BULLOCK COUNTY, Ala.– The year is 1954 and my grandfather,Y.C. Nance, the county’s extension service agent, is facing accusations that he tried to register blacks to vote. I found this snippet of information two years ago during a Google search that turned up a report by a University of Arkansas professor, Jeannie M. Whayne. I got my hands on the full report yesterday and what I read left me speechless.
History lessons about the racial and political climate in Alabama had always intrigued me. As I got older, I wondered how history intersected with my Alabama-born-and-raised family members’ lives. Sure, my dad and aunt told me stories of walking on the opposite side of the street of homes where white people lived, attending segregated schools and even the “whites only” signs that silently boasted the social strata of Union Springs. But for the most part, my grandparents worked very hard to shield their three children from the ugliness that marred their city and state at the time. I had no idea that this kind of tension seeped into my grandparents’ home.
In Whayne’s report, titled “Black Farmers and the Agricultural Cooperative Extension Service: The Alabama Experience 1945-1965,” she writes that a member of the Bullock County Board of Registrars received a report of “two white men and one colored man” influencing blacks to appear before the board. “Because of the influence Mr. Nance might have with his people, it was felt by some that he was the colored person involved.”
To make a long story short, my grandfather wasn’t “the colored person involved,” and a member of the Board of County Registrars testified as much. Whayne went on to write that extension service agents who raised issues of parity were often reprimanded or even dismissed. This was not my grandfather’s fate. He held his position until his death in 1966.