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“THANK YOU WHITE BOY”
It’s very difficult for any child to stay where they feel they are not wanted. That was how I felt, as a twelve year old boy, when I was sent from the Children’s Home Society Orphanage, by the juvenile court, to stay with the Tanner family in Jacksonville, Florida.
Mr. Tanner was okay; it was Mrs. Tanner who was the problem. The statements “Don’t you eat much now” and “That’s all the soap you get” were heard from her almost daily. Just like in the orphanage, I was afraid to move right or left, up or down or back and forth.
I watched from their smelly living room; and waited for Mrs. Tanner to go out back to do the daily wash. Slowly, I snuck out the front screen door and began running down the road, as fast as I could. I didn’t know where I was headed but that really didn’t matter anyway. Even when I was someplace, I didn’t know where I was; so what was the difference anyway?
It was almost evening when I reached the train yard. Coming towards me, off in the distance, I saw several white men dragging a small black boy by his legs. His body twisting and turning, back and forth, as he was being drug through the white rocks piled along each side of the tracks.
I stopped walking toward them when I saw them stop. One of the men took out a rope and began trying the boy’s hands to one of the railroad ties. In the distance I could see the faint beaming, swirling light of a train coming toward us, still several miles down the track.
“You gonna get him runned over,” I hollored at the two men.
The two men looked in my direction but said not a word.
Walking toward them, at a very slow pace, I came within fifteen feet of their position and stopped. I was rather surprised to see that the black boy they had been dragging was actually an old man. Off in the distance I could hear the train’s whistle as it passed the numerous crossing streets.
The old man was screaming in terror as the two men continued to tie his hands to the wooden bean.
“I see who you are and I’M GONNA TELL THE GOVERNOR,” I screamed at the two railroad guards.
One of the men stood up, began laughing and then shook his head. “I MEAN IT. THE GOVERNOR IS GONNA BE AT THE CLUB HOUSE TONIGHT AND I’M GOINNA TELL, “I screamed again.
“You don’t even know where the club house is.”
“It’s by Mr. Tanner’s house, out behind the dog track, in White House,” I replied.
The day before, I had heard Mr. Tanner tell his wife that the governor was coming to a meeting at the club house the next day. Little did I know that Mr. Tanner was a member of the KKK and that their club house was located on his property adjacent to the greyhound race track.
“I MEAN IT. I’M GONNA TELL.”
The two men stopped what they were doing, stood up and looked in my direction.
“Were done here,” said one man, as he slapped the other man on his stomach. The two of them began walking back down the tracks to the main railroad yard.
I ran over to the old man but I could not get near him. He was still in a panic and his body was flinging all over the place; back and forth and over and over rolled his small body on the rocks. His arms were bloody and his eyes were full of dirt.
“I’m gonna help you. Really I am,” I yelled at the man.
The train’s whistle became louder and longer as it traveled toward us. Still more than a half a mile away, I knew I had to release the man’s hands from the wooden beam. Grabbing a stick, I ran onto the tracks and began trying to force the knot loose. Within seconds, I had loosened the rope enough to get his hands out of the loop. I ran around and grabbed the man by the legs and pulled him down the small rocky embankment, three or four feet from the tracks. Still jerking about, the man lay staring at the sky. I sat down beside him, placed his head on my leg and waited for the train to arrive. The ground began to shake and the tracks began to bounce. As the train came roaring by; I watched as the engineer shook his fist out the train window opening.
Not a word was said as the sound of clickety-clack of the moving train silently faded into the evening darkness.
Raising the man’s head off my leg, I placed it back on the ground. I stood up, removed my shirt and took off my tee shirt. Putting my over shirt back on, I walked to a large puddle of water and wet the tee shirt. I sat down, place his head back onto my legs and began wiping the dirt from his eyes and forehead.
Slowly, the small, wrinkled man opened his eye and look directly into my eyes.
“I thought you were a little kid at first,” I told him.
He said not a word.
“It is okay of I wipe you off a little bit?”
Still he said not a word.
“You sure look real old to be so little.”
Slowly, one of his eyes opened. “I’m eighty-seven years old, son.”
I smiled, as I continued to wipe his forehead.
“You’re gonna be okay now.”
“Thank you white boy,” he whispered, in a shaking tone.
“You’re welcome, sir,” I whispered back.
“SIR?’ he mumbled. His head turned very slowly to the side. I watched as large tears began slowly chasing one another down his rough, wrinkled black cheeks.
I sat there staring at his distorted face in the moonlight. No matter what, I couldn’t turn away. It was the first time in my life that I had ever seen, with my very own eyes, the terrible feelings of pain that were now living inside my own white orphan heart.