Post-Civil War Mentality
December 9, 2002
It was such a pleasure to be able to finally speak to you in person. After speaking with you, I believe we might be somewhat "kindred spirits" in our beliefs regarding the African-American role in the Civil War.
When I was a child and was brought up on our large family farms or former plantations, I saw and heard what I now know was the post-Civil War mentality of hatred toward blacks, a philosophy of subserviency of the black minority, a philosophy of keeping former slaves subdued, a philosophy of the continuation of a two race system and the philosophy of total racial segregation. I grew up thinking of segregation as our way of life but in my mind I could not understand this two race system and certainly could not justify the treatment of part of our society as inferior, basically due to the color of skin. I never could understand why a maid at my grandmother's could cook the meals, prepare the bread, kneading it with her own black hands, serve the meal with her own worn, wrinkled hands but never was allowed to sit at the table and eat with the family.
The black maid was sent to the pantry to eat her meal on cracked old plates, using old coin silver spoons and drinking out of old Mason jars, all on an old dented tray, balanced on her lap. All of this took place about 20 feet away from our family, who ate on the fine china, using sterling silver flatware, drinking from crystal, all of this on the cherry dining table. Only once did I ask as to why "Helen" didn't eat with us, as any member of our family should. After a stern rebuke from my grandfather, I knew better than to bring the subject up again. But there was some good that came from this. When I grew older, I was determined to change this leftover anachronism. When I had my own home and "Helen" had fixed a meal for the two of us, she took her food to the pantry to eat. That is when I made the move I had sworn years earlier to make. I told her that we would eat together, sitting with each other at the same dining room table or else no one would eat at all. I believe I told her that since I was quite a bit younger than she, I could out wait her in our battle of wills. I won and she did eat with me, sitting at my dining room table. There was a change in "Helen" though. As "Helen" ate her lunch, tears ran down her cheeks. I was concerned she had been upset by something I had done. After some prodding on my part, she told me what had caused her to cry. She was crying because it was the first time she had sat down to eat with a white person at the same table. This was the first time in her 85 years plus age that she had been asked to eat with someone not of her color. I told her that I was the son and grandson of the people she had worked for but I did not have the same feelings about racial relations as some of my ancestors had shown. I was extremely glad that I had been the person that made "Helen" cry. Old habits and mannerisms regarding race are terribly hard to break, but when they are finally broken, it gives you the most beautifully fulfilling and satisfying feeling. I wish I had been able to make "Helen" cry long before she did. "Helen" was like a mother to me and the color of her skin meant absolutely nothing. Her warm and caring heart inside of her was what made her so very special to me.
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