The Octogenarian – An acquaintance from his youth

Ever since 1962, I have been registering voters whenever I had the time and inclination to do so.  All I would do is go to the county clerk’s office, pick up a stack of voter registration cards, get the permission of a super market manager in an area I chose and set up my card table and a chair. I would stop store customers going and coming and suggest they register and vote.

Well, “times they are a-changing.”  This year, in order to register new voters, I had to attend a class in an inconvenient location and listen to a lecture while watching slides on how to do something that I have been doing for 52 years.  The presentation was well-done and interesting, especially the questions from my fellow trainees.

The result: I am now a licensed “Volunteer Deputy Voter Registrar.” On my official numbered license, I am forced to acknowledge by my signature that I will register only persons who qualify as voters under conditions about which I am not allowed, under the law, to ask them.

But, getting back to the training meeting, while listening to the questions being thrown out, I sensed a presence in the room.  As I looked around, sure enough, in the back of the room sat a person with whom I first made personal contact in the year 1935.  Oh sure, he was dressed more modernly and his job was changed but I recognize his cold eyes and evil smile immediately.  There sat old Jim Crow, back in my life.

Jim and I first met on the playground of Elementary School 234 in Baltimore, Maryland.  The school grounds were a play area for us neighborhood kids, and two of my playmates were a brother and sister, he a year younger and she a year older than me.  I used to think they were pretty silly because living only two houses from our school yard on Beaufort Avenue, they walked down to Hayward Avenue every morning at 6 a.m. and caught a school bus to take them across town and bringing them home after 4:30 p.m.  Oh, I didn’t mention that those two blocks of Beaufort Avenue where they lived were inhabited by colored people who worked in Pamlico.

(Why were they colored?  Because in the 1930s, we did not yet have black or “African American” folks in our midst, only colored, Negro, or the truly nasty “N” word and those people of color lived separately from “us.”)

And guess who drove their school bus to their “separate but equal” elementary school for colored Kids?  Why it was Old Jim Crow.

Also, very important in my life at that time was Mr. Eddie and his family.  Mr. Eddie Robinson worked for my grandfather on the seventh floor of a building at the corner of Fayette Street and Hanover Street where they manufactured men’s coats. Their finished products were combined with those of a pants manufacturer on the fourth floor and put together by a company on the third floor that then sold them as suits.  My mom kept the books for the business so on those days that she worked, she took my brother and I to work with her.

On days when he felt like it, my uncle Kasey would take my brother and I down to the pool hall on the second floor of the building and buy us the best, most succulent sliced brisket sandwich on Pariser’s rye bread, and we would sit, eat and watch uncle Kasey play billiards.

On other days, when Mr. Eddie took my brother and me for brisket sandwiches at the same pool hall, Jimmy Crow went with us, too, because Mr. Eddie was colored. In turn, we had to stand at the end of the sandwich bar and get our sandwiches to go and eat them on the loading dock.

Further, if Mr. Eddie took us anywhere, we got to ride on the back of the trolley car with Jim Crow and all of the colored folks who always seemed to know each other and Mr. Eddie.

In fact, the only good thing I ever found about Jimmy Crow is that on those trolley rides, this cute little white boy invariably found himself sitting in the lap of a stranger, cuddled and held to the warm breast of some warm, matronly, loving, colored lady – pure comfort.

But Jimmy Crow’s main job was to see to it that those folks living on Beaufort Avenue and riding in the back of the trolley cars, particularly my Mr. Eddie, did not and could not vote.

Along came the 1960s, America woke up, and justice prevailed. We got the Voting Rights Act which actually followed our Constitution instead of just talking about it and Jim Crow was given a celebratory funeral and buried.  But we are Americans and our right to vote also gives us a right not to vote and so here we are in the 21st Century and old, dead, Jim Crow has been resurrected here in Texas and in over half of our supposedly United States.

Jim Crow is back and his new job is to see to it that voting is difficult, inconvenient and too often impossible so that as few black folks, old folks and students like you and me, do not get to vote.

So listen up my fellow Bearkats: if your constitution and your personal rights there-under are not important to you, then disregard this message.

But, if you are angry at or just uncomfortable with all this, then there is only one way to send Old Jim Crow back into the pits of hell where he belongs and correct this gross injustice, so I implore you to get off of your dead posteriors and REGISTER AND THEN VOTE.

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