Hillary, Barry, and Me

1101630614_400Like Hillary Clinton, I, too, worked for Barry Goldwater in the ’64 election, although I was only 12. Growing up in Summerville, South Carolina, I had inherited this tiny hamlet’s folkways, which is just another way of saying I was a racist, although a relatively benign one. In Summerville, not only could you encounter a “whites only” sign above the laundromat, but also patients in doctors’ offices were segregated into separate waiting areas, like dogs and cats waiting to see a vet.

My parents did not hate black folk – we were taught not to use the n-word and loved our “maid” Alice like an aunt – but my folks deemed “colored people,” as they called them, inherently inferior.[1] Obviously, given that he had voted against the Civil Rights Bill, Barry Goldwater was their man, so our 1964 Ford Falcon station wagon sported an Au(H20) bumper sticker because we wanted “a choice not an echo” and “in our hearts” we knew “he was right.”

The fledging Dorchester County Republican Party had rented the defunct movie theater as Goldwater headquarters where they distributed buttons and bumper stickers, and on a couple of Saturdays played the old Fay Wray King Kong movie for an admission fee of ten cents. Among other nominal duties, my job at the theater was to climb a ladder and position letters on the marquee outside. This theater didn’t have a balcony, and even if it did, I doubt if black children would have wanted to donate their pennies to the Goldwater cause. Once, when I took a short cut through one of their communities on my bike (which also sported a Goldwater sticker), I was pelted with rocks, a valuable lesson that freedom of speech can be dangerous.

Well, obviously, Goldwater lost, and I was heartbroken, but attitudes were slowly changing in Summerville. For one thing, the public basketball courts became integrated, even before the school became fully so. I played three-on-three half-court b-ball there after school and on Saturdays. The black kids had different rules – you didn’t take the ball back past the foul line if you got a defensive rebound – but we all got along well, and I got to be friends with these boys before they became my classmates when Summerville’s black and white schools finally merged in 1969. I remember passing a bottle of Boone’s Farm to my pal Mookie at my friend Adam’s one night as we took turns taking swigs. This action would have enraged my father if he could have seen it, even though he was Alice’s children’s Santa Claus, even when we couldn’t afford it.

And so, like Hillary, I switched political sides, I started cancelling my father’s vote out — my very first one cast for McGovern — and politics became a topic best not broached at the dinner table, along with race, and a host of other potentially explosive issues.

It’s hard to believe it’s been fifty years, and although things are much better now, obviously, white supremacy is still alive in darkened, un-Christian anti-intellectual cesspools, and I suspect I won’t see that change in my lifetime. But things do change; people do change sides. It will be interesting to see how many South Carolinians do in this election – if not completely change sides, go for the libertarian candidate.

[1] Alice, for example, called me “Mr. Rusty.”

You can't see it, but there's a Goldwater sticker on the back bumper

You can’t see it, but there’s a Goldwater sticker on the back bumper

One thought on “Hillary, Barry, and Me

  1. Many a confession of principles from a prior time could be made. Time and experience tend to make erosive influences upon the most adamant positions. I could echo your transitions, but locations and contacts, influences and education, individuals and leaders play roles that affected thinking people. We have witnessed significant changes, but those same generative forces seem almost in position to recreate a past that is best unvisited. In speaking with my daughter about the current election, I was appalled to hear her say that Hillary has done nothing unusual that other politicians do as a matter of course. That statement presents a more jaundiced view of our government than I offered. Either I am too naive for this environment or perhaps too adamant in what I expect from elected officials.

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