Washington North Carolina
 

Book pages 74-75


 

 

    
To switch environments so fast can be a shocking experience, especially when the physical distance is usually only a few miles apart. But when you roam about for a long time you realize that such psychic vagabonding is of absolute necessity if you are going to survive.
   

 

   
Coming from a middle-class environment as I do I found it overwhelming to live entirely in ghetto homes for an extended period and experience the overcrowding, persistent noise, and psychic oppression. After a while I found it necessary to search out into more affluent homes where I could spend some days in my own room to recover my peace of mind. But I usually soon became bored to death in such homes and I sought again for what I perceived to be more real human contacts in the ghetto homes, although I do not wish to romanticize them.
   
 

 

   
In Washington, North Carolina, I first lived in four black homes in town, three of which were without electricity and running water. When I stayed with the young woman pictured by the kerosene lamp I had to sleep all night in an armchair as she was sleeping on a couch with a baby. There was no more room in the house.
   
 
    
My situation was even worse the next night in a shotgun shack where the mother screamed all night in a piercing soprano at her son, because he had brought a white guy home to share his bed. I hid his pistol in a stack of clothes for fear that they would use it against each other. In another shack I was kicked out by an angry neighbor who hated whites.
    
 
    
The conditions in these homes were so miserable that in the end I walked around with a constant headache from hunger and lack of sleep. Late one evening I felt so sick and defeated by tiredness that I went towards the jail hoping to get permission to spend the night there - an escape I had never sought before.
    
 
    
But always when I was most depressed the most fantastic things happened: just before I reached the jail, a young white woman picked me up and invited me to her home which turned out to be one of the most sumptuous I had been in for a long time.
    
 
    
There were private tennis courts and golf courses as large as half the ghetto in that town, a private indoor swimming pool - even airplanes and sailboats. In the ghetto homes I had been able to hear all outside and private sounds through paper-thin walls. Here we had to have an intercom to communicate between the different sections of the house.
    
 
   
There was even an indoor fishpond as big as some of the pools in the shacks when it rained. Where had all this abundance come from?  The answer is not always so simple, but people later told me that the woman's father, a lawyer, owned many of the dilapidated ghetto shacks in the town, a town where 60% live below the poverty level. I wondered how I had ended up here in his home just when the misery he had helped create in the ghetto had practically driven me to prison.
   
 
   
Others were not quite so lucky and at that moment a black woman whose family I had come to know was in the city jail. She ought to be mentioned here because she was raped by the white jailer - and later became world famous. While the rape of blacks by whites is not unusual in southern jails, it created a sensation because she, Joanne Little, had the courage to kill the white rapist.
   
 
   

If the women's movement in America had not established a strong defense for her (to which I was lucky to be able to supply photos of her background situation) she would doubtless have been sentenced to death in this state where even burglary is punishable by death. Her acquittal was a great victory as it showed that the traditional legal proceedings in a southern state could be changed - even in a state which at first had declared Joanne Little an outlaw, which means that every citizen of the state had a right to kill her.

   

 

   

The psychic leaps I had taken in Joanne Little's home town had accidentally given me an insight into the economic preconditions of white supremacy. Such contrasting experiences are necessary in order to see society clearly. I find it, for instance, nearly impossible to stay very long in white homes in the South before I start looking with their eyes upon "Negroes" as inferior human beings.

   

 

   

I always allowed myself to be open to such brainwashing, for if you do not try to enter into their way of thinking, then you have no hope of either comprehending or liking them. Without understanding their deeper motivations and frustrations I could not understand society itself. But as a vagabond, I could in time break out of this brainwashing and move back to the black community and its different kind of influences.

 
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