Violence against African-Americans remained a constant backdrop to black life in the South during the sixties. In 1967, I was recruited by IBM Roanoke to become its first black engineer and was assigned to its all-white Norfolk & Western account team. I often travelled alone to outlying redneck counties in western Virginia troubleshooting mainframe computers at all-white companies. While I was in training in Poughkeepsie in 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated. A white classmate and so-called “friend” callously laughed at the news of King’s murder. My brother, Richard, joined IBM that same year. In 1969, I married Peggy Jones, my childhood sweetheart. Several years later, Vernon joined IBM, creating much confusion for white co-workers since the three of us really did look alike and dress alike in typical IBM attire.
John Biggers, my mother’s 1st cousin, was an artist who achieved world-class fame. In 1950, he won a contest at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for his drawing, The Cradle. The museum, which permitted blacks only on Thursdays, did not allow John to attend the reception in his honor. He then won the Neiman Marcus Company Prize at the Dallas Museum of Art in 1952 for his drawing, Sleeping Boy. On arrival at the appointed time for the reception in his honor, he learned that the ceremony had been mysteriously canceled as a museum representative unceremoniously handed him the prize check.
My 2nd cousin, Marcus Sears, in Little League Baseball in the 1960’s
Lily Brooks Whitworth, my maternal grandmother above, descended from an Irish indentured servant and her free, mulatto daughter who narrowly escaped illegal capture into slavery in 1808 solely due to interventions by fair-minded southern whites whose politics remain unknown. Clifton Bruce Whitworth, my grandfather, descended from a Guinea, Africa chieftain and his daughter who was captured in the 1790’s by slavers whose politics were all too obvious, triggering as many as six generations of bondage in Virginia and North Carolina. Because she always drove when they traveled (he never learned to drive), it was not uncommon during their seventy-two years of marriage for the couple to be stopped by southern troopers enforcing white supremacy by challenging the right of a black man to sit in the front seat of an automobile driven by a “white” woman. I often wonder where I would be if Daddy Bruce had learned to drive.
A 3rd cousin whom I never met, PFC Dories William Brooks, was killed in action on January 15, 1953 in the Korean War while fighting with the 1st Marine Division.
Camelot - 1968