The year was 1961, and my parents were building their dream home in Tennessee. Mother and I had driven to the new house to meet a contractor on an unusually warm August Saturday morning. I would have preferred to stay at home but decided at the last minute to tag along.
Upon arrival, saws were buzzing, and hammers were pounding nails into rafters as Mom and the contractor tried to converse over the racket. I began to stroll to the vacant lot next to ours where a large oak tree on the far side beckoned me to come to join her shade and quiet.
“Where are you going?” The voice startling me to quickly turn around, exhibiting a bit of fear.
“I’m sorry,” the voice continued, “I didn’t mean to make you jump!”
I met the gaze of the young man about my age just as the sun caught the sprinkling of gold dust in his dark hazel eyes. His eyelashes curled up to his eyebrows, and his perfect teeth gleamed as he flashed a broad smile. He was stunning.
After introductions, we ran and played in the vacant lot until we tired and sat under the big oak tree to talk. Henry was 13, and the son of the nice gentleman Mom was still meeting with.
After a while, we began to head back to the partially built house. Henry was a few steps behind me when he yelled, “Don’t move, Lynn!” I stopped dead still as he cautioned me to walk around the large coiled snake lying peacefully in the tall grass in front of me. Henry was able to calm me and keep my normal hysteria at bay over such creepy creatures.
When we reached my mother, I told her about the snake, introduced her to my new friend, and the three of us walked toward the car.
We waved goodbye, and as we did, tears welled in my eyes because I instinctively knew I would never see him again.
“Why are you upset? Mama asked.
When I told her why, she understood and said, “It is sad, but you are right, you probably will not see Henry again.”
I, indeed, never did. Sixty years have passed and, yet, I still recall the beautiful boy who saved me from the snake and talked with me under the oak tree.
Henry was African American, went to another school and in the 1960s, it was often unacceptable to be close friends with someone of another race, or worse, to find them attractive.
I was born and bred in the segregated south, yet, I never understood any form of racism. I remember as a child thinking it was all ridiculous and wondered why folks judged people by the way they looked, the way they talked, or the color of their skin. I felt it was anti-God to do so. I still do.
Mama must have thought the same because I never heard her say a disparaging word about anyone. A woman of few words, I recall declaring once, “What’s race got to do with anything? Whether a person is bad or good doesn’t have a thing to do with the color of their skin!”
I realized because this fine woman was my mother, that hatred and bias were not taught to me in words or actions. How grateful I am for her intelligence.
Do we really believe God judges us by the way we look? Or aren’t we judged by the actions of our souls? What if God created humans of different ethnicities, cultures, and colors to see if we could see with our hearts instead of our eyes? What if He is giving us a big ole’ test?
I know a lot of people who will need to go to summer school or be expelled if that is the case. And, I don’t mean just some white folks. There are people of all ethnicities who pass blame, resentment, and meanness on down the line to the next generation.
We ponder why there is so much hatred, anti-everything in America today. White Supremacist groups, terrorist groups, anti-Semitic groups, anti-Hispanic groups, anti-Caucasian groups are swelling. Organizations where violence accompanies them wherever they roam, and hatred blossoms.
Do they not understand they are hurting themselves, our country, and God?
Americans have come a long way for equality since 1961, but there are still snakes in the grass waiting to cause harm, ready to upend strides forward, and ready to strike at common sense and decency.
To save us from their evil, may the beauty in all people sound the warning.