A Step Back In Time
In Alamance County, It’s 1950
I recently visited a small, quaint southern town and was unexpectantly transported to the year 1950. The courthouse is located in the town square. A colossal statue dedicated to the brave soldiers of the confederacy stands guard at the entrance. Cotton fields dot the area, and willows hang over husks of antebellum homes.
One house, the former living space of a family that held my ancestors against their will, is quiet, draped in trees and shrubs, hiding from judgement, and unable to even see itself, like an old monarch with dementia. This workcamp base is now a museum. Worn confederate portraits hang proudly. Pottery and porcelain, glass & crystal, quilts, silver, antique furniture, & toys give no hint of where the wealth originated. Cultured tranquility paints over truth. New generations adopt the denial of history, racism, and violence.
I’ve seen the modern klan in bone white robes on a security camera of a Black citizen. They endure, like Caswell and Wyatt. Ghostly. Robed figures still come on pitch black nights. In the daytime, they resemble ordinary folk; Bankers, cops, firefighters, city council members — the same people who visited D.C. on Jan 6 and, just as their forbearers, launched a feeble attack on democracy. Even without white robes, their daytime jobs disrupt the peace of people with skin like mine. Little has changed in Graham.
Heavy darkness accompanies and pokes me when I walk into Graham, N.C—reminding me to distrust pastoral views and so-called southern gentility. The souls of dead folk call me home from a deep, dark, and damp place in our collective consciousness. As I breathe in the hot air, dread overcomes me, clinging to my skin like sweat drips from my brow, adhering to the blackness of my skin.
I dreamt of Reconstruction times, walking dirt streets with rising dust in the noon air. The hooves of horses and the grinding of wooden wheels are agitating my ears. When the dust clears and quick silence returns, I see the body of Wyatt Outlaw dangling from a tree in front of the old courthouse. His body is swaying in sync with the branches and leaves.
However, when I woke from my nightmare and walked into the streets. I still could not sit on the courthouse steps without permission. It’s 1950 here. In Alamance, in Graham, Blacks are on the lowest rung of every significant social and economic statistic. Some community leaders are media wolves who are only out for fame, looking for opportunities to be pepper sprayed and handcuffed in front of cameras.
The song of the south is off-key. Marching and shouting aloud, “Black Lives Matter” makes little impact on modern confederates. Money (boycotts) has power. Money is louder than a million chants. Cash is always more potent than slogans. If you want to know about Alamance, don’t research; ask yourself what kind of town will worship a racist statue and place it in front of the building that represents liberty and fairness for all? I get the message.
The cloud that hung over Alamance will not dissipate with the removal of one statue. But it is the only way to bring this sorrowful place into the world’s 21st century.