By Harry Welty
Published Dec 26, 2002
Made Us That Way
I was about six years old I embarrassed my Mother while we rode home on the
Topeka City bus. We sat next to a black woman we did not know, and I piped up
"Why are you that color?"
"Because God made me that way," she patiently explained.
This was about the time that a Moses-like Strom Thurmond began leading a southern exodus from the Democratic Party to the
Promised Land - the once hated "Party of Lincoln." Oh, but God works
in mysterious ways.
Kansas had been a "free" state during Lincoln's "War of Northern
Aggression." Unfortunately, despite the state's early liberality its
Capitol, Topeka, had set up "separate but equal" public schools just
like those in Thurmond's South Carolina. The Supreme Court put an end to this in
1954 with Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education.
Not long after the Brown decision, at the beginning of my second grade year, I
climbed up and sat atop the jungle gym during recess. From my perch I watched
colored children from the once segregated Buchanan Elementary School file into
my school, Loman Hill. Each black child had walked the five or so blocks holding
their chairs in front of them with text books neatly stacked on the seats. The
youngest children led the procession. When they reached our school they were
sorted by grade into their new classrooms which were also our new classrooms.
Topeka gave in easily. Strom Thurmond did not.
Sometime during these years my Grandfather made a prediction. He told my Mother
that America would eventually become a nation of brown people. That claim would
have sent Thurmond into a frenzy. Strom railed tirelessly against "race
mixing" and he wasn't just complaining about school integration. Strom was
talking about the "mongrelization" of the white race.
To prevent mongrelization from occurring Southern states had passed
"anti-miscegenation" laws. This was one of the first 50 cent words I
ever learned. I discovered it in one of the subversive magazines of the day,
Life, Look, or the Saturday Evening Post. It was in a sensational article about
a white man who had been imprisoned for the crime of marrying a black woman. If
State's Rights could only prevail over the Supreme Court then southern states
could use their statutory law as a shield to ward off my Grandfather's dire
Grandfather was a learned man who had come to have a low regard for Thomas
Jefferson. I have never been sure why he felt this way about the author of the
Declaration of Independence but I have a theory. I think Grandfather suspected
that Jefferson had sired children by his deceased wife's half sister and
slave, Sally Hemmings. Although many historians once dismissed this
allegation recent DNA evidence has convinced most that this was indeed the case.
DNA evidence wasn't available to my Grandfather. The only things available to
him were his knowledge of history and human nature.
Despite Jefferson's unwillingness to free his own slaves and his hypocrisy he
had already sown the seeds that would kill the institution of slavery. Four
score and seven years later Abraham Lincoln took Jefferson's words and replanted
them in the blood soaked ground of Gettysburg. He told us about "a new
birth of freedom" for a nation, "under God," "dedicated to
the proposition that all men are created equal." (I can't help but wonder
if Strom ever gave this much thought as he marched his people to the Republican
Strom may have one more thing in common with Thomas Jefferson - a more carnal
hand in bringing about Grandfather's prediction. You see, Thurmond is widely
believed to have fathered the light skinned daughter of a black, teenage,
housemaid who worked in his home. He was a school superintendent at the time of
this child's birth. Although she denies that Strom is her father, Thurmond has
apparently supported the woman financially all her life. He even made sure that
she received a college education. So far no one has pushed for a DNA test but
the circumstantial evidence is compelling. If the story is true there is one
more small irony. The man who fought ferociously against miscegenation would no
longer be charged with that crime. Of course, in today's world he might have to
face charges of statutory rape.
At one hundred Strom doesn't have many years left to wrestle with his
conscience. As for the rest of us, well, we would all be well advised to
remember that our adversaries today may someday be the ancestors of our own
It's been suggested that "racism is as American as apple pie." So
apparently are illicit sex and hypocrisy. How strange it is to think that these
sorry conditions have, in their own circuitous way, helped bring us all
together. Could that be what God had in mind?
Harry Welty is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at