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Miss Trixie and Thee


Lots of interesting and very moving mail this morning, off my Miss Trixie column. I’m hearing from white Southerners of my generation, who remember trying to deal with the paradox of white folks of previous generations who were kind and fair in their dealings with blacks, but nevertheless called black folks “nigger,” and supported segregation. And then there are letters that testify to why Trent Lott’s offhanded comment sympathizing for the segregated South really is a big deal. Check out this letter from a reader recounting something that he witnessed in Virginia in the late 1980s:

“I worked on a trash truck during the summers in high school. It was a
pretty rough caliber of guys working on the truck, and one, a ‘bear of a man’
named Leon, used to brag about his treatment of blacks, in the
unambiguously colorful patois of sanitation engineers. This was pretty
startling stuff for me, a middle-class white kid from the suburbs. It
was also a heady education.

Leon was born and raised in Virginia, maybe an hour outside DC. He was
probably in his mid-fifties at the time, and had gone to high school in
the still-segregated commonwealth. He tells it best, and I could sense at
the time that it was the gospel truth:

’One time, I was driving along in my convertible. I’d just gone to
McDonalds, and got a burger and a chocolate milkshake. This was when we
still had segregated schools. I saw this nigger boy walking along the
side of the road, in a white tux, to his school’s prom. Me, I unloaded that
milkshake, hit him right in the chest. You should’ve seen the look on
that young buck’s face!’

With not much effort, the tableau is compelling — the amount of work
that black boy must’ve had to do to afford the rent for a tuxedo, about his
probable excitement at meeting his date at an unlikely – and probably
singular – event in his life. You can imagine the absolute shock to his
mind of realizing that a special affair has just been irrevocably crushed, and the long walk home.

I know that Leon’s hatred was more than racism – he was just a ‘hateful
soul,’ as my grandmother would say, and blacks weren’t the only victim
of his anger. I should’ve told him that I thought it was an awful story,
tried to square the circle, but he was big and rough, and I was a scrawny high
school kid – I’m not alone in failing at moral courage now and then, and
I’m sure stories like this aren’t hard to find.”


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