During the time period of Silent Ties the white leadership relegated the black population to a substandard level of living. John Howard Griffin wrote in Black Like Me, “White men would claim black men were really happy; they liked it that way… Often they would face the black employee with this direct question: ‘Aren’t you happy with your situation? Don’t I treat you good?’ If the black man had any hopes of remaining employed, he had to plaster that smile all over his face and agree.”
Addie’s family lived within the confines of this system. They didn’t own their farm or freely profit from their hard work. Their home originally replicated the share-cropper’s cottage across the field that was now so beautifully decorated and maintained by Missy’s family. Focused on the needs of daily life, Addie’s family couldn’t afford the extras of a back porch, paint on the exterior, or beautiful new furniture; nor did J.P. provide it. As the girls moved into adolescence, Missy began to acknowledge the differences, yet she accepted the inequalities because, “We’re nice to them.”
Amidst her friend’s denial, Addie lived with the restrictions placed on her and her future. Though she confronts Missy, asking her to stop pretending, it only lasts a moment. Missy returns to intentional ignorance. As Addie reads Missy’s story fifty years later, she knows her childhood friend is still pretending and still denying.
John Howard Griffin highlights the Southern white belief that, “We treat them well.” In his Epilogue he writes, “Most white Americans denied any taint of racism and really believed that in this land we judged every man by his qualities as a human individual.” His own experience showed a very different reality as he shared, “I learned within a very few hours that no one was judging me by my qualities as a human individual and everyone was judging me by my pigment.” This system of classifying by appearance dictated Addie’s life growing up, but she was determined to decide her future.
For more about John Howard Griffin please read “Travel into the Jim Crow South,” the final entry of “Not Your Typical Book Club!”
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana