There is no better person to introduce this book than my grandfather, James Walker Darby, the son of a slave who was born in 1882 and died in 1976 at age of ninety-four. His father John Darby was born in 1845 and he died in 1929.
America was dealing with the residual effects of the Civil War when Grandpa James was born. This was during a time when people bathed in lakes and streams and washed in giant tin tubs. The southern infrastructure was devastated. Outhouses were restrooms. People drank from lakes and shallow wells. There were no airplanes, televisions or radios. Telephones were invented in 1876 and light bulbs in 1879, but neither were in wide use.
Grandpa James was fourteen when the Supreme Court ratified the 1896 Plessy verses Ferguson decision, which sanctioned separate but equal facilities. He said that America was like a flower field prior to the Ferguson decision. There were lots of interracial marriages and relationships. Numerous mulatto children were born to black and white parents. Mixed-race couples were seen riding in horse-drawn carriages. The 1920 US Census classified my family as mulatto. Lots of people believe that the rapid advance of interracial relationships was the primary reason the Supreme Court validated the Plessy verses Ferguson decision.
Prior to the Ferguson decision, lots of former slaves had begun to advance socially and financially. Some twenty-one blacks served in the US House of Representatives from 1879 to 1901. Black schools and colleges were established with the help of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Some people in the South felt that the recently freed blacks were progressing too fast.
The 1896 Plessy verses Ferguson Supreme Court decision slowed the progress of freed blacks in the South. After 1901, no other blacks from the South served in either the House or the Senate until 1973, when Barbara Jordan was elected from Texas and Andrew Young was elected from Georgia to serve in the US House of Representatives.
Legalized discrimination in the South eventually led to a mass migration of blacks to the North and other areas. My grandfather witnessed a political shift in the south due to Jim Crow laws that classified blacks as second-class citizen.
The 1954 Brown verses the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, Supreme Court decision marked the beginning of the end of segregation in public schools and public facilities, which had been sanctioned by the 1896 Plessy verses Ferguson decision. The official end of segregation did not occur until the passage of civil rights legislation during the1960s.
Grandpa James was affected by harsh Jim Crow laws (laws that discriminated against people of color). He often told me to be careful when dealing with whites. He made those comments because he grew up during a time when black men were lynched for no reason other than the fact that they were black.
Growing up with a man who lived during the time when segregation began and ended had a profound impact on my life. The wisdom and knowledge that he possessed cannot be overstated because he experienced the direct effects of Jim Crow laws, which denied his constitutional rights as an American citizen. Seeing signs that read “colored” over public restroom doors and public water fountains let my grandfather know that he was viewed as a second-class citizen.
During the early 1960s, there were cities in the South that allowed blacks to buy food from public restaurants, but they had to enter the back entrance of the restaurant to receive their food in brown paper bags because they were banned from sitting inside restaurants.
Grandpa James was a quiet, unassuming Christian man who relied on praying to God when he confronted various problems and obstacles. He prayed to God to lower the fevers of his children and to relieve pain and cure sickness.
A compassionate fiscal conservative is how I would define Grandpa James; he believed in hard work and pulling his own weight. He was not opposed to helping those who truly needed help. If he were alive today, he would believe in women’s rights, but he would be opposed to abortions. He would believe in justice, but he would be opposed to the death penalty because he did not believe in taking human life when there were other alternatives.
Grandpa James had old-fashioned conservative values. He believed that marriage is a union between a man and a woman which is sanctioned by God. He did not believe in premarital sex or extra-marital affairs. In his eyes, there were no big or small sins; lying, cheating, and stealing were as bad as any other moral failures.
He would not respect every lifestyle or every behavior or action, but he would show love toward a person whether he agreed with them or not. He would lay his life on the line to protect the most vulnerable from all harm and danger. He would say, “Baby, I love you but I do not agree with all of your choices and decisions. If you are wrong I am going to tell you because true love disciplines those who are loved.”
Grandpa James was a brilliant man who loved the Lord. Our family knew about his brilliance but very few people knew about him outside the community where we lived. When I was in grade school, we had no dictionaries or encyclopedias. Grandpa James served as a living dictionary and encyclopedia. He was gifted in mathematics and was a walking library when it came to the Bible and post-Civil War history. He initially worked as a farmer and a share cropper and later worked with the railroad and eventually worked as a street sweeper.
My knight in shining armor is how I would describe Grandpa James. I spent countless hours sitting on the floor gazing into his piercing grayish brown eyes as he sat in an old rocking chair that had lost its rockers. I asked questions about his childhood and the post-slavery era. There were times when my parents reminded me to go outside and play because they felt that I was missing out on my childhood.
Those who lived on the other side of the railroad tracks only knew Grandpa James as a street sweeper. One day, the Soviet Union elected Nikita Khrushchev as Prime Minister. Several news reporters tried to find someone who could spell the name Khrushchev.