The stance of silence was not simply about fear but about survival

From “US: The Resurrection of American Terror” by Rev. Kenneth W. Wheeler

My father was a proud Black man but he was broken by Jim Crow. I remember standing in the Billups gas station with him one hot afternoon. He went into the station to buy a package of Camel cigarettes. That was the brand that my father preferred if he couldn’t get a can of Prince Albert smoking tobacco and paper to roll his own cigarettes. I grabbed a Baby Ruth candy bar and an orange Nehi soda.

I was eleven or twelve years old. The white boy behind the counter working the cash register was about the same age, My father was in his fifties. After my father paid for the items, this twelve-year-old white kid referred to my father as “boy” while throwing his change on the counter rather than placing it in my father’s hands. This kind of disrespect and humiliation happened every day if you were black.

Though my father walked out of the store holding my hand and not saying a word, I wondered what he must have been feeling on the inside. He had gone into that store on numerous occasions. The white owners knew him. But it could have been any store owned by a white proprietor; it would not matter, as he would have been treated the same.

Whatever my father’s true feelings might have been at that moment, he kept them to himself. He maintained a stoic look as we walked out of the store. To do otherwise might have caused trouble. For many Black people living under this oppressive and dehumanizing system, the stance of silence was not simply about fear but about survival. However, for many other Blacks in the city of Jackson and in the state, to remain silent meant participating in their own oppression.