Author: Raynor James email@example.com
I believe there was much racial harmony in most small cities in the American South in the 1970s. I also believe that personal stories can often illustrate and clarify more universal truths. Are you willing to make a trip with me to check out those premises?
Recently, Hal’s and my son, David Kelly, sent out a letter that started that train of thought. The subject was “SSG James Blackwell’s Passing.” It was addressed to “ALCON.” In part, the letter read, “I have the sad duty to report that SSG James Blackwell, a long-time member of the Fredericksburg [Virginia] Guard has passed away.
“I interviewed Staff Sergeant Blackwell a few years ago. He has always been an inspiration to me. He was able to shine a light where few dared to tread. You see he was one of the two first African Americans to serve our local National Guard since the 1880s. He was a civil rights trail blazer of sorts, joining the local Fredericksburg Guard in 1971. My father, B.G. Hal D. James (Va,R) and Reverend/Mayor Lawrence A. Davies set it up. Think about how hard it would have been with the Vietnam War, the antimilitary public sentiment and joining an all-white, male only military organization. They did a wonderful job in their role as mentors as you can tell from the attached photos! When I became the Battalion Commander (2009), I invited both trail breakers to attend a drill weekend one more time and gave them both honorary life membership into the Fredericksburg Guard Association.
“SSG BLACKWELL, thank you for your service!” The letter was signed, “LTC David K. James (Retired), Director, Fredericksburg Guard Association Foundation.”
That letter set off a ton of memories. Lawrence Davies was a black minister who became our good friend and strong ally. May I tell you about it? It started while Hal was president of the Fredericksburg Jaycees. The Committee to name the “Young Man of the Year” came up with a list of candidates, and Lawrence was one of them. No black man had ever been nominated before, and it set off an uproar. There were people who threatened to resign if Lawrence were chosen. Hal met with the committee and instructed them to please base their decision strictly on merit. He said they had to do the right thing. Then, if that caused a problem, they’d need to figure out how to deal with that in an honorable way.
Lawrence was chosen. No one resigned. Everything was fine.
Remember the summer Washington, D.C. was almost burned to the ground? The Fredericksburg Guard was called up for riot duty. I was very worried as were others. Lawrence called Hal with an idea, and that was the birth of Fredericksburg’s Bi-racial Volunteers. Our sons and I went to the first meeting which was held in Lawrence” church, but discussion soon made it clear that it would be a good idea to have only young men as active members. As it evolved, pairs of young men (one black and one white) wearing arm bands went to outdoor events at which lots of young people were expected to congregate. They just roamed around and started conversations and “poured oil on troubled water” where needed. There wasn’t one single troubling incident in Fredericksburg that summer.
Later, Lawrence came to Hal about integrating the Jaycees and Hal sponsored Johnny Johnson, a black art professor at Mary Washington College. Johnny was accepted without any resistance. By the way, his art was beautiful, and I coveted it, but every year at the Woman’s Club art show, his prices stayed just ahead of my ability to pay.
You know about how integration of the National Guard went. No problems. Several similar things happened, and at some point, Lawrence ran for mayor of Fredericksburg. Hal and I were among his campaign workers. Not surprisingly, Lawrence won. In fact, he was Fredericksburg’s mayor for about 20 years. Lawrence wasn’t Fredericksburg’s black mayor; he was Fredericksburg’s beloved mayor of all of its people.
That’s just one little (then) city, but we knew people in lots of other towns who were having similar experiences. Then we made the big mistake of electing the flagrantly racist Barack Obama who managed to sabotage years of improvement. Things improved again with Trump. Now look at the pickle we’re all dealing with. We need prosperity and harmony!