eeny, meeny, miny, moe …

 

Like many of you, I am having a hard time reconciling what I am reading in the newspapers about the crusade sweeping the Nation to tear down statues throughout the South. I am writing this letter primarily out of frustration and directing it more to my children and grandchildren than to the PBHS Class of “58”. These words are not a political statement but a humble attempt to illustrate what a white boy raised in the 40’s and 50’s in a State in the old Confederacy is faced with today.

I didn’t pay any attention to the hardships placed on “colored people” when I was growing up. “Colored Seat from Rear” signs on public buses and separate water fountains and rest rooms were all I ever knew. I was taught by my parents to never use the “N word” but, let’s face it, as children we all made at least one verbal arbitrary selection starting with the words… eeny, meeny, miny, moe, catch a …

Segregation supposedly ended in the 1960’s even in the deep South but we all know it didn’t happen overnight. It took time to make adjustments and come to certain realizations, some of them very personal in nature. My “moment of truth” came in the fall of 1964 at the Palmview Elementary School in West Palm Beach.

I had returned with my wife from Atlanta to work in the family wholesale produce business and public school cafeterias were a key part of our customer base. Palmview was on 11th Street near Sapodilla and all of its students were destined to move on to Roosevelt Jr. and Sr. High Schools. While making a sales call on the lunch room manager I was asked if I would mind helping out in the school book room. The request was unusual but seemed urgent and genuine so I agreed to pitch in. The room was where text books for the upcoming school year were sorted and staged for the incoming students. Classes were scheduled to start the next day and there was still a lot of work to be done. As things turned out, if this had been the “book room” at Northboro, Southboro, Palmetto, West Gate, or Central Elementary there would have been little or no work required at all. At these all white schools many of the text books would be brand new and would be placed in their unopened boxes in each classroom for the teachers to hand out on opening day. The ones that were not new would all be in excellent condition and only defaced by the previous years student’s name inside the front cover.

I learned that day that Palmview and all the other “Colored Schools” in Palm Beach County received virtually all of their text books as used “selected hand-me-downs from other schools.” These texts were in a variety of conditions ranging from marginal to worthless. They were scribbled in, scratched out, food stained, and many had missing pages.

I spent the better part of the day whiting-out, erasing, replacing and sorting this collection of printed cast-offs. When I left the building I realized that, not only, had I probably secured the Palmview produce account for years to come but that the concept of “separate but equal” was a bunch of hog wash and I would do everything I could for the rest of my life to change it!

I have lived up to this aspiration but I will not turn my back on my heritage or my ancestry. I am a 21st Century son of the South. I am a Christian that respects the beliefs of Jews, Muslims, and people of all other faiths or no faith at all. Along these lines I want to share with all of you a little of my family history. The first consist of two letters written by a young man named Eli Setser to his family in Caldwell County (Lenoir), NC in 1862. I ask you to pay particular attention to his reference to James Bradford in his second letter. James Bradford was my father’s great grandfather. Both I and my deceased brother Brad are/were named after him. After his death from an infected thumb his father Hosea Bradford (then 58 years old) traveled from North Carolina to Petersburg, VA and enlisted in the same North Carolina 26th Infantry to replace his dead son.

To my knowledge, none of the Bradfords owned any slaves and why they were so committed to the cause of the Confederacy I have no idea. I have no idea but they were not alone in their dedication to their home State. North Carolina furnished roughly one-sixth of the entire Confederate Army and at the surrender at Appomattox, one-half of the muskets stacked were from North Carolina. The Old North State sent at least 125,000 soldiers into combat and more than 40,000 perished, which was roughly one-third of North Carolina’s army. North Carolina deaths were more than twice the percentage sustained by the soldiers from any other state.

To memorialize the sacrifice made by its native sons, the State of North Carolina erected a monument in front of the Capital Building in Raleigh. The statue is not to the lost cause of the Confederacy. It is not to honor some politician or general. It makes no attempt to justify any aspect of succession or the War between the States. The only words inscribed on the memorial ………..TO OUR CONFEDERATE DEAD.

Jesse & Pop

On Sunday afternoon, August 6, 2017 I visited this monument with my grandson Jesse Powell. My only words to him were “I want you to remember what you have seen here in Raleigh today because it probably won’t be here much longer.”

I hope I’m wrong. I hope one of those children that opened a cleaned up and whited-out text book at Palmview Elementary years ago will realize as an old man or women that tolerance should be a two way street. I am grateful for the patience the average African-American has shown in giving white Southerners the years needed to change the ways of the world we were born into. Thank you for cleaning up my life’s text book but please don’t ask me to tear out the pages. Some of them are very dear to me.

Jim Powell

Letters from the front around Richmond back to North Carolina:

June the 28th 1862

Dear father and mother, brothers and Sisters, i now take the pleasure of Riting you a few lines to let you now that i am well at this time, and hope thees few lines may find you ingoying the Same State of health.

i have no nuse to Rite to you. we have moved since i Rote to you before. we ar staying in about four miles from Richmond. our Brigade is on Picket now. we have had Some very hard Skermish fights Sinch we have been heer. their was severl kild and wonded in our Regment, but non in our compney. We was on picket yesterday. we wer in one hunderd yards of the yankes all day yesterday. i am perty surtain that i kild a yankey. they ar skermish fighting a going on now. i will haft to stop Riting now for the want of time. i want you to Rite to me as Soon as you git this leter, and Direct your leter to Richmond va in the care of Colonel Vance, Comp F 26 Reg NC troops.

i think their will Bee a larg fight hear in a day ar too. their is Something about two hunderd thousand men heer and more a coming evry day.

  1. E. Setser

[editor] Three days after Eli wrote the letter above the 26th N.C. participated in Lee’s ill conceived attack at Malvern Hill, suffering about 80 casualties. The Regiment moved to Drewry’s Bluff on July 7.

Camp Near Drury Bluff

July the 16th 1862

Dear father and Mother. Brothers and Sisters, i now take the pleasure of Riting you a few lines to let you now that i am well at this time, and hope thees few lines may find you ingoying the Same Blesing.

i have nothing of much importance to Rite to you at this time. we have bad a very hard time Since we come to virginia till now. we have got our tents. we ar camped in half a mile of Drufes Bluff sevn miles from Richmond.

we have had some very hard fiting to do Since we come heer . las tuesday was a weak a go we was in a very hard fite. their was lots of our men kild. i think the yankey los was greater than ours. they faut a long time. horses any a mount was kild. i went over the Battle field the next day, it was a terable Sight to see, mens arms and legs and head shot of. they we a lying on won another. Some was Shot all to peases with canon Balls. the horses was ling thick.

their was forty five in our Reg kild and wonded. James Bradford (1) was Shot through the thumb, wade fileps (2) was Shot through the thigh. Mat Crump (3) was Shot a little. But it is well long a go. their was seven others in the compares said they was wonded by a Spent. Shell, they havent got me yet, But they come mity near it, i think i put an end to Some of the Scoundrels.

we had to March about five days through the heat and dust. the dirt in the roads was from four to five inches deep, and but little to eat. i think we will stay hear a while, we have lots of work to do in making Brest works.

tom and J A Tuttle and George Powell is well, the Soldiers in our Regment is generaly well. we hav Routed the yankes from about Richmond. the opinion of our offisers is that Mac Clellan will come up the River and attack us, and land scater and come into Richmond as the { illegible.

i Saw L M Copening yesterday, he was well and harty. i see some of the Ruff an Ready Bois evr day, lawson seys he wood like to be at home to fly round the girls. i wood like to be be their my self a while. give all the girls and neighbors all my bes Respects. tell them i am as harty and healthy es i ever was. lawson Sends his Respects to you, and would be glad to get a leter from yon.

�you art to a saw the old twenty six Stand up to the yanke Scoundels. i wante you to Rite to me as Soon as you get this leter and give me all the nuse, for i am ancious to heer from you and how the folk is a giting a long. So no more But Remain your affectionate Son until Death.

i will Send you five Dollars in this leter. Bill Gather paid me ten Dollars the other Day.

procterCreek

W E Setser to W A S

Direct your leter to procter Creek Near Richmond in the care of Col Vance 26 Reg NC troops. Rite Soon.

  1. Private James Bradford resided is Caldwell and enlisted in Company F at age 29 on March 20, 1862. Althrough shot through the thumb, be would die of the mound on August 6.

2. W. E. Phillips and his twin brother Joseph enlisted in Caldwell on March 20, 1862. Although be recovered from his wound at Malvern Hill, both he and his brother would be killed at Gettysburg exactly one year later, July 1,1863

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