J. SurlesAugust 26 2011
My granddaughter and I saw “The Help.” So very good but, as a Southerner, very painful and made me ashamed. I've read the criticism and don't agree that the white writer was central to the story. I actually thought the white writer character was weak if anything and the criticism that her story drove the picture was not true at all. As I saw it, the two main African American women were central to the movie and if they are not nominated for an academy award, I will be surprised/disappointed.
“The Help” was set In 1925. Roughly, 15 years before I was born. My own family were tenant farmers (sometimes called share croppers). We didn’t have the maids, the poor didn’t but in my town, many did. The stuff depicted in the movie like the Women’s Club, etc. existed in my hometown. I can’t say the awful, hurtful prejudice was there in 1950 as it did in “The Help’s” 1925 but probably more than a hint of the prejudice is still around.
Of course, “separate but equal” was the refrain in 1950. And, a giant billboard outside my hometown existed well into my High School days, “Join the Klu Klux Klan and help fight integration.
As I look back and remember, the absolute amazing thing is the attitude of my dad. My dad was so ahead of his time. He never allowed blacks to come to the back door which was the practice and he regularly lectured us on treating people fairly.
We were tobacco farmers and harvesting tobacco was a big deal. My dad, for instance, was the first ever in our area to hire blacks to help us with the tobacco. Even poor white people didn’t want blacks working beside them in the fields and certainly not doing the things at the tobacco barns that the whites did, i. e., cropping tobacco in the fields or stringing it at the barns (this has always flummoxed me as I’ve believed that being poor was the great equalizer). Woe, unto them, they would possibly be working beside blacks. And, no way could they be paid as much as a white person. We’re talking 1950.
The farm was owned by a Mrs. Buckley. I was with my dad and was about 12 years old when she told him he couldn’t use blacks (and she used another word). He said OK, but did it anyway, as he said he had already promised several and was not going back on his word. When Ms Buckely discovered it, it was too late. She never forgave him, plus we had a hard time getting the crop harvested as all the whites quit. And, as I remember, it was quite a “stir” in the town and area. Mrs. Buckely would never rent the land to him again. (not sure about this but I think that Mrs. Buckely got so angry at my dad she had a stroke. Her family always blame the stroke on my dad anyway). As I remember, however, my dad never missed a step. I half understood it all, but what I did know was his philosophy which was always “do what you think is right.”
Funny as I’m telling my granddaughter all these stories and she is giving me the “nobody is home look.” And, some of my Dad’s actions had repercussions. One of them I remember clearly. A tradition in the South (at least around us, maybe this was just for us farmer kids) was that every year, you got a new pair of what you called, “school shoes.” We always shopped at King’s Department Store in town and everything was “on credit” as Dad had an account. Plus, now when I think about those things, how really different is it today? The merchandise probably was marked up and what was charged those like my dad was more than cash customers or the town’s folks. Dad worked at the textile mill on the night shift and I think he was paid every other week.
And, so he, as we did in the South, the poor/tenant farmers/blacks, bought on credit and those like my Dad, when they got paid, would “settle up.” At least I think that is the way it worked. We were long-time customers of King’s Department Store.
Mr. King wouldn’t charge the shoes; we had to pay cash. There were some heated words, as I remember, as Mr King thought Dad spent too much time with the “coloreds” (blacks). I’m not sure what happened but, I do remember that my brother and I drove all the way to the next town for my shoes and school clothes and he paid cash. I do remember this distinctly as my brother said Mr. King was lucky my dad didn’t lose his temper. At one time, my dad was in the Klu Klux Klan, but was expelled and at some time he or his brother, killed another man in a fight and one of them spent two years in jail. My brother said it was our Uncle, but I’ve heard it was Dad. I could never verify the story.
See “The Help.” It is a compelling story and one that all Americans should see. I want to make my dad proud. So, on behalf of all Southerners, still living and who have passed from this life, I want to sincerely apologize to all African Americans for all the insults, the injustices, and the ways that our unpardonable sins have made your lives hard. Please forgive us and where I can right a wrong, I will. I think that our country should pay reparations. It is the absolutely minimum we can do. We will never move on for our wrongs and shouldn’t.
Leave Us A Comment. No email required. Just click in the boxes. Place a name or put anonymous and then leave your thoughts.