Talking Left-Handed Sh*t to Right-Handed People

Sixty some odd years ago, I was standing at midnight on the corner of Broad and Market Streets in Newark, NJ, conversing with a black man as we waited for a bus. A white guy, who'd obviously had at least a couple of drinks, entered into our conversation with a heavy use of the N-word. My black acquaintance appropriately sent him on his way and said to me, "Someday he's going to get into a lot of trouble -- he's talking left-handed shit to right-handed people."

And some 10 years later, I was standing on the green at the University of Mississippi, watching James Meredith enter the law school there the day after a barrage of tear gas and gun shots had left two people dead. White men were protesting Meredith's admission. Afterwards as my cameraman and I walked back to our car we noticed a handsome fraternity house, all brick and white paint with a white flagpole. Dangling from the flagpole was the effigy of a black man hung by his neck.

My cameraman, Webber Hall, was based in Memphis and he didn't seem at all comfortable when I asked him to get out his camera and shoot the scene so that I might bring it back to New York. As we began filming, a group of frat boys gathered and asked us what we were doing. I told them. They wanted to take our film and destroy it. Webber seemed ready to surrender but I refused and the president of the fraternity house emerged to settle the conflict. I asked him if he was ashamed of hanging the effigy, if he was afraid that it would bring his fraternity into bad repute? I suggested that the fraternity had done it as an honorable protest against the integration of the university. I asked if he wanted to back away from that now. No, he said, he didn't and the crowd broke up and permitted us to move away. As we did, the president asked me, "Why is it that you reporters come down here and talk so southern and then go back north and write like Yankees?" I laughed and kept moving. No one threw stones. UPI/Movietone, where I worked, used the footage appropriately but wouldn't put it in the newsreel because the newsreel ran in many southern theaters and the theaters wouldn't show them with that picture in it.

A week ago, a bunch of Oklahoma University fraternity boys were on a bus traveling to a party when they decided to sing a fraternity song -- "there will never be a n*gger in SAE... you can hang them from a tree, but they'll never sign with me." This despite the fact that SAE had accepted several black members in the past and none had ever complained of discrimination. There seems to be a new generation in which some people feel free to use to the N-word (at least in their own fraternity house) with no fear of the consequences. They are "talking left-handed shit to right-handed people." I only hope there are enough right-minded people to shut them up and send them away.