By Barney Blakeney
I often get frustrated about some of the stuff I see among young Black men – not just the crime and violence, but also some of the passive stuff that is required to take boys to men. As a cop reporter I get the incident reports about shootings, confiscation of drugs and guns, assaults and robberies that only can be described as fratricide. And I get ticked off when I go to a checkout counter and the Black kid at the register can’t figure out the correct change due. But there also are those things that make me enthusiastic about young Black men – the stories about programs such as Charleston’s Beaux Affair, West Ashley High’s Marcus Jackson and Davonte Capers, Summerville High’s Jelani Moore and surgeon, medical researcher, accomplished pianist, professional singer Robert E. Sweeney, II, MD.
For years now I’ve been criticizing the Black men of my generation for not doing our job of raising our boys. I’ve complained that our fathers raised us – often at the end of a belt – but we’ve failed to carry on the tradition and responsibility. We’ve relinquished much of that responsibility to our women. To the women’s credit, they’ve done as best they could. But women can no more teach a boy to be a man than a man can teach a girl to be a woman. They each need help.
I tend to look at previous generations of Black men when I think of raising Black boys. Slaves and free Black men had to overcome dehumanization, denigration, subjugation and second class citizenship to teach their boys what manhood looked like.
I remember the day a group of white men came to my uncle’s farm with roosters to engage him and his rooster in a cock fight. What I remember most about that event wasn’t the cock fight, but the position of respect my uncle held among the group. In Kingstree of the 1950s Black folks had their ‘place’. They knew their place, and stayed in it. But here were these white men interacting with my uncle as an equal. Perhaps in some way, as a superior – they came to challenge in fair play his position. My uncle later became one of the county’s first Black road commissioners.
My own father, who died when I was 13, served other white men. He sold barbeque from the trunk of his car during the 1950s and 1960s. Going from plant to plant in the area’s industrial communities most of the people he fed were working class white men. The merchants he bought his supplies from were white men. We rented our home from a white man and the insurance man who came to our house weekly to collect the nickels and dimes he paid to finance his burial were white men. But I never once saw my father bow his head to any of them. As far as I could tell in my youthful understanding, he dealt with them as equals.
Not all of the Black men who taught us were in our homes. Black men in the neighborhood were surrogate fathers when our birth fathers were absent. I would play with Sam and ‘Lijah Dawson til their father came home. Even at 10 years old I knew when Mr. Dawson came home from work in the afternoons, whatever mischief we engaged had to cease. We became ‘good little boys’ until he gave me the look that said, “It’s time for you to go home.”
Sam Brown, Tommy and Devil Ears’ father, never minced words with us either. He had some 17 or 18 kids and no time to fool with us. It was stay out of trouble and out of his way. It was the same with C. Arthur and Edward Chisolm’s father. I watched those men go to work every day to care for their families. In those days it wasn’t so much what they said as much as it was what we saw them do. They taught by example.
And then there were Black men like Joseph “Pop’ Moore. I met Pop at C.A. Brown as my eighth grade homeroom teacher. My dad had just died. Without conversation or hesitation Pop adopted me. I think he saw something in me, tried to mold me, shape me into something good. Despite my ignorance, Pop never gave up, he pushed me, taught me and stood up for me when I was too wild to understand what the future held.
Pop Moore always made me feel special. He once in class read a letter from a former student, a guy who was serving in Vietnam. That was my first glimpse of the expanse of Pop’s fatherly influence. Over my five years at C.A. Brown Pop pushed me, guided me into stuff he knew would build character. I had no clue what the man who beginning in 1941 led Burke High School football team to four consecutive undefeated seasons was doing. In his book of Burke’s history Sherman Pyatt noted Pop with assistant basketball coach ‘Buck’ Lesesne guided the basketball team to state championships from 1948-1950. I was a member of Pop’s team.
It wasn’t until Pop’s death at his funeral that I understood that man who made me feel so special had done the same for countless other Black boys. I looked around and saw a sea of Black men who had been influenced and inspired by that one man who never biologically seeded a son. Pop Moore helps me understand that the role of father not only comes through biology, but perhaps even more through sociology.
I often hear this generation of Black males referred to as “The Fatherless Generation”. I know that’s not true. I see fathers like Cal Morrison coordinator for The Beaux Affair and Beaux Affair co-founder Dr. David Floyd whose new book ‘Mentoring And Rites Of Passage – Adolescence To Manhood’ outlines the advantages of such programs. And I remember my schoolmate, the late Alexander Williams who maintained close interaction with his granddaughters in an effort to show them how they should expect to be treated by the men who might come into their lives. Those guys are out there. We’ve got some outstanding fathers in the Black community. And we just need more of them.