As a product of a small southern town, I wanted to
try to understand what it meant in terms I could put my arms around. I decided to try and find out whether my own small town, Gurdon, Arkansas, had ever had a lynching of an African-American prior to trial. I learned of three--Nat Hadley in 1891, a man named Bowles (first name unknown) in 1892, and Alexander Thompson in 1903. Then I looked up the census figures for Gurdon, Arkansas in that era. In 1890, the census recorded a *total* population for Gurdon, Arkansas of
802 people. In 1900, the figure was 1,045 people.
By coincidence (or synchronicity), my wife had borrowed Sidney Poitier's Lilies of the Field from the library. This is a wonderful film--a quiet almost parable-like piece in which an itinerant workman helps a small group of impoverished nuns in the middle of the desert build a chapel. The movie really put me in a good mood. The Oscar Sidney Poiter won for that film was well-deserved.
The movie was first released in 1963. By 1963, no more lynchings were being conducted in Arkansas. I doubt that Lilies of the Field was shown at the Hoo Hoo Theater in Gurdon, Arkansas. If it had been, though, African Americans would have had to enter through a side doorway. The doorway led straight to the balcony of the theater. A small hole was cut in the back of the concession stand wall to permit purchases of
concessions on the way up the stairs to the balcony.
By the time I was a teen, this had changed.
The segregation whose last vestiges were a part of my early childhood slowly faded away.
I remember, though, playing on segregated baseball teams, going to segregated boy scouts,
and going to schools in which integration, being "purely voluntary", essentially was limited to minimal levels.
Now, the town is largely integrated, except for the churches.
We have far to go. There is much damage to undo.