The first time we heard the line from The Wizard of Oz, we laughed, being of that same peculiar species.
Kansas, once the home of abolitionist John Brown [a fact seemingly forgotten by Barack Obama and the mainstream media when Barry O launched his re-election campaign in Brown’s former home base of Osawotamie], has a mixed history when it comes to people with higher melanin content in their skins.
We grew up in Abilene, the great-grandson of abolitionists who abandoned their pacifist Mennonite faith to wear the Union blue in the Civil War. Though nearby Wichita’s school system was segregated, leading to the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Abilene’s schools were integrated, largely because there were too few darker-skinned people to build separate schools. The swimming pool, however, was white only, a fact never advertised by nonetheless well known except to young children like esnl, who were told only that “Negroes don’t like to swim.”
But the language of bigotry was universal. We were perhaps nine years old before we learned that what folks called “Nigger Toes” in Abilene were called Brazil Nuts in more genteel society. And when choosing up sides, every kid used the old formula, “Eenie, meenie, minie, moe, catch a nigger by the toe. . .”
The nearest town to Abilene of any size was Salina, less than 25 miles away, and the source of frequent visits because our maternal grandmother lived there. It was also the home of the nearest movie palace, where “usherettes” clad in microskirts and tights escorted you to your seats with flashlights equipped with long translucent tubes that emitted a soft, warm orange glow. They also brought your drinks, popcorn, and candy to your seats, carried in trays suspended by straps from their necks.
The usherettes are long gone, but a story in the Salina Journal reveals that some of the attitudes we recall from childhood still remain.
Consider the case of Saline County Commissioner Jim Gile, who’s in hot water for accusing fellow commissioner John Price of “nigger-rigging” plans to repair the county’s Road and Bridge Department building:
In a recording made by County Clerk Don Merriman of the study session, Gile, who is white, can be heard to say the county needed to hire an architect to design the improvements rather than “nigger-rigging it.”
His comment brought laughter from others in the room. Salinan Ray Hruska, who attends most commission meetings and study sessions, asked Gile what he said.
“Afro-Americanized,” Gile replied.
When pressed about his comment later, the Journal reports, Giles responded, “I am not a prejudiced person. I have built Habitat homes for colored people.”
Well, that certainly clears things up, doesn’t it?