Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Delta Discussion

I've been working hard to bring Greenwood to life on the page, and it's working.  I have an amazing research assistant who tirelessly scours digital archives and reaches out to professors in an effort to get the most accurate data we can.  The more that I learn about Greenwood in the 1960s, the more amazed I am.  There's so much about what happened in that small town that sheds light on how regular, everyday people could seemingly ignore systematic, sustained societal racism.

When the documentary about my grandfather premiered in New York City in April, 2012, someone from the audience asked how I would respond to black Christians who hate homosexuals.  He seemed to feel that it was hypocritical for blacks to talk about the oppression of yesterday if they were actively engaged in oppressing homosexuals today.  I agreed with him, but then I explained that every group has their jihad.  Every group has that subset of extremists.  Just because a person is a member of a group, doesn't mean that they represent all of the other members of that group, or that they agree with every idea that comes from that group.

In towns like Greenwood, there were men and women who made it their mission to maintain a segregated state.  What blows me away is the lengths that they went to in order to achieve their goals.  Very, very, very few books talk about this, but there was a newsletter called "A Delta Discussion" that was distributed door to door.  The newsletter was filled with dire predictions about what would happen if the schools were integrated.  They included stories from far off communities that had tried to integrate and then had incidents of violence.  These newsletters also included the names of white store owners who were enforcing the Civil Rights Act, by allowing blacks to patronize their establishments.  Whites were encouraged to stop going to these stores all together.

It's important to remember that Greenwood was a small town, surrounded by plantations.  Most whites in Greenwood had known the other whites in Greenwood for all of their lives.  These relationships had been establishments generations before the civil rights movement came along.  Most whites had grown up with a distorted view of blacks.  They were too close to it to question it.  Then people from the outside (from the Northern states) began to question how Southern blacks were being treated.  Those questions were challenged, not by strangers, but by the neighbors.  Whites who were racist in Greenwood had an enormous amount of influence over other whites because of the familiarity between the two groups.  

Imagine having someone come into your town for a visit and tell you that your wife is unhappy in your marriage.  Your friends tell you not to listen to this stranger.  They can all but prove to you that your wife is happy  Your wife is silent.  Most blacks over the age of 25 were relatively silent on civil rights until the tide started to turn.  Pretending that things weren't as bad for blacks as Northern whites were describing was pretty simple to do.

The efforts to maintain segregation became a complex, intricate, and expertly executed campaign.  The campaign struck people where they would feel it the most.  The average Greenwood citizen was made to believe that if they let integration occur that they would lose their children.  Their children would marry blacks who, according to the campaign were beast-like illiterates.  Many believed that blacks were more sexual than whites.  Why did they believe these things?  Do you believe the earth is round?  How do you know?  Have you personally conducted science experiments to prove it or do you just know because that's what someone in authority told you?

Obviously, I don't support or condone racism or people who ignore racism.  But if I seek only to distance myself from the "white Southerner" and lump then all in with Byron De La Beckwith, then I'm missing an opportunity to learn an important lesson about human nature.  I've forced myself to really ponder whether or not I would have the eyes to see past the rhetoric and see the oppression of the people around me if I was a white middle class person living in Greenwood in the 1960s.

What I know is that Booker Wright provided that opportunity for many Greenwood whites.  He did something that removed their blinders.  And for that, I am thankful.


  1. Yvette your work is very important and how you tell the story of your Grandfather was so moving and honest. I watched the film last night as I was just scrolling through Netflix. What an important film. Here I am the next day trying to see if Blackie was let out of prison and the status today.
    This subject is still so relevant in our society which is unfortunate. I was born 2 weeks after JFK was shot and I shake my head at what was going on in the world at that time that I never truly knew about because I was born in Buffalo NY and was raised to be "colorblind".
    Your grandfather is a man to be admired on so many levels. He had choices in his life and outside restrictions always against him, yet he was giving and successful. He truly served "mankind" not just people at restaurants. He lived his life not yelling or fighting but by example and that was his power. At least that is how I see him.
    His legacy lives on in you, his children, and the fact that his story is being told. I think this film should be added to elementary school curriculum to help/show young minds how someone who grew up feeling abandoned, didn't give up and hate, but succeeded and ultimately died for living his life in a godly way, with manners, integrity, charity and oh what a smile he did have!
    Thanks you for sharing this story and to the filmmakers who helped you.
    For those that are racist and read this, I feel the need to say, I am an American, who happens to be white, and Jewish.

    1. I whole heartedly agree with this comment.

  2. Thank you, Joni for your thoughtful comment. It always inspires me when someone new connects to this story and takes the time to let me know how it moved them. I agree about adding this story to curriculum. I'm trying to make more and more educators aware of my grandfather's story. Please stay connected! We need people like you!

    1. Well, stay inspired!! (smile) Call Dr. Drew and see if you can be on his show! Right now with the Zimmerman trial it makes me nuts how the "race card" is exploding in such a horrible way. Your Grandfather didn't fall into being a "victim" of his society. He was smart enough to know how to work the system to be successful. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We ALL have to work the system, life is not fair or just all the time for anyone. "Bloom where your planted" is a favorite saying of mine. Kids today don't have "examples" of hero's, they have examples of fear, anger and violence.

      I've seen previews lately for a new Oprah film, I wish it was about Booker Wright. Coming back to this post a month later, I still find it incredible, amazing and proof that God exists for what your Grandfather did with his life, especially at the time he did it.

      I hope you stay very inspired Yvette. If I have to come here once a month and tell you how terrific you are I will! But in the meantime. I hope all good things for you and your family. His legacy does live on and how truly incredible that one person, a little boy who felt alone, abandoned and was abused and kept growing and believing. But most important he never stopped loving. Sheesh, call Oprah, Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, this needs to be made into a major motion picture to reach more people.

      I wish I had money to help promote this, but I have faith in you to make the "Wright" choices. Hey I like can use it.. The Wright Choice..


  3. Thank you for your continued dedication to the legacy of your grandfather. I also saw the film on Netflix and i was alternately enraged and brought to tears at witnessing the horrible humiliation that your grandfather had to endure under the system of the Jim Crow South, which I keep reminding people was not that long ago! We need to be reminded of the courage of men like your grandfather so we can stop the terrifying momentum backwards that this country seems to be taken. Thank you for sharing and inspiring with this story. Blessings to you and your kin.
    (i'm just publishing as anonymous since i don't have one of these accounts listed- my name is Cristina)

  4. My husband and I were glued to the TV watching the documentary on your grandfather. We were reminded of another one about the interracial of the Loves. We were staying in Hilton Head and were stunned to see what was obvious racism there and the surrounding towns and cities. We are from California, actually the whitest county in the state. We moved to Sacramento for our son to attend high school, hoping it would be more like the real world. I can't say we succeeded, tho, as California is just as segregated as the rest of the country. What is the answer and when will see the person before the color? And why are we afraid to provide equal opportunity to all people? Thank you for your work.