Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama's Historic Win: One Natchezian's View

As I said in this article, I spent election night at a party. Without a doubt, the most excited person there was Mary Jane. Recently, she sent around an email to family and friends. I found it very moving and asked if I could post it here. Here is the version she sent, which I publish here proudly.

November 4, 2008 , election night, was a historic night for me. I realized I had lived to see what I thought would not happen in my lifetime. Upon hearing my candidate, Barack Obama, was elected President of the United States, all I could do was cheer, cry and repeat, “I can’t believe it.” Calls of joy came pouring in from my family, my brother in Seoul, Korea’s Embassy, my son at the Barcelona’s Consulate’s party where he appeared on TV, from my son at a Democratic Party of Expatriates in Madrid, from my son celebrating with thousands on the streets of Seattle waving the American flag and cheering, from Northern Virginia, Wisconsin, and Louisiana!! My faith that society could change for the better was suddenly restored. My lost faith replaced with the faith that good can prevail.

You see, I was born here in Mississippi at the start of World War II, and I lived to know that my Dad was different. For one thing he voted for Harry Truman, when most Southerners refused to do so because Truman integrated the army. My Dad led the family in the daily prayer and discussion of the social gospel. Christianity without social action was meaningless, he said. In my first election I received some ugly descriptions, because I proudly voted for LBJ when most of my race would not, as he had signed the voting rights amendment. I had registered to vote at the Adams County Court House by only signing my name, while at the same time a man of color was being asked to interpret a complex clause of the Constitution. I knew that our Southern way of life did not treat Blacks as equals. On my wedding day Blacks tried to use Duncan Park for the first time and were met with Klansman with chains, baseball bats, swing blades, and guns. It marred that day, and I knew I had to help change the place where I was born. I could never pretend I did not know what was going on. I did not want to be living blindly.

Just thinking differently had its isolation. It was rare to find friends to openly talk to. Most were newcomers, FBI workers and their families, civil right lawyers, and COFO workers. There were other like minded Whites, Francis Trosclair, Father Morrisy, and of course, my hero Marge Baroni, my spiritual mentor. Marge was a convert to Catholicism along with my dad Tom Reed. She was highly intelligent with an open mind, heart, and home. It was at her home I met Dorothy Day, Lena Gitter, and many national people who made their way to her frequently bombed home. Old friends tolerated me, and just didn’t talk politics. This silence, or denial, was deadly. When the town was about to explode in violence, no elected officials were taking action. With Marge, I sent letters to all the MISS-LOU Black and White churches to invite Women Concerned about Natchez to come together. One hundred fifty persons came. Twenty-five were White, but they were people of strong conviction and prominence in the community - Grace McNeil, Anna Rose Metcalfe, and Gladys Smith to name only a few. I wish we had a sign in sheet just to remember who all came. Just coming to the meeting at night at St. Mary ‘s Cathedral in the midst of a town about to go up in smoke was scary. Inside the meeting, signs adorned the walls of St Theresa’s Hall with a quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy, “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who in a time of crisis do nothing.” Our meeting the next month was cancelled because several new explosions took place. The National Guard rolled into to town with armed soldiers and tanks to keep order. The Mayor’s new grocery store on North Pine was bombed, his home was bombed, and several buildings on St Catherine Street were blown up. Marches continued asking for the simplest of actions, courtesy titles for grown ups, and Blacks on the police force. More arrests. Jails were overfilled and so bus loads of arrested Blacks were taken to prison at Parchman,

The fear that prevailed in the town is almost impossible for people to believe today. With more threats, I moved my children out of the front of the house. Attending a workshop at the NAACP headquarters was frightening. I volunteered to teach in the all Black public Sadie V. Thompson just to help overcome the distance between the races.

Encouraging Blacks to overcome their fear and, for the first time in their lives, to register to vote was difficult. The roots of their fear were old and deep. Unwritten in any Natchez Democrat stories, things were happening to keep the status quo. People were beaten in the middle of the night, killed and thrown off bridges. Some were picked up at night, stripped naked, and left to die in the woods. Others were threatened with bombs and cross burnings in the middle of the night. A Ferriday man was locked in his place of work and burned to death. Many were killed. Churches, cars, stores, and homes were bombed. Terrorism was alive and well in Natchez, Mississippi. As far as I know there are no recorded records of all these events, but there needs to be.

I saw fifty or so Klansman in full dress in their white hoods riding their horses around a giant burning cross at Liberty Ball Field. Their ugly deeds were whispered about in the White world, but caused fear, deep fear in the hearts of the Black world and in the world of Whites who stepped out of line. A riot occurred to allow one Black man to enter Ole Miss. From the pulpits it was usually silence. Any White minister who dared to challenge the Southern way of life was forced to leave town or suffered other consequences. Terrorism was tearing the heart and soul out of this town and all of Mississippi. Much that happened I don’t know, despite trying to know. Mississippi was the Closed Society, to quote James Silver, who was forced to leave Ole Miss for saying so in his book published in 1962

Just before this current election of November 4, 2008, I was told I should not vote for Obama because “under his rule the terrorist from ‘over there’ would be on our streets here in the US - just like Baghdad ” Well, my friends, they have been on our streets. A bloody war 150 years ago was not enough to stop the mistreatment of one race by another. The reign of terror from that war through the Civil Rights movement was not enough. But those laws did change some of the people. The fact is our country has elected the first Black U.S. President. Best of all they voted not because of his race, but for his character, knowledge, his record, and his temperament. Martin Luther King’s dream is coming true.

I think, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, we as members of the United States can celebrate that our country has changed. My family can all testify that the whole world is looking at us differently and with greater respect. The Declaration of Independence is no longer full of the shadow of hypocrisy. We are now a true model for the world! I can’t believe we made this much change in my life time!!


Anonymous said...

Though I was a little girl, I remember the pervasive tension and news of the bombings. The black people that worked for my parents were family to me and they were terrified during that time. I did not understand what was happening and did not realize how much sadness I felt about it until a few years ago. In sharing memories with friends, we all shed tears as we talked about those days. I still can't think about it without feeling sick.

Mary Jane Gaudet said...
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Mary Jane Gaudet said...

I do want to acknowledge that I did not include the courage of Monseigneur Thomas Fullman who integrated the Catholic Schools in Natchez in 1964,six years before the public schools were integrated. Many in the parish moved their children to the public schools and stopped giving money to the church. It truly broke the heart of this truly good priest.

I also want to acknowledge that it was most likely not tanks, but only trucks with the National Guard. To my little son and to me they appeared awfully big!

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Tom Reed said...
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Tom Reed said...

My sister is my personal hero because she chose to stay in Natchez and stand up for social justice. I moved North.

Before moving to Wisconsin in 1969,for graduate work in Social Work, I had been a Catholic priest in Mississippi. In June of 1964, a memorable year,my first assignment was to Assumption Parish on the outskirts of Natchez.

One of my Sunday jobs was to drive to Meadville in Franklin County to say Mass. All went well there, but I knew the Klan was active in Natchez, and probably in control of the Natchez police department. Two men in the parish warned me to only drive to Meadville with guns!!

Having attended the "I Have a Dream" march in Washington in 1963, something I had to conceal from my Dad and Bishop Gerow, I was in awe of Martin Luther King and his courage. His life was threatened many times. I chose, however, to get some guns.

I went home and borrowed my Dad's Army pistol, a Colt .45 caliber, and my old 410 shotgun. I armed them and kept them in my car when traveling out of Natchez, and then under my bed at Assumption Parish.

The murder of the three young civil rights workers that summer in Philadelphia,Mississippi was frightening. Only years later did I learn about the murder of two young black men in the Homochitto National Forrest that same summer.

I overcame my fears and taught in Catholic schools in Mississippi for five years. The focus of my life was to be a witness against the war that was being waged against black Mississippians.

A time went on, I was worn down, isolated and discouraged. I met my future wife, Judy Sims, got married and moved to Wisconsin.

But it was my sister, Jane, who stayed. And not only stayed, but wrote and "preached" in the same way I had done. What a priest she would have been, with courage far more than I had.

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bowser2222@aol.com said...

Thank you, Casey, for posting that but mostly, thank you, Mary Jane, for writing it. I too remember those days as I was teaching in Memphis the day that Dr. King was shot. My mother, a dear friend of your dad's, was Mayor Nosser's secretary and I feared for her safety. My dad, a Yankee doctor, was threatened for his views, and his friendship with Dr. Lee McAmis, who integrated his waiting room.

Thank you for staying here and making a difference. I came home and I see and feel the changes. I am proud to live in a county who voted, black and white, for our president.

drcusmc said...

Obama may have had a historic win but it was not due to my vote. His race had nothing to do for voting against him. There are just too many question about him that worry me. Above all is his stance on abortion, which he favors. How killing the unborn be any good for America or any nation for that matter. One other reason I did not vote for him was he and his party have demonized Bush for the last eight years. Bush should be thanked for having the guts to go after our enemies while they were still out of our country.
I lived in Natchez until 1955. At that time there was no civil unrest that I remember. I would be interested to know where I could find any information of thoes things going on against the black population. If just one is true it's a shame and should never happened.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Mary Jane. It does, indeed, take a brave soul, a forgiving heart, to continue on in this "southern" place after experiencing the hatred and hypocrisy of so many around you.

I like, best, what your father advocated: "Christianity without social action was meaningless".

Anonymous said...

You have taken a very admirable stance for justice and true democracy during your life Mary Jane. America is slowly becoming the nation its Founders intended it to be. Let's hope the anti-progressive forces remain on the defensive.

Casey, leave the comments of the racists on the blog. Expose them for what they are.

As far as Obama and the Democrats "demonizing" Bush for the last eight years, Bush created his own legacy with his contempt of the Constitution and legislative and judicial branches of government.

Marty Ellerbe said...

I agree with you folks that Obama's election is indicative of positive change in the country at least regarding race relations.

Being a Ron Paul supporter I would have no sooner voted for McCain than Obama because I really do not see much difference between the two.

I find it interesting that the true left in the country is just a displeased as the true right with Obama's election, distrusting the massive amounts of Wall St. money Obama obtained during his campaign. The overt Marxists are viewing Obama as a fascist imperialist.

And reading over the blog and posts I think it is ill advised any time clerics involve themselves in political activism. This has caused untold grief around the world and much of the violence that occured in Natchez during those days could have been avoided without all the outside agitation.

Anonymous said...

Again, the difference between Republicans and Democrats is this: Republicans were the ones in the 60s heading up the change while it was southern Democrats opposed to it. And at present time, Republicans were proud of our country BEFORE Obama's election and after, not simply after his election like Democrats. Like Bush or not, he put more minorities in prominent positions than any other president, Democrat or Republican. It also appears that Michael Steele (a black man) may be the new chair of the Republican National Committee. Predictably, the press will not cover this event. When Reublicans break barriers, it's not news even though they are the ones who historically are the first to do it.

Anonymous said...

Hooray for DRCUSMC- the post was dead on.

And as for the posting by Mary Jane- she is a nut from way back. Liberal, liberal, liberal.

Funny how the " proud Americans" always refer to Obammy as " the nation's first black President", and how we should be so proud of having elected a "black man".

Well, your very actions of referring to Obammy that way tells me how racist YOU are.

How high are you all kicking for Obammy with this whole Illinois governor scandal??