Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Breakfast with the County Judge

I had been traveling in and out of Eastern Arkansas with regularity in my role as liaison between headquarters in Washington, DC and the field operations of the VISTA Health Advocates program located in six rural counties along the delta of the Mississippi.

On one trip I stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn at the interchange at the freeway exit for Forest City , Arkansas. The freeway was new as was the Holiday Inn. Arkansas had boomed under the tutelage of the Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, but that boom had missed, as booms do, the lower socio-economic rungs of the ladder.

In the morning I came down for breakfast and walked into the restaurant. The hostess said, as came in with an associate, “The County Judge is here and would like to have breakfast with you boys.” Well, the County Judge in the rural south was typically the most powerful elected official in the county and presided not only over the court, but over the county itself. Often, the county judge lacked any legal education, and in fact, may not have had any education beyond the 8th grade. No matter! Even handed justice in the rural south didn’t require education; it just required good common sense.

We sat down across from the Judge, whose name I don’t recall. He was silver haired and lean. I asked him why he wanted to see us. He said that he wanted to talk with us; that he didn’t like us, “….enticing the Nigras to demonstrate.” I told him we were working with VISTA and working with volunteers in his county. Recently two volunteers had moved into a small town on the east side of his county. Within days of their arrival they had both been severely beaten by some local thugs. I asked him how that could happen in his county. Clearly, he knew about the beatings. He said they had been beaten because, “….when they came into town they just failed to properly identify themselves.”

That day I drove around his county in my rental car checking on various volunteers and projects. I was followed all day at an uncomfortable distance by one the Sheriff’s deputies. I have a strong recollection to this day, of the hair standing on the back of my neck.

1 comment:

yvette said...

Hi Ron! I was referred to your blogspot by your daughter, Julia, who shared a class with me this semester. I am excited to see that you have involvement with VISTA as I am an alum myself!