The Colony

| 14 Feb 2023 | 08:53

    What’s colored mean, Mama?

    You are never to use that word again, she answered so harshly I knew it was a very charged word and I knew not to use it.

    We had gone to the mailbox together. A car with a family in it stopped. The father asked for directions to the “colored colony.”

    My mother gave him the directions and they drove off.

    I was about 5 years old. My mother was first generation German-American. Both her parents had been both in Germany. My father had gone to war there. The post-war years would be deeply shameful for her.

    Greenwood Forest Farms, little more than two miles from the Village of Greenwood Lake, was a short walk away from my home. Its residents knew it as “The Colony.”

    Many of its neighbors knew it as “The Colored Colony.” A group of well to do African-Americans from New York City had bought the farm in 1918 and transformed it into the first African-American resort community in New York State. Land was subdivided, cottages built, the farmhouse became the community center with a ball field and other recreational opportunities. There was a lake for swimming, canoeing and fishing. There was a boarding house that hosted many distinguished African-American leaders.

    Many summer homes became year-round during my childhood and new homes were built.

    More and more of my classmates and friends were African-American.

    I learned about civil rights in their kitchens and living rooms. I was in one of those living rooms when four little girls were murdered in Birmingham, Alabama.

    I was in a living room of raging Black men. One looked at me and pointed. They all looked at me. It is time, he said, for a white child to die every time a Black child dies.

    My friend led me out of the room, my heart pounding, my legs weak. He walked me home.

    That same friend, son of a Black father and white mother, would be with me another day when another Black family stopped to ask directions to the “Colored Colony.” He could pass for white.

    Colored Colony? Is that what it is called?

    He was stunned, crushed.

    I was ashamed.

    I still have a letter he wrote to me from a Birmingham jail. He had joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and had been arrested for registering voters. He was 16. His father had served with the Tuskegee Airman.

    I would hear the word “colored” often as I grew up. I would also hear the “n” word. I was called the “n” lover.

    In high school, I was asked to be the campaign manager for my best friend who wanted to run for a high school office. Our campaign slogan and strategy was created by my mother. I chanted his name and our slogan up and down the school corridors.

    I was threatened.

    “See you after school, “n” lover.” He won or, maybe, we did.

    That was a lifetime ago but even now it can sometimes seem like there is no end to racial hatred. I am grateful for my mother’s intolerance to intolerance.

    She was not going to poison her children.

    Everett Cox