Dan Mitchum

Dan Mitchum

Even if you never read Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945), you’re likely to have heard his satirical phrase, “more equal.” Furthermore, I’d assume that most are aware that the double-speak inherent in those two words is much like the oxymoronic jumbo shrimp and legal ethics.

When the U.S. Supreme Court sanctioned “separate, but equal,” via Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), they basically sentenced Southern blacks to six more decades of “less equal” treatment due to historic racial segregation and discrimination.

In many respects, my generation came of age during some of the most significant and volatile years of what came to be known as the Civil Rights Movement. The “Movement,” in short, was a concerted effort to raise awareness and overcome the hypocrisy of the “separate, but equal” doctrine. Historians generally consider the “Movement” to encompass 1954 — 1968. Here are just a few of the seminal events that made history during my coming of age (1956 -1964):

  • Brown v. Board of Education, 1954;
  • Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955-1956;
  • Desegregating Little Rock Central High School, 1957;
  • Sit-ins, 1958-1960, including Greensboro, 1960; and
  • The “Voting Rights Act,” 1965

Thanks to the evening news, I was somewhat aware of the events above, but realistically, none of them affected my day-to-day life. Schools, churches, and much of my college and community life, remained firmly segregated. Perhaps there were some attempts to desegregate some local institutions, but I have no memory of such.

I’ve long been convinced that we teach more by what we do, rather than by what we say. This is especially true in our roles as parents. So, while some of the words my parents used regarding race might not have passed muster, I do feel that all things considered, they demonstrated to my sister and me that most black folks were much like us: honest, hard-working folk who were doing the best they could to achieve certain family goals. That said, I can’t recall any comments or discussion in our home as to the profound disadvantages that blacks in our community faced. Neither was there any acknowledgement, much less empathy, that they might’ve had similar goals and dreams for their children. Nevertheless, several events from that era are firmly fixed in my memory. Here’s one of them.

During my freshman or sophomore year of high school, a new student entered our class. Ordinarily, this was no big deal… but in this case it was. Erlindo, who we’d later call Lindy, had brown skin and straight, jet-black hair. I’m quite sure there were students at Carver, the county’s only black high school, whose skin tone was the same or lighter than Lindy’s. The question my friends and I never asked was, “Why wasn’t Lindy compelled to enroll at Carver?” Not that we felt he should. Soft-spoken, and with a big smile, he made friends easily.

I may not have the conclusive answer, but I have a good guess. Lindy and his older brother, also enrolled at our school were Filipinos and lived with a local couple. I don’t recall anything about their parents, or how the arrangement came to be, but they also worked for the family.

David and Winifred Lindsay lived in an attractive home with some acreage just north of Rutherfordton. Mr. Lindsay was a retired textile engineer, banker, and philanthropist. Much of their acreage was pasture land where Mrs. Lindsay raised goats and sold goat milk. Their award-winning, Chimney Rock Goat Farm was no small operation; in 1959 they were milking some 200 goats. Here’s a personal recollection shared by a friend who visited the farm:

I remember going there as a young girl to visit with my paternal grandmother … who was a good friend of Mrs. Lindsay. We lived very close to the goat farm on Chimney Rock Road. During hot summer days … you could definitely smell the goats. I’m almost positive the Lindsay’s had no children. They kept some of their favorite goats in their home as pets. They treated them like their children.

I can’t say whether the “forced” integration of Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas, had any impact on the “selective” integration of R-S Central High in our small North Carolina community, but both did occur around the same time. Suffice it to say the Lindsays were well-off pillars of the community who just happened to be friends with Mr. and Mrs. Carl Sandburg (yes, the Carl Sandburg) who also had a goat farm less than an hour away in Flat Rock. No doubt, the families — or at least the women--had a mutual interest in their “kids.” Perhaps in this milieu, Lindy and his brother were “more equal” than the brown-skinned students at Carver High.

Equality is like pregnancy — there’s no more or less to it. Additionally, the on-going struggle for racial equality is a societal issue. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed this issue directly as follows, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re (all) in the same boat now.”