Reparations: Me Facts
I’ve been writing about race for almost as long as I’ve had this blog. Even before this early post using the metaphor of building a house on a cliff. Specifically, I’ve written about reparations, such as this post on the Mississippi that could have been. My 2022 reparations undertaking is not new. It is focused.
I thought some basic facts about me would be helpful. You’ll recognize some of them. But I need to state them in this, my inaugural reparations post.
I lived in Jackson, Mississippi, from 1960 to 1969. During these formative years (3 years old until 7th grade), white Mississippi legally segregated its citizens by race. White Mississippians had full rights. Black Mississippians did not. Among other things, Black Mississippians paid taxes for public hospitals, parks and beaches, but couldn’t use them. I was well-aware of the hatred that held the color line. Even so, I didn’t know the beaches I loved as a child were closed to African Americans. The beaches opened the year before my mother re-married, and we left Mississippi.
When I returned to Jackson in 1982 to practice law, my law firm had no African American attorneys. I spent five years on the firm’s recruiting committee. I never hired an African American lawyer. When I started the Jackson branch of a Memphis firm, I hired a Black woman to be our office manager, but no Black lawyers.
Nineteen years later, I re-married and began commuting to Memphis. (Re-marriage has been a geographic catalyst for me.) In 2001, I left Mississippi until 2015. That year, living an hour away in New Orleans, we built a beach house on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
My roots in Mississippi branch deep and wide. My father’s family came to Mississippi before the 1830s. Mother’s family arrived sometime in the 1810s. The descendants of these Mississippi families raised me. Their racial philosophies often diverged from each other and from society’s norms. We will get into that later. I’m grateful for that divergence. Some of the most important relationships of my childhood were with Black Mississippians who were not economically dependent on my family. Look for that too.
More than Mississippi shapes my racial autobiography.
My eighth grade class in Charlotte, North Carolina, initiated “court-ordered busing,” first in the country. This supposedly created racially integrated schools. Yet, my SAT classes included one, perhaps two, Black students. My first experience with Black students as classroom peers was in 1974 at North Carolina Governor’s School. God bless Governor’s School. Governor’s School was also responsible for one of my most embarrassing childhood memories. I’ll talk about that…maybe.
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, pressure forced the president to resign from a whites-only country club. The year I graduated, Black UVa students made up 6.3% of the student body. Many African Americans were in my law school class at the University of North Carolina. At my first summer job in law school, all my bosses and colleagues were African American. My step-father’s father was dean of the law school at UNC for years. He was also the first dean of a law school founded in 1939 that admitted Black students. The school was the legislature’s “separate but equal” effort to keep Black students out of Chapel Hill.
How this Shaped Me
Mississippi prides itself on rugged individualism. Truth is, academics call Mississippi in the 1950s and ’60s as close to a fascist state as America has ever known. The state had a secret government-funded spy agency, the Sovereignty Commission. Society was ruled by group control over thought and action. Violating that control led to correction, violence, and killings. I’ll share some of my family’s experience with that “corrective” effort.
Charlotte, where I went to junior high and high school, prided itself on a smooth transition to integrated schools. But in 1999, a judge forbid schools from using race in school assignments. Schools quickly re-segregated.
Again, this is where and when I grew up. It taught me to believe in the rights of the minority against group oppression. It also led me to understand I’m the product of white supremacy. (I don’t know how you call giving access to only certain taxpayers “privilege.”) I cannot be “color-blind,” even if I thought that desirable. Regardless of my mind or heart, my life will lead me to be white, see white, favor white. Again, I’ll probably share such incidents. You may relate.
I don’t think this reparations journey will be easy. It requires hard truths. In preparation, I leave you with this: I have loved Mississippi all my life.