(no name) ((no email))
Thu, 10 Sep 1998 23:13:08 +0000
"Segregation and Clorox2"
(taken from "Patches and Pins" (or "The Quest for the Silver
Beaver...."), by Mike Walton (c) 1988)
You want to get my mother going?? Bring up George Wallace, the
symbol for most Black Americans of the *worst* parts of being an
American living in the South!
"Do you think he's changed? God musta' really touched that man", my
mother asked me. We were sitting at the dining room table, the air
conditioner making a loud starting sound as it attempted to cool
the air in our apartment. My mother sat in her "usual place", in
the seat by the doorway leading to the kitchen. I was sitting in
my father's chair, the one with its back to the living area and the
On the set, former Governor and then Presidential candidate George
Wallace was telling a group of reporters his feelings about race
and how his State of Alabama has changed -- and that he must change
with those citizens.
"You always told me that God has a plan for everyone, Mom", I
replied, looking back to hear a part of the interview before
turning to face my mother. She in the meantime, picked up her Pall
Malls, took one from the package and after placing the cigarette to
her mouth, lit it with one of those Bic plastic lighters.
I watched her as she blew the smoke out from her lungs and throat,
the smoke mixing with the cool but invisible conditioned air and
sending it toward me.
"People like him don't change, Micheal; but maybe God got to him.
All I know is that man was full of hate...", she told me.
George Wallace was later shot during a visit in Maryland while he
was running for President. "It'll be a cold day in you-know-where
when I vote for him as President!", my mom told me one evening
after dinner while we were watching the evening news. "I'm sorry
that he was shot, and I think that the person that did it should go
to jail but I'm not sorry for what I think about that man!"
I lived a sheltered life, I have told you that. My parents did not,
and they remember vividly the actions right over the border from
southern Tennessee where they grew up. Actions to Blacks from
those that hated Blacks and those few Whites that stood up for the
rights of all people to live together in that age-old concept
called "equality". My father rarely talked about it; my mother
freely talked about it and let it be known of her hatred of "George
Wallace". She never acknowledged that he was a Governor of a
state, as if her acknowledgement would justify his authorizations
or honor him.
I read accounts in school about what George Wallace authorized. In
US History class in high school, I was terrified at seeing for the
first time in my life movie reels of Blacks being killed, bit by
dogs and injured and maimed by billy clubs and high-pressure
waterhoses. I had never encountered anyone up to that point in
life spitting on me or telling me to "go back to Africa" as those
people were being told on the screen in our classroom. And when I
yelled "I don't want to see any more of this!" and ran out of the
classroom and down the hallway to the exitdoor, I could hear the
laughter from my fellow classmates still watching recorded history.
All I really knew about George Wallace was the answer to a quiz
question and what he told people living back then: "Segregation
I still did not understand the concept. People in Valley Station
and Pleasure Ridge Park, right up the road from Fort Knox and Rose
Terrace, were out in the streets fighting for and against
segregated schools in the middle 70s. I thought it was just another
set of bored people wanting their 15 minutes of fame on the local
TV newscasts at 11pm...for surely there were Black people living in
both of those suburbs of Louisville. Had to be. You can't keep
people from living or being around other people anymore. We passed
laws against those things, did we not? My mother and I were gassed
and had things thrown against our car that evening...but it was
because we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's
I never really saw the effects of "segregation" until I started
college, and first-hand saw separated Black and White communities
in eastern Kentucky and northeastern Tennessee. Jeff Brock
explained segregation to me on our second floor laundry room at
Keene Hall: my first real lesson on what whites were told and
what "the big deal is" about Blacks and Whites and "racial mixing".
Jeff, my white roommate, was from eastern Kentucky. Two miles west
of the West Virginia - Kentucky border to be exact. A coal mine
trucker since 15, Brock never had a Black *friend*. He knew a lot
of Black people living up the road from him in Canada, Kentucky.
But they never slept in the same room as he and I did for the year
and a half as roommates at EKU. Never had to negotiate watching the
news or reruns of "Andy" on the TV set with him. Never asked
embarrassing questions like "do you get sunburn" or "have you ever
wished you weren't black?"
"You asked me about why some of my people are mad about Blacks and
Whites being together...like you and Anna", he started. "Because
the races, like the clothes here, have to be separated." He
started to separate his clothing into neat small piles.
Jeff had a high school grade point average, according to him and
many of his -- our -- mutual friends, of 3.79. He always had a way
of reducing difficult things to simple explainations.
"Now the white stuff goes over here. If you had any of the colored
stuff in with the white stuff, it gets all of the white stuff
stained up and you can't use it. The colored stuff goes over
there. If you put white stuff with it, the white stuff don't get
clean and you get faded colored stuff."
"That's how it is with people, Mike. You can't go around being
with the white girls because you'll get them dirty. Then, nobody
will want them. And you don't see any colored girls with white
guys because the colored girls will get some idea and think that
they're white too." He started the washers, placed the clothing
into separate washers, and then closed the washers.
I stood there, looking at him. "Man, you're living back there with
George Wallace! Got any of those sheets in there with holes in
'em?" I then grinned at him. Our relationship reached a point
whereby we could call each other names without blows being thrown.
We argued a lot, that first year. But I was always on his
side...and he was always on mine.
Says a lot for people living "where they have to pump sunlight into
"The world's changed, Jeff. See this?" I held up a box of Clorox2,
a clorine-free laundry additive. "Remember when people said that
you couldn't have blacks and whites living in the same place...you
would get sick and I would develop "cooties" or something like
that?? Back then, we couldn't even shake hands without both of us
reaching for something to wipe our hands onto afterwards. Well,
with EDUCATION, we're up to the point whereby..." I poured the blue
crystals into the washer, followed by the laundry detergent, and
then started the washer up. The washer started filling with warm
"...we can now live and work and be around each other and even date
and marry each other...." I tossed all of my clothing into the
washer, hoping that Clorox2 will do what it says it'll do on the
package. "The white stuff AND the colored stuff all touching each
other. All mixed up in there..today, nobody with any good sense
really cares. Well...just that the stuff that I'm not SURE about,
like these..." I held up a pair of bright red socks, and put them
on the floor in front of the washer.
"Boy George", I commented. We both got the idea and laughed, our
laughter bouncing off the walls and ceiling of the laundry room.
"Just like with people. You and I didn't know each other at first,
but we got used to being around each other. That's the "clorox2"
part of it. See, we even get each other's jokes!"
I closed the washer and we stood there silently for about two or
three minutes. Then I said "I read somewhere that Governor Wallace
told an audience that there was a Biblical reason why Blacks and
Whites shouldn't live together. But I never found it in my Bible."
"Back then, people were scared of each other. The white people
were scared of the Blacks, because they were something new,
something different. The Blacks were scared of the Whites because
of what they "heard" that "all whites did". They used the Bible to
explain and scare us all into believing it. And nobody doubted it
and they all believed it. Until someone SHOWED them otherwise. It's
not as simple as washing clothes, Jeff...but we're getting better
at explaining it. And talking about it."
Jeff looked at me and knew that my assessment was right.
We moved our conversation to the second floor lounge and to Anna
and me dating....
Wallace was right. It is time for Americans to move on forward,
although as he admitted, "we in Alabama still have a long way to
go." There he was, in his wheelchair, his wife at his side, his
old wilted white hand outstretched...
....as he grasped the hand offered him from Coretta Scott King, the
wife of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and those
There were no wiping of hands afterwards. No "cooties" or dreaded
diseases. Both King and Wallace continued to live long and
relatively healthy lives and were able to tell their grandchildren
about their encounter and the discussion.
(Clorox2 is a registered trademark of the Clorox Company, with no
infringment nor malice intended. I still use the product today and
it does work using the product as the box directed.)
(c) 1998 Mike Walton ("no such thing as strong coffee,...") (502) 827-9201
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