The Day Daddy Stood Up for Leslie
Leslie was one of Granddaddy’s sharecroppers. Leslie, his wife Chris, and his sister, Lil’ Sis, lived near Great-Grandaddy’s house up a sandy lane. They lived off the land and they were kept poor. Chris and Lil’ Sis were quite often around our house when we were growing up. Chris looked after us when both Momma and Daddy worked “public work”—often for a dollar a day. She told us constantly that we were her boys and we loved her. We obviously knew that this family was of a different race, but we honestly saw them as a part of our family.
One day, Daddy and my brothers were outside playing ball. Leslie was driving one of Granddaddy’s tractors back to the shed with some wide equipment and was passing by in front of the house. We all waved. What happened next was a blur to me, but Daddy saw what happened clearly.
The tractor ended up in one ditch and a car driven by a white man ended up in another. No one was hurt. But the white man started to say words that if Momma had heard them, would have led her to say, “Wash your mouth out with soap.” Daddy ran to get in between them and told me to have Momma call the sheriff.
“I’ll be out here with Leslie.”
Daddy and all the neighborhood heard the stranger’s story. Soon the deputy sheriff arrived—who also heard the same story. Daddy then said, “Let my friend Leslie tell his side of the story.” And he did. The truth was told. The matter got resolved peacefully.
Daddy knew something that I didn’t know at the time. That is, a man who was not white stood little chance of having his voice heard. In the case of who caused an accident, for example, it would automatically be assumed that the “colored” man did it.
Leslie told me later that it was the first time that he felt that someone stood up for him. There were tensions brewing in eastern North Carolina between people of different races. Many white folks felt they were losing their power over people of color and they often mistreated life-long friends.
But in this case, Daddy knew that Leslie would have no chance to be heard if he left him alone. Daddy said “Right is right and wrong is wrong. Leslie didn’t do anything wrong and his side needed to be heard. Color had nothing to do with it.”
That was the day I realized all was not well in the world. Daddy didn’t let us have guns or real knives, like all the other boys did in Piney Neck who claimed to be affiliated with the KKK. Some folks actually called daddy a “n***** lover.”
But I’ll never forget when Daddy stood up for Leslie, who was not just another anonymous powerless man of color. Leslie was a friend.