May 30, 2023

Researching the Truth

In writing “Fadeaway Joe,” I researched the history of racial segregation in Virginia. My main
character, Joe Pendergast, is 64 years old. He was 10 years old in 1968 and would have recalled
life under the Massive Resistance movement that fought the Supreme Court decision that
outlawed the doctrine of “separate but equal.”

Joe’s father ran a corner grocery store in the 1960s and belonged to the Klan. As Joe recalls, his
dad wasn’t a flag-waver when it came to bigotry. He just viewed it as a good business decision,
because so many of his customers were Klan members or sympathizers.

How many during that time rationalized their ugly views by “going along to get along,” or
maybe convinced themselves that their opposition to racial injustice wouldn’t change anything,
so why try?

In looking into practices of that time, it was the little things that got to me. A Black person in a
white-owned store didn’t have the luxury of trying on different sets of clothes or picking up
produce to examine it. If they touched it, they bought it.

If they paid in cash and were due change, the white store owner would drop coins into their
palm, being careful not to touch Black skin. Really.

Some public schools in Hampton Roads closed rather than accept Black students. In some cases,
it gave rise to “segregation academies” that accepted white kids.

Today, we seem as divided as ever. But for those of us at a certain age (I’ll turn 65 later this
year) it doesn’t seem that long ago.