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I’ve written about the writing gene that runs in my family. The last time I was at my grandma’s house, I discovered evidence of this gene: my grandfather’s writings.
My dad showed me a pile of yellow, tattered newspaper clippings. They had come from the walls of another home in Union Springs (the owner had repurposed newspaper as wallpaper). The woman who runs the historical society happened to see the clippings and recognized my grandfather’s byline among them. She gathered as many as she could and gave them to my dad.
These clippings are almost 50 years old and some crumble at the faintest touch. My dad and I were trying to think of ways to preserve them. I suggested contacting an archivist. His response: “That’s why I asked you. You’re the closest thing to an archivist I know.”
If you’ve ever played a game underneath the bright lights of Thornton-Foster Stadium in Bullock County, Ala., you have my grandfather to thank.
Those lights and the stadium are the vestiges of a separate-but-equal compromise made nearly 50 years ago. The stadium still exists, continuing to fulfill the steadfast commitment my grandfather made to youth sports.
My grandfather, Y.C. Nance (1916-1966) was president of the Carver High Quarterback Club, a booster club that supported high school football in Union Springs. In 1964, the group was organizing an exhibition game that would feature the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro American League baseball team. (Side note: this team’s most notable player was home run leader Hank Aaron, who spent the early part of his baseball career with the Clowns). Scheduled to be played at night, the game would require use of a lighted stadium.
My grandfather sought permission from the Bullock County Board of Education to use Pugh Stadium, the city’s only lighted stadium. Request denied. Use of Pugh Stadium was only for the white residents of Union Springs.
As a concession, the school board agreed to build a lighted stadium at Carver High School, the high school for Bullock County’s black students. (The school was later renamed Bullock County High School).
Unfortunately, the game was never played. The Clowns never made their Union Springs debut and no one ever revisited the plan. Nevertheless, the city gained a showcase for some of their finest athletes.
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.