In an article written several weeks ago, I alluded to an incident that happened to me as a teenager growing up in the town of Jonesboro during the sixties. The local Sheriff Van Beasley vowed that he would exact bodily harm upon me if I did not cease from “messing with those white girls,” a claim which was a total fabrication by local law enforcement at that time, a claim which I knew nothing about. I shared with readers that in 1999 the same sheriff who vowed to harm me, in an act of contrition, honored me with a deputy sheriff commission and presented me with a deputy sheriff’s badge which I kept for many years. Finally, I wanted to believe that Sherriff Beasley came to the realization that Black Lives Matter.
That story adds meaning and perspective to the Black Lives Matter movement. It coincides with the Black Lives Movement in America today, a movement which has spread like wildfire all over the world. Through my encounter with Sheriff Van Beasley, I developed fear of police officers because of the way I was treated. I felt that the lives of Black boys from the backwoods of Jackson Parish really did not matter, and certainly, brutality against innocent Black boys and girls was the norm at that time.
I was born and reared in rural Jackson parish, where I observed first hand, signs labeled “Colored Only” displayed at water fountains in the local court house, when Black leaders laughed when they were not humored and scratched where they did not itch. It was an era where Black leaders had to shuffle their feet when they were not nervous and bow their heads when they were not engaged in prayer. During that era, Blacks entered the local theatre through a darkly lighted narrow door and stairway and were forced to sit in the rear of the old Palace theater in frayed and broken seating, a theater that is now owned by Greater North Louisiana Community Development Corporation, a non-profit community service organization.
Moreover, I grew up in an America where Blacks were denied the opportunity to eat at local food establishments, denied the opportunity to dawn new clothing at local retail stores, Black folk had to contend with Jim Crow laws (passing a literacy test to exercise one’s constitutional right to vote), had to step aside on sidewalks so that whites could pass, where older Black men were called “boy” or “Nigger,” received hand me down outdated text books and football gear from white schools, attended segregated schools which were poorly equipped and furnished, a time when black maids could prepare meals for white families but could not sit and eat at the table with the family. It was a time when parents were constantly telling and reminding their children not to get in trouble with white people, because they would harm and even kill you. The stress of existing and navigating from day to day under such conditions and restraints produced unforgettable moments in one’s life, as the quality of life was greatly diminished. Though we have a glimpse of slave life, it is difficult to truly imagine what life conditions must have been for our slave ancestors. These conditions existed back then and have continued simply because Black Lives do not matter and have resulted in a great racial divide in America which has now reached a boiling point and can no longer be ignored.
Dr. Herbert Simmons, Jr. is an associate Professor, Department of Criminal Justice, Grambling State University, former President, Grambling State University Faculty Senate and former Chair, Department of Consumer Education and Resource Management, Howard University, Washington, D.C.