Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bookfield, Prince Baptist Church

As I came around one block the houses appeared to be newer, and some were quite large. It was an affluent area. One door that I knocked on was answered by a Spanish speaking maid. I asked to see the lady of the house. She was summoned by intercom. I really didn’t think I’d get into this house at all. The lady of the house, Mrs. Franklin, was elegant looking in her caftan and cloth turban. Her brunette hair peeked out of the material. She was fortyish, I suppose. When I said the part of the approach about church folks, she perked up and said, “You’re probably here because my husband, Bobbie, is an elder of Prince Baptist.”

“Prince Baptist, I was at their prayer meeting this morning!”

“Well, come right in honey.” she chimed. She led me through an impressively decorated house. We went through the foyer, the living room and at least three parlors before we came to the back sun room where she sat with a drink that looked like a mint julep. The maid got me an iced tea.

“I’m sure you’ve heard all about Bobbie, um, Mr. Franklin. He’s been a church elder for over twenty years, and he’s on the city council. He’s raised the more money in charity events than anyone in town. Of course Prince Baptist has the biggest congregation in Athens, so that’s an advantage. Of course when we joined Prince Baptist it was much smaller. The congregation has nearly quadrupled since then, and you guessed it, Bobbie was an integral part of attracting folks to our church through business and personal contacts. You know, we do want as many of the ‘right’ people as possible.”

“I know what you mean.” I said, giving her the stock answer to any statement, that I learned in my sales training. I wasn’t exactly sure who the ‘right’ people were. I was afraid she meant white and or affluent folks, but did not think that asking her to be specific was a good idea. She seemed unstoppable in her monologue. I thought that I might learn interesting or useful things about the locale from her, and it certainly was a pleasant setting, and a very refreshing glass of brewed iced tea. So, I let her continue.

“Will you be in town long? You could join our church. You are saved aren’t you? Well of course you are, you already told me that you went to the prayer breakfast.”

I nodded agreeably. It was a lie, but it seemed like the thing to do. I didn’t want to create a problem by being honest.

“Our summer picnic is in July and you should come! You could meet my Bobbie. There will be nice young men who have accepted Christ there. You’re not married yet are you dear?”

“Um, no. The picnic sounds great, I’ll be there.” I said. More free food. I couldn’t turn it down. Besides, there could be lots of people to get interested in the books, or maybe just to make contacts with. I tried as subtly as I could to bring the conversation to a demonstration, but as soon as the topic was switched to why I was there, Mrs. Franklin looked down at the floor. She politely listened to the Family Bible Library demonstration, but had the maid usher me out as soon as would not be considered rude. I completed my required number of demonstrations, but didn’t sell anymore books that afternoon.

Mrs. Franklin’s neighbor’s house was next. I knocked on the door, and stood back. The woman who answered the door was young, well dressed and African-American. She let me in. We sat in the living room and it was immediately apparent that they were new to this affluent neighborhood, as some of their stuff was still in boxes. Her husband was home and joined us. They had no children yet, and didn’t seem very interested in the books. They kept looking at each other, confiding something that I wasn’t getting. “So, you guys just moved in?”

“Yes.”, the man replied.

“How do you like the neighborhood?”

The knowing looks resumed between them, and the wife began to cry. “That’s the problem you see. We don’t feel welcome at all here. The neighbors shun us, and we can’t join Prince Baptist. You should see the looks we get. We are considering moving, but to where? My husband got this great job so that we can afford this kind of place, and there aren’t any upscale neighborhoods for blacks here in Athens. When we have kids, we want them to attend the good schools here and grow up in a nice place. There is no such place here in town. Frankly, we don’t know what to do.” Her husband looked at her with concern and understanding, and then tears began to run down his face also.

He offered, “It’s not like anyone has burnt crosses on our lawn, or any overt bigoted thing like that, its just we don’t feel included in any way.”

I lowered my head and sighed. It was all so sad. “I know it’s really bigoted here in the South and I don’t know what I can tell you, except that I know what you mean and I feel for you.” Then, I began to cry softly for using a stock line to indicate that I commiserated with them. We all cried together for a while. The last I could offer them was that they could move to the North. I left the house and I could hear them still sobbing softly together.

Mary and I finally got to stay in our rented room on Thursday night. What a delight to have someplace to call home.

Some days later, still in the affluent neighborhood, on a bright and sunny afternoon, an obese man drove up behind me in a ’76 white Cadillac convertible with a red interior. His fingers glittered with gemstone rings. He eyed me and pulled over to speak with me. He introduced himself as Bobbie. I spoke with him a bit, and figured out that he was Mrs. Franklin’s husband without him telling me. He told me that he would give me his diamond pinky ring if I got into the Caddy with him. I declined and rode off.

Okay, so summing up, Mrs. Franklin was an alcoholic, Mr. Franklin, the church elder was a whoring fat man, and nobody in the neighborhood or their church liked blacks, unless they were ‘somebodies’. These self proclaimed Christians were all racist, sex mongering, drunk, hypocrites. Great neighborhood to live in; great church to belong to. And I did not tell a soul.

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