Translate? Traduire? übersetzen? ?לתרגם Traducir? Tradurre?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Seeing Black Men from a Different Angle--The Kissing Case, and Geronimo Pratt

Before I can get back to writing about Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter. I have to lay some more groundwork--what it was like in Los Angeles, what it was like in the deep South in those days for people of color. This seems to be especially important when white officers--and much of white America-- see people of color, particularly black men, as huge, monsters, with superhuman powers, as Mr. T, who could break you in two with a glance. 

Let's take a look at two little boys who learned about this crazy, distorted lens in 1958, when they were, respectively, seven and nine, in what came to be known as "The Kissing Case." These children, David "Fuzzy" Simpson and James Hanover Thompson went to play in another neighborhood, where they played a cowboy game with white children. In the course of the game, one little white girl kissed them on the cheek.  None of the children thought much of it, until the little girl went home and told her parents, who became crazed with anger. Daddy and friends armed themselves with pistols and shotguns and went looking for the boys and their parents. 
So--here, stop the story and imagine that you hear that your seven-year-old is being hunted with rifles because a little girl kissed his cheek. And you have to hide or arm yourself to defend him. Stop and imagine your child being pulled away from you by the police, and you now knowing what will happen to them. Stop and imagine you're one of those little boys, who is accused of molestation, and taken into the back rooms of the jail, where you're stripped and beaten with whips and punched and kicked. Imagine this happening repeatedly over several days, and knowing that it was being done in places your clothing would cover so no one would ever know.  
Imagine six long days of this, without parent being able to see child or child to see parent. 
Robert and Mabel Williams with guns. I hope the NRA and the Tea Party approve!
The head of the local NAACP, Robert Williams, sent for a lawyer from new York. He, too, was turned away. Robert Williams would later charter a National Rifle Association branch to train black people for self-defense. 
Eleanor Roosevelt contacted the governor, but could not gain their release. 
Imagine spending your eighth and tenth birthday in prison. Imagine your little boys being sent to Reform School for the next ten or twelve years. 
A journalist (Joyce Egginton) from the London Observer was allowed to visit the boys. She took the mothers along and smuggled in a camera, taking a photo of the mothers hugging their children. The London Observer ran the photo under the headline, "Why?" An international committee formed in Europe to defend Thompson and Simpson, with demonstrations held in Paris, Rome, Vienna and Rotterdam against the U.S. Though the Superior Court had turned the case down, now the U.S. Government put pressure on North Carolina officials, who asked the boy's mothers to sign a waiver before the children could be released. The women refused to sign anything that admitted their child's guilt to molestation. Still, two days later, after the boys had been in detention and apart from their families for three months, the governor pardoned them without conditions or explanations. 
James Hanover Thompson and his sister, Brenda Lee Graham
The state and city never apologized to the boys or their families. "The Help" is such a joke--the idea that a maid could feed human excrement to a white woman and not see her family murdered. Here, the NAACP had to relocate these families. The women were fired as domestics--maids, care-givers, cleaning women, and their lives threatened. We're not talking, "You get out of here or we'll kill you." His sister, Brenda Lee Graham, remembers helping her mother to sweep the bullets off their front porch every morning. Two little boys couldn't be kissed on the cheek by a white child and their families emerge unscathed. 
Ms. Graham said that her brother never did recover from his experience. I wonder how their siblings handled this, and their mother and father? I try to imagine knowing that my baby is being brutalized, and I am unable to do a thing. I am haunted by the thought.  
 Dwight Thompson and his brother, James Hanover Thompson, a victim of the Kissing Case.

Now, listen to this, from Geronimo (Jerry originally) Pratt, who was born and raised in Georgia under similar conditions, before being thrown into the Vietnam War as a paratrooper. 

The following comes from his book also written by Jack Olsen titled: Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt

At Fort Polk, Lousiana, the seventeen-year-old quarterback was issued dog tags, given shots and a physical examination and appointed trainee platoon sergeant. In Washington President Lyndon Johnson was prepraring to sign a voting rights act. White supremacists were threatening to torch polling places and kill blacks. African American students at Cornell University were gearing up for armed insurrection. Geronimo’s big brothers Jackie and Charles wrote from Los Angeles that the ghetto called Watts was afire in the “Burn, Baby, Burn” riots. The Los Angeles Police Department crushed a series of student rebellions and engaged in a bloody battle with anti-Vietnam War demonstrators at the Century Plaza Hotel.
     [During his second month of basic training and while feeling homesick] Geronimo tried to overcome the dread illness by concentrating on guns, armor, reconnaissance, field tactics and the skills that might help to protect his parents and the other black people of St. Mary Parish if race warfare broke out. Five months after leaving Morgan City he completed paratrooper training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and pounded his wings into his bare chest. ‘In those days you did it yourself. Man, the blood run! The army sent me to the 82d Airborne, strike troops. We were on orders for Vietnam.’
     ‘He was up for anything!’ the older brother recalled years later. ‘Our country did a good job of preparing that young man for war. He said ,’Man, I am ready!’ He wanted to save his country, the world, wanted to save his people back home. I couldn’t believe the change.’
     Pratt saw a world where the Vietnamese looked to him like Colored people back home. One explicitly said to him, "Black Man, why are you doing this to the Yellow Man?" He came back saying, "Black man shouldn't suppress the Yellow Man for the White Man," and began training the Black Panthers in Los Angeles with what he had learned as a Soldier's Medal winner in the Vietnam War. 
He knew the way the world saw him. He was beginning to see the world in a different way.

No comments:

Post a Comment