But he would not put up with racist crap from anyone and was at all times a vocal proponent of civil rights for everyone in a time and place where that kind of talk could get you into trouble (at least) and could even get you hurt (it happened) or killt (in some cases).
He never said as much, but I have taken it that he was heavily influenced by his older brother John and by his dad. John Smith was even more vocal about civil rights than my dad, and at an earlier date, since he was older. But I would hear little clues in my father's stories that let me know that his own father must have been relatively liberal when it came to matters of race.
For one thing, everyone was welcome to shop in my grandfather's grocery store. He didn't care who you were or where you were from or what color you were. You were welcome in his store.
One cat my dad never could forget was this laborer who would come in every day on his lunch break. Once again, this would have been in the 1920s when my father was just a little boy.
The guy was a huge dude, completely bald, and he was the darkest-skinned man my father had seen (or ever did see, according to my father). His impression is that the fellow was from the Caribbean and my father recalls that the guy didn't take abuse from anyone, white folk included.
The man would come into my grandfather's store every day during summer. This was lunch time from the mill where he worked. He'd walk in and buy two items:
a pound cake that came wrapped in cellophane (this was the days before plastic) which was really big--not like modern portions--pretty much a meal unto itself. This would cost him a nickel.
and a small can of pure sorghum syrup. This would also cost a nickel.
Sorghum syrup is very thick, very dark, and very rich. It's made from sorghum sugar cane and people who have never encountered it either love it or loathe it. I grew up on it and I still feel it's an acquired taste. It is extremely powerful.
After purchasing the two items for ten cents he would leave the store and either go sit on the steps leading up to the store, or to a set of steps on another building nearby. Resting there, often in the full sun, the guy would eat that entire section of pound cake. As soon as he was finished eating the pound cake, he would take out a knife and pry open the top of the can of sorghum syrup and, turning it up, would drink down the entire can in one enormous gulp.
After that he would toss the wrapper and can into a trash can and return to work, packed with pure sugar energy. My dad never saw the guy drink anything other than the thick syrup. Considering he was a laborer in the deep South, he must have had water stashed somewhere. Because I'm a laborer in the deep South, and I could not make it through a summer day without lots of water. But my dad never did see the guy drink anything beyond that syrup.
He certainly made an impression on my dad-as-a-child. And the story certainly made an impression on me.
Like Tears in the Rain