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.