Excerpt for Robert E. Lee's Orderly A Black Youth's Southern Inheritance by , available in its entirety at Smashwords






Robert E. Lee’s Orderly

A Black Youth's Southern Inheritance


Smashwords Edition


By Al Arnold





Published by

Sacred Grounds, stories of a higher spirit from Inknbeans Press

© 2017




Robert E. Lee’s Orderly

A Black Youth’s Southern Inheritance


© 2017 Al Arnold and Inknbeans Press


Cover art and illustrations by

Gregory Newson, Newson Publishing

Newsonpublishing.com

Newburgh NY


Cover Design

Diana Thornton, Crescent Music Services

Crescentmusic.com

New Orleans, LA 70119

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Foreword


Al Arnold is one brave man. I have found him to be a man of great principle. I frequently attend the Multi Ethnic Church that he attends in Jackson, Mississippi. We occasionally participate in the same Sunday School Class. Though I don't agree with all of his views, he certainly challenges the heart and soul of a man to think outside the boundaries of monolithic thoughts. That's exactly what he did when he ap-proached me about writing the foreword to his youth book. Arnold's vision is very typical in that he seeks those who have a common ground to traverse the difficult terrain of race and culture through faith and heritage. However, he goes about it in his usual awkward and twisted approach of writing that is often stimulating and provocative to say the least. Taking stories in history that flip traditional views upside down, he draws from a rich well of diversity that pulls pieces of fabric from every part of his being in order that others may have a deeper understanding of themselves, history and God’s story. The unlikely twist of someone like myself writing a foreword for his youth book speaks to the complexity of the man and the issues that he brings to the table, whether you like them or not. Black Confederate heritage is not a natural attraction to my Civil Rights era but that's the dicho-tomy of thought that Arnold elevates in his writings for God's glory. The more I've gotten to know Arnold peeking through his bright veil of Confederate Heritage, the more I am able to see his story as one that would cause America to pause and consider the implications of education reform, a cause that's dear to my own heart.

Arnold is a man, by all accounts, who shouldn't have graduated from college any more than you would expect him to celebrate deep Confederate roots as a Black man in America. It's ironic that the school that I integrated in 1966, The University of Mississippi, would graduate him with honors in 1991. What's even more ironic is that the Journey he experienced edu-cationally is now the Journey that I promote through the Meredith Institute. Being Black and a product of a public school system in Mississippi often doesn't afford escape from poverty, brokenness and despair. But despite the odds, the outcome for Arnold is the reason I chose to walk a lonely road twenty-five years before him and open doors that would greet him with open arms. Arnold doesn't claim success despite a public education, he points to his public education as the backbone that girded him over and through rough waters. Furthermore, it wasn't the rigor of the academics and the emphasis on standardized testing that drove him through this journey, though academics were high on his priority. It was much more. It was his teachers and other tangible things that only reform can bring back to our schools. It was quality learning that propelled the likes of him and others in his era to defeat the odds.

The fourth principle of my Education Bill of Rights is "Quality Learning." It involves a nation where educators and officials collaborate to identify the best evidence-based practices; a nation that rigorously tests classroom products and reforms before spending billions of dollars of taxpayer funds on them, including testing them with smaller class sizes and more experienced teachers; a nation that that does not spend billions of taxpayer dollars on excessive, unreliable and low-quality standardized tests that displace and damage authentic learning; and an education with an absolute minimum of standard-ized tests and a maximum of high-quality, teacher-designed evaluations of student learning and progress. In talking to Arnold, I discovered he took the ACT three times before college. He wasn't proud to tell me his score because it didn't match his academic achieve-ment. Each time, he scored a disappointing thirteen composite score. I asked him how he made it through this. He told me that his teachers never gave up on him. He thought he could conquer the world. He went on to college with the goal of being a Physical Therapist and the first professor he talked with about his career choice told him that his ACT score was too low to pursue a career in Physical Therapy. At that point, he said he had to rely upon the encouragement of former middle and high school teachers and coaches who taught him to dream big in order to overcome hurdles.

In 1988, Arnold was summoned by a panel of Mississippi State educators at Jackson State University who were studying the reliability of the ACT as a predictor of success in College. What they saw wasn't adding up and they didn't understand as they ques-tioned him about his thoughts on education, success and the relevance of the ACT, which he dis-counted as an indicator as to how he would perform educationally in the future. Nevertheless, Arnold still had to match his ACT score with his academic performance in order to get into Physical Therapy School. Once again, I asked him how he overcame this challenge. He took the test for a fourth time, while a sophomore in college, needing to score a nineteen to qualify for admission. On the day of the test, he completed it within fifteen minutes by marking the third answer choice on his answer sheet. He scored the highest he had ever scored, a nineteen. He went on to graduate with honors from the University of Mississippi School of Physical Therapy in 1991. Arnold is living proof that my initiative to reduce the emphasis on standardized tests is needed. The Billions of dollars spent here could be used in other ways that are more productive toward quality learning. Moreover, many dreams are deferred because of the demand of certain standardized tests.

I believe Arnold was also a benefactor of another aspect of my proposed Bill of Education, "Effective Teachers." Effective teachers are evaluated through fair and aggressive professional peer review, not unreliable standardized test data; and a school where under- performing teachers are coached, mentored and supported, and when necessary fired, through a process of professional review and trans-parent, timely due process. Moreover, my initiative calls for "Safety, Freedom and Challenge." All three were included in Arnold's experience. A school and a classroom that are safe, comfortable, exciting, happy and well-disciplined; with regular quiet time and play time in the early grades; regular breaks through the school day; daily physical education and recess periods; a healthy, developmentally-appropriate and evidence-based after-school workload; and an atmosphere of low chronic stress and high productive challenge, where children are free to be children as they learn, and children are free to fail in the pursuit of success. Arnold describes the playfulness and yet well-disciplined approach to his early school environment. It is obvious that “Respect for Children and Teachers”, another of my proposed measures was an intricate part of Arnold's education. He has a lasting and deep respect for all of his teachers and to a fault points to their love and dedication to him and his peers. These teachers were Arnold's heroes. A nation that respects teachers as well as it respects other elite professions; and considers every child’s physical, mental and emotional health, happiness and well-being as critical factors for school behavior, academic achievement and national progress is the nation that will rise to the top.

Finally, I call for a 21st Century education. This is an education with a school and a nation where children and teachers are supported, cherished and challenged, and where teachers are left alone to the maximum extent possible by politicians and bureau-crats to do their jobs – which is to prepare children for life, citizenship, and careers with true 21st century skills: not by drilling them for standardized tests or forcing a culture of stress, overwork and fear upon them, but by helping them fall in love with authentic learning for the rest of their lives, inspiring them with joy, fun, passion, diligence, critical thinking and collaboration, new discoveries and excitement, and having the highest academic expectations of them. When I consider Arnold's story, he received this kind of education. He took full advantage of his oppor-tunities. Sometimes, the things that we had in the past that didn't look so attractive at the time, turn out to be just what we need in life for our future. I'm honored to share in this writing with Arnold. From one brother to another and from Jackson State University to The University of Mississippi, the mission and my struggles were not in vain.


James Meredith, Author

A Mission From God: A Memoir and Challenge for America



About the Book



Al Arnold is a descendent of a slave, Turner Hall, Jr. “Uncle Turner,” as he was known in his later years, served in the Confederate army as a body servant for two Confederate soldiers and an orderly for Robert E. Lee. As a slave, Turner Hall, Jr. was owned by another prominent Civil War general, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Al began researching his ancestor’s life in 2008. At a family reunion, he saw a newspaper caption indicating his ancestor, Turner Hall, Jr. served Robert E. Lee as an orderly in the Civil War. To Al’s amaze-ment, his research found a proud Black Confederate who held both Civil War generals in high esteem, even well after the war. At the age of ninety-five, Turner Hall, Jr. cherished a gift from Nathan Bedford Forrest as one of his most treasured possessions.

Al was further intrigued that his great-great-grandfather was a celebrated man in his community of Hugo, Oklahoma. Blacks and Whites commemorated him as Hugo’s “most distinguished citizen” as a result of his Civil War service. Turner Hall, Jr. lived to be a hundred and four years old. He attended the last Civil War reunion in 1938 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Newsreel cameramen captured him displaying his reunion medals as an example of the typical Black Confederate.

In 1940, he was interviewed as a Black Con-federate by a nationwide talk radio show in New York City. Turner Hall, Jr. left a trail for his family that Al has uncovered. Al shares his personal journey into his Confederate heritage as a modern Black man. He makes a connection through the life of his ancestor and embraces the premises that history should unite us instead of divide us. He argues that African Americans dishonor their ancestors by attempting to destroy Confederate heritage and by neglecting the historical impact that slaves had on both sides of the Civil War. These are the honest thoughts of a modern Black man who has wrestled with his Confederate heritage while being a Black Christian man in America and who is connected to two famous Civil War generals.






Dedication


To the Administrators, teachers, coaches, staff, cafeteria workers and janitors of Verona Junior High Cardinals and Shannon High School Red Raiders:


And to my all-time favorite cafeteria worker (Gulfport Public Schools) and Mother-n-law, Elnora Posey. (July 2, 1945-October 3, 2012)


It is because of you that we become who we are in the world. Your love, dedication and sacrifice will never be forgotten. You live in the hearts and minds of your students all of our lives. Thank you for caring, sharing and demonstrating faithfulness to your work on our behalf. Moreover, know that you exercised grace and good judgments in your duties and demon-strated a genuine concern for all of your students. Thank you! It is not said enough. Thank you for giving of yourself that we were able to become beacon lights of your labor and demonstrate our oneness and gifts to the world. Forever remembered and not forgotten, you are our heroes.






Preface


A changed man, Indeed! Ten years after the discovery of my Confederate ancestor and twenty-four months after my first book on my heritage and my life is forever altered. It's not so much that my core values have changed. The reason is primarily due to the extended family that I now embrace in the land of the South, my Confederate brothers and sisters. I must admit, that going into this, I was more concerned about what and who I would lose than what I would gain. It can never be popular to write about something that is so unpopular. A Black Man’s Confederate Journey is one of those stories that is riddled with snares and glares that would cause the strongest soul to shrink into a cloud of fear. Fortunately, I wasn't given a spirit of fear. Yet, I did not see clearly what I would gain. The gain has been far more valuable and eternal than any loss. To gain a friend is to have one that is closer than a brother. I have gained many. To embrace others who are different than you is far more enriching than to stay on an island of familiarity all of your life. I took a plunge into an unknown territory and found myself at home the farther I got away. I am grateful for finding information on my slave ancestor. His light has been a path of one amazing discovery after another and has enriched my life beyond measure. Because of him, I have gone to places that I would have never dreamed of going. I have lived more because of his living. He has given me gifts that will remain unredeemable in my days. He has filled my heart with hope that is unquenchable for life.

Black history is unique in that our story in-volves a people that has demonstrated resilience like none other. We are a peculiar people with stories that have been untold, unknown and hidden from history and the books. These precious jewels are like rare diamonds. Once discovered, because of the oddities and varied circumstances that always surrounds the details of the travail, they give us a sense of mystic that pierces the souls of man in ways that are majestic. A Black Confederate story is one of those mystical travails that is worthy of uncovering. These stories add to the richness of our history and to the peculiarity and diversity of our people. For a modern Black man, the very thought of a Black Confederate can be repulsive. Proudly, as a result of embracing this dilemma through the eyes of my great-great-grand-father, this journey has brought me to a deeper appreciation of who I am as an African American. It has heightened my love for history and the unique roles that African Americans played throughout the development of this great country. I am hopeful that African Americans will learn to embrace the vital era of the Civil War. I continue to believe that embracing our history, instead of rejecting it, will be the bridge that allows our society and communities to heal and grow. I’m thankful that I have had this wonderful growing experience. I extend this writing to the youth of America that they may know the power of al-ternative thought and the danger of uncritical thinking. To think too critical of oneself can be paralyzing. To think too critical of others is small. However, to think critical of ideas, perceptions and history leads to creativity, freedom and convictions that not only changes your heart but also changes the hearts and minds of those around you for the good of humanity.

Nelson Mandela and Meaningful Contact


To my beloved brothers and sisters who inherited the thorns, thistles, guilt, fruit, shame and spirit of the 60's, we are to never dishonor our ancestors. Our ancestors are the ones whom we are indebted for our liberties.

Moreover, because of these liberties we should seek to honor them by demonstrating the character, dignity, respect and honor that is worthy of their struggles and sacrifices. Can you imagine a day in time when their sacrifices would be discounted as nothing because of the rhetoric of the day or the senseless acts of a few? Perhaps the type of love I am engaging in, through this writing, has never been called upon from our generation, Black or White. Yet, there was one who showed us a more excellent example in this path. He was a man for our generation and a display of God's Grace for the world to see.

When I think of Nelson Mandela, I'm reminded of the scripture that says, "For he who chooses to save his life will lose it and he who chooses to lose his life will save it."

Now here is a man for the ages indeed!

Mandela inspires me to keep loving people who are not like me and to keep running against the wind. He was in-prisoned from 1962-1990. This is why I call him a man of our generation. From our birth until our early adulthood, he languished in a prison cell for freedom. I remember the day he was released from prison as an inspiration that carries me to this day. A mythical figure of a man that I had only heard about from a distance. A fighter, a warrior, a scholar, an activist and giant who was known to be as fierce as a tiger and as wise as a prophet. During his triumphal exit from prison in February of 1990, I couldn't remove the thought from my mind that this man had been a prisoner longer than I had lived on earth. His proclamation was even more amazing. A proclamation of peace and reconciliation toward his White South African brothers as a means to destroy the violence of apartheid as well as the anger and bitterness that so easily beset others. The warfare wasn't over but the weapons of his artillery had changed drastically. The means of seeing the struggle to an end would forever be altered as Mandela relinquished the most powerful deadly foe against his enemies, forgiveness.

He said, "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison." He gained his freedom while in- prisoned, not after he was set free. But he exercised his freedom the moment he was unchained. This is quite remark-able if you put yourself in his shoes and ask yourself, what path would you had taken? Apostle Paul understood this when he said, "For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I may win more of them." Mandela, by the unforeseen consequences of having his life taken away, had now gained a freedom that surpassed understanding. Paul, a free man became a slave and Mandela an enslaved man became free. How is this even imaginable?

How could a man after twenty seven years of being a prisoner, forgive so readily, so thorough and so complete? There was no national confession from the oppressor seeking his forgiveness. Yet, through this act of forgiveness, he gave freedom to win others toward reconciliation in a way that shocked our world. His forgiveness was so powerful that it shattered the hatred and bitterness of the oppressor and the oppressed as South Africa became a beacon of light and a glimpse of the reality of what happens when the power of forgiveness is released unconditionally from the heart. The ability to see beyond and into a deeper appreciation of who you are, who others are and how we all stand before a righteous judge as sinners, helps to remove barriers by overcoming the alienation that brokers hostilities and prevent true brotherhood from existing. This act of Nelson Mandela will forever be etched in history as one of man's greatest deeds toward his people. Yet, the act of Mandela in no way compares to the depths of the kind of forgiveness and Grace that Christ has bestowed upon his Church. If one mortal man is able to convey such Grace that caused the world to pause, how much more are we to understand that which Christ did on the Cross when he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Our generation is not just a byproduct of the last generation but in many ways, have become in-prisoned by it. The generation when race didn't mat-ter, my generation, is often sandwiched between our fathers' past memories of racism, hatred, history and bitterness and a new generation of bitterness, hatred and disrespect for one’s neighbors and anyone who is not like us. Here lies our greatest potential gift toward humanity. A gift of love that is not bound by cultural norms, protectionism, politics, protest, power and political correctness. Apostle Paul did not encourage people to destroy their culture or their heritage but what he did do was elevate unconditional love above all things. Without Christ, I think this is impossible. But with Him, all things are possible. I can love everybody not because of them, but in-spite of them. The Apostle to the Gentiles was a Jew among Jews. He became a slave by giving up himself for others and won a freedom that allowed him to interact with all cultures and people of various heritages without condemning, attacking or rejecting them. Politics will not give us this. Protests will not share this grace with us. Political correctness will only fight against this. Power structures seek to manipulate and control through guilt and protectionism that is motivated by fear, a paralyzing force. Instead, we must seek to be champions of forgiveness, grace and respect among races, cultures and history.

I believe this is more prone to occur when meaningful contact is made with people of opposing views, cultures and heritages. It is often the opposing views that keep us alienated from one another. This alienation has only been heightened amid divisive hypersensitive environments of social media, political discourse and a computerized age of distance and non-meaningful contact.

"Jesus understood the impact of meaningful contact all too well. He met with the women at the well; an unlikely meeting between a Jew and a Samaritan, not to mention a women. His disciples were astonished by this as their usual travel would have taken them around the city. But not the Master teacher. He said, "I must go through Samaria." He knew everything about this women. He knew things about her that they didn't know. Yet, he drank with her and gave her relief of a thirst that had been unquenchable. 

     He did it again when he told Zacchaeus, "Come down from that tree, I must go home with you today." Listen to his Words. He evokes the same kind of urgency as with the women at the well when He said, "I must." Zacchaeus, a Roman tax collector, was con-sidered a sinner by Jews. His collections would have been used for a secular government system and for the support of pagan gods. Yet, Jesus initiated contact with him, changing his life. This meaningful contact works both ways. As long as it's meaningful, the potential for reconciliation is beyond measure. What do I mean by meaningful contact? I mean in and through Christ you are willing to forbear different cultures and heritages with His heart, eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet. Not yours, but His. As a result, nothing will stop you from loving, seeking and experiencing life with the other group. The women who had a blood disease under-stood this kind of contact. Her only thought was, "If I could just touch him." And she did! Her heart, eyes, ears, mind and body was focused on Him. In the noise of the day, with all of the distractions, she understood one essential thing. All that matters is that I make contact with Him. Other examples of meaningful contact by the Master teacher is when he takes spit and mud to touch the blind man's eyes so that he could see. He used spit again to heal a man who was deaf by putting his fingers in his ears and touching his tongue. Again, he was hanging out at the home of a Pharisee when a sinner women washed his feet. His host thought for certain that this man could not possible know that the lady washing his feet was a sinner. He was never afraid to move toward people with whom he was socially not suppose to have contact. Yet, when he made contact or when people made contact with Him, peoples’ lives changed. Entire communities and households changed. It's this meaningful contact through His grace that we need today. Nothing breaks down barriers like this kind of contact.

Apostle Paul understood this, as well.  In one instance he said, "I am obligated to the Greek and to the barbarian."  Greeks considered everyone who was not Greek as a barbarian.  Paul said, "I love them, too." Then he would say, "To the Jew, I became like a Jew."  Why would Paul say I became a Jew when he was a Jew among Jews?  Because Paul understood the need for meaningful contact.  He knew the importance of being all things to all kinds of people that he may win some for Christ. He was free to go in and out of different cultures and heritages for the sake of the Gospel.  Oh, that Christians would do this today! Too few are willing to live out the Gospel in this way. This kind of Gospel living, is radical, overcomes fears and sets captives free.  It doesn't call for anyone to forgo their culture or heritage.  No, it causes you to go into their culture or heritage with love. Meaningful contact is a Christ-like heart, mind, eyes, ears and body directed toward people who are very different than you. 

One of Mandela's prison guards was young, energetic and very pro-apartheid when he first met Mandela. They developed a relationship that tore down their barriers. Meaningful contact makes a difference that protest, politics, protectionism, power, and political correctness will never be able to achieve. These two men developed forgiveness, Grace and respect for each other. That guard, Christi Brand said, "So many things have changed. I still work on the island but now I work with the same people who once were prisoners. And we are all free.

We are all equal. It is better for all of us."


(Andrew Meldrum, Cape Town Saturday 19 May 2007 21.18 EDT The Guardian). Here is my freedom to live, embrace, enjoy, rejoice, share, cultivate, mourn and unite with my brothers and sisters throughout the South. To God be the glory!






Acknowledgments


I want to thank my dad, Tommie Arnold, and his siblings, Uncle Eugene (Emma Jean), Willie (Pat), Earnest (Mary Nell), Herbert (Currie), Davis, Ralph (Priscilla), aunt Pearl (Willie), Avis (Aldophus); and my deceased uncles, Emmitt and Leroy (not forgotten). Every year for the past seventeen years, they have hosted our family reunion. Family has been the main focus of our gatherings and their efforts. They have shown the next generation how to serve, love, and forgive. They did not hide the claims of their great-grandfather. Nor have they ever hidden any birth claims in the family. They celebrated his history in the Civil War and our history as his descendants. In doing this, they have afforded the entire family and me a richer understanding of our ancestor and who he was as a person. This has brought us to a better under-standing of who we are as a family. Thanks to Aunt Pearl, our Senior Family Historian. Her assistance and previous years of work on our family history made this possible.

The spark of this work was greatly enhanced and stimulated as a result of the research, support, and findings through the Oklahoma Historical Society. I cannot thank their staff enough for the wonderful assistance they have provided in this development. As with the first book, I am grateful for the work of Dianne Thornton of Crescent City Music Services for her work on the cover design. Your talents are exceptional. It was a sure joy to work with artist and fellow Black New Yorker and Southerner at heart, Gregory Newson, for his illustrations.

I would also like to thank all of the supporters of my first book. To the three thousand and more readers, I want to thank you for believing in the South, the commitment to history and allowing me to have my say in a world that often doesn't want to hear anything different than what one believes in. The support and encouragement has been overwhelming. I have travelled to over seven states and spoken at many venues to some of the best people in the South. The food, fun, stories, laughter and fellowship has been some of the sweetest frames of hospitality that I have witnessed in my short lifetime.

I would like to thank my wife and kids who continue to show the bravest trust in me, by standing by me, in this Confederate journey. Your strength and willingness to loan me out to this cause is another testimony to the power of love, the importance of family and the Grace of God. You continue to tolerate my zeal for history, the Civil War and Pappa Turner. Your support means the world to me.

Finally, to the youth that I have met during this journey, thank you. I have been overjoyed to share this story with you in person. It is because of you that I have decided to present this version of the story. I was young when I fell in love with history. Many times, when I travelled over the last two years, I was reminded of the hope that I had when I was just a youth by looking into your eyes. It is a pure hope that is not defined by the boundaries that society holds you too. To think critically, to dream big and to live dynamically is the hope that is offered to you in this writing. May you take history and absorb the richness of it and live today knowing that your paths have been laid out before the foundations of this world by a Great Creator and through the means of men and women who came before you at His discretion. Honor Him and honor them and you will live well brave ones.













Growing Up Southern


“There was an old man, his name was Uncle Ned, he died long– long– ago. He had no hair on the top of his head, the place where the wool ought to grow.

“Lay down the shovel and the hoe, pick up the fiddle and the bow, there’s no more work for poor Uncle Ned, he is gone where the good darkies go, he is gone where the good darkies go. (Chorus)

“His fangers was long, like the cane in da break, he had no eyes to see. He had no teeth to eat the hoe cake, so he had to let the hoe cake be.” (Chorus)

This is a slave song handed down to my family by my maternal grandmother. Growing up, my family loved to sing the lyrics of “Uncle Ned.”

This song was my only direct lens into the eyes of a slave. It was about a man, “Uncle Ned." I pictured Uncle Ned as a strong-framed man with a worn-out body due to hard labor. He was full of wisdom and highly regarded. He was a man strong in stature. A man that was so vital to his community, a song was put to words to remember him. His meals were meager but satisfying. His eyes were dim and he had very strong hands that could grip a knot in a young boy. He was a good man.

Slaves were musically inclined and celebrations were woven into their social structure. Slaves longed to be free and heaven was certainly an option. Indeed, heaven was their freedom. I’ve often wondered if singing about that fiddle, at such a young age, is the reason that bluegrass is my favorite music. After I discovered the banjo hails from the continent of Africa, I realized that I had every right to bluegrass than any hillbilly in Kentucky. It was just in my bones. None of the slave narratives in school made me feel good about slavery. Uncle Ned gave me a different glimpse. It didn’t take away the gore of slavery but it did give me a different perspective. It was a per-spective of hope. Yet, Uncle Ned was a fictional character. Or, was he? I wasn’t sure. He was a slave in a song.

Years later I would learn of another slave named Uncle Turner. The only difference was that this uncle was not a fictional character in a song. He was my great-great-grandfather. This discovery would begin my journey into my Confederate heritage.

It was at a family reunion in 2008 when my Aunt Pearl revealed our family heritage book. In that book was a photo that I had seen many times. But there was something else that struck me as remarkably odd. There was a caption from a newspaper article, “Turner Hall, A Real Pioneer” that read, “he was an orderly for Robert E. Lee.”

As a young African American boy growing up in northeast Mississippi, history was always a favorite subject during my formative years. Having a photo-graphic memory, I devoured essay questions on American and Mississippi history exams. History surrounding wars were especially interesting to me. I marveled at historical figures and embraced stories of personal triumph and heroism. The one figure that I regretted, as a very young historian, was Benedict Arnold. The fact that he was a known traitor during the American Revolution and carried my last name gave me chills. I was fearful that one day I would come to learn that he was my ancestor.

Ancestry has always been intriguing to me. What human being doesn’t want to know where they come from? I believe I am not alone in this quest. If the truth were told, many African Americans want to know more about their ancestors. However, records are so vague in our history. Records only go so far due to historical issues of how slaves were considered property and not people. It’s only so far that we can go back and then we hit that inevitable wall of slavery that we all know is there. So, many just never muster up the energy to start. As much as I would love to go further than I have, I find a bit of relief that I will never be able to trace a connection of my name to the most familiar traitor in American history: Benedict Arnold. So, in a sense, I am protected. Shielded from the shame. Indeed, the shame of it all is enough to stop the most resourceful person in their pursuit of their own personal ancestry.

Yet, as a young boy, nothing intrigued me more than personal family history. I was raised during a time when bravery was inspirational and heroism was awarded at great sacrifice. My mother’s family consisted of a matriarch and eight daughters. My father’s family consisted of a patriarch, matriarch, nine boys, and two girls. There are countless cousins and extended family members that came from these family trees. During those years, photos were a tangible way for most families to keep record. There was no better way in my family to review our history than to ask my grandmother to show the family portraits. She kept them in a cedar chest in her home. It would be years later that we would learn the value of cedar wood. The house burned, destroying all of her possessions except those priceless photos preserved by the cedar. It was in those photos that I first saw a picture of my great-great-grandfather, Turner Hall, Jr., the inspiration of this book. I didn’t know his name at the time and not much was said about him. I remember him being a grand figure of a man. He was tall, handsome, and had a pleasant disposition, unlike the many faces of the old photos of his day. I remember him standing proudly with an alarmingly huge hat and a dazzling blue jacket with large buttons on each side. He stood with a large frame in front of what appeared to be a row of very small white homes. My grandmother would say, “That’s my Pappa.” This photo, I later learned was her mother’s father and my great-great-grandfather, Turner Hall, Jr.

Time and time again we would sit on the floor and she would pull out photos and allow us to look and ask questions. We usually didn’t touch the photos. These photos demanded respect and the best be-havior. At the time, we didn’t know where she kept the photos. She would always make us stay in the front room as she retrieved the photos from the cedar chest. Another great family photo of superb import-ance and personality to the family was of my grandfather’s father, Lucian “Paw Dick” Arnold. This photo, like that of Turner Hall, Jr., is etched in the memory of all the Arnold clan. In the photo, “Paw Dick” is sitting in a chair with his wooden peg leg and a huge cigar in his mouth—exuding nothing but pride, sincerity, and character. An annual review and conversation of these two photos and many more was like a ritual for elders in the family and a rite of passage for all youngsters. The fruits and labor of these two men would define who we were and who we would aspire to be as individuals of this family. Their pictures portrayed self-esteem, hard work, honesty, faith-fulness, forwardness, faith, perseverance, hope, and integrity. Their kids would be beacon lights into the eyes and hearts for the next two generations of Arnolds. A thread of family loyalty and history was established around these photos and family gatherings that continue to this day. The Annual family reunion at the home front in Monroe County, Mississippi, is much like a yearly community celebration.

You know you are getting off to a great Southern start in life when your dad gives you a five dollar bill and tells you to give your brother half of it and all you know to do is to rip ole Abe half in two and hand one part of his face to your brother and keep the other for yourself. That's exactly what my sister did when instructed to share this five dollar bill. Black youth, especially in Mississippi, are often portrayed as a half split five dollar bill. There is a half face on each side telling very different stories of Blacks and Whites. I am blessed to say that this divide is not the experience of my Southern rearing. As much as this five dollar bill was one piece of money, my Southern childhood was one big piece of divided joy. We taped that five dollars back together and it was as good as gold at the local store.

Just as I didn't initially appreciate that one half of Abe's face wasn't worth a dime without the other half, I came to understand that one half of Mississippi wasn't good without the other. In fact, my Southern experience was rooted in this concept primarily through an integrated school environment. I moved from a school in Monroe County to Lee County during the second grade. With the last name Arnold, the alphabetical order put me behind a white girl name Laura Anglin. For the next ten years, Laura and I would sit next to each other and forged our halves of a community together. But we were not the only ones; these dynamic relationships played out throughout our schools. We represent a race-less generation that is often forgotten about. I call it the generation when race didn't matter. Every generation has its defining marks to signify the error that they grew up. Generation X ranges from 1961-1981, Generation Y ranges from early 1980's to early 1990's and the Millenniums typically range from the mid 1990's to the early 2,000's. There is overlap in these generations. For the most part, you can measure some of the issues of im-portance of the respective generations based upon these date ranges. I was born in 1968, which places my generation as X. In fact, I would say the latter part of that generation. There was something special about that generation that separated us from the muck and miry clay of racism. I now realize that a big part of the glue that kept us together was our teachers.

The impact that teachers have on their students is life-long. We had teachers who made a real impact on a generation. Not only did they guide us away from racism and bigotry in the heartland of Mississippi, they lived by example and showed us the way. It is because of them, that we were the generation when race didn't matter in Mississippi. When I was in grade school, it is clear to say that I was an unruly child. Plagued with the brains of a potential academic scholar and yet with all the makings of a class clown. I was as unpredictable as a polecat. Had it not been for the mindful eye of two of the grandest White men I had ever seen, perhaps my foolishness would have overcome my youthfulness and rendered me another statistic. Mr. Robert Long and Mr. John Kitchens were giants during my middle school years. Mr. Kitchens reminded you of a stern, rough riding biker kind of guy that exuded authority like none other. Mr. Long wore cowboy boots and stood at least 6'3" in my eyes. These were real men teaching elementary school. Not only were they giants in our lives, they carried giant boards with them to enforce their authority. What would often look like rowing oars for a championship boat race were regular instruments of discipline that ensured the elementary hallway stayed free of debris. That's right, the ol’ paddling board. I'm sad to say that I had to touch my toes far too many times but not with these men. You did everything in your power to muster a “yes, sir” and a “no, sir whenever they asked you a question. The surprise for many of us was to discover these men exercising grace and mercy as much as they did exact righteous punishment for our misdeeds. They were known for competing with each other in the course of a day. Looking back, one of their joys had to be the sure fun of terrifying the students. It worked. They would catch us in our normal mischievous deeds and call us into the hallway only to swing their paddles at the back of their shoes three or four times as hard as they could. The boards would sound so loud against their shoes that the poor souls left in the class rooms were horrified. In order to carry out their hoax, we had to play our part upon return to the room, lest the punishment indeed fit the crime. After the classroom bell would ring, you would still smell the smoke from the shoes in the hallway and that was enough to keep everyone on an even keel, at least until the next day.

There is no forgetting Mr. Johnny Bell, a middle grade math teacher with a great love for kids. He was loved and respected by all. Can you imagine? All of the kids loving a math teacher? He was that kind of guy. He ranked really high with the board, as well. You didn't want him to call you to the hallway. There was Mrs. Shirley, our English teacher; not a kinder and more merciful soul I can give to you in this writing than this dear one. She endured children for generations and I am daily indebted to her grace. My actions in her class would bar any kid today from ever entering a school again.

We simply didn't know how caring their care for us really was. We live in a punitive educational system today, and for some reason, the punishments don’t work. We were punished with love, tenderness and a few swats on your behind if you got out of order. That combination made it all come together in the end.

There were two more prominent men who appeared in my life as I entered Junior High School. If Mr. Long and Mr. Kitchens were competing for smoke at the grand barbecue of discipline, we now enter the Grand National Championship of champions. Mr. Lynn Payne and Mr. Bobby Ray Patterson were two of the strongest Black men that I had ever seen. It wasn't smoke that we could smell in the hallway after a whipping from one of these men, it was the flames still burning that calmed the entire school. Imagine Smoking Joe Frazier and The Rock telling you to pull your pants up and sit down. There was no questioning and no disrespect. It was “Yes, sir, how high do you want them, sir?” None of that Black and White stuff that you often see spewing from the mouths and hearts of parents today when their kids are disciplined to the slightest degree. There wasn't a claim of unfairness. In my own estimation, I crossed the line deserving of being expelled at least on two occasions. Thankfully, I never got expelled. It was certainly God's Grace. A grace that was in the hearts of all of the teachers, coaches, staff members and administrators. Looking back at these men and women, I am able to evaluate their tenderness, mercy and service to our common growth. Never was there a time that I can remember that a parent had to come to the school. They were an extension of our parents. In fact, had my mother been called for any reason, I was guaranteed another whipping, as was the case with my classmates. At our school, we knew who the bosses were and though we tried them in every way, they never stopped loving, never stopped disciplining and never stopped caring for us.

Let me shed more light on the matter. When I got kicked out of Bible Class for being a class clown, I was taken to Mr. Eddie Cooley’s office. Just picture in your mind a tall, white man who had a gentle voice and looked like the best granddaddy in the world. Or picture the Deacon in the church that everybody loved and everybody knows is an upright man. Well, this was our principal. Instead of sending me home, what does he do? He tells me to come to his office to have Bible class with him each day. This grace was so pervasive that there was simply no way out of it. Wow! How do you escape this kind of grace? We had no-where to run or fall but into the loving arms of a gracious God through our teachers. Unfortunately, teachers, staff members, administrators and coaches are not told until it's too late ‘your words or your actions were a principle means that saved me.’ In reality, this is what is being played out in the classroom every day. The very reason I love libraries today is not because I loved the library when I was a child. It wasn’t because I loved to read. No, I loved the librarian, Mrs. Anne Radojcsics. I could never understand why she was always so kind. I carried on mischief every day and almost at every opportunity in that library of hers. When one of my teachers would throw me out of a classroom into the hallway, she would come by and pinch me on the cheeks and say, "You are out here again, Al?" But that wasn't all she would do. She would drop a book in my lap and hurry away to the next student.

The old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words do not hurt me," is one of deception. Words do hurt. I remember once being hurt by words from an opposing football player after a Tuesday night football game. I was in the 8th grade and had played a cross town rival when, at the end of the game, one of their players jumped on our bus and said some insult-ing things about our head football coach, James Sprayberry. Our coaches were also our heroes. Hands down, these were the men and women who shaped our thoughts and molded our character. I got so upset that I ran after the guy and picked up a log from a burning fire and threw it at the kid just as he entered his locker room. One problem, I forgot to take off my jersey. I was readily identified to my coaching staff as the kid who threw the burning log into the locker room. Deservedly, I was released from the football team the next day. Coach Sprayberry, sometime later, found out the details of what happened. He extended me grace to re-join the team after giving me rebuke and encourage-ment over the matter.

Words can help, too. My life has shown me this over and over again. They are masterfully helpful when used appropriately. One of the most helpful set of words that has ever come to me were words un-expected. They found me at a critical time in my life. It was during my transition from junior high to high school. The assistant principal of the school, Mr. Lemois Oswalt, was also the bus driver for our neighborhood. He was tough yet gentle in his demeanor. A respectful man who played his role in our discipline very well. I will never forget this day as long as I live. It was the last bus drop for me as a 9th grader living on John F. Kennedy Drive. The next bus that stopped in front of that house would be the following fall high school term. He stopped me as I exited the bus. As I turned around, he looked me straight in the eye and said, "Al, you can do it."

These were the first words of affirmation that I had ever heard in my life that stuck with me. This was a white man speaking to me in a way that had never before registered in my mind. He was saying, “Despite your behavior Al, you can do it!” At that moment, I felt something inspiring. One thing for sure, I knew that Grace had been shared with me in an abundant way. My tenure at this school wasn't deserving of this encouragement and affirmation. Countless times, I had been to that office; so many times that I had my own special seat where they would allow me to sit and pull it all together before returning to class. How could these words be coming out if his mouth?

High school was an extension of the same grace. We were wrapped in hearts of love, devotion, sacrifice and grace by all of our coaches, administrators and teachers. There was less need for discipline in High School because the groundwork had been done in the previous years. My hero, Coach Lee Gardner, was one of such character. I remember his brute strength, straight forwardness and gentleness as the kind of man I would one day want to be. Once, a pair of football cleats came up missing from the locker room. It was only one pair out of a hundred, but it mattered to him that honesty and integrity was instilled in the team. He called everyone together and gave a speech to the effect that “I expect them to be back in my office the next day.” The next day, they were returned. The poor soul who took those cleats was probably pranking another kid but the prank was on him. Once that man spoke, you acted out of respect for who he was.

My favorite high school teacher, Sandra Rogers, was in no way short on Grace. By this time, I still hadn't worked out all of my kinks and remember throwing a smoke bomb through her cracked window, which landed under her desk. It filled the room with smoke and caused an evacuation of her class. I was as guilty as a Baptist boy sitting on the mourning bench waiting to be baptized. The only other person who knew it was her. And then there was the mastery of mischief by my co- conspirator, Joe Mask and me. Joe, a tall lanky White guy brought the cigarette and I brought the large pack of “firecrackers”, as we say in Mississippi. We staged a bathroom ruckus that will never be forgotten. The plan was set. The target was the main bathroom right across from the principal’s office. We both were granted bathroom passage as planned. We removed the butt of the cigarette and placed the stem of the fireworks into one end of the cigarette. Placing this contraption above the toilet stall and out of sight, the trap was set. Joe had assured me that a cigarette, once lit, would not go out until it burns to the opposite end. We casually strolled back to Mr. Gregory's math class separately and settled in for the big dance. Ten minutes later and the greatest mischief of my school career was in the record book.

This one, however, was only a close second to an act that occurred during middle school. It was that Bible class again. I hated that class. I decided one morning to delay the class by causing the bell in the building to go silent. Once again, bathroom privileges weren’t always for relieving myself. Mostly, it was to relieve myself from the constant mischief that ran in my head daily. After finding the wires to the bell and cutting them with the scissors that I retrieved off the teacher's desk, I returned from my bathroom break. By cutting this wire, the entire building was rendered without a school bell. It must have been an hour before anyone realized that we had failed to exchange classes. There I sat, steeped in my sin of mischief at the highest level and as proud as a peacock. It was just another great day at my school where grace and mischief ran counter to each other every day. Grace prevailed!

What could rescue a soul such as this? Only the Grace of God shared by many teachers, administrators and coaches who faithfully discharged their duties to us daily. Their words, their hugs and their patience can never be forgotten. Imagine, if you can when there was a time when Black Kids and White kids went to school every day on the same buses where White teachers and Black teachers were all entrusted to be their parents away from home. I know. It's hard to imagine, but it happened for a period in Mississippi. On graduation day, the first tear rolled out of my eye when I laid my eyes on my friend, Laura. She and I cried as we realized how woven our spirits had become. We served in student council together. We were the ones to put up the American Flag every morning with the greatest respect for that duty and our country's Flag. We learned to type together with her mother as our teacher, enduring our every act of disobedience. Once I wasn't feeling too well and these were her words through a handwritten note, "Al, Smile! God loves you! (And so does everyone else). Your "little-buddy". P.S. Please Smile, Laura. This is the kind of love we were surrounded with. I still have that note today. It was written thirty-one years ago.

When I was a young man, having been firmly established by strong family connections through Christian values, personal responsibility and strong work ethics from both sides of the family, it was time to depart home and pursue a college education. My parents were among the working poor; cut off from opportunities largely due to dropping out of high school. This was the case with many Blacks and Whites in rural Mississippi. Hard work was a viable option in their day and that is what they pursued. They suc-ceeded by the sweat of their brow. My mom worked in a wood factory making doors and my father worked in a meat processing company. Mother, many years later, obtained a GED and went on to graduate from college. My father, without an education, worked his way up to head plant manager and supervised the entire night shift operation at a huge processing plant. He told me once that he never worked a job that he didn’t quickly find himself as supervisor. With only a few exceptions, I represented the first generation of family members to leave home to pursue a college degree. I soon realized how privileged I was to have such an opportunity.

At this time in my life, I began to think of the historical implications of the plight of my family and those who had prevailed over many hardships. Further-more, what was I to make of my forefathers? They knew nothing but hard work. Who were these men and how did they leave such strong family ties? It was also during these years that I first became familiar with the historical aspects of slavery, the Confederacy, and the implication of these issues upon African Americans, the State of Mississippi, the South, and this country. Having chosen an historically Black college and university in Jackson, Mississippi, Jackson State University, I embarked upon areas of learning that offered historical nuances unique to the African American experience. This was a solid start that would prepare me for a life in the South. My high school guidance counselor had warned me that if I attended a black college, I would learn to hate White people. Well, one thing that I did not learn at JSU was to hate white people. However, what I did learn was to think critically of other black folk and to come to the realization that some black folks are just as crazy as some white folks.


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