A defining moment in our history

In my childhood, segregation was in full bloom. Negroes had their own schools that were mostly low standard, poorly built wooden buildings. We whites had our own water fountains and restrooms. The facilities were distinctly marked “Colored” or “Whites Only.” Segregation went far deeper than that.

I was a poor white kid in Abbeville, a mostly Cajun town, where people spoke little English. As a child I worked right alongside blacks in the fields. They had a family unit, the youngsters put in the same long day in the rice, corn, cotton or sugar cane fields as the older family members. I worked in the fields mostly alone except when Mom and I picked cotton. Their total income from work was far greater than ours. Their houses were shacks, often called “share cropper homes.” They weren’t much but somewhat better than the grain storage shed we lived in. Neither had utilities, we had coal oil for heating, cooking and lighting.

I say all of the above so I can point out bigger injustices. I wasn’t aware for instance, in those young years, that it wasn’t normal that blacks were treated differently. It was just a way of life that I never gave a thought to. As far back as I can remember, even as a 6-  or 7-year-old, all blacks, young and old alike, called me “Mr. Roy.” I swear I never wondered why. All white males were referred to as “Mr.” Blacks never looked a white woman in the face and always removed their hats when addressing a lady. All very normal to me in the 1930s and early ‘40s.

There would be no way of knowing that in my lifetime a Negro would ever be elected president of the United States. Starting in my young adulthood and through life, I had hoped I would live to see a woman elected president. I know now that won’t happen. Some day it will, and our country will then have true equality. I have never been a racist nor have I harbored any prejudice but I do have problems with attitudes.

I can care less about one’s sex or color of skin. There is good and bad in all individuals, good and bad groups. I judge all people on face value. Number one in my priorities is loyalty, followed by honesty and how you treat other people.

When President Lyndon Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act, he said, “I have just signed away the South for the Democrats.” He was right, he knew the South liked things as they were, bigots would show their true colors but it was the right thing to do. I liked my black friends and they liked me, even way back when I was “Mr. Roy.” Attitudes of blacks after 1964 didn’t help their cause.

Martin Luther King showed them the way but many went in the wrong direction and made it harder on blacks and whites alike.

Attitudes will really be tested now. How will they react when having reached Martin Luther’s “Mountain Top.” 

Barack Obama is not a traditional black like those I was raised with.

He’s different in many ways. He’s from a biracial background, a white mom and a black dad from Kenya. Both of us were abandoned by our fathers and raised partly by our grandparents. He was black, with a strange name, raised in Hawaii around Polynesian people. I bore an odd Irish name surrounded by French people.

Both of us were taught that to achieve more we had to reach higher. Both could have been stuck in our backgrounds.

During the course of history, from time to time, someone will come along that far exceeds ordinary people. Someone with exceptional intelligence or talent so obvious that it is recognized by the masses.

In Obama’s case, even the powerful Clinton political machine couldn’t destroy what the people recognized in this unusual individual. His presence and promise of hope for America has resonated even with some of the hopeless. Many people saw this man as a born leader. Those facts, plus timing and talent are everything and that is the reason today that Barack Obama will become the first black commander-in-chief of the United States of America. An historical event of mass proportions when I look back at the black-and-white road I’ve traveled. It’s my guess that history will record, when it’s all done, that Obama was one of our great presidents. He faces a tremendous risk however. 

No time since FDR, has a president been asked to reverse and right so many shortcomings. Nationally and internationally, our country has been driven to its lowest depth. Obama will no doubt catch the heat from the “Right-Wingers” ready to pounce on every step they don’t agree with. Our history has a way of correcting itself.

“Mr. Roy” would never have dreamed that so big a task would someday be placed in the hands of a black man. From temperament to brilliance, everything indicates that our country will be in good hands, surrounded by many of the country’s most talented and qualified. 

Yes Mr. Roy, you have lived to see quite an historical event. A black man in the White House. A journey of destiny for Obama and another historical happening witnessed by me “Down Life’s Highway.” One I never would have expected as a boy in that Cajun southern town.