Everybody liked DW, a small quiet man, an engineer with a quick and ready smile. He dressed neat and well and wore polished brogans even though his walking in the factory could sully or mar them. He was the only black engineer in our work group and his expertize on his assigned equipment gave value to our quality and productivity.
Our customer Excel, located in Pikeville, Tennessee, was having trouble with our motors and it was my task to resolve the problem. Upon viewing the equipment Excel used in conjunction with our motors, it was obvious to me that they could use some engineering help from our staff. I asked the engineering manager if I could use DW to get this problem under control. He agreed to the assignment and I talked to DW about coming with me to Pikeville.
The trip involves a five hour drive from Columbus, MS, through Alabama, through a small corner of Georgia, and into central Tennessee. I had done this a number of times which includes staying for a night in Chattanooga, TN. I was surprised when DW refused to go on this trip. He was always so accommodating with other requests, and here was a pleasant trip which many others would like to do, and he refused. I asked the engineering manager to help me convince DW that he was needed and should go.
We sat down with DW and asked him why he did not want to go with me and help Excel. It turned out that DW had never
been out of Mississippi, spent his whole life in this State. He was wary of leaving it. He had read about the bad things that happened to blacks in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. It was difficult for me to believe that he was absolutely more comfortable in Mississippi, a State that had so much bad press about the treatment of blacks in the past, (the Emmit Till case for one, which happened not more than forty miles from Columbus) yet, he believed in Mississippi safety.
Our assurances that it was absolutely safe in these days and that all the horrible stories were now in the past did not change his mind. I asked specifically what his fear was about and he responded that his Grandaddy had always told him to never, never, ever trust the white man, and he always listened to his Grandaddy. Here was an educated, accomplished, black engineer who was directly influenced by the experiences of a black in the thirty's, forty's and the fifty's. I am confident that the fear his Grandaddy had about the white man was justified, yet, I expected modern day changes to actually change the attitude of blacks. DW's fear was passed down from his Grandaddy and I believe DW still has that fear. It is going to take a very long time to convince some blacks to think of themselves only as Americans.