William Wayne Weems
So I was called
during a back and forth debate with Facebook comments. I am aware of
the present loose use of that slur, and the contention among some
folk "of color" that it is impossible for them to be racist
while those of "white" skin are by their very culture
necessarily prey to such attitudes. But naïf that I am, I thought my
participation in the Civil Rights restaurant sit-ins during the
1960's would somehow insulate me from such a charge. Moreover, when
unexpected and adverse circumstances some twenty years later left an
elderly black woman without either shelter or her prescription
medications, spouse Sue and I drove her to drugstores and let her use
the guest bedroom in our house until her daughter could leave the
I have alluded to a
prior incident that may show the depth of my racism, and it is with
considerable relish that I take this opportunity to expand that tale
here. A glance at the photo above will give you some idea of the
front of the "shotgun" type homes involved in this
tale....except the two houses were not joined together. When I
glanced across the street in c.a. 1961, I noted the right hand house
was on fire.
I knew "colored
folk" lived in those houses, but there didn't seem to be anyone
around, so I raced across the street and knocked on the right hand
door. A glass pane in the door shattered at my touch from the heat,
so I knew to use my t-shirt to guard my hand while trying the
doorknob. It was locked, so there was likely no one home. I went to
the left hand door and banged away. The roof on that house was
catching fire from falling embers and the entire wood siding was
smoking from the heat of the blaze next door.
could see through the
door glass a woman leave her kitchen and approach the door.. When she
opened it to inquire about my purpose, I gestured to the right hand
house, where bursts of flame were now beginning to engulf the front
porch. I advised her to leave at once, she said "Lordy!"
and quickly complied. By this time her front yard was filling with
other folk of color and the wail of fire department sirens could
faintly be heard in the far distance. Suddenly the woman stiffened
and said "Maddie! Is Maddie still in there?" She bolted for
her front door and dashed inside.
quickly gave chase, but
halted at the front door entrance. The interior of that house was now
full of hot, swirling smoke, and it seemed to be getting thicker.
Suddenly a black man elbowed me aside and dashed into the house. I
could hear him find the woman and lead her forward, but the smoke was
now so thick they were blinded and colliding with furniture.I quickly
realized that if I proceeded into the house there would be three of
us thrashing about, since no one had any protective gear.
didn't know about the
Fire Department term "flashover" but it was obvious the
interior of the house could erupt into flames at any second.
Nevertheless, I grasped the door frame, stepped inside and extended
my arm as far as it would go, shouting "Come to the sound of my
voice! Come quickly! I repeated that shout three times until I felt
another hand touch mine.Levering against the door frame, I pulled the
three of us outside. While another black woman reassured the
distressed housewife her Maddie was safely down the street, I watched
as flames swirled over the left hand house.
Not once had I considered
the shade of anyone's skin.
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