So I was a bit on my high horse on Wednesday. I know that... So I hope you will oblige me in the story I am about to share.
This past Sunday, my parents (Mimi and Ge-dad) attended a funeral in the Low Country of South Carolina. The man who died was Deacon Morris Peeples, Sr. He was 99-years-old; had a wife, 8 children, 42 grands, 34 great-grands. This fine southern gentleman grew up on Hatiola, what used to be an old cotton plantation. It has been a part of his family's history for generations. The home in which he died overlooked the ocean of cotton fields that are still planted (and played in by generations of children - including my own boys).
But Morris was not the owner of Hatiola. Morris's grandfather was a slave on on the plantation. Sumter's god-father is the current owner, having had it passed down in his family since the mid-1700s. What is left of it, after General Sherman marched through the area, includes what is known presently as the "Big House", home of the Hatiola Hunt Club. God-father Robert has always said that Morris was like his second daddy and openly wept at the funeral. After he sat down in the church, Morris's family went over to Robert and led him to sit with them. He was part of their family.
This is a picture of Morris "returning thanks" as he did every year before the big meal of the first big hunt of the season. He always had the seat of honor on the front porch of the "Big House" and would thank his "Father God" for the many blessings He had bestowed on all of us.
He was the only black man there (except for a family member who drove him over the 100 yards or so from his house) in a sea of white families. But no one saw the difference. No one talked of "that old black man" on the porch. Instead, one would see parents whispering down to their children of the amazing character and intense faith of this almost hundred-year-old man. They proudly introduced them to Mr. Morris. They were telling their young boys to look up to this man. Ge-dad would take Sumter and Jackson and say, "Sons, this is a true gentleman. Listen to him." My boys would shake that old, gnarled hand and look intently. Did they see color? Probably, when they were very young. But as they got older, he was just Mr. Morris, whom everyone loved and respected.
The Hatiola Hunt in which Morris was an honorary member brought him together with men whose Southern roots were intertwined with Morris's - including my father. He was a sage - a man whom his (white) brothers and their sons in the Hatiola Hunt Club sought out for wisdom, as well as a zest for living.
My mother was almost in tears when she shared the events of the funeral with me. Both blacks and whites poured into the church. The family set aside an entire section for members of the hunt club. These men and their families were special and important to Morris and his own family. And when Robert went up to speak, he spoke of his "second daddy". Was Morris's family insulted? No... in the program Robert was listed as one of Morris's sons. Another prominent gentleman, a white judge, spoke as well. Interestingly enough, the judge's last name was Peeples (like Morris). He talked about how the two of them always joked that they were cousins. At the repast, for which many of the men from the Hunt Club fixed the food, my mother spoke of the hugs (big and powerful) between everyone. Colorblindness abounded.
As Morris was remembered during his funeral, in his life one found a person with the love for people that was so infectious that it drew to him the young and the old, black and white. One found a person who would do anything for you and for whom you would do anything for.
And that, my dear friends is the way the south is. We are more colorblind than you may think. And we are probably a whole lot more honest with each other, regardless of race, than perhaps in other parts of the country. I think this is because we know our history. We know that everyone else is looking at the "elephant in the room", i.e. racism in the south. Is it still here, you bet. Unfortunately, I know it is also everywhere. But here, we tend to look at individuals. We tend to look at relationships. Relationships like that of Deacon Morris Peeples, Sr. and all of us.