restricted access 2. On to Scotlandville
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~ 2 ~ On to Scotlandville No other issue is as important to you, your family, and your children as the issue of Racial Segregation. Our organization is dedicated solely to maintaining segregation. Our past success . . . fighting integration of schools, keeping Negroes off the televisions and out of our living rooms, preventing the development of Negro subdivisions and fighting integrationist candidates . . . dictates the future. We cannot fail. We are here to stay and so is segregation. —southern gentlemen’s organization, baton rouge chapter, 1956 E verything in my senior year seemed designed to challenge my perspectives, to expose me to a larger world than the small, insulated environment of my childhood on the corner of Mississippi and Walker in South Memphis. I began to come in contact with influential blacks who showed interest in me and treated me with respect as they began my political education. Back then we had three black newspapers in Memphis: the Tri-State Times, the Memphis World, and the Tri-State Defender. Early in high school I took a typing course and enjoyed composing on my new Remington typewriter. I was writing a gossip column for the Booker T. Washington High School paper when I met the editor of the Tri-State Times, who invited me to start writing a weekly column of high school student social news for that paper. It was not a whole lot different from my gossip column, but I was being published nonetheless. Eventually, my work at the Times led to a weekly column in the Tri-State Defender, a leading black newspaper in the South that was very much in tune with civil rights activities. The editor was L. Alex Wilson, a tall, well-dressed, dark-skinned man with alert eyes and a broad forehead. When white mobs descended on Little Rock’s Central High School in the fall of 1957 to block the court-ordered enrollment of black students, Wilson was on the scene covering for the Defender. When the mob spotted Wilson and three other black journalists, they began threatening and striking them. When Wilson refused to run, he was brutally kicked, knocked almost to the ground, and hit in the head with a brick. Yet, in a show of courage captured by cameras and shown around the world, Wilson bent once to pick his dress hat off the ground, kept his suit jacket buttoned, and walked with dignity back to his car. He never physically recovered from the beating, though he went on a year later to become editor of the Chicago Daily Defender and died the next year at age sixty. In my senior year, I moved from the Tri-State Defender to the Memphis World, whose editor, Thaddeus Stokes, was educated at Kent State University, initiated as a journalist at the Cleveland Call & Post, and moved to the editorial department of the Atlanta Daily World, where he covered Dr. Martin Luther King. The black-owned Scott Newspaper Syndicate, which owned the Atlanta Daily World, transferred Stokes to the Memphis World, which it also owned. Stokes came to work daily in coat and tie: he was a six-foot-tall, light brown–skinned man whose coarse black hair, thick lips, and broad facial features were unusual for a person of his complexion. Stokes was intelligent, dignified, well-spoken, and gutsy. Like the Defender’s Wilson, Stokes reported from the scene of the racial rioting at Central High School in Little Rock in 1957. He maintained a quality news standard for the paper, and, though new to town, he quickly gained respect in the community. I could tell that Stokes saw something in me he liked, and he became my friend and something of a role model. His continual encouragement and insistence that “D’Army, there are great things ahead for you” had a lasting and strengthening impact on me. Stokes came to my graduation, and even came to see about me once when I was confined overnight at juvenile court. That overnight incarceration came about when a high school friend, Melvin Woodruff, was cursing loudly as we waited at a neighborhood bus stop. A white lady coming out of the grocery across the street chastised us for the noise, and my somewhat irreverent friend then began cussing at her. Minutes later we boarded our bus, only to be pulled over by police before the first intersection. The police arrested Melvin and me and took us to juvenile court. A few years later I heard from my friend Stokes...


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