Walter Mencken 1 p.m., May 1
- Community Blog
- Homeless San Diego
A Southern Reflection
When I was a junior in High school they started forced bussing to integrate the schools in Florida. Seniors could choose what schools they wanted to go to, and juniors did have a little to say about where they wanted to go. I was in an Electronics program and my instructor was transferred to a white school so I followed him and was bussed to a white school that was about thirty miles from my home even though the black high school was 5 blocks from my home. I was a bit scared and excited at the same time. For the most part the blacks hung out with the other blacks and the white kids pretty much acted like we were not there, they would actually ignore us as if we were invisible. There were 1100 students and 186 were blacks 120 sophomores about 40 juniors and 16 seniors there were no Latino's, Asians or others. The first thing I noticed was the fact that the white kids had a parking lot that was three times the size of the faculty parking lot and it was always packed with cars. The school that I had attended in my neighborhood did not have a student parking lot and I only knew of three students that drove to school.
The first week of school was turbulent to put it mildly, I remember it as if it was yesterday September 1971. We all were kind of nervous because there were bomb threats and the first day all the teachers were mostly acting as security and monitoring everyone as we all went to our classes and was assigned lockers etc... There were a few close calls and a few words between certain groups and some white kids walking out of classes and even leaving school unlike other schools where fights broke out and even white parents visited the schools and protested in some area's but not at Englewood which was considered a somewhat mid to upper middle class white school in Jacksonville.. Well on the way home on the bus there were several conversations going on and most everyone was talking about a group of white guys that had used the N-word as they were driving by. I remember laughing and showing a friend of mine the switchblade my mother had given me that morning and how I laughed when she said If one of those C----as, put a hand on you cut him from a-- h--- to appetite. And how I gave it back asking her where she got that from? And she said don't worry about it and made me take it. She was really worried about me and wasn't much for showing affection and that was her way of saying I love you and be careful. There was one person I think was note worthy on the bus and that was Leroy, Leroy was a big guy and had a rep in the hood for being real good with his hands, and he and his brother grew up in the Blodage Homes which were the projects and they were known for being small time crooks and would always pat people down for their lunch monies since junior high and strong arming grown-ups even. He looked a lot like Mike Tyson gold tooth and all, and was feared by most. He was in the back of the bus counting his money and laughing talking about how much he liked it here and how he was never gonna leave this school and I quote I ( man I luuv deez white folks I ain't neva had it dis good befo) - He had found a group of white kids that wanted to learn how to shoot dice and of course he was also known in the hood for carrying around two sets of dice and we all knew that he was also known for jacking the crap game if he lost. He said he made over a hundred dollars that day and that was the most money he had ever made in one day. The next day his brother and two other guys from the Davis Street ,which was the name of the guys that hung out on a corner on Davis street across from the Blodage Homes . They were the most feared group of corner boys in the city. The next day Leroy's brother and a few other guys showed up to school and they pretty much hung out in the smoking restroom next to the cafeteria called (the smoking room) all day running scams on the white students that came in there to smoke cigarettes during the class breaks. Now Leroy and his friends were masters at shaking people down for money they always needed a few dollars for something. It could be food, medicine for their mother, a flat tire etc... and of course most of the kids would give a few bucks and if they said they didn't have any money he would say something like" aw c,mon I'll bet you got a hundred bucks in your wallet"( with a big gold tooth smile) and they would say "no I don't" and he would say let me see. And they would of course show him how much money they had. They had tons of lines like this and every now and then the lights would go off in the restroom and a huge metal trash can would be thrown in the middle of a crowd. Nobody ever got seriously hurt but it was intimidating. They even brought in a guy with a fake Narc badge from the hood and shook down some students for their drugs. They were having the time of their lives and by the end of the first week of school he was driving a car to school with his brother and friends. Other schools had riots and fighting even walk outs during the first week but it was the following Monday when everything exploded at Englewood, it was around the fifth period of a six period class day. when (Rayray a sophomore that was always joking and kidding around and was pretty much a class clown) came to my Electronics Class and shouted out " Some white boys jumped on Big Gertie and everybody is meetin in the courtyard, c,mon" .The class had about 8 black guys and 20 white guys and a black instructor. Every black student got up and we all looked around at each other and without saying anything we all walked out the door and went to the court yard. When we got there we saw Big Gertie which was short for Gertrude and she was 16 6'1" around 320 pounds and everybody called her Gertie to her face. She was like a mother on the bus because she talked like an old woman and treated everybody like they were her kids. And nobody wanted to cross her. There was about 100 black students in the courtyard almost all the black male students and a lot of black girls no whites were out there. Gertie was crying like a baby and her face was all swollen, but not from blows or a fight, but from crying. When she was in gym class and on the soccer field she saw a white kid pointing at her and laughing so she went up to him and asked him what he was laughing at. He said I,m laughing at the biggest fattest N---a B---h he had ever seen and he spit in her face. She then went after him and he was backing up laughing and his friends joined in as she was trying to catch him. Everybody was relieved that she did't actually get "jumped on" but then it came out that Gertie was six months pregnant and since she was big anyway nobody noticed a difference. The baby's father was Tank the starting center at Raines High school the number one black school since my school Stanton had been turned into a vocational school. Everybody that didn’t know Tank had heard about him. So everybody started looking for the students that spit on Gertie but they had left for the day, our crowd had got larger by the sixth period and the principle came out and excused everybody for the remainder of the day it was the following day the white kid that spit on Gertie showed up to school with some other white guys that appeared to be adults and it was about 10 of them in all and everybody said they were the klan. Everything happened while I was in class but when they came on campus they were met by Leroy and his brother with three other guys from the Davis street corner in the parking lot and they started fighting. Leroy and his friends sent three of them to the hospital on stretchers and another three barely limped away and the other four just ran away. Rayray witnessed the whole fight and some of the white kids, Leroy got suspended for a few days and the kid that spit on Gertie had a cast on his arm and a broken nose. Leroy's brother and the Davis street boys never came back to school. The principle came down on Leroy about the scams and he expelled the kid that spit on Gertie and his friends. Leroy was a hero after that and something happened because he changed, I guess it was because he was getting respect in a different way or maybe it was because all the girls began talking to him. Before then he was always feared and avoided by most and never invited to any parties but now he was a hero. All the girls began speaking to him and hanging around him He started carrying books around and going to class, he even got a job after school and a girl friend.
Everything was calm after that, the football players were the first to really start hanging out together, then the pot heads and the hippies and all the white kids that were invisible before we got there became friendly. They were usually the geeky kids and back in those days - being skinny was the thing ( Farrah Fawcett) so fat chicks were usually ostracized. There were a lot of 95 pound white chicks running around. This did not apply to black women especially in the south. It was around this time that I saw a person "flip a bird" believe me when I tell you I was amazed at how angry these kids would get when someone pointed there middle finger at them I actually saw a kid stop a car in the middle of the street and ran after a guy with a tire iron for showing him a middle finger it seems that this gesture is still very popular but the term "flip a bird" is probably non-existent now. We had never seen it in our hood and this invisible thing that they did was also unheard of when we didn't like someone we let them know to their face which usually led to a fight or at least a few harsh words would fly between us. They went on dates and we had girl friends meaning this was the south in the heart of the Bible belt and black people did lot let their teen age daughters go on dates at least not in my hood. Guys could visit at the house and after forever maybe take them to a movie or a dance. But no girls would go out with more than one guy in a month. That was unheard of, every guy was a prospective husband in my hood and you would have to be coming around for almost 6 months before you could take a girl out anywhere without a chaperone. But there were ways to get around all of that and we did. Like I said this was the south and way behind the times.
Since that big fight with Leroy and those Klan boys as I said before things became calm at school but it was an unspoken rule that if a black kid was in a fight with a white kid right or wrong all the blacks in the area would assist the black kid and this happened about three times and for some reason Rayray was involved every time. Rayray was about 5'4" and very muscular and playful and he loved to scrap and was pretty good at it. Most fights only lasted a few minutes and nobody got seriously hurt. Things went on like this until my senior year something happened that changed everything.
There was this guy named Hal that actually grew up on the beach there was a small black community of about 100 families that had been there for years probably working for the rich whites that lived on the beach. Anyway I gotta say this, just like an orange looked like an orange and an apple looked like an apple. Hal looked like Cheetah on Tarzan without the hair, yep that's right he looked like a chimpanzee and even walked like one. So at an early age he got the nickname "Uncle Monkey" and he always wore sunglasses and a Gilligan Cap. Well he developed a real bad attitude and stopped everyone from calling him Uncle Monkey at least to his face, he even beat this one black kid up real bad for doing it. He always seemed to have a chip on his shoulder and a bad demeanor I mean he was always confronting someone.
There was this white kid he was about 6’4” and weighed about 240 pounds that played on the football team, he was cool with everybody we all called him “alphabet” because nobody could pronounce his name he had a bunch of y’s and z’s in his name. But over the summer he pretty much stayed in the gym and in his senior year he was huge and everybody started calling him “Thor” because he looked like the Greek Mythology cartoon character “Thor” that came on tv on Saturday mornings. Since being in school at Englewood I had always heard about fights but I never really saw one. But this one day I was walking to the cafeteria and somebody there’s a fight in lot and was heading behind the cafeteria so I went back there to check it out and I could not believe what I saw . It was Uncle Monkey holding on to a bumper of a Volkswagen and Thor was holding his legs trying to pull him off while kicking him in the butte. With about 12 black dudes standing around watching. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing so I immediately dropped my book bag and headed toward Thor yelling for him stop and all of a sudden my feet was off the ground and I was wrapped up and I shouted out very angrily “ Let me go” and when I looked back it was Leroy holding me and he said “ Stay out of it Gene, he deserves to git his Monkey Ass kicked”.
Now Leroy and I go way back to the seventh grade when he saw me walking alone from gym class one day and patted my pockets and I gave him a quarter. But later in the 8th grade we had some classes together and he would always sit by me and I would let him copy off my papers. Later on we became friends and had a lot of respect for each other, even though we ran in different circles. He was the only person that called me Gene at the school because he was the only person that really knew me personally and was from my hood all the rest of the students called me “eyes” a nickname given to me by some girls on the bus or by my real name. I didn’t really like Hal or know him that well but I was the president of the Black Student Association and was voted in because I was the most militant black student at the school which was not saying a lot but I had an older brother that was affiliated with the Panthers that lived in Oakland across the street from a park where Huey Newton would give out groceries from the back of a truck and I had read Soul on Ice and I also had a brother in the Army that was working on an underground black paper at Fort Bragg. And Believe me when I tell you I was probably the only kid at school that had ever tasted a bean pie or even heard of a Shabazz bakery, I was also the only person at school that not only knew the long version of the dap which was the secret hand shake of the Viet Nam era Black soldiers but I also knew the talk that went with it and after watching "Alex Haley" Roots. The last thing I was going to stand around and watch was a white person beat a black person. Which was something that I had never seen before so I kept on screaming at Thor to stop but Thor was in the zone, and Hal kept saying “ I ain’ t gonna do it no more” and crying and after a few minutes it was over . Then Leroy let me go and said ‘why you all upset ,he wouldn’t give a damn bout you. Then I realized why Leroy grabbed me, he knew that Thor would have broken me in half and it would have took at least 4 of us to bring Thor down maybe even 3 with a lot of pain, and he knew if I got into it he would have to jump in too. Leroy was right, Hal would not help anybody and actually Hal deserved what he got because Thor never messed with anybody and Hal had to have done something really bad to make Thor lose it like he did. I never did find out what Hal had done to Thor but things did change after that because it was no longer racial anymore and the team fighting or as we called it "teaming up" stopped.
I don’t know why I’m telling this story but it was prompted by a statement I heard on the news about cigarettes in New York going for nine dollars a pack. So I got to thinking that if we were to tax cigarettes here in California to maybe 10 dollars a pack the state would make a boat load of money and more people would quit smoking which is a good thing and let’s face it. I’m an X-smoker and there is nothing redeeming about smoking cigarettes .They stain your teeth they make you smell bad, they give you cancer and hurt the people you love that’s close to you and cost you a lot of money and the worst part about it after all that “You don’t even get a buzz”. So I started thinking about that smoking room at my old high school thus the story. It’s amazing how the mind works and there is a lot we don’t know about the everyday things we encounter. Also you should have seen how everybody reacted when the interracial flirtations started; it was around Christmas and ….HHMMNN Well that’s another story for another time.