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There’s A Pecan On My Desk
Good morning, there is a pecan on my desk. An oblong, round object the size of a pigeon’s egg. It is very hard and dark brown, with areas of scraped bark that look like moon craters or an aerial shot of the Nile River in winter. It has an equator, my pecan, through its middle there is a crack that joins the two pointed poles of this object, a fruit, a seed full of hope, in reality none. It is an insignificant, useless asteroid made of hard organic matter, except for one fact. This pecan fell from a tree that hovers over James Byrd Jr.’s final resting place, the Cemetery of Eternal Rest on Main Street. I was there two weeks ago and visited the site to see the tombstone with my own eyes.
March in Jasper is beautiful. in every garden there are white, pink and crimson azaleas, blooming fuchsias and purple bougainvillea, flowers in love with spring and bright sunshine. Bees and other insects pollinate to their heart’s content until the miracle of color, hope and rebirth brings joy to the eye. A six-by-four-foot black marble plaque purchased by Dennis Rodman is engraved with a laurel wreath and is surrounded by a wrought-iron fence. There is nothing but his name, his birthday, and June 7, 1998, the date of his death, when his body was dragged behind a chain-driven logging truck in the eastern suburbs of Jasper until it disintegrated, he was forty-nine years old. Vases of plastic flowers surround the tomb, attached to the fence, bouquets of carnations and roses in bleached yellows and reds. A flock of finches and crows peck the ground of the grassy cemetery, large oaks and walnut trees stand guard at the site.
Near the grave are names like Frazier and Williams, Ella Mae and Jeanetta, black southern names. His body rests on the black side of Jasper Cemetery before the fence was torn down.
When his sister died in 1999 and was buried nearby, the family issued a statement, saying that although the fence separating the white from the black side of the cemetery had been torn down, nothing had really changed. They actually felt that she would rather be laid to rest with the blacks, on the black side, near her brother and they did. Because black is black and white is white. Not much has changed since the Civil War. In the living rooms and parlors of white people’s houses, “Kuns and blacks” still echo, white people still follow the advice of their grandfathers.
‘Just tell them hi and bye, don’t mess with them’…’
While on the other side of the fence, when a black man encounters a beauty with blond hair, blue eyes and milky white skin, his grandmother’s words ring in his ears,
‘Don’t look them in the eye son, go through and make sure you treat them like ladies…’
So that you don’t end up hanging from a tree with a noose around your neck, or having your balls cut off and stuffed into your mouth, thrown into the garbage can. Jasper talks about evenly divided blacks and whites, it was one of the last hiding places for civil war conscientious objectors. Rebel flags are still high and mighty in homes, schools and pickup trucks. If you drive south from Woodville to the town of Kounze at night, you’ll be forced to drive past a house with a proud white cross in the middle of its front lawn. An eight-foot cross with lots of light bulbs that make it look like it’s on fire. The Civil War passed through the pines of the mountain at night. never mind that General Custer and his wife spent some time in this city that is called the jewel of Texas, the races coexist, but the great divide continues.
It’s a shame, isn’t it, that so much blood was spilled on both sides and so many years later the oppression continues. I guess it goes back to William Rehnquist who said that prejudice cannot be removed from the heart of any man. That in the bathroom, while shaving, he is hurt by fear and hatred towards otherness, diversity. When he is alone, a man agrees with himself, these guys are strange, why don’t they go back to Africa or Korea or Mexico or wherever they came from, glasses and Chinese, “cans”, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, etc. However, on the street, in the center of society, in the workplaces where we all earn a living, law and opportunity should apply equally to us. Is not man’s trouble in the world one and the same?
I return to Jasper this weekend, the bluecaps and Indian paintbrushes are in full bloom, the red bud trees remind me that there is a loving and caring universal artist who has painted the woods with an exquisite palette. I see his message written on the wall,
“Treat others as you would expect them to treat you.”
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