There’s A Pecan On My Desk
Good morning, there’s a pecan on my desk. An oblong, roundish object about the size of a pigeon’s egg. It is very hard and dark brown, with areas of scraped bark that look like the craters on the moon or an aerial view of the River Nile in winter. It has an equator, my pecan, through its middle runs a crack that joins the two pointy poles of this object, a fruit, a hopeful seed, in reality neither one. It’s an inconsequential, useless asteroid of hard organic matter, except for one fact. This pecan fell off the tree that hovers over the last resting place of James Byrd Jr., the Perpetual Rest Cemetery on main street. I was there two weeks ago and visited the site to see with my own eyes the funerary stone.
March in Jasper is gorgeous. there are white, pink and crimson Azaleas on every garden, fucsia and purple bougainvilleas are in bloom, the flowers in love with spring and the bright sunshine. The bees and other insects pollinating to their hearts content until a miracle of color, hope and re-birth brings joy to the eye. The six by four feet black marble slab that was bought by Dennis Rodman has an engraved laurel wreath and is surrounded by a wrought iron fence. There is nothing other than his name, his birthday and June 7th, 1998, the date of his death, when his body was dragged behind a truck with a logging chain in the eastern outskirts of Jasper until it fell apart, he was forty nine years old. Vases of plastic flowers surround the tomb, hooked on the fence, bouquets of carnations and roses in bleached yellows and reds. A flock of finches and crows pecks on the ground of the grassy cemetery, large oaks and pecan trees keep watch on the place.
Near the grave there are names like Frazier and Williams, Ella Mae’s and Jeanetta’s, black southern names. His body rests in what was the black side of the Jasper Cemetery before the fence was taken down.
When his sister died in 1999 and was buried nearby, the family made a statement, they said even though the fence that separated the white side from the black side of the cemetery had been torn down, nothing had really changed. In fact they felt she’d rather be laid to rest with the black folks, on the black side, near her brother and that’s what they did. Because black is black and white is white. Not much has changed since the civil war. In the living rooms and parlor’s of the white folk houses still resonate the “coons’ and the niggers” the white people still follow their grandaddy’s advice.
‘Just say hi and bye to them, don’t get mixed up withem’…’
Whereas on the other side of the fence, when a black man comes across a milky-white skinned, blonde-blue-eyed belle the words of his grand momma resonate in his ears,
‘Don’t look them in the eye son, walk past and make sure you treat them lady-like…’
Lest you may end up hanging from a tree with a noose ’round your neck or have your balls cut off and stuffed in your mouth, trashed in a dumpster. Jasper is about evenly split blacks and whites, it was one of the last hideouts for consciencious objectors of the civil war. The rebel flag is still perched high and mighty in homes, schools and pick-up trucks. If you drive south of Woodville to the little town of Kounze, at night, you will be forced to drive by a house that sports a proud white cross in the middle of the front lawn. An eight foot cross with a multitude of light bulbs that make it look like it’s on fire. The civil war passed through the piney mountains at night. never mind that General Custer and his wife spent some time in this town that has been called the Jewel of the Texas, the races coexist but the great divide goes on.
Pity isn’t it, that so much blood was shed on both sides and still so many years later oppression goes on. I guess it goes back to William Rehnquist who said one couldn’t take the prejudice out of any man’s heart. That in his bathroom, as he shaves, the fear and hate of the otherness, diferentness hurts him. When he is alone, the man agrees with himself, those guys are weird, why don’t they go back to Africa or Korea or Mexico or wherever the hell they came from, the specs and the chinamen, the “cans”, Meixicans, Puertoricans, etcetera. Yet on the street in the fiber of society, on the working stages where we all scratch a living, the law and opportunity should apply to us equally. Isn’t the plight of man the world over one and the same?
I’m going back to Jasper this weekend, the blue bonnets and indian paint brushes are in full bloom, the red bud trees remind me there is a universal all loving and caring artist that painted the forests with an exquisite palette. I can see his message written on the wall,
“Treat others the way you’d expect to be treated yourself.”