by Sheldon Campbell
It was 1958 in Deep Creek, Virginia. I was six years old, and my father, like most fathers are to their sons, was a superhero to me. It never occurred to me that he had a reason to fear anything because he never showed any fear. Then one evening, my sister came running into the house, hollering that a bunch of men with guns were outside.
My dad took a look outside and his face darkened a bit. He stuffed a revolver in his back pocket, and as he went out the door, he told us to go to the kitchen and stay there.
My mom and my sister looked scared and pulled me back as I tried to get to the window to watch. Although I never got a very good look, I remember seeing a lot of men with rifles, shotguns and torches, some of them wearing white robes with hoods. There was a lot of shouting and a fair amount of cussing. Since my dad was a sailor, I recognized some of that.
Finally, I heard my dad tell them that if they didn’t get off his property right then and never come back, he’d guarantee that at least six of them would never see their families again.
This had started when my father intervened when a group of young bullies were roughing up a much younger black kid from down the road. These men were telling my dad that he was forgetting his place and he’d better remember the way things were.
My dad was white, raised in Meridian, Mississippi, during the depression, and he knew very well “how things were.” But he had also shared foxholes in Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, and Korea with other soldiers who were scared just like him, missing their families like him, and sick of killing, just like him. Some of them were white; some of them were black, brown, or yellow. But they all bled red, just like him. And they all got cold, hungry, sick, and sad, just like him.
My father never took his gun out of his pocket that day. But apparently the men believed him because they left, grumbling and waving their guns, and they never came back. I wasn’t old enough to know how dangerous that situation was.
My father always taught me that all you have to do was what you know is right, and then things pretty much take care of themselves. He proved it that day and on many other occasions.
Dad was raised in a bigoted culture by bigots. He was taught to act like a bigot. Everything about Mississippi in the Depression years screamed of racism. He was taught to believe in only one race.
I guess those foxhole buddies helped confirm that, because to the day he died, he only believed in one race: the human race.