Sunday, September 16, 2012

good old days?

Full circle         Usually, I hesitate to write about history with a poet’s passion. But I want to do that now.

“No one showed, so I’ll take my daughters out to dinner,” said the black Councilman, a tall and personable man I’d known and respected for 15 years. Although the block party that had barricaded our short street since 3:00 p.m. had been bad for business, as a political rally, it had come and gone like an empty bandwagon. Other than a handful who’d come to hear a stellar (and local!) rap artist, only the organizers and their coterie attended. It proved a perfect day to play basketball in the middle of Union Street.

Even so, a few found their way into our store. One was a long time customer, Steve, who had moved to Hillsborough. I showed him changes that are in the works, new construction and renovation that will literally change the momentum of our city. He was shocked.

And I was about to be. Two women walked into our store. I assumed they’d come from the rally. That wasn’t the case; they’d come to see me. I knew one of the women. She was the title search wizard at the bank across the street. “My friend wants to rent one of the offices in your building next door,” she said.

Impressed with our renovation of that building, I suggested a tour of my apartment, “Upstairs,” I pointed. Only the banker had time.

She loved it. “I’m from New Jersey,” she said. “This is like something I might see up there. I want to see this in all of these buildings.”

Downstairs, our conversation shifted. We talked about the Civil Rights Era when she her family had lived in Danville. “That’s why my parents left,” she said. “I grew up away from events like Bloody Monday.” She explained that her parents didn’t want her to grow up afraid of the harm segregation might cause. Although she would come to know that her parents regretted the limitations placed on blacks in southern Virginia, she grew up knowing little about the denial of civil rights in the south.

“But when I started working at the bank, I learned about Maceo Martin. His daughter works in our bank!” She was excited. “She has so many stories to tell.”

I wanted to hear them, especially because, although my family was in the middle of that Civil Rights Era in Danville, I didn’t know the man. “Maceo was a visionary. His daughter told me about the time when she was ten years old. Her father told her to get on the city bus and to sit in the front. She loved her father so she did what he said to do.”

I was intrigued. Maceo had instructed his daughter to be polite, not to argue. He’d explained that she might not be allowed to ride the bus if she sat in the front seat. If so, she was to leave the bus, then walk to his bank, not many blocks from where she got on the bus.

“The driver refused to move the bus, said he wouldn’t go unless she sat in back. She told him she was comfortable sitting right where she was. He asked her three times. Each time she refused. Then he called the police. A policeman came and escorted her off the bus.”

From there, she walked to her Dad’s office at the bank. “She was afraid,” the banker told me. “But she did what her Dad told her to do.”

I wanted to hear more, asked whether I could meet Maceo’s daughter. Then I mentioned my Dad and his Civil Rights work, that he had the first integrated staff in Danville. We talked about that for a while, about Rev. Lawrence Campbell and his sons.

“When it was my turn,” I said, “I tried to integrate one of the area’s private golf courses.” Briefly, I explained how I had secured a share of stock for a black realtor who was an avid golfer.

When I mentioned his name, she was surprised as if I’d just called out her lottery ticket number. A moment later, she explained why.

“Of course, I know him. He was married to Maceo’s daughter!”

                                    B. Koplen 9/16/12
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about Maceo Martin:
In 1948, Maceo Martin, an African American from Danville, Va., tried to enter Staunton River State Park and was refused.
…Maceo Martin, an African American from Danville, Va., tried to enter Staunton River State Park and was refused. Martin subsequently filed suit against the Virginia Conservation Commission, to test the validity of the commission’s policy of not providing overnight facilities in state parks for persons of color. According to the Board of Conservation and Development minutes of Dec. 2, 1948, the commission “desiring to provide comparable facilities for the Negroes…decided to expand the facilities of the Negro recreational area in Prince Edward County.” …in 1950, keeping with the separate but equal doctrine, Virginia opened Prince Edward State Park for Negroes, with facilities comparable to those in other state parks…eight Virginia state parks, however, continued to operate under a policy of racial segregation.

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