor town. The federal government calls it a “depressed area,” which basically means that you can get a special type of loan. Not very many rich people live there, not a millionaire in town that I know of. \(My father says Country Club, first a golf course and now with a tiny pool and clubhouse, barely survives on its dues from month to month. In 1972, Commerce became one of the wettest towns in the area despite the campaigning of the Baptists with their flourescent “For the Sake of Your Children, Vote Dry” bumperstickers. Now beer and wine are sold over the counter downtown on “Beer Alley” and hard liquor in the store until 9 p.m. I must have been protected from a lot of the racists. Momma and Daddy never let us say “nigger,” and I always got mad at my friends who did. I loudly substituted “rooster” in “Eenie, meanie, minie, moe” when we counted off. “Nigger bellies” were “Black-eyed Susans.” And “nigger-knockin’ ” well, I just didn’t do it. “Julia” was on TV, Sidney Poitier was “Coming to Dinner,” “In the News” spots on Saturay mornings explained integration, the war, and pollution. I thought everything was as wonderful as our Weekly Readers had always,said: in junior high Black Power was in, and we learned soul shakes. When I was ten and homesick, my black counselor at Methodist Church camp described the changes to me: “My grandmother is a colored person. My mother is a Negro. And I am black.” Yet, prejudice crept in, even among us whites who had been taught to abhor racism. One time in fourth grade the boys were chasing the girls: if you were tagged, the boy could kiss you. Billy Greer, one of the Greer twins and always considered the meaner and faster, caught me and kissed me on the cheek. I had a strange feeling about being kissed by a black boy not a repelled feeling, but something different. And I felt guilty about feeling different toward Billy. Also, when I used to see other girls mostly black wearing my hand-medown clothes at school \(knowing that they had gotten them at the Clothing help but feel sorry for them. Feeling sorry was probably the worst way to feel. In our middle-class Tanglewood neighborhood with suburban-brick houses, two black families lived: the Talbots and the Brewers. The Talbots moved to Commerce in 1968; Dr. Talbot, the first black professor at ETSU, teaches guidance and counseling and belongs to the predominantly white First United Methodist Church. Most of the whites in the neighborhood bent over backwards to welcome the Talbots. One story goes: Jimmy Talbot was painting the Cokers’ house green one summer. The paint on the ladder spilled on his head. He was cutting across a neighbor’s yard to get home and wash his hair. “Honey, there’s [email protected] ,olo AMIc6:0MG} [email protected]@rmate @ITZ Illustration by Nancy Collins a nigger in the front yard with green hair,” the man of the house exlaimed. “That’s no nigger,” his wife assured him. “That’s a Talbot.” J. Mason Brewer and his wife moved to Commerce after Mr. Brewer had achieved national fame for his chronicling of black folklore. His wife, much younger than he, wore exotic clothes I particularly remember her in a turquoise print dress that draped over one shoulder. Mr. Brewer came to Mrs. Wilson’s fifth-grade class to read us stories in black dialect. He wore a beige cap, had light cocoa skin, and was so old and wrinkled that I thought he was going to fall off the chair. Momma says Mr. Brewer made a big impression on me. After the Brewers moved to Tanglewood, someone firmly told Daddy that no more blacks could move into the neighborhood. IN COMMERCE, black families in white neighborhoods are rare. Blacks live on the other side of the railroad tracks in the “Norris Community” or “The Hollow,” depending on your perspective. The cemetery and the junior varsity football field are in Norris, and the sixth grade school used to be. \(Last year, a new school was finished, and Norris elementary was given to a black small one or two bedrooms frame, and need a new paint job. The roads are bad. So far as I know, there is only one street with curbs and very few street lights. And most houses don’t have airconditioning. Occasionally, whites used to wander over the Norris on Sundays at lunchtime to eat fried chicken and chocolate pie with meringue at the Baptist Church. If you’re black and don’t live in Nor, ris, then you live in Neylandville. Neylandville is about seven miles out of Commerce on the highway to Greenville \(the town with “The Blackest Land and the Whitest People,” the sign at Greenville proclaimed until the late sixsome new brick houses. The town went wet in a controversial election a few years back. Kids from there go to Commerce schools. If you’re black, odds are good \(real refer to “blacks and poor whites,” not “poor blacks and poor whites.” In my home town the word black implies poor. In school, we played with the black boys, but not the black girls, at least in my class. I really don’t know why: my best guess is that the boys were smarter than the girls, or at least more aggressive. A few black boys were in our accelerated classes in fifth and sixth grades, but once we got to junior high boyfriend and girlfriend , age we segregated ourselves a bit. The big step was high school. Drugs and sex came then. To be good in school was not important to most blacks \(or to were three social groups: the blacks, the kickers, and everybody else. We all danced together, went to the Pizza Inn after the games together, played sports together, and hugged each other after the victories. We hung around at the Sonic or Howard’s parking lot. But we didn’t date each other, and if you mixed too much, whites called you a “niggerlover.” To be black at CHS usually meant that you would end up pregnant or in the military. When I graduated in 1978, equal opportunity was just a slogan on the bottom of stationery or scotch-taped on glass doors. Commerce had no blackowned businesses and if you were black, few job openings and not much promise for a future. 6 DECEMBER 18, 1981
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