Tuesday, November 14, 2006

KENNY Keeps His “EYES ON THE PRIZE”



In 1987 my husband Dick and I lived in Moore County, N. C., approx. an hour south of Raleigh. He had a one-man remodeling business and had just hired Kenny, a 20 year old black youth to help with the heavy stuff. Kenny had no carpentry skills but Dick told him that he would teach him the business if he were reliable and trustworthy. (Kenny proved to be more than that and, after my husband died in 1990, he went on to form his own company in another County and is quite prosperous today.)

Pretty soon the two men had a set routine and that included coming back to the house at noon for a lunch that I would prepare for them. After every meal Kenny would say, “Mizzrus Richard, that was real good” . He had a sharp mind and was quick to learn but his Southern dialect was strong.

Their lunchtimes happened to coincide with the airing, on our local PBS station, of the award winning show, “Eyes On The Prize, America’s Civil Rights Years…1954-1965“. Kenny became very engrossed with the show and he and I would watch it every day while we ate.

It was very interesting, to me, to realize that Kenny knew very little about his own history. He had been born and schooled in North Carolina but he said that he had never been taught anything about the Civil Rights movement.

Kenny and I watched the series day after day and he became more and more agitated. This was completely new to him and he was amazed at what he was seeing. He even began to take notes and would ask me my opinion on what we had seen. The part that affected him the most was when Gov. George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door in Alabama and blocked the entry of the black students.

I could see the conflict of emotions that were roiling inside of him as he watched and suddenly he turned to me and said something that I’ll never forget. He said: “Mzzrus Richard, do you know what? Someday that Governor is going to get real old and used up and he’s going to end his days in a nursing home. And do you know who’s going to take care of him then? We are!”

It wasn’t meant as a threat…he was simply stating a fact…but it gave me a chill. Yes, I thought, the day of reckoning comes to us all. I was glad that I could tell Kenny that Gov. Wallace had a change of heart since those days and had begged forgiveness of the many people with whom he had clashed.

That was almost 20 years ago but Kenny has never forgotten me. He calls to say “hi” at least two or three times a year and always ends the conversation by giving thanks to my late husband, Dick, for the life that he enjoys today.

**************************
WEDNESDAY...Nov. 15
If you are interested in this post please take a moment to click on the comments. I think they are especially insightful this time. Ginnie

10 Comments:

Anonymous Claude said...

Thanks for this fascinating story, Ginnie.

9:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an awesome story. It is amazing how minority children can be raised without understanding their own history. Of course, the dominant culture would have no investment in making them aware. Still, Kenny was exactly right! What goes out, comes back.

Thanks for the post. :)


Peace,

Thailand Gal
~*~*~

1:22 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

That story says a lot. For one thing, it reaffirms to me what great values you and your husband had and have.

8:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh Ginnie, you have some fascinating stories & you tell them so well. This is so moving, and I'm so glad that Kenny became successful in his own right. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us. Wonderful.

1:34 AM  
Anonymous Alan G said...

Your story especially hit home with me Ginnie because my dad was extremely racist. I was attending the infamous Little Rock Central High in 1957 and when the integration issue hit the fan here. He moved us to the other side of town within the district of a brand new high school which had just been built where I would then attend an all-white high school.

The next year integration was incorporated in that school so he moved us again. This time across the Arkansas River to North Little Rock. It was two more years before the North Little Rock school system was forced to comply with Federal integration laws.

As with many other high school students at the time, there were a large number who really did not have a problem with the change, although they certainly were familiar with some of the issues of being raised in the South. But to a very large degree the white parents were the driving force behind the unrest and not the white students.

All that to get to my point and that is of course the wisdom expressed by your friend Kenny. My dad's health is not great, he is 94 now, and he has had to have a lot of hospital care along with home care. And you can only guess who has taken the best care of him in those situations. And as we speak a black woman helps him dress, bathe, and everything else that goes with home care and he responds to her as if she were his mother.

Case....and point!

5:44 AM  
Anonymous Maria said...

And this is why I love blogging. Your post was inspirational and the comment by Alan gave me a new awareness of the integration story.

At the time of Little Rock, I was at the University of Minnesota and an active member of SNCC. I closely followed all events and hoped for days of racial peace and understanding.

I am still hoping. . . and it is times like this morning that make me realize we are progressing. Yes, baby steps but they are steps forward. For this I am grateful.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Pam said...

What an inspiring story. How well I remember that song from "South Pacific"!
Times have changed but I still hear too many comments based on predjuice. It is a wonderful thing that you did for Kenny...how well he understood.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Ginnie said...

All of your comments are very incisive and thoughtful but, Alan, I was fascinated by yours. It shows that things can change and just reaffirms that so much of what we think and believe is taught to us...not instinctual.
Remember the haunting song in "South Pacific" called "You Have to be Carefully Taught". I copied the words:
You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

11:36 AM  
Blogger Josh Max's blawg said...

It's astounding, really. Because I'm an avid reader, especially of 20th Century American history, I somehow assume everyone knows about the fact that it was legal to shoot a black man to death in the South as late as the 50s. But not so. Fascinating story.

7:35 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

I have to agree....you tell the most interesting stories, Ginnie and you do it extremely well!
What a wonderful gift you and Dick passed on to Kenny. I loved the outcome of your story...because you were kind and compassionate....you greatly touched the life of another human being.
And how great that Kenny still stays in touch. This is a true example of what humans can bring about if they only try. And you and Dick certainly did!

6:20 AM  

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