In what I just posted, I referred several times to Timothy B. Tyson's masterful first-hand account of the Civil Rights struggle in Oxford, North Carolina, in the 1950s-1970s, Blood Done Sign My Name (NY: Crown, 2004). Tyson writes from the vantage point of someone who grew up during this period in the manse of a white Methodist pastor actively involved in the Civil Rights movement. He's now senior research scholar at Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, with appointments to the Duke Divinity School and the Duke Department of History.
Here's a passage from Tyson's book that struck me as parabolic when I read it last evening:
During the war [i.e., WWII], a sewing room operated by the Works Progress Administration in Oxford [North Carolina] quietly employed white and black women alike, and they worked side by side in apparent harmony. White men went before the county commission in 1941 to insist that the sewing room comply with the segregation statutes. The men insisted that the room be segregated, if only by having a curtain hung down its center. But the women who worked there employed their subversive camaraderie. The white woman who supervised the sewing room firmly resisted the men's segregation proposal, arguing that the white women really did not mind and that the black women especially needed the work. Finally, the county commission let the matter drop. In an all-female space, "race mixing" did not threaten to become "amalgamation," apparently; in any case, the women simply would not comply.
A parable: a story that seems to be about some other folks, but in which we suddenly realize we're involved--we're implicated--as we listen to the entertaining story about those faraway others. A parable: a story whose ending twists in an uncomfortable way that holds up a mirror to us, as if we were characters in the story all along, though we didn't know it.
Some parabolic elements of this story (my emphasis added):
- White men went before the county commission . . . to insist . . . .
- The white women really did not mind . . . .
- The women . . . employed their subversive camaraderie.
- The men insisted that the room be segregated, if only by having a curtain hung down its center (!).
- [I]n any case, the women simply would not comply.
A parable: a story that appears to be about long ago and far away. But which is really about here and now. About us. About me. About the world in which I live right now.
About a world in which race and curtains and separation and lines drawn to create castes become, uncomfortably, a world about unresolved gender issues. A 21st-century world, that is to say . . . .
In any case, the women simply would not comply.