My brother and best friend, Skeetz, looked and acted like the brother that Mayberry’s “Opie” never had. For most of our youth, we were like twins.
Young Arthur Ashe, my third cousin, began winning mixed-race tournaments in the early fifties. More than his tennis accomplishments, I admired his character which, I believe, flowed directly from the DNA we shared. genes.
Donald Earl Ramseur, my mother’s brother-in-law, was a brilliant lawyer, Civil Rights leader and Gastonia’s first black municipal judge. Unlike Atticus Finch, the greatly admired, but fictitious, white southern lawyer celebrated throughout American cinema, Uncle Earl actually existed, actually challenged racism and actually made a difference. True to its historic, white narcissism, America prefers to celebrate white heroes, even those that never existed.
Ernest Sears, Jr. , Dad’s first cousin, served in the Navy during World War II. In all the Hollywood movies of our World War II Navy I saw, in total, one black sailor. That was Dorie Miller, who, though limited by the Navy to serving as a galley cook, nonetheless won the Navy Cross for actions during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Many local, southern newspapers such as the Gastonia Gazette, like the military and movies, featured only white soldiers in their coverage of World War II.
Vaughan Whitworth, my uncle, volunteered for the first black marine unit in American history during World War II and served in the South Pacific. Blacklisting by both the military and the media ensured that no one ever knew of their exploits until political correctness changed its deranged, racist mind sixty-seven years later in 2012 shaming the military and government into finally honoring the all-black Montford Point Marines with Congressional Gold Medals. By then, less than 500 of the original 10,000 marines were still alive.
My father, Harvey Gray Dudley, Jr., was educated at a Catholic military school. A talented blue collar worker his entire life, he could only find work matching his many skills with the federal government. He defined himself as a religious conservative, but his native Virginia and its private sector, committed to white supremacy, conspired to define him, like his father and grandfathers, by their standard racist beatdown of black inferiority. Though he forever kept it inside, I always sensed that the deprivations of racism weighed heavily on the talented, hard-working and fair-minded man that I called Dad.
Camelot - 1955