One of the wisest people I’ve ever known was my great-grandmother, Viola K. Johnson. She couldn’t read or write, never used a telephone, or drove a car; and I have no memories of her with anything other than silver hair. But Grand-mama was wise. She understood people and the roles they played in the schemes of life. She understood power and the perception of power and the value of hard honest work.
I remember one day in particular when this wisdom rose to the surface; remember what I said about integrating knowledge/information into the life at just that right time. Well here’s an example of one such event. As you know, I was raised in the South in the 60’s. My hometown was a hotbed for of the Civil Rights movement where Klan marches were not uncommon. On one muggy summer afternoon, this white man was lost in our neighborhood and being a child I was somewhat fascinated that a white man would be in our part of town…that usually just didn’t happen.
On this particular day, I walked out to the man’s car to say hi and to introduce myself as a child of four or five might. This man, who I later came to understand acted out of fear, cursed me and call me a nigger among several other derogatory epitaphs. This made me angry to the point of hot tears streaking my dusty face. My great-grandmother, who had watched the scene from her rocking chair just inside the front door, called me in and pulled me up on her lap. After making sure I was comfortable, she began to rock and hum her favorite song, Precious Lord.
When a few minutes had passed, she asked me about the experience. I sat up, and looked at her wrinkled face and said, “Mamma white folks are evil.”
She smiled and pulled me back against her bosom and said in response, “No baby, that white man was evil. He was just scared and acted out of his fear.” She went on to tell me, “In your life you will meet some good white folk and some bad white folk, some good black folk and bad black folk.” Then she looked at me and said, “Baby, people’s people. Everywhere you go people’s people.” Now that was wisdom.