We Can and Must Defeat Ignorance

I recently saw a movie called “The Help” and I must admit it had a great impact on me.

I was deeply moved by the story and the plight of the characters who inspired the title.

If you haven’t seen the film, or read Kathryn Stockett‘s novel of the same name, it’s about a young white woman who writes a controversial book from the viewpoint of “colored” maids working for white families in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s—Civil Rights-era America—and the racism they faced each day.

Now, understand that I never actually lived in the South—born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. But I’ve always felt I had a southern upbringing, for good reason. My grandmothers and their sisters were born there. My mother’s side in Knoxville, Tennessee; my father’s side migrated from the South toIdaho.

Despite that feeling of having Southern roots, however, I’ve never looked down on anyone because of the color of their skin, their religion or for that matter, their sexual preference. I do not, however, suffer fools gladly and I especially loathe bullies! I suppose you could say I am prejudiced in that respect. I just don’t like a**holes—never have, never will!

As for what I saw in THE HELP, I was both angered and embarrassed by the actions of the spoiled white women in the film and the mean way they dismissed feelings of the black maids who cleaned their houses, raised their children and even raised them!  None of the older ladies in my family would have acted so thoughtlessly, so rude.

As you can guess, I found myself relating to the maids in the story, rather than the white wives.  The maids reminded me of family. They wore the same dresses, same aprons, same little hats. They cooked and cleaned the same way, mopped the kitchen’s linoleum-floor after every meal. Except for their skin color, these maids were interchangeable with my grandmothers and great aunts. I was greatly relieved to recall that my ladies didn’t remind me of the white women in the movie.

The film’s story also reminded me of another often told in my family, a story I had never before appreciated as I do now, after seeing “The Help.”  It’s a story I want to share with all of you.

Just before the Civil War, one of my ancestors, Evander Euphrates Dyer, came across some slavers traveling through his part of Tennessee. In their possession was a young slave girl who had tried to run. In punishment for which, the slavers held her feet to the campfire, painfully singeing her soles. Old Evander felt sorry for the child and bought her for $100—a lot of money for those times.  He didn’t keep slaves but instead raised the girl, whom they calledCarolina (pronouncing it “Car-line”).

Carolina never married but spent her life with one or another of the Dyer families.  She had a knack for midwifery and was good with children.  Whenever a Dyer woman got pregnant,Carolina relocated to that house and stayed through until the wife was on her feet again.  My grandmother’s mother was said to be “sickly.” So Carolina spent several years with the family, a stint fondly remembered by Grandma, her 3 brothers and 2 sisters.

The last Dyer child Carolina helped deliver was Rob Dyer. Sadly, his mother died in childbirth but Carolina stayed on to raise Rob. Later, when he was grown with a family of his own, she stayed on as a member of Rob’s household until her death.

Sometime in the late 1950s-early 1960s, my Grandma visited Knoxville.  While there, of course, she visited her cousin Rob. In his home a portrait of Carolina hung above his fireplace.  With all her memories, my grandmother would have dearly loved to possess the painting and finally told Rob so.  He declared he would part with almost anything but that portrait.

See, Carolina was the only mother he had known.  She was dearly loved by all those whose lives she had touched. Never their slave, never their lesser, always an adopted, welcome member of their family.

Read the book. Go see the movie. We must make sure those dark, ignorant belief systems never get a foothold in this country again.







6 responses to “We Can and Must Defeat Ignorance

  1. Wonderful story (yours). I also read the book and was very moved. Never have understood racism and never will – even chalking it up to not knowing better doesn’t explain it. I equate it with the Nazi’s belief systems; both appall me. I agree we must see to it that nothing like this ever happens in this country again.

    • Prejudice is a crime against all of us, an insipid crime, fed by ignorance, that grows like a cancer. And isn’t limited to the other guy.

      Glad you appreciated the story.


  2. It is only by exposing the darker side of humanity to the light that we can hope to defeat it. I try to do that in my writing these days. As writers, so should we all, in whatever measure we can.

  3. You’re right, Raymond. In what we write and in our everyday life.


  4. Yours is a very moving story Wally, thanks for sharing, eden

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