by Robert E. Ridings
It was the summer of 1936 in a rural southern town in East Tennessee. I remember it well, because on that day I learned the meaning of a very important word in my life -- respect.
Oh, the word itself was not in my vocabulary and wouldn't be for some time to come, but the lesson itself was sufficient.
My dad had a good friend who lived up the hollow from us. His name was Jim True, and he came by just about every day to chat a while with my dad. They sat on the porch and talked idly about the weather, the crops, the Bible, or anything else that might come to mind.
On this day, as I passed them on the way to nowhere in particular, I off-handedly said, "Hey, Jim, how are you today?" Before I could take another step, Dad gave me such a shot to the back of the head I almost went down for the count. I saw stars. He pulled me up by the collar and said words I remember to this day, sixty years later.
In his voice that meant business, Dad said, "Listen, son, to ME his name is Jim. To YOU, his name is Mr. True."
This was a lesson in R-E-S-P-E-C-T, pure and simple -- given and learned in one well-placed bop on the head.
But that was not the only lesson I learned that day.
This man, Jim True, who lived in the rural South in the year 1936, was not only worthy of respect as a man, he was also worthy of respect as a human being. This was a tough lesson for many folks back then, but I'm thankful for a father who considered the lesson important.
Because, you see, my dad's good friend, Jim True, was black.
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