Saturday, October 8, 2011
Racism, Niggerhead Ranch and the ABB
This week there was an incident that Hit The Note with me. It was the discovery that the Darth Vader of Texas, Rick Perry, has a hunting ranch that includes a very large entry stone at the entry with Niggerhead written on it. Of course Governor Perry just fluffed it off as a vestige of the racist past and insisted that it had "absolutely nothing" to do with him or his views, however, African Americans make up 12% of the population of Texas but 44% of the prisoners there. His execution rate is about the same proportion. I know Rick Perry can't take all of the blame or credit for this but it does indicate that, despite what the right would have us believe, racism is still rampant. The percentage of prisoners that are black compared with white is not just a Texas problem it is the norm country wide. Unemployment for blacks stands at 17% and 8% for whites. The average income is totally skewed in favor of whites and the list goes on.
I'm going to tell a story about the Allman Brothers Band traveling the deep south, southern Alabama, circa 1971, and just one of the times we were faced with blatant racism.
We had just finished playing The Warehouse in New Orleans. The Windbag (our Winnebago Camper) was in the shop so we were traveling in a pair of rental cars along with Black Hearted Woman (an old U-Haul truck that we had fixed up, painted black and were using to haul our equipment). We had hung at some party in N'awlins and pretty much everyone had done something illegal after the show. Dickey had gotten a couple of hits of some fairly effective acid and after we climbed into the cars decided that he didn't want the world to look like it was looking while crammed into a car with all the rest of us "hardlegs" (dudes). He had gotten a bottle of some type of downer, I think it was "reds" ( seconal) and was eating them like candy in an attempt to slow things down.
We were headed to a gig at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, and were planning to take the major highways. We had enough sense to know that the back country between New Orleans and Tuscaloosa in 1971 was not the safest place for ten long haired hippie type white guys and one muscle bound Afro haired black guy. Unfortunately Red Dog, who was driving the lead car, missed a turn and sure enough there we were driving down twisting two-laned roads way out in the boondocks.
I don't know what genius came up with the idea, but someone decided that they wanted to eat breakfast so the next little diner we came upon witnessed a sight seldom, if ever before, witnessed by the citizens of that area of the USA.
Several of the guys, including the malfeasant Red Dog, had fallen asleep in the various vehicles so they stayed in them while the rest of us, including Jaimoe, went in to eat. I remember about seven or eight of us pulling together some tables and sitting down hoping for some grits and eggs. I also remember from where I was sitting watching the unfolding scenario that was beginning to play itself out.
A woman in a waitress uniform started to walk to our table. She stopped, turned around and walked over to a booth on the other side of the diner and. low and behold there sat the sheriff and a couple of his deputies. I could see the woman lean over and say very clearly to the sheriff "I ain't servin' that nigger." My guts began an exercise in getting a small as possible. I am certain you all know what I mean. At first the sheriff just shook her off and told her to go take care of her business.
Unfortunately Dickey's state of mind had chosen that particular moment to switch from an acid state to the reds. So here we sit in the diner with this mad as hell waitress (who, it turned out was the sheriff's wife), the sheriff and his deputies, all of us carrying multiple illegal substances, either on our bodies, or in our luggage and Dickey is outside, between the cars puking his guts out.
The waitress made a couple more trips in our direction but would stop, look at Jaimoe and do a rerun of her first trip. Finally the sheriff decided that that woman was not going to let him have his coffee in peace so he and his boys went to work. Dickey was the easiest, they just took him to a police car. Next they began a search of the guys that were asleep in the cars. One of them reached across Red Dog, found a coat laying next to him and found about 1/2 of an ounce of pot in a pocket. Bingo, we were fucked.
They came into the restaurant and told those of us trying to get breakfast that they had found drugs on those in the cars and they were taking them to jail. This began a parade of all of us there heading to the restromm where the sound of the toilet flushing was pretty non-stop for quite a while.
What the sheriff and his crew were unaware of was that we had an extra rental car parked away from where all the action was taking place. After getting rid of everything we had on us we all piled into that car and made a bee line north as fast as we could. I remember Gregg getting out his suitcase and stuff flying out of the windows as we tried to make out get away. Well it didn't work.
As soon as the peace officers realized that we had a way out and, as they thought, were not trapped at the diner, they sent a car to bring us all back to the jail. And that's where we went. Directly to the four cells of the Grove Hill, Alabama city jail where we were told to go get in those cells. We were never told that we were under arrest, why we had to get into those cells and I doubt if Miranda meant anything to those rednecks at all. Getting Dickey's fingerprint was a real adventure for them. He kept missing the page.
The picture from the top of the page is of the five white members of the band from that morning: our mugshots. Jaimoe was taken somewhere else but we'll get to that in a minute.
Believe it or not we were beginning to have a ball. Dickey had stopped puking and started singing Hank William's I'm in the Jailhouse Now and we all joined in. Before too long there began a stream of young local boys walking by and looking into the cells. You'd hear a male voice saying something like " Son, I want you to walk down that hall and see what that long haired hippy shit'll getcha." Soon a very frightened boy, mostly preteen to early teens would slowly and with a lot of trepidation come walking by. Well Augie (Red Dog) decided to do something about this and the next unlucky little boy that came walking by was greeted by a skinny, buck naked, red headed dude jumping out from the back of the cell and jumping high up onto the bars and shaking himself while he howled like a wolf with genitals flailing. That kid turned about five shades whiter, screamed and ran out. No more little boys came down that hall that day.
Later that evening we were put into squad cars and transported to the county jail in Jackson. This is where we caught up with Jaimoe. It seems that in 1971, in this part of the country, jails were still segregated. Since Jaimoe was with us, luckily we were all put into the black side. I doubt if we would have fared very well with the rednecks on the white side.
We arrived at night and we ushered into a sleeping cell that consisted only of us. There were several other cells and after we finished a rousing rendition of The Coaster's Get a Job we were greeted by some of our fellow inmates. Red Dog was his usual vociferous self and started trading jive with a couple of the other guys.
We got some sleep and next morning were all lead into the common room for breakfast. I recall lookin around the room at razorblades laying in several places and thinking I sure hope we can be friends. About that time a short cannonball of a guy they called Louisiana Shorty and an older man started wrestling around close to me. Shorty got the older man in a hold right at my feet and I'll never forget him saying "is this what you're gonna do to that red headed fucker?" My guts resumed their contracted position.
Soon the jailers came to see if any of us wanted cigarettes, cokes or anything for the day and we bought cartons and bottles for everyone. This broke the ice and we would up having a great time while we were
For some reason it took a couple of days for our lawyers to bail us out and The University of Alabama made a public announcement that we were not welcome on their campus ever again. We all headed home, I believe, and took a few days off.
The outcome of all of this was that the prosecutor for that part of Alabama was coming up for reelection and this was the biggest thing to hit there like in forever. He knew he had no case. The searches were done incorrectly, the arrests were the same, but he also knew that the judge handling the case was his father-in-law. He was right up front with our lawyers and told them that, although he knew he had no case he was going to set a date for trial when we had a big concert and we would all have to be there. It would be delayed and the next time we had a big show that would be the date of the next trial. He would wind up costing us a fortune and a ton of hassle. We would up pleading guilty o disturbing the peace and paid $50,000.00 for that disturbance.
The disturbance was, after all, taking a black man into a diner full of racists. This was just one of many indignities that we and most of all Jaimoe suffered back then. If you believe that is all gone now and racism is a thing of the past, just look at that rock in Texas.