25 years after Mrs Rosa sparked off the civil rights movement in Montgomery, Ala by
refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person, William Least Heat-Moon went on a trip through
the 'outbacks' of the USA and came to Selma and Montgomery, Ala where blacks went on protest marches
for equal rights.
This is what he discovered by 1980:
"Think I was fifteen," Davis said. "Made both marches. People be sayin' we wasted our time, but things
are better. Least a little bit."
"Ain't nothin' changed didn't have to change," Walker said.
"Some of those things be important, though. But lotta times it's like always. Take yesterday. I put
a quarter in a sodapop machine at the gas station. Money keeps coming down. Two honkies sit watchin'.
I ask if the machine was broke, and one honker says it takes thirty cents now. Machine says twenty-five
on it. Then he says, 'Wondered how long fore you figured it out.' He couldn't tell me they changed it.
I said, 'Don't take long to figure you,' and walked off. Other honker says, 'Want me to whup the nigger?'
Five years ago I'da fought him. Now I try to ignore it. But hey, I used to follow Malcolm X."
|James Walker and Charles Davis in Selma, Ala.
I'll tell you one," Walker said. "Alabama state motto is 'Defendin' Our Rights.' And that's all we're
doin'. All the time."
"Motto doan have you in mind, James."
"Hey, we finally got a black Santa Claus at the mall. Only thing, he scared hell out of the little
black kids. They be dreamin' of a white Christmas."
"That's just education," I said.
"Yeah, but you see how far it goes. Littlest thing's work and worry.
Gotta always have your back in the air, and that wears you down, just like they want. Here's another
one. Six people killed in the project last year, and nobody's gone uptown for murder yet. lf a white
dude gets it, somebody goes uptown inside three weeks. Maybe the wrong man, but somebody's goan. Law
don't care what we do to ourself. Black on black's outside their law."
"No black police?"
"They be worsen a honky pig. Those black motherheads'll manhandle you. Nothin' but Oreos - black out,
"All honky law wants is get a man in jail so's they know where he's at."
"But whiteys that run things here don't mind a little black poontang now and then. That's their
contribution to equality - hump a nigger."
"Yeah, but let a black dude even walk down the street next to a white woman, and in six months they
goan frame you. Goan plant some dope in your ride or your house. Put a white bitch on you and pay her
to yell rape. They come up with somethin'. They want our best women, but they take you uptown if you
say 'hey' to a honky woman none of them would touch with a fence rail."
We walked around to a small, windowless, brick sweetshop run by a blindman named Louie. Davis bought
three cigarettes, lit one, and put two under his hat. A white candy vendor came in. Louie asked how
many of each item he was leaving. They conducted the transaction on trust.
Davis said, "Saw whitey rip you, Louie."
"Naw, you didn't. Candyman ain't rippin' off old Louie."
Walker and I drank grape Nehi. He said, "Louie, tell the man here what it was like when we all did
"Louie done a business like he never seen."
"Just business to you, ain't that right, Louie?"
"Business be business."
Outside the shop, Davis said, "I'll tell you a funny one. Last week watchin' at the ballgame. A
couple of us sittin' on the fender of some Pontiac. Little bitty white dude comes up draggin' a
baseball bat. He's just learnin' to talk. He says, 'You niggers get off my daddy's car!' "Couldn't
hardly pronounce nigger. We laughed. Then Daddy comes up and moves the car and never says nothin'.
We never blamed the kid. We know where it's comin' from."
A uniformed man drove by in a Bell Telephone truck. Walker nudged Davis. "That's four today. Two last
"What's going on?" I said.
"Sheriff's deputy. That's their undercover truck."
"Great undercover to wear a uniform," I said. "Why are they watching
"They ain't watchin' us, my man - they be watchin' you."
"Me? Why me? They think I'm agitating?"
Walker and Davis laughed derisively. "They doan give a shit about that. They think you the dope man."
"A dealer? How do they come up with that?"
"Eyeballs, man. White dude in the project at night, drivin' a van, Northern license. Yeah, man, you
be dealin' all right."
"If you ain't, they gonna put some stuff on you if you look like trouble."
"A cop checked the truck over last night."
"Pickin' information. Figurin' how to handle you. When they pull you in, you goan be surprised they
know the size of your jockstrap."
Source: BLUE HIGHWAYS by William Least Heat-Moon, BackBay Books, Boston, New York 1983, pp. 100-102
By the way, if you want to see which route of the USA William Least Heat-Moon followed,
honky/honkie - a very offensive word for a white person, used by black people
to whup - to hit and hurt somebody badly
dude - (old-fashioned) man from a city who is living in or visiting a farm or ranch
Oreos - trademark for a popular type of sandwich cookie
poontang - Am. slang Vagina
to hump - here: to ahve sex with someone
goan - sl. going to
to frame - planning to make someone seem guilty
grape Nehi - soda brand
dope man - Drogenhändler
jockstrap - Sportbandage zum Schutz der männlichen Genitalien
1. Describe the situation (location, persons, topic) the excerpt deals with.
2. Paraphrase 3 of the episodes that the two blacks have experienced in formal written English.
3. After more than 25 years of the implementation of civil right laws in the USA, what would you have
not expected regarding the situation as it is depicted in the excerpt? Do you think the two blacks'
opinons can be generalized?
4. How does the language of the extract contribute to the topic of the text?
5. What has changed for today's Africa-Americans a further 25 years later?