“Black Annie” is the name of an oldtime tune the origins of which I do not know. The name was taken for a woman in childhood to protect both hers and my ongoing anonymity to whatever degree that is possible in these times. So many people contribute to the care and education of all us when we are children. Black Annie was one such woman in my childhood. Her story reflects the human rights abuses that were prevalent in our society only a few short years ago. Follow down the trail, around the curve, and over the hill for another of the Possum’s tales.
The story of Black Annie is tied to the story of my hometown. The town was in the southern part of the USA. My youth was around 1950, so the story begins in that time. My family lived outside town where we had no real neighbors. Until the time of my high school education we were driven to school or to town as need be by my parents. On the way to the public high school we passed the local black school. In those times black students were allowed to attend the local public schools but such attendance was so very much discouraged that most chose not to do so. By the mid-sixties only 4 black students attended a school of about 400 students.
The black school held both elementary and high school students in a ramshackle, three story, red brick building next to a railroad track. There was no semblance of a playground and no provision for any athletic activity. Only classrooms were built into the structures. The neighborhood on that side of the railroad track housed only black families. White neighborhoods bordered but did not mix with the black areas. As children we were taught by our parents that this situation was the norm and the status preferred by the black residents. We children were not taught to question, simply to accept.
Black Annie grew up and still lived in the black quarter of town near the railroad track. She had only minimal education and could not read at the standard of even us young children in those days. Annie was brought to our house by my father on the times when we needed extra help in the household. Annie cooked, cleaned, ironed, and generally worked very hard at all the domestic chores Mother found for her. Annie’s appellation as we heard it was not Black Annie, but was Nxxxxx Annie. We were teens heading for college before we had a chance to realize with certainty that Annie’s first name was not Nxxxxx.
Annie cooked a fine meal, but always stood in the kitchen while our family sat to eat at the table. Her dinner was taken after the main meal from whatever leftovers there may have been in the same standing position in the kitchen. We children asked repeatedly why she didn’t eat at the table with the family, and were always told the kitchen was her preferred place to eat. Somehow in the light of today I find that difficult to believe.
Annie’s life was restricted far beyond her schooling and housing. She lived in a society where “White Only” signs were posted on water fountains, public restrooms, and store windows. Lunch counters admitted no blacks to their facilities in those years. The distinction between races was stark and ever present. The difference between the facilities offered to black and white residents was severe. Water fountains offered to blacks were often inoperable. Restroom facilities offered were mostly so unacceptable in condition that most people would avoid their use at all costs. Blacks coming to town or shopping or business planned to be back home before needing any public accommodation.
In those days of my childhood black people were not given the status of human in most respects. The society that surrounded blacks in those days saw them as somehow animalistic as the various epithets used as adjectives clearly showed. Today we see the same degrading behavior toward the various foreign populations both in and out of this country. One satellite radio channel uses derogatory terms to describe the opposition fighters in Iraq. Many such epithets were applied in Viet Nam as has been discussed here already. The abuse of human rights has a long history in our country. We have much work to do to reverse the effects of our past action in this area. Progress is being made, but we can never forget our history lest we fall back into old patterns once again.