“My daddy was a racist of the worst kind… I did not understand that kind of thinking.”
How can I convey what it was like to listen to a hundred years of family secrets? Floored is the word, I believe. When I was referred to Charlotte, I was told she grew up in the country of Louisiana. To me, that means people who live with the land. What I did not expect, was someone who had seen such an evolution, not just in society, but within her own family.
Charlotte Ann Robinson Lawson was born January 8, 1946 in Lizard Creek, Louisiana. She was delivered by her uncle at home – “whoever happened to be home did the job”. Lizard Creek wasn’t an incorporated town, but a community of farms and families that lived near and supported each other.
Charlotte spoke very candidly with me. She said that when she heard I was coming, she began to consider the past and things that had been forgotten.
When she was a girl, people didn’t eat with “colored people”. In fact, there was a moment of confusion when she tried to remember just how it was that the “colored people” sat in the balcony of the movie theater – she never saw them enter, nor saw a separate stair. Segregation didn’t happen in her town until she was out of school.
Charlotte didn’t fully understand why the people were separated. She admitted that her dad was positively racist, and mean about it. In her own words:
It was custom in those days to witness things that one might have known were wrong. They were brought up to not question things that they were told, and to never ask again once an explanation was given. Charlotte learned the truth of things in their adult life – some I won’t disclose in keeping hers and her family’s confidence.
What she disclosed that I do feel can be mentioned was instances of adultery, rape, bribery, domestic abuse, and the family ‘black sheep’, Charlotte’s Aunt. She was regularly in prison, to which point her sister illegally adopted her daughter, and kept her the next time she was out. This Aunt once made herself a nurse, and waltzed right into the hospital to get information about their cousin when he was ill and information wouldn’t be released. This Aunt also had two marriages, but they’re sure she had many more illicit relationships outside of those.
With respects to technology, Charlotte is rather pessimistic. In spite of the advances in knowledge and personal reach, she truly feels today’s tech is separating families from the care they used to provide each other. In her words:
Charlotte highlighted that their family was greatly intermarried with another family – to which point many cousins were two-time first cousins. The family was enormous, and took care of each other. They shared food, responsibility, and care-taking. This became a recurring theme in the interview, as Charlotte had thought hard over the previous days about the way the family used to band together and support each other. It was this topic that ended the interview in tears.