Things happen for a reason. And there are things that happen that have far reaching consequences.
Some of you know this story but most of you don’t.
If I had to name one person who has made an impact on my life who was not a family member, clergy or out-ranked me, there is only one.
“Two Speed Flemming.”
A lifetime ago, I was an audio engineer and worked with a number of musical groups. Back in the mid-70s I found myself living and working in Macon, Georgia, the home of Capricorn Records.
Across the street from Capricorn Studios was a bottle bar. I may be wrong but I think it was called “The Flamingo.”
Bottle bar at night but a source of good, well, decent, well, food all day. They had good burgers and fries, at least. (I am not sure if I would trust their Blueberry Duck a Poirve.)
The studio was almost directly across the street from the Flamingo. One of their charms was, other than proximity, free delivery.
That was the good news. The bad news was they had he world’s oldest man as their delivery man. Yes, “Two Speed Flemming.”
Back in the 70s, Macon was still a quintessential Southern town. Despite the fact that cars were at a premium on Broadway (now, called MLK, after the famed Republican) “Two Speed Flemming” would shuffle slowly a half of a block to the corner, wait for the light then cross the street, barely beating the light, then to continue the journey.
I confess, I was not too tightly wrapped in those days. I was less than a year removed from the fun spots of Southeast Asia and there was nothing I could not do at that point. I had beaten death on its home field, I celebrated that daily and I truly I needed to be knocked down a notch or two.
One day, famished, I awaited “Two Speed Flemming” on the street in front of the studio. I watched him laboriously trod from the Flamingo to the corner, wait for the light, make it across the road then trudge down to the studio.
I had been angravated before getting food less than steaming hot but today was different.
I saw for the first time the difficulty with which he walked. He was slow and deliberate. (He darest not cross in the middle of the block, something this young Yankee saw as improbable, peradventure he would be mown down by an errant car.)
As he approached the studio he seemed no different to my eye then when he left the bar/restaurant. He was not in a hurry and I, being a Yankee in the waning days of the Old South, had no place to quarrel.
I took the food, tipped him handsomely, and asked him to wait a moment as I brought the food inside, including mine than I knew at that moment would be cold when I got to it.
I returned to the street, he was still there. He might have tried to get away but he would not have gotten far, not at his speed.
I asked him his name and he said “Flemming.”
“It is nice to meet you Mister Flemming.”
“No, no, no suh! Not Mr. Flemming, just Flemming”, he protested, he seemed to be frightened by the sense of respect.
You see, “Flemming” was some 90-odd years old. And the son of slaves.
Yes, his parents were slaves.
I was talking to history.
“Flemming” was his slave name. It was the name of the man who owned his parents. They were given the name of their “massah” as their name, to show ownership. When they were freed, his parents become “sharecroppers” on Massah Flemming’s land.
Sure they were “free” but they had no place to go. From this and later conversations with Mr. Flemming I came to realize the 13th Amendment had the same efficacy as the most and liberal speaking. They talked a good game but when the rubber met the road, very little happened. Slaves were still slaves and more actually than theory.
They had no place to go. They only knew the farm or plantation. Once they were freed, most had no place to go so most stayed in place and started a different life of servitude as “share croppers”
So, when Mr. Flemming took exception to calling me calling him “Mr. Flemming”, it took me a while to get him to understand that I respected him and I felt sad for him.
No, not the kind of sad that requires a “safe place” or counselling. Not the kind of sad that wanted me to sit in chains on the street wearing a shirt reading “I am sorry.” Not the kind of sad that wanted someone to give him money for being a slave, if not in actuality then in practice. And, besides, HIS parents were real, emancipated slaves.
No, the kind of sad that showed me and proved to me how evil man can be to his fellow man.
Here was a kind old man who may or not made something of his life rather than being a share cropper, a go-fer and other menial jobs.
He said that he was uncomfortable being called “Mr. Flemming.” He said that he was always called “boy” or “nigger” for his entire life. (No apology, those were his words.)
We talked about this and he explained that “was just the way it was.” I said that was just not right and he said that even the good people talked like that in the past and he held no grudge.
Maybe he was simple. Maybe he had faith. Maybe he understood more about people after a lifetime like his than I will ever come close to understanding.
But if there ever was a person who “deserved” something, it was Mr. Flemming. And I can assure you that if anyone ever offered him something for nothing, he would not take it.
Mr. Flemming allowed me the courtesy of calling him Mr. Flemming as long as no one else heard. That is a joy that I will take to the grave, to give a sweet old man a modicum of respect after almost a century on Earth.
We chatted from time to time, he told me stories about the old days and when the main house got a phone and how each house had a special ring depending on where they were on the road and so on.
I gather he never married and I guess I can understand that. In a thought alien to us he lived his entire life within a few miles of where he was born.
I share this because.
Because I get incensed when I see racial hate.
Because I get angravated when I see someone being taking advantage of because the other person can exploit him.
Because when I see/hear the hateful rhetoric of the Rev. Wright, Al $harpton, Je$$e Jack$on, and of course, OLG, Biff, it makes me wish THEY lived the life Mr. Flemming did and Mr. Flemming had it easier.
Because the same Rev. Wright, Al $harpton, Je$$e Jack$on, and of course, OLG, Biff, who are demanding reparations for the “slaves”, yet they are living in some pretty cush digs and without a care in the world and have never lived one day in the shoes of a Mr. Flemming. (And you know if any reparations were given, they would have their collective beaks in the pile.)
No, I am not a liberal. I am not a bleeding heart. No I don’t think all blacks are horrible the same way I don’t think all whites are saints, and vice-verse.
People are good or evil. It has nothing to do with skin color or most anything else. (I reserve one group for inspection.)
Mr. Flemming taught me that and it is one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned.
Forty years out, I can see him as if it was yesterday, I hear his weak voice and his way, Deep South drawl, tell me the way it used to be without one iota of regret, sorrow or anger.
If he can live that kind of life without the bitterness that I would imagine we all would have is the same situation, I can try to be a better person to honor his example.
If you have not spent a fair amount of time in the Deep South back then, or before, am sure some of this may seem unbelievable, it sure was to me at first.
What was strange was that the music business in Macon, and prolly other places, was color blind. I worked with bands and crews that were both black and white. Heck even the white guys got crap from locals hither and yon for having long hair. Yes, we played in bars, juke joints and clubs that had chicken wire in front of the stage and in prolly most cases we did a gig and got out of town.
Such was the Old South. But I am sure the similar prejudices existed in other places. The difference is back then and there, it was condoned by the local and state gummint. (BTW, my Georgia driving license bore the signature of Jimmy Carter. Just saying.)
(There will be a second part to this as the lesson here is leveraged against current events.)
To your relief, the regular diet of bile and indignation will continue in the coming issues.