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Protecting Carson Buffet
By Steelyard Scales
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Steelyard Scales
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE BIG STONEWELL PARADE
"Yahoo", Marlene Buffet my teenage sister called. "Show time." "Got to get ready." "Dad's waiting." I milked Betsy faster when her warning came. Marlene, eighteen, a pretty blonde, stood at a car door waiting for her boyfriend to open it. May and Terry my younger sister and brother were at the kitchen table putting a two hundred piece puzzle together when I walked in. Mel at the sink shaving, whipped the last lather from his chin and said "Come on Carson, you'll be late!" Hattie and the kids are staying home to work on their puzzle."
My dad, Mel Buffet, dropped me off at the Appison movie theatre in Stonewell, Tennessee for an after Christmas movie and shopping spree.
"I'll pick you up when the show's over." He said
In three days, 1949 would be history and on January 8 I'd be 12 years old. I pushed a quarter through the plate glass window pay slot to old grey haired Jake Appison, picture show owner and he shoved it back and through the round cutout in the glass window said "Ten cents more Carson".
"I'm just eleven; I don't have thirty-five cents. I won't be twelve for another week." I replied meekly and a bit frightened he knew my name!
"Can't lie to me boy. I've got your birth records" and slide me back a dime and a nickel.
"Have thirty-five cents Saturday or you won't get in." "Okay" I said afraid to say more."
I had to hurry or Roy would go on without me. I didn't want to miss a minute of the picture show. I pushed the theatre entrance door open, made a dash for the concession stand, handed the attendant my dime and said "a bag of popcorn please". A two handed grip secured my bag and down the theatre aisle to a front row isle seat I hurried. I sat down with an unobstructed view of the silver screen of my hero, Roy Rogers and dug in on my popcorn.
Roy sat on the great horse Trigger rigged in silver and waited until I settled in my seat real comfortable and then he let her rip. He galloped Trigger past desert cactus through the purple sage kicking up a cloud of dust. Trigger ran so fast the wind blew the brim of Roy's white hat in a fold. My Saturday night hero wore tight pants, embroidered flowered cowboy shirt with fringed sleeves, white fringed cowboy gloves and cowboy boots with spurs that jingled.
A shiny silver cowboy buckle held his gun holsters around his waist, but his pearl handled silver pistols were blazing away in both hands. My heart pounded and my eyes bulged and I dug in on my popcorn as Roy took care of the bad guys western style. At seven PM, Roy was safe and my popcorn was gone.
I watched the coming week movie previews and one was about a show called "Pinky" coming Tuesday. It wasn't a western so I didn't pay much attention to the preview. After the cartoon, I relinquished my seat for someone else and with one foot in front of the other, up the aisle I went fantasizing how Roy and I chased a bunch of outlaws out of Texas. Well, Roy's wife Dale Evans helped. She sang "Riding down the canyon to watch the sun go down."
I gathered my thoughts before I pushed to open the exit door. Roy's escapades just about made me forget to get a dime cup of Dixie vanilla ice cream at Corgan's Grocery store. Lord a mercy, I couldn't forget to stop by John's hardware store to feel a Red Ryder lever action BB gun in my hands. I had to twirl that silver rotating cylinder pearl handled cap pistol around on my finger one more time. I would even trade my black sawdust pistol with a broke off barrel to get one. Christmas money in my pocket got hotter with ever step that took me closer to twirling that rotating cylinder pistol.
I imagined slapping leather with outlaws and I spurred my imaginary palomino hard and put my hand on the blue door with a red light "exit" sign which separated me from my make believe world and the real world of Stonewell, Tennessee. I pushed the door open and stepped out on the lighted sidewalks in the middle of a swarm of demons dressed in white robes and white pointed pillowcases with cut out eyeholes parading up and down the sidewalks.
A hangman's noose swung round in my face in the right hand of a white demon with a red-circled symbol on his chest. A squeal left my vocal cords and rose out my mouth while a warm liquid ran down my legs. I screamed and pissed in my pants when I made eyeball-to-eyeball contact with the dreaded Ku Klux Klan. I shook my fear, steadied my legs, and battled through a sea of white sheets to get to my Dad at the First American National Bank steps.
In the blink of an eye, I lost my courage and found I was a cowardly coward too yellow to stand up to outlaws. The KKK called black folks bad names and they took it, afraid of reprisals such as burning crosses, beatings or even hangings. Before I met the Klan I thought if I was black I'd get a Red Ryder BB gun and take on the KKK. However, after discovering how yellow I was. I forgot about Roy Rogers's blazing pearl handle pistols and riding Trigger down the canyon and fighting outlaws. All I wanted was the safety Mel could give me.
Mel, my solution to my predicament, sat on the steps of the American National Bank. I had to get to him before one of these masked outlaws gunned me down. As I meandered through the river of white I noticed I wasn't the only coward dodging the fiery-eyed devils. Stonewell citizens cowered down all around me. A glance up met the blood shot eyes of a Klansman staring at me through his eyeholes and his a whinny high-pitched voice said "boo boy" and that hurried me alone confirming I had the courage of a good for nothing-yellow belly coward. Down at Center and Ladiga Streets, I paused and awed at the number of cars double-parked, then saw Mel, my rescuer. He sat on the First American National Bank's steps where I hoped, watching the Klan milling around.
"Carson come here." Mel called and I ran to him for protection.
I grabbed Mel's hand and held on. Klansmen tuned to a loudspeaker barking instructions while they worked the sidewalks of Stonewell. A handful of youths walked by shouting, "The South will rise again." Future hood carrying white racist scoundrels wrapped in the rebel flag pleased the swarm. The Klan blocked Mel's car in and we had no choice but to wait it out. "How long until the Klan clears out?" I asked." We'll just have to wait and see." Mel told me.
"That's the most cars I've ever seen in one place." A Stone well resident said.
"That's the first time I saw the KKK in my life." Another one said.
"I hope it's gonna be my last" Another resident backed him up.
"Yeah, they have me blocked in and I wouldn't be able to leave till they leave". Mel told them.
"Why are they in Stonewell?" Someone asked. "Scaring Negroes" Mel answered.
"Probably going to give some black man a whooping." Another one said.
Mel observed the 1948 Chevy police car parked on the corner of Center Street. Two officers watching the action did not intend to ask them to move on. After hearing Mel say, "we'll be there awhile" I knew the police were spectators like us and I tightened my hold on his hand.
"When the little black fellows come out of the Klan will scare them. I don't think they'll do more than that. The "Pinky" picture shows coming next week is a story about a girl born white to a black family. She moved from the North to the South to live with her black grandparents and the Klan don't want them seeing it." Mel said and others nodded their heads in agreement.
I made a guess the KKK had a message for the little black kids and nothing else. One of these Klansmen would swing the hangman rope and scare the life out of them when they come out the theater door. That's all, just teach them early this is the white man's south. I was hoping that was all there was to it. Mel and Hattie, my mother was not racist, many of Mel's friends were black. Mel, concerned about those scared little black kids inside the show would protect them.
I could tell Mel was antsy about the uncertainty of the situation and leaving his car to walk home was an option. The KKK parading in Stonewell was bad news. To be sure, the Stonewell Journal, the weekly paper, had it covered. Their reporter took pictures to show folks the Klan was alive and well. I heard a "reporter" say his headline would read "Pinky Provokes Klan". "I'll get national attention when I tell how Hollywood threw "Pinky" in the KKK nest and stirred up this hooded swarm." He bragged. Their "nest" was in Pulaski, also their birthplace, and a short distance from Stonewell.
Without doubt, locals were afraid of KKK satanic ideas; secretiveness and destructive purposes as much as whose faces were behind the hoods. I heard Mel say one time "I know who the Grand Dragon is and wished I didn't." For sure, the KKK parading on Stonewell streets brought back old memories of past years folks wanted forgotten. The principles of faith, hope and charity washed away in the blood shed during the Civil War. The ruling politicians were dedicated to the preservation of "segregation today, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever." The new leadership propitiated power and wealth for a rich white minority in Tennessee. In the meantime, the World War 11 Military Industrial Complex opened up central Tennessee and people forgot Stonewell used to be Big Springs.
A man called "Doc", sat on the bank steps beside Mel and he said "What is ending 1949 is a KKK Christmas parade that could ignite race riots in Tennessee. Blacks haven't forgotten the 1868 hangings. "I'd heard old timers talk about the KKK meanness while they sat around whittling on a piece of Cedar wood, chewing, and spitting their tobacco. Doc shifted in high gear and said he studied the Biltmore Railroad Company records and knew why Big Springs was chosen. "It was ubiquity." He said. A word meaning the entire product and the means to transport it are located at the same place. The rich bottomland along the Tennessee River produced bumper crops of the number one product, cotton and the Tennessee River was close by."
"Biltmore cotton gins separated seeds and baled cotton. Loaded on barrages it floated south, then north up the Tennessee River to the Ohio and down to the Mississippi River to the Gulf. That step was in place. Nevertheless, they had to have a roundhouse for their rail system to move farther west. That was why they chose Big Springs. The Biltmore's wanted total control of the transportation system and the cotton produced in the south. In fact, they were so obsessed with controlling southern transportation, the Biltmore's said "expect to pass through Big Springs on your way to heaven or hell."
"A roundhouse to open the west was on the burner for Big Springs. The Biltmore rail gangs laid track to Big Springs from the North, the South and the East and started digging the foundation for the roundhouse. However, no one could read building plans and the Biltmore's needed educated minds. Warren Biltmore, the Chief Executive Officer, looked north to Canada for a schoolteacher to solve that problem and hired Charles Fulton. Fulton brought his wife and two young children, a girl and boy to Big Springs and prepared a school to teach the labor force to read and write." Doc said.
"Later on, Fulton would start the Biltmore University planned for Big Springs as soon as the rail lines were completed. However, there was a fly in the ornament. Black faces in a classroom with whites immediately got the Klan's attention. A race riot ensued in Big Springs soon after, and resulted in the death of five Klansmen. The night after the riot, a Klan signal fire on Signal Hill, visible for miles, called for the Klan to meet in force at Big Springs.
Shortly after dark, an overwhelming force of Klansmen took Fulton and seven students from their homes, bound their hands behind their backs and hung them until they were dead, dead, dead." Blacks wailed and a riot ensued and the Biltmore's left Big Springs."
"The Biltmore Railroad Company abandoned their plans for Big Springs and spread the horrendous hanging details and the story made newspapers headlines all over the world. The officials of Big Springs, Tennessee couldn't fall off the face of the earth so they did the next best thing, changed their name from Big Springs to Stonewell."
"Racial hatred sprouted like cottonseeds and the modus operandi of the Old South returned. Politicians maintained control over blacks with a poll tax. Negro and poor whites didn't have a buck fifty to pay a yearly accumulating Poll Tax. Equal but separate facilities discriminated against, segregated the races, and denied the Negro race a piece of the American pie.
Thus, tensions between the races continued to grow.Doc knew what he was talking about and I found out later he was Doctor A L Starts, a Vanderbilt Professor visiting Stonewell. Doctor A L Starts said, "The Klan is an example of supercilious ostentations of irradiates vacuity." The proud showing of learned nothings." Moreover, he gave everybody a heads up about the carpet bagging DuBois family who moved in after the Biltmores and took control of the cotton industry.
Mel had all he could take and we walked home. However, I couldn't sleep. The KKK parade triggered a memory of my first encounter with a black boy. I knew no black boys or girls, just cotton pickers, and most of them didn't trust the white man.
It was in January when I was six, Webb Conway, my nine years old neighbor of six and a half months made the mile ride from his house to my house on his bicycle to play. Only this time, a huge black boy sat on the handlebars of his army surplus bike. That made me happy.
I didn't know this older huge black boy. However, I was thrilled he was there. We could sail the lid, a game played by flinging the top of five-gallon lard can lid in the air. Webb stayed straddle his bike with both feet on the ground and hands on the handlebars. He watched while the black boy dismounted and walked toward me. I realized playing wasn't the black boy's intentions and I run toward the porch for safety. The black boy, much quicker, caught me before I reached its safety. He twisted my right arm behind my back, shoved me behind a shrub bush.
"I'm gonna kill you white boy, you called me a black bastard". Webb's lies filled the black boy full of hate, he wrapped his right arm around my neck, applied pressure to my windpipe, and cut my air supply off. No one saw us behind the shrub bush next to the west side of the house.
I grabbed his black arm and struggled to breath, but he was too strong. I went limp and passed out. I don't remember the black boy's face, but I'll never forget his seething cold black eyes and his large white teeth behind snarling red lips, and the bottomless pit for a mouth. I floated above my body, watched as this man-child released his arm from my neck and turned with a message for Webb. "He's dead." The black boy assured Webb.
"Let's go!" Webb said hurriedly and gave him thumbs up.
The black boy turned toward the bicycle and casually walked toward Webb. He maneuvered his large body in position to take his seat on the bicycle. With hands behind his back, he gripped the handlebars and a little jump lifted him on the handlebars. I watched the two ride off never uttering a word or looking back Then I passed out. That was the first and the last time I saw the black boy.
I started a puritanical walk down a dark tunnel toward a bright light to hear my judgment read from the Book of Life and I regained consciousness. For sure, if the KKK knew a black boy choked me, a black boy would die. I kept my mouth closed, but my dreams become pure unadulterated fear that bound my muscles. My eyes and breathing functioned while the rest of my body was paralyzed with fear. I was helpless to fend off attacks from unseen monsters at the foot of my bed that tugged at my covers during the blackest of night. Perhaps I was over reacting and fear was a normal experiences for all kids.
I heard folks say President FDR told America "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." He said a mouth full. I don't think he knew what he meant by that, it just sounded good. However, I had a real fear of big black boys with harmful intentions and my mother when she'd loose it. I feared venomous snakes and the creatures that tugged my bed covers. Moreover, I was afraid of dying and going to hell. Folks said, "When you turn twelve years old you are accountable for your sins." I hadn't sinned and had no plans to.
Excerpted from Protecting Carson Buffet by Steelyard Scales Copyright © 2012 by Steelyard Scales. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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