Editor’s Note: This is part of a continuing dialogue about the nature of bigotry today. Garry L. Jones, a retired lieutenant with the Federal Bueau of Prisons, talks with Freeline Media Orlando correspondent Vikki Hankins about growing up in Klan country.
ORLANDO — Retired Lieutenant Garry L. Jones of the Federal Bureau Of Prisons in Tallahassee, Florida, will never forget the endless racism that he confronted throughout his life.
“When I was growing up, I used to be a batboy for the baseball team my Uncle Jay played for,” he said. “When they would go to Smithfield, N.C. – known as KKK (Ku Klux Klan) country – most of the team would have to put guns in the trunk of the car because the people in Smithfield were known to start trouble with black people.
“When the team arrived in Smithfield to play ball, we could see the rednecks ready to start trouble as soon as we hit the field. The umpire — who was from Smithfield — would make as many bad calls against our team as he could. You could hear the fans in the stands saying, ‘You niggers better leave before it turns dark!’ In 1992, the Klan’s marched through downtown Kinston heading to Grifton, N.C.
“My grandmother never took time out to tell us about racism, maybe because she didn’t want to pollute our minds. The older folks knew about it, but I guess the younger children didn’t know about it. We were too busy playing in the neighborhood. The only thing I knew was blacks stayed in one section of the town and whites stayed in another section of the town.
“When I was going to Lewis Elementary School, my music teacher was a white lady named Mrs. Edwards. She slapped me in the face with her hands for talking. She slapped another black student in the face; she slapped him so hard his nose started to bleed. I don’t know how she was able to get away with this.”
Research shows that a majority of children have a solid conception of racial and ethnic distinctions by the time they’re about six years old. Well before they can speak clearly, children are exposed to racial and ethnic ideas through their immersion in and observation of the large social world. Since racism, a form of bigotry, exists at all levels of society and is interwoven in all aspects of American social life, it is virtually impossible for alert young children either to miss or ignore it. In Mr. Jones’ case, the racism he experienced was very frank and overt — too direct to go unnoticed.
“As far as sports, bigotry and racism did not stop,” he said. “When I was a quarterback, I had more skills than the white quarterback, but I sat on the bench because the coach wanted a white quarterback. I can recall when the white quarterback got hurt, I was put in the game and I ran into a broken play and was forced to run 30 yards for a first down, but on the next play the white quarterback came out on the field hopping — clearly hurting and in pain. He told me the coach didn’t want me in the game. I came out of the game bewildered, wondering what I did wrong; the next day in practice, the coach changed my position from quarterback to wide receiver. I later came to understand my skin color was the deciding factor in these changes.
“When I began working for the prison system, the racism did not stop; it increased. When I moved to Tallahassee I was definitely apprehensive, because I’d heard so much about going into redneck country, and my future supervisor (the Captain of the prison) didn’t make it easy for me. After I got selected to go to Tallahassee, I called the Captain to thank him for allowing me to be one of his Lieutenants. He never returned my phone calls; I even e-mailed him and thanked him, but he never returned my e-mail. It didn’t take a genius to figure out he didn’t like me, even though he didn’t know me. You could only imagine how I felt, going to work for a supervisor who didn’t accept me because of my skin color.
“When I went to visit the institution, I stopped by the warden’s office. He took me straight to the lieutenant’s office and introduced me to the other lieutenants. I remember the warden saying, “This is Lieutenant Jones, he will be a new lieutenant here at Tallahassee. I want you all to show him around the institution.’
“There were four lieutenants in the office — three whites and one black. None of the white lieutenants shook my hand, nor did they say anything. The black lieutenant said, ‘I’ll show you around.’ Little did I know this lieutenant was experiencing racism at F.C.I. Tallahassee …
“I would become their next victim.
“As a lieutenant supervising correctional officers, I gave a few black officers outstanding evaluations. The captain wanted me to downgrade the evaluations because he wanted the white officers to get the awards for the outstanding evaluations, not the black officers.
“I was involved in another incident when I was forced to discipline a black officer for not doing the inventory of property, and when a white officer didn’t inventory the property, I disciplined him like I did the black officer. Yet the captain told me to dismiss the disciplinary report on the white officer.”
Research analysts from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Maryland studied this topic and iossued a report, “Racial Diversity of Correctional Workers and Inmates: Organizational Commitment, Teamwork and Worker Efficacy in Prisons.” The report concluded that “Prior research into the effects of racial diversity upon workplace relationships has demonstrated that white workers prefer to work in and with groups which are also comprised of white workers. Using structural equation models, we tested whether higher levels of racial diversity, measured as social distance from co-workers and inmates, were associated with lower evaluations of organizational commitment, teamwork among co-workers, and efficacy in dealing with inmates.
“We found the expected negative effects of racial diversity upon white male correctional workers for organizational commitment, but not for teamwork and efficacy,” the report concluded. “For male minority correctional workers, racial diversity did not affect organizational commitment, teamwork, or efficacy.”
Jones said he’s experienced examples of this.
“I’ve seen racism, especially in the mandatory minimum sentencing laws,” he said. “It was common for a white person who got caught with crack cocaine to have his/her case tried in state court where they had parole, and no mandatory sentencing which resulted in shorter sentences. But when blacks got caught with five grams of more of crack, it was the law in the federal system that this was an automatic five years in federal prison. Whites who got caught were sent to the state courts, while the cases of blacks were sent to federal courts resulting in lengthier sentences.”
Just recently, Marilyn Davenport, an elected member of the Orange County Republican Central Committee in California, e-mailed a photo depicting President Obama as a chimpanzee, in the arms of chimpanzee “parents,” claiming, “Now you know why … no birth certificate!” She was quoted saying “This was just a joke.”
“Everything is a joke to some people, and then they want to give a fake apology,” he said. “This old lady claims she didn’t know this was racist. It’s the older generation that knows more about racism and bigotry than the younger generation. This is not to say all Republicans condone this non-sense, but the majority of them support this. Blacks are still three-fourths of a human being in some of their eyes. This three-fourths of a human being includes the President.”
Looking back on his life, Jones concluded, “I wish my experiences in life could have been different with the white race, but as you can see it hasn’t. Racism which is a form of bigotry, seems to be never ending; it’s everywhere in sports, jobs, schools and in politics … it’s everywhere.”
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