From The Grio — Let the record show, Joseph “Son” Robinson was an uppity Negro. In 1933, it near about cost him his life. Son wasn’t a schoolboy as his nickname infers. He was grown, 34 years old, and he was my grandfather.
After a few years performing in a traveling minstrel show, my grandparents made their home in Osceola, Arkansas. Granddaddy worked as a porter in a drug store and dug graves at the old Violet Cemetery. For the most part, he lived a forgettable life. Slow to anger, eager to forgiveness, he took each day as it came.
“It all started at the drug store,” Aunt Geraldine told me. “The owner’s name was Massengale, I think. And he hired Daddy to look after his customers.”
Her voice softened down to a whisper as she began to recount the tale.
“Son! I need you to hitch this horse!” a customer shouted over the crowd.
The Massengale pharmacy was busy that day. “I’ll get to you as fast as I can,” granddaddy replied.
“Sir,” the customer said, reminding granddaddy that they were anything but equals.
“Yessir,” he responded.
Still not satisfied that granddaddy had been sufficiently submissive, he grew angry. “You’ll do it now!”
Before Son could explain who was first, second or third, the customer drew his horsewhip and snapped it. Granddaddy caught the leather strap with his gravedigger’s hands. “I don’t want no trouble now Mister,” granddaddy said staring him in the eye.
“Uppity ni**er!” the man yelled.
And there it was.
In 1933, the word “uppity” meant nothing short of a death sentence for African-Americans living in the South, and my grandfather had been publicly marked for death. My grandparents heeded that warning, packed up and hit the railroad line north before the sun went down.