Bouts with racism continue in area
In the late 1950s as my mother shopped at a grocery store that was in front of Memorial Park, my Dad took me across the street to the park. A police officer approached and told us we had to leave.
He said that we had a park on the bluff. We left, but I remember asking why we had to leave. I do not remember his answer. My Dad was a well-dressed minister (the Rev. William Matthew Franklin) and did not deserve that. That is why I never purchased a veteran’s brick in Memorial Park.
The ’60s came, and so did the marching, picketing and the sit-ins. If you were a Franklin, you had no choice but to participate. We marched mainly from Beulah Baptist Church on B Street to the Courthouse downtown.
We never missed a march, meeting or demonstration. The Clark Theater on Main Street had upstairs for blacks and the whites sat in the lower section. A current flower shop on Morgantown Road was a doctor’s office and was clearly marked with a side for colored and a side for whites. The water fountains were also marked.
I distinctly remember my Daddy waking us up one night to peep out the window. A cross was burning on the lawn in the parking lot at Thompson School. That was too close to home since we lived across the street. It just made me more cognizant of what I, as a black child, had to do.
In 1967, I chose to attend the predominantly white school. My father had died by then and my mother supported my choice. There may have been 30 black students who chose to go to Natchez-Adams High School. We caught hell! The “N” word was used everyday. Most teachers said nothing.
I was suspended from school so many times for defending myself or just simply speaking up. Many other blacks were kicked out for two or three days at a time. Most of us who chose to go to the school knew what to expect, and we were determined not to be walked over, ridiculed or taken for granted. We were quite serious about our education whether it meant being suspended for speaking up or showing up. Though the school environment may have discouraged us, our determination encouraged us.
The last day before the Christmas break in 1969, I organized blacks to raise a clinched fist when Dixie was played over the intercom at the beginning of the day. I got kicked out that day.
I graduated from high school in 1970 and enlisted in the United States Air Force. Do not let anybody fool you. Though it was somewhat better, there was racism in the military. I volunteered to go to Vietnam and was sent to one of the worst places in Vietnam, DaNang Air Base (Rocket City). From there I was sent up north of Hue to TanMy (DMZ).
There we protected a tower that the B-52s used to pinpoint bombing. It laid the foundation for what is now GPS. Even though we were in towers and bunkers guarding the base, we lived in comfortable trailers. When a non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) stated that the trailers were too good for blacks, I reported him to the social services, and he was removed.
In 1976, I was hired at the Natchez Fire Department where I was deemed a racist, because I did not allow anyone to playfully call me “boy.” I knew that once it got started behind closed doors, it would eventually be done in the public. Shortly thereafter, a captain made the remark that, “if a black man was sent to the station where he worked, he would quit.” Well guess what? A black was sent there and he did not quit. When people got to know me, they realized that I was professional, fair and was not going to be taken advantage of, ridiculed or walked over.
I said all of that to say this: Racism is still alive in Natchez and many other areas. Anytime there is a major black community event, a roadblock is set up. People are pulled over left and right. Many cars were towed during the Sibley Zydeco Festival on June 8, though they were well off the highway. I don’t understand why we don’t see roadblocks during or after the balloon races or other Natchez events. I am sure there is a good explanation for it. There always is. The only thing is, I am not buying it. Will you?
Johnny Franklin is a Natchez resident.