A Message From The Past With A Lesson For The Future
by Damon L. Fordham
Recently, a young lady named Antoinette Bennefield showed me a very facscinating document. It was a collection of recollections and anecdotes written by her 89-year old grandaunt Mrs. Hattie Forbes under the title, "How The White People Treated the Black People in the South."
Mrs. Forbes, who was born in Foxworth, Mississippi in 1911, now lives in Kankakee, Illinois. She wrote down her thoughts of a largely forgotten time and of the current era so that future generations may learn from them-and what a lot to learn!
Mrs. Forbes began by talking about her father. "My father was a slave. He had 18 children, 12 boys and 6 girls. My father did not have a chance to go to school, but he had good mother wit (common sense). He never put on shoes until he was 20 years of age. Now as soon as a child is born' they get shoes. My father said his first job paid two cents an hour. He said he was happy with it. People have come a long way sonce that time."
She recalled some truly horrible racial incidents growing up in Mississippi. One begins, "My first cousin was shot about 500 times. After that, they shot his brother, and told his mother that if she don't laugh and say that she thanked them for it killing her son, they would kill her. You know, that is so bad. But God got his eyes on everybody."
"My brother-in-law was on a bus coming from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. A Black woman was on there and her baby got sick. The bus driver stopped the bus and said, "Stop that baby from crying," but she coudn't stop him. The driver went back there and killed that baby in her lap. There was also a White soldier on the bus. He went up to the front of the bus where the driver was and cut that driver's throat from ear to ear. The soldier drove the bus to Columbia, Mississippi, and that's where my brother-in-law got off."
"Four men took a test for the Post Office. One was Black, three was White. The White men failed the test and the Black man passed. When the Black men went to take the job, they tried to kill him, but another White man slipped him away to save his life."
Mrs. Forbes went on to talk about more current issues, such as drugs, youth crime, and religion. But it may surprise some to know of her optimistic view on race relations.
"When I was growing up, you didn't see no White people in the Black churches. But now, they do come to the Black churches. I think that is nice, because we cannot expect to make it into the kingdom of heaven unless we have fellowship. We will never have a good place to live or stay until we come together and love one another and care for each other."
There is a lot that can be said about all of this. For one thing, this document helps to exlain to some why there is still so much mistrust between the Black and White races in this country. Many people who committed the type of acts Mrs. Forbes witnessed and expereinced passed down their attitudes to future generations while at the same time, those who expereinced such brutality similarly passed down their anger through the generations.
There is also something inspirational about this. I suppose it would amaze some people that Mrs. Forbes, after all of the negative things that she has seen and experienced, still has love for humanity. But that says a lot to the current and future generations. We all know people who have not suffered nearly as much as Mrs. Forbes has and who will never see the type of things that she has witnessed, but yet they are so filled with hatred for the world and everyone in it and most people would cross the street and hold their ears when they see then coming.
Granted, some people's expereiences have been so horrible that I would never suggest that such individuals should not become bitter. However, the fact that Mrs. Hattie Forbes could witness and experience the worst excesses of man's inhumanity to man and still have love in her heart for mankind sends a message that we all need to hear.